Now that’s just wrong

The Czarina and I are celebrating ten years of marriage at the end of the year, on top of an additional decade as good friends, and yet we’re regularly mistaken for newlyweds. Some couples understand. Others just get upset and stomp off, clutching their abdomens and gasping “Ow! My pancreas exploded!” Still others ask our secret, and they look at us strangely when I tell them “Letting your husband have a crocodile monitor as a pet.” (Hey, one of these days, this might work.)

The real secret, to be honest, is being in a situation where each partner has a separate bathroom. This isn’t just for those situations where trying two functions in the same space is aggravating or flat-out impossible. Since the Czarina and I keep wildly different work schedules, this is the best way for us to get ready for work or wind down for the night without disturbing the other. She’s not getting chocolate in my shaving brush, and I’m not getting peanut butter in her Nair. It’s worked remarkably well for a decade, especially on those afternoons where I come in, coated with ordure and sawdust after turning the compost pile, and she can’t reasonably insist that I hose off in the front yard. We tried that once. That much albino flesh showing at once, and half of the neighborhood had flashburns on their retinas.

Therefore, we have our own spaces. Her bathroom and vanity resembles Cleopatra’s makeup laboratory. Mine just makes people ask how long I let Hunter S. Thompson camp out in the bathtub. Either way, we get remarkably few relatives and acquaintances asking to crash on the couch. One look at the life-sized Nanotyrannus head over the toilet takes care of that.

Even here, the plants intrude, in the most surprising places.

To go with all of the other fence-hugging vines out back, ranging from trumpet vine to moonflowers, I let luffa squash (Luffa acutangula) go feral two years ago. In most years, this earns a decent crop of luffas at the end of the year, and these generally get used as potscrubbers and glass cleaners. They’re gentler on glass and plastic than Scotchbrite pads and the like, and the best thing about them is that (a) they’re cheap to grow and (b) when the scrubber wears out, you just toss it onto the compost pile. Since the tub in my bathroom is a bit delicate, I use a luffa to scrub down the sides so as to prevent scratching, and it’s usually good for about a year before it needs to be replaced. (I’ll also note that these are nearly essential for cleaning terra-cotta pots without abrading them, and I use them for cleaning up dirty porcelain pots as well. You’d be amazed at how many garage sale rejects can be converted into desirable and attractive Nepenthes pots with a judicious application of luffa abrasion and elbow grease.)

Well, no matter how well you clean and prep your luffas at the end of the season, a few seeds remain trapped. Most are immature seeds, ivory-white and flexible, and those go down the drain without any problems. A few, though, are still viable, and just wait for a suitable abrasion of the waxy integument on the outside of the seeds before they germinate. Given the right temperature and humidity, they germinate extremely well. With the absolute perfect conditions, they’ll sprout in extremely unlikely places. The top of a soap drain, for instance.

Luffa seedling on a soap drain

To her credit, the Czarina didn’t yell or so much as raise her voice when I demonstrated the new addition to the household. She didn’t even cock an eyebrow and ask “So you were cleaning out garage sale pots in the bathtub, weren’t you?” (Well, I had, but she wouldn’t have needed to rub it in. Besides, that was only to soak them in sanitizer before drying them. She gets a bit tetchy when I try to wash them in the dishwasher.) Instead, she chirped “Plant it out back and see if it grows!” Yep, she’s a keeper.

As a little aside, there’s no reason you can’t replicate this experiment all on your own. All you need is an ever-shedding cat and an ever-shedding shaving brush, one luffa seed, a soap drain, and a nice warm bathroom. Collect cat fur, from where the FreakBeast is rolling around in the bottom of the tub while you’re at work, every morning as you finish your shower, and put the seed atop your unorthodox growing medium. In about four days or so, take note of your new squashling. Plant it in reasonably acid soil with lots of compost, and watch it take over.

If anyone gives you any grief for encouraging delinquency in vegetables, tell them to talk to me. I’ll tell them about the time in the late Eighties that I used leftover gravel from a friend’s reptile cage as drainage for planters, not knowing that this friend’s former roommate had the habit of dumping the seeds from his latest dime bag of pot into the bottom of the reptile cage. That was not only when I learned that paying attention to proper seedling identification is essential, but that my late cat Jones did his utmost to protect me from charges of cultivating controlled substances by mowing down every last seedling as it emerged. (This was about the time that I also learned that, to the completely idiotic, savannah monitor urine looks exactly like crack cocaine. That’s a story recorded elsewhere.) There are things MUCH worse than the occasional squash seedling in the bathtub.

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