Greggie was displaying her various particular items, rare plants reared from stolen cuttings, these being the only objects that Greggie would ever think of stealing. She boasted, like a true gardening woman, of her thefts and methods of acquiring other people’s rare plants.
—from The Girls of Slender Means, by Muriel Spark
The thief had some discretion. Perhaps out of a stunted sense of aesthetics, or a farmer’s eye to future harvest, or maybe it was old-fashioned guilt, he left about half of the stalks of aeoniums during his raid of the mini-park at the end of our street. I write “he”; it may have been a she, though it was no “true gardening woman.” The thieving was industrial in scale. Our neighborhood Bernal was ground zero, but it was happening all over the city. In a garden in outlying Richmond, I found that the fat aeonium in a sidewalk planter had been decapitated and filched. Succulent sellers showed up at the farmers’ market and the flower mart. An arrest was made.
That was six months ago. The aeoniums in the mini-park have recovered and are plump. In the neighborhood there are still reports of losing this or that darling, but the losses are small scale. My neighbor David has an awfully inviting box of succulents on his front step. If I were still a thief…
In my 20’s, walking to work, I would pass by a rose garden on Fair Oaks and snatch a rose or two. Or three. One day, after plucking a Pristine, I went for a Fragrant Cloud, and heard a voice like God: “One is enough.” It wasn’t the voice of God but the voice of the owner-gardener. What a saint. In his shoes, my current self would say, One barrel of buckshot is not enough.
If you value peace of mind, you’d best not let yourself get too upset with what happens to plants outside the gate. If you can think of it happening, it probably will. It’s a hard life on the streets.
Despite its location at the junction of 3 streets, the mini-park looks surprisingly good, give or take some dying pine trees with amputated trunk and limbs that nobody wants to take responsibility for. For a while someone was sleeping in the cave made by the mallow bushes. I wouldn’t mind sleeping in such a place, the bed softened by pine needles, but sleeping was not the half of it, and rather than calling the cops one of my neighbors strewed cuttings of a spiny cactus. That was that.
I think about the arrest 6 months ago, curious about the accused (is it a he?), so I google succulent thief+San Francisco Chronicle and get immediately diverted to a neighborhood blog and there, in the lead, is a big picture of the thief with his bucket, looking fearful and guilty, under the headline, Did This Man Steal Your Succulent? He doesn’t look like the Vietnamese peasant I pictured. He’s well-fed and well-dressed, in a smart blue jacket and blue SF cap. He might be Latin or Levantine. I recognize the block he’s walking down, Coso, just below the parklet. Our Miss Marple asked him to stop taking cuttings and, after getting the shot, followed him to his home, reporting its location to the readers and the police.
The 41-comment thread below, after a run of reports of other plants taken and allusions to surveillance cameras, climaxes in a spitting contest between Shawn, who calls the complainers “snivelers”, and Joyce who sincerely hopes that Shawn will one day “patiently achieve more understanding of one’s pride in one’s home.” Lost in the mix is the observation by Erik that the bucket held not saleable aeoniums but spears of agave (I hadn’t noticed), good not for reproduction but to “layer…over charcoal in a roasting pit with lamb, beef or goat.” “I wouldn’t prosecute,” Erik writes, “I would get in his good graces and see if he will invite you over for Barbacoa.”
Agave. There’s way too much of it in the mini-park. It spreads, and because of lethal spines and its weightiness, is a pain to get rid of.
If the guy comes back, I’ll help cut some, smiling for the cameras. I’ll skip the Barbacoa, whatever that is.