By Rodger Jacobs
“It’s a spider palm.”
“A spider palm,” Joel repeated, nodding toward the potted plant to the right of the hotel’s pneumatic glass doors. To Avery, the plant resembled his daughter’s punked-out hair, all green and willowy and full of spikes.
“Did you know there’re over twenty species of palm tree?”
“I had no goddamn idea.” Avery frowned and fished a cigarette out of a crumpled pack of Marlboros. He hated buying cigarettes in the soft pack. There was always a renegade smoke that got stuck in the back as the pack began to empty.
“Palm trees don’t belong here, you know. They’ve been planted over the decades by immigrants. Spaniards, Iraqis, Egyptians.”
Avery craned his neck to see if the yellow-topped Crown Victoria sweeping into the hotel driveway was the cab they were waiting for. It wasn’t, of course. Nothing in Avery’s life ever arrived on time. He fired up the cigarette and blew a plume of smoke in Joel’s direction.
“Can I have one?” Joel asked.
“I thought you quit.”
Joel hiked his shoulders. Avery gently shook one loose from the pack and extended it to his friend.
“The date palm,” Joel explained, sucking in a lungful of blissful smoke, “is mentioned in the Bible. Have you ever been to the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica?”
“How the fuck is that possible? You know this is my first trip to L.A.”
“There’s so much to see here.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not on a sight-seeing excursion,” Avery growled. His patience, always thin even in the best of times, was being sorely tested. Once the cab arrived he knew that Joel would stop his incessant and inane chatter. Joel was always quiet in taxi cabs because they scared the hell out of him ever since the incident in Kansas City.
“Palm trees are monocots, soft tissue plants. They’re different from other trees, which are called dicots.”
“Dicots – normal trees, that is - produce secondary growth if a branch is injured. Not so with the monocot. Lose a branch if you’re a monocot and you’re pretty much fucked.”
“Oh, Jesus, Avery. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I didn’t take it that way, Joel.”
Joel quietly nodded and sucked on his cigarette.
“Thousands of palm trees die every day. They need human intervention and care to keep the species going. They’re not the most self-sustaining plant on the block.”
Avery shot him a dead look just as the Yellow Cab swept into the driveway. Joel collected his luggage and extinguished the cigarette in the moist dirt engulfing the potted spider palm.
“If you have so much respect for palm trees,” Avery remarked, “why the hell did you just toss your cigarette in there?”
“I didn’t say I respect them or anything. I was just telling you something I read once.”
Joel remained silent through the entire fifteen-minute drive to the funeral home in Culver City and he never spoke about palm trees for the rest of his life.