Wednesday, January 28, 2015


     Every third day I run three-and-a-half miles mostly through a nice nearby neighborhood instead of ours because it's more runner-friendly with even sidewalks, gentle slopes, and less traffic.  There's been a shrub along that route's sidewalk, however, that's annoyed me due to its below six feet overhang so that I have to duck for a few strides to avoid painful scratches on my face or ears, or having my ball cap scraped off my head. 
     Frustrated, I once stopped mid-stride and broke off a few branches to raise the overhang so that I and others might traverse full height. I felt no guilt as the owner was negligent in maintaining his plant and a blind pedestrian or bicyclist could get poked or scratched or a stooped runner or a senior could get a back injury. 
     Only last year did I discover it's not a shrub at all but a tangerine tree, its fruit ugly brown-orange and uninviting, spread in scrawny bunches across several patches.
     This year, however, starting from a couple months ago, the tree has been flush with dozens of luscious full fruit, many within easy grasp of passing walkers. I must admit I was more than once tempted as they appeared so juicy and sweet, perfect for breakfast. But I refrained from taking because there were no fallen fruit or leaves, suggesting the owner cared enough to tidy up and harvest.
     I thought if I saw the owner, I might ask for a few or maybe even suggest a purchase or trade for star fruit, for our landlord's tree has been similarly abundant with far more than he or we could ever want or need. But after weeks of running the only possible resident I saw was a young woman coming out of her new white Honda Accord parked streetside before the property, whom I sensed would feel awkward and probably say, “I don't know, you have to ask my dad,” or, “I guess it's okay,” or worse, “We have grocery bags full, let me get you one!”—as I didn't want to create a bother, especially if she got in trouble with her dad for doing the “wrong” thing.  
     Then about three weeks ago, I noticed several tangerines on the sidewalk, a few with holes in them as though pecked on by birds. On subsequent runs, it appeared that some of these had dried out and shriveled and that the scattered accumulated fallen leaves and fruits had grown. So on one of these runs, sensing that the fruit were now "fair game", I stopped at the spot, looked up into the dense foliage, and removed from deep within two of the ugliest, most mature, mottled, and dull brown fruit within easy reach, fruits I assumed would be sweet but that the owner would be least likely to miss. 
     When home, I shared my story with Deanne and my rationale for helping myself. That in college Business Law, I learned that “wind falls” describe fruit fallen onto adjacent property that may be legally kept by recipient neighbors. That county ordinances require property owners to maintain their plants so as not to obstruct nearby public walkways. That I hadn't trespassed to get the fruit. That no cop would arrest or cite me over two silly fruits. That any judge would throw out such a frivolous case. And that I intended to confess to the owner the next time I saw him. 
     To my bemused disappointment the fruit's flesh was sour and its membranes were bitter, yet they were edible enough so I shared them with my family in our oatmeal breakfast the following day. 
     Just last week, I saw the owner beside a ladder for the first time pruning the (still laden) overhanging branches. He was wearing earbuds and seemed distracted as I approached, slowed to a walk, and with a goofy smile and hand gesture said, “I hope you don't mind, they looked so good I got tempted and took a couple.”
     “That's fine, help yourself,” he said with an open smile, engaging himself the moment I addressed him. “They're a bit sour.” 
     “I'll trade you. We've got a star fruit tree with tons more than we could eat.” 
     “Like ours. No thanks, we're good,” he said and went on pruning.
     “Do you mind if I take four?” I asked.
     “Sure, go ahead.”
     “Sure you don't want some star fruit?”
     “We're good.” I wasn't sure if he didn't like star fruit, or perhaps didn't want to burden me or have to deal with me again.
     “Any difference which fruit I take which are sweeter?”
     “I'd avoid the more mature ones.”
     From the cut branches on the ground, I chose more youthful, bright shiny tangerines, including two already broken open. “Last chance, sure you don't want star fruit?”
     “We're good.” He smiled and nodded.
     I waved and ran home (dropping one and damaging near half of its wedges in the process). This time the fruits were sweeter and juicer and had pleasanter tart, bitter bites, although two were somewhat sour, but still edible. 
     During dinner, I explained to everyone the entire story that including Internet research I conducted that seemed to suggest that such fruit overhanging public space in Honolulu were gray areas, ill-defined by law whether they may or may not be taken by passers by, though credible authors suggested to always ask first.  I sensed this intuitively and would have recompensed the owner had he requested a reasonable sum such as a dollar per fruit, though such stinginess in Hawaii is seldom seen. Yet my main reason for approaching wasn't to appease my guilt (which I didn't feel) or seek forgiveness (which I didn't feel was necessary), but rather to establish friendly contact, have some fun, and put a positive close to my (some would say) criminal, naughty, or selfish act. As an aside, three days following my “theft”, I saw during a run a pleased-looking pedestrian walking toward me and away from the tree munching on something held hidden in his fist that I suspected was a tangerine.  As I passed the spot on the way home, I noticed the clean picked shell of a fresh fruit on the ground which suggested that I hadn't been the only one to succumb to temptation.  Had I been in Adam's feet, I have little reason to doubt that I'd have done the same thing, especially had the tree's debris been just as untidy.

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