About My Neighbor

They made the space around them seem bigger than it was. Then it was big enough to encompass everyone who touched their path. Because their apartment was small, the sidewalk became their living room. The kids turned that living room into museums of another man’s treasure, and space centers where ships would launch, the home base of superheroes where they would take off with their super-kid capes swirling behind them, the starting point of a million races, most still unfinished. The dad was the mayor of that stretch of block. The boys were endless entertainment and incessant quizzing of strangers. They were free, one of the few free families I’ve ever seen. No tv, no Internet, no cell phones. Every day it was trips to the park where the boys became expert explorers. I would trust myself in a true Armageddon with those boys, only aged 4 and 6, than I would most adults.  The other member of their family was my very most favorite neighbor.

And then, suddenly, two Novembers ago they moved away. And those wise old boys took their mom with them. She was my gardening buddy, writing friend, and frequent confidante. We exchanged notes on everything from native plants to self-watering systems to writing our life’s stories. She plunked a big gray tub in my front yard to try out a homemade contraption to help plants wick up the water on their own, then we watched as her green beans shot up much quicker and with more grace than my feeble plants struggling alongside in the Brooklyn clay. That same tub with the same contraption overwintered here and now is home to a couple of the heirloom tomatoes that have populated my backyard.

I’ve mentioned her move only in passing even though I frequently recounted our friend-neighbor-gardening adventures before that. I think, possibly, I feared that speaking it made it more real or significant. The gifts of native plants she had rescued from abandonment at the local community garden where she and her family rented a plot felt just a little lonelier without her fellow admiring eyes to note how much they’ve grown, and to measure with our observations. I’ve commented before about gardening often being a solitary endeavor, and have shared my mother’s observation (who does not identify herself as a gardener) that those who do it seem to like it because it is their one time away from the rest of the world.  For awhile, I liked it precisely for the opposite reason.

For a time, gardening was one time I wanted could literally share that little corner of my world. We worked out agreements about where her tub would sit in the yard, making sure each of our plants got to share in the good sun and soil.  Her husband, the mayor, would come over and help turn the soil in my big compost bin, while their boys ran roughshod over the rest of the yard, stopping only to pick a worm out of the newly freed black-brown soil.  We split the cost of books on foraging for wild edibles and how to maximize use of container plants.  With her, my garden was not my hermitage.  Just like her little apartment down the street, she made my yard-garden seem bigger, the closer in we inspected and worked it.  Every nuance in leaf color or soil consistency was the source of great discovery and possibly the basis of greater extrapolation.  We were going to put in a rooftop garden the summer following the November that she left.  At least that’s what we said before they moved.  While I love working my little yard, I still don’t know that I’d have actually had the time, patience or resources for something of that scale.  And in a way I’m grateful that we can still believe in our minds it would have happened, that we would have remained very most favorites with each other without interruption and taken on super-gardening prowess and powers.  As far away as she is, she’s still my neighbor, and every bit the inspiration she ever was.

Occasionally, she reads here. By this post, I’m sending a message of fond remembrance as well as an invitation to return some afternoon to launch a ship, finish a race, become superheroes. Or just to embrace a moment in our shared corner of Earth.

Slan Leat DogElderWoodBerry

Nina Simone sings “you know how I feel,” as I see the branches off my mystery bushes out back come down, one painful snip at a time. My partner takes the long handled clippers we bought last year to trim back the wild rose bushes in the front yard that inevitably grew over into my neighbor’s yard (I saw a statistic recently that the average space between Brooklyn homes is around 25 inches. Roses do not care).

