Spoofs & Satire

The Constant Gardener

A spate of arrests reveals Russian spies have been living undetected in the U.S., posting on Facebook—and tending to their gardens.

Neighbors in Montclair, N.J., of the couple who called themselves Richard and Cynthia Murphy were flabbergasted when a team of F.B.I. agents turned up Sunday night and led the couple away in handcuffs. One person…called them “suburbia personified,” saying…“They couldn’t have been spies…look what [they] did with the hydrangeas.”
The New York Times, June 29, 2010

Dear Dmitri,

How pleasant you were able to take a morning constitutional in the garden at the Cloisters after our clandestine exchange of bags. It was a welcome change of pace—I can’t tell you the groaning ennui that is suburban life. Imagine Revolutionary Road but with Facebook. (Speaking of, did you see Anna’s profile pic with the tiara? Way to keep it on the down-low, Ms. All That.) I swear, you’ve become a cultural attaché for Richard and me, an antidote for the drooling dilettantes who pine for chocolate iced Bismarks at the Lackawanna Plaza Dunkin’ Donuts here in Montclair.

Let’s get down to business now, shall we? Planting hydrangeas is no laughing matter, and I’m glad you asked my advice. Our success as spies hinges on “appearances,” and a first-rate garden is essential for providing adequate cover. I don’t have to remind you what happened to the Rosenbergs when they neglected their rhododendrons. Or the arrest of Aldrich Ames following the damning report on his tasteless menagerie of topiary monkeys. Remember, location makes the difference between lush, freely blooming hydrangeas and gaunt little shrubs that will ensure our capture. A few tips:

  • Choose a location where your hydrangea can reach its potential without pruning. Don’t expect the plant to reach more than about four feet by four feet, but if you’re good spatially, you can fit about a million Seychellois Rupees around the perimeter of the corymb.
  • Plant hydrangeas in drained soil. If soil is packed down, add roughage such as pinebark mulch or parts from a disassembled proximity fuse.
  • Avoid root rot by not overwatering.

Does that clear everything up? I’ll sign off for now, as I’m not sure if this invisible ink is working. Does it go on visible, and then get invisible, or is it supposed to be invisible to start out with?

Yours in secrecy,

P.S. Is it dorky that I call myself the “The Mata Hari of Montclair?” Our neighbors don’t even get it. What can I say? We can’t all go to Choate.



I found your last transmission a tad disconcerting. First of all, even if you “think it was the Hamptons,” I assure you, it was the Cloisters. And no we didn’t “meet in Beijing in 2004.” You’re way off. We met in California last summer, duh. Perhaps you were in vodka blackout, yes? (You have to say it in a funny Russian accent, though, like Yakov Smirnoff—Dick’s fave.)

Also, I thought you were going to grow the hydrangeas in Jersey, not in freakin’ Moscow! Of course they died, you ignorant apparatchik. Planting Hydrangea cinera in Moscow is like asking Rudi Nureyev to dance in a Beyoncé video—it’s mediocre and it’s creepy, D! And don’t tell me I didn’t give you any “good stuff” in my bag! Perhaps you overlooked the grid, which Richard and I provided:

We’re not sure what it means, exactly, but it’s too complicated to be nothing. Perhaps a code to unlock design specs for a new American bomb or an invisible drone or the Jets’ latest defensive alignments. We’re not going to do ALL the work for you, comrade. Speaking of Nureyev, I’ve got to pick up Ashley from ballet, so I’ve got to run…

But before I go, may I suggest tulips? Tulips are, as Nathan Hale once noted, “the courtly queen of the espionage world” just before the hangman’s noose separated his head from his vertebrae over on 66th and 3rd (between The Gap and Dahn Yoga). And it’s true, I think.

First, select large, firm bulbs and store them in a cool place (next to some liquid nitrogen?) until you’re ready to “force” them. Also, be sure to plant your tulips in chilled clay pots with drainage holes in the bottom—the more bulbs you can fit in a pot, the more theatrical the flower spectacle.

