It has been a while since we last had some co-worker drama, but man- has it been a weird summer. I mean... we all had a weird summer in 2020, but I don't think I was really expecting this particular... flavor of weird?
This is a story about Yeehaw, but it starts off with a story about Aggie.
Aggie was someone we were excited to hire and part of our excitement was that it's rare to find someone with prior floral experience and we'd concluded at this point that it does no one any good to be picky about new hires in the middle of a pandemic. So finding someone who knew the difference between a carnation and a rose was a big deal for us.
I say that in jest, but saying that we do 'on-the-job training' means that we've had to explain that yes- the flower in my hand that looks like a carnation is a carnation and not some other flower that looks like carnation but is not a carnation. Floristry is a very straightforward practice and for the most part a rose is a rose and a daisy is a daisy and if someone asks for those things, you give it to them.
The hard part is, as always, making them look good together.
Which is why we were pleased with Aggie- who previously did weddings for her friends and seemed to have a basic understanding of how to do things with her hands. We were happy to have her aboard.
... until you gave her criticism.
She made her vases embarrassingly short, and if you tried to tell her how to fix it, she'd snap back with "I'm not DONE yet."
She was done until you said something.
If you gave her an order for two dozen white roses, she would take it upon herself to mix white and yellow roses together 'because it looks better.'
It did not.
When a client asks for all white roses, there is likely a reason they asked for all white. Given that 90% of our work is funerals, it stands to reason that they are asking for all white because that is a traditional color for mourning. Working with a client means doing exactly what they asked for. Doing a wedding for your friends may get you high praise from people who trust you to work in the same aesthetic as them, but in a shop setting you are being paid to follow things to the letter. Doing so shows that you can follow directions, and they may come back next time.
You don't know customer entitlement until you've been torn another asshole for leaving out a single rose.
This seemed to never occur to her, and so criticism was a painful realization that perhaps she wasn't perfect at an art that was exceptionally susceptible to criticism. There were plenty of opportunities to make something in her own aesthetic, it wasn't like she was being stifled. There was a considerable amount of downtime where she filled the front cooler with her own creations- enigmatically giving each of them their own names like "Autumn Walk" or "First Snowfall." (This is not something that we do, on the whole.)
Not very many of those sold.
But I think what bugged me the most is that she only ever designed. She didn't take out the trash, she didn't answer phones, she never helped customers. She just... did flowers. Nothing else.
Oh... and the chatter.
"Do you travel? Oh, you simply MUST go to Bali sometime! You've never been to Asia? Well, there's nothing like achieving inner peace at a Buddhist temple on a mountaintop in Nepal. They have temples here in Ohio, but it's nothing like the real thing! You say you've never even been off the continent? Well, what are you waiting for? You only live once, you know!"
Ma'am... we're in the middle of a pandemic. Ma'am... I only get paid so much...
While trying to relate, I talked about my summer in Montana and she gave me the BIGGEST stank-face. "Montana? Ew, WHY?"
Look, lady- I lived on a mountaintop next to an active, world-destroying volcano system. If that's not cool, I don't know what is.
But thankfully, she only worked on weekends. See, this was her fun job. The job she does to stay social during a pandemic and flex her creative muscles while she makes money at her much more lucrative,but boring,HR job. So I only had to see her twice a month when I was manager on duty.
Then she got fired from her weekday job and went full-time at the flower shop. Poor thing wasn't used to waking up at 7am every day. She was full of suggestions.
"I think it would be easier for me if we only opened at like... 11am."
"Don't you think we should be taking proper photos of our work? All we would need is a nice camera and a soft lighting setup. Couldn't be much more than $1000."
"Oh I know! We should be doing inventory on tablets instead of writing things down!"
Okay, you go buy those things then. It took her about a week of making those suggestions to realize that she wasn't real clear on how things worked around here and stopped. She became quiet, less enthusiastic about her 'fun' job now that she wasn't immediately the star of the show.
We were excited about Yeehaw, too. He didn't just have experience with flowers- he had experience with a flower shop. He gave a good interview, he seemed like he knew what he was doing and was very passionate about flowers. He was definitely an entire hippie, but about 1/3 of all plant people are. Most importantly, we still had like three spots to fill left from our pre-Covid staff.
There was an overlap of about a week where Aggie and Yeehaw worked at the same time. His work was... immaculate. Just... astonishingly beautiful work. You didn't even have to show him how to make anything. He just... knew.
Well, Aggie didn't like that much- we had only nice things to say about this new guy but all she ever got was criticism. And if we complimented him on something he made, he would give a little 'namaste' bow. And I could see her fuming with rage each time he did this.
One day, she rushed into the back to take a phone call and any time someone went back there for a vase she would lower her voice as if keeping a deep secret. Twenty minutes later, she called Grandpa into the back as well to discuss something. Ten minutes later, Aggie left the building with her Live, Laugh, Love bag, looking pissed.
"Where did Aggie go," I asked Grandpa.
"She got a new job," she said. "Doing HR somewhere."
"She didn't even say good-bye," Blue said, appearing unsurprised.
And so we went on with out lives without really putting much further thought into Aggie, apart from the occasional 'you simply MUST visit Bali' line thrown in for bougie emphasis.
Which brings us to the next part of the story, and that is Yeehaw.
There are some details to know about Yeehaw that are kind of difficult to fit into a story neatly. Here is a brief list that may come in handy to know later.
-He lives with his mother.
-He drives a Tesla.
-He can afford the Tesla because he was in a terrible wreck that had him hospitalized, and a lawsuit was won.
-Because of this, he has two screws in his head at the temples.
-Unrelated, he has hair that goes all the way down to his back.
"Grandpa, we need to tell you something," Blue said. "In private."
Blue and Kali pulled Grandpa aside while Yeehaw slowly put together a funeral order. "Grandpa, there's no polite way to put this: Yeehaw is drunk as fuck."
"He smells like whiskey," Kali said.
"He's stumbling everywhere."
"And he won't stop... burping."
Grandpa paused. "There's something I need to tell you," she said, and she reached for a manila folder. "Yeehaw has something called... what's it called..." She leafed through the file and produced a paper, reading from it. "Auto-brewery Syndrome. His body actually produces alcohol anytime he eats bread or sugar. If he's drunk, it's because he can't help it."
We each had a chance to go over the doctor's note, verifying that yes- that sure does look official. Everyone had questions, but it did answer the one I had about why he was sitting in the break room literally drinking peanut butter from the jar.
So that was incredibly interesting and we no longer asked about the burping or why he was so slow.
However, the fact that he was so slow was extremely frustrating. Our average number of orders runs approximately 100 per-day. This can be eased somewhat when we have a full-staff with five designers- an average of 20 designs per person in an 8-hour day, 3 per hour.
But it's a fine line some days, and if one person cannot keep up it turns into a struggle for all of us.
We did our best to accommodate. We gave him all the day-ahead orders so that we wouldn't be behind and he'd have all the time he'd need to make his gorgeous pieces.
We were willing to make it work.
A number of factors came into play one day, but most notably: Yeehaw's Tesla wouldn't start and he had to take the bus. So he was late.
I think I saw him make one entire item in the two hours that we were in the same room. He went to lunch around 12:30, I took mine around 1:00. I saw him stumble back in from lunch, looking... out of it. Just... absolutely incomprehensible- mumbling, barely upright, his hair out of the bun, quite possibly sleepwalking- who knows?
I saw him for that brief Sasquatch moment... and that was the last that I saw him that day. It was around 4:00 that Grandpa asked the question:
And no one had an answer. We all had places that we thought we'd seen him: cleaning the cooler, in the break room, heading to the bathroom... but no one had really... seen him since he stumbled back in around 1:30.
We checked all these places.
None of them.
The person who actually managed to find him was Sarge, who noticed his feet sticking out from behind the bushes behind the building.
"Huh," he said, presumably. He gave the feet a light kick and Yeehaw slowly sat back up. "Hey dude. You... okay, there? They're lookin' for you inside."
Yeehaw mumbled something to Sarge and got to his feet, stumbling back into the shop without further interaction. He appeared into the workspace, holding a branch in front of his face for mysterious reasons. There were still twigs entangled in his long hair.
"Where were you at," Grandpa asked, concerned.
"Oh, I was in the bathroom," he lied from behind the branch of mystery. "I'm pretty tired. Is it okay if I go home?"
