I am not a homeowner and find the American Dream a bit of a racket. Not in the traditionally critical, “This is what they are selling us,” kind of way, but more specifically, “What part of this is compelling?”
Besides my fear of living in a suburb with a child strapped to my hip, I hate yard work. The entire act seems tedious and unrewarding. Mulching, weeding, and plant shopping at Home Depot doesn’t move me. I don’t think I would explode with orgasmic joy at seeing that first tomato plant sprout. While I appreciate the amount of time and dedication spent tending organic gardens so that I can enjoy some arugula, this kind of hobby is just not for me. And, I have always applauded modern agricultural technologies.
Am I a terrible person? I don’t think so. There are enough people in the world who like to do this kind of work, in a passionate, fulfilling, “this brings me closer to God” kind of way. In Gainesville, I lived with a houseful of these happy farmers. There was the shy but politically vehement, pot-smoking vegan botanist who sat quietly unless he had the opportunity to rage against the evils of capitalism. Our second roommate, “Cable” is a divorced environmental anthropologist who is giving his life a kick start with a fixed gear and a new hipster wardrobe. Finally, “Pants” is a buffalo herding/meat proprietor/former primatologist turned horticulturist who only rocks dancehall. In any event, these boys like plants.
The first week I was in town, they invited me to meet them at the local community garden for the weekly “garden party.” I am not good at deciphering my fantasies from the often far off realities I encounter daily. In my head, there were going to be little pink drinks with umbrellas and Hawaiian names, breezy party dresses, and possibly some skinny jean donning hipster Diplo-rocking DJ. As if I could feel more out of place in this little southern college town, I show up in a black cocktail dress and my wedge yellow party shoes. I walk down a long path, following the directions that involved dirt roads and secret entrance I was given, waiting to hear the music. I am swatting mosquitos with my oversized purse when I stumble into a wheelbarrow, and then trip on a compost pile.
I look up and see that, this is not a garden, patio soiree, but an actual “garden party,” meaning that the people are actually gardening. Some are barefoot. Everyone has dirty hands. There is an intricate sprinkler system, winding vines, rowed, irrigation ditches, and labeled vegetables. Not surprisingly, I am looking like a thick mascara-ed deer in headlights.
After some suave self-deprecation, I tie up my dress and flip off my shoes (I operate under the illusion that I can fit in anywhere). Someone volunteers me to chop hot peppers for the Buffalo meat burgers.
“Make sure you wash your hands. And don’t touch your face.”
“Okay, okay,” I say dismissively, like, “Do they think I don’t know how to cut peppers? I am really excited when someone shows up to film scenes for a documentary about community gardening and start smiling and waving for the camera. In the current of attention and distraction, a mosquito flies into my eye and I take the pad of my index finger to clear it out. Within seconds, I am blinded, in not one, but both eyes. I am crying both tears of reflex and actual tears of pain. I cannot see to navigate the path or rows of seed, I am escorted to a nearby bench where I wait nearly an hour for the effects of the pepper to wear off.
While I am sitting there, in the dark, I start to feel like Ray Charles, “This must be what it is like to be blind,” I reflect, feeling sorry for myself. I can actually feel my hearing abilities heightening, like a blind superhero. The students and farmers start trading horror pepper sex stories: the guy who forgot to wash his hands and touched his girlfriend, the guy who forgot to wash his hands and touched himself, etc.
I start to think I hear music.
There we were, bound by my misery. When I can open my eyes again, I know that my makeup is smeared and my dress is covered in dirt. I had also accumulated a pattern of bug bites over my arms and legs, but it was too late for prevention, and I still had enough sense to scratch.
I was fortunate that it had started to get dark out and everyone was distracted because 250,000 bats flew out of the bat houses and were now swarming in clouds. Since I was treated for rabies after a bat bite in 2005, I have a fear of bats like some people fear spiders or snakes. I think they are hiding in the shadows or have evolved in such a way to attack without purpose. When in a dark room, I can see them hanging from the ceiling. Come to think of it, there is more than one reason I don’t spend a lot of time outdoors.
We are all standing in a row, looking out over the garden as the sun is setting. When it is dark, we sit around the fire, itching our legs. I didn’t eat the pepper burgers, but I felt like I got initiated. A little roughed up. And when I got home it looked like I actually had a long day of gardening. Maybe I won’t ever have my own garden or tend the land, but I did get to confront my fear of bats, and forget about my make-up.