As we neared the grove, I noticed what sounded like the echo of voices from a radio. At first I thought it was from the neighbor, but then I realized it was coming from underneath one of the fig trees, which is certainly one of the last places I’d ever expected to hear someone engaged in a passionate discussion on Egyptian papyruses over the airwaves. It was just one of a four-pronged defense system to keep the threat of birds away and save the modest harvest without the aid of some good old-fashioned poison. The other three components of the team included a scarecrow, CDs hanging from limbs, and a device that beeped at supposedly regular intervals. I didn’t know what to make of it all, but one thing was for sure, I had the honor of standing before arguably the most fiercely protected fruit in town.
The scarecrow was a perennial guardian, though ever since its performance in the Wizard of Oz, its effectiveness is forever being called into question; the beeper clearly couldn’t be counted on, as the only thing regular about it was how incredibly irregular it could be, which, now that I think it about it, was perhaps its greatest virtue; and the CDs gave the garden a holistic feel to it, even though no one really knows what the hell “holistic” means. But the radio, now that was a novelty! It was eerie, spooky and disturbing, and it kind of reminded me of those radio hosts in the Korean War who kept telling the American GIs to give up because their wives and girlfriends back home were humping plumbers.
“Now, that’s a nice touch,” I said, as I listened to a commercial for discounted beach towels. “That really sends a strong message to the enemy.”
“Freaks the hell out of them,” added Fernando as he gazed out into the distance like a war-scarred colonel.
“Freaks the hell out of me,” I added. “But is it bio-friendly?”
“It is, indeed.”
“I bet the neighbors must love you for it.”
“Healthy living comes at a cost my friend,” affirmed Fernando. “I’m doing everyone a favor here.”
“Yeah, but does it work?”
“It should for a while. Until they figure it out. Birds are smart bastards.”
“Do you think they will?”
“They always do. Then I’ll think of something else.”
“You could always shoot ‘em,” I said. I grew up in a very different and hostile American environment. Suggestions like mine came naturally to me and would have been received almost enthusiastically at home.
I’m not sure if it unnerved Fernando, but he did pause a few seconds before replying, as if we wanted to know just how to respond to a person who showed early signs of psychopathology. “You could, I guess. It wouldn’t be very environmentally friendly.”
“Oh, come on. The only poison is lead and it stays in the bird. What more can you ask for?”
“Well, to begin with, what if you miss? Where does the bullet go?” He had a point. Every year hundreds of people around the world are victims of stray bullets, products of Afghans celebrating weddings with banquets and ballistics, or just idiots like me forgetting some of the basic laws of physics.
“Into the fields some place miles away. There is no serious risk. There’s a bigger chance of your dying in a car accident than being picked off by a wandering bullet. Plus, I won’t miss. I promise. Just think of how they’ll react. Trust me, Tokyo Rose is driving me nuts.”
“Come on. Your brother would let me. He’s a natural born killer like me.” He was an accountant and he liked slaying wildlife almost as much as he enjoyed balancing budgets.
“My brother isn’t here.”
“All right. Have it your way. But don’t say I didn’t warn you when all your figs are gone.” Now that was a sentence I thought I would never utter in my life.
Laura walked up to Fernando, inserted her arm in his as if they were going to start square-dancing and said smiling, “Don’t listen to him. He’s just jealous.”
“Don’t listen to me? Don’t listen to her! We’ve been doing the bio-crap for a year and now none of our plants on our balcony have survived. You’d think we were watering them with acid rain. I walk into a florist shop and the plants shiver with fear.”
“That was mildew that killed them. It happens.”
“So does genocide, but that doesn’t mean we have to celebrate it. And tell him what happened to your mom’s pineapple tree in her backyard.”
Fernando looked at Laura intrigued.
“It was attacked one day by an army of ants.”
“Attacked? It was stripped to the bone in one night! I swear to God. And I told you. I didn’t know insects were capable of such destruction. So I said, ‘Shoot ‘em. Shoot ‘em!’ But did you listen?”
Laura laughed again. “How am I supposed to shoot ants?! I don’t have a 100,000 rounds of ammunition lying around.”
“You don’t need it. Pop off a couple of rounds and you’ll have them scattering for cover. Then you come in with the Raid and finish them off. It’s simple.”