Thank you, I think

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At my birthday party a couple weeks ago, a friend handed me this incredibly ugly plant. It wasn’t from him, he was quick to point out, but from another friend who wasn’t there.
This plant was three feet tall and about five inches around, held up by a green metal stake. I thought: What use is a plant that needs its own little crutch to stand up? I already have relatives like that.
Anyway, it had two leaves and one stalk holding what might turn out to be a flower. I was told it was an amaryllis.
Where would it fit in my house? Nowhere. But of course I said, “Oh, thank you. Wow.” Does this friend not know me at all? My plants are like me, short and squatty, and they have to be tough to survive. I’m glad the gifter was not there. I don’t have a poker face. My mouth was saying “Oh!” (happy) while my eyes were saying “oh” (dismayed).
Could I accidentally forget it? My friend made sure it went home with me. When I tried to get it in the car, it hit the doorframe. When I got it leaned back against the seat like a passenger, my dash lit up, saying, “side airbag off.” Yeek. This plant needed a car seat of its own.
I had one of these tall skinny plants before. Somebody sent a kit. You put this thing in this pseudo-dirt and water it. I did. Two leaves sprouted up. They grew and they grew and they grew like the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors”. I had two ridiculously long leaves, but it never ever blossomed. The leaves kept growing until one day they got so heavy they fell over and turned brown. We said, “Oh good, it’s dead,” and threw the plant out.
Now I have this one. At the party, the resident cat kept sniffing the dirt (is it dirt?) and started gnawing the leaves. At home, I have to hide it where the dog won’t eat it, thinking it’s celery. Someplace where nobody will see it.
I have minimal luck with houseplants in general. I mean I had to ask whether this one goes outside or inside. My friend Pat mouthed “inside.” Pat is the one who noticed my pot full of dead leaves, said, “Oh this needs some love,” plucked off the leaves, gave it some water, and by the next week it looked like a new plant. All I do for my plants is throw water on them. I buy plant food, but it rots, forgotten under the sink.
When the leaves fell off a big plant I inherited from my mother-in-law, I had to take a picture and put it on Facebook to find out what it was and what to do. Oh that’s a bla-bla-bla, people said. Water it, put it in the sun, and say a prayer. It survived. Who knew? I thought it was dead.
When people give me a plant, it’s like, “Oh, that’s nice.” It will last a week or two longer than cut flowers. I’ve got an African violet dying in the pot right now. I feel so guilty.
I don’t even handle cut flowers properly. Pat noticed there was no water in the vase holding my get-well flowers a while back. She shook her head and added water. Did I sprinkle in the food or preservative or whatever that powder was that came with it, she asked. No. Was I supposed to? I make her sigh a lot. I just stick my cut flowers in a vase and leave them on the table until all the petals fall off.
So, when I got this three-foot-tall strange-looking plant, the plant lovers in the crowd oohed and ahhed while I thought oh no. But maybe I was wrong. This thing is damned tall. In fact, I think it has grown another foot since I brought it home. And guess what? It bloomed. Two gorgeous red flowers appeared a few days after my birthday. They were so heavy the plant fell off the table, but it survived. In fact, I think another flower is on the way. Maybe this relationship will work out after all. Maybe this plant will live forever. And bloom . . . exactly. . . once.
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Tsunami Day