We have made the difficult decision to bring these curious two grand bushes up out of the ground in the back yard. I did a little research last year on what they were (no conclusion there), and whether I might be able to transplant them somewhere (no takers). They were a birthday present from a dear friend of mine several years ago to help me put up more of a barrier than the wire fence that separated my yard from my neighbors when neighbors were moving into the house that had been empty since I moved in. I put up the bushes, and later a wooden fence. Good fences do make good neighbors, but an aging, sagging chain link fence with a couple new twiggy bushes in front of them, did not make a good fence.  So a fence roughly 6 feet tall now separates my mystery bushes in the backyard from my neighbors’ often wandering squash.  The squash still crawls up the phone post and, once a year, she knocks gently on the door and tiptoes gingerly through the house to climb a ladder and hack them down with the most wicked and destructive pair of gardening shears I’ve ever seen.  That’s always around Ramadan, and I can usually count on a plate piled high with fish with tiny white bones (which, while a bit of a nuisance, are well worth the flavor they bring), resting on a bed of softly wilted rich green squash leaves, soaking up the salty juice surrounding the fish.

Now that I’ve lived next to the neighbor for some five years, share recipes with her, bring her dishes I’ve made when I think they won’t tempt her strict Halal diet, and always attend each others’ family birthday parties, the triple-layer chain link, wooden, and bush fence are no longer need. And down the bushes come to make room for small feet, small paws, maybe some plants. And, as I watch my partner finish his tedious work, I think back on the time I’ve had with these bushes which I have variously called dogwood or elderberry, though no positive identification ever could be made. Most of my time with them was spent realizing I’d missed the very small window of time to pick the berries (which of course would be a good thing if it turned out they were dogwood, some of which a small contingent claims are poisonous, though it’s hotly debated). Some of the time was spent admiring their pretty spray of white flowers but that’s a very short period of time later in the summer. More time was spent trying to keep the top leaves off the bottom of my clothes drying on the clothesline. So, all in all, I will miss them but I think it’s time they go and therefore time for me to let them go.

This is a good practice, anyway, to occasionally let things go to make room for new and better things to come into your life. It took me a long time to learn this but I did with about a year in clutterbusting therapy (which I highly recommend to anyone and everyone).

In the meantime, I watch the last of the big branches fall as Dianne Reeves sings in her bluest velvety voice, “Don’t cry. There’ll be another spring. I know our hearts will dance again. And sing again. So wait for me till then.” Good-bye mystery bush. Thanks for the helping me welcome in the springtimes.

I hope it’s not bad luck to do this on St. Patty’s Day.



What the Daffodil?

Before I left for work this morning, I turned away when I caught a surprising splash of bright orange-yellow in the corners of my yard. I knew what it meant, but didn’t want to look. Last year, I watched them day after day. I willed them to spread their graceful long stems into arabesque, and don the season’s latest.

It’s been a hellish week, only two days in. The work day was long but not as unbearable as I thought it might be, after staying up way past my bedtime to get all my other work done. I logged about 1.2 hours on my sleep machine. As irony is iron clad, right around quitting time today, I had a fourth or fifth or sixth wind, and kept plugging along. The last colleague on my floor bid me good-night after transforming from stuffy Wall Street attire to a tight white t-shirt and jeans that crinkled in all the right places (“dinner date” was the quick explanation for the superhero-style switch). Seeing as this colleague is not my persuasion, not my partner, and notably older, the admiration was an innocent one … a fleeting thought, really, that I could stand to exercise more than I do, and there’s hope it would pay off. I kept at the grind till my phone rang moments later. It was my coworker, calling to tell me the elevators weren’t working and the ground floor was flooded with firefighters. I’m sure the words weren’t quite that, but that’s what I heard as I grabbed the items off my desk, mentally kicking myself for not wearing sensible (or even all that fashionable) shoes, and saw my rare burst of dedication go up in imagined flames. I got the to ground floor on the one elevator that was working, and there were about two firefighters for every several people. The lobby was mostly empty. Smart people had left to enjoy the rare weather.

After work, I went to the wine store to buy a celebratory bottle of something with a touch of fizz to celebrate finishing a brief in what has been a long painful litigation, and to (maybe?) celebrate this uncharacteristically balmy weather. The clerk in my favorite bottle store in Park Slope joked that he has no problem with global warming. “I’m thinking about spraying some aerosol cans in the air,” he said with a cajoled glee. I (road weary and fully obliterated by the abhorent hours I’ve been keeping), chimed in “in honor of the weather.” He corrected me, “to keep it coming.”

