The Ballad of Steve Calvin - Florida's First Fighting Ficus

July 16, 2018

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When I was a little kid, I took a field trip to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. Most of the kids loved the huge model heart that you could climb around the chambers. Other popular attractions were the steam locomotive and the jet fighter cockpit that you could climb in, sit, and make machine gun noises as you pretended to be pilot. I'm pretty certain not one other kid took home with them the lasting impression that was most important to me. Down in the basement of the museum was a display of a colonial American street, with cobblestone streets and miniaturized store fronts. It was an outside scene completely inside. To me, this was about the coolest thing that I could ever imagine. It started my lifelong journey on how to get things that should be outside inside. If you are a psychologist, I would dearly love to know what this means, because almost every single time I have explained this interest, people look at me like I have a couple of screws loose and then pretend to find an urgent conversation with someone else.

 

A good way to simulate outside in an interior is through the use of trees. One of my favourite activities to do as a kid was when we were forced to go to the mall, I would check out with intense interest the trees inside the mall in the atriums. I would examine what kind they were, how they were potted, how tall they could get, and the light needed to sustain the trees. I promised myself that when I was older, I would have massive trees in my living room. I actually got recognized in junior high for a home design that I created that built a house directly on top of a stream. The sunken floor of the living room was a glass bottom directly on top of the stream. The living room was an open atrium in the style of a Roman house and placed all around the living room were huge trees that would grow out of the atrium and provide natural roofing. 

 

In high school, we took aptitude tests and ours was a series of really odd questions that I did my best to answer honestly. When we received the results, my classmates found the normal professions and vocations were suggested. Some were happy and some were not. Then I got my results and it was the source of hilarity for many of my peers. People were betting I would get Senator or CEO or Yakuza crime lord. I didn't get any of those. According to my guidance counselor and his handy dandy test, my destiny lay in becoming a tree surgeon. Let me repeat that. A fucking tree surgeon. What the hell is that? Not an arborist, not a gardener, not an Evergreen Nurse/Practitioner, a goddam tree surgeon. I guess that test knew about my hidden love of trees before I did.

 

My first tree I had was a ficus benjamina. Commonly known as a fig tree, ficus trees are very good at dropping leaves and dying immediately after purchase. Ficus trees do NOT like being moved and the trauma of even rotating the pot will result in a leaf holocaust of epic proportions. There is nothing less attractive than a tree with just branches of dead leaves. That's called winter, and not even I want to simulate winter indoors. When I lived in Florida, I had a ficus tree that miraculously didn't die. And so I started really nurturing it, regularly watering it, feeding it, and constantly monitoring its growth and development. Some people had tamagotchis to pretend to be a parent, I had a potted tree. The tree grew and started thriving until The Day. The Day was one of the most epic fights HPV and I ever had. Her preferred fighting style was to throw things at my head. My preferred fighting style was to just break things. The fight got so bad, that after kick-launching a Reebok step into the wall with my barefoot (not an ideal way to lose toenails, by the way, because you bleed profusely all over brand new berber carpeting), I was so furious that I took the ficus tree, lifted it up, and snapped the trunk in half over my leg. As soon as it happened, I immediately felt regret, and I quickly tried to apply first aid to the tree. Holy fucking shit. I had become a tree surgeon. That stupid aptitude test was correct. My first client: me. My first patient: the coolest ficus tree of all time. I became seriously invested in the welfare of this tree. I spent so much time caring for it that I decided it needed a name. I do not know why I came up with Steve Calvin, but the name seemed to stick. So Steve Calvin, sickly ficus tree extraordinaire spent the next two months in intensive care. I tried to glue the cambium threads back together. It had a splint with athletic tape running up the entire length of the tree. Of course all the leaves fell off but I clung on to the hope that Steve Calvin would make it. He fought as hard as he could, but ultimately the damage I inflicted was catastrophic and he got burned Darth Vader style in a mournful and baleful funeral pyre that would have made Ragnar Lothbrook proud. 

 

I swore from that day on that I would honor the memory of Steve Calvin and never forget him. Every plant I have had after him has proudly bore the name Steve Calvin. Today, we have four ficus trees. Steve Calvin and Stephen Calvin are 9 foot monsters that dwell in our living room (You can tell them apart because Steve has a mullet, Stephen is a bit more refined). Stephanie Calvin is a 6 foot ficus that is in the office. And Cal Stephens (because he's an outdoor ficus) is sprawling outside on the patio. We had two palm trees, Robert Palmer and Rafeal Palmeiro. Rafael died in the Great Bedroom Neglect of 2017, but Robert is also in the office looking simply irresistible. When we moved to the duplex, I quickly realized that the lighting was so poor that the Calvins weren't going to make it. Off to Home Depot for some indoor grow bulbs. In our living room we now have six 150W grow bulbs that ensure the survival of these majestic trees. Why do I put so much effort into the trees? Why am I able to remember to water the Calvins when I can't even remember where I put my damn keys? Because the very first Steve Calvin taught me a valuable lesson. In the height of anger, the actions we take have permanent consequences. I don't care about the pain in my foot from losing toe nails. I care about the pain in my heart from knowing that my actions destroyed something I cared about. As long as we have Steve Calvins in our house, I have the opportunity to right the wrong of that terrible day. And as long as these trees grow and thrive, the spirit of the first Steve Calvin lives on. 

 

Ultimately, this silly story of why I name my trees can be taken one of two ways. One, you can conclude that I'm definitely not operating with a full deck. And you would be absolutely correct in that assessment. But really, how many of us truly are? I would prefer you arrive at a second conclusion. And that is to find things in your life that inspire you and motivate you to be a better version of yourself today and tomorrow than you were yesterday. Would I have eventually grown the fuck up and matured and stopped breaking things when I got angry? Maybe. But the path to no longer doing that started with an innocent ficus. The mending process of my soul draws inspiration from every new shoot and leaf that the Calvins create. I hope each and every one of you find and preserve a Steve Calvin of your own. And no, I don't mean going out and buying a ficus tree. That's a terrible idea. Ficus trees are dicks. 

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