Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Murder in the Neighborhood

It was a hot and steamy night in the City of the Angels. But then, it’s frequently hot and steamy making every angel in this city sweat buckets. Take it from me, perspiring angels are not a pretty sight. Nor is murder. But murder is what I had on my hands. Again.

As the local gumshoe detective, I’d solved some pretty big crimes in the neighborhood. Tough cases attracted me like moths to a swimming pool. I’d solved the Mystery of Who Killed the Grass? and What Kind of Cat was Jackson? And the ultimate head scratcher: Who Cut the Internet Connection? But now I was faced with the biggest case of my detectiving career: Who Killed the Bush Mallow?

Bush Mallows are a native California shrub that go by the alias of Malacothamnus fasciclaris. They grow to be four to six feet tall and have little pink flowers that dames love. The victim of this particular murder fit the description of a young Bush Mallow: she was 3.5 feet tall with pink blossoms that had faded to a deadly brown. Unfortunately this murder hit close to home. The Bush Mallow I’d planted in my own garden a year ago was now the victim of this apparent homocide. It was Homocide: Life in the Garden.

Luckily for this case I had my trusty sidekick. Jackson had a feline cunning and an ability to see in the dark like a cat because my sidekick Jackson was a cat. As I marched out to the murder scene, Jackson followed.

“Who would want to kill the Bush Mallow?” I said gazing at the yellow crime scene tape that cordoned off part of my front garden. Meanwhile Jackson stared at the fence and noticed my old nemesis perched atop it: the Squirrel.

Did the Squirrel kill Miss Mallow? Of course! It was common knowledge that the Squirrel had it out for me. But would he push himself to murder a young plant to hurt me? I looked at the Squirrel, he bared his teeth and clucked at me. I didn’t have any evidence of him being near Miss Mallow the night of the murder or ever, in fact. But in fulfilling a personal vendetta, the Squirrel would try to hurt me anyway his twisted peanut-sized mind could dream up. Ah-hah! The Squirrel did it! As I was about to declare “case closed” I turned back to the dead plant. As I touched its dry, brown body I noticed a footprint next to its trunk.

Ah, hah! Evidence! The footprint was large, like a men’s size 12 shoe, which meant the murderer couldn’t be the Squirrel unless he was sporting a disguise of Paul Bunyan or the Jolly Green Giant. Okay, if the Squirrel didn’t kill my Mallow, a man with a big foot did. But who had a big foot?

“Mail delivery!” the Postal Worker hollered as he rounded the Palm tree and stomped into my front garden. His size 12 black shoe missed my dead Mallow by an inch.
“Do you always cut through my garden?” I said pulling a cigarette from behind my ear. I didn’t light the cigarette I just pulled it out from behind my ear then returned it back to my ear, then pulled it out again.
“Sometimes,” he shrugged.
“Did you step on my Bush Mallow and kill her?”
“No,” he said retreating. “Besides, if I would have stepped on it, it would be flattened, and it’s not.” He handed me two bills and the PennySaver flyer and disappeared across the street.

Before I declared this “case closed”, I now had something to consider. Hmmm. The Postal Worker did have a good point about the lack of trampling marks on the plant. I reexamined the victim’s body. The Bush Mallow was dead brown but stood tall, completely untrampled. Well if the Postal Worker didn’t do it, someone else must have. But who?

“Your plant looks dead,” my 86 year-old neighbor said from his yard.
“Because it is, Harold,” I said twirling the unlit cigarette in my hand. “The question now is: who killed it?” I stepped toward him trying to unsettle him and get to the truth.
“Not me if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Then how did you know it was dead?”
“… It’s brown.” Clearly my technique for unsettling him was not working.
“Did you see any suspicious activity around the plant before its death?” I said circling Harold.
“The only person I saw near the plant was you.”
“Yes, when the Santa Anas came.”

Hmmm. I remember the Santa Ana winds. They are strong, hot winds that blow into L.A. from inland desert areas and damage plants, destroy kites and decimate a woman’s hairdo. I also remember the latest Santa Anas that blew into town. They were so strong they were rocking my 3.5 foot tall Bush Mallow back and forth in its planted hole. Finally I remember fearing that the gale-like winds would knock the plant over so I ventured out into the winds and with a mallet hammered the five foot tall stakes into the ground on either side of the Mallow. Then I tied the plant to the two redwood stakes and called it a day.

It was just a two days later that I noticed the Bush Mallow was dead.

Now I tugged on the dead plant and lifted it off its base, it swung in my hand like a Christmas Tree that had been chopped clean of its roots.

Ah-hah! It was me. In my attempt to save the plant from the Santa Anas, I killed it by severing it from is roots. At last! The murderer was found!

