(11 Pages in Typescript)
Don't be too hasty! they're saying. Remember the good times! Remember how it all began, remember what a good friendship you had!
And what am I going to tell them?
Well, I know one thing. I'll never forget how it all began.
There we were, sitting by the side of the road in the one spot we could find that was out of the scorching sun, sitting there with the perspiration dripping down our faces, watching the mindless traffic racing by. He was picking up strands of grass chewing on them, throwing them down again picking up more, things had gotten pretty tense by then, I can tell you. We didn't dare look at one another, I was afraid if I said anything, if I as much as opened my mouth, he would start chewing on me, chewing me out. So we just sat there about three feet apart, pawed around in the grass for want of anything more to say to one another.
Finally, staring straight ahead, he mumbled:
At least we have some pretty flowers to keep us company.
At the time, I thought he was forcing himself to be polite, but the fact was, even at that moment I felt like a person whose toes had been stepped on. Here I was, sitting by the side of the road on what must have been the hottest day of the summer, sweat pouring down my face, my handkerchief soaked my car all banged up feeling like an absolute fool, if you want to know the truth - this guy stumbles onto the one subject about which I'm an expert, he tramps right into my garden, so to speak.
At the time, I gave him pretty short shrift.
Daylilies, I said.
Well, of course they were! I saw them the minute I got out of the car. How could I not see them? In fact, after we'd stood around for a while studied our little problem, it was I who suggested we walk up the hill sit in the shade. A stand of daylilies was about as much consolation as I, at least, was going to get, if we had to bide our time at the side of a highway we might as well surround ourselves with some beauty. But hell, we all make mistakes, everybody makes mistakes once in a while, I didn't want this guy to think that I was a complete ignoramus.
Hemerocallis fulva, I said. Daylily enthusiasts refer to them as road-ditch lilies, sometimes they're called the poor man's orchid, or the lazy man's flower. That's because they seem to thrive on neglect.
He stared straight ahead, seemed to think about it.
Sort of like me, he said.
Okay, okay! So maybe I didn't like feeling I was on the defensive. In any case, I decided to enlighten him further.
They're really quite common, I said. After all, all plants are just weeds until they've been domesticated. Weeds are just plants that grow where people don't want them to grow.
At this, a hint of amusement came into his face:
Are you saying you know something about daylilies? he said.
Of course I do! for some reason, it was the first time since the whole thing started that I felt quite right in the head.
I don't suppose you subscribe to Daylily Journal, he said.
Sure do, I replied. Who did he think he was talking to?
Then you belong to the American Hemerocallis Society?
At first, I confess, I couldn't figure out how this guy knew so much about me. We both went silent again, when I finally turned glanced at him . . . he was beaming.
Which region? he said.
Suddenly, no use not admitting it - suddenly I was beaming, too.
Well, we were off running. It was as if we had completely forgotten why we were sitting there. We started calling up the names of our favorite cultivars, trading notes on the new catalogue offerings, talking about who we liked to order from which of our favorites had made it through the winter, which hadn't. We talked about the activities going on in our region, don't understand how we'd never bumped into one another before the shakeup that was underway in the national society we got right into it! Tets, diploids, cross-pollenation, working with the newest latest as compared to working with tried-and-trues, going for variety as compared to going for a pleasing, overall design got right into it. We even shared a laugh over the way people are constantly driving by our houses slamming on their brakes, stopping to look.
Why do people do that? Well, just look around this yard. Front, sides, backyard, everywhere you look the yard is aflame, practically bursting, with color. when I'm out here pruning deadheading tending to my beauties, people slow down to gawk, I just potter about like I don't know what I'm doing. I just go on about my business let them have all the pleasure out of it that they want. that's the beauty of daylilies, that's what makes them endlessly fascinating. There are hundreds hundreds, even thousands of varieties, they come in every color, crimp twist, every ruffle flute, stripe striation, you could imagine. But while I often get five, ten, fifteen buds on a scape, have been lucky with reblooming, we even talked about that the blooms themselves, each little bloom, lasts only a day. A yard full of daylilies may have a thousand flowers all blooming at once, but each little treasure lasts only a day. It was amazing, suddenly, how much we had to talk about.
