arthur nead illustration
Here is a tip: If ever you’re conducting a business deal with a man who’s on a bike, carrying a machete and who speaks a different language, be sure to get his cell phone number.
There will be no banana harvest at my home this season. For years, despite my doomed efforts to grow citrus and vegetables in my back yard, all that grew was the bounty from the three banana trees that were planted long before I moved into the house. For most of 2009 my yard was a banana factory, turning out bunches seemingly faster than I could whack them off the tree (Note: for that I carry a machete, too), and in far greater numbers than for which there was demand.
There were still bunches bursting out as late as December when the weather turned cold, really cold. The citrus bushes survived the several below-freezing nights, but not the banana trees – they turned into an ugly jagged brown curtain that spread across the back fences.
Getting rid of them would be a mighty task, one for which I was thinking about having to hire a professional tree removal company with big trucks and hungry buzz saws; but then came Samuel on his bike.
He approached me one morning as I was getting the newspaper. Samuel is Hispanic, and I am a fan of Hispanic laborers because without them I would still be living in my Katrina exile. I had no doubt about his work ethic or his skill with a machete, but I was concerned about how he would get rid of the debris. Our different accents did not always connect but I understood enough to know that I should go to Home Depot to buy some industrial sized trash bags. As long as the debris was bagged, he explained, the garbage collectors would willingly take them.
Never one to argue with a man carrying a machete, Samuel and I had a deal. He pedaled away and came pack shortly with a helper, a lean fellow wearing a straw Stetson hat who immediately began swinging Samuel’s machete at the trees.
When I got home that evening I noticed two thing: One was how bare that backyard looked without the tropical backdrop, and the other was how full the front curb looked with 25 or so 45-gallon industrial strength bags of banana tree pieces.
That is when I called Samuel on his cell phone. I wanted his assurance that the garbage collectors would take the bags. Our languages collided again, but he sounded like a man with inside knowledge. I should believe in the garbage truck.
As I went to get the newspaper the next morning I heard a grinding noise outside accompanied by the yells of men. I sheepishly looked out the window from which I could see the garbage truck stopped in front of the house, blocking traffic, while three men laboriously pulled the bags to the back of the truck. The bags were heavy and the men were struggling. I didn’t know what the protocol was but I hurried outside to give each worker a tip just as they were tossing the last loose stalk into the truck. The man who seemed to be in charge explained the rule that they should only take bagged items up to 60 pounds. My collection, according to the truck’s scales, totaled about 400 pounds.
Oops. “The next time you do this …” the man started to explain. “There won’t be a next time,” I interrupted assuredly.
Without the banana trees, I’ve noticed, there is more sunlight in the back yard, which might work to the benefit of the citrus plants. If there’s one thing certain about banana trees it’s that they’ll grow back – though I’m not sure if I want three. One will be enough to satisfy the primal feeling that comes with swinging a machete through a stem to liberate a ripened banana bunch.
There was one brief benefit to the neighborhood from the experience. Just as fragrant scents are sprayed to fumigate French Quarter streets, gushes of tree water splashed on our street as the truck’s jaws crushed each bag. For the moment the block was banana-flavored. Winter had not been all-cruel.