Bewildered, Grandpa gave him permission to leave. It was soon after he left that Scout found his phone in the empty sink. "Who's trying to wash their phone," he asked in the loud manner that is characteristic of old white men. It rang while in his hand and one of our designers snatched it from him. It was his mother.
"Hello," said the designer. "Yeehaw went home early, but he left his phone behind. Can you bring it home to him?" Mom agreed, she was just over at Trader Joe's anyhow.
We thought, of course, that we were doing something smart and nice. Yeehaw's mom looks just about what you would expect the mother of a 30-year-old hippie that drives a Tesla to look. Grandpa, in a polite way, explained that he'd fallen asleep in a bush. To which Mom seemed neither surprised nor concerned about his behavior.
"Okay. I'll be at Hallmark."
Somewhere between the bus stop and Bexley, Yeehaw must have realized that his phone was not with him and so he came back looking for it. Despite his mother being literally in the same strip mall as we were, he seemed irritated that we'd taken the initiative to make sure his phone got to him.
"Well, I bet if you just went down to Hallmark she'd give you your phone and probably give you a ride home."
He mumbled something and then left.
This seems like a decent place to pause, because him leaving the second time in the day should be the end of the story. However... at 5:00 in the evening there was still two hours left in the work day and from past experience... that is plenty of time for a lot of things to happen.
The thing to happen was a phone call.
"Hi, this is Jade from the main store. We've gotten... some... interesting phone calls. Is there... a... hmm... is there a dead body out in front of your store?"
"We'll take care of it, bye."
Who wants to be the one to poke the cadaver on the sidewalk? A volunteer from the audience! Ms Crowe: won't you come down?!
I have had it planted firmly in my mind that Crowe certainly understands the concept of fear but does not recognize it. Apart from being one of our most reliable drivers, she is also a performer, a street medic, an activist, and most notably... a fire-breather.
You have your hobbies.
Point is- she's brave enough to check to see if the person laying on the sidewalk was dead or simply overdosed.
As it turns out, it was Yeehaw- curled up in the fetal position with his arm covering his face.
"Hey," Crowe said, poking him with her foot. "Heeeeeeey," she said again but more firmly this time. He moved, blinking in the evening the sun. "Buddy, you can't be laying around on the sidewalk. You gotta move on."
Again, he slowly got to his feet. At this time, his mother emerged from Hallmark to see him talking with Crowe. A group of four people escorted him into Mom's car while he stopped every few feet to perform another 'namaste' bow.
You think this is the end. But what have we learned?
There's always more.
He came in the next day as if none of this had happened. Conversation was difficult because we both desperately needed to know what the fuck happened and also did not want to trigger something. So we didn't bring it up. He apologized for leaving early: chronic fatigue syndrome, you know.
Other places would have fired him, but we're a very forgiving workplace. Falling asleep on company time is not, in any way, the worst thing that someone has done at this location while still keeping their job. There was Sugar and her drugs, there was the dude that used the company van to pick up prostitutes (this was before my time), there was the guy that screamed at customers over the phone... it's a long list.
The primary concern of our employers is whether or not you are a reliable person. If you routinely show up for your job and do the work, you're going to be okay at least for a little bit. And Yeehaw, for all his impeccable fuckery, at least showed up every day.
We kept this at the back of our minds.
One day, after the Day We Found Him In a Bush was behind us, one of the designers mentioned that they'd seen where Aggie works now. It was not in HR.
It was our major competitor.
Now, Grandpa knows this competitor well. She knows all her competition. It is the nature of a lot of florists to, once they've gotten sick of one place, move on to the next one and spill the beans on their operations there. So Grandpa gets the dirt on everyone.
This particular shop was very regimented. You don't wing it- you follow the recipe as listed. He's been known to pick discarded flowers up off the floor and tell you exactly how much money you're costing the company by letting it fall, to the cent. If you get so far as to make casket sprays, he will take your first one and chuck it across the room if it even looks like the stems are in there too loosely.
This is what I mean about us being an easy place to work.
People come in and out of your life like that, in little ways. Sometimes you just have to have a little laugh at it. But what I thought was funny was that she felt the need to keep her new employer a secret, as though we would get jealous or tattle. Curious thing.
Now that the glamour of Yeehaw's arrangements had worn off, we were starting to see more and more odd behaviors that didn't seem completely related to drunkenness.
"Did you just fart?"
"No, that was a spider barking."
Conversation with him was becoming... difficult. As I sat in the break room with my quick lunch and he drank soup out of a mayonnaise jar, he mentioned his area of study in college.
"Cognitive Psychology and Hindu Philosophy, huh? That's an interesting combination."
"Yeah," he said, funneling an amount of squash soup down his throat. "It'll take the rest of the world about 100 years before they catch up to where I am."
I sat, posed in front of my beef and broccoli which I was eating with a fork, trying to process a logical reason why the rest of the world will be sleeping in a bush in one hundred years. "Uh... huh."
This was followed by another thirty minutes of silence where I desperately wanted to know what he meant by that but didn't want to be the one to ask him.
People will tell you that a hippie is generally an ineffective, benign kind of person who chants 'love love, peace peace' in a circle and consider that to be an action for change. But I can say with absolute certainty that I have met some downright egotistical hippies in my life. Those were lessons in bias- which I will have to save for other times.
Eventually, Grandpa became frustrated with his slowness. We presumed that his speed of choice was a combination of his meticulous nature and his various ailments, but with the Christmas season coming upon us it was becoming much more than a series of symptoms.
Previous persons who lacked speed were chatty, would play on their phone, or get distracted. But Yeehaw... Yeehaw simply moved like a tranquilized sloth. He slowly picked off each leaf, each thorn, each guard petal and took a minute for each action. He would put in his greens and then contemplate it powerfully for ten minutes before putting any flowers in... slowly.
In the time spent doing this, I had already made something of a similar size and was starting on the second one.
It was during one of these times that Grandpa finally said something.
"Yeehaw, that spray is due in thirty minutes. Is there a way you can go any faster?"
He looked up from his greens, held one carnation to his face, and said:
"If you wanted me to move faster, you would pay me better."
Let me start by saying that we do not get paid well. We don't. Compared to other flower shops in our city, we are probably the lowest-paid. This is something that the company is starting to work on with benefits and raises, but any amount of change takes time. (And its still better paying than when I worked in retail. But that's another book.)
Yeehaw had been here for exactly one month. I don't know a single workplace that gives you a raise after one month and still lets you sleep on the clock without firing you. He knew what he was getting paid when we hired him.
So anyways, he slowly grinds down our nerves to a very fine dust- burping, farting, falling asleep on his feet, staring intensely into space, talking about how much he should be making but isn't, bragging about his enlightenment, and generally just slowing down production.
And then Grandpa had her well-earned vacation week. Blue was in charge for the most part and the week leading up to Halloween is generally pretty slow, so it was a good week for her to have a break with few mishaps.
Eh... hehe. Yeah.
Yeehaw... disappeared again. We checked the cooler, we checked the break room, we checked the bushes out back, we checked the sidewalk out front.
He was in the bathroom.
So we left it.
He was still in the bathroom an hour later.
We had one of the male drivers pound on the door to check on him. When Yeehaw opened the door to the men's room, there was a wad of toilet paper on the floor that he'd been using as a pillow.
If I may pause here to explain- our men's room is disgusting. I have deep cleaned it several times only for it to become a germ-fest once more in a matter of hours. I don't ask who is peeing all over the floor because, honestly, I have no desire to know what grown man can't aim his willy in the right direction.
So in order to fall asleep in the bathroom, you have to be willing to sleep in pee. During a pandemic.
He reappeared in the workroom, put his apron back on, looked around at all of us still working and said: "Wow, it must be really hard to get fired here."
It was at this point that Blue informed Grandpa.
"Tell him that he's fired," Grandpa said, clearly 1001% done with this.
"I'm not going to fire him," Blue said. "I don't think I can fire anyone."
So she had the driver that found him do it, which was confusing for all of us. He ended up calling Grandpa to clarify. And by 'clarify,' I definitely mean 'beg for his job back.' A synopsis of the 20 minute phone call went like this:
"What do you mean, I'm fired?"
"Just that. You're fired. I'm tired of it, Yeehaw. You don't work here anymore."
