Friday, May 16, 2008

Weekendless Weekends, Oswald Jr. and Gertrude Jr., and Dreams About Exs, Death and Pantera – or – I’m So Damn Excited About Being So Damn Tired

I work around 75 hours a week. Sunday through Friday I work from 8am until at least 6:30 at the Greenhouse. I lug 15 foot Ficus trees around for pompous, out of touch, rich assholes who say crap like, “wouldn’t this look fantastic in the solarium?” I have sold $500 plants to people who I know will kill the plants more effectively than some kinda flamethrower / chainsaw / wood chipper combination house plant B-horror movie Hell-Machine. Yes there are idiots, but there are also sparks of inspiration. The funny thing is that the people who buy the 4-inch pots of the same kinds of plants as the rich idiots, are the ones that end up asking all the right questions and in turn have happy, health tropical plants all over their tiny efficiency studios. There is a great sense of satisfaction in watching a young couple pick out a ten inch Raphis Palm that will years from now be twice as tall as I am. When I meet these couples, I like to stand in a big pot and ask to be adopted, even if I am older than either of them. I come cheep. Here’s the best part about the job. The plants all come from exotic locations, much sunnier and lackadaisical places than the north edge of Chicago. One of the most fragrant plants we get in is called Night Blooming Jasmine, or Solanaceae Cestrum Nocturnum. Night Blooming Jasmine (ahem) only blooms at night. It releases its fragrance when the blooms open. I have heard stories from plant lovers that say this Jasmine has gotten the attention of neighbors, both across the hall and down the street. Regardless, we got a big shipment of these plants and they had been shipped in a truck from the Florida Tropics for the past two days, so they had been in “night” for two days while they were in the back of the truck. When we opened the boxes that they were shipped in, the entire green house filled with the sweet smell of jasmine. We all took a break from unpacking the plants and just enjoyed it for a minute. Ain’t that swell?

Another real treat was a couple of hitch-hikers that the plants had picked up, Oswald Jr. and Gertrude Jr. (their name sakes can be found here). Oswald Jr. is a gecko, he jumped onto my hand from an Aphlandrea plant I was putting on display. I brought him over to the fishpond in the corner of the greenhouse and put him on a Cypress Papyrus plant. That’s the equivalent of a beach side condo in Gold Coast, Chicago. Nice place, Oswald. He darted off into a corner after surveying his new digs. I haven’t seen him since. Gertrude Jr.’s story is a bit more tragic. I opened a big old White Amok cactus and was about to introduce it to it’s new home when I noticed a half dollar sized black spider hanging out on the side of the planter pot. On it's butt was a red hourglass. I said something to the effect of “Holy shit, that’s a fucking Black Widow spider!” The entire crew came over and checked out my find. Someone said that their bite could kill a baby, that’s when “Dr. Foot” got involved. Gertrude Jr. lived a happy life in a cactus grower’s desert field at the base of a beautiful White Amok cactus, took a road trip for 2 or 3 long, yet sweet smelling nights, then got a brief glimpse of me in my working environment before meeting the bottom of Cerise’s boot. Liability is a bitch, Gertie. I miss both Oswald Jr. and Gertrude Jr.

Gertrude’s untimely demise reminded me of a dream I had recently. The Angle of death came to me in this dream. In fact a lot of things came to me in this dream, including a handful of disgruntled ex-girlfriends and Pantera. Here’s the story. Pantera was going to play a private concert in my house. This was a big deal because I love Pantera and since the day Dimebag Darrel was killed, I’ve regretted never being able to see them live. I’ve been told that they put on a mind-blowing show (those who don’t like hardcore need not question my affection for this band, just accept it as a once honored “two minutes’ hate” ritual). I was hanging out in my house, which happened to be a huge warehouse with the standard stuff you’d find in a warehouse; forklifts, huge coils of cable, rolls of sheet metal, a corner full of broken office chairs, empty and over turned oil barrels, a collection of angry past girlfriends with pink crowbars and fire in their eyes, abandoned industrial machines, random scraps of wood and piles of garbage. Standard warehouse clutter. The tech crew had just finished building the stage and Dimebag was finishing his sound check, I was pumped up for the concert. That’s when each one of my past lovers gave me a long, passionate kiss and then went over, in painful detail, why they felt I was a worthless waste of flesh and how they had wasted their time with me while waving a pink crowbar around with reckless abandon. It bummed me out, but not nearly as much as the fact that this was all going on while Pantera was performing, a show I had waited all my life to see. Although Pantera did provide great background music for such a traumatic conversation, all I wanted to do was ditch this female abuse and give myself whiplash but I figured that I couldn’t just blow off these angry women for a private Pantera concert in my warehouse living room because they had traveled the globe to cut me down to nothing and swing pink crowbars at my head and I owed them each a chance to do it. If I ever find myself in this situation again, screw their feelings, I’m outta there. But this time I took the abuse and then, totally bummed out about how I had ruined these perfect women’s lives, I moped to the concert stage only to meet the angle of death, black hood, boney hand, sickle and all. He was the only other guest at the concert, in my living room. In true Death form, he didn’t say a word; he only deeply nodded to me. The band sounded great, that is until my buddy, the Angle of Death touched Dimebag on the head. He instantly fell dead. The music stopped short, the band all ran over to Darrel’s body and I moped upstairs to my loft room in my warehouse home and curled up on the couch in a sleeping bag. I think I watched reruns of Good Times and Webster until I woke up.

