So I am standing around at the Princeton University Art Museum, glad-handing and hob-nobbing with some Princeton Chamber of Commerce guys who are trying to raise the visibility of the Art Museum as one of the key assets of the Princeton community.
To my left is Dick Woodbridge, the intellectual property attorney. To my right is Fred Young, vice president and business development manager at Glenmede Trust on Chambers Street. Directly across from me is John Phillips, managing director of Glenmede’s Princeton office and a member of the Philadelphia-based firm’s investment policy committee.
Luckily for me the conversation turns not to copyright or trademark law, or to the merits of asset allocations in investment strategy. Instead we chat about the psychic rewards of having something to do outside of work. Home improvement projects come up, along with a little car talk. But Phillips, the man from Glenmede who I later discover is a Notre Dame alumnus, recipient of an MBA from Wharton, and an Army veteran of Vietnam, speaks with some authority when he says that, for him, the best activity of all for clearing the mind and eliminating stress is — drum roll, please — gardening.
Gardening. It makes sense, I think later. In the business world you are planting the seeds for possible new business all the time. The number that blossom can be few or none at all, often due to circumstances far beyond your control. In the garden careful preparation and hard work usually pay off. In other words, it’s rewarding work. Call it horticultural therapy. There is even an American Horticultural Therapy Association (www.ahta.org).
So, I naturally wondered, what’s my therapy? Playing amateur political analyst and handicapping the upcoming Republican presidential primaries is fun (and sometimes a little scary when you realize that Bachmann is a far more realistic possibility than Palin ever was), but it doesn’t have any psychic rewards. Nothing grows from my efforts.
The same can be said for my following of the New York Yankees. In my spare time I analyze every strategic move by manager Joe Girardi (the engineering major at Northwestern). But I can take no satisfaction from the results.
For me, the closest thing to therapy (and an activity that bears some resemblance to gardening) is delivering papers. In recent months I have had a few chances to get my hands dirty. In May I was substituting for one of our regular deliverers and strolled into an office at 182 Nassau Street. On the wall were some architectural renderings of a trolley line going along Alexander Street and linking to the Dinky line leading to the main line of the railroad. I introduced myself to Jim Constantine of Looney Ricks Kiss and the seed was planted for our May 25 story on possible solutions to the problem of the Dinky station’s location. Sweet.
More recently I have been tending to our news boxes, which — even in the digital age — have a value in presenting the paper to passersby who might otherwise not ever know it existed. This year we ordered 13 new boxes, which arrived on March 29, the day my father died. So I have been placing them around the central New Jersey landscape in the same spirit that some people plant a shrub or a tree in memory of a deceased relative.
News boxes and their close relative, wire racks for indoor locations, are a special challenge. Publications vie for space on newsstands and in lobbies and entry ways of heavily trafficked buildings. On the streets and at places like the train station, boxes are lined up like hedgerows at the stairs leading to and from the platform. In order for their boxes to be placed in the best light, some newspaper deliverers have been known to rearrange and relocate their boxes to more desirable locations.
In the late 1990s, publications of all sorts were flourishing — paid dailies and weeklies from New York to Trenton; free weeklies such as U.S. 1; and free shoppers chock full of nothing but paid classified advertising. Boxes popped up like weeds along Nassau Street and at the Princeton dinky station and Princeton Junction station. At one point there were so many boxes lining the sidewalk in front of the Princeton United Methodist Church that, if you parked your car at one of the metered spots there, you had to walk down the street three or four parking spaces until you found a gap leading to the sidewalk.
As any good gardener might tell you, a little weeding was necessary. In the case of Nassau Street, various boxes belonging to out-of-town publishers were removed to allow pedestrians safe access to the sidewalk and street. Reliable sources will tell you that the offending boxes were transplanted to the open range of the Princeton Junction train station.
The boxes have more room these days. In front of the Methodist Church just two boxes are still standing. One of them is ours, I am happy to report.
But still there are challenges. My 19-year-old son and I lug one from the car to a bus stop opposite the Kingston Mall on Route 27. We spot a great location, in full view of traffic coming out of Princeton. The only trouble is that an overhanging tree droops to within a few feet of the box, making it tough for anyone but a small child to reach it.
I happen to have some loppers in the back of the car. We start pruning off branches. What a rewarding process: The more we cut, the lighter the load on the overhanging limb. The job turns out to be less difficult than it first appeared. Soon we have the perfect canopy shading our box. I wonder if this is the kind of psychic reward enjoyed by the weekend gardeners. Maybe I can go from boxes to boxwoods.