“Bring it on, global warming.”

I ha-ha’d, grabbed my bottles (I don’t go often, so I stocked up on two), and left. Walking down the block to my house, I felt like a bit part in the first twenty minutes of a seventies sci-fi made-for-tv movie. I couldn’t help but stare near slack jawed at the flowers in full bloom in the little plots of plants they put in a few years ago in front of the apartment complex at 40. By the time I hit 60, I had to stop and ask the Chinese man who was crouched on his feet and working furiously with his hands what it was he was planting. I’ve been beyond impressed with how various plants pop up in that well (but not fussily) manicured front yard, and are whisked away to some unknown outpost, while a vast variety of new ones quickly replace them throughout the growing season. He didn’t understand my question, or was too busy to engage. He worked with such intention, though I couldn’t determine its method. I wondered if there were some secret he had that I did not know but should want (e.g., get the plants in the ground quickly early in the season, lull and lollygag for warmer weather plantings). He did not pay serious attention to me until I asked him “too cold?,” and pointed to the plants in his hands, wondering whether there’s still the risk of a cold spell wiping them out. He pointed to the plants that were already in the ground, and have been there all year long, just waiting for new neighbors to join them. He pointed to a hosta-like plant with sturdier leaves and said, “No.” “These strong.” “Ooooh, okay,” I said as if I’d just learned something but wondered to myself what all he knew and was not saying. I carried on my breezy but slightly paranoid way.

Around 80, I almost stopped dead in my tracks. The tree that usually does not show its bloom till mid April (at an earliest) had magically transformed in the hours I sat behind my cold and sturdy desk, face to face with the eight hour glow of my screen, from a naked branched lady in a dressing room, to a gently clad bride, waiting for the first dance. So young. These things can destroy them, you know (the whispers of the sturdy old gals down at 60 floated our way).

Then I really caught myself in the midst of this bad movie, shook it off, skipped on down to my own yard, knowing what I had to face. There they were, just as I’d left them this morning, but a touch taller, more definite, more mature, more determined that Mother Nature had their dance card. The little lady daffodils, so eager to make their long awaited entrance, could wait no more.

Kids these days. They don’t know that it pays to be fashionably late.


Couldn’t Armageddon Have Come and Taken Leiby Kletzky’s Killer?

It being a Wednesday, when I typically get a little extra time to garden, I was going to regale you all with my recent successes growing big vegetables and bountiful flowers.  On a day like today, though, in my usually quiet and relatively peaceful corner slice of Kensington, Brooklyn, it feels like nothing can be right or good or wholesome anymore.  Two days ago, apparently on his first walk alone in the world – a walk that was supposed to be a mere three blocks from where he’d spent the day to the home of his loving family, Leiby Kletzky (8 or 9 years old, by different accounts, the only boy in a family of five children) instead got turned around and somehow fell into the hands of what can only be thought to be a psychotic murderer.  The man accused of killing Kletzky is Levi Aron (35 years old today, a divorced and, not that it matters, childless man), who worked as a clerk at Empire Hardware on McDonald Ave. between Cortelyou and Avenue C.  He’s from Memphis originally.  He looks familiar.  They both do.  I’ve probably seen them in the neighborhood before.  Aron doesn’t look like a killer, unless you look closely at his eyes and know what we suspect we know now.  Those who purport to have known him say he was a loner and maybe a little weird but, as these stories always seem to go, he was generally quiet, kept to himself, and no one ever thought he would do something like this.

