A Painful Palm Sunday

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored — Aldous Huxley

We live in Florida, and like many senior citizens, Home Depot is a store we frequent.  We are always working on a house or garden project.  Like many retired empty nesters, we enjoy spending our time in useful pursuits. 

For me, it’s the yard.  I love all kinds of plants and I adore the changing of the seasons, which we enjoyed tremendously during the four years we lived in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. 

Wait, let me add one small caveat to that statement.  Spring, summer and fall are awesome.  But winters in Canada are another story; you can keep ‘em. Last year, Ottawa suffered several weeks of -40 degree weather.  Yep, we now fly south like other smart birds when winter sets in.  

When winter sets in and Canada gets cold, you understand why the smart fowl fly south.

Florida ‘s climate is different from most of the country, which enjoy the typical four seasons.  The “Sunshine State” is broken up into just two seasons, wet and dry. Wet season in Florida usually begins in late May and ends by mid-October. Sea breeze showers and storms are practically a daily afternoon occurrence. Vero Beach, where we live, racks up an average 58 inches of precipitation and the wet season is hot and humid.  But regardless of the heat and humidity, working in the garden fills my heart with joy.

On one sunny Sunday, as my husband and I were idly watching Rusty, the young lot attendant, stuff all the plants, mulch and garden rocks we’d purchased into our SUV, we chit-chatted about all the “snow birds” living in Florida (we are also called “Q-Tippers” by the locals because older folks are often short and when they drive all you can see is their white hair.)

“Yes,” our handsome helper said laughing, “Loading cars for the north folks can be a challenge. Some people buy stuff like they are loading up their plates at at the Last Meal Buffet.  Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs … or in this case, their cars.”

“Yeah.  I get that,” I nodded. “I hate to waste the time it takes to make a second trip. I guess you could say when it comes to home projects, my cup (or car) runneth over.”

During a lull, I asked Rusty the funniest experience he’d ever had loading a customer’s car.

“That’s easy,” he said.  “There is one guy who is a legend here at the Home Depot.  He always buys big items and insists, that if we really try hard enough, we will be able to fit them into his car.  We call him Tennis Tom, because he always dresses in tennis togs.”

According to Rusty, Tennis Tom refuses to admit that his spiffy white convertible sports car is not the best choice for his do-it-yourself projects.

“One time he had me load a high-end Kohler toilet onto his front leather passenger seat.”

“Make sure you attach the seat belt, will ya kid?  I don’t want to hear the darn thing beep all the way home. But, could you hurry up a bit?  My plumber is waiting on this beauty.  And you know what plumbers cost.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” Rusty said, shaking his head.  “Tom drove off with a giant toilet as his co-pilot.  It was quite a sight.”

“Another time, I loaded a dozen big bags of mulch in his front seat and one of my co-workers had to tie down a screen door for the guy.  He’s just won’t take no for an answer.  When he wants something, he wants it NOW!”

But, despite his loading quirks, Rusty said Tennis Tom was a really nice guy.

“He always thanks me for my efforts and tries to slip me a $10 tip.  And I tell him every time that tips are not allowed.” 

“Well, that’s dumb,” he says.  “We tip everybody in New York City.”

“That’s hilarious,” I commented, as Rusty stuffed the last big bag of garden mulch into our car and hit the automatic button that closed the trunk door.

Rusty sighed with relief, “I wasn’t sure all that stuff would fit.  But it did.”

As we drove away from the store, I just had to remind my doubting husband, “See, I told you we could get all that stuff in the car.”

I love being right, at least once in a while.

Well, it fit alright, but our car was jam-packed and smelled like a cross between a flower shop and a barn. I was holding a flat of begonias on my lap and a pair of beautiful red roses were sitting at my feet with the blossoms sticking up between my knees. And Chico, our Jack Russell mix (and constant companion on Home Depot runs), was straddled precariously on the center console.

“Yay!” I chirped gleefully.  “We don’t have to make a second trip.”

A few Sundays later, I was at the Home Depot again, and this time I ended up in the checkout line directly behind the infamous Tennis Tom.  True to form, Tom was all decked out in white and sported an expensive pair of sunglasses.  He was purchasing a large palm tree, which was perched on a loading dolly, with trusty Rusty in attendance. 

When Rusty recognized me, he flashed me a quick smile to say, “This is the guy… the guy I was telling you about.”

According to Wikipedia, there are over 2,500 species of palm trees and almost all of them can be grown in Florida.  The Phoenix Robellini, the type Tom was purchasing, is often planted in clusters for visual impact, has a maximum height of 12 feet and makes an impressive statement on any lawn.  But, like many palms, the Robellini has sharp and bothersome thorns where the palm fronds affix to the trunk.  And when I say thorns, I mean BIG thorns that hurt.  Thick gloves are a must when trimming a Robellini.  And, when you’re trying to plant one, you’d be smart to wear eye protection.   

When I finished paying for my purchases, I followed Tennis Tom and his tree into the parking lot. Luckily, my car was parked directly across from his in the lot. I could hardly wait to see if Tom would try and fit a full-size palm tree in the front seat of his sports car. 

And yes, yes he did. 

“The safety belt won’t fit around the palm, sir,” Rusty warned his customer.  “It’s going to be loose in the seat. And I don’t think that heavy cardboard you brought is going to protect your leather from the thorns.  Are you sure you want to do this?  You do know, sir, that we make home deliveries?” 

