It all started with "Let's go to Home Depot and get a couple plants."
If you hear this sentence at any time in the next four months: run. Run very fast. Run until you get a headache. And then, with complete truthfulness, you can say, "Not today, dear, I have a headache.
Do I say, not as I did.
So we throw on our jeans, our baseball caps and our "Vote for Hillary," and "I'm Your Girl," (another Hillary design) t-shirts, and head off in the German SUV we call "Buttah," which is Butter for all you who don't name your cars. Buttah is a most unbuttery Obsidian Black with a gorgeous buttery tan/gold leather interior. While Buttah is a lovely, sophisticated sled in which to go get "a couple plants," it's also the kind of luxury vehicle one doesn't want to get too dirty. Well, I don't. Karyn thinks of it as her own uber-stylish 'work truck.' You'll understand in a moment.
We arrive at the local Home Desperate, and we're barely through the gates to the garden section when, somehow, Karyn gets ahead of me. It's absolutely not because I'm dragging my feet. I stop to look at a very pretty Dorotheanthus bellidiformis, named after my dear friend Dorothy, I think. Of course you may know this plant by its popular name, Mezoo Livinstone Daisy or Mezoo Trailing Red. Dorothy has another name, too, but I forget, right now, what it is. I'm pretty sure it's not Daisy, but...no, no. Definitely not Daisy...Mezoo would be catchy, though.
Anyway, as I'm serenely perusing Mezoo, the scent of a popular teen aftershave (Axe?) wafts across my scent-sensitive olfactory space and blends awkwardly with night-blooming sweet Jasmine just before it smacks my whole face with a tidal wave of overwhelm. I turn to my left and I see a 50-something person with a razor haircut, a plaid Pendalton-like, and yet, not, shirt, sleeves rolled up, in a pair of slightly baggy meant to be very baggy jeans. If she'd have had a Marlboro behind her ear, I would have thought: the spitting image of James Dean! She didn't see me, because she was making a beeline in the direction of Karyn. Trust me, Home Desperate does not usually have this level of customer service. I didn't see the crooked smile on her face or have a full-on appreciation of her soave bolla manner, but the sotto voco "Hi, there, can I help ya, young lady," told me this was going to be no ordinary trip through the tulips.
I gave her just enough time to exchange pleasantries, and then I ambled up to Karyn, who introduced me as her partner. James Dean stuck her big paw out to shake mine. "Dottie, but my friends all call me Dot."
Wow. She was so not a 'Dottie.' At some point Dot got called away by the PA System for some very important administrative issue on Aisle 9, and we wandered through the garden section. We headed toward Trees, but the pickings were slim, so we ended up in ground covers and climbing vines.
We had begun the morning outing with a single shopping cart, but thinking trees, we quickly switched to a giant flatbed on wheels. As mentioned, there were no trees to be had, but those flat-beds can easily hold $400 worth of things I could probably go through my entire life not knowing the names of...except I was about to own several dozen of these things, and they come with name tags, so, go ahead, ask me anything.
Euonymus Japonica!! No, I don't have botanical Tourette's---I told you: They have name tags.
As we headed tantalizingly close to the check-out counter, of which there are always two and one is always closed, Dot springs up out of nowhere with the crooked smile and a completely hyper- friendly "Didjafin'everythin'?"
Why no, no we didn't. Trees...you're low on trees, Dot.
"Lucy's," she says. "Gotta go to Lucy's if you want really good trees." She looks in both directions and leans in toward us, her voice becoming a whisper. "Better trees and cheaper too, than here," she says.
She offers directions. I say, "Nah, that's OK, we'll go some other time." Dot's face falls, although her sideburns remain intact.
She looks at Karyn with something resembling sympathy, as if to say, 'Oh, young lady, here you are all ready to give love and life and warmth to some tree, and this non-tree hugger you're with isn't interested. Don't'cha jus' hate that?'
OK, then, for future reference, where, exactly, is Lucy's? I could tell by the number of times she said 'just across from,' 'just down from' and 'about a half mile east of,' that Dot was no TomTom Navigation system, however much she might...nevermind.
With Buttah loaded to the tailgate with flats of groundcover and a couple dozen blooming plants, we drive to Lucy's in our own personal greenhouse. We miss it, we double back, and we see why we missed it. No signage and no sign of human life. Unless your line of sight took a sharp right at the non-existent signage, you'd have missed about two acres of all kinds of trees.
But wait! What is that little shadow holding a garden hose? That, my friends, is Maria. Although Maria spoke no English, she was a whiz at Arabic numbers. Every time I'd ask "How much?" Maria would pick up a small stick or a nail or just use her finger to write $350 in the dirt. Everything was $350, except for a couple of things that were $50. But they were dead or dying. So, OK then, $350 it is!
In fairness, I have to acknowledge that Lucy's had the best selection of healthy trees I've seen anywhere in the Antelope Valley. We found two olive trees, in 48-inch boxes, that stood easily 12 feet high and were only half grown, if that. In West Hollywood or Malibu or Pasadena where there are some darn good nurseries, those two olive trees would have been $600-700 each, or more. I got 'em for, you guessed it, $300 each, including delivery. What happened to $350? Uh, excuse me, I never, nevah, pay retail. My best friend Mezoo taught me that.
A white pickup pulled into the tree lot, and a very small man with a great big cowboy hat walked up to the make-shift table where I was writing directions to the house. He introduced himself as Jesus. Maria talked to Jesus, they nodded, and the next thing I knew, he was taking my six hundred dollar bills. As they walk us out of the tree lot (it was closing time), Karyn was talking and pointing excitedly at some very large rock. Jesus was nodding. We waved goodbye, see ya tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., thank you, have a good evening, take care of the the Benjamin Franklins!
We got in the car, and I said, "I didn't get a receipt."
"Oh, it's fine," said Ms. Congeniality, "I have a good feeling about them, and besides, he's going to bring those five rocks over too, for free!"
That's nice, I thought to myself, trying not to focus on the thought that the rocks are free if he shows up; if he doesn't, we just bought a half ton of air and two fantasy fruitless olive trees for six hundred bucks. For the sake of my own serentiy, I decided to go with her "good feeling about them."
On the way home, the plans for our new front yard were chattering away next to me, and my own personal earth architect and exterior decorator had some very nice plans, indeed, all involving trees, ("...oh, more than just the two olives..."), plants, "...oh more than just the boatload (my word) we got today..." and some real boulders ("...oh those were mere rocks we got today..."). Karyn's father was an agricultural biologist in northern California, but the real love of his work life was planting, landscaping, designing, growing, and nurturing little seedlings and snippets of things to full life. His daughter was so much like him, not counting starting with 5-year old olive trees instead of one little olive pit.
I smiled, encouragingly, because this makes her happy, and that makes me happy. Happiness notwithstanding, a wayward thought bounced across my consciousness, knocked up against the walls of resistance and came to rest beside a deliciously evil thought: Dot is so damn dead.
(TO BE CONTINUED, With Visuals)