Valentine’s Day was a few days ago and once again I had the chance to jump into the action as a floral assistant. I think it was my 13th year of donning my red sweater and bringing my own special kind of L-U-V to Happy Valley. Valentine's Day gives me a whole new perspective on "saying it with flowers".
How did I get to be a floral assistant? The brother of my co-worker Carol is a retail florist in State College. Carol, the closest thing I have to a work wife, is in charge of recruiting the legion of day laborers necessary to make 400-odd deliveries on Cupid’s Special Day. So for one day a year, the flower shoppe has a mix of folks taking a break from real life and retirees spending the day delivering flowers.
We work in teams of two: a driver and a runner. Ever since the parking garage of the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC jumped out in front of my van during another floral adventure, I play the role of the guy who runs the flowers from the van to the lucky recipient. I used to work with my friend Bruce, but he drives too much like a law abiding citizen of a certain age plus 30 years. Now I’m paired with my sister. Carolyn is a NASCAR fan who can drive the van, put on makeup, participate in a conference call, drink coffee, and share her feelings out the window with some yahoo in the other lane…all at the same time. I have a difficult enough time participating in a conference call from the safe confines of my desk, so her multitasking is all the more remarkable in my book. Oh, and a swanky Washington hotel parking garage has never jumped out in front of her car. Can't forget that!
Valentine’s Day is as busy as it gets in the flower business. Guys who like girls send them flowers on Valentine’s Day. Guys who like guys arrange and deliver those flowers. It’s kind of an odd dynamic but there's something (e.g. sex or money) in it for for everyone.
Carolyn and I made our first delivery of the day was at 8:37 at Easterly Parkway School. My sister practically had to trade paint (that’s NASCAR lingo) in the parking area with moms in Volvos dropping junior off at school. Holy crap, don’t kids walk to school any longer? Or did that habit end with smoking in the teacher’s lounge?
Later in the morning we stopped at a Sheetz convenience store. The chain’s schtick is that they spell plural nouns with a Z whenever they can. I thought I was pretty funny when I said to the person behind the cash register, “Flowers with a Z for Janice”. The clerk obviously did not know a bon mot when he heard one and so I got a curt “She’s not here” in addition to the look that State College postal clerks give to clueless non-English speaking Asian graduate students trying to mail boxes to places no one can spell. He was not about to think outside the bagelz, so I had to say, “Well, can you give them to her when she gets here?” As soon as he grunted “Yeah”, I was out of there before I was tempted by the large display of meat snackz and other blood pressure elevating industrial food delightz. As Carolyn and I pulled out of the lot, there was a pack of Sheetz employees huddled around the propane tanks smoking. If there is anything l like better than a pod of convenience store clerks smoking by the door to the store, it’s a pod of convenience store clerks smoking next to the propane tank display by the door to the store.
A short time later we were at some social service agency I’d never heard of. I couldn’t really figure out what its mission was other than to hire women, encourage them to dress badly, get horrible haircuts and all manner of facial piercings. “I have flowers for so- and so” I chirped. “They’re not for me so don’t you worry” griped the unattractive pear-shaped woman, a symphony in brown polyester. Instead of worrying about who was getting the flowers, I worried about how a guy could make out with a woman with spikey things sticking out of her face without poking his eye out.
“Her man is so predictable” confided another receptionist as she accepted a flower arrangement for a coworker. I almost sighed and said “I know” and while giving her a look that she might not understand.
One of my favorite deliveries was where I said to the cute receptionist, ”I have flowers for Jen. And I have to apologize. There are only eleven roses. I broke one getting it out of the van.” The receptionist confided in me, "Oh don’t worry, she’ll never know. And besides she’s weird. Getting eleven will make her like ‘em even more. Would you like a red velvet cookie?” It was the only tip of the day that Carolyn and I got.
There wasn’t as much loud music in apartment buildings as there used to be. I suppose the invention of ear buds put the kibosh to that. But the young women (and they were all young women) receiving flowers uniformly live in squalor. Had they ever picked anything up off the floor, washed any dishes, or put any effort at all into their surroundings? No. None. Zip. Nada.
After about the fourth time delivering something to White Trash Central, I wondered why guys didn’t send Merry Maids instead if flowers. Oh right, love-starved (i.e. horny) straight guys don't care what a girl's apartment looks like. Duh!
I was cold, I was tired, and I’d spilled water from 71 vases of flowers on my trousers. Carolyn was ready to head out to dinner with high school chums. We were both glad the day was all over, including the shouting.