I was in my late 20s. I was in graduate school, had a toddler, and I was planning a wedding that probably should have happened at least two years earlier. Still, one day it occurred to me that at one item on my bucket list might be easy to cross off. I could even earn a little money doing it.
I could get a job delivering flowers.
On an impulse, I started calling local flower shops. I didn't really expect to get a job, but before I knew it, I had one. The hours were long. The pay was low. The environment was hostile, but that didn't matter - I would be out delivering flowers. I would, of course, be the envy of all, but wasn't about the money or the status. I did it because I had always wanted to deliver flowers. It seemed ideal - I would drive around, alone, listening to music, connecting with other humans only to brighten their day. I was ecstatic.
The shop was owned by a couple in their 60s. The husband, David, took care of most of the customer service and other business. He was erratic, angry, and prone to jarring outbursts. On my first day, I met the other two employees. The assistant manager, Megan, was in her late 20s, and had no problem weathering David's temper tantrums. Within an hour, David tripped over something and flew into a rage, yelling "GODDAMMIT!"
One word, but it filled up the entire shop, leaving us with no clue what would happen next (nothing). It was momentarily terrifying, but I chalked it up to his planter fasciitis. The clerk, Simone, developed what I'm convinced was a real headache and went home sick. A few days later, her boyfriend came in to explain she was quitting because she was afraid of David.
"I didn't listen, because I don't talk to boyfriends," David explained, with as much dignity as he could muster. But listen he must, because Simone was not coming back. She was soon replaced by a 19-year-old boy named Sheriff, who was indifferent to David's temper.
David's main redeeming quality was his unquestioning devotion to his wife, known to him and everyone else as Mrs. Chong. This was curious to me, as they had been married for 35 years and David's last name was not Chong, but I never learned the story behind it. Mrs. Chong took care of the flower arrangements. David loathed all his competition, but was willing to do business with other flower shops in order to have flowers sent to his wife on a regular basis. After ordering them, he was always giddy with anticipation.
Quickly, I learned delivering flowers was not the glamorous occupation I'd dreamed it was. It was mundane and monotonous, exactly like I imagined delivering pizza would be. Only with very few tips, and semi-regular contact with dead bodies.
Unlike pizza, people are surprised to get flowers. At the time, I foolishly thought that "surprised" and "delighted" were synonyms, but they are not. Even if they're happy, surprised people don't react the way you hope they will. Surprise takes a few minutes to process. In this way, customers would probably have been happier to get pizza they'd ordered themselves and eagerly anticipated. More often, they were like deer in headlights when confronted with a surprise vase of roses.
Tips were a possibility, but just icing on the cake. I didn't expect them. Which was good, because they were very rare. In fact, I only remember it happening once, from a woman who apparently got flowers delivered to her so often she wasn't fazed by it. She handed me a few dollars she kept on hand for this exact purpose. Other than that, aside from the fact that they weren't expecting you and might not have petty cash on hand, by the time people understood that flowers had been delivered to them, I was long gone.
My first trip to a funeral home had me filled with, if you'll pardon the expression, morbid curiosity. I hadn't seen a dead body since I'd been to an open-casket funeral at the age of 4, and although I felt rather scummy, I was intensely curious. However, when I brought the flowers to their appointed destination at the front of the chapel, the guest of honor was surrounded by loved ones. I couldn't gawk. Still, the experience was meaningful in its own way.
Since I couldn't allow my eyes to linger too long on the body, I took in the mourners. The family members present were carbon copies of the same woman at different points in her life. There were 5 or 6 of them, from her early 20s to her mid-60s. All had the same face, long, blonde hair and glasses. The deceased, very elderly, had clearly looked much the same in life. The love in the room was palpable. There was a certain purity to their sadness. It seemed clean, unburdened by regret, guilt, anger or fear. The only real problem was how much they would miss her.
They wiped their teary eyes and nodded their heads in appreciation as I set the display next to the casket. Generally, I'm of the opinion that death is not our friend. I hate it and think we only scramble to find beauty in it because we have no choice. While this still held true, it was one of the times I came closest to appreciating the cycle of life. The woman's life was over, but her life's work was very much alive. I knew she'd been an amazing mother, grandmother, aunt. That would live on as long as her line did.
The unfortunate irony was that although surprise kept people from being thrilled to receive flowers, it didn't stop them from being disappointed when they didn't. One day, went through the drive thru at a coffee shop in the flower truck, which was clearly painted as such. As I waited in line, it dawned on me that this was an unkind thing to do. The barista would expect flowers, and was, at that very moment, rehearsing her reaction in her mind. It was too late to get out of line, so I waited sheepishly, feeling terrible.
I had anticipated correctly. The barista was a pretty, brown-haired woman in her 30s. When she realized I was there for coffee, her face fell. Of course she accepted my apology, and when I threw an extra dollar into the tip jar to make up for her disappointment, she said "You can read me like a book, I think."
One day, I arrived at work to find the largest assortment I'd ever seen to be delivered to one person. Flowers, potted plants, balloons, ceramic cats. By this time, I'd been working there long enough to know this was not good.
I drove them to an insurance office. It took four trips for me to deliver this pile of generic crap to a woman who looked resentful, but not surprised. I saw her struggling not to take her anger out on me, and appreciated it. Whoever had sent her all this was obviously a jerk. He had done something terrible, and judging from the exasperation emanating from everyone present, it wasn't the first time. I wasn't concerned with exactly what it was. Having them delivered to her office seemed like the ultimate manipulation, intended to win over her coworkers as much as anything. They weren't fooled. As I left for the office for the last time, one of the other women confirmed what I already knew.
"Yeah, he screwed up."
I worked there for a few weeks, seeing the thrilled reaction I'd hoped for exactly once. Accepting a job in order to indulge my own whim had been a stupid, thoughtless thing to do, and I felt guilty when I quit after working there for such a short time. I had done the math, and knew what to expect at minimum wage. But even as prepared as I was, my first paycheck was a grave disappointment. This wouldn't help my husband, daughter and I enough to make my absence worth it.
I gathered up all my courage and confessed that I was sorry to be unreliable, but I couldn't stay. I needn't have worried. To David, quitters came as no surprise at all. Megan was his one loyal employee. She accepted his unpleasantness because she hoped to one day take over the shop, and because she had come to view David and Mrs. Chong with a granddaughterly affection. Other than that, no one put up with his nonsense for long, no matter how much they needed the job. Knowing this, he hadn't even learned my name.