Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Breaking up with Bill

I won’t be using my Topsy Turvy® strawberry planter this year. Even though inventor Bill Felkner insists, in caps and upper case and with a TM, no less, that it’s the “World’s Easiest Way to Grow Strawberries!”™, I just don’t have the heart for it. This is even despite the instruction booklet’s superhot beefcake shot of pudgy, combovered Bill, posing in front of his kitchen cabinets, wearing a manly pullover and proffering a basket of giant red fruit. Are those strawberries? Dear God, they look like softballs. But still, I must turn away. They are not for me. Why? Because to move past the Topsy Turvy’s colorful cover and read the actual growing instructions inside is to enter into one man’s personal shame spiral, and I just can’t take it this year.

I picked up my Topsy Turvy at the thrift store and gave it to myself for Mother’s Day (don’t ask). The first warm and sunny day this spring, I headed out to let the “easy growing” begin. “Laissez le bon temps rouler,” I hum to myself, full of happy, strawberry-colored anticipation. But those easy promises and trademark symbols, I’m sorry to report, turn to an onslaught of pointed fingers about mid-way through “Bill’s tips for success.” I should have grown suspicious when Tip #1 instructed me that I’d need to get myself “in the proper mind-set right up front.” By tip #3, Bill is all-caps castigating my possible cheapskate choices of soil and demanding that I use only GOOD Canadian Peat-based potting soil. He rants: “Bargain-priced potting soil is NO BARGAIN. Please trust me on this one.”

Standing in my backyard, holding my tips in one hand and my planter in the other, I start to feel a headache coming on. Bill’s tone is so, well, judgy. Not that he wasn’t right, of course. I’m just the sort of idiot who would try to pull off Bill’s miracle with NO BARGAIN soil. It is as if he can see inside my soul, um, soil.

After the opening salvo of Tip #3, the remaining tips contain mostly three things: capital letters, exclamation points, and pre-emptive blame. Bill seems sure, given the cheap nature of my soil choices, that I’ll be skimpy in my watering habits, as well. He whinges on for quite a while about that one. And if I watered frequently enough, dear God, this man is now criticizing my speed. “No matter how you add the water, do it SLOWLY,” he growls.

After 10 shouty tips, is he done? No, he is not. He has an all-cap FINAL NOTE in which to tell me that if I were willing to give my planter just a reasonable amount of time and attention, it would provide my family “with homegrown berry goodness.” My head is really throbbing now, and I wonder what he means by “reasonable.” I'm beginning to feel, well, shackled to this stupid ™ planter, and now, sweet Jesus, there's a P.S. I never knew P.S.'s were a thing in instruction booklets, but that rapscallion Bill is hard to stop. “It’s just a PLANTER,” he sternly postscripts, “No more, no less. So it is entirely up to YOU to regularly water, feed and tend it.”

And with that, he signs off, with a signature that I bet is consistent with a homegrown sociopath who has ready access to a trowel and an all-caps function. Seeing his signature, with what I take to be the catch phrase he shares with his millions of shamefaced fans (“Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!”), delivers the final swipe at my self esteem. I have had enough. Bill’s brochure goes in with the worm composter, and his planter is tossed in the trash. I’ll let the bunnies nibble away at exactly two-thirds of each single berry I grow this year, just the way they do every year. At least rabbits don’t have access to exclamation points. 

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