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Whew! What a morning. I look out at the trees standing perfectly still against powder blue sky. The dog dashes in and tries to pick the Kleenex out of my bathrobe pocket. The only sound I hear is the hum of the computer. Life as usual.
An hour and a half ago, things were different.
 I went to bed late, having watched horrifying scenes from Japan until midnight. An 8.9 earthquake there did plenty of damage before the subsequent tsunami sent waves way inland, wiping out everything in their path. Helicopter video showed the ocean chewing up bridges, houses, hotels, cars, and boats as if they were toys. Debris clogged the surf like sawdust. One picture that lingers in the mind showed two women waving white cloths from the second story of a blue-roofed building that was surrounded by water. Rescue appeared unlikely. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people died as we watched the water flow across the land. Fires burned here and there, untended.
A large earthquake in the Orient can trigger tsunamis all over the western world. The Earth becomes one big dish that gets tipped on end, sloshing water over the sides. When I went to bed, warnings had been issued for Hawaii and all of the Pacific islands, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Mexico, Central America and South America. There was a tsunami “watch” for the U.S. west coast, with nothing expected to hit until 1:00 this afternoon. Thirteen hours away. I went to bed.
My phone woke me up a little before 6:30 a.m. My aunt from California, whom I’m supposed to meet in Albany this afternoon, wanted to let me know that my cousin in Hawaii was safe and to tell me that the dog and I could share her hotel room if we want. She didn’t know that I live above the tsunami zone, but that if the tsunami was really bad, the bridges would go down and I couldn’t get in or out of my neighborhood. Anyway, it wasn’t supposed to hit until after lunch. Why did she wake me up?
Out of curiosity, I turned on the radio and found my oldies station in nonstop news mode. The watch was a “warning” now, and the wave was supposed to hit at 7:15 a.m. Schools had been closed and low-lying areas evacuated. If you’re in the tsunami zone, get out now, they said. The roads were crowded with people trying to get to higher ground–or to park where they could watch the waves. They were lined up at the gas stations.
 I lay in bed a while, unable to get back to sleep, and decided I should get up before the waves reached South Beach. I thought about my friends who live in the pink house overlooking the ocean at Nye Beach, about the folks closer to me who are in the process of moving from their ocean-front home, about the Bayfront, the Performing Arts Center, the aquarium, and my church. I’m high enough here to be safe, but so much that I love could be turned into kindling and floating bodies in few minutes.
 Fox TV broadcast pictures from beaches far north of here. The waves went out, the waves came in. It’s like watching somebody mow the lawn, one commentator said. Around 7:30, the waves pulled back farther than usual and rolled in a little closer but well within the bounds of the beach. Was that it? I turned off the radio and listened to the TV. Apparently it was. For now. When I turned the radio back on, it was playing rock ‘n roll again. The TV station started re-running pictures from Japan. I couldn’t look at them anymore. They were too horrible.
I pray for the people in Japan. I thank God that we are safe. This time.
 Here in South Beach, Annie is asleep in her chair by the window, and my trees are still standing, stretching calmly into the sky

Beware THE VOICE!

Did you ever try to have a conversation with a computer that sounds human but isn’t? Last night my computer stopped connecting to Internet Explorer, something it has always done perfectly. All that advice in the manual to go to xyz website was useless because I couldn’t go to any website. Now, I didn’t know whether the problem was my computer, my Internet provider or all those American Idol voters going online simultaneously. (Actually I was trying to vote at the time).

Anyway, I called my Internet company. If it wasn’t their problem, perhaps they could tell me whose it was. That’s when I encountered THE VOICE. I’ve met her before, calling about insurance, credit cards, and other frustrations. In fact, sometimes the voice calls me. My pharmacy, for example, has THE VOICE call to tell me I have a prescription waiting. I didn’t ask for any prescriptions, but apparently she decided I needed more drugs and didn’t want me to run out. When I ask, “What prescription?” she starts over, letting me know that my prescription is ready and I can pick it up until X date. Then she thanks me for using her pharmacy and says “Good-bye” in an obscenely cheerful voice.

I also get calls from a place where I used to work, warning me about the weather. There. Far away. Where I don’t work anymore. I can’t make her stop. She’s stalking me.

You’ve probably heard THE VOICE, too. When you call for help, she comes on all sweet and smart-sounding, sort of like your first grade teacher–Miss Dalton in my case. She says hello, you say hello back, and she asks how she can help. Then, just as you start to tell your tale of woe, she interrupts with a menu of options, none of which are exactly what you’re looking for. At that point, you know she is not human, but she sounds so human you want to shake her and say, “Hey, listen to me.”

So, THE VOICE gave me all these options, and I said, “No, no, no, no,” barely restraining myself from cursing. Remember, I had already been cursing at my computer for an hour. So she reset, just like Miss Dalton would have done. I picture this woman looking like the mothers in our 1960s grammar school books, tall and pretty, dressed in a slim gray skirt, her hair a halo of reddish curls, her eyes blue and her lips very red. Like Miss Dalton. She would bend down, put a comforting hand on my shoulder and say, “All right, let’s try this. Is your question about billing or service?”

Ah, something I could answer. “Service!”

“Fine.” She gave four options, e-mail, Internet, networking and none of the above. I said, “Internet.” Then she offered, “Can’t connect at all, can’t connect intermittently,” and one other thing that didn’t apply. “No,” I said. “I can’t get into Internet Explorer.” That was not one of the options. She repeated: Can’t connect at all, can’t connect intermittently, that one other thing, and oh yes, none of the above. Well…it’s Internet, but …

As I hesitated, she gave me the list again. Sighing, I said, “Can’t connect at all” (not with her at least). Finally, she said, “Please hold.” As I waited, I prayed that the next respondent would be human. I mean human right at that moment. Clearly THE VOICE was created using a real woman, but when and how I just don’t know. As I waited, I heard soft music and then, THE VOICE telling me how great this company was and listing all the wonderful services I ought to be using. She also suggested that I could find solutions to my own problems by going to X, Y, and Z websites.

Hello, that’s the problem!

Then I looked at my computer, and it was working again. My home page was there in all its glory. I hung up on THE VOICE.