After a painfully long and cold winter in the far-flung arctic recesses of rural New England, I took a job at a nearby greenhouse, ready to help usher in a luscious spring, willing to get my hands dirty doing it, and able to accept the meager wage offered. All right, if you want the truth, it was the only job I could find that fit the criteria of my condition at the time: poor and carless.
In any case, I was determined to make the best of things. My job was to transplant seedlings from small, dirt-filled flats into larger containers in preparation for shipping to those big, well known nature-loving conglomerates which selflessly desire to provide the public with tenderly cared for, chemical-laden, assembly-line vegetables and flowers.
The first day was torture: eight hours on my feet, hunched over like Quasimodo, as I plucked and planted strawberry roots. By the second day, I was crying, ‘Sanctuary!” My shoulders were blocks of solid granite and my back was weeping large, copious tears. By Day 3, my body had adjusted somewhat to its hideous deformation. On to the next challenge!
What does one think about while in the throes of monotonous rapture? Have you ever wondered? Well, let me tell you: nothing. Unless you are standing next to a sewer-mouthed co-worker, and then your mind is filled with all kinds of colorful imagery. While said co-worker emits noxious streams of expletives, the seedlings wilt, and you start to question your salvation. You concentrate deeply on your work, attempting to become one with the lettuce, hoping to avoid the lightning bolt that you are sure is imminently close to striking.
I have always been intrigued by other cultures: Asians, Mexicans, Illegal Aliens. Now was my chance to study their uniqueness up close, except for the fact that I feared being caught in the middle of a police raid at any moment: “Put your hands on your head and step away from the rutabagas!” My curiosity was thus overshadowed by images of a jail cell shared with Sewer-mouth, listening to diatribes of the male human form.
For the first week, I managed to avoid the pale green outbuilding (which is a civil way of saying ‘toilet’), by fasting water all day, and then the inevitability factor finally kicked in. Fortunately, I was able to detach myself mentally from the distressing experience. In my mind’s eye, I watched as the misshapen figure of Quasimodo slumped toward the structure, which had been miraculously transformed into a glorious, awe-inspiring cathedral. With one eye drooping just like Charles Laughton, he swings the porta-church door open and disappears momentarily. Within minutes, the melodious sound of bells can be heard ringing throughout the land, and then the hunchback emerges, his whole face now drooping as he hurriedly makes his way out of the toxic zone.
Here are some of the plants that were available at the greenhouse: strawberries (juicy and red), rhubarb (tart and crisp), onions (pungent and heady), cannabis (kilos and joints). Actually, I never heard it called by its formal name, but by its secret code name, ‘Mary Jane’, a moniker that even Mother Theresa would have recognized. In reality, it was not being sold by the proprietors of the greenhouse, but by a ‘contracted’ worker from the far-flung tropical recesses of a state in the rural south (I never asked just what he had contracted).
By this time, my conscience, my wallet and my back were all bent to their limits. I approached my immediate supervisor (I’ll call him, ‘Frollo’), and gave him my notice. “Why,” he asked, feigning naivety. “For lots of reasons,” I answered, asking under my breath the same question my alter-ego, Quasimodo, had asked of the gargoyles, “Why could I not be made of stone like thee?” In truth, by this time, every muscle between my brain and my buttocks was pure marble. Feeling more monster than human, I slouched toward the time clock, pretending the buzzer was a chime, and laughed maniacally as I stepped into the afternoon. I’m thinking of creating a 536 page novel out of my experiences.