Sunday, March 30, 2008

The shoplifter

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.

He's what?

Just go go in there and see.

Tillandsia xerographica. This plant is something like 10 inches in diameter, and is impressive, but I strongly doubt that we're going to convince many people to pay $30 for one. ($30 is actually cheap: with our usual mark-up it should have been $40. Certain people had to be talked into reducing the price.)

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

Anthurium andraeanum 'Florida,' at least according to the tag. The picture is more or less true to the actual color: it's sort of orange-but-not-orange. Yellow spadix. WCW and I were both unwilling to buy a whole plant (they were pricey), but we divided one between us and are buying most of the pieces of that instead. WCW, by the way, said that she'd had dreams already about some of the plants that came in in this last order, that she wants some of them that badly.

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.

Euphorbia bougheyi variegata. I bought this particular specimen a couple days ago, because I remembered Aiyana said she had one a while back. Also it's pretty.

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.)


Nancy J. Bond said...

How brazen can you get?!

jodi said...

The mind boggles. Given his gall, I'll bet he'll be back--and you'll be on the watch for him. I think you handled it as well as you could in the circumstances. And gardening karma will get him--those will never grow now, after we all put a Ubangi chicken curse on him. :-)

Water Roots said...

Har, har, har... I know I shouldn't be laughing but you always add humour in your posts, no matter the situation. And you're right about the midwest 'niceness'. I've been to your lovely state twice and loved it. The people were so friendly, it frightened me...LOL... Coming from a big, northern city where being cynical and suspicious of everyone is the norm, having the people in Iowa greet me with a smile (strangers to boot) made me wonder (nervously) "is this person speaking to me crazy?", "is my purse still with me?" and "how much will this cost me?" But after a week or two of being greeted in a friendly manner, I realized that people really can be that warm and nice, and that it's actually kind of cool. When I came back home, the indifference and coldness of big city folk was a little depressing and rather alarming...

Anyhow, sorry about your encounter with that guy. You meet all kinds, some worse than others... Don't let it get you down.

No Rain said...

I think people believe they can take plant parts and it's not stealing. In my nursery hopping, I've seen folks take the offshoots off clumping cactus, shake out seeds from pods, and one time, I watched a guy actually cut a leaf off a sansevieria. When he saw me staring at him, he started telling me how to propagate leaf cuttings. Some people have no shame!
Enjoy your Euphorbia bougheyi variegata. Will you keep it in the house? Mine got a little cold damage this past winter--one section is sort of dried up.

mr_subjunctive said...

They do seem to be kind of fragile, as Euphorbias go. Mine has stabbed itself a number of times, plus whatever unknown traumas it experienced on the way up from Florida, so now it's getting scattered dead patches here and there. If and when the opportunity presents, I may try cutting off the most damaged bits and see if it will propagate, or recover.

I was figuring on keeping it in the house, yeah. I'd put it outside, but we don't have a lot of room on . . . what's the word? The little railed-in walkway that leads to the stairs. And the Yuccas have already put in a request for a lot of that space, and I can't refuse the Yuccas anything they want, as you know, so. . . .

Plus I don't want to put the plant outside in occasional high-wind situations, when it occasionally stabs itself just in normal transport. It'd rip itself to shreds in the first good storm we had come along.

It could be the case that the shoplifter thought he was doing nothing wrong; it could be that he knew he was and was just being really brazen about it (shoplifting in plain sight: brazen. Enlisting the employees' help to find you the stuff you really want to shoplift: damned brazen.). There's not a way to find out, unless and until he comes back. But I imagine he will be back.

The question this raises is, so exactly how often does this happen when nobody notices?

Esther Montgomery said...

In England, the National Trust looks after historic buildings (along with their gardens) and opens them to the public.

They are the kinds of places you can go to on coach visits.

A few years ago, a couple of elderly ladies were caught taking cuttings and putting them in their handbags.

It was on the national news.

I don't think the issue here was that they should have been paying for them - more that there wouldn't be much left in the garden if all the old ladies who visited started hacking bits off.

But, if I were in a garden open to the public - and found seeds lieing around - I wouldn't see harm in taking them.

(Though I think I would also feel guilty enough about it to stuff them into my pocket as fast as I could!)


Sheila said...

For years we lived next to a sweet old lady who shared some cuttings from the world's most stunning coleus cuttings with us. We both kept them going for years and years and years. Much later, she confessed to me, "You know I took a piece of that from the Philadelphia Flower Show ages ago!"

Moral of the story: hers and mine both died eventually, although my plant was claiming ignorance of its origins.

I think nurseries and public gardens should have the same rule as national parks - you can't take anything out, not a rock or a leaf, you have to leave things there for others to enjoy.

Now I have no problem if a customer/browser would ask politely for a piece and be willing to pay something if asked to do so.

But this guy was way beyond brazen in my book.

Oh yes, I WANT that orange anthurium!!!! What's it called, where do I find it? I've never yet had a dream about a plant I was lusting after, but this time may be an exception!

And oh yes again, I know the midwestern niceness too, although I encountered in Minnesota where the natives joked about the "Minnesota niceness". Is it mostly a small town thing? I never noticed it in Illinois but was mostly in Rockford and Chicago.

mr_subjunctive said...

The orange Anthurium is called 'Florida.' Or at least that's the only name I have for it. There was also a red one called 'Dakota' and a sort of weird pink-red that I don't remember the name of, but I don't think it was a state.