April 23, 2003
Synthetic Holiday

Scenes From My Day, Part One:

The woman in the checkout line ahead of me this morning is buying flowers.

"These are pretty!" chirps the young checkout clerk. "Are they tulips?" And she presses the cellophane-wrapped bouquet to her nose. There is a large black-on-white label affixed to the cellophane -- "TULIPS!" it reads, in sky-high letters: "SPECIAL TODAY!" -- but I suspect that the clerk is simply making conversation.

The woman nods: a barely perceptible dip of her elegant chin. "Yes," she says stiffly, as she pulls her wallet out of her handbag. "Those are tulips." 

And that is pretty much the end of the conversation between the two of them. While the clerk rings up the flowers (and the generic greeting card that goes with them), I sneak a peek at the woman. She is older than I am by a few years. Tall. Regal. Expensively dressed, tasteful jewelry, snooty uncomfortable-looking shoes. She's obviously upper management ... and she's obviously stopping at the grocery store to pick up a last-minute gift for her administrative support person.

"That will be $4.89," says the checkout clerk. The woman extracts a platinum card from her wallet.

Before I have time to ask myself why someone wearing a $400 suit is buying her assistant four bucks' worth of supermarket tulips -- before I even have a chance to thank my lucky stars that *I* do not work for this woman -- she has paid for her purchases and departed the grocery store without another word to anyone.

The chirpy young checkout clerk turns her attention to me. "Hi how ya doing?" she says hopefully. "Did you find everything OK?"

I unload my items from the shopping basket -- a box of Contac Severe Cold & Flu Formula, another small bottle of nasal spray, a bag of Vitamin C lozenges, a jumbo-sized bottle of Aquafina -- and I dump them onto the conveyor belt to be scanned. The truth is that I'm not much in the mood for conversation right now -- I'm already fifteen minutes late for work, and I'm feeling wretched besides -- but after watching this nice young checkout clerk being given the cold shoulder by Ms. $400 Suit/$4 Tulips, I'm not about to make the morning seem any unfriendlier.

"I'm fine, thanks," I sniffle. "How are you?"

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Scenes From My Day, Part Two:

There are no flowers on my desk when I get into the office.

No roses. No flowering kalanchoe. No four-dollar supermarket tulips, even. As a matter of fact, the only thing waiting for me, when I walk through the door with my pathetic little bag of cold remedies, is a Post-It note stuck to the middle of my chair -- See me about site photos! it screams, in The Main Nerdy Geotech Guy's weird alien handscribble -- and a voicemail message from The New Girl, announcing that she's taking another 'personal day.'

It's not that I was expecting flowers, exactly. Just because I got them last year doesn't mean I automatically expected to get them again this year. [Yes I did.] And simply because today is that most sacred of synthetic holidays -- National SecraTerri's Day -- doesn't mean that I expect my boss and my co-workers to lavish me with gifts and praise and cream-cheese-intensive baked goods. [Yes I do.] And it's not even that I think that *I* am so important or so valuable or so fabulous, in my role as communications facilitator/daycare provider/ front desk foreman/lobby goddess, that I believe I deserve to be recognized in any special way today.

[Yes I do.]

It's just that if I'd known they weren't planning to send me flowers this year, I would have ordered them myself. 

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Scenes From My Day, Part Three:

"You don't look so hot," says JoAnne. "Everything OK?"

I'm sitting at my desk, discreetly trying to gnaw the plastic overwrap from my new bottle of nasal spray. (If I don't get this sucker open and primed and inserted into my left nostril, stat, I'm going to suffocate with my mouth wide open.) "I've been better," I tell her honestly. David's leftover cold germs from last week have finally decided to set up a tailgate picnic in my upper respiratory system. I've been shnuffling and blurfing and making any number of wet ghastly inelegant noises since shortly before bedtime last night.

As a matter of fact, I tell my boss, I came --->this close<--- to calling in sick today. I had the phone in my hand this morning at 7 a.m. ... I dialed the office number ... I punched in JoAnne's extension number and listened to her greeting. But at the very last second I changed my mind. "I figured you guys might need me today," I say.  And we both gaze meaningfully at the In/Out Board, and at The New Girl's second unauthorized 'Personal Day' in a row.

"Thank you," JoAnne says grimly.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Scenes From My Day, Part Four:

The Main Nerdy Geotech Guy approaches my desk, midway through the morning. He's carrying the digital camera by the strap ... dangling it in front of him, like a prize steelhead on the line. Carefully, he passes it across my desk to me so I can download the pictures he took during his site visit yesterday.

As soon as I take the camera from his hand, he wipes his palms on his pants leg.

"By the way," he says nonchalantly. "Are you sensitive to poison oak?"

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Scenes From My Day, Part Five:

I take my lunch a little bit later than usual today.

I'm not all that hungry, for one thing. A steady diet of Halls Mentholyptus and pseudoephedrine, all morning long, has sort of taken the edge off my hunger. Plus I've been too busy ... mostly trying to plug myself into some of the holes left by The New Girl's unscheduled 'personal day.'  She and I don't even work in the same department, but you know how it is: when one domino falls down on the job, you can hear the *splat* clear across the office.  Late in the afternoon I finally sneak across the hall, with my turkey-on-wheat and my brand-new paperback, and I spend a quiet hour alone in the empty DMA office. At some point I must drift off, sitting up in my chair, because the next thing I know I'm looking at my watch and it's 3 p.m. already and I'm still only on page 43 of "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint."

Time to report back to the front lines.

A package is sitting in the middle of my desk when I return. It's wrapped in leftover copier paper and tied with a length of carefully-curled blue ribbon. On the front of the package, in her perfect Spencerian handwriting, JoAnne has written To Secra, with much appreciation. Inside is a very nice pen -- a Cross Ion, to be specific -- complete with lanyard so it can hang around my neck. It's an exact duplicate of the pen that my boss wears around the office, and which I have admired and coveted for many months. The card attached reads I could not do it without you and I dread the thought of having to. Have a great day and know how much you are appreciated.

I actually feel myself getting a little misty. I don't know whether it's the sentiment ... or the Sinex. But I don't care. Who needs flowers, anyway? I've got a pen necklace and a boss who appreciates me.

Life is good.

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sweet dreams, doug.