Hot potato

It’s been weighing on my mind for some time now that the title of this blog references my current state of residence, and yet there have been almost zero mentions of said state in the actual blog posts. Well, I suspect that this post will only barely meet those qualifications, but here we are: my humble paean to the Garden State…sort of.

I have always had bad luck with plants. More specifically, I have had extreme difficulty keeping them alive for any amount of time. There was a rosemary plant that survived outdoors for a couple years, and a handful of low-maintenance vegetables over the years, but by in large, give me a plant and I will unintentionally bring it to its withering demise.

The sordid tale of my unfortunate relationship with basil is perhaps the best place to start. It all began when my boyfriend at the time bought a spindly little basil plant that he kept alive in a college dorm room in a plastic cup. Miracle upon miracles, the thing survived not only that but a Maryland summer outdoors – hardy little sucker. Then, said owner of basil moved to Portugal for six months, and I was delegated as the caretaker for this plant. Things were all well and good; the basil even withstood a roommate’s cat nibbling the majority of the leaves to bits. It lived; it flourished. But then. Then, about a month before the plant’s true owner was due to return to the states, the basil started to wither. Slowly but surely, each pale green stem bit the dust. “So what?” you say. “A basil plant is lucky if it lives three months, much less nearly a year!” Oh, but the part I didn’t mention was the part where my human relationship had started to take a nosedive as well, and there was no heroic pilot to land that plane safely.  About two months after the basil officially died, so did the relationship. Weird coincidence, it was for the best, life goes on. Right?

Well, over a period of two years, three basil plants preceded and, depending on how superstitious you are, perhaps predicted three failed attempts to no longer be single. I began to wonder if perhaps I were living in some perverse fairy tale in which the basil was my poison apple that lulled my chances into a deep sleep. And it’s not like I sought out all those plants intentionally: two came from a grocery store who gives out free basil seedlings around Earth Day, and I accepted both of them without thinking. One I do admit to buying, but a nasty fungus ravaged it; basil, I hardly knew ye.

The last Earth Day seedling, once it was a brown twig in its little brown peat pot, I decided to use as an example to all future basil plants who tried to enter my solitary life. Living near the Raritan River (in fact, a 10 minute walk from its shore), it seemed only appropriate that my enemy be buried at sea. I would jettison this tiny terror once and for all. So, my roommate and I walked down to the river, and once we reached the shore, I approached the water and looked significantly at the dead plant I held in my hands. Initially, I’d envisioned this as some scene out of a soupy chick flick: girl breaks her own curse, triumphantly hopeful string music plays, and she turns around to see the love of her life standing, waiting behind her.

Wellllll, that’s not quite what happened. Or if so, it was definitely a deleted scene from the movie. In the most anticlimactic toss in the world, I tried to throw the thing into the water, but it was something akin to trying to pitch a feather at a baseball player. Bone dry two-inch biodegradable peat pots filled with a dead plant and a paltry amount of dirt don’t make for good projectiles. The dirt poofed out of the pot and fell to the water like earthen snowflakes, and the slight breeze caught the pot as it fell, so it only landed about a foot from where I’d thrown it. As my roommate and I watched the pot bob its way down the Raritan, we laughed, and I hoped that somehow, something I’d done would matter.

That same roommate moved out a couple weeks later, leaving behind a handful of plants, which I was sure I’d kill. Included among them was a philodendron (whose identifying tag actually seems to read “PHIL ODENDRON” – I said that if nothing else worked out, I’d tell people I was dating a nice Irish guy named Phil O’Dendron), a spider plant, and…yes. A basil plant. I panicked when I realized this a week or so after she’d left. Blessedly, I have very good friends, one of whom took this basil plant to the far-off land of Rochester and promised never to tell me if it died or lived. I’m sure it’s dead by now, but that’s immaterial. It was out of my hands, even though a week or two after it left my possession, there was the inevitable “So there’s this other girl I like” message from a guy I’d been talking to. C’est la vie, evidently. Phil O’Dendron and the spider plant miraculously live on, though, on a cheerier note.

However, the roommate also, in her packing and cleaning in our kitchen, discovered a sweet potato that had sprouted in the pantry. Some potatoes grow eyes (voyeurs…creepy), but this had full-on sprouted, with leaves and shoots and everything. No extraneous roots, mind you, but definitely signs of life. In our curious way, we decided to let the thing live and see what happened. It sat in our kitchen, on the radiator in front of the two windows. No dirt, just a solitary potato basking in the sun.

And it grew. And grew. Pretty soon, after the roommate had long since traveled to Hawaii and moved to Miami (talk about getting out of Dodge), the shoots were nearly a foot and a half tall and the leaves were a resplendent green. Still no dirt, still no water aside from the occasional misting I gave it with a spray bottle. It started to worry me that soon it would turn completely Audrey II and start demanding human blood as food, but I just let it go and tried to keep a wide berth when I was puttering around the kitchen.

Guess what? A year later and against all odds, the thing is still alive. Its shoots are significantly less verdant, and far less lanky, but it lives happily (and spookily) on a shelf on my baker’s rack by the kitchen window. And it’s even been joined by a very strange-looking other potato that I decided to let grow once it had sprouted sometime this past winter. They make an alarming pair, but apparently I do very well with things that shouldn’t actually be alive, and that I only have to look after every couple weeks when I happen to think of it. I’m sure there’s some elaborate allegory to be drawn from this; something along the lines of “relationships that just happen naturally and that you let grow on their own are the ones that will flourish.” But let’s be honest: would you want a self-sustaining sweet potato to be dictating your life’s little fortune cookies? I thought not.

Ideally, this whole prolonged story would end with me saying, “But, you know what? Sweet potatoes, basil plants and all other plant life aside, I’ve found someone, and things are swell.” That would be the perfectly framed tale, right? Well, that would also be untrue. Not to say that I’m bitter or unhappy; I’m not, I assure you. My weekly cat sanctuary visits and contemplations about my future are enough to keep the life-light burning strong. But every time I’m shopping and I walk by a display of potted herbs, I do think wistfully that maybe, just maybe, one day, I’ll be able to buy a basil plant again without being afraid. And that’ll be the (brace yourself) pesto day of my life.

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5 Responses to Hot potato

  1. The quality of this writing coupled with the wonderful content remind me once again how lucky I am to have you as a friend. You are bloody brilliant.

  2. Beiby says:

    I love it! Don’t feel too bad. I managed to kill a cactus and a mint plant I was planning to one day make into mojitos.

  3. J Fro says:

    EEK-WAH-DOR (Does the robot) would be so proud! Personally, I think you should give up on basil and start growing catnip for the wedding. ~=)

    @0>-< <—-person with an afro?

  4. Pingback: Prelude to a Hairball | The Reluctant Jersey Girl

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