Uh. Hmmm. Okay. So I was the one who killed the Bush Mallow. But does that make me a bad person or just an ignorant one? My sidekick sat on my foot and purred. Maybe the judge will let me off without doing any time. After all he is a pretty wonderful guy, that Mr. Wonderful.

“Case Closed”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Native Check Up

“It’s been a year since we planted the natives,” I said grabbing my hat and sunglasses.
“And they’re doing okay,” Mr. Wonderful said looking up from his comic book.
“Are they?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“What do you think?”

A year ago we ripped out the turf and in its place planted drought-tolerant and California native plants. And it wasn’t a day too soon since rain has skipped visiting the great state of California and instead soaked the Mid West, New York and London town. Last year Mr. Wonderful thought all we had to do was plunk the plants in the soil and PRESTO! they would take off, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile I held that the baby plants needed to be planted, monitored and watered (just a little) until they were established, then we could cut out the watering, which is realistic, savvy and just plain brilliant.

So on this summer day I traipsed out to the garden to check the status of the drought tolerants and California natives.

Last year we planted Buckwheat, a California native. It was scrawny in the ground.

But this year it grew and bloomed yellow flowers. They were funky and unusual and I liked them precisely because they were funky and unusual.

Last year we laid stepping stones sprinkled with Dymondia and Salvia.

This year the Dymondia and Salvia grew. Although the former needs to grow even more to live up to its nickname of “Silver Carpet”.

Last year I planted a Mallow with high hopes. The nurseywoman had told me it would grow into a large shrub with pink blossoms. A pretty native shrub with a pink blush? I was in! With this in mind I planted it near the street to block out said street and any cars. When I planted it, it was so small Mr. Wonderful pushed stakes around its perimeter to protect it. 

This year the good news is that the plant grew like Jack’s beanstalk! From that little wee-like plant grew a large shrub! The bad news is when it got to be a shrub, it died. I don’t know why it  died, but when it died, it did so magnificently, on a grand scale. The whole plant just shriveled up and croaked. What didn’t die were the Red Apple Succulents that grew toward it as well as a noxious weed at its base. Sigh.

“You think the Mallow is dead?” I said pointing at the brown skeleton of our plant.
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Gee, what do you think?”

Next: Who killed my Mallow? 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Color Me Mine

“What do you think of this one?” I said laying a paint sample card on the coffee table.
“Too tan,” Mr. Wonderful said pushing the card aside.
“How about this one?”
“Too red.”
“This one?”
“Too yellow.”
“And this?”

When we bought The House we knew it needed work. It needed a kitchen update. Check! It needed a kitchen update of the kitchen update. Check! It needed new paint inside, outside and upside down. We started painting the interiors with a bedroom, then worked our way out in concentric circles to painting the other rooms. I picked the colors and Mr. Wonderful agreed on all my choices. Honey for the breakfast room; cream for the living room; and coffee for the den. I was careful to choose colors in the palate of the foods that Mr. Wonderful liked and—presto!—it worked. As they say the way to a man’s heart is through his color wheel. Or some such. Our complete color choice synchronicity made me develop a new tenet to relationship compatibility. Forget socioeconomic background, politics and religion, if you and your spouse can agree on the same colors to paint your house, you’re completely compatible.

Then we got to the exterior. We both agreed that the outside of The House needed new paint but that was the end of our synchronicity. In fact from then on it became a cacophony of colors, a visual dissonance, a major meltdown.

I wanted a white exterior and Mr. Wonderful wanted anything but a white exterior. 

My preferred color choice came from famous houses I’d seen countless times, like the White House in Washington D.C., the white house where the Ewings discussed JR and Bobby on the “Dallas” TV show, and the white house where the Bel Air Prince of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” lived freshly.

“I don’t like white,” Mr. Wonderful said pushing the white card aside. “White houses look too much like what a Greek fisherman would live in.”
“Greek fishermen don’t live in the White House.”
“How do you know?”

Realizing I could not reason with him, I abandoned white and looked for another color we could agree on. On a recent trip to Palm Springs, I had became enamored with the mid-century modern style, desert homes and the color brown.

“Paint our house brown?” Mr. Wonderful said wiggling the bark-colored paint card in his hand. “Why?”
“It has a Palm Springs vibe.”
“So does golf. Say maybe we should paint the house green.” He picked up another card. “I like this emerald color.”
“Green?” I scrunched up my nose as if I had just smelled Jackson’ s liter box after we’d returned from that Palm Springs weekend.  “No way.”
“Green is a welcoming color,” he handed me the emerald card.
“And it’s the color of the neighbors’ house.” I pushed it aside.