Leiby’s remains reportedly were found in Aron’s apartment and another location where Aron reportedly disposed of them.  The gruesome details are already available elsewhere.  I don’t know that I could stomach repeating them here.  For those not yet familiar with the story, it is worth recounting some of what preceded Kletzky’s abduction and Aron’s capture, in case there is anything at all that may be learned from this unthinkable tragedy.  According to the articles I’ve read and what I’ve heard in the neighborhood since yesterday about this time when helicopters began buzzing above us, Keltzky was snatched on 18th Ave., near Dahill Rd., in Boro Park, a neighborhood that meets my own neighborhood of Kensington at the end of the block where I live.  According to reports, the boy had just a few blocks to walk from summer day camp at 12th Avenue and 44th St., for the first time on his own after much pleading with his parents and a note from them granting him permission.  It is said he got lost on what was supposed to be the three-block walk home, and Aron, a random stranger on the street, was who he happened to ask for directions.  Surveillance cameras from the surrounding area and records from a dentist’s office where Aron appeared on Monday to pay someone’s bill helped track down the suspected killer.  Although some of the earliest reports of his capture mentioned two other people who were staying with Aron and who were also being held for questioning in connection with the murder, more recent reports have not mentioned them.  As of approximately 4 p.m. today, the two blocks where Aron is said to reside (in an upper level of a house owned by his parents), which is also believed to be the site of Kletky’s murder, were blocked off by police, with various media vans swarming the area, and clusters of Hassidic community members quietly milling about, standing close to each other and their children.

Boro Park is a tight-knit, primarily Hassidic neighborhood.  Although I’ve lived just next door for more than ten years, it’s also inexplicably an easy place in which to get a little lost, or turned around at least.  Looking at a map, the streets seem well-organized and reasonably arranged.  And I’m not one to easily lose my sense of direction but I have, in the same area where Kletzky lived and on the same streets where he found himself turned around.  Boro Park seems to me to be a place out of time.  Traffic is minimal off the main streets, and groups of people walk together, women with children and boys among the men.  I usually see the mothers in pairs, in their wigs and long skirts in the middle of summer, with a gaggle of children around them.  The men stride ahead wearing big hats, and white socks to their knees.  Odd birds, they all seem, from afar .. pleasant enough though never particularly friendly.  I had a friend, years ago, who lived with me for a summer and found himself drawn to their community.  He came from a non-Orthodox Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and sought to learn more about the faith from them, who he viewed as religious purists.  To my surprise, the Hassids welcomed him in.  He began wearing his yarmulka with pride, and spent evenings with them engaged in their rituals, listening avidly as they spoke in thick accents of what I will never know.  They wanted him to live there with them, and to marry one of their own.  He began singing their songs, and praying, really praying.  He would rock back and forth, “davening.”  But when he said it, it came out like “dovening.”  The name was peculiar and attractive to me … like the noun peace turned into a bird and a prayer in one spiritual swoop.  They never welcomed me in.  I’m not Jewish, and didn’t ever express an interest in being anything more than a person passing through their streets to find some store or location inside, get what I needed, and get out.  His experience, however, helped me understand that what I perceived as their exclusivity was not a slight against me or any of my non-Jewish friends and neighbors.  It’s just their way.

One of the first questions posed by my neighbor friend (a white woman) with young boys of her own was who the killer was — meaning what race/religion.  Was it racially motivated?  Was he Arab or white?  The question struck me as odd.  But, then, talking to another neighbor friend (a white man), he said he had asked his girlfriend (a black woman) the same thing when she told him they’d found the boy (he’s been around longer than I have — he didn’t have to ask whether they found him alive).  Like me, she was surprised by his question … pausing to determine whether there was reason to be offended.  He said that if he was Arab, all hell would break loose here.  Nearly as much as Boro Park – where the boy lived – is a Jewish community, its neighbor, Kensington – where the boy died – is heavily Muslim, with a stark increase in its Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents seen in the past ten years.  One of the 9/11 terrorists drank at the corner bar I’ve mentioned.  When I saw his picture in the paper, he looked familiar to me, and I vaguely recalled seeing him there.  When my religion-seeking Jewish friend called from Wisconsin after 911, he left a message, “Hello, Kensington West Bank?”  Yes, although it really doesn’t matter one shit’s wit to the boy’s family, it is better the killer was also Jewish.  Better to know that madness and tragedy know no distinction in race, creed, or kind.  Better to know that, no matter how safe and sequestered a neighborhood feels, you can’t trust anymore that it is.

