People say crazy things and come to some curious conclusions when they visit Paxton Gate. Having worked on the retail floor for many years and later in the office within earshot of the retail floor, I’ve been witness to an array of surprising quips, assumptions, and proclamations from our customers, and occasionally from our staff.

“If I broke this, would you be really mad?”

30 years of quotes from Paxton Gate customers


People say crazy things and come to some curious conclusions when they visit Paxton Gate. Having worked on the retail floor for many years and later in the office within earshot of the retail floor, I’ve been witness to an array of surprising quips, assumptions, and proclamations from our customers, and occasionally from our staff. These range from unexpected remarks—likely due to a customer not fully understanding what they’re seeing—to people who seem somewhat oblivious to the fact that they’re saying something potentially embarrassing, out loud, in front of other people. Many interesting assertions come from customers who appear so baffled by what they’re seeing that they assume they must not be in a store! For example, these two utterances, said by two different people, many years apart. The second perplexed shopper seems to answer the first, though they never met:

Do people actually buy this stuff?” (Late 1990s on Stevenson St.)

No, it’s not really a store, it’s a museum.” (July, 2006 at our Valencia location)

We get the museum comparison quite often which I take as a point of pride. Paxton Gate is like a museum; a museum where—if you like—you can take home part of the exhibit. This month, I’m sharing some of my favorite quotes as well as some personal reflections on the speakers as well as the items that inspired a few of our most captivating in-store comments.

Is that a snake [skeleton]? Snakes have bones? Well, you learn something new every day.” (Early 2000s)

I’ll avoid teasing this unnamed and inquisitive shopper. But yes, snakes have bones. They are not related to worms, if that’s what you were thinking, and are in fact vertebrates. It’s likely snakes first evolved from burrowing lizards sometime in the Jurassic period approximately 201 to 145 million years ago, which would have been when they lost their legs, but they kept those bones.

In most cases, the snake skeletons we carry at Paxton Gate come from suppliers who typically sell to schools and other educational centers. They are part a group of snakes known as Pit Vipers which are one of nature’s most effective ambush hunters due to a “sixth sense,” enabling them to effectively see in the dark. The “pit” in their name refers to a specially adapted organ on their face, between their eye and nostril, that gives them the ability to create pictures of their surroundings based on sensing heat signatures.

These “pictures” are so accurate that the snakes can strike with surprising accuracy in total darkness, killing and eventually swallowing their prey with great success.

So these air ferns don’t need any care & they don’t die, right?”

A plant I got here died.  It was one of those ones that don’t need any water.”

Do these Tillandsias occur naturally or are they genetically engineered?”

People have a lot of questions about these puzzling plants that grow without soil and, to answer one of them, they are not genetically engineered. To address the other two questions: They need care, and they most certainly need water! The perpetually intriguing Tillandsia has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered them at Shelldance Nursery in 1993. I typically avoid the term “airplant” for the very reason that it leads people to think they live on air alone. They do not. Most need ample diffused sunlight as well as regular water. Almost all the Tillandsias we carry are epiphytic, typically growing on trees in their native habitat which ranges from the southern United States through South America, and as far south as Argentina. They collect water from rain or fog using specialized cells in their leaves rather than their roots. Their roots are used solely for clinging to a tree or rock (or building, or telephone wire) as a means of getting them up out of the forest canopy, and exposed to sunlight.

In your home or apartment, Tillandsias are incredibly easy to care for. You can water them by misting them a few times per week or running them under the tap. In general, they like bright diffused light with some varieties perfectly happy with direct sun and others a little more tolerant of dappled light. Over time, they may bloom and considering their diminutive size, they often produce surprisingly large and showy flowers. Following the flower, they usually produce “pups” or offsets. This is the process by which, in addition to producing seeds, plants reproduce by creating a new generation of genetically identical offspring. Tillandsias are not the only plants that reproduce this way. In the case of Tillandsias, they often become large colonies or clusters over time. Watching these pups grow, bloom, and reproduce is, for me, the true joy of growing these amazing plants.

Look, a Bunny-Moose!” (May 2001)

We’ve heard many quotes and surprising assumptions about the Jackalopes over the years, but this simple observation is by far the cutest and came from a boy around 8 years old who—looking at the math—could be a father himself at this point! (or … —would be around 30 years old as I write this!)

The Jackalope once roamed the plains of the South and Southwest in vast herds that grazed on the natural grasses that grew there. Their antlers, originally used in ceremonial battles for territory and breeding rights, later proved a vital asset when battling buffalos for shrinking grasslands. When forced into smaller and smaller regions, the Jackalope became desperate for food, and would lay waste to entire farms, ranches, and the occasional saloon. Driven nearly to extinction by hunters and outraged farmers, our specimens are the result of an aggressive reintroduction plan. The Jackalopes you find at Paxton Gate are raised on farms where one in three is sold in the form of a proud taxidermized trophy mount. The proceeds go toward the purchase of land to be set aside––creating the largest Jackalope reserve in the world. The remaining two-thirds are raised in captivity and released when they can fend for themselves and live, free once again in the wild.