"What do you mean 'why?' You spend all day making a total of three arrangements and then you wander off somewhere and fall asleep."
"I can't help it if I have chronic fatigue syndrome!"
"This is a physical job. If your body can't handle an 8-hour shift without falling asleep for two hours, this isn't the job for you. Tell me: where is that fair to the girls that you do 3% of the work while they pick up the slack and you wander off to sleep on the clock?"
"I simply do not care about them."
"You don't care that you're shoving all the work on your coworkers, and that's why you're fired."
"I wish you'd given me a warning."
"Tell me, Yeehaw: how many employers can you find that will allow you to sleep on the clock for two hours and let you off with a warning?"
End of discussion.
Now, you're probably wondering where Aggie comes back into this. Just hold tight, I'll get there.
The Sunday after he was fired, he came in to pick up his paycheck. I was busy handling a minor emergency where one of our funeral homes forgot to order a spray and I had to make one as fast as I could. We held a brief conversation while I made the spray in a hurry.
"I'm here to pick up my check," he said while I greened the spray and leafed through the paychecks simultaneously.
"Here you go," I said, handing it to him without much fanfare. I presumed that he was looking for sympathy or some kind of followup or... I don't know. Sorry you suddenly care about your job?
"So what are your next plans," one of the designers asked, trying to coax more information out of him while I did the work of three people.
"It's kind of funny," he said slowly... as he did all things. "I've only ever been fired from flower shops." He paused, thoughtfully. "I think I'm going to go apply to the shop in Bexley that Aggie went to."
So I’m not... great at customer service. I’m okay at customer service. If someone has a problem, I can do my best to fix it but if someone is mad at me for something, my voice goes flat because honestly? Fuck’em.
Grandpa had been on and off the phone all day with this woman because she wanted to buy a planter for her friend. Her mother died. She couldn’t visualize the planter, she was on the highway so she needed to pull over to look at our website, she had to be assured that it would look just like the picture (all our planters follow the same basic formula), she had to double-triple extra make sure it would look like the photo, she had to dig through her purse to find her credit card... typical Very Important Person behavior. She was the CEO of... something?
That’s just how much I care.
So we got the planter out and on its way, thinking this was the end of it.
We are familiar with this, yes?
About 3, Grandpa gets another call from this woman saying that this was UNACCEPTABLE!
Her friend sent her a photo of the planter and it was... AWFUL!
The leaves were BROWN! There were DEAD plants! Some of the leaves were TORN!
We need to send out another one. She won’t stand for this terrible product.
“Okay, we can do that. Would you like me to send it today or-”
“I need to see it before you send it out. I am not having repeat mistakes. I can send you a photo of what it looked like and I’m sure you’ll agree that it was just AWFUL.”
“Okay. What is your email address?”
Scoff. “I don’t DO email. I text.”
“We’re not allowed to have our phones on the workshop floor for security and safety reasons, I’m sorry.”
“Then how am I talking to you right now, if you’re not allowed to have phones?”
“... through our landline, ma’am. I’m afraid the only other way to make sure you get what you’re looking for is to come in and pick one out personally.”
“Fine! I will. Where are you located?”
“(Address). If you go down (street name) and take a right at the Mariott-”
“I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!” ... then why did you... nevermind...
“Okay, we’ll see you then!”
Grandpa is good at customer service. I am not. This woman called to ask for directions about three more times. I knew it was her when she came in because she walked past us three times before walking through the door.
I made the mistake of greeting her.
“Hello, how can I-”
“Do you have a mask I could borrow?”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have them here. Masks are only required for employees.”
“Well, normally, I would be wearing one everywhere I go, but since I wasn’t expecting to have to drive all the way across town today it slipped my mind. Honestly, I shouldn’t even BE here!”
Grandpa is making her way up towards the front. At some point, I saw Claire (one of our drivers) come through the back door and immediately duck into the break room. As soon as Grandpa is beside me, the woman shoots her arm out and says:
Glad to wash her hands of whatever this is, Grandpa slinked back behind her desk.
“How can I help you,” I asked, hoping that at some point Grandpa would take over. She didn’t.
“I’m the one who called about the planter.” She produces her phone and shows me a photo. “Look at this,” she said, pulling the phone away each time I got closer. “It’s BROWN. The leaves are TORN! This whole thing is DEAD! The photo I saw on the website was symmetrical and this is NOT SYMMETRICAL! And the pot you had on the website was this GORGEOUS ceramic pot and the one that she got was SMALL and DULL and CLAY!”
I squinted. There was one torn leaf. The brown leaves were from a dracena plant, which has dark colored leaves that kind of look brown. Nothing in this photo is dead. The bromeliad is slightly taller than the one on the website. They all come in the same pot.
But I know better than to correct someone on this kind of a tirade. I mean I’m not a fancy schmancy CEO of some company whose name I’ve already forgotten- what would an underpaid florist like me know about the condition of live plants?
Pfft. I dunno.
“Okay,” I said. “You can choose from any of these here to replace it with.” I indicated the bank of almost identical planters behind me.
So she goes to the planters and picks one out. And I almost- ALMOST- think this is going to be easy.
“Oh, but this leaf is torn- look!”
“We can prune any damaged leaves before they leave the store.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just not have torn leaves? Look at this! Brown, brown, dead, brown, torn! Tell me, are these the damaged ones or do people actually BUY these?”
“These... are the ones that we sell.”
“And you sell... damaged goods? Why are all of your planters damaged?!”
“As a natural product, it is common for there to be imperfections- as nature is imperfect. A little bit of light damage or the occasional tear is not a reflection on the quality of the plant, just natural.”
“Are you... the owner?”
“No ma’am. Our ownership is in southern Ohio.”
“Hmmmph,” she said, just becoming nastier with every syllable. “You know- you know what bothers me about this is that in all this- not once have you said ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Thank you.’ You just pointed to these-” she gestured to the planters. “And said to pick one. Is it just so hard to apologize?”
I’m... not sure what I’m apologizing for. “Oh. I’m... sorry.” I mean, I figured that since we apologized over the phone that it would be like... redundant to do so. But... whatever, I guess?
“Thank you,” she said twisting her face into mock gratitude. “My planter can’t have any brown spots or broken pieces on it. You understand that, right?”
“I can make a note on your replacement order to remove any,” I said.
“And what did my order say in the first place that made you think it was okay to leave them on?”
“... peruvian dish garden?”
“Terrible. And did you make it?”
“No, ma’am. Our planters are put together in our greenhouse at the headquarters.”
She puts her hands on her hips as though this is the most unjust answer a person could give her. “So let me get this straight- they make them for you and then the choose them for you and then they send them to you and you just... take them off the shelf and send them out?”
That is... that is how... like... that’s how all things, I mean... you think we have a whole fucking greenhouse attached to our back room? You think we can cultivate dieffenbachia from seeds we scraped lovingly from flowers we discoved in the mountains? You think we just throw a coin into a wishing well and plants happen? WHAT? How is it that you think we get tropical plants in central fucking Ohio? HOW?
And this is where I fucked up.
Because there comes a point where you answer so many questions plainly that just a little bit of my sass comes out and people don’t like sass.
“Yes, that is the general idea.”
She went red. Holy shit.
“Is there someone ELSE that can help me? Because you have an AWFUL AURA.”
So the thing about auras is... you’re really not supposed to bring them up unless they’ve consented to a conversation about auras. It’s not some like... ‘gotcha’ where you just don’t like someone and therefore their aura is dirty. And it’s all very personal- too! Books written on the subject can be very limited in that aspect- they cannot capture the wide breadth of experiences that one can have while learning about auras.
But I’m not about to have that conversation in a flower shop.
“I’d be glad to turn you over to Grandpa,” I said.
Enter Grandpa, exit me.
“General idea. Wow. General idea? Who even talks like that? Who says things like that?! WOW. Wo-ow! General idea? SIX FEET!”
The conversation moves on, occasionally jabbing a finger at me and saying ‘wow,’ ‘general idea,’ and ‘aura.’ I heard Grandpa repeat pretty much everything that I said, some of which was word for word- take off the brown or torn parts, natural products are imperfect, dracena is supposed to be that color, our planters literally only come in one type of bowl.
