Keith and the Kudzu (Essay Six)
Keith was a photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. A dedicated artist and all around fun guy, he nonetheless harbored a deep and unrelenting anger toward the Kudzu that grew all around his studio.
(For those unenlightened souls, Kudzu is an Asian plant brought to Georgia by really stupid people who thought they were smart. It now covers over 7 million acres in Georgia, and may soon choke off all life forms on this planet. OK, that may not happen… but after you read this story you may have to change your perspective.)
On occasions when we would Skype he would sometimes have heated and angry words off microphone with the Kudzu that was trying to get inside his apartment.
“I just don’t know what they want with me,” he once confessed over beers at a little BBQ place near downtown. The band was so loud I could hardly hear him shouting, but his eyes said he was seriously concerned.
“The damn Kudzu is trying to kill me… I know it,” he shouted. I smiled and told him that was all in his head and that Kudzu, although a terribly aggressive plant, was not out to kill him.
“Dude,” I shouted back at him, “it’s only a weed.”
Keith smiled a bit and shook his head, took a long swig of the Corona and shouted back… “I hope you are right.
When we left the BBQ joint, his car had three strands of Kudzu wrapped around the front wheels.
He looked at me and just shook his head.
“They are gonna get me, I know it.”
I didn’t know how to comfort a person being stalked by an Asian transplanted weed. Comfort them? Build up their self esteem? Naww… I had a better idea.
Give them a 40 Gallon Drum of “Weed-Be=Gone?
His eyes were a little misty when he grabbed the pump handle and started spraying the Kudzu that had grown in the window in his kitchen while we were outside dragging the herbicide in to his living room.
There was about 12 feet of Kudzu wrapped around the dining room table. It kinda gave me the creeps… I heard it was fast, but 12 feet in 20 minutes? Maybe Keith had a point.
Keith started pumping and spraying, pumping and spraying. The Kudzu was dying right before our eyes and he began laughing just a little bit. A giggle of sorts erupted in spurts as he was yelling and spraying the Kudzu outside the window.
“Die, you rotten green bastards… die” He was shouting and spraying and laughing like a madman. I was sure the neighbors would complain, but then what do you say to a crazed weed killing machine with 40 gallons of liquid death strapped to a shopping cart?
The carnage continued unabated for nearly 10 minutes.
I felt a little uncomfortable… like that last scene in ‘Taxi Driver’ when DeNiro shoots up the whorehouse looking for that chick who made that weird guy want to shoot President Reagan. You want to look away, but the carnage is just too interesting to stop.
After the smoke had cleared (actually there wasn’t any smoke, it was a misted liquid herbicide and as such did not create heat but that is boring so I chose to use the ‘smoke had cleared’ as a metaphor), we sat down for a couple of beers and a cigar.
We laughed and told stories all through the night. Every once in a while Keith would glance toward the window, which was open for the first time in about 3 years. He would get this big ol’ Atlanta grin when there was no Kudzu coming in at the edges.
We called it a night about 3 in the morning and I headed back to the Rodeway Inn for a few hours sleep.
We met the next day to do some photographing and I asked to get a shot of him standing outside in the bare yard. He agreed and wanted to show his buds a Kudzu free yard.
“They are never gonna believe this,” he laughed. “Damn, I did it.”
He turned and smiled at me. A real thankful kinda smile.
“Thank you buddy, I appreciate your help.”
I laughed and told him no problem as I brought the viewfinder of the old Nikon F2 to my eye.
There was a sudden wind and a rushing sound like I had never heard and I simply jerked from the the unexpected crash around me. I clicked the shutter out of sheer response as I fell to the ground and when I looked up… Keith was gone.
Cops searched high and low for him, and I had a lot of explaining to do, but eventually they believed me to be innocent and let me go.
It shook me to the bone, and when I left the cops I wished I had had the guts to tell them that the Kudzu overgrown lawn was totally bare when Keith stepped out onto it. That the jungle of vines had simply swept in from nowhere.
But I was a little afraid of what that meant, so I high tailed it back to Arizona where Kudzu isn’t.
A few weeks later, the film came back from Kodak and there on frame 27, the last pic I took when I was knocked to the ground by the racket was the image above.
I know what happened to Keith but no one is gonna believe me.
And there is Kudzu growing all around my house in Phoenix.
Thanks to my real life bud Keith Taylor for being the man in the Kudzu. He is very much alive and a great photographer. Check his stuff out.