Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I am not racist. I promise.

As I approached the front door of the office building where my Tuesday night acting class is held, I couldn’t help but notice you leaning on the front door, smoking a cigarette. I called the security box and asked to be let in the building. As I was buzzed up to the office and you grabbed the door behind me.

I said, “You’re going to have to be buzzed in.”

You said, “I’m making a delivery. I was just taking a smoke break.”

The lobby was dark. After hours, the building was desolate. In my head I replayed brutal scenes from that one book about misguided women who didn’t trust their instincts. I replied, “I just can’t let you in unless you are buzzed in by an office.”

You pointed to your delivery boxes that were already in the front lobby. The insignia on the packages matched that embroidered on your front shirt.

You were telling the truth.

“Oh.” I said, embarrassed. “You understand. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, I understand,” you said cynically, anger flashing in your eyes.

I wanted to explain to you that it wasn’t because you were black. It wouldn’t have mattered if you were a Jude Law look-alike; I was not going to let a strange man accompany me into a deserted building in downtown Chicago.

I am not a racist. I’m just a paranoid city dweller who isn’t going to put herself in compromising situations.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Dying Flower[shop]

The Dunlop Farms subdivision used to be a dairy farm. I remember cows, then I remember a barren swath of land in a town that’s otherwise canopied by lush green trees, then a few houses seemed to sprout from the earth as whole subdivision emerged. Dunlop Farms is now complete with an emergency medical center (the closest thing we have to a hospital in my town), a Pizza Hut Carry out, a small Virginia bank, a CVS Drugstore and a strip mall with a Food Lion, a Chinese restaurant, an Italian Pizza joint and lots of locally owned restaurants and shops.

Right next to the Food Lion is a small flower shop, Hughes Flowers, where I used to get all of my high school dance corsages. They also used to make the large white snowball chrysanthemum corsages that the homecoming court wears each year. It used to be a sunny shop with buckets of fresh flowers in a windowed cooler. There were a few trinkets out front, Precious Moments dolls and other gifts. Everyone in the Hughes family worked there making corsages, arrangements, delivering or manning the counter. It was the place that pretty much everyone in town went to buy flowers.

In 1998, Mac Hughes, the owner and father of three kids I went to school with, was in a headon car crash on Conduit Road. He suffered a few bone fractures and a brain injury. Through treatment for that, he discovered he also had lung cancer. He hung on for a few years, I believe, but his body just couldn’t recover. He was the life of Hughes Flowers and thus his business also suffered.

I hadn’t been in the shop until this past weekend, when I was home to see my folks. I thought I’d pick up a sunny bouquet of fresh flowers to take to my grandmother. She’s been taking care of my sick and aging grandfather.

The front of the shop was a jungle of silk gravesite arrangements stacked so high that hardly any window light could penetrate the shop. The coolers were mostly filled with fresh flower arrangements with fern and baby’s breath to be set on church altars In Memoriam. A mother and daughter were in the shop deciding which centerpiece to select for their grandfather who loved daffodils. There were also one pre-arranged dozen roses arranged with fern and baby’s breath and an Easter vase filled with carnations, fern and baby’s breath.

“I’m looking for a small bouquet to give to my grandmother,” I said when I was greeted by the tired looking counter woman, dressed in an oversized Christmas turtleneck.

“Oh, we don’t really have many flowers,” she replied with her smoky Virginia twang. “We have a few carnations, and then those tulips.” She motioned to a cooler behind the deck that was almost empty except a bucket of 12 or so ripe tulips.

“They’re $4 a piece. Or are they, $3 a piece, Clara?” she asked the woman behind the coolers.

“They’re $3 a piece, just like the carnations,” she shortly replied, as if she’d been asked that question already.

I can get a dozen fresh tulips for $7.99 in Chicago, but I didn’t care. I sifted through the bucket and selected four violet tulips. The counter woman paired them with fern and babies breath and wrapped then in cellophane tied with a loose purple ribbon. She maneuvered behind the counter with familiarity, quickly tapping the old cash register buttons with her flower-soiled nails.

“That will be $12.54,” she said as she pierced the ticket on the old fashioned receipt collector. I could tell from the receipts that mine was only the 2 purchase made that day. It was then that I was buying flowers for my aging grandmother from an aging shop. I felt a little bad about it. But, then, after all the Hughes have been through, I felt badly for thinking that.

“Thank you,” I said, collecting my flowers.

“You come back now!” she waved.

“I will,” I said.

I meant it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007