So I'm in the back of the store, trying to put away the tropical order (which arrived on Wednesday: pictures of three of the more notable plants are scattered throughout this post, though the weirdest one is going to get its own post in the near future), when Younger Co-Worker comes back and tells me, You should go out there; there's a guy who I think is just standing by the Joseph's coat or whatever it's called, breaking pieces off.
Just go go in there and see.
So I go in the greenhouse and look around, and there's only one guy in immediate sight, who sees me see him and immediately asks me something I don't remember, about Begonias. I remember the phrasing was weird -- something along the lines of, I need to steal a couple leaves from one of your reddest Begonias. And we look around at Begonias for a bit, and he's chattering at me the entire time about how he's connected with the University of Iowa1 and there's some guy there who's got this thing he does with dissolving cell walls away until the protoplasm from differing cells can be combined together, and he has to have really red leaves so they'll be able to tell whether or not it worked, etc., which chatter is actually moderately interesting.2
And I think to myself, I should really probably make sure he knows he's going to have to pay for those, and I consider saying just flat out, "You know you have to pay for those, right?" but I don't, because that's, you know, awfully blunt, and for all I know the University has some special arrangement with us to where they can take stuff like this from time to time, for their purposes, whatever those purposes may be. So I figure, okay, no, I'll just go up towards the front with him, and jump behind a register and tell him $3.253 or whatever, and that actually would have worked, except that another customer caught me at that moment and asked me a question about a fern, and while I was answering her question he blew past me, through the store and into the parking lot.
So then I go to the boss as she's leaving for lunch, and while she's telling me that she's leaving, the guy pulls out of the parking lot right in front of the window where we're standing, and I get his license number and ask the boss for a pen, and then I ask her, So, um, do we have some kind of special arrangement with the University where they can come here and take cuttings and leaves and stuff for free? And she says no.4 And I'm like, oh. 'Cause the guy who just left, with this license number, just did that.
And then there was a rehashing of the part of the story I've already told you, followed by a minor lecture about watering the petunias, some of which have gotten too dry recently. So not a huge deal. Also he didn't really get much of value: he did get some rex begonia leaves, but most of them were the mildewed ones, which were also scorching from being in front of a heater and which we were unlikely ever to sell anyway. Plus we haven't been able to propagate the Alternanthera dentata lately from seeds5 or cuttings either one, so even if he got cuttings off of that, they're probably worthless to him. He may only have gotten a couple leaves from some cane-type begonias, and they'll be growing more soon enough. So no real damage done. We're unlikely to prosecute: it'd cost more to get what we're owed than to just ignore it. But I just hate getting played like that, particularly since I did kinda know better and did think about making the right call. Damn this midwestern niceness! It's a curse, I tell you.
1 (plausible: half the town seems to be connected to the University of Iowa in some way or another)
2 Though now that I think about it, he was probably bullshitting me. I remember he threw in some comment somewhere in there about how "and this doesn't count as genetic engineering," which -- the fuck it doesn't! That's totally genetic engineering! And there was something else where he was talking about dissolving the cell walls with cellulose, which a real scientist would have known was actually cellulase, and a few other things like that. He was talking very quickly, though, obviously, so I had to kind of ignore shit like that if I was to have any hope of following the conversation.
3 This is also the price of a 3-inch plant, and is kind of the default charge for people who want to buy cuttings.
4 (To her credit, she said it fairly nicely, not at all in the oh my god, I forgot you're retarded sort of tone that I would probably have used had our positions been reversed.)
5 (Well I think they're seeds: the flower heads have been dropping pieces of themselves when the plant gets bumped, so I'm assuming. Though we still haven't been able to sprout them yet.)