Mark in the greenhouse
Saturday, May 25 2013
On the dog walk this morning, I took Eleanor and Ramona on an unusual combination of trails in counterclockwise trajectory, heading first from the farm road to the abandoned Go-Cart track. I lost Eleanor somewhere before getting there and assumed she'd found her way home, but she appeared again soon after I'd made it to the Canary Falls. She must have tracked me by scent, since I was not following any trails and had never before walked directly from one of these places to the other. Near the falls, I found a small amount of Chicken of the Woods fungus growing out of a stump, and I gathered it all. Our path continued up from the southwest terminus of the Stick Trail, then off-trail over Funky Pond Summit, and finally back home via the Stick Trail when we rejoined it. [I tried to make a map of all this using Google Mapmaker, which I'd never tried before. But it isn't designed for personal one-off maps.]
Back at the house, I made a seasonal vegan BLT using fake bacon, vegan mayonnaise, sauteed Chicken of the Woods, and, instead of tomatoes, slices of Bubbies Pickles. The result was so good that I had to make another one, though by now I didn't have any Chicken of the Woods left.
Today's first sandwich.
My buddy Mark is not one to call before showing up here at the house. This makes sense, as I am not one to answer the phone. He arrived this afternoon at around 3:30. He was carrying a sixpack of Mountain Brew Beer Ice, some sort of non-Stewarts brand Frito-style corn chip, and probably non-vegan cookies (though he is vegetarian). He'd fondly remembered eating Stewarts-brand corn chips with my homegrown tomatoes some years ago, though (as implied earlier) at this time of year one has to substitute Bubbies pickles for tomatoes.
We hung out for awhile in front of the woodstove drinking beers and talking about this and that. It seems Mark, who is a member of a community garden in Brooklyn, has really gotten into gardening, including some rather esoteric forms.
He seems to think of himself now as an expert on gardening, telling me things I already knew as though I'd never gardened before. Other times he would lapse into technical jargon, similar to the kind that he uses when talking about photography, his professional passion. What makes this difficult to listen to is that he never defines his terms, so I'm forced to keep asking for definitions. Still, his passion can be a compelling.
It wasn't long before we were down in the greenhouse. Because my seedlings had all done poorly this year (I think it was the crappy soil I'd used), I hadn't done anything at all with the place, and all the pots were full of dead weeds and dry desertlike dirt. Mark was positively inspired and began reorganizing the greenhouse in a way that didn't always comport with my vision. But I played along because I wanted to be a good host even if some of his ideas occasionally seemed kooky. He accused my existing greenhouse soil of being "dead," though it was just dry and not as heavy in organic matter as he likes. Initially he tried to get me to harvest some of my humanure from a bin composter, but that stuff was way too premature. (I could still see fibers of toilet paper in it.) "Do you wanna see?" I jokingly asked him. "No," he said with a quick, short shake of the head. (Later I'd say I'd seen peanuts in it.)
Happily for Mark, though, we managed to find some old bags of potting soil and composted manure, which he thought excellent. He combined it all into one of my big pots, and then asked for vermiculite. It turned out I had something even better, a bag of Hydroton spheres I'd bought years ago from Adams Fairacre Farms in hopes of using it in the refractory of a furnace capable of melting steel. In keeping with his general pattern, Mark greedily took handfuls of the spheres and mixed them into the soil, not caring about whether they or the dirt spilled all over the floor. I tend to be fussy about dirt and dirt additives on the floor in the greenhouse, but Mark's main concern was dead plant material, which he claimed to be breeding habitat for evil "spider mites." At times he seemed interested in hygeine, wanting to (for example) wash out a pot before putting new soil in it. But then he'd do something like like wash his dirty hands in the greenhouse's tank of clean water.
Mark gradually expanded the frantic gardening operation into something of a decluttering jihad, which I didn't really want to do but which was definitely necessary. He kept saying things like, "You dug this beautiful place into the rock with your bare hands, you might as well get some use out of it." Mark said he preferred the downstairs to the new upstairs space, and that he'd prefer to hang out with the plants in the rustic lower level. (Regarding the upstairs, he said it was a somewhat surprising space coming from a guy like me, one who doesn't generally sweat the details. He also found the orange-and-white color scheme unexpectedly "gay.")
When we were done, we fired up an increasingly-legal dry agricultural product and filled the greenhouse with its sweet pungent smoke. We'd run out of beers at this point and Mark wanted to share his Mountain Brew Beer Ice with me, but everything his lips touch, including smoking paraphernalia, take on the flavor of the tobacco he dips. Yes, he actually does that (and he was spitting its foul juice into my pots and between the planks of the decking that forms part of the greenhouse floor).
Ramona kept coming down and wanting to hang out with us and then, perhaps because of the smoke, wanting to leave. (It was cool enough outside that we had to keep the greenhouse door shut.) It turned out that Ramona is something of a Nancy Reagan when it comes to smokable agricultural products, because when Mark offered her the brass pipe, she curled back her lips and growled. I've never seen her growl at being offered anything before, though Mark says his Rottweiler named Cheddar is the same way. It turned out that the reason Ramona kept coming and going was that she was trying to convince us to come back to the house. This was apparent when Mark let her out for the last time and she just stopped outside the door wanting us to open it but refusing to come in.
Back again in the house, I found a final Lagunitas IPA to split between us, and we drank it in front of the fire, which Mark had compelled me to fuel not just with paper trash, but with real firewood. We both remarked on how much of an upgrade even a half bottle of Lagunitas was over several cans' worth of Mountain Brew Beer Ice.
One thing that is refreshing about Mark is that he is very honest in his appraisal of things and will tell you things that none of your other friends will. He took one look at our toaster oven, blackened as it is by years of smoke and covered with an oily patina of kitchen grime and started to point and laugh with that beach-stoner laugh of his. I just shrugged it off, but this is the sort of thing that once caused Ray to spend an afternoon meticulously scrubbing down a coffee maker. Mark is also a good source of info about what our other friends say when we're not around. For example, Ray marvels at my ability to make elaborate inventions while "not knowing how to wipe his ass" (perhaps this is an overstated way of pointing out the indifference I have for appearances and social niceties).
Up in the laboratory, Mark decided to set up a tripod, dictate some lighting, and take photographs of the marvelous clutter that I keep failing to corral. I wish I had some of the photos he took, since they were gorgeous. But he's proprietary about that stuff.
I'd switched to whiskey at this point, which is something that Mark cannot really drink (he barely touched the seltzer-and-whiskey cocktail I fixed him). When I get drunk I like to pick up my guitar and play improvised riffs, and after I'd been annoying him for awhile Mark matter-of-factly said, "You suck." But he liked my paintings, saying of my seeming-indifference to that part of my life, "You're a great painter and you don't even care." He especially likes a painting that Gretchen hates of a woman with an exposed nipple. He likes it for the same reason that Gretchen hates it: that one exposed nipple. Asking what I'd take for it, I said "$300." He said he'd take it, but when he finally left he not only didn't take it, he also left some of his photography equipment behind as well. Other than alcohol, I'd been a terrible host in that dinner time had come and gone and I hadn't offered anything beyond corn chips. But I think the rule is that when people show up unexpectedly one is under no obligation to provide anything.
Once I had my house back to myself to live in my own unfrenzied way, I poured myself a fresh new drink of booze to celebrate. I ended up drinking rather more tonight than I had in nights previous.
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