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Mogwai – I Know You Are But What Am I?

Gaines started collecting aloe vera plants after returning from his year with the peace corps in Bolivia.

It started small, like all life’s obsessions do. A few days after moving into his tidy two-bedroom apartment, a frumpy old lady from next door showed up and knocked on the door. She didn’t say much beyond “Hello” before shoving a small aloe plant out from her squat frame into Gaines’ arms. Then she turned briskly and walked away, presumably to scold school children.

Gaines looked at his house-warming gift, flicked the rosette idly, and put it in a window where it would get plenty of sunlight.

As the months passed, his windows filled with more aloe, some pots hanging from hooks he drilled into the ceiling.

When the frumpy lady moved away, Gaines bought that apartment too. The neighbors saw the sunlamps and honestly just assumed he was growing pot in there. Instead he grew rows and rows of aloe.

Whenever anything bad happened, Gaines had a tendency to write it off, saying, “Well, that’s life I suppose.” He said ‘suppose’, but he knew. Sometimes for all the tenderness and care you gave a plant, it just wanted to wilt. Some plants wanted to live and some wanted to die, and all he could do was let those that wanted to live thrive.

As Gaines’ bushy eyebrows grew white and wild, drooping down the sides of his face, the rows of aloe grew straight and strong. Thick leaf-stems reached bravely toward the ceiling, like the arms of Christians eager to touch the face of their creator.

Gaines used aloe for everything. He made aloe toothpaste (good for the gums!), he devised an aloe bubble bath formula, he rubbed pure aloe onto his face every morning in lieu of moisturizer, he jotted down several dozen recipes that called for healthy doses of aloe.

Every morning, Gaines wakes up and stretches his sinewy arms and stalky legs, walks around both apartments with his upright posture, and waters the plants. Each has a name, which Gaines repeats in greeting with the familiarity of a Hail Mary.

He isn’t sure who will take care of his plants when he dies, which can only be a few more months now. But he’s sure that whatever really wants to live will keep on doing so, with or without him.

[Buy the newly-released live album, Special Moves, which reminds me of one of the greatest concerts I have ever attended.]

[Picture by Glenn Jones.]

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