Fifteen minutes of indecisiveness, comparing leaves, taking an orchid planter apart so she could have a specific color and then deciding against it, and pointing at me a few times... she comes to a conclusion that the one that she picked out as soon as she walked in was the one that she wanted.
“Thank you, Grandpa- you’re the first person to treat me with kindness through all of this.” Mind you, Grandpa was the one that she talked to on the phone at the beginning. “I’m sure she’ll love this one just as much as she loved the first one.”
“Oh. She... liked the first one?”
“Of course! She said it reminded her of her mother.”
“...oh. Well... have a good one.”
“You know... I like your aura better,” she said before heading back to her car and promptly getting lost on the freeway.
So now the new joke is going to be about my aura and how awful it is. I’ll have you know I change my aura every day thank you very much.
After she left, Claire emerged from the break room. “Is she gone?”
"Yeah. What's that about?"
"Uhhh... she's my ex's mom."
"Dodged a bullet?"
"Like the Matrix."
And you'd think that with a mic-drop like this, the story would be over. However, it is my experience to note that most things are never done when you want them to be.
So we’ve been laughing about my aura all day today, which I realize ought to have invited trouble because as we’ve discussed in previous stories: bad customers, like devils, can be summoned by uttering their names. Grandpa was assuring me that everything that I did and said was right.
And then we get a phone call from our main store, and I think it’s safe to answer.
It was not.
“This lady... did you handle someone named (redacted) last night?”
“Oh good, I got the right store. Oh, she’s real angry, she wants to speak to a manager and like... I can’t de-escalate anything on her.”
“Okay, put her through,” I said, with the full intention of handing this off to Grandpa as soon as she let me put her on hold. “Thank you for calling (company name) how can I help you?”
To which, she begins a rundown of the entire night before. I want you to understand that this is highly paraphrased. The actual phone call was 16 minutes and 28 seconds. The parts which as spoken by me will be italicsized to indicate who is talking. You’ll figure out why.
“Hi. Yes. I bought a planter yesterday for my boss-” (turns out she’s not the CEO. She’s the secretery of the CEO.) “-because her mother died this week and I wanted to show my condolences and the one you sent was terrible. There were brown spots, there were tears in leaves, half the planter was DEAD. And when I called to get a replacement they told me that the only way to ensure that it was a healthy planter was to come in and pick it out myself. And I called here, I called other florists, I called everyone I know who works with plants and they all said that if the plant is healthy, there should be NO BROWN on it, so I don’t know why your people thought it was acceptable to send a dead planter. And you have to understand my boss. She gives me gifts all the time. Wine, chocolates, flowers- and none of THOSE flowers have any brown on them. No spots, no tears. So why YOU think its okay to just send out something that looks like it’s been torn apart and broken, I will never understand. I am a businesswoman, I know how to do business and I know that sending out a sub-par product is NOT acceptable.
“So when I got here, the young lady that helped me was real nasty- just a terrible white girl couldn’t be any older than 23-
(Oh, you flatter me. She’s off by an entire decade.)
“- was just rude and disrespectful and terrible to me. Instead of apologizing or saying thank you to me, she just pointed at the shelf of planters- ALL of which are BROWN- and she tells me to pick one. I mean the AUDACITY! Can you imagine? Can you believe the disrespect? Not ONCE did she apologize. Not ONCE!
“What I’d like to know is why you expect me to believe that it’s acceptable to have brown spots on your products? Why is it acceptable to send a dead plant to someone? Why is it acceptable to send something with TORN LEAVES to someone who is mourning her mother?!”
(Everyone, at this point, is staring at me because they know exactly who I am talking to. Luckily, I have an answer prepared because I knew that she was going to call back at some point.)
“It is common for natural products such as plants to have the occasional tear or brown spot, as the perfection of nature is to be imperfect. A few brown spots are not a relfection of the quality, unless the affected area is the entire plant. We can remove any brown spots from the one you chose before sending it out.”
“Well, ALL of the planters had brown spots on them- honestly I thought they were second-hand planters- like you’d buy them at a discount but THIS is the quality of product you SEND? THIS is what you send to your CUSTOMERS? I was referred to here because my friend just RAVES about you, and here I am being treated this way and I will NEVER EVER use you ever again!
(It is at this point that one of our drivers, Ned, walks by and his leg is bleeding badly. While out on delivery, he was attacked by three dogs in someone’s yard, leaving him with punctures on his left leg. Grandpa was urging him to go to the hospital immediately instead of going on another route, and calling our bosses to see about workman’s comp- so it’s very clear to me that its a bad time to bother her with anything else. Meaning that I will have to try to de-escalate as much as possible... which is not something that I’m good at.)
“I am sending the replacement, but I would rather not stress her any further- you know her mother died- and I can’t send it to her today and have her suffer the embarassment of having to choose which one to keep on the off-chance that she liked the old one better and I can’t have her returning the trash in public at the funeral. So I am sending it tomorrow and I would prefer it if she didn’t have to suffer the stress of decision after all she has gone through because this is her mother- we’re talking about her MOTHER! She’s been through enough already.”
(My tactics for this is to wait until the angry person is done talking, and then ask for clarification to make sure that I’m not misinterpreting what they’re saying- which always makes things worse. It usually works. Usually.)
“For clarity, may I ask you how you would like us to handle the issue?”
“I just told you how I would like it to be handled. Aren’t you listening? Can you imagine being sent an arrangement with BROWN on it and growing fond of it only to be told you were sent that one by mistake? With all the stresses of mourning, and now they take it away from you? Or that you’re made to choose?!”
“Okay, so... I suppose I don’t understand the request.”
“Aren’t you paying attention?! I said that it would be additional stress for her to have to choose between the first planter and the replacement! With all that’s happening: her mother dying, the pandemic, the civil unrest- I just want to reduce the stress she’d have to deal with!”
“So... would you like us to cancel the replacement so she doesn’t have to choose?”
“NO! I want you to send the replacement and have her keep both of them to save her the stress of deciding which planter to keep! Failing that, I would like you to refund the full amount.”
“Okay. So to clarify, you would like her to have both planters at no extra cost, or you would like a refund.” (The reason that this was said out loud was so that I could tell Grandpa what was happening without putting her on hold. If I ask for clarification, repeat the request while looking at my boss, I can see her shake her head or do some kind of gesture to indicate the next move. Now that she’s done sending Ned to the hospital, she gives me a couple signs.)
“Yes! Why is this so hard for you to understand? I’ve said this five times already and you haven’t listened to me!”
“Our company policy for refunds indicate that the one being refunded must be sent back to us for evaluation.”
“Your policy? Your POLICY!? Send me a copy of your policy! But tell me first- are you the owner?”
“No, our ownership is in southern Ohio.”
“Are you the manager of this location?”
“No, I am not.”
“Who is your manager if you are not the manager?”
“Grandpa is the manager of this location.”
“I’m familiar with Grandpa. Why am I not speaking to her NOW? I asked to speak to a manager!” (If you recall, she did not... not to me in any case. And then it clicks.) “Don’t tell my you’re that nasty little girl that waited on me last night?”
(You must understand. I have been waiting for this moment since I took the call. I held the phone close to my mouth-)
“Yes, I am,”
(I said, in cursive.)
(She made an absolutely terrible noise. Somewhere between a mini pomeranian barking at a labrador and a fire engine siren.)
“You... are SICK and TWISTED! You... you toyed with me! Let me sit here and insult you to your face and you didn’t SAY ANYTHING? You are VILE and SICK! Oh, you are that terrible little girl! Absolutely awful and I knew it the moment I saw you! You watched me toil in ANGUISH over this, waiting and watching and knowing that I was talking about YOU and you just... you toyed with me! I need to speak with the manager of your location IMMEDIATELY!”
“Grandpa is the manager. I can connect you-”
“No, not YOUR manager. The manager of your location!”
“Grandpa is the manager of this location.” (This is a very small shop. She’s pretty much seen one third of our crew already in the hour that she was in here.)
“Then I’d like to speak to HER manager! Everyone has a boss- don’t lie to me you vile child! Tell me HER manager, since you seem to know EVERYTHING!”
“That would be (redacted,) but he is not at this location right now.”
“Then GIVE. ME. HIS. PHONE. NUMBER.”
“For security reasons, I cannot give out his phone number. But if you give me yours I can have him call-”
“Security reasons? SECURITY REASONS!? I’ll GIVE you SECURITY REASONS! Don’t worry... ooooh... don’t worry your sick and twisted little head about it, I will find his phone number MYSELF!”