Now I admit it was my fault. I never tried to duck out of it, I never tried to deny it. My mind must have been on something else that day, the heat didn't help any, what with that old noisy car with all the windows open. I pulled out to pass someone, we slammed right into him, got him by his rear fender. But that wasn't the half of it. No, that's when the real trouble started. He swerved to his left, we cut back into one another and locked bumpers. God, it was awful! We started fishtailing down the highway, I could hear my headlight being crushed, our bumpers locking tighter. He slowed down, I was pushing, he was pulling, then one of those big eighteen-wheelers got behind us I thought we were both going to be killed. Finally he waved his arm motioned over to the right, I don't know how we managed it, but somehow we got ourselves slowing down at the same speed heading off the road in the same direction. Finally, finally, we began rolling to a halt and still thought that eighteen-wheeler was going to get us both and coasted onto the shoulder onto a patch of dry grass: five more feet we would have sunk into a big, square concrete drainage ditch. Then, like two old war horses that couldn't go another step farther, we sputtered to a halt.
I thought my car was going to explode when I got out of there, or that I was going to explode. I couldn't believe I was still alive. But right from the beginning, Harry was cool about it, much more cool, calm, collected than I. Not that there wasn't plenty of cold, hard fury in his eyes (and maybe I should have taken my cue right then), but outwardly at least, Harry was cool, calm, collected. He didn't say anything at first. He just came over looked me up down, went over studied the problem. He walked to the back of my car, then up front again, had a look at it from that angle.
Your fault, friend, he said. After a pause, he said: Well, we won't now whether we're gonna be able to go on our separate ways unless we try to get our cars pulled apart.
I was all for sitting down trying to catch our breath, but Harry was determined to see if we couldn't get our cars separated. I think he felt there was something embarrassing about having the two cars twisted up with one another like that, sort of like one horse sniffing the rear end of the other. I think he felt that if the police the wrecker were going to come, the least we could do was not look like we had played a little game of kootchy-koo right in the middle of the highway. In any case, I made it clear to him that it was my fault. As anxious overwrought as I was, I didn't try to deny it.
But wouldn't you know it. The two cars wouldn't come apart. I don't know how I'd managed to get our vehicles so tangled up in one another, but even with him revving his engine trying to back up, me revving mine trying to go forward, the damn things wouldn't come apart. In fact, we only made matters worse. I could hear his tail light cracking, see the lid of his trunk being pried up, it began to feel like we were two rams who had locked horns on the side of a mountain couldn't get them unstuck, two rams who were going to die right on the spot from exposure starvation. In the end, all we succeeded in doing was rolling ourselves farther along the shoulder, toward that damn drainage ditch.
So there we were, two fish out of water,bidingourtime by the side of the road: he, a tall good-looking black man in a business suit, I - wouldn't you know it - in my worst-looking old gardening clothes. It was a hell of a way to form a friendship, I can tell you that. it might never have become a friendship if Harry hadn't kept his head in the beginning, if he hadn't exhibited so much calmness self-control. Who knows what kind of shenanigans a black man - a tall good-looking black man in a business suit - might have pulled, standing there at the side of an anonymous highway? So it was Harry's restraint that enabled our interest in daylilies to transcend this little mess I'd gotten us into. when the police the wrecker finally came, with much prying wrenching they got us pulled apart (wouldn't you know it, it was Harry who had to be towed: quarter panel wedged against his rear tire), even then, as we were getting ready to go our separate ways, there was a hint of friendliness, even forgiveness, in his eyes.
I mean go our separate ways for the moment, because it was pretty much understood that once this other little matter had been taken care of, we would get together again. We met by accident. That's what Harry has said to this day, when people ask how our friendship got started. it has been a good friendship. I'll admit it. There have been the fans we've exchanged, the cross-pollenations we've achieved, the types we've tried to hybridize. socially, well, socially it's been pretty good, too. Lately, in fact, it's almost come to seem like Harry was part of the family. I don't know how many times I've heard Betty call: "Harry's on the phone! Oh honey, it's Harry" Or how many times I've heard Jessica tumbling down the basement stairs to pry me out from under the plant lights, say: Harry's here, Harry's at the front door!
