Humble Ambition 2
By Lou Blodgett
Two weeks before, during evening conversation at a Motel 6 in some town, Red, a redheaded man of few words and slide guitar credentials, said that it might be said that such changes in the playlist meant that we were trying to fix something that wasn’t broke. But, he said, we did it because it was fun, and it worked, in the oddest arrangement of a band he’d ever experienced. At that point, he had no idea.
All of this points to musicians doing what they want to do, in the right place. That’s what that performance, and that encore, was like.
We were buzzing in the Green Room later, eating crispy breaded chicken sandwiches they’d brought over from a nearby greasy spoon called ‘Kreem Cup’, for some reason. The sandwiches were great. Wrapped in foil paper, like Mom used to make. The night before, it had been Minneapolis, and the night before that, Des Moines, so we were all exhausted. And, I swear that I was as gratifyingly exhausted as the rest of them. Vernon found a seat, but then switched, with an apologetic look, to a puffy chair next to the cinderblock exterior wall, so’s to enjoy the coolness there. Clarissa exclaimed:
“Vernon, you’re always looking for the coolest spot in a room. Like a reverse cat. Or a cucumber if it had legs.” She chuckled and leaned back to her sandwich, not seeing the aghast look on Vernon’s face.
“Who told you? Who sent you?”
With Vernon’s paranoid answer, we stared at him saucer-eyed with our sandwiches sitting on our laps.
Vernon looked at me, and I waved my arms and tried to tell him that Clarissa was joking. But I couldn’t be heard through his rave. He stood to a crouch, about to dart from the room, and pled, “Please don’t eat me! They’re all after me!”
“He’s kidding,” I then told Clarissa. She didn’t seem convinced. I noticed a lull with Vernon, and swung my head to him, and said,
“Oh!” Vernon said. “Never mind, then,” and he sat back down.
And Red went: “Woah.”
And, everybody else in the band was paying attention to this. This important issue of who is and who is not a cucumber.
“No, no, no…back up…” Clarissa told Vernon, who had gone back to his sandwich. “You are a cuke?”
I took off my pork-pie hat, let it drop to the floor…
…lowered my head into my hands and looked at the heat register along the bottom of the wall.
If it had been any other bandmember he was answering, Vernon might have hedged. But I guess he felt that he had to be especially truthful with Clarissa. He answered quietly.
“Yes. I’m a cucumber. He found me and I didn’t want to be picked. So, I mimicked Smilin’ Bud. And now, look where it got me.”
Then, silence. Then,
That’s my name, by the way. Marty. Bandmembers were calling to me from a world more ethical.
I surfaced and told them-
“When you find talent, you don’t need to ask where it came from! But, yes,” I said, with my freshly lifted head feeling heavy on my shoulders, “He’s telling the truth. I found Vernon in the garden. He’s a brilliant cucumber.”
“…thank ya kindly,” said Vernon, back with us.
“A brilliant cucumber,” Skip repeated, quietly.
“I know it sounds unlikely…”
With Vernon’s analysis, a sip of Leinie’s Lester had taken went down the wrong pipe.
“Here’s my stem,” Vernon told them, pointing to the nub on his right elbow. “And you might have noticed that I get squeamish when someone’s eating vegetables around me.”
“I thought you were just a meat-lovin’ Prima Donna,” Lester told him, then shook his head. “Man, you were givin’ me the side-eye when I had a tossed salad that one time.”
And, Red said:
“I suspected as much all along.”
The sandwiches had been neglected during that stomach-dropping pivotal moment, but we went back to them with myself and Vernon confessing to the band in detail, and reminding them of things, with the band all- ‘I was wondering, when…’ and remembering, and Vernon talking about where the profits were going, to a cucumber preserve in the far-off Esperan Savannah where his variety comes from, and where he would retire and become a vine again, and it’s so beautiful, and now they understand what a good thing they’re a part of, and we talked and talked for over an hour about our frontman really being a cucumber, with fullish mouths at times, since we couldn’t stay away from those sandwiches. They were so good.
Traveling with the show gave me a lot of time to think about my own ‘Humancentrism.’ I admired Vernon, and thought he was quite evolved, but I eventually realized that taking human form doesn’t have to be the only ‘end all’ for a plant. Vernon had taken the form of a human celebrity not because he felt it was the highest rung of the ladder, but simply because he felt that if he was in that form I was more likely to listen to his song, then leave him alone. Vernon was a cucumber by nature, and human through choice. I could see how the nearly arbitrary choice of being a musician fit with his plans, though. Music was the medium; the language that he expressed himself through.