It is at this point that I took a deep breath and turned around to several awed faces.
“I hardly heard you talk at all in that entire conversation,” Kali, usually the very last to defend me, said.
“Turns out, she can’t read my aura over the phone,” I said.
And you think this is done. You think this is done because this is a good place to stop. But its not. Because this woman is like a bad penny. This means that she needs to be taken out of circulation and melted down.
At this point, she has invested four days of her energy into making us, and herself, miserable. If I spent four entire days on any one person, they would call me obsessed, but I’m not the secretery for the CEO of... mumble mumble mumble.
I talked to my boss, who says I handled it as well as I could have. I talked to her boss, who said that everything I did was fine. We all agree that ‘yes, that is the general idea’ is a perfectly normal thing for humans to say, and that expecting natural products such as plants to be pristine at all times is a very high bar.
I’m in the clear.
After the last tirade, Grandpa called her and left a voice message at the advice of our general manager that we would be refunding the order and her boss will be able to keep the planter that was given to her.
Presumably around the same time, the customer called our headquarters for yet another ‘in this essay I will-’ and the same call taker got an earful yet again with a brand new chapter about the evils of the little girl at the counter.
Once again, I am in my thirties.
Here is where it gets complicated- we never spoke to that call taker and generally when there is a redelivery, there is a paper trail. An order will pop out of our printer and inform us that it needs sent out, we groan collectively, and then we send it out.
Everyone is happy except for us.
Such is the life of retail.
This did not happen.
So when we got a phone call from the Seer of Auras, it was a surprise- considering that we had refunded her payment to be done with it. Thankfully, Blue was the one that answered the phone this time. I heard mostly ‘okay,’ ‘no’ and ‘yes.’
But to paraphrase... a lot:
“(longer-than-required summarized rant of all our previous interactions, but cleverly omitting the part where she was refunded)... and I was promised that the second one would be delivered today. I just spoke with my boss and she has no idea what I’m talking about! Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to ask someone if they liked something only to find that they never received it? Can you even... fathom how awful she must feel that she didn’t receive the gift I sent her- with everything else that’s going on? I need it sent out today, as soon as possible- as I was promised! The woman on the phone last night promised me that it would be received today and I am just... dismayed that you didn’t make good on any of your promises so far. It must go out today!”
“Don’t... don’t tell me you’re that horrible little girl I spoke with last night.”
“Well good, because she treated me with terrible disrespect. So you’ll get this out today?”
“Finally, someone who doesn’t talk back and has some damn sense.”
“Okay, have a good-”
“...she hung up on me.”
After a talk with all our managers, it was settled that she just... gets both planters for free now.
“Glad that’s over,” said our general manager.
“Bruh, she just conned us out of 120$.”
“Well, if it prevents her from writing a negative Yelp review, it’s worth it.”
“Dude, she can’t even figure out Google Maps.”
Where to start… where to start…
I suppose I could start with the boxes, but that isn’t really the beginning so much as it was a symbol. So I think the best place to put this story is… in February, where the bulk of the nonsense could have been avoided.
Now, at the time, we had two wedding coordinators that worked together: Blue and Nadine. Between the two of them, we had a good system. If someone wanted a wedding appointment, there was always someone on staff who could handle that task and when it came time to do the actual work of making the arrangements there were two people to handle that specific workload while the rest of us were free to do hospital arrangements and funerals and whatever else the needs for the day were.
Blue was great with brides, even if she didn’t realize it- always went above and beyond to make sure her bride was happy.
Nadine, on the other hand, was slated to leave for Texas in March. So it can be considered reasonable that she didn’t care much what that bride was asking for.
And approximate re-inactment of events might go like this:
“How are you,” said Nadine, shuffling her papers.
“I have a vision,” said the bride, whom we will now call Pandora, for reasons you will understand later. “My wedding encapsulates the beauty of youth. I have been planning this wedding since I was twelve and it will go all according to plan. I must have-”
An entire hour later.
“And all this for under $2,000.”
To which Nadine smiled and said: “Okay,” presumably while packing her bags and ordering a U-Haul.
And then we had no reason to think about it until September, when we ordered the flowers.
“Beronia,” Blue asked. “Beronia has a season of like two weeks. I don’t think we can get it.”
“Try to order it,” Grandpa said. “There’s a chance they’ll have it. If they don’t, then they’ll yell at us over it like they usually do and then send something close.”
So she ordered the flowers anyway.
It is very easy to think of all these things as happening one at a time because we, as humans, are familiar with stories that tackle one issue after the next, and in a narrative sense that’s the best way to tell most stories.
This was not one of those stories.
This is one of those stories where everything happens at once.
Now the warm-up for the worst week ever was a different wedding. This one required some setup, so we sent one of our drivers to hang the garland. It didn’t take long for Lou-Ann The Driver to point out the inherent problems with her going out alone.
“How am I supposed to put this up all by myself,” she said, gesturing towards the swag she was supposed to hang on the corner of the arch.
I have done this myself. Steady it with one hand, attach with pipe cleaners with the other. When they send a driver with me to set up a wedding, the driver ends up ‘supervising.’
But I digress. I was encaged in casket sprays and our hospital shelves were empty. We had hired a new designer who was, at current, doing absolutely nothing, so we sent her with the driver to set up the wedding.
Grandpa was called away. She’d been without gas in her house for two weeks and needed to be present in order to let the gas man in. This left me and Blue alone in the shop for two hours.
And that’s when the calls happened.
“This woman you sent to help set up,” said the bride’s mother. “She’s curled up in the bathroom crying. Is this some kind of joke?”
“Wh… what? Why is she crying?”
“She said she can’t put the garland up because she’s afraid of heights and now she’s crying.”
“How… tall is the ladder?”
“It’s two steps. I put the dang thing up myself.”
“I apologize for the-”
“I want a refund.”
“Your staff is clearly incompetent. I want a refund.”
“I apologize, but our manager is not here at the moment and she’s the only one that can issue a refund. If you call back later, we can discuss refunds then.”
When Lou-Ann and Pat came back, we asked them to explain what happened.
“They had us up on this rickety old ladder that was not going to support my weight,” Pat said, with her entirety of 110 pounds soaking wet.. “And I’m afraid of heights! What if I fell?!”
“She said you were crying…”
“Of course I was crying,” she said, which would explain why she was soaking wet. “I was frustrated! You sent me out there with those horrible people and told me to do something without telling me HOW and then you have me climb up on this unsteady stepstool and ask me to just figure it out?!”
Part of being a florist involves figuring out things on the fly- securing things to poles, fitting containers into other containers, sussing out the mechanics of projects. It also means working with people and finding the easiest way to bullshit your way around it.
So yes, we did expect a grown woman with a month and a half of floristry experience to figure it out on her own.
Pat managed to actually say “We don’t know what we’re doing” to the bride’s mother. Perhaps Pat was the worst person we could have sent, but with me working on funerals and with September being the new June in terms of weddings, we could spare no one.
Lesson learned here- don’t send Pat.
Now, this was a big weekend for us. In addition to that wedding, we also had three others that day, plus a bar-mitzvah, and a projected funeral count of twenty-four. And the following weekend, we had three more weddings, plus a baby shower.
And as chance would have it, this was the week that Grandpa chose to go on vacation. We did everything we could to prepare, and we were certain that whatever the world threw at us, we could handle. After all, she’d had days off before and we handled them fine.
What’s the worst that could happen, I ask- fully aware of the consequences of asking such a question.
Well, there was that bar-mitzvah: thirty-six burgundy potted mums to go as centerpieces on tables. Easy, right?
Now, I vaguely remember this lady. Particularly that she would only talk to Grandpa about these flowers. She wanted to save money the best she could. She wanted live flowers so she could plant them in her yard. She didn’t want them too tall because she didn’t want to obstruct anyone’s view. So Grandpa sold her on the small pot mums, at $4 each, because once the table is set with the plates, napkins, silverware, candles, all the works- anything bigger than 9” was going to be too big.
And she eagerly agreed to this assessment. Cheap, easy, perfect.
“She hates them,” said Clair, over the phone, soon after setting them down. “Says they’re ugly, not open enough, too small, and damaged.”