As I listen to the helicopters that continue to circle overhead, I’m still astounded by how quickly all this took place.  Kletzky went missing on Monday.  Posters were up all over the neighborhood by yesterday.  The copters were heard so loud it was hard to sleep last night.  Now the articles say that the FBI, the local Hassidic law enforcement (Shomrim — it’s not technically law enforcement but for those of us who live here, effectively, it is), and the New York City police department worked together to capture the suspect.  I’ve heard some grumbling that if it were anyone else, they’d have to wait the requisite 72 hours before a missing persons report could be filed and police would react (but that since it happened in the politically influential Jewish community, the case got special treatment).  Now police commissioner Kelly is saying that the suspect saw the massive search for the boy and panicked, and killed him.  All of this strikes me as a bit absurd.  I hope it’s not true that anyone else would not get the same prompt attention that Keltzky’s family got.  I’m also not sure where the Commissioner is coming from when he basically puts himself into the mind of the killer (or gives credence to what the suspect has said), and suggests that a community’s efforts to locate a missing child led to that child’s death (that he “panicked” because of it).

My condolences to the family.  Please pray for them — that they be able to survive this.  I’m sure it doesn’t matter to what god, goddess, universe, fate or feeling you pray.  If you have that feeling, please do it, since it may be all that we can do.

People People We-re All The Same No We-re Not The Same Cuz We Don’t Know the Game

Came home today, after a lovely day of strolling, errands, then strolling some more, to an oddly open door (yes, yikes, I thought I locked it but got spacey and locked it not, I guess), and more worrisome, a yellow piece of copy paper in my mailbox.  The yellow piece of copy paper in my mailbox was the remnant of a visit from the Health Department (duh-duh-dun-dun!).  From their cryptic scrawlings I gathered that they were responding to a complaint of a dog off a leash.  (What?? Whose dog?  Better not be near my dog!  Oh, wait a minute, they’re talking about my dog!  Wait!  What?  When was my dog off the leash?  Who snuck into my house and let my dog off the leash?  Oh, no one.  Hey!  What?).  Yes, they reported on the official yellow copy sheet that they were responding to a complaint of a dog off a leash in a public place (duh-duh-dun-dun!), that no one was home – good thing they didn’t push the door or lean on it for that matter – and  … that … they … heard .. a “LARGE” dog barking (now, how do you know a dog is big from its bark?), but that there was no dog observed in a public space off leash “AT THIS TIME.”  They, apparently, will be back for more of nothing to report.

So what this means is that one of my neighborly neighbors complained, I presume, because I had my 50 lb. 8-year old mutt (not a “Large” dog, or threatening or scary or in any way intimidating, no matter what kind of grunt-growl she could try to muster these days) with me while I was gardening.  She was on my private property, my front yard, and was barely even visible from the sidewalk.  So I don’t see how any passerby might complain of a “dog off leash in a public place.”  Might not have been my dog.  Could’ve been someone walking by with a dog off leash.  But, honestly, I know better than that.  I know that I have a particularly nasty neighbor who’s been giving me the hairy eyeball since I started making my presence in my little plot of native plant land.  And I know this neighbor who’s got a black heart and ain’t got a good thing to think about the world or to do with the day the Lord gave them than to call 311 about an innocent pet who lazes, nearly hidden, in the back grass while I uproot same from the front part of the yard.  Sorry we’re so offending, lady.  Sheesh.  Some people can’t stand for anyone to have any fun.

