Over the course of my mid-length and mostly unvaried life, I’ve occasionally been asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Until now, I didn’t have a response.
Today, while I was in my garden, staking tomato plants that should have been staked a month ago, the answer came to me: I can’t identify plants to save my life. That’s what’s wrong with me, and it’s been going on for a long time.
Because I can’t tell one plant from another, I only have tomatoes in my garden. Back in June, I planted cucumbers, beans, peppers, onions, lettuce, spinach, and God only knows what else. I even wrote what I planted on little plastic sticks and planted them alongside the plants. My dog, Rudy, decided the identifiers were toys, or food, so they were gone immediately. I didn’t worry too much, reasoning that once the plants bore fruit, I’d know what they were.
I didn’t count on the damage I would wreak with my weeding, however. Even though I covered my garden with black plastic before planting, weeds and morning glories managed to sneak in. Weeds I can handle, but morning glories are the bane of my gardening existence. While they’re pretty, they’re a major nuisance. They grow on long vines and twist themselves all around every plant they can reach. I tried to pull them up as soon as I saw them, but their leaves are identical to the leaves of young cucumber and bean plants. Therefore, I must have torn up all of the cucumber and bean plants along with the morning glories. I also ripped up the peppers, onions, lettuce, and spinach in my haste. Somehow, though, the morning glories survived and are on a mission to strangle the remaining tomato plants.
I should know a little about plants. After all, I took a botany class in my last quarter at The Ohio State University. I learned all about the identifying qualities of leaves and how they indicated what plant they belonged to. My crowning achievement in that class was being able to identify a plant by looking up its leaf serration and flower attributes in my botany book. That was my final, and my correct identification probably meant the difference between my graduating or having to repeat the class.
The class met twice a week, in the summer quarter, from 8 a.m. to noon. During one break, I came back with several of my classmates and we were laughing about something or other. The teaching assistant, who was probably only a year or two older than I was, was not amused. He pulled me out into the hall and asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Unfortunately, stressful situations always make me laugh. I just looked at him while attempting to suppress my laughter. He turned a frightening purple color and said, “If you and your friends ever smoke on break again and come back in this state, you will all be automatically flunked.”
I was confused. This was, after all, a time when smoking was a college prerequisite. I just looked at him. “Why can’t we smoke on our break? There are ashtrays in the hallway.”
“You know that I’m not talking about cigarettes,” he yelled at me.
“What are you talking about?” I said between laughs.
“Pot,” he spit out.
“We weren’t smoking pot,” I said.
“Then why were you all giggling when you came back from break? And why do you stink of pot?” I didn’t answer him. I can’t recall, 28 years after the incident, why we were laughing, but chances were good that we were laughing at him.
“Get back in the class and tell your friends what I said,” he commanded. “This is your only warning. I would think that a graduating senior would not jeopardize her graduation by doing something so stupid.” I didn’t say anything else, for fear of making the situation worse, and returned to my seat.
After the class, far from the classroom, I told my classmates what had happened and they laughed uproariously. “What kind of botany teacher thinks tobacco smells like marijuana?” they asked.
Anyway, that was the end of my botany career. I thought I’d never need it again in real life, like algebra, but it turns out I did. Too bad I was smoking weed at the time, instead of paying attention.