August 1, 1983. Some very strange things happened that day.
• People complained bitterly as gas rose to a staggering 81 cents a gallon
• America learned how to say “thank you” in Japanese by listening to a Styx song called “Mr. Roboto” that chronicled a young Al Gore’s struggle to become a real live boy
• The Grumpy Gardener officially began his career at Southern Living to the consternation of all who thought his talents better suited to holding the “Slow” sign during highway roadwork
Yes, 25 years ago, I reported for my first day of work. Sartorially resplendent in my sunny yellow, short-sleeve shirt and hunter green polyester pants, I pulled into the parking lot at our headquarters building driving a 1976 blue Plymouth Arrow, surely one of the worst cars ever manufactured. (One day as I was zooming down the interstate, its gas tank suddenly fell off. Sure glad it wasn’t the mirror.)
Carpe Parking Space
I wanted to get to my desk early on my first day. Fortunately, I spotted an empty parking space directly in front of the front entrance to the building. I thought, “How blessed am I that all of the drivers who have already filled this lot to overflowing somehow overlooked this prime parking space,” and pulled right in. Boy, was I going to make an impression!
Five minutes later, as I sat at my desk wondering which of my future gardening stories would end all wars, my supervisor (now SL’s editor-in-chief) received an irate telephone call from our CEO. Some idiot driving a pathetic Plymouth Arrow with a taped-on gas tank had parked in his personal parking space! I must move it immediately!
Not at work for 10 minutes and already people were mad at me. This was just the beginning of a pattern that would last more than two decades.
Thanks for Just Being You
Since then, people all over the country have taken their valuable time to telephone, write, and email me just to express how much they despise me and everything I stand for. Fans of PETA, George Bush, Nancy Grace, squirrels, Dick Cheney, mimosa trees, traditional Yankee dress, Texas A&M football, violets, Air Supply, Thomas Kinkade, and Youngstown, Ohio have all let me know that I’m dumber than mud, and I thank them.
How did I last for 25 years in a world where people change jobs every 25 minutes? By employing the following strategies:
• In 1990, I had my feet surgically joined to the office floor
• On my employee profile, I claim a half-Martian, half-tomato spaghetti harvester of ambiguous gender as my maternal grandparent, thus augmenting my diversity
• Every two weeks, I change my first letter of my last name to the letter following it, so the pink slip gets returned unopened. This week, I’m “Steve Wender.”
So on behalf of my lovely wife Judy, my hairy son Brian, and all of the other Wenders, I would like to thank you for allowing me to write about interesting people, beautiful places, and really cool plants for the last 25 years. I promise to continue writing until they pry the office floor from my cold, dead feet – all 12 toes. Grumpy