Thankfully, I’ve got other cool and kind folk around me to remind me that every block, like every family, has one of these.  A Miss Spikey.  These are the people who slash gashes in their perfectly good furniture before setting out so no one else can have it, who have a motion-detection sprinkler system that sprays anyone passing too close to their yard (it’s Brooklyn for Pete’s sake!  Not Jersey!), who rhetorically asked my sweet little neighbor friend just who she would sue when her little son, who innocently had climbed up to look at her yard, would get his chin impaled on her fence?  This is Miss Spiky, the same one who made my life a miserable hell when I moved to this neighborhood by calling the authorities to complain about anything and everything: my dog would bark.  He pooped in the backyard (my backyard, mind you!).  My trash was set one inch over the dividing line.  You name it.  All this, and other nonsense.

So here I am just beginning to feel good about climbing out of my lonersome shell on this block, and was feeling mighty nice about my little contribution to the nabe’s aesthetics, and really liking how my little garden was swaying just so, and really standing up tall and proud, until suddenly my good mood’s impaled on the thorn of Miss Spikey.

QUESTION: Do I turn the other (ass) cheek or call 311 to complain that I’ve got a bitch on my block who’s on my last nerve?

Hello Little Ladybugs

Summer Mondays are not my forte.  Did little gardening today (read: none).  But enjoyed looking out at my little darlins just the same.  I did have a nice moment this morning running into my next door neighbor on the second floor, terraza a terraza.  I asked what she was planting, told her they looked beautiful (and they really do), and was pleased, as I was hearing about all the goodies she’s growing, to learn that she was inspired by my little wooden crate of cucumbers to arrange hers the same.  It was a happy exchange.  As I’ve been gardening more, I’ve been thinking more about neighboring, what it means and how to do it better.  I’ve been a bit of a loner in these Brooklyn waters but, as I mentioned, playing in my front yard has brought out neighbors young  and old, and suddenly I know people, they know me.  I know what’s in their yard and they’re asking what’s in mine (still getting way too frequently the question “what is that?” as to each plant in my little native plant garden — I’m thinking about staging a mock protest by them all with signs shouting “I AM NOT A WEED!”  Since there’s more conversation now growing from my garden, I’m sure I’ll get some of what I consider to be the silly questions – and, yes, there are silly questions. God knows, I ask them all the time.  Stupid answers, on the other hand, I don’t really believe in … there’s offensive, there’s wrong … but there’s not really stupid answers.  That said I invite you to answer today’s …

QUESTION: Has your interaction with your neighbors changed, if at all, by your own gardening?  If so, in what way?  For the better?  For the worse?  If not with your neighbors, how about with friends and family?  Have you ever struggled to have to balance gardening and, well, everything else?  How do you find the time to do gardening and, well, everything else?  What did or did not work for you?  How did you get to being a gardening god/goddess without getting kicked to the curb for blowing too much time, money, everything creating your little kingdom?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Pondering a London Plane

Today I moved some cucumbers into a homemade self-watering container, and transplanted some baby beets to an apple crate in the front yard, which I notice is getting much more sun than usual these days, thanks, in part, to the London Plane.  I only knew this tree to be the great big one in front of my house, just off to the side.  It, along with a massive pine that came down this past winter, blocked the sun from my front yard enough that I didn’t bother with any significant planting there in prior years.

Today, as my very most awesome neighbor-friend was helping me move my cukes into the container she built for them, I happened to mention that my next-door neighbor has been calling 311 because all the leaves are dropping of the tree so it must be diseased, and should probably be removed.  At that, very most awesome neighbor-friend said she had thought the same thing when she saw all the leaves falling from the yard in front of her building a few blocks away when she used to lived there.  She said she mentioned this to the building owner, only to learn that this is normal for that kind of tree, which is a London Plane who drops her leaves twice a year – once in the summer and again in early fall.  Very most awesome neighbor friend offered me a book to borrow confirming this when I mentioned that next-door neighbor friend was rallying me to call 311 also to take the poor thing down and put it out of its misery.  I was just starting to decline the invitation (I can barely keep up with the reading I’m doing now and knew I would do more than peruse), when next-door neighbor walked by.  She seemed satisfied with this explanation for all the loose leaves in the yard but pointed out that the leaves are all full of tiny holes and so they must still be diseased.   I don’t know if tiny holes in leaves makes a tree “diseased.”  (See QUESTION below).