That all being said and done, I’m having a great day. I love my jobs, I love how busy I am, I love going to sleep totally exhausted at the end of everyday, I love waking up at 8am without an alarm clock and I love living by my own rules. I love running and yoga and houseplants and walking to work and having dirt permanently stuck under my fingernails and playing music at dive bars for peanuts and not answering the phone when I don’t want to and buying bottles of bourbon picking my nose while staring at the people in the car next to me and drinking wine on my rooftop when it rains and showing off my hairy chest to anyone and everyone and coming home with more tropical plants everyday and wondering where I can possibly put them. I love eating burritos and buying power tools and wearing the same tee-shirt for days on end. I love that I bought a bike the day that gas prices broke $4 a gallon. I love that there is a Viking helmet on top of my bookshelf. I love that this is the only day off I have all month and that I’ve spent it thinking, typing, repotting my plants and listening to Fugazi and Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion rather than cleaning, doing laundry and paying down the mountain of bills I have. Maybe I’ll have a hotdog and send my glee over the edge. Oh oh! Maybe I’ll wrap it in bacon.

From Moooo To Boooo - or - How To Wear Floaties And Piss Me Off

I just saw a Wal-Mart commercial that advertises ice cream. A suburban backyard sprinkler party for 4 year olds in floaties, I never wore floaties in the backyard, is interrupted by a blond soccer mom briskly walking out of a huge white picket fenced house, waving an ice cream scoop and announcing “Ice Cream!” as only a woman who never wanted to work a day in her life and subsequently hasn’t, could. The tots run over to a table covered with different frozen goodies, all of which are Unilever products. Unilever owns and internationally distributes a host of goods; ranging from Country Crock Spread and Axe Body Spray, to Slimfast and Breyers. In this commercial, the mother explains that with Wal-Mart, she can buy everything to make this “hot summer, great. And with Wal-Mart’s low prices, she can afford to buy everyone’s favorite treat.” Pan through kids covered with fudge and ice cream and orange popsicle juice. Then, a Ben & Jerry’s pint crosses the screen and my jaw hit the floor. I worked at a Ben & Jerry’s factory. I showed visitors around and explained the company’s mission statement, which included this little doozie.

“Social Mission: To operate the company in a way that actively recognizes the central role that business plays in society by initiating innovative ways to improve the quality of life locally, nationally & internationally.”

That was Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission. Ben and Jerry wrote it in the 80s, way before they sold the company to Unilever in 2000. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream states that they still adhere to this Social Mission, but the facts speak for themselves. Since the sale to Unilever, Ben & Jerry’s has canceled the non-bleached and recyclable “eco-Pint” container program and returned to the less environmentally friendly, but more profitable, bleached, waxed pint container (2006). At one point while I was working for the company, Ben & Jerry's instituted a policy that no one person would be paid ten times more than the lowest paid employee. "In 2001, sales associates, the most common job in Wal-Mart, earned on average $8.23 an hour for annual wages of $13,861." ["Is Wal-Mart Too Powerful?", Business Week, 10/6/03]. It is hard to believe that any of the top dogs at Unilever would ask Wal-Mart to raise their minimum wage just so that they could break $140K a year. Also in 2006, Ben & Jerry’s (read Unilever) “dropped” their egg suppliers because the chicken coop was accused of mistreating their chickens. “The Humane Society said an investigation of a Michael Foods egg farm in June found hens dying of starvation, live hens living among dead ones and sick or injured birds caught in cage wires (link).” Assuming that Ben & Jerry’s (again, read Unilever) didn’t know that the egg producing chickens were being mistreated indicates that they no longer research or care about who they are purchasing ingredients from, putting into question every supplier that they use. Non rGBH milk? Who knows. Family Dairy farmers? Maybe. Fair Trade Sugar? I thought so, but I could be wrong.

Now Ben & Jerry’s is now being sold in Wal-Marts around the world, a company that has been sued for wage and employment discrimination, tax evasion, corporate welfare fraud, unfair wage scales, poor worker compensation and almost non-existent worker benefit packages, and the list goes on. There aren’t many people who think that having a Wal Mart nearby stimulates the surrounding economy, or shall I say “initiates innovate ways of improving the quality of life locally.” Boooo to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield for not having the foresight to see that the good name of the company that they built from the ground up, and their own good intentions, would be dragged through the corporate mud by the global distribution company hell bent on profits that they sold it to. Boooo to Unilever for destroying a company that I took pride in working for and being a shareholder of. Boooo to Wal Mart for their soulless treatment of their workers, their community and their effect on local economics. Boooo to the loss of a once great, socially aware company. It is sad to see a product that I once felt good about buying and supporting and working for and being a part of, become yet another corporate money whore. At least there is still Nutty Steph’s Granola.