A Tree as Hideous as Me: Pool Parties and Other Summertime Plagues

Thinking of taking the plunge? Keep your shirt on, pal

(Peter Oumanski)

I was working in the garden the other day when I remembered how much I hate working in the garden. I’d rather go to a concert, for God’s sake, and there are people at concerts, hundreds of them. I hate the dirt, I hate the smells, I hate the bugs, I hate the plants—holy fuck, do I hate the plants. Full sun, part sun, shade, more acid, less acid, trim, don’t trim, too much water, not enough water. They’re like old Jews at a deli. “So why do I bother?” I wondered that morning as I dug yet another hole for yet another whiny bitch of a plant that would no doubt be dead in a week. And then, that afternoon, I went to a neighbor’s pool party.

You hear “pool party,” of course, and you picture a bacchanalian, orgiastic beer commercial: wanton voluptuous women in tight bikinis, devil-may-care men doing canonballs off the diving board, a muscular black man (black men in commercials are always muscular) doing that dance where you hold your beer overhead and swivel your hips around in some sort of a swivelly way, perhaps there’s even a dog … an ugly dog so ugly that, aww, wait: it’s cute!

That’s not what a pool party is, though.

Not when you’re over 40.

When you’re over 40, it’s more of a Standing Awkwardly Around the Pool Party. It’s a Why Can’t Someone Throw a Non-Pool Party For Once. Don’t bring a swimsuit. Just your self-respect. It’s a Party in the Nearby Vicinity of a Pool Which is Making Everyone Nervous Because They Think They’re Expected to Go In Party.

And nobody, ever, wants to go in.

“Come on!” shouts the party thrower. “Isn’t anyone going in?”

No, asshole, we’re not. You know why? Because we’re ugly. Me, particularly, but humans in general. The most beautiful human in the world is uglier than the ugliest weed; that’s why weeds don’t tan, or go to the gym, or get breast implants. They don’t have to. Human beings, particularly me, are, far and away, the most unattractive creatures on the face of the earth. Men are repulsive—flabby, misshapen and foul-smelling, with utterly ridiculous genitals—but even women are no great shakes, and shakes is what they do a little too much of, to be honest, particularly at 40. If it weren’t for a mega-dose of testosterone pumped into them by their ludicrous testicles, even 20-year-old males wouldn’t be into women. It goes without saying that no women, ever, should be into men. Particularly me.

“Oh come on!” shouts the party thrower. “What are you, chickens?”

No, asshole. We’re honest. If we were chickens, we’d be less ashamed of ourselves. We’re humans. Even God knows we’re gruesome:

… she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons (Genesis 3:6-7).

“Eww,” said Adam.

“Ugh,” said Eve.

“Here,” said God, turning away in disgust. “I’ve created pants.”

Eventually, of course, someone dives in—usually a female, usually after she’s ingested enough alcohol to deleteriously affect her judgment—and for a moment, everyone begins to wonder if they too should go in. Perhaps we’re not all pale, lumpen sludgepiles? Perhaps, in fact, we are quite beautiful? And then she comes up from under water, this vision, this wonder, her eyeliner smeared across her cheeks, her hair splayed mop-like over her sputtering face as she’s wiping, hurriedly, some sort of snot/spit thing off her mouth and chin.

“I should go help with the barbeque,” the others standing around think to themselves.

“Maybe someone needs me in the kitchen.”

“I’m going to go play with the dog. Where’s the goddamned dog, goddamn it?”

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Which is why, I think, I garden. Because gardening is a lie. Nature doesn’t come with landscape paper. Plants aren’t arranged in groups of three, with the tallest perennials to the back, shrubs in the middle and shorter annuals in the front. Nature is weeds and brush fires and mudslides and carrion and maggots and vultures. There are no container plants occurring naturally in the wild. On a hike the other day to the top of a tall mountain, I passed a group of mountain laurels, their flowers radiant in the summer sun. “Wow,” I thought, “how beautiful.” But was my amazement at the beauty of the laurel, or was it at finding, after hiking for hours through dusty, barren logging roads and across forbidding rock ledges, anything beautiful up here at all?

And so I garden. Because maybe if I spray enough chemicals, and add enough peat moss, and arrange the plants with an eye to both color and season, maybe, maybe this place won’t seem so hideous. Maybe I can fix it. Maybe I can create it in my not-image. Maybe I can start to believe it’s beautiful. And maybe, if I can keep my shirt on, I start to believe the same thing about myself.


One thing I never understood about the dog runs in the city were the proud owners of the moronic retrieving dogs, the dogs who chased with frantic enthusiasm after every ball and brought it right back, anxious for another throw.

“He brings it back every time!” the owner would beam.

“What a little bitch,” I would think. “What’s wrong with that stupid dog?”

I always preferred the dogs with some dignity, some self-respect, the dogs that looked at you after you threw the ball as it to say, “Well, you threw it, dick. You go get it.”

Good for you, I always thought about the stubborn non-fetcher. Good for you.

June, of course, is the season of summer camp and Little League and soccer. “Henry,” says the proud father of a small boy in my son’s class, “is doing soccer, baseball, karate; he’s even doing swimming!”

“What a little bitch,” I think.

My son wants to stay home this summer.

“I don’t feel like chasing balls all day,” he says. “It’s stupid.”

Good for you, Buddy. Good for you. A Tree as Hideous as Me: Pool Parties and Other Summertime Plagues