We stayed in Eau Claire for another day, and Lester took Vernon to a rehearsal room with a piano and auditioned another encore tune. This time it was Three Dog Night’s “Out in the Country”, which is a song about just that. A song with lively, joyful harmonic appreciation of nature. That was the callback tune we used as we ‘went out on top’, and left begging offers from many student event centers ungratified. The preserve had been set up, and Vernon felt that it was getting close to time for him to visit it.
The rest of the band went along to see Vernon off, and for vacation. A lot could be written off as a business expense, and they had been a large part of the venture. Skip, Red, Lester and Clarissa were to only stay five days, and Vernon and I, a little longer. The quartet had signed on to be a part of ‘Sweet Awakenings’, a ‘Strawberry Alarm Clock’ tribute band. They’d be rehearsing the show in two weeks. We took a flight from Chicago to Vienna, and then a quick shuttle flight to Espera’s international airport. At customs, Vernon went first and was asked if he was “transporting agricultural products into the country”. He said “No”, as Skip turned and gave me a big ol’ wink. We stayed in the capital for three days and enjoyed the succulent pears that Espera is famous for, and I remember that we took selfies in front of a building where some famous council had been held long ago.
On the fourth day we left the city to where land had been purchased and the cuke preserve had been set up. We settled in a farmhouse there which was slated to become an office and maintenance facility.
We stayed in the house for the night, and in the morning, two locals in charge took us on a short walk back down the access road south, which bordered the acre of preserve. It had formerly been a bean field, but now it was freshly tilled, and had a thousand two inch tall cucumber seedlings on it, all floppy and waving in the breeze. On the other side of that was a meadow with cows. A four square meter corner of the former farmhouse yard adjacent to the preserve was tilled and set aside for our ‘special project’.
The caretakers double checked with us that, with the field tilled and planted, the preserve should be left as it is. They told us that the cukes would probably compete with a lot of grass, and might be gone entirely in a handful of years. Vernon told them that that would be okay. He thought that there would still be some cucumber in it, and, either way, that would be the way the land would go. A car came by, and the caretakers left us next to Vernon’s plot.
Before we headed back to the house, we all stood and pondered the spot where Vernon would go. He said that he didn’t exactly know how he would go back to the soil, but that he did have the urge to sit down on it right then. But, it wasn’t time yet, he said.
“It may look kinda like a grave, now, but when I’m in it, itt’l be the furthest thing.”
Vernon had been very careful throughout his human phase, but now he had become fairly well-adjusted, just before he would return to being a vine. Being the oldest in the group, I was the one who understood the most how much Vernon had been like ‘Smilin’ Bud’, with his breezy, able manner. But, that was a performance. Vernon was becoming a separate self. We had dinner, and a relaxing sit-down, and when he said he was going to go take a quick look at his plot, we didn’t think much of it as he left.
Then, Clarissa stood up.
“He may have gone out there and sat down.”
Then the thought occurred to us, but she was already out the door.
All four of us ran to find her, to find them both. It was early evening by then, but there was still plenty of light.
Once we were out the door and running across the lawn, I saw Clarissa slow down at a spot in the grass that didn’t seem to be near the plot itself, but then I realized that it was. I’d been mistaken, because everything was green there. She stopped at the edge of the plot. It had been bare hours before, but now it was green with vines.
We caught up to her, and Red reached into the patch and came up with shreds of denim and gingham. Skip walked to another side, reached in with both hands and extracted shoes.
“There’s just roots in these old shoes,” he said. He leant over and pressed the roots back into the soil.
“Red,” he said, “I’ll work up the legs carefully. I’m thinkin’ of just probin’ along where he was, and you work the other side. I know what we’ll find, but we should check.”
Red obliged, and, in the meantime, Skip looked up and asked me to confirm that I’d found Vernon as a cucumber.
I told them all with amazement equal to theirs that I’d snipped Vernon from the vine myself.
All Skip and Red found were roots growing out of tattered clothing. Vernon had gone entirely back to being a plant.
Red then sat and lifted a vine, looking at a flower.
“I’m happy for him, aren’t you?”
“He musta took all the water out of this soil,” Clarissa said. “We need to water him.” She and Skip ran back up the driveway for water.
“A lot,” Red shouted back up to road to them. “You can’t overwater cucumbers.”
The two came back with buckets full of fresh water, along with a set of glasses, and we began scooping and pouring water evenly over the small garden as Skip spoke solemly:
“He’s from the soil. He took all people as they came and we nourished each other. He took some knocks, yes, but he applied that to himself and others in a positive manner, just so he could find that special patch.”
We began pouring and saying, “Goodbye Vernon!”
Then someone else, it doesn’t matter who, said-
“Hello Vernon. Well? He isn’t gone… This is him!”
There was laughter and joy as we poured away.