We’re not in Berkeley anymore

Why Davis definitely isn’t you know where. Man.

Lemons belong in your tea, not scattered on your lawn.

Lemons belong in your tea, not scattered on your lawn.

Ken Widmann is a Davis resident who writes about what makes the town tick.

Davis is sometimes disparaged as “the Berkeley of the Valley.” I moved here from Berkeley a few years ago, and that place has a different vibe. Let me explain.

One Saturday afternoon about a month after moving into our North Berkeley rental, my wife and I heard a fist pounding on the front door. I opened it to find a scruffy white guy, early 30s, in shorts and a dirty T-shirt.

“Hey man,” he says. “Would you be so kind as to donate your lemons to benefit the [vaguely New Age and totally bogus-sounding organization I never heard of]?”

“My lemons?” I ask. I didn’t think I had any lemons.

“Yeah. From the lemon tree in your backyard.”

Lo and behold, he was right. Now, I’ve always lived by the credo that when it comes to citrus, my lemons is your lemons. Go right ahead, I tell the guy.

I walk through the house and meet him in the backyard. He’s standing beneath the tree, which is bursting with fruit. I’m enjoying the neighborliness of the whole event—it’s sort of the Berkeley forced-donation version of borrowing a cup of sugar—when all of a sudden, the guy pulls out a giant burlap sack and a pair of professional-grade pruning shears. He starts methodically working his way around the tree—weighing each lemon in his palm, holding its yellow skin up to the light, discarding the blemished or unripe. All the while he’s filling his bag with the choicest fruit, and leaving heaps of cut branches, leaves and rejected lemons scattered about our lawn.

I ask for some background on this org he’s helping.

“Oh yeah,” he says, annoyed. “You can check it out online.”

Sensing my skepticism, he starts giving some boilerplate spiel about sustainable agriculture, and composting, and why can’t we all have universal fair-trade health-care coverage? He name-drops every bleeding-heart cause except Free Mumia. I’m agreeing, awkwardly—because my heart is generally bleeding and because this guy is armed with scissors that could cut bone—and watching the guy fill his bag with my shade-grown LemonAid.

I ask him how he knew about our tree, since it’s pretty small and not visible from the sidewalk. A few days ago, he says, he just happened to notice it from the street that runs behind our tiny backyard. He came back several times to ask for our lemons, but no one was home until now.

I’m thinking: Dude was casing the joint. But he keeps cutting and bagging, so I keep drilling down. Turns out he plans to sell the lemons at some upcoming farmers’ market, “On behalf of the [aforementioned dubious nonprofit],” for 40 cents each.

Definitely not a freegan. And considering his cost of production, he’s gouging.

I’m sure the money’s going to this guy’s herb fund, or to settle the lawsuit filed by his former landlord, or some such. He’s creepy, ungracious and possibly inspecting our house’s lack of security measures, but what am I gonna do? I don’t need the lemons. A few minutes ago I didn’t even know I had a tree.

After 10 minutes the sack is totally full, probably 50-60 lemons. He bear hugs his haul and heads toward the gate.

“Thanks, dude!” he says.

I look down at all the branches and crap that I have to now clean up.

“Hey,” I say, “Don’t you think you could clean this?”

He turns around and eyeballs the pile.

“Oh. You mean the green?”

“Yeah, the green.”

He gives a dramatic sigh, puts down his burlap Safeway sack, picks up two meager handfuls of leaves and heads out.

“Yo!” I shout, now pissed. “Someone’s nice enough to let you into their home to pick their damn fruit, you oughta finish the job.”

He looks back at the pile, then at me. My arms are folded like a middle-school principal. I feel self-consciously Establishment.

“Oh,” he says. “You want me to detail it?”

Detail it. Like, any job that’s not done completely half-assed is a “detail” job.

Anyway, my point is that when we moved to Davis, my wife and I planted a lemon tree smack in our front yard, and not a single person has come by to harvest it.

It’s a different vibe here.

In the coming weeks, maybe we’ll detail it.