“She has two choices,” said Blue. “We can either replace them with ones of a different color and size or we can refund them, but to refund them she has to bring them back to us and her refund can’t be processed until Grandpa gets back from her vacation..”
“Okay, I’ll tell her.”
And we went the rest of the day with no contact from this woman, so we assumed she seemed okay to keep them.
We should know better.
Now, by Tuesday, we had compiled something that we were calling the ‘bullshit list.’ It was a list of things that had happened over the course of Grandpa’s vacation that may or may not need to be addressed by her. It started out jokingly: a bad funeral order, the wedding that Pat cried at, things like that.
But it quickly became a much longer list and much more serious. Ned got into a minor car crash with a company van. No one was hurt, and it was clearly not our fault, but between incident reports and insurance policies it was getting to be more than just a hassle.
One of the funerals insisted that we remake one of their cremation pieces, one that we would normally send to our headquarters to make, which we did. Our headquarters called back, the head designer pissed at us for sending it to be remade.
“Tell me why I have to make this ugly thing again? We’re busy here, too you know!”
“This is the first I’m even hearing of this, Rana. So what is it that you want me to do,” I asked.
“Send someone out there in the morning to replace the carnations they don’t want.”
“They don’t want gold and black anymore, they want white and yellow,” I said. It was Steelers themed. There aren’t a whole lot of ways to make a sports-themed funeral arrangement look classy. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just send a whole new one?”
“We’re too busy. Just send someone out in the morning.”
“We don’t have a full staff in the morning and the funeral is at 9am. Sending someone out to fix it would leave one person in charge of opening. Sending someone out tonight means leaving one person in charge of closing. Which one sounds better?”
Dialtone. Dialtone sounds better.
Fifteen minutes later, we got a call from the owner of the company, directing me to send someone out in the morning to fix it.
Not to be a little shit about it, but fuck that.
Since they wouldn’t remake it, I did. Overall, it took fifteen minutes.
Soon after, there was another phone call. Rana, still pissed at me for standing my ground, said:
“Ugh, is there anyone else there that I can talk to?”
As though the previous conversation of there being only two people on staff went straight over her head.
“Sure, you can talk to Pat, who won’t be able to answer your question. Or you can talk to me, who will be able to answer your question.”
Click. Dialtone. Guess she’s not talking to me anymore, so that’s nice.
Kind of felt good. Getting the upper management to refuse to deal with me is not a ‘fight me, Helen’ energy that I knew I had, but I’ll take it.
This went on the Bullshit List. Grandpa had only been gone a total of three days.
Which brought us to Tuesday.
I never met the woman running the bar-mitzvah properly, but I knew it was her when she came in. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it was her until I’d already greeted her and I was met with an incredibly sour face.
“I need to speak to Grandpa,” she demanded.
“Grandpa is on vacation,” I said. “If I could take a message?”
At which point she pulled me to the front where no one would hear her but me and brought up a few photos on her phone. “Do THESE look like they were bought from a florist?” She tacked her nails against the screen of her phone, as if cracking the screen would produce them for me to evaluate.
They were the mums that she’d used as centerpieces- one 9’ pot on a ten-foot table, as advertised.
Now, one of the setbacks for choosing live flowers instead of cut flowers is that there is not as much troubleshooting for them. For cut flowers, if something isn’t opening up right away, we can set them in warm water and put a plastic bag over them to create a greenhouse. You can somewhat do that to live flowers, but there is the risk of overheating the plant.
I did not say anything about this. After all, I was only the messenger and I do not have Grandpa’s silver-forked tongue.
“They’re too small,” she continued. “They’re not open. I was promised florist-grade mums and you send me THIS? Do you stand by THIS?”
“I cannot say,” I said. “I don’t know what you discussed with Grandpa. Yes, those are our mums, and I do stand by our work, but-” the end of which sentence was ‘I cannot speak on another person’s behalf.’
“I’m not listening to this. You work here. You’re PAID to say that.”
I assure you, if we were paid to talk up our company, I would be getting paid much more than $9.50 an hour. Representative work is much more lucrative than handwork. Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Where do I sign up to be a corporate bootlicker?
She lead me out to the front, where we kept our other mums. “Why couldn’t you have sent THESE?”
“As I understand it, you requested small, burgundy mums.”
“These are yellow. And they are three times the size.”
“I would have taken them! I would have taken anything! But you never offered!”
For those keeping track, this is a lie. But being caught in a lie will bring out the worst in people and as previously explained I do not get paid enough.
“Look at this,” she said, tapping her screen with her nails. “Look at it!”
“I’m looking,” I said. “I suppose I’m not seeing the same thing you are.”
“Look at all that ROOM on the table! Does that look like a sufficient centerpiece to you?” She swiped to the next photo and it was of some mums at Giant Eagle. “How do THESE look better than THOSE? This is absolutely horrible! You know, I used to be an advocate for you. I told everyone in Trenton Village that you were the best!” Trenton Village being an insular community of rather wealthy people, home to one of the richest and most influential families in the state, and many, many temporarily embarrassed billionaires trying to work their way into the same status.
You can figure how well that’s going for them.
“Well, that’s never going to happen now,” she continued. “After this, you can say good-bye to any business from Trenton Village! I know everyone there.” She dropped a handful of names, each of which I didn’t recognize- being a country bumpkin who doesn’t ever go to Trenton Village for any reason except for to deliver flowers. “Your business? Ha! I give you one year before this place is gone.”
Uh-huh. One year. I scribbled a note. “Got it. Are there any other concerns before I leave this note for Grandpa to address when she comes back from vacation?”
“I’m coming back here next Monday,” she said. “And if she’s not here, then I am going to call the owner, and you will all be in big trouble.”
Yup. Big trouble. Sure. Rue the day. Yada yada. “Alright, ma’am. I’ll let her know.” I was still in deep shit with the two-headed monster that runs the company for refusing to waste time, energy, and resources on an urn arrangement, so what’s one more?
Not at all satisfied by my response, she left in a huff. There are many situations in which one is capable of de-escalating an angry customer, and this was not one of them. The best I could do was get her to move along.
And onto the Bullshit List she went.
And then we were fine. As annoying as it was to have to deal with these problems, they, at maximum annoyance, took about an hour away from the day.
That hour would have been better spent making casket sprays, of which we had twenty-six due by Friday, but at least it was only one hour. And it was starting to look like we might just be okay without Grandpa for the rest of the week.
Wednesday, we nearly got ahead. The flowers for Pandora’s wedding came in that day, I got about eight sprays done, we got ahead on our hospital work. Things were looking good.
Now… this wedding…
So… many of my readers have learned that I have a generally unfavorable view of brides. I always have, even before working in the floristry business. The wedding industry is a monster created by greed and as much misogyny that exists within the concept of ‘Bridezilla,’ there is enough truth to the idea of a bride gone mad with desire for the ‘perfect wedding’ that it bears warning.
Truth be told, Bridezillas are just as much victims as they are the monster: having flipped through enough bridal magazines, I can tell you that there’s really no need for the amount of precision in which these events are planned. My great grandparents were married in their church clothes in their living room on a Tuesday.
But this wedding was nearly $2,000 just in flowers, so not everyone can be like my great grandmama Agnes, who may or may not have been a moonshiner.
Nadine’s wedding, which was now Blue’s wedding now that Nadine had escaped to Texas, had a note on the sheet informing us that she was going to bring a set of boxes on Thursday for the centerpieces.
We called Pandora to ask if she could bring those boxes in earlier than Thursday. If you slow this part down, frame by frame, you can actually see the part where it all goes to shit.
“No. I told you that during the consultation that Thursday evening is the ONLY day that I will have time to drop off the boxes. Why do you need them so early, anyways? The wedding isn’t until Saturday!”
“We’d like to get a sense of the size we’re working with so that we can better figure out quantities.”
“Then you can do that Friday morning.” Here. It’s right here that we stop the tape and see exactly where it became an irredeemable mess.
Just why I have chosen this point in the story’s history to denote the point of no return will, once again, be clear later.
I’m starting to get used to the sound of the dialtone.
Now, she was not the only person getting married this weekend, so we had Grandma come in to help with our workload. But even with two people working specifically on the weddings so that the rest of us could keep up with the daily work, we were swamped. And starting Pandora’s pieces no earlier than Friday morning was asking a lot for a $2,000 wedding.