“I know, I know,” Tom answer impatiently.  “But my gardener is working today and he’s at the house waiting to plant the palm.  Just buckle the belt behind the tree and don’t forget to cover the leather beneath it with a bunch of that plastic stuff.  I’ll drive very carefully.  Don’t worry kid.  It’s not my first rodeo.  The tree and I will be fine.”

I took my time loading my few purchases into my trunk so I could watch and hear the Tennis Tom spectacle.  As predicted, I heard Tom offer Rusty a tip and I heard Rusty refuse, again.  politely.

“Well, that’s a dumb rule.  We tip everybody in New York City.”

With that ritual behind him, Tennis Tom adjusted his shades, revved up his beautiful white Mercedes convertible and drove out into the traffic with his six-foot tree in tow.   A sports car, with a tree sticking out of top is not a common sight in our town.  So, it didn’t take long for a gaggle of gawkers to develop.

Traffic was light, so Tom was able to easily pull into the left-hand lane at the traffic signal. He waited patiently until the light turned green and then he began his turn. 

As he turned, it happened.  When Tennis Tom leaned into the turn, the palm followed and instantly landed on Tom’s right side.

As the turn progressed, so did the sounds.  Even a half a block away, we could hear loud groans and moans of a person being impaled by the sharply pointed thorns of a Robellini palm. 

“Ouch, ouch, OUCH!!!  Holy shit!” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is palm-with-big-thorns.jpg
This gives you an idea of what palm thorns look like. The Robellini has slightly smaller thorns, but they hurt just as much as these big beauties.

The crowd of onlookers watched helplessly as the gloveless man tried to fend off the onslaught of puncturing palm fronds. It was obvious from the sounds that Tom was being skewered as he fought to upright the thorny beast in his car.

“Holy moly!  Poor Tom,” yelled Rusty.  “I was afraid that might happen.”

A grumpy old guy standing next to me didn’t feel a bit sorry for Tom.  On the contrary.  He just shook his head and yelled, “The guy is an idiot!”

I didn’t mean to laugh.  It wasn’t funny, really.  But the scene was comical and so I did.

Impatience can cause wise people to do foolish things — Janette Oke

I would like to say that I’d never pull a stunt like the one I was witnessing.  But of course, that would be a total lie.  My past is littered with stories about me pushing the limit or refusing to deal with the reality of a situation.  Let me give you an example. 

When Alan and I bought our first house, we went to the hardware store (I don’t think Home Depots were open then) to purchase an additional sheet of laminate for the inside of a shower we were remodeling in our modest master bath. The project was almost complete.  All we needed was one last section of laminate about two feet wide and seven or eight feet long.

When we got to the store, my husband took one look at the laminate pieces the store had available, and wisely said, “We can’t get that in the car.  We’ll have to wait until we can borrow a truck or something to get that home.”

Now, my reaction to seeing the size of the laminate pieces, was totally different.  In my mind’s eye, there HAD to be a way to get that last piece of laminate to our house.  Maybe it would roll up. Nope.  Maybe we could tie it on top of the car. Nope. We didn’t have anything to tie it to.  Maybe we could put it inside the car and leave the window open with the laminate protruding out the side. Nope. 

“Absolutely not,” barked Alan loudly.  “If that laminate get’s loose it could decapitate one of the kids.  That’s not happening!”

“Okay. I get it,”  I snapped back, half kidding. “But, let’s don’t give up so easily. There has to be a way.”

If I’m anything, I’m determined.  And like Tom, I’m impatient.  Especially when I get my mind set on something (and I was dead-set on getting that bathroom done, TODAY!)   So, I harped and nagged at my husband until I bullied him into the idea that I could hold the piece of laminate on the outside of the car, up tight against the door as he drove home.

“We only have to drive a couple of miles, Alan.  I’m sure I can hold it.  I want to finish the shower today.  PLEASE, don’t make me wait another week.  Come on, Alan.  Don’t be such a chicken.  We can get this home.”

Under the barrage of my persistent prodding, the poor man relented and reluctantly handed me the laminate, which I held tightly up against the side of the car.

“Okay, are you sure you have it securely?” he asked with dread in his eyes and concern in his voice.

“It’s a piece of cake, really.  Yes, it’s fine.  I’ve got it.  Let’s go.”

As Alan pulled slowly and carefully into traffic, I was feeling less confident and I was thinking, “If this darn laminate was one inch wider, I could never hold on.”

One mile per hour, two miles per hour, three miles per hour, “So far, so good,” I reassured my hubby.

But, when Alan was forced to accelerate to keep up with traffic, the wind caught the laminate, tore it from my grasp and snapped it in two…like a twig…like a bat at home plate, like brittle kindling for a fire.  You get the idea. The laminate was broken and went flying wildly into the air.

Needless to say, Alan was not a happy camper, nor was the startled man who was driving behind us who had to pull hard right to dodge the laminate projectiles that careened towards his windshield. 

I can’t repeat what the guy screamed at my embarrassed husband.  Let’s just say his barroom vernacular and graphic gestures made me feel incredibly stupid for being so headstrong and suggesting we try such a stupid stunt.  I felt like a moron.  Which I was. 

I don’t get high, but sometimes I wish I did. That way, when I messed up in life I would have an excuse. But right now, there’s no rehab for stupidity. — Chris Rock

The balance of the trip home was in total silence.  But, the story of my stupidity was the fodder for many a party joke, at my expense, for years.

When I got home from Home Depot that Sunday, I couldn’t wait to tell Alan about Tennis Tom and his painful palm experience. 

“Yea,” Alan replied smirking. “Hard to imagine someone being so stubborn as to try something so stupid.  Right, Paula?”

“Yessiree Bob…hard to believe anyone could be such a moron.”