A Sucker Born Every Minute

May 12, 2006

There’s honeysuckle in the backyard. When I was a kid honeysuckle was a great thing: pluck a white or yellow blossom, gentle break the green end, and pull the stamen out slowly to reveal a drop of sweet liquid unlike anything else. Okay, it was exactly like sugar water, but drinking a glass of sugar water wasn’t any fun unless it was brightly colored and claimed to be cherry, orange, or grape, although I never had a cherry, orange, or grape that tasted anything like Kool-Aid.

But I digress. The skill needed to extract honeysuckle nectar made it seem like my friends and I were part of a secret club. And to make it even better my mother told me sucking honeysuckle would make me sick. When you’re a kid nothing makes something fun like being told that it’s bad for you. Unlike drinking a glass of sugar water it’s physically impossible to get enough honeysuckle nectar to get sick. Even if we weren’t kids who would move on to the swings or hitting each other with baseball bats in about ten minutes, even if we could stand there for eight or nine hours, which is how long it would take to suck down approximately half a cup of honeysuckle nectar, there’s no way it would be enough to make me sick. There’s a lesson in that, and the lesson is you are drunk and I am sober, and in the morning I’ll be ugly. Or something like that.

The honeysuckle in my yard now is different. I’ve torn up about fifty blossoms trying to get one of those little sweet drops I remember, but it just won’t work. I don’t know whether it’s because of a dry winter or global warming or maybe my fingers are too big. It doesn’t really matter. It’s one of those simple pleasures of childhood that I’ll never enjoy again. There’s a lesson in that. And the lesson is you can’t go home again, no there really isn’t a Santa Claus, now we see through a glass darkly, some material may not be appropriate for younger viewers. Or something like that.

I couldn’t really enjoy it anyway because, as an adult, I’m obligated to see the bad side of everything. I look at honeysuckle and don’t see something cooler than Kool-Aid. I see a weed that tears up the fence and pushes up through cracks in the driveway so they turn into really big cracks and that kills all the nice expensive plants. It’s a weed. Weeds don’t really belong, no one wants them, but they shove their way in anyway, reshape the landscape to suit them, and after a few years you just give up and mow around them. They’re the megastores of the vegetable kingdom.

But I digress. A weed can always be distinguished from a plant by how much you paid for it. And whether it dies, although it’s almost certain that any plant you pay for or even just want but got free will die. If it doesn’t die this year it’ll die over the winter even if it’s a perennial. That’s the difference: last year’s plant that you bought at a garden store then decided you didn’t really like and have decided to replace with something else will come back as this year’s weed. The plant that you fertilized and watered and covered with electric blankets in January will die and be replaced by a weed. But kids don’t know about that. I didn’t know that when I was five and my mother yanked a dandelion out of her iris bed and threw it in the driveway. To me it wasn’t a weed. It was a really cool looking plant. Actually I still don’t know why people don’t like dandelions in their yard. They have nice yellow flowers that eventually turn into big white balls of seeds that you can blow into your neighbor’s yard because he hates dandelions. Actually it’s a good thing people don’t like dandelions. If they did it would take all the fun out of them.

But I digress. I thought the dandelion was such a cool plant that my mother helped me put it in a pot with some dirt. We watered it and, because it was a plant, it died the next day. It didn’t just die. It shriveled and turned brown and wrote "Goodbye cruel world" on a piece of bark. There’s probably a lesson in that, but then not everything has to have a lesson. If it did there wouldn’t be any fun in it.

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