Particularly when, if you broke down the numbers, Nadine honestly should have charged her much, much more.
Once we factored in the flowers themselves, the labor, the setup, we would have been perfectly reasonable to charge $3,000.
Too late now.
I should have known by the way she refused to give us time to work on it that she was going to be an exceptionally difficult bride, but that was not enough. We were visited by the Ghost of Weddings Past and Ghost of Weddings Present.
Tina, who was the bridal coordinator when I joined the flower shop two years ago, came in to buy greens for a wedding she was doing for her family.
Tina broke from this company in one of the worst ways possible. After overbooking herself on weddings for the month of September, eight of which were on the same weekend, she came in during closing hours, cleaned out her desk, left the pile of orders on Grandpa’s desk with her key to the building at the bottom of it, and a note saying that she quit.
Which meant that we had to scramble to order the flowers, negotiate the promises she made to brides, and reach compromises to the best of our ability, with one week to prepare.
It went about as well as one might imagine, which is not well at all.
Back to this wedding, we were shorted on greens for Tina. All the eucalyptus was reserved for Pandora’s wedding. We settled with some of the greens we still had- sword fern, ruscus- as much as we could spare. I did not want her to go ratting to Dick that we were having trouble with our weddings.
I was not going to have that conversation.
We played nice in the way that retail people play nice.
And then, from nowhere, Nadine came to visit- all the way from Texas. She was visiting her grandma for her birthday and decided to drop in.
As we were working on her bride’s wedding.
“Nadine,” Blue asked. “I got some questions while you’re here.”
Blue took her to the side and showed her the invoice. “What did you mean by ‘L-shaped altar-piece?”
“Uhhhh… I think that was supposed to be a garland hung on a corner.”
“Then why did you put it in as an altar-piece and not a garland?”
“Lol, I dunno.”
“Okay, next question: did you promise beronia to her, or can we substitute it?”
“Um… what’s beronia?”
“They’re those little pink flowers that smell nice, but their season is like… two weeks in November. We can’t get them right now.”
“Oh! I dunno.”
The Ghost of Weddings Present doesn’t know a lot of things.
“One last question: did you warn her, at all, that these flowers will wilt under high heat? It’s supposed to be 94 degrees this weekend, and her wedding is outside.”
“Look,” said Nadine. “She came in here, listed a bunch of stuff, paid her bill, and then left. That’s all I got.”
Which put Pandora in at our Ghost of Weddings Future.
She said that she was going to bring the boxes in at 5:15 on Thursday. For reference, it is usually customary to bring your containers at least four days prior to the wedding. There were five people in the building a 5:15 on Thursday: Grandma, Blue, Pat, Mandy, and me.
Blue left at 5:30, no sign of her.
Grandma left at 6:00, no sign of her.
The remaining three of us left at 7:00, no sign of her.
With the wedding one day away, we had no containers for centerpieces and no way to make them without the containers. No one wanted to call her, but we had to.
“Yes, Pandora. This is Blue- we were wondering if you were still going to be bringing those boxes.”
“...what are you talking about?”
“The boxes for your centerpieces? We were expecting you last night, but we didn’t see you come in.”
“Of course I came in. I left them with the heavy-set blonde girl at the front counter.”
Blue turned to me. “She says she left them with the heavy-set blonde girl, I presume that means you?”
Wow. Heavy-set? Darling, I am Reubenesque. “I didn’t receive anything.”
She turned back to the phone. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any record of them being received.”
At which point she hung up, and we’re starting to see a trend of behavior.
We’re starting to worry. It is Friday afternoon, the wedding is in 24 hours, we just pissed off the bride, and we still don’t have the containers for the centerpieces.
An hour later, she called back. Previously, no one wanted to answer her. Now really no one wants to answer her. But trying to handle her now is better than handling her later, and I would rather rip off the damn band-aid.
Before ‘thank you for calling’ even escapes my mouth, Pandora began with the accusations.
“Since you lost those boxes, I presume you’re going to need me to buy them again, unless you have something similar lying around. They were $13 each, you know.”
“We did not receive them, so we are unsure what they look like. We will need them delivered here before we can begin working on your pieces.”
“Ugh. I already DID deliver them. I came in at 5:05 and I handed them to the hefty girl at the front. I know, because I had just gotten my eyebrows waxed. My fiance was there, ask him!”
Oh, we’ve gone from heavy-set to ‘hefty,’ have we? “Ma’am, no one who was here last night has any recollection of seeing you.”
“Of course not,” she said- I could hear her eyes rolling. “They were in a priority mail box, so I can see where someone might have thrown them out on accident, but I. Brought. Them. In.”
Never, ever bow to someone like this, I could hear the ghost of my great grandmama Agnes telling me. Dig your heels in the gravel and draw your guns. Make them smell the shine on your breath.
We’re still not sure whether Agnes was a moonshiner.
“Since we never received them, we will need others for your wedding,”
It used to bum me out when someone would hang up on me. In previous jobs where I had to work in call centers and deal with people who messed with calltakers just because they knew they wouldn’t have to see the consequences of their actions. But now? Now. Ten years later, now.
I will make remixes of the dialtone noise and I will listen to it in my sleep.
I will eat dialtone. I will sleep dialtone. I will open my mouth and call upon the elder gods with one, long, monotonous
“Fuck you,” I said, as Blue passed in front of me. “Have a nice day.”
“Please tell me you didn’t say that to Pandora. Oh my god, please tell me you didn’t tell her to go fuck herself.”
“Relax, she hung up on me first.”
She nearly crumpled to the floor. “Don’t scare me like that.”
We started wondering when she was going to come in. At 5:15, two women came in together. One was carrying a priority mail box. Both of them were searching the floor and coolers for something, checking around potted plants and under counters.
“How can I help you,” I asked the first one, presuming that someone else would take care of the boxes. Interesting that they also came in a priority mail box. Have a lot of those lying around, do you?
“I’m looking for eucalyptus leaves for the flower girl at a wedding,” she said.
There is plenty of eucalyptus in the cooler, but until we get this wedding finished, we have no idea how much of it can be spared. “I apologize, but all of our eucalyptus is reserved for a wedding this weekend.”
“Is there anything else that you can sell me,” she asked.
“You’re welcome to take a tour of the cooler and pick something out,” I said. I motioned towards the cooler and indicated that she should go inside. I turned to the other woman. “How can I help you?”
“Boxes,” she said. It sounded so perjorative coming from her mouth.
“Oh, right. Thank you,” I said. I took them from her and brought them towards Grandma’s desk, where she was currently working on the garland.
“Do you know where you’re putting them,” she asked.
I indicated the desk. “Right here,” I said, pointing.
I went to check on the woman she came in with to see if she needed help.
“I don’t know what eucalyptus looks like,” she admitted.
“Tell me,” I implored. “Are you with the Pandora party?”
“I am,” she said. She seemed unsure, unsteady, and a little scared.
“We already have eucalyptus leaves for the flower girl on her invoice.”
“Yeah, you should be taken care of. No worries.”
She seemed just as confused as we were. They left the store, continuing their search for something around the floor.
We all agreed that they were both looking for her first set of boxes, to see if we had set them on the floor or used them in arrangements.
Or… that’s the look they seemed to be going for at the time.
What a show.
You know, if she’d shopped around a little bit more, she would have found these exact same boxes at Michael’s for $7.99. If she spent $13 on them, each, then she wasted her money.
But finally, we had all the pieces. We could finish. We were in the clear.
With only two hours left in the day, and still so much to do. We got as far as the centerpieces, the greens of the garland, an altar piece, and the bouquets. Grandma said we would just make the rest in the morning. Fine enough- she wanted them all made as fresh as possible anyways. Who are we to deny her of freshness?
The last thing to be made, at 2:00 on Saturday, was the flower crown, which was constructed with hypericum berries, baby’s breath, and anemones. With just about any other flower, we would wire and tape them in, but anemones have a thick stem and delicate petals. Damaging either part of them will cause the flowers to wilt prematurely, and with the heat projected to be very high for this outdoor wedding in a literal barn-
We were tempting fate as it was.
So Grandma used floral glue.
Right up to the minute.
And then they were off to deliver and we all took a gods damned breath.
We want to believe that once the flowers are delivered, the trouble is over. It never is like this, but we can all dream.