Recently, however, I've begun having second thoughts. I've begun to wonder whether I should have been so big-hearted generous, right from the start, I've begun to wonder whether I should have been in such a big rush to take all the blame. He was over in my lane, if you want to know the truth. if I'd chosen to make an issue out of it, I think I could have proven it. Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have bent over backwards to be nice, because lately something's gotten into Harry, something's been bugging Mr. Harry L. Jefferson. I first noticed it a couple of months ago, when we were discussing that new commuter line the state wants to build. I suppose it was inevitable that we'd come down on opposite sides of that issue, but my position was, good for the city, bad for the suburbs. Gimme a break, it would not only take people into town, but bring them out here. We tried to leave the issue alone focus on daylilies, but then there was the question of that municipal bond, all the money they wanted to raise to deal with those old riverfront factories to public housing. Well, I'm all for thatęµ° to a point. Why, it would cost millions to convert those buildings, it's a known fact that whatever the county spends, the little towns like ours eventually get taxed for, too. After that, it was the little things. How I was handling my registration data. How much fertilizer I was using. Whether a hundred fifty, two hundred dollars wasn't too much to pay, in this day age, for somebody's exotic new hybrid. Well,I'llbuy the fansŹ I want to, thank you very much, I'll buy 'em from the people I want to buy 'em from. Oh, lots of things come back to me now, that I think about it, things he's said or done over the years, things I chose not to notice, or glossed over in an attempt to be friendly, easy-going, nice. The little hugs kisses with my wife, that's one thing. From someone who's practically a member of the family, you'd expect that. after I had a little talk with her about it, I got over any misgivings on that score. But now that I think about it, I believe he would like to have had something going with Jessica, the whole time. Just waiting for her to grow up, I suppose, just waiting to pounce. Oh, there are lots of things I could point to, now that I think about it.
But tonight, tonight was the last straw. Tonight he really showed his true colors. He just wouldn't let up. He wouldn't get off my case, he kept having to butt in, he kept having to have it his way. Okay, so the grill wouldn't light up. That happens. Maybe the charcoal was damp, or had been sitting out in the garage too long. Then, being called away to the phone, that didn't help any, either. But it's not so very complicated. You just squirt a little starter fluid on the bricks, they'll light right up. But no, Harry has to put his two cents in. He says I don't have the bricks arranged correctly, that the charcoal has to have more air circulation around it. Oh, he has a million ways to help me run my own show! finally, when I have a nice little fire going have the chicken laid out, he starts telling me I should push the thickest pieces toward the center. Well, I've done enough barbecuing in my life to know jolly-well what I'm doing. Hell, he himself was driving recklessly that day, if you want to know the truth. the starter fluid does not repeat, does not have a bad taste to the food. But the wife kids were getting restless, Christ, I saw the fireflies, I knew what time it was and then what does he do? He starts making suggestions about my sauce. He dips his finger oh-so-scientifically in my sauce like he's some kind of fancy chemist or four-star chef, dabs it on his lips! says it needs Tabasco! That adding a touch of Tabasco would give it just the flavor it needs!
And then? Oh, I've had it, I've really had it! Then there was that little wisecrack of his. That was the absolute last straw! He turns to me smiles that supercilious little smile of his, says :
Frank, you know something? When you get right down to it, you don't barbecue chicken any better than you drive a car.
Well, it's the Fourth of July, isn't it? We invited him, we invited him to our house. I wasn't going to stand for it. No sir. Not after all I've done for him, over the years.
I turned looked him straight in the eye, said:
You know, Harry, ever since the day I ran into you, you've been nothing but a goddamn freeloader.
Well, look who couldn't take the heat! He didn't say a word. He turned on his heel walked off. Stormed up the terrace, here, marched across the driveway got in his car. I knew something was up. I could hear it in the way he slammed his door, I could hear it in the way he made his wheels squealed, I think he did it just to be insulting. Then I heard what was the most sickening sound I've ever heard in my life.
And look at this, just look at this, will you? This car isn't a year old, look at it! A foot-wide swath of dent scratch all the way down the length of it! He sideswiped it! He sideswiped it, goddamn it! I ran out to the street. You can bet I ran out to the street but he had already turned the corner was gone.
Now here are the wife kids telling me to calm down, telling me not to be too hasty, telling me to remember the good times, how it all began.
And what am I going to say to them?
I'll tell you what I'm going to say to them, damn right I will. This was hit run. this, my home, is private property. This was wanton, willful, malicious destruction on private property. Well, they have laws that cover such things, fair is fair, right is right. I don't know whether he did it on purpose, I don't know that for sure, but I know damn well he did it, I won't stand for it. I'm not going to take this with just another smile, shrug.
You wanna know what I'm going to do? I'll tell you what I'm gonna do.
On Tuesday, when this long weekend is over, I'm gonna get in touch with a lawyer. Damn straight, I'm gonna get in touch with a lawyer.
I'm gonna sue that sonofabitch.