Saturday, April 14, 2007

Puttering in the garden

That's what my mom called it. She would take clippers and a trowel and "work at random," as the dictionary puts it, among her plants and bushes. Only thing is, her puttering didn't seem so random. She knew when her little asparagus were going to poke up and knew exactly where to trim her shrubs' little limbs. My mom didn't do much at random. She always worked, though, never being one for watching soap operas.

She loved the unmelodramatic story line of greenery. Well, one time it got very dramatic. That was the morning she woke to find that someone had dug up and hauled away newly planted bushes on the street side of her yard. When she replaced them, I believe she stayed up the next few nights at the window with her dad's shotgun.

My mother was serious about gardening, even though she called it puttering. I'm not sure I will be. I'm more of a not-work-at-random kind of guy, especially when it comes to taking care of plants, lawns and yards. That's partly why I sold a house with three-quarters of an acre of land two years ago and bought a condo with a 300-square-foot patio.

But condos make you feel old, and now I feel old enough to start puttering in the garden, which supposedly makes older folks feel young. I'm sixty-one and it's time to try growing tomatoes, like my mother and grandfather before me. Got to do something before 5 o'clock and the early-bird special. That's why we're abandoning the condo, and the illusion of owning property, for a house with a good-sized yard mostly covered with tree bark, low maintenance plants and very low-maintenance rocks.

It's time bring in some high maintenance plants, and see it they survive this puttering putz.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bluto Rebloated

Don Imus tapped into a nasty American slang tradition, and over the years has helped perpetuate habits of speech, thought and action that should have died with whites-only water fountains. But enough about Imus. I must, you must, everybody must talk Imus. Enough, I said.

I am here to celebrate some American slang traditions that are positive, even when they're derogatory.

For example, the part of unincorporated Marin County where I'm buying a house is called Terra Linda, which is developer-mangled Spanish for "Beautiful Land." Over the years, because of certain climatic tendencies, residents have taken to calling Terra Linda "Terra Winda" or "Windy Lindy." Others call this less affluent part of Marin (yes, there are less affluent parts of the richest county in California) "Trasha Linda."

This isn't a great piece of slang, but it is part of the widespread renaming of towns, cities and neighborhoods all over America. When I lived in Orlando, folks called it, reasonably, "Borelando." Down in Southern California, the young people of Escondido call their city "Escondildo." During the 15 years I lived in Mill Valley, the small Marin County town became richer, smugger and more Land Rover-ridden. Thus we called it "Me Valley" and eventually "Mean Valley."

Familiarity breeds contemptuous slang, usually well-deserved.

Sailors always rename the ships that serve as their bobbing prisons. I once worked on an oceanographic ship officially named the Explorer, but known to its crew as "the Exploder" (a precursor to the equally flawed Ford SUV of the same names). Hometown newspapers are renamed. The Orlando Sentinel was "the Slantinel" to its subscribers. These kinds of derogatory names just bubble up from the ground (or ocean) where we live.

It's a good thing. Now, is it worth renaming "Imus in the Morning"? No. Enough.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Pluto disappeared

Where have I been? Selling a condo and buying a house, a real, more expensive, detached house. Me, I've been anything but detached. This whole thing has taken three weeks in a supposedly cool housing market, and in two more weeks the movers will be here and I'll have a mortgage for the first time in ages.

My brain is burned. It took longer to buy a car.

When you buy a car, first you read all the reviews and Consumer Reports reports. Then you go look at a bunch of different models. Then you go home, think about them, and a few days later come back and sit in them. Eventually you take them all for test drives. You do everything you can to avoid signing papers with a salesman until you're absolutely sure you like everything down to the cupholders.

When you buy a house, you wander through a bunch of open houses and generally see nothing that works. The houses you like are too expensive and the houses you can afford are too small, too close to busy roads or need TLC, which stands for Turn Life over to Contractors.

Then you see a house you can live with, or in, and you immediately have to start bidding, signing papers and indenturing yourself to banks. You don't get to test drive the house. You just go around saying, "The couch will fit here" and things like that. At closing, you live with the choice for the rest of your life or until another sucker comes along.

The rest of my life starts in two weeks. And you know what? I'm happy about it. That's the weirdest thing about home buying. It's a form of hope that needs paint and new carpets.