After tasting the plum-apricot hybrid known as a pluot, Chip Brantley began his quest to learn more about this tasty, perfect stone fruit and the industry behind its creation. In this excerpt from his book, The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot , Brantley reveals how his journey began.
It was mid-summer then, and I was twenty-seven, and over the course of one month, I fell in love twice. First with Elizabeth: She and I had grown up in the same town, run in the same circles, dated mutual friends. It was only in California, where we both had moved because we were young and it was California, that we really began to know each other and, eventually, to love each other, though we didn’t really fall in love so much as decide, indirectly but at roughly the same time, to evolve into something more. It was as if someone had flipped the switch on us, rearranged the room in the dark, and then raised the lights to reveal a greater, more spacious arrangement, one in which we sat together to wonder: How did we exist otherwise?
She lived in San Francisco and I was in Los Angeles, so we commuted back and forth on the weekends. I worked as a Web producer for a struggling dot-com near the Sony film lot in Culver City, in a sleek, just-finished office building erected on the site of an old shoe factory. Everything about the company was new—the industry, the business model, the people—so new that it almost seemed not to exist yet. The building’s most interesting feature was a massive jumble of steel embedded in its northeast corner. The sculpture resembled a downed helicopter, sinking, and classes from nearby architecture programs came to admire it before the parking lot had been fully paved. Like many of the office buildings going up in that area then, ours looked better than it worked. The building leaked and it sweltered, and the acoustics were warehousian: Sometimes, you could barely make out what your neighbor was saying to you while a hushed conversation from across the giant main room—packed with five fruit iMacs and hollow-door desks—somehow bounced around the hum of the open floor plan and came in on a wire. You cocooned yourself in headphones; otherwise you were always looking up from your computer, checking over your shoulder to see if the voices were being directed at you. They were rarely directed at me, though. While the programmers programmed and the designers designed, we producers could not be said to have produced much of anything.
Instead, as we would later lay out in bullet points on our résumés, we oversaw, we supervised, we managed, and we performed many other vague duties requiring no measurable ability but allowing us plenty of time to reflect on our outside interests. I had a lot of those. I was fueled by the belief that since there was so much that was possible to like in life, I should try my best to like it all at least a little. After all, if I didn’t try something, how could I know for sure that I shouldn’t be doing more of it?