Excerpt from The Perfect Fruit
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?
For a while, this skimming of the world's muchness felt meaningful. I convinced myself that I was pursuing the examined life, taking nothing on someone else's word, exhausting my options. But at a certain point, I just felt exhausted. Simple exuberance was not a real embrace of anything and did not constitute a meaningful life. A meaningful life was built of commitments, and that I had none was a cause for brooding. This I liked to do from the top of the unfinished parking deck next to our offices. You could stand on the unrailed edge and look out onto some of the great tropes of the city: the tops of all those palms, the cement-lined Los Angeles River, the Hollywood Hills, and, on some smogless days, the sparkling atoll of downtown.
People went up there mostly for the cell coverage—to have a private job interview or a conversation with a girlfriend—but it was also a good place to dwell on all of the nagging questions. Most days during the workweek, I ate lunch alone at a French-Vietnamese diner on National Boulevard. I sat on a stool at the bar and read for a while from a book or worked the crossword puzzle in a Times left on the counter. On Tuesdays during the summer, though, I usually walked over to the Culver City Farmers' Market in the afternoon. They held it on one sidewalk of a small park downtown. The selection was limited, but there was enough to cobble together a lunch, and the market always made for good people-watching: small kids kicking around the grass; their parents and nannies flirting; old people sitting in the chairs in front of the small stage where light jazz and funk bands played; and professionals lingering, on lunch break from the growing number of tech companies and furniture galleries and ad agencies in the area.
There were many varieties of pluot, the guy at the market was saying, each with a microseason. They had names like Flavor King, Flavor Queen, and Flavor Supreme.
“What’s the best one?” I asked. “Flavor King,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Hands down.” And that’s all it took, really. I don’t know if it was the simple thrill of discovery or the joy over what I had with Elizabeth spilling over into other parts of my life, but what my feelings for the pluot felt most like was love. Not, it is probably not necessary to say, romantic love, but surely tied up somehow in the same kind of agitated hunger for more of everything that it stirs in a person. And while with Elizabeth the hunger had evolved gradually but felt sudden and overwhelming, with the pluot it had been sudden and overwhelming but felt gradual. All of my earlier dabbling felt like preparation for this moment. Instead of feeling a sense of been there/done that, I felt compelled to know everything about pluots. They were what I’d been waiting for. They were my Thing.
But now that they were my Thing, what would I do with them? Was I going to grow them somewhere? Work in a produce department and sell them? Instead, maybe I would champion them, give them as gifts, walk around town with a big sack of them on my back. Or, maybe I would just eat as many as I could. I did love to eat them. So did Elizabeth. As July faded to August, we found a steady supply of pluots at the markets and the pleasure of them became part of our courtship. Having found them late in the season, though, we had one more month of pluots and then they were gone. Going solely on precedent, I should have forgotten about them within a few weeks. But I did not forget about them, and six months later I quit my job and moved to San Francisco to be with Elizabeth. And a few months after that, on a warm, drizzly Wednesday in late June, we were both standing in the middle of the middle of California, in an experimental orchard, looking at the creator of the pluot, a man named Floyd Zaiger, who, in his open palm, held a plum.