I’d lost the bid to install the Chelsea Center Elementary School butterfly garden, so with sunhat in hand I faced the Gardening Hiring Committee of the Senatorial Gardens Retirement Villa for the associate gardener job.
The meeting was chaired by old Senator Gaseous. He raised his gavel, dropped it, and called a five-minute recess to retrieve it. He called the meeting to order, but was immediately interrupted by Senator Jaundiste.
“I object to the Chairperson’s patriarchal assertion of authority,” she wheezed.
“You are out of order,” the Chair wheezed back, peering mole-like down the conference table with an educated guess as to who had spoken. Senator Gaseous had already promised the Senatorial Gardens Federalist Tea Time Book Club that he would vote for me, and read aloud from a prepared statement. “Mr. Raichu, you are a gardener of unimpeachable reputation. We have before us website testimonials from dozens of satisfied customers who have lauded you for your green thumb, your artistic eye, and your professionalism. To quote from three: ‘The passion flowers are so pretty!’…’He finished on time.’…’He brought donuts once!’ These testimonials speak volumes, Mr. Raichu.”
“Thank you, Senator.”
“It is I who should thank you. Senatorial Gardens would be honored to employ a gardener of your outstanding qualifications — qualifications which should be obvious to any non-senile member of this committee. In that regard, I yield the floor to Senator DeMagog.”
“Mr. Raichu,” said the acerbic ex-senator, knitting his brow like my high school principal when I was caught taking geranium cuttings from the botany lab, “allow me to read a statement attributed to you in the Best Buds Garden Center customer newsletter of July 15, 2018, and I quote: ‘Invasive plants are a real problem in this neighborhood.'” The senator removed his glasses with the triumphant air of a prosecutor poised to destroy a witness. “Is it fair to say that you consider native plants more desirable than the hardy species that you so derisively dismiss as ‘invasive?'”
I turned to my partner, Gina, for a whispered conference.
“I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of my views, Senator. I was talking about the harm invasive plants cause to — ”
“I’ve heard enough!” gasped the senator, his nurse immediately cupping an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. “I’m voting no on this monster!”
“Hardly a surprise,” interposed Senator Longtuthe with a bitter laugh, “considering that the Senatorial Gardens newsletter quoted you just yesterday as saying ‘Appointing an avowed social conservative to this post would endanger the values our community holds dear.'”
“Senator,” I interjected, “that’s ‘soil conservationist,’ not ‘social conservative.'” With a smile I thought winning, I added, “I live for good soil.”
“The witness is out of order!” screamed Senator Selfreiteous.
I checked my phone. A load of fairy-tale lavender had arrived at Home Depot. Sweet.
“The Chair recognizes Senator Bloviateur.”
Senator Bloviateur plumped a 400-page tome in front of me. “Be so kind, Mr. Raichu, as to open the Bylaws Of The Senatorial Gardens Retirement Villa to page 214 and read into the record Section 87(A)(2)(c)(iv).”
“‘In selecting landscape designs,'” I read, “‘careful consideration shall be given to the ability of new landscape elements to harmonize with existing physical structures.'”
The senator removed his glasses — they all had that riff — and leaned forward as if to kill a newly trapped gopher. “And what is your interpretation of the word ‘harmonize,’ Mr. Raichu? Do you give it a strict construction, or are you a good person?”
I’d been warned this was coming. “I suppose it refers to the idea that plants should look good with the buildings. The colors and shapes and sizes and so on.”
The senator harrumphed with self-satisfaction. “I see. And if residents were to propose a planting scheme that you, in your wisdom, considered inharmonious in terms of ‘the colors and shapes and sizes’ of the plants, would you be willing to install such a scheme?”
I looked helplessly at Gina. “I’d rather not comment on hypothetical planting schemes, Senator.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” the senator sneered. “But the people of this villa have a right to know how marginalized plants would fare if you were appointed associate gardener.”
“Senator, I’m really trying to understand, but by ‘marginalized plants,’ do you mean border gardens?”
“Enough! You are making a mockery of these proceedings! And I cannot, in good conscience, risk appointing a man like you as assistant gardener. My vote is no. A thousand times, no!”
I peeked at my phone. Tomato starts were on sale at Lowe’s.
Senator Gaseous tapped the gavel with all the strength of Montgomery Burns. “It’s obvious that there’s nothing more to do here,” he wheezed. “We all announced our decisions before the hearing anyway, so let’s just vote, and maybe we can make last call for dinner at four.”
I passed by one vote. But when Senator Gaseous offered congratulations, I replied, “Thank you all for the honor, but I’ve just received a text offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become the head of leafblowing operations for We Blow, Inc. So as we gardeners say, I’m just gonna make like a tree and leaf.”
“A joke that corny shows contempt for this body!” shrieked Senator Selfreiteous.
And with both of her points, I had to agree.