Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Green Thumb

The Green Thumb

Oct. 29, 2009

The Green Thumb

Dear Ed:

I have been reading your articles for many years.

As a matter of fact, when I was young, you were writing about your garden and I suggested you get a guinea pig. You found that quite a hysterical idea when you mentioned it in your column.
Glad you're better and glad I can now read your column in the South Bay's Neighbor.


Babylon, NY

Wow. That goes back to 1973.

The editor who assigned me to do it was an, "investigative reporter," by self-declaration. And he proved it time after time. If he were investigating you, the only hope against your going to jail was if you gave up somebody higher on the ladder of crooks.

And then, he just might break his word and bury you the next year.

He had been promoted, as many of us seek to do, according to, “The Peter Principal,” to the final step in his hierarchal work life, his level of incompetence.

Thus, the greatest seller in the world seeks to be the boss of the sales force. He or she always has that achievement in mind, “boss of the sales force.”

He is a genius at selling, a marvel to behold, as natural as Calvin Hobbs was in legend. He could sell shoelaces to fish, landing gear to eagles, French fries to Frenchmen.

He would be—well, is destined to be, if he buys into it—a horrible boss of other sales personnel. He simply doesn’t understand what is difficult about selling. He is impatient with a rationale or an explanation of it, as if it were a proven argument against man’s ability to fly. “It doesn’t make sense,” he will say, “look up, see that B-747 with the Al-Italia painted on it. Of course you can fly.”

Boss of the sales force. He is seduced into that ambition by hierarchal superiors who themselves have been seduced to their level of incompetence. They think he can get them out of a jam by whatever characteristics made him a top seller. He can’t.

This one wanted me to, "investigate," whether the statement by then-Secretary-of-Labor Peter Brennan, was correct. Brennan had said that Americans could save money on the rising cost of food by, "...growing victory gardens, like we did during the War."

Of course, Brennan had been promoted to his level of incompetence too.

I had never grown anything, and when I found that you didn't throw seed on the lawn and come back a few weeks later with a salad bowel and dressing, I howled in protest.

“I have roots in my back yard with truckloads of passenger roots, just going along for the ride,” I whined. “I have roots for trees the Northeast never hosted. I have roots under my yard from China, roots asking my roots to sign their passports. My roots have roots.”

Maurice Swift, the new Sunday Suffolk editor, of the new Sunday edition (before April 1972, Newsday appeared only 6 days a week), heard my complaints, and laughed.

Swift never sought to be an editor. It was thrust on him, for a while. He was a, “rewrite,” man who could put together a front page 800-word story from notes gathered from four reporters at a midnight insurrection at the State University of Stony Brook, with the deadline looming and him lighting a pipe.

Now, in the new job, Swift was trying to fill a paper every Sunday, beginning the Tuesday before. He had to go into Garden City with ideas for a paper 5 days in advance. He figured my garden could be a feature he could count on, if he had to write it himself. He told me to write what I had told him, and he then told the Nassau desk that he'd come up with an idea for a feature called, “Green Thumb,” based on the Secretary of Labor's statement.

The investigative-reporter-turned-editor was not happy, but the idea turned out to make him look good, so he went along with it, begrudgingly.

I managed to squeeze 24 Sunday columns out of that idea, including one about not smoking in front of your tomato plants, and another about a late-night TV product called, The Hula Hoe, basically, a hoe with a gaping hole in it.

In one of the columns, Secretary of Labor Peter Brennan visited my house (He only lived in Massapequa.). That was my mother's doing. She wrote Mrs. Brennan and invited them (really, him) to my house to see, “their” victory garden. Mrs. Brennan, who had become a fan of the column, made her husband do it.

"You never ask a man to do that sort of thing;" my mother said, "you ask his wife."

I visited a guy in Stony Brook—Nicolas Christ was his name, a Long Island fisherman who buried fish heads behind his garage—who had tomatoes growing over the top of his garage. I also held a contest for the ugliest vegetable grown on Long Island in 1972. One entry was a tomato with Richard Nixon's nose growing out it. Another entry won my Hula Hoe, as a prize. The over-all winner was from Rosedale, a head of cabbage, being devoured by bugs.

I thought I ended the series when the series ended, and I couldn’t think of any more columns out of my six-by-four-foot piece of backyard. My investigative reported turned editor, though, still wanted what he wanted, and I had to write about whether the cost of labor, time, and materials—including the Hula Hoe—was worth the effort. I honestly don’t remember what I said.

Lori, thanks for the memory.

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1 comment:

  1. Ed,
    I'm happy to hear the gigantic struck did not strike 12!

    We shared mostly music and I've got a blog