Hey, What's That Moldy Purple Thing on Your Neck?

Florida Nature 2011 Wall Calendar
Florida Nature 2011 Wall Calendar

From the Hip: The inner workings and outer limits of humorist Steven Ricci.

Remembrance of Things Wooden: The Catholic method of splinter therapy.

Feng Shui: Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my red underwear.

Fix-It: The handyman cometh, some assembly required.

Stuck in the Median With You: And I'm wondering what it is I should do.

Hockey: Not for the squeamish or the toothed.

Check Your Rights at the Gate: Your condo association rules strictly prohibit laughing at this article.

Procrastination: Confessions of a procrastinator in an age of immediacy.

Lyrics: It's got a great beat but you can't sing to it.

Dodgeball: Wherein a young boy finds glory in the dark ages of dodgeball.

Martha Stewart's Happy Holiday Advice: It's a good thing she's not twins.

Melaleuca: Hey, what's that moldy purple thing on your neck?

Cartoon: Ages of Man
Cartoon: Global Warming
Cartoon: It's Just A Cold
Cartoon: Picky Eater
Cartoon: Remedial English
Cartoon: Rock Tragedies

Steven Ricci: Humorist, cartoonist, photographer and all-around talented guy.

Sports Nuts: Steve's sports themed t-shirt designs.

YUCKLES: Silly as we wanna be!

So, I'm buried in the Sunday paper, reading about how melaleuca trees are to Florida what those plastic Chinese-food soy sauce packages are to your refrigerator. They're useless, unattractive, take up way too much space, and go ignored for years. They also have an uncanny ability to reproduce in numbers so great that, even if you took one of those complex calculators with functions like "x4 -2y" and implanted it in Stephen Hawking's head, it would still take him 11,000 years just to calculate the amount of soy sauce jammed in the crisper.

It all started about 100 years ago, when some forward-thinking pioneer stumbled face-first into the sweltering swamps of Florida and thought,
"Hmmm . . . Vicious man-eating alligators? Monstrous poisonous snakes? Mosquitoes that can suck a pot roast dry in 15 seconds? Let's build condos!" Moments before the malaria turned his brain into a wad of desiccated mucilage, he had another idea. He decided that the only way to dry up the swamps was to import thousands of Australian melaleuca trees, which are known for their ability to suck up water faster than you would had you spent a month in the Mojave subsisting only on sawdust and jalapeno pork rinds.

However, once out of their natural environment, the melaleuca trees began replicating faster than Ted Kennedy wearing a Viagra feedbag. Florida quickly discovered what it was up against. Not only is the insidious melaleuca highly allergy-inducing, its unquenchable thirst is rapidly consuming the state's dwindling supplies of fresh water. In addition, the tree is virtually impossible to kill. If you cut it down, it spreads its virile seeds into the wind (much like Ted Kennedy), leading to entire melaleuca forests miles away. If you burn it, the tree explodes, spewing molten sap in all directions (much like Ted Kennedy).

As early as seven minutes ago, Florida officials realized the magnitude of the problem. They rapidly convened a task force to establish a foundation to appoint a committee to issue a 1,200-page statement that conclusively identifies melaleuca trees as a problem requiring further study. During this swift governmental action the blight spread so rapidly that melaleuca trees actually began purchasing their own convenience-store franchises.

Recognizing their cue, scientists from across the globe stopped trying to figure out what "x4 -2y" means and set their sights on a solution, one that makes it easy to see why the average Floridian's SAT scores are in the same percentile as the average oxygen-deprived spider monkey's. Here it is (and, oh, how I wish I were making this up):

They want to breed trillions of tiny aphids and cover them with a purple mold that will kill the melaleuca trees without harming the environment. Sorry, but I can't help picturing Vincent Price in a dark laboratory, rubbing his palms together and cackling, "Mad! The fools thought me mad but I'll show them!" I can just see the headlines a few months from now: HORDES OF PURPLE APHIDS DEVOUR LOCAL BINGO HALL, with a sidebar story headlined, MELALEUCA TREES DISCOVERED ON NEPTUNE. The story will then go on to describe how, despite the dismal failure of their first plan, scientists are now confident that the answer to the problem is simply to bombard psychotic pit bulls with mammoth doses of gamma rays, mate them with genetically modified fruit bats, and set the mutant progeny loose on the marauding purple aphids, who will then flee in terror, thereby knocking over the melaleuca trees in their panicked rush for Georgia, relieving us of this horrible infestation.
Why is it that no one ever asks humorists for their solutions? Because I have one that is diabolically cunning in its simplicity and far surpasses anything the finest governmental and scientific minds have yet to devise.

And that solution is this: infomercials.

No, I haven't been selling my medication to street people again, just hear me out. I remember a time when my Saturday and Sunday morning television time was filled with Johnny Quest cartoons, Abbot and Costello reruns, and great cheesy horror films. Nowadays, I can't go three channels without some apoplectic shill exhorting me for 30 minutes to buy something.

Channel 4: A cloistered sect of Bolivian moss farmers has revealed an ancient herbal supplement that instantly converts excess body fat into grape juice.

Channel 6: A guy wearing a clip-on tie guarantees that I, too, can own a 60-foot yacht teeming with bikini models if I'll only buy his easy-to-follow guide to purchasing repossessed patio furniture.

Channel 9: A woman calling a psychic hotline is stunned to learn that her great aunt Sheila is pregnant with the child of a color-blind bus driver who has shingles.

Channel 12: Suzanne Somers promises to give me the abductor muscles of a veteran gymnast if I'll give her $89.99 for an exercise machine that looks like a gynecological probe for oxen.

Therein lies the solution to the problem: 10 million unwanted melaleuca trees multiplied by 10 million mentally debilitated, credit-card-clutching consumers equals 10 million bucks in my pocket when I hit the airwaves with Reverend Steve's Miracle Melaleuca Mega-Magic. It's a hair-removing, fat-melting, energy-boosting, top-secret formula that will build confidence, give you psychic premonitions, and empower you to invest in Internet stocks at home.

And I've got an endless supply right in my backyard, choking the living crap out of the Everglades. Of course, the first person who actually tries it will discover that it's really just melaleuca sap and soy sauce spread on some jalapeno pork rinds. But I figure it will be somewhat difficult for him to sue me if coroners are circling his remains and saying, "I dunno, Chet. Sure looks human to me." By then, I'll be hosting a celebrity pool party at my beachfront Maui estate, slurping pina coladas with the same people who invented pet rocks, The Clapper, and spray paint for bald spots.

Mad? Mad am I? Fine, let the scientists and the politicians do it their way. I have only one question . . .

What's that moldy purple thing on your neck?

Adapted from an article originally published inLife and Leisure magazine, March 1994.

2011 Steven Ricci

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