There is an unwritten clause in my contracts for this column that prohibits me from writing about my vegetable garden more than once a year.
It is a good clause, a sane clause, an absolutely essential clause. And one which makes me utterly miserable. I am, you see, a charter member of Veggie Growers Anonymous, a subgroup of perfectly decent Americans with a sense of propriety as well as property who are transformed every summer into garden bores.
You have, I am sure, heard of golf bores. These are the people who putt through parties, recounting every slice of life. You have also met tennis bores will explain in exquisite, excruciating detail how they turned their grip 15 degrees to the left and now serve like Bjorn Borg. This fascinating fact is usually accompanied by a demonstration designed to bring down the house. Instead, it brings downt the chandelier.
But those of us who spend our summer measuring tomato plants and attacking white flies also can be full-fledged bores. We will, with the slightest encouragement, deliver a State of the Garden address to any captive audience.
Merely mention the game of squash and one of us will eagerly interrupt, "Speaking of squash, let me tell you about my zucchini."
Tell us that you are trying to get "into your own head," and we will free-associate: "Have you tried my iceberg?"
Ask us, in the midst of bright and witty repartee about world affairs, what new on the American scene, and we will instantly answer: Sugar Snap Peas.
All of this antisocial behavior is bad enough. But there is more. I, personally, am famous for corralling anyone around my grounds into a footnoted, annotated tour of God's Little Sixteenth Acre. I rival the tape-recorded tours at the art museum . . . in length.
A perfectly innocent gas meter reader of my acquaintance, for example, now knows the relative merits of caged and staked Big Boys. (I am talking tomatoes, not men.) Another man, special-delivering corrections for a magazine article, can tell you precisely why my strawberries died last winter.
The only one who has escaped me this summer is the United Parcel man. As I was treating him to an elegant discourse on the French Intensive method, he retreated wide-eyed down the stairs. How could I know he was thinking Masters and Johnson when I was talking bush beans?
As for my friends and family, from May to November they are expected to worry and wonder about my garden and to gasp at science fiction tales of my runaway herbs, including The Mint That Ate New York. (Actually, it hasn't started on New York yet, but watch out; it's headed for Connecticut.)
No one is allowed to just eat my little veggies like some sort of barbarian. A tomato is not to be merely sliced; it must be properly sacrificed with a ritual prayer. People ponder the beauty of the green pepper, the history of eggplant.
I am not at all sure how I became a garden bore. I am definitely not the sort of parent who regales friends with the latest antics of a drooling three-month-old, complete with slides. Furthermore, I find it utterly appalling when people put their pets through show-and-tell in my presence, rolling Rover over and over and over.
Maybe it has something to do with the unexpected. The only things we grew in my childhood apartment were refrigerator mold and green carrot tops.
Maybe all the garden bores of America are people who remain surprised that we plant a seed and three months later eat a salad. We are proud as punch; we think we did it; we think this is news; we want to spread the word. We want to spread many words.
But under the terms of my contract, I am not allowed to harvest a measly 750 words each season.