A couple of stories I’ve been meaning to write down.
The Avocado Tree
Major Phelps came in to work laughing, and said, well, I never thought I’d see the day …
See, his quarters at Schofield Barracks were one block catty-wampus from the Deputy Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. One street down, parallel more or less, so their back yards shared a fence. He could look out the kitchen window of his 900 sf duplex and see the DCG’s 3,000 sf fully staffed quarters. And while the DCG had staff for a lot of his personal errands, such as picking up his dry cleaning or driving him to work, like most leaders he didn’t want to look like he really needed any help, that he was only accepting the help because that’s the way the Army worked. So he did those certain jobs that he needed to do so that he wouldn’t look like he felt he was different than the rest of the troops, jobs like changing the oil in his car and mowing his own yard. And it was while both men were mowing their yards that Major Phelps and the DCG became aquaintenances, the kind of aquaintenances who know a little something but nothing really significant about each other, like whether they mowed the lawn on Saturdays or Sundays, but not how many brothers the other one had or if he was on his first marriage.
One day Phelps and the DCG were both out back doing yard work, and Phelps was picking up something from the back corner, by the fence that separated their yards. The DCG could see Phelps bending over, picking up armfulls of something, and pitching them into a bag. From his manor, he could tell Phelps was not collecting but was hauling off, from the way he was roughing tossing the yard scraps into a plastic trash can. So he ran over there before he could haul off the first load.
You see, Phelps didn’t care for avocados. Nor did anyone in his family. But that was an avocado tree in his back yard, and the tree was dropping its fruit, and one can’t exactly just run over a few dozen green baseball-sized fruits with the push mower, so Phelps was bagging them up before he mowed. That’s what the DCG saw, and without even having to do the math of $1.50 per avocado times a couple of dozen, he knew he couldn’t let Phelps just throw them away. No, he ran over to their shared fence and offered to take care of Phelps’ little problem.
But what neither of the men knew was that an avocado tree will produce several hundred if not a thousand avocados each season. So when the DCG offered to scoop up Phelps’ avocados, he didn’t realize what he was getting himself into.
And that’s why Major Phelps was laughing. Because over the next couple of weekends, he would invite friends over to barbecue and to hang out in his backyard, and he would point and his back yard and say, “Life is good. How many people can say they have a two-star general as their personal landscaper?”
The Mango Tree
(You can probably guess where this one is going.)
There was a little five mile loop I used to run in Hawaii, a loop starting at the office and running out the front gate of Ft Shafter and into the local neighborhood, and the turn around point was this monstrous shade tree. Not particularly tall, but wide enough to cover three or four yards. And I didn’t know what kind of tree it was until …
Paul came into work one morning and placed a paper bag down by the coffee pot in the break room, the spot where folks would leave a box of doughnuts or coffee cake that was for the whole team to share. “Hey, everybody, I brought in a bag of mangoes. This tree in our front yard, turns out it’s a mango tree, and it started dropping fruit, so it’s my lucky day: free mangoes!”
There were ten or so mangoes in there, and a bunch of us helped ourselves to one.
Next day, same thing, only a slightly bigger bag. “This is too cool,” Paul announced. “Going to be living off mangoes for a while. There were twice as many on the ground when I got home yesterday as there were the day before. So help yourself, everyone!”
Third day, Paul came in with another grocery sack in one arm, and a blender in another. “I don’t think we can keep up with these mangoes, so I brought in the blender so we can make smoothies. It doesn’t get any better than this, living in Hawaii, does it? These things are a buck each at the commissary, and we’re getting them for free!”
That’s about when I realized, the commissary always has mangoes for about $1.99 a pound, but every now and then there’s this kid selling them on the side of the street, a quarter each or ten for a dollar. So there must be something about supple and demand going on there …
Next day, Paul walks in and says, “Hey, can someone help me get some bags out of the car? I can’t carry all of the mangoes myself. Everyone get a bag, and I guess take them home, cut them up, and freeze them.” He was all matter of fact now, no longer excited about the prospect of the gift from the tree in his front yard.
Monday came, and no mangoes. “Hey Paul, is that tree out of mangoes?” someone yelled at him. “Oh no, the opposite … I spent all of Saturday scooping them up from the yard, and then Sunday morning, you couldn’t tell I had picked up a one. I didn’t have time to spend all weekend out there, so I just let them lay there.”
Tuesday, he came in looking a little pissed. “No mangoes, Paul?”
“You know what, I don’t care if I never see another freaking mango as long as I live. You know what mangoes do? They fall from the tree. And the ones from the lower branches, they don’t fall so far, and they’re not quite as ripe, so you can pick them up. But later on, they’re falling from higher up, and they’re a little bit riper, so they fall and hit real hard and splat everywhere. Turns out, you know who likes mangoes? Birds. Birds like mangoes. And you know what birds do? They eat them up until they’re about to puke, and then when they’re stuffed with mangoes, they see that there are still more down there, so they just keep stuffing their freaking little faces. And you know what happens when you weigh about three ounces and you eat a pound of mangoes? You poop it everywhere. And do you think a bird cares if my car’s in the freaking driveway? Noooooo!”
One week. That’s how long it took to go from “Ain’t it great living in Hawaii” to “My gawd, who planted a freaking mango tree in their front yard?!?!”