Cathartic. Momentous. Catalytic. Imbued. These are the most potent words I can come up with to perfectly describe what today absolutely wasn’t. My triumphant return to the world of the day job was less meaningful than anyone predicted it to be, save one, me. I wanted it to be just as it was before I was let go in December. I wake up without my alarm clock, I walk out the door right on time, passing the hordes of people waiting 45 minutes to an hour for overpriced Sunday brunch at the restaurant on my first floor. It's the type of restaurant that puts an intricately cut mango flower carving and a piece of spearmint on the side of your $15 pancakes. The rich people who wait say that it’s worth it. They are lined up around the block, hidden behind huge bug-eyed sunglasses and tall white paper cups from the designer coffee shop with amazing light fixtures and free WiFi just down the street. They are blocking the sidewalk so that no one will sneak ahead of them in line. I will see many of these rich people again in a matter of hours. I am punched in at 10am exactly. Something has changed in my absence; they have new time cards, monochrome and hard to read, thin gray text on off yellow card stock. Sunday is the last slot on the pale card, right at the bottom. With a mechanic buzz and a “ka-chunk” from the time clock, I am punched-in for the first time in almost three months. I scribble my name at the top of the card and walk into the greenhouse. I am back at work. It’s not a cathartic realization of self-worth, or a momentous celebration of cosmic rebirth. This day is no a catalyst for change in my life, nor is it imbued with hope and prosperity. It is just another day at work. But, as always, it is beautiful in here.
I drink my coffee out of the same red metal coffee mug I drink coffee out of every day. I eat my roast beef sandwich in the back lot just like I did all summer last year, away from the break room and it’s awkward collection of unbalanced squeaky chairs. I roam the isles of the greenhouse, inspecting my plants and looking to help anyone with the slightest interest in taking my plants home with them. I happily talk to people about their windows and sun-rooms, about air conditioning vents and high-rise window UV treatments, about fertilizers and propagation, about sunshine and soil saturation. They line up behind each other to rack my brain and try to stump me, just like they lined up down the street hours ago for eggs with asparagus, chives and asiago cheese, or bread pudding served with the largest blackberries in Chicago. I talk to these people about flora and fauna, regeneration and amendments, seeds and sex. I sell orchids, ivys, Sansivarias and Spathiphyllums. I sell Jade trunks, palm trees, Hyacinth baskets, Chrysanthemum pots, and Podocarpus bushes. I sell Meyer Lemons, Kafir Limes, Calamondin Oranges, Kumquats and Pomegranates. I sell Dracaenas Tarzanas, Rabbit Foot ferns, 13 foot Golden Bamboo, Easter Cactus, Venus Fly Traps and Calla Lilies. I sell Bromeliad collections, Rosemary topiaries, Philodendron trellises, Wandering Jew peat baskets, Echeveria wreaths, Euphorbia gardens, and Pothos polls. I love my plants. I am happy to talk about them for hours. I coheres these expensive-smelling, make-up painted, bug-sunglasses-eyed, nit-picky rich folks into buying a plant that I wish I had in my tiny apt. I live vicariously through their frivolous spending, wrapping up each purchase and sending it home with a tinge of jealousy. “I wanted that one.” I get dirt under my fingernails. I wipe my hands on my jeans. I shake hands with people who never have dirt under their fingernails. I forget 50 smiling strangers names. I crack jokes with old coworkers, get hugs and handshakes, hear the new gossip, eat homemade cookies, and avoid questions about my “time off”. My shoes get wet while I am watering my plants. I had forgotten about going home everyday with wet feet everyday. At the end of the day, I fall in love with a beautiful girl who buys a purple plant. She leaves once she gets what she wants from me. I watch her go with a smile. “Maybe I’ll see her tomorrow?” I go for a run after work. I do my pull-ups. I check my e-mail. My stolen Internet connection is down again. That means that my neighbors must finally be on to me after stealing their wireless access since October. Nah, it will be back in a matter of minutes. It always is. Until then, I can reflect on the day passed, and think about right now.
Right now, I have a familiar ache in my back, in my shoulders, from hefting trees into the white leather seats of jaguars and BMWs. “Be careful.” Blow me, lady, I know it’s leather, and I know you paid a fortune for it. I know this makes you nervous, me jamming a six-foot plant into your car and you just standing there, wringing your hands on the curb and telling me to be careful. I know you won’t tip me no matter how heavy this fucking plant is. I know you will feel helpless when you have to get it out of your white leather interior without me. That makes it worth jamming it in here. You fucking deal with it. I’ll be careful but it's not me that is gonna kill this plant. That poor $300 plant is gonna be dead in a few months, not because I put it in the car, but because you are too busy waiting in line for over priced brunch with Chas and Muffy to take care of it. I’ll be careful but in all honesty, it’s outta my hands, lady. So it goes. I have a familiar ache in the back of my head from smiling all day. I smile when I show people my favorite plants; Raphis Palms, Fabian Aralias, Haworthias. I smile when I give a wide-eyed little kid a clipping off a plant and tell them to hid it in their pocket and plant it when they get home. I smile when I feed the giant Koi fish and the people looking on say, “Whoa, that’s a big one!” I smile when my boss makes fun of me for being proud that I’m from Vermont and that I like the cold and that I can lift heavy things without complaining about it. I smile when I teach someone how to germinate seeds so they can eat their own homegrown tomatoes this summer. I smile a lot at that job. I have a familiar ache in my arms and legs from the work. I good warmth, like my body is exhausted from being put to use. I’m back to what I was two months ago, the bells and flashing lights and roadblocks are receding and I don’t feel any different, as if a freight train of nothing just blew by me.