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The joys of raising cactus

Blast San Francisco Bureau

"Maybe I should buy some plants for my apartment," I wondered aloud as my friend and I walked through Home Depot.

It was a humdrum Saturday afternoon and my friend, a new homeowner, needed some wood. He dragged me along to help carry them.

"Well, buy some plants," he said as he pointed to a dozen potted palms and evergreens in a corner of the warehouse. I imagined a few of them decorating my tiny, sunny apartment. That would be lovely, I thought. The plants looked so green and leafy, so erect, so alive.

When reality struck.

I've killed every plant I've ever owned.

"I don't think I can handle the pressure of taking care of another living thing," I said.

Two years ago, I had five plants in my apartment. One day, I raced around my abode, towels in one hand and 409 in the other, trying to clean up my mess before my parents arrived for dinner. I scrubbed everything, the coffee table, the dining room table, when I looked at my plants in horror: They were dry, wilted and yellowish. It had been two months since I last watered them. Possibly two months since I last noticed them.

Desperate and not wanting my parents to think I was irresponsible (which I was), I picked up the vegetation and shoved them into my bedroom closet and shut the door.

Three months later, I peeked in my closet and found them all black - and dead.

Last year, I was feeling optimistic about growing plants again and got a Chia Pet. I dunked it into a bowl of water and a few days later, the Chia Pet - a bald guy with glasses - sprouted a headful of grass. Full of pride, I placed it on top of my computer monitor at work. A coworker gave it a mohawk, and a week later, the poor thing lost all its hair. I was crushed.

In the ensuing months, I drowned the head in buckets of water, hoping the hair would grow back. No luck. I don't know how, but I had killed the Chia Pet. So I used it as a ball to play catch with coworkers.

My friend nodded knowingly. He's never owned a plant that survived, either. Maybe that's why we're friends: We're both journalists, baseball fans and plant killers.

He and I loaded up a few pieces of wood onto the shopping cart and pushed it over to the cashier. On the table, before the cashier, sat a couple dozen cacti. $3 each.

"Buy a cactus," he said.

"I don't know. Should I?"

"Oh, come on. I'll even pay for it," he said.

The price tags on the cacti did read: "Low maintenance." That sounded good to me. So I picked up the most phallic-looking one I could find and handed it to the cashier.

"I hope I don't kill this cactus," I told the woman.

She raised her eyebrows and gave a half-smile. "It'd be very hard to do," she said.

My friend handed her his credit card, then gave me a brotherly pat on the shoulder. "Wylie here wants to try to raise a living thing," he told the woman. "We decided to start him off kind of slow."