I’d love to leave you with that, but I just can’t in good conscience. And I suppose it is the occasional descriptive placard, such as this, displayed in Paxton Gate that might have confused a customer now and again. In truth, the jackalope is probably the best known of the taxidermy chimeras, which is accomplished by combining genuine deer horns with a rabbit pelt, and producing an often quite believable horned rabbit. According to the New York Times, the first Jackalope was created and sold by Douglas Herrick in 1932. But you’d be surprised to learn that the Smithsonian has—in its very prestigious collection—a genuine rabbit specimen with what appear to be horns.

 Legends of horned rabbits date back centuries and may have inspired the idea that jackalopes truly exist and perhaps even inspired Herrick’s work. In truth, these unfortunate “horned” rabbits were victims of a cancer-causing virus (related to HPV) that manifest in horn-like tumors that grew on or around the rabbit’s head and face. It seems some folks in the early 20th Century may have thought them horned. But enough about “bunny-moose” with head tumors. The jackalopes at Paxton Gate have been a customer favorite for over 20 years. For anyone intrigued by taxidermy but not ready to get too serious about it, the jackalope is the piece for you.


Do humans have penis bones? I mean, because sometimes they’re surprisingly hard.” (June 2001)

The baculum or penile bone—as they’re referred to by scientists and other important people with no sense of humor—solicit quite a few customer comments. The setting for the aforementioned quote is particularly significant as the statement above was made by a woman talking to her friend at the check-out counter, where I stood alongside another Paxton Gate staffer. While she was wondering out loud about this peculiar piece of animal/human anatomy, I stood there staring at my feet. In my head I was thinking: No, humans don’t have penis bones, but other primates, like the gorilla and chimpanzee, do. Isn’t that odd that we’re so closely related, in our evolution, yet it was somehow determined that we didn’t need one? Do you want to talk about it? But I didn’t say that or anything at all, actually. Eventually, she remembered that there were two people, she didn’t know, standing about three feet away from her and she placed her items on the counter, including a baculum, and made her purchase. “Is this a gift for your boyfriend or husband maybe? Would you like it wrapped?” No, I didn’t say that either.

I’ll close with a quote from me. You might find it hard to imagine a scenario where I would have to say this to a customer in a retail setting, unless it was a candy store … but I did, and it was not directed at someone licking a cricket lollipop. It was a few years after moving to our Valencia location. The neighborhood was still somewhat remote and considered “off the beaten track.” It was still a place that concierges at downtown hotels refused to recommend to their guests for fear of liability. Valencia, even to this day, gets a fair share of people with addiction problems or mental health issues, but in these early years it was a bit more common an occurrence.

On this particular day, a man who was likely intoxicated or high (or both) entered the store sans shirt and shoes, but I’m happy to report, he was wearing pants. You’d think we would have just asked him politely to leave, but he had a look in his eyes that was a bit unsettling. If you’ve seen people in this state, you know what I’m talking about. It felt safer just to let him do his thing and hopefully he’d move on without incident to something else. Plus, in those early days there weren’t too many people in the store for him to disturb. He walked around, looking over various items, and was otherwise fine.

He entered the garden tool area and picked up a Hori Hori digging knife and with exaggerated caution, slid it delicately from its sheath, like he was removing a small sword from its scabbard. Setting down the sheath, he held the knife (which is not actually sharp) in both hands, like one might hold an ear of corn, just before taking a bite. All the while, I’m watching him, half frightened, half puzzled. I was at the time our “bouncer,” having the most experience in such matters as a bartender in various haunts around the Mission. My knife-wielding friend raised the Hori Hori to his face and gently ran his tongue along its edge. “Sir, please don’t lick the merchandise.” At this point, I expected him to lose it, talk gibberish, or retort, “Do you have a problem?!”, as sometimes happens in these scenarios. But, instead, he looked at me and smiled sheepishly as if to say, “I’m sorry, what the heck was I thinking?” Returning the Hori Hori to its sheath, he set it down gingerly and said, “Sorry about that,” and left the store without further incident.

Despite its tendency to attract tongue inspections by random people, the Hori Hori is by far one of my favorite gardening tools, second only to a quality Japanese pruning shear.

The sturdy blade is great for excavating small holes for planting plugs, small plants and bulbs. It’s excellent for uprooting weeds and especially effective in cracks and hard to reach areas. And it’s outstanding at dividing up root balls for splitting overgrown specimens and replanting. Whenever someone is shopping for a friend who’s a gardener and asks for advice on what to give them, this is my go-to suggestion. I consider the Hori Hori as critical as pruners in any serious gardener’s tool kit.

“You’ll be able to come in, buy a plant, dirt, a pot, and go home,” Sean Quigley

Perhaps in some future edition, I’ll describe under what enlightened circumstances I uttered such an elegant line, quoted in print nonetheless!

Sean Quigley

Founder, Paxton Gate

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