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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Flowers

Before I was a writer I was a nursing assistant, and before I was a nursing assistant I was a farm hand, and before I was a farm hand I was a tutor and a nanny and a florist. This was when my oldest daughter was in preschool and I was not yet married.

I worked at a bustling urban flower shop in Boston, anywhere from 25 to 45 hours per week, for about two years. I loved it at times—the people-watching opportunities were tremendous, and I enjoyed gaining familiarity with common and exotic blooms. I hated it at times, especially when working until two in the morning on Valentine's day with toxic South American roses that made my arms break out in a puffy rash.

I worked with C, who designed floral arrangements to pay his way through cosmetology school. C did my hair for my wedding, though he nearly backed out of the deal when he learned I planned to neither pluck my Scottish eyebrows nor wear makeup for the big day. C had, not long before, used me as a test model for his Massachusetts beautician licensing exam. I think the quiet that I maintained while he blistered my ear in his hot iron was at least part of the reason that he willingly came to my house at four in the morning to bedeck me, my two bridesmaids, and my four year-old flower girl in flowers. We looked nice.

C had shar-peis and a boyfriend whom I'd like to say was an airline pilot but who might actually have been a flight attendant. (Memory is funny sometimes.) C was very smart and very kind and, of course, sassy and tidy and always fresh. I enjoyed working with him, and when our big expensive customers came in C was always in charge of whipping up some $300 tower of blossoms for them to deliver to their loved ones. He designed something for Toni Morrison one day, and I still regret not fighting more fervently for the chance to deliver that arrangement myself.

The other sales clerks and I designed the little things—the $15 bouquets and the $35 off-the-shelf arrangements—and kept the cooler stocked with vibrant centerpieces in a range of seasonal colors. I worked with J and C2, a lovey-dovey couple whom I've learned are now acrimoniously separated, and J2, who had come from Florida and who lived and breathed Florida and who desperately missed Florida to the point that we all wondered why she didn't just go the heck back to Florida. I hope, for her sake, that she has by now.

I remember the strangest things—a turbaned gentleman coming in in a frenzy, begging in broken English to use our hose to clean his dirty fruit. "Please, Ma'am—I am washing my pineapple?" A $200 tip for a walking delivery, conducted after hours (and with only the slightest concern that I'd be murdered at my destination). A Pauly Shore sighting, when all of my fellow staff ran screaming down the alley and I was left at the till trying to remember if he'd been in Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo or if that had been someone different. The thrill of being asked to design something huge—something elaborate—something fancy—for a funeral (no price too high!) and letting my imagination and my untrained eye run wild to the tune of $500 and the encouragement of the wealthy bereaved. Telling my coworkers that flowers were fine, but that a true romantic would give his girl a stuffed animal (and, a few weeks later, receiving Mortimer the teddy from my attentive husband-to-be). They must have told.

I did develop an allergy to roses, which manifested itself in rashy welts along my arms and migraines. These hurt so much that I once found myself lying down on the dirty urban pavement outside the subway station near my ghetto home—lying down, pressing my cheek against the sidewalk, and wishing for the strength to go home (I found it).

All in all, though, I loved the work—loved having peers, and workplace camaraderie, and a room full of beautiful things in which to pass each day. I loved it almost as much as I love writing—sitting here, alone, and remembering it all for you.

M

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