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April 15, 2024

Oort cloud oddities: The rise and fall of the gastropod Mafia

By Alexandra Queen

I don't understand people who say gardening is relaxing. I think they pay protection money to the Gastropod mafia. In my experience, gardening is like a bad comic book. One with me, on the side of organic justice and ripe produce, versus a multitude of enemies.

Foe #1: My daughter, Lillian. At 15 months old, she is not evil, merely brilliant and misguided. Our garden, like many others, contains a water hose... or should I say the Magic Font of Coolness. Yes, she knows that if she manages to turn on the hose, water miraculously appears, she becomes cool, and -- depending on which way she points it -- family members burst into shrieks and run about in a most amusing manner.

Foe #2: The cat. I weed, water and prepare a bed of soil. The cat comes along behind me and adds her version of fertilizer, turning tilth to filth. Her toxic surprises keep me ever vigilant. For her part, I can tell she thinks it's bizarre I hope to eat things I find growing in the outside litter box. Of course, the Feline Fecalizer was responsible for Issue #452, where Super Mommy and the young genius, Tiger Lilly, joined forces and used the Magic Font of Coolness to give kitty a big surprise. (With friends like us, who needs enemas?)

Foe #3: The snails. All season long, I've struggled to keep a batch of beautiful little basil seedlings alive long enough to put in the ground. Not long ago, I ventured out to find an eerie scene reminiscent of early colonial history. All my lovely little basils were gone, almost without a trace. I think I saw the word "Croatoan" carved into a nearby sunflower stem.

"What the heck?" I roared, looking about for clues. That's when I saw a snail dragging its bloated belly, groaning, into the screening blocks they frequent during the day. "Did you see a bunch of seedlings around here?" I demanded.

"Hey, lady, I didn't see nuttin'," the snail replied, burping basil in my face.

"That does it." Super Mommy doesn't have neat inventions, like the child genius' Font of Coolness, or biological weapons like Special Kitty's land mines. But she does have extraordinary strength (at least in comparison to one year olds or snails). Chemical warfare is out, due to my sometimes-ally's proclivity for eating anything she finds on the ground, so I resorted to good, old-fashioned brute force. It's what we super heroes do best. I began picking snails out from the crevices in the screen block.

"Hey, the Don's not goin' to like this," Basil-Breath warned.

"Tell him to order a pizza," I replied and then began to control garden pests the hard way -- one by one. I pitched them out into the street to cook in the sun in a relentless display of organic pest control, pausing only to prevent my sometimes-allies, the young genius and the Feline Unibomber, from gleefully chasing the flying snails out into the street.

Roundabout snail number 72, I have to stop pitching. Not only is there a car going past -- with a driver who might possibly take offense at having his vehicle bombarded with invertebrates -- but my arm is getting tired. Things take a turn for the embarrassing when the car slows and pulls up to the curb in front of the house next door. I take a look at the gutter in front of our place, littered with 70-odd little carcasses and wonder if the driver has ever heard of organic gardening. Or super heroes. Time to collect Kinder Genius (still finding and handing me snails, clapping cheerfully) and Cat Woman and fade into the darkness before someone discovers our secret identities. ("Aren't those your next door neighbors?" "I'm not sure. We hide when we see them coming.")

But the comic book isn't over until there's been at least one run-in with the authorities, and much to my chagrin, the man in the car is getting out and walking toward me. "Hi," I offer a too-cheerful smile, hoping he'll keep walking. Look inconspicuous, I tell myself, and try to blend in with all the other young mothers holding a gleefully waving one year old and a struggling cat.

"Mind if I ask you a few questions, ma'am?" The man flips out a badge identifying him as being an investigative agent with the Air Force.

I have visions of me trying to explain to my husband that our daughter is in protectice services because the feds decided a snail-pitching super hero wasn't proper mommy material.

"But it was environmentally friendly," I would wail through the glass of the mental institution they put me in, while outside, PETA protesters with placards saying "Snails are people too!" push for me to get the electric chair.

Fortunately for me, the man was there doing background checks on an acquaintance, who was in line to get a very nice, very security-sensitive position designing things for the government. ("We need a weapon for the war on terrorism. One that doesn't involve radioactive fallout or chemical weapons." "What if we took all the terrorists... and threw them out into the gutter?") Unfortunately for the acquaintance, one of his references was going to be some kook out teaching her kid to chuck snails into the street. ("Sure, she had only good things to say about him, but she was also referring to garden hose as a Magic Font of something or other and shouting at the snails to take their little concrete shoes and sleep with somebody else's fishes.")

I answered the questions as best I could ("Pillar of the community -- no snail involvement that I know of,") and made an escape. Did the feds make the connection between us and our secret identities? Hard to say. But we were safe for now. I took Lill and the cat back inside, cleaned them both up and did some laundry. Good mommies fold lots of laundry. I also firmly resolved to mend my ways. No more mornings spent hucking snails into the street. From now on, I use the cover of nightfall. And I wear a mask.

Garden for relaxation? Maybe other people do, but not Super Mommy, the Organic Vigilante. She gardens for dear life.

This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-09-15
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