July 24, 2008

The question: Why did I lie to the checker at Trader Joe’s when I bought a bouquet of Gerber daisies yesterday?

The answer: Undetermined at this time.

I love flowers. All flowers. I love giving flowers. I love receiving flowers. I love buying myself flowers. Flowers in my room make me happy. I like knowing that my oxygen is being shared with another living thing.

So I buy a new bouquet every week. I lost my favorite vase in my move, one made of green ceramic with a chip on one of the sides. My new vase is actually a glass pitcher bearing etched floral designs. I have grown to love this arrangement.

The last bunch of flowers I bought lasted eleven days. This is a long time for flowers to stay alive with cut stems, especially because they were also presumably sitting in the grocery store for an indeterminable amount of time before I purchased them. I considered this a good omen of things to come. Near indestructible flowers; productive summer.

I went to Trader Joe’s when the eleven days were up. I wanted something bright. Leaning toward the purple and orange arrangements, I picked out a bunch that didn’t appear to be completely smashed. My favorite flowers, Gerber daisies. Satisfied, I went to check out.

For some inexplicable reason, the checkers at Trader Joe’s are the friendliest people on the planet. Either that or they are so bored that the only conceivable way for them to pass the time is for them to play a game I call “Make the Naturally Reticent Customers as Uncomfortable as Possible.” I am inclined to lean toward the latter explanation. And I speak from experience.

On this occasion, I waited behind a girl in a plain black T-shirt and yoga pants. I hate when people wear workout attire in public unless they happen to be at a public gym. It is utterly indecent. This is what I was thinking as the girl left and I handed my flowers to the cashier.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I said.

“These are beautiful, by the way,” he said. This struck me as an extremely strange comment, as I had nothing to do with the beauty of the flowers. True, I picked them out from dozens of other bunches, but that still didn’t make the comment relevant.

Equally strangely, I replied, “Thank you.”

“Whoever you’re giving these flowers to is going to be one happy camper,” the cashier said.

I swiped my credit card: $6.48. This is where I get off track. I didn’t even have to respond to the checker. I wasn’t obligated to say anything more. In fact, what he said was a statement, one that didn’t necessitate a reply. It’s not as if he asked me, “So who are these for?”

But I did answer him. “My mom,” I said.

Lying seems to be my default mode. Sometimes lying is born purely from the desire for strangers not to know my personal business. For example, when the teller at the bank with the cropped dark hair asks me, “What are your plans for this weekend?” it’s typical for me to respond not at all truthfully, perhaps with something like, “I’m going to a wedding in Burlingame on Saturday and on Sunday I’m teaching my three-year-old nephew how to swim.” Lies. But what business is it of his to know that Saturday I’m going to go jogging, finish Crime and Punishment, and then eat a cheese plate for dinner at Bodega?

Yet this is not why I lied to the checker at Trader Joe’s. I knew, as I gave my electronic signature and in turn was given my receipt, that it had something to do with embarrassment. I was embarrassed to be buying flowers for myself. But why? Generally I don’t care about the opinions of other people as far as my actions go. I’m pretty secure in the things that I do and how I do them. On the other hand, my vanity unreasonably dictates that I do care about what people think of my physical appearance.

But at Trader Joe’s yesterday, there was a reversal of this dynamic. I had taken a shower, went to my room to change and saw that the old flowers were finally dead. Rather than dry my hair, I wrapped it, sopping wet, in a messy ponytail. I had two irritating pimples on the right side of my chin that normally no one would ever know existed, so good have I gotten at the art of manipulating makeup, but I left my face untouched. My consultation for laser eye surgery was in two weeks, which meant, for purposes of correctly analyzing the thickness of my corneas, I had to exclusively wear my Coke-bottle glasses for that length of time. The point is that, very atypically, I didn’t care about what I looked like. I just wanted my flowers.

Which is why it’s troubling that I lied about who the flowers were for. Usually I would have said, “Yes, these are going to brighten up my house!” and that would be that. There’s nothing especially abnormal about a woman buying flowers for herself. Was it because the cashier was male and he would feel sorry for me because, as he would be thinking, “She’s clearly single if she’s buying flowers for herself”? Maybe. But that also is irrational because not once in four years did I receive flowers from my ex-boyfriend, even though I talked about them constantly. I even hinted one birthday that all I wanted as a gift was a bouquet of Oriental lilies. He got me a wardrobe instead. To store his slogan T-shirts in. Another story.

Even if the checker thought I was single, what did that have to do with anything? Did I not want him to think that because at the moment I absolutely did look like a girl no one would want to date, a four-eyes buying herself flowers, trying in vain to bring meaning to her pathetic existence?

It makes me mad that I’m still thinking about this, but it is also what I’ll be thinking about in two hours, after I’ve taken my sleep aid but before I finally fall asleep, why I lied to the checker and whether it really is normal to buy myself flowers.


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