In this serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after many years in Manhattan to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe has an intense loathing of Richard Moby, the CEO of Broadway, an off-Island landscaping business. He is irrationally convinced that Moby wants to destroy Abe personally, as well as all Island-based landscaping/nursery businesses in general. Abe is now obsessed with “taking down” Moby before Moby can hurt him.
July 11, 2008
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy ... Abe caught Mr. Moby red-handed. He is ecstatic. This is going to get ugly.
Do you know what an invasive species is? Pretty much just what it sounds like: a plant that, especially outside of its native environment, proliferates with crazy speed and ferocity and takes over, choking out the native and/or cultivated growth. Like penile-enhancement spam on the Internet. Bittersweet is one example around here; down south, kudzu.
It’s become illegal to sell some invasive species, though they’re often gorgeous and fast-growing (that’s why they were planted where they didn’t belong in the first place — So pretty! So exotic! So low-maintenance!). Broadway lobbied hard against the restriction on invasives, but since it became law, everyone has obeyed it.
Except now Uncle Abe claims Moby’s Broadway Nursery is flouting that law. And he’s ready to go after ’em like a heat-seeking harpoon.
There’s a kind of plant called the Burning Bush (an invasive) and another kind of plant called a Strawberry Bush (not an invasive). They are related, both members of the Euonymus family. Strawberry Bush is pretty. Burning Bush is prettier. And easier to grow. And illegal to sell. (Painfully ironic that in the aftermath of such a heartbreaking fire in Vineyard Haven, we’re dealing with a trouble-maker called a Burning Bush.)
Town Gardens, that little family-owned nursery I mentioned last week, had put in an order with Broadway for Strawberry Bush back in March. The plants were little bare-root things, dormant, identifiable only by tags attached to the stalks. Town Gardens planted them in the yard of a house on Davis Lane. Now they’re in leaf, and starting to prosper ... and showing signs of being, not Strawberry Bush, but Burning Bush.
Abe’s a botanist, so Town Gardens called him in to take a look at the plants. He brought me along because he is trying earnestly to turn me into a botanist too. He also told Quincas to come along, with a shovel and pots. (Quincas is amused by Abe’s Moby-mania. He’s learned some colorful English from Abe’s rants but he doesn’t always realize just how colorful it is, and so he’s alarmed some of our clients by, for example, cheerfully promising how “really freaking big!” a certain tree will grow.)
Traffic down-Island was atrocious; I ride my bike everywhere so I forget how ridiculous Edgartown parking is in July. Finally we left Abe’s pick-up in a friend’s driveway and headed for the yard in question — a huge corner lot with a whaling captain’s house.
The Town Garden folks (a couple Abe’s age, WASPy-gentleman-farmer types) were waiting by the little bushes in question. It took Abe about three seconds to agree that they were definitely Burning Bush — i.e., the invasive kind. He also showed Quincas and me how to tell the difference (it’s easy). “Holy Mother of God, they are some stinkin’ stupid-ass sonsabitches trying to pull this crap,” Quincas observed brightly; from his attitude, he clearly thought he was saying something like, “Hm, the people who did this are sneaky but not very smart.” (We’ve got to find that guy some non-Abe source of English lessons, pronto.)
The Town Garden husband was visibly annoyed (this is the third problem they’ve had with Broadway in as many weeks), but very understated about it. He pulled out his cell phone — I’m still getting used to over-50s with cell phones here, it just seems slightly out of place. “Alright,” he said grimly. “Let me call Broadway to tell them of their error.”
But Abe reached out and snatched the phone away. “It isn’t an error,” he said contemptuously. “It’s a crime. We’re going to make them pay. Quincas, dig up one of those plants for me.” Quincas looked delighted, as if his crazy American boss wanted to stir up just for the sake of amusing us as we watch the fall-out.
We went back to Pequot, where Abe told Mott (his second-in-command) to send the sample bush off to the U-MASS Extension office in Amherst, to be analyzed. The rest of his plan is a little murky to me, except for the part where Mott shakes his head and rolls his eyes, making it clear it’s all a bunch of time-wasting malarkey. Quincas told Stu (the greenhouse manager) about the whole thing in broken English. “I don’t know what comes now,” he said, “But I think I will laugh at it.” (Brazilians have an amazing sense of humor.)
“That’s always the wisest way, dude,” Stu agreed.
But up until now it’s just been Abe yapping. Now he’s taken a definite step, going on record and invoking Authorities. God willing, Moby will get his hand slapped, then Abe will feel vindicated and move on to some more benign preoccupation. Somehow, though, I suspect it ain’t a-gonna be that simple ...
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Vineyard novelist Nicole Galland’s critically-acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Visit her website, nicolegalland.com.