Over and out,



I’m afraid I wasn’t trained in Japanese. What is “Sudoku” and what do we do about it? Is it like an Enigma machine, or some kind of mathematical ninja? I have to be honest, D, sometimes this spy business can be a real tangle! That’s why, when I’m not taking down the capitalist swine we call America by stealing secret documents, I take great pleasure in cultivating roses. Sure, it’s a cliché, but then what is spydom, I ask you? However, growing roses requires knowing the pH level of your soil, and adjusting it, as need be. Like my teenage son, roses are acid-lovers and therefore cannot thrive in elevated levels of alkaline. (Though we have little hope Rudy will ever give up the idea he is a gold-toothed Norseman guarding the rainbow bridge to Asgard, I must admit it’s been boring around here ever since we sent him down to that specialist in Caracas.) Try adding sulfur to the soil to spike the acidity level, if necessary, although be sure to leave enough to mix with the potassium nitrate and charcoal so your WMD doesn’t go off with a farty whimper.




In response to your query about nuclear weapons, U.S. policy toward Iran, C.I.A. leadership, Congressional politics, and “weed,” let me address them one by one.

  1. The U.S. has nuclear weapons and they are extraordinarily dangerous, i.e., we should not try to hide one in your attaché case.
  2. I get confused between Iraq and Iran. I liked it better when they were called “Persia”—reminds me of my “prince,” Jake Gyllenhaal (grrr).
  3. The C.I.A. is run by a gentleman named Leon Panetta. You can’t miss him—he looks like a cross between a Cumberland sausage and Michael Dukakis.
  4. When referring to the entire legislative branch, the proper collective noun is “Congress.” Could you be more specific? Do you mean the House or the Senate?
  5. Don’t give up on the tulips! Marijuana is the carbuncle of revolution, although quite profitable if set up with the appropriate hydroponic gear.

I hope I’ve fulfilled my end of the bargain here. Also, I’m not sure if it’s entirely wise to exchange bags at the Port Authority (or anywhere) anymore, especially if we continue to exchange this haute, albeit empty, Louis Vuitton luggage. D, I’m serious—I can feel the heat, much like I can feel our neighbors’ suburban fatuity and the collapsing superstructure of democracy.




The game is up, to quote the Bard (we can’t all go to Columbia). It seems no amount of nutrients, no quantity of water, no blast of sunlight can salvage these hydrangeas. A man came by yesterday asking about “documents” and “color supplements” without even acknowledging the flowerbed. This is exactly how it went down with Alger Hiss when he neglected his orchids. Not me, Dmitri. Consider this my resignation.

Besides, I have to get the minivan back from the shop, choke my daughter’s geography teacher at the PTA meeting, and get the kids to soccer practice. I just don’t have time for this clandestine service, gorgeous bag swaps notwithstanding. I’m sorry. I have my flowers to think about.

Good luck,

P.S. I’m starting to feel the stultifying cloud of suburbia again. Hells bells, D. I’m going to miss the excitement. Tell you what, you just remember that with marijuana, you need to turn the soil over repeatedly and add a cup of hydrated lime per square yard of soil and then some soluble nitrogen fertilizer and get back to me. It’ll be like Weeds! But for God’s sake, Dmitri, be careful. The war on drugs is a hot one. You stay cool for now though, ???????. OK, gotta run. Someone’s at the door.

Described as an “up-and-coming humorist” by Esquire, Tyler Stoddard Smith’s works have been featured in: The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes, The Best American Fantasy, Esquire, Meridian, Opium, Pindeldyboz, Identity Theory, Yankee Pot Roast, Word Riot, Barrellhouse, Monkeybicycle, Johnny America, and McSweeney’s, among others. He is also a regular contributor at The Nervous Breakdown and serves as an associate editor of the online humor site, The Big Jewel. Visit his website. More by Tyler Stoddard Smith