Realizing if I didn’t find a color we could agree upon soon, Mr. Wonderful would paint our house in the spitting image of Harold’s house and make us look like a single compound of houses, like the Kennedy’s compound at Hyannis, spruced up with Harold’s vinegar personality. I wracked my brain for new colors.

Escaping outside to the park for ideas, a few streets away I noticed a recently painted house in a rich cream with orange trim and accents. The color combination gave it a Palm Springs vide, a mid-century modern feel and clearly worked in our neighborhood. Just then a thin man with a goatee exited the house with a Scottish Terrier on a plaid leash. 

“Hello,” I called out to the stranger. “I live a few streets away and just wanted to compliment you on the colors you painted your house.
“Thank you,” he said opening the gate to the sidewalk giving me a smile.
“I’m looking for colors to paint our house’s exterior—” His smile faded. His Scottie turned to me and growled.
“Well, don’t use my colors.”
“I wouldn’t dream of—”
“I don’t want us to be twinsies or like the Kennedy’s compound at Hyannis.” Then he turned on his heel and headed to the park. As his Scottie passed, it growled again. 

Over olives and wine by the pool, Mr. Wonderful flashed me two cards.
“I’ve got it!” he said laying them down before me. “Cream and orange.” The colors were beautiful and exactly the same as the goatee neighbor’s house. 
“Nah,” I said sipping my wine.

So we still haven’t painted the exterior. But we will one day because as they say, the way to a man’s heart is through being compatible. Or some such.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Love through the Rear Window

She was sweet, naive and young.
He was older, wiser and twice her size.
It was a match made in Alfred Hitchcock heaven.

Having a pet expands your mind. It puts into action the concept of trans-species communication reminding us that the needs of people--and animals--are simple ones, specifically: To be fed; To be loved; and To play with catnip toys. So when I got the chance to adopt a feline and embrace trans-species communication, I said "yes". What I didn't do was ask questions such as: Was he an outdoor cat? Did he have claws?; and Was he a lover?

Instead Mr. Wonderful and I had to learn about Jackson the hard way: through experience. Once established in our home we saw that Jackson did not venture out of The House, ever. Hence he was an indoor cat. We also noted that Jackson made a shred-fest of my favorite chair. Hence Jackson had %&*# claws. Just last week I noticed Jackson spending even more time than usual in front of the rear windows watching a black female cat visit our backyard. Ah-ha! Jackson was a lover.

The female was thin, her coat was as dark as night and her eyes sparkled like peridots. Jackson also had good taste.

It started innocently enough with Jackson holding uninterrupted sessions peering out the rear windows at the female as she jumped the fence into our backyard, sipped from our swimming pool and lounged under the artichoke plants. He was mesmerized by her and what was happening on the other side of the glass windows. So much so that when I kneeled next to him and stroked his coat, he totally ignored me. It was reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense movie Rear Window where Jackson was the wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart character absorbed by the goings-on outside his apartment's rear window. The female cat was the murderous object of his fascination through the binoculars. And I was the Grace Kelly character, stopping by to say hi, give him meals and lounge next to him in gorgeous Edith Head dresses only to be ignored by him completely.

My life had become a movie and my cat had become one of the leading men of classic Hollywood.

If Jackson was so obsessed with the female cat, I thought, he should go meet her. So I opened the door wide obliterating the glass partition between them. Jackson did exactly what I thought he would do: he ran to the spare bedroom and hid.

If he wouldn't get closer to her, then it was up to me to approach her. The next time I saw the female sipping from the pool I snuck outside silently closing the door behind me. As I approached I saw her sinewy body, her sleek coat, those green eyes. Glancing behind me I noticed Jackson at the window staring at me pleading with me to be careful. It was like we were in that scene in Rear Window when Grace Kelly goes exploring in the suspicious neighbor's apartment all while Jimmy Stewart--paralyzed with fear and a broken leg--watches from the safety of his home. I took two steps toward the female before she got spooked and rushed the fence, clearing it in two bounds.

If he would not go to her, it was up to her to come to him. So I left the doors open to the backyard and Jackson sat in the doorway just on the inside watching the trees, herbs and pool. Suddenly the small female leaped into our yard and approached Jackson in the open doors. Something primeval must have awakened inside of Jackson for instead of retreating he stepped toward the female. As he did his massive girth rolled from a seated position onto all fours. He took a second step in her direction and she froze. With his third step an amazing thing happened: she turned and ran. To be blunt it was nothing like that scene in Rear Window when the bad guy comes to Jimmy Stewart's apartment to take him down and Jimmy saves himself with camera flashes. Nothing. Like. It.

But that's okay because he's back to watching out the rear window and I'm back to lounging around in a frothy Edith Head dress. Hollywood is so grand.