Very most awesome neighbor-friend told me before the dialogue with next door neighbor friend that the London Plane, since it does shed twice a year, is considered one of the better trees for getting rid of air pollution because it absorbs it, drops the leaves, grows some more leaves, absorbs more crappity-crap, and drops them again.  Hey, nice job, London Plane!

Although a quick perusal of Wikipedia doesn’t confirm what I’ve learned of the double shedding, I did pick up some other little tidbits, including that it tolerates air pollution and root compaction well, and thus is a popular choice for urban streetscapes.  I don’t believe it’s native but, nonetheless, like many New Yorkers, it’s a transplant that’s made its own impact felt: “According to Lois Nam of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation the symbol of that organisation is a cross between the leaf of the London plane and a maple leaf. It is prominently featured on signs and buildings in public parks across the city. The tree is today on the NYC Parks Department’s list of restricted use trees for street tree planting.”  All of which leads me to my ….

QUESTION #1: what are telltale signs of disease in a tree?  Are London Planes prone to any particular type of disease?  When do you fell a tree due to disease?  Does it have to be deathly ill or will a little sniffle be reason enough to euthanize?  ALSO…

QUESTION #2: what does it mean if a tree is on a NYC Parks’ “list of restricted use trees for street tree planting”?  Does that mean it can’t be used for other things?  What else would you use it for?  Can I not plant it in my backyard?  Why not?  Not, of course, that I’m going to – I have my hands full with trying to confirm whether I’ve got elderberries or dogwood berries back there, but that’s another post for another day.  In the meantime, go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Update on Dirt Cheap and Three Question Sets

So I went back to Shannon’s, my local garden supply store, because I needed to confirm the price of that dirt I’d been complaining about.  Well, I was wrong – wouldn’t be the first time but it also means I need to make sure I always get an itemized receipt there.  Not that I think anyone was intentionally trying to scam me but I do think I paid for a bag of soil I did not get.  The way it works there is that they ring up your order, then you go and pick up the soil you want.  Since I’m a regular there (or maybe they’re just trusting), they don’t usually closely examine the receipt that I hand to them – just a quick eyeball and they hand me my goods.

In their defense, it is a busy place and they’re quick with the transactions.  Still, isn’t it just good business practice to give an itemized receipt?  I remember when I was a kid in Beloit, Wisconsin.  We’d go to Shopko with my dad nearly every weekend.  He’d watch as the clerk entered each item in the register (yes, I think it was entering it, not scanning it back then), then when the total amount came up – cha-ching – he’d look at each item, counting them in his head, reviewing the receipt.  Then, when we were out in the car, all our goodies packed up and ready to go, he’d look at the receipt again, counting each item thrice.  If everything was right, he’d pull a Fred Sanford, “This is the big one, Elizabeth,” clutching his hand over his heart in homage to Redd Foxx, in mock protest.  If he found something wrong, though, he’d go into mode, his voice dropping a couple octaves and his brow growing into a little furrow.  More than once we kids found ourselves back in the store, with the manager standing next to Dad, reviewing the receipt again, and, almost inevitably, my dad would leave with his wallet just a little heavier than before.

All that aside, here’s a CORRECTION to my previous speculation that a bag of organic top soil at Shannon’s of Brooklyn costs $5.00.  I inquired and found out the following: Fafard Premium Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $5.00 [no price listed on their site], and Hamptons Estate Topsoil (Organic), 30 lbs. bag is $6.00 [also not listing a price on its website – this product is made by the Long Island Compost Co.].  Please don’t take my word for it – go somewhere and confirm for yourself.  I’m curious though, ….

