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2011-04-25 - 4:06 p.m.

Some of you have babies and there’s no doubt that nearly all of you have come into contact with babies, and that virtually all of you have heard of the idea of them. If you have babies, maybe they are precocious babies with toughened taste buds, or are half-Mexican, or Thai. Maybe your babies, in other words, like peppers.

Babies and peppers share many similarities. Though I do not own a baby, I own little pepper plants. Like your babies, these peppers are small, tender, fragile, green, named (Shooter, Side-Banger, Dickhead), and primed to grow and produce fruits of their own. Here’s what I did: at the end of March, with snow showers still in the forecasts, I poked seeds into small cubes of dirt. I planted 18 jalapeño, 18 bell, 18 cherry, and 18 called, simply, "hot." Seventy-two seeds in all. I watered the cubes of dirt, fitted the clear-plastic cover over the tray, cleared a spot in the sunniest part of the apartment, and waited.

I thought I had failed. But, 10 days later, the first shoots poked out. They were very small, and translucent-green, but smacking unmistakably of life. Two shoots came up, then four more, then three more, then nine. I watered, just a little. On warm days, I set them outside, and, on gray, cold days, I set them just inside the sliding-glass door. I learned about them, did some research. The jalapeño seedlings were the strongest, the best of the best now as big as a baby’s hand. The "hot" peppers, whatever they were, struggled. Some, after a long weekend under the plastic cover, slumped, and died. But the cherry pepper plants are doing fine. And the bells are doing fine.

A couple of us drove, last week, to a big hardware store next to the eight-lane highway near my office. We bought some healthy, green tomato plants. They’re in the ground now, sucking up water and minerals, the first flowers just around the corner. At the store, next to the tomatoes, were shelves of green, lush pepper plants. These were adolescents. Among them were jalapeño, bell, cherry, and "hot" peppers. Their stems were thick. Their leaves were broad. We didn’t buy any that day, though we still might. We don't know yet if we'll need to.

Because my little seedlings are, as I write this, resting comfortably on the back deck, soaking up the partly cloudy 82 degrees, sucking up the bit of water I've sprinkled, the little cubes of dirt I've fed them. I check on them every day. No, I check on them twice a day. No, I check on them more often than that.

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