QUESTION: What garden supply store do you recommend for a good deal on soil?  Keeping in mind that many of us (namely me) live in urban areas and may not have a vehicle to drive to pick up a bag, is there a deal that may not be near by but is good enough to bother a friend for a ride, or pay a willing car service to do the dirty work with you?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Can anyone tell me whether it’s standard business practice to give itemized versus non-itemized receipts?  Why?  Do businesses try to add products thinking the customer won’t notice?  Does a lowly clerk not care enough to bother?  What if it’s a ma and pop shop, and the clerk is the owner?  Do you think people are inherently honest or apt to get away with as much as they can?  Are they just sloppy?  Am I just paranoid?  Did I spend one too many days as a kid in a hot car while my dad counted and recounted our ShopKo supplies?  Or is it that people are no longer careful enough to watch their money, count their change and review receipts?  Have we become sloppy with our money, a hallmark of the credit card generation, and symptomatic of our debt acquiescence?  Do you ask for an itemized receipt when you don’t get one?  Do you ask for a receipt at all?  All of this leads me to another …

QUESTION: Why is it my local garden supply store, Shannon’s, is named the David Shannon Nursery & Florist if it has, as its site says, “been a family operated business for over 30 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  Joseph Perrotta, is there something you want to tell your customers?  And, which is it: 30 or 40 years?  Later the site says: David Shannon Florist and Nursery, is the leading florist, nursery and greenhouse in Brooklyn New York. Family owned and operated business for over 40 years by Joseph Perrotta and family.”  David Shannon, whoever you are, wherever you are, how bout you?  Do I smell a story here?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt.

Starting with a Question

QUESTION: what do you call someone in their nineties?  (and no, I’m not looking for a punchline although ones that wouldn’t offend a noctegenarian – who, I have just been instructed from my thank-you-very-mulch neighbor is not necessarily in their 90’s – are always welcome).

Sow What

Two years ago I had some wildflower seeds.  After carefully plotting and planting a small vegetable garden in my backyard, as I have done most of the years I’ve been living here, I sat on the front porch and literally flung those seeds blindly, behind my head, into the yard.  When friends came over, I offered them seeds to free.  I thought it was rather communal and romantic.  It was a little rebellious too, and you’d know what I mean if you saw what I’ve always deemed painfully manicured lawns in my vicinity, tortured as they’ve been into submission.  At the time I was having some work done on my house by a neighbor’s brother-in-law.  They’re from Bangladesh.  He’d been coming over every day to work on the house.  I’d make him lunch.  He’d ask me if I had any friends he could marry.  He offered good money.  (I’m not making it up).  He also asked me to stash his bottle of brandy in my cupboard because his sister-in-law wouldn’t allow it.  Of course I said yes.  So he was getting kind of comfortable around here.  One day I came home and saw that he had chopped down and uprooted the many various “weeds” in my yard.  He expected a thank you.  My manners kept me from giving him a different kind of ___ you.  I was livid.  Little did he know, and not at all did he understand, that I had been carefully un-gardening my lawn for many years.

And I liked it that way.  But change is the big constant.

Although at the time I was enraged on many levels for the many reasons what he’d done was wrong, I am glad now that what he left was a bald lawn that I viewed as so violated, I had to start over.  I’ve now taken the front half of my yard and combed it through and through, ridding it of the onions that I have researched, determined and confirmed should not be welcome back.  I’ve spaced out my eleven-year old hostas.  I interspersed daylillies hand-delivered from Wisconsin.  I planted some johnny-jump-ups.  And I have grounded my native plants, and are watching them all carefully to see what they do, and whether they feel at home.  I’ve put jasmine by the front door, and have thyme brimming from the planters on the front steps.  I may not get to the whole front yard in the next few months, but that’s okay too.  My friend in Red Hook says it’ll be good gardening weather this year.  I have plenty this summer for my hands to do.  Moderation being the key, I may keep on hand some seeds to fling.