At about 3:45, the toilet in the women’s room stopped working. Normally, I can fix a toilet, but our landlords installed these weird proprietary tanks that aren’t like the simple plunger-lever style toilets. We’d need to call our handyman and see if he had the part to fix it.
In the meantime, we were going to have to use The Men’s Room.
The Men’s Room is a disgusting den of disease because we were encouraged to self-govern and clean up after ourselves. For some people, this is a challenge- and in this particular instance that ‘some people’ meant ‘men.’
So I cleaned it. And I cleaned it until 5pm when we turned the lights out. Despite everyone else protesting, I stayed past our closing hours because Grandma and Clair were due back at any minute and after a week of absolute nonsense, I felt it was best that we all stick together.
It was 5:00 exactly when the phone rang.
“Don’t answer it,” Blue said. “It’s Pandora. I just know that it’s Pandora.”
Ring. Ring. Ring. The phone echoed ominously in an empty room.
“If we don’t answer, she’s just going to get more angry.”
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“She’s already angry. If we don’t answer, we won’t have to deal with her until tomorrow.”
Ring. Ring. Ring.
“I don’t think you understand the blind fury of an angry bride.”
“Thank you for calling-”
“Oh thank god, Summer. I thought no one was going to pick up.” Devin from our corporate office. Devin is convinced my name is Summer. Most days I see no point in correcting him. “There’s a bride on the phone and she is pissed. Will you please talk to her?”
Maybe Summer is the hefty heavy-set blonde she left the original boxes with.
It was now or never. “Send her through.” A pause on the other line and I heard a heavy sigh. “Thank you for holding, how may I-”
“Fucking FINALLY,” Pandora growled. “This flower crown looks horrible and it should have never left the shop. It’s covered in glue and the anemones died as soon as I got it. It looks like a DIY project, not like a professional made it. I can’t even wear it and my wedding is in half an hour! I mean how much did I even pay for this piece of crap!? It looks like shit!”
I gave her a long pause to make sure she was truly done, the end of which was signified with an angry: “Hello? Are you there?”
“Okay,” I said. Because when someone reads you the riot act over a gods-be-damned flower crown, what are you supposed to say? May I lick your ass, ma’am? It is here that I sealed my fate. I look back on all my actions and I see that each mistake, each mis-speech, each misstep… was leading up to two simple, calmly-spoken syllables.
Stop the tape. This is it. This is the moment that it all went to shit.
“Okay? OKAY!? That’s it? Just OKAY?”
“May I put you on hold for a moment while I discuss this with our wedding coordinator?”
“You know what? Sure. Fine. Fuck. Fucking really? Fine.”
With every moment that she was on hold, I felt her anger burning like a white-hot fire, becoming a roar while we discussed the next move.
“It’s the flower crown,” I told her. “She says there’s glue spots and the anemones wilted. She wants to know how much it cost her.”
“Maybe $40,” Blue said. “We don’t have the anemones to make it and I can’t send anyone else back out.”
“So the best we can do is refund it, huh?”
Blue bit her tongue. “I don’t want to talk to her. Nothing I’m gonna say is gonna make her happy.”
I felt like the phone was going to catch fire.
“She was never going to be happy, Blue,” I said, handing the phone to her.
Blue gave me the worst glare, blaming me for answering the phone instead of just letting it ring, but ultimately took it and answered. In the grand scheme of things, one $40 flower crown isn’t a terrible outcome. But it would have to wait until Grandpa came back from vacation.
Five minutes after Blue hung up with the bride, Grandma and Clair returned from delivery. I have learned a valuable lesson about answering the phone after hours.
“How’d it go,” we asked.
“Well, they took a bucket of greens without asking,” Clair said. “So we had to hunt those down before we could even start on the garland. And then when they had us set up, it was in this barn that was hotter than hell’s ass. We asked if we could like… put it in the kitchen until the actual ceremony, but they told us to get the fuck out, so we just… did what we were told.” Clair gave an exaggerated shrug.
We expected there to be more phone calls to come, but it was time to leave. It would be better for all of us if we had a night of rest before we discussed this again.
Sunday was uneventful- we waited for her to call again or for something to happen, but in the end it was just a day of cleanup after the most horrendous week of our careers. We’d been talking with Grandpa over text so that it wasn’t all a huge surprise when she came back .
The Bullshit List now was two pages long, and that’s only because we ran out of paper. Each time we looked at it, we contemplated how it started as a joke and how now it just filled us with shame.
Grandpa had a great big pile of shit to deal with when she came back on Monday.
The first thing that she dealt with was the bar-mitzvah, who came storming in and demanding to see her. She pulled her towards the front of the store and tapped on her phone repeatedly, no doubt giving her the same speech that she’d given me- word for word. Honestly, it felt like a month ago. The solution was simple: a credit on the next event of her choosing. By the end of it, the woman was ‘eating out of the palm of her hand.’
The next to be addressed was wedding that Pat cried at. “My mother is disappointed in the service,” the bride said. “But at the end of the day, I got to marry my best friend and I am happy.” Grandpa gave her a refund on delivery.
Grandpa made a phone call and the toilet was replaced.
You want this to be foreshadowing of a happy ending. You want Grandpa to flash her silver tongue and wave her magic wand to make it all right again.
But life doesn’t work like that.
By the time Pandora called on Monday, Grandpa was already exhausted by what we’d told her about the situation. Blue was panicking, saying that she wasn’t fit to be in charge of the shop while Grandpa was gone. We had to reassure her time and time again that this would have been a shitty week even if Grandpa were here. We did everything we were supposed to do, and sometimes the world just sucks.
And so the negotiations began, which bled profusely from Monday to Tuesday with terse speech and clenched teeth.
It began with the flower crown- a $40 refund.
Then it was the groom’s boutonniere- a $20 refund.
Then it was the garland because the hydrangeas folded in the heat. $200.
Then the centerpieces, which weren’t the exact right shade of dusty pink. $200.
“$460 seems like a reasonable amount,” Grandpa said. “I can refund you that.”
“Oh haha, fuck no,” said Pandora.
“$200 for the garland, $200 for the centerpieces, $20 for the boutonniere, $40 for the flower crown. That’s… $460.”
“You made my flowers two weeks before my wedding and they DIED.”
“That’s very surprising to hear,” she said. “Given that we only got the flowers to make them Wednesday morning.”
“You RUINED my wedding and I demand a FULL REFUND.”
“We made your pieces at cost to ourselves,” Grandpa explained. “Nadine gave you a strong discount, by all circumstance, your wedding should have been $4000. I can refund you for the parts of it that were not up to our standards, and I can even refund the delivery fee, but I cannot give you a full refund.”
“Fuck no. Where is Nadine, let me talk to Nadine!”
“Nadine is… no longer at this location. I cannot go over $820.”
“Fuck no. Give me a full refund, or I’m suing.”
At which point she hung up the phone. Silver tongues don’t work on brass balls, I’m afraid.
We were advised not to take any calls from her for the duration of this mess, redirecting everything to the two-headed monster that runs the company. This includes personal appearances.
She marched into the shop and introduced herself and said that she needed the full refund, in cash, right now.
“I’ve been advised not to speak with you,” Grandpa said. “Anything else will have to be through our ownership.”
“I came here to get my refund and I will get it,” she said. “$2000. Now.”
We were all staring. When someone strides up to your manager and simply demands money, it’s hard to keep to yourself.
“We don’t have that kind of cash,” Grandpa said.
“Of course you do. I paid you, didn’t I?”
“You paid in credit. How much cash do you think we take in in one day,” Grandpa asked. It was a rhetorical question, we knew she didn’t give it that much thought. Most people don’t give it much thought. They figure that this is a luxury item, so we must be loaded.
Most payments are on credit accounts. We’re lucky if we have more than $100 in the register at the end of the night.
“You have to talk to the owners,” Grandpa repeated. “You threatened to sue us, it’s out of my hands.”
Pandora turned a deep red and made a sound similar to a malfunctioning serpentine belt. “You will hear from our lawyers,” she said, and stormed out.
This brought us to Thursday, when I felt my Yelp senses tingling. I have been known to, on occasion, peruse our Yelp listing to see what people have to say about our work and… something told me that it was time to check.
I was not disappointed.
“Hey y’all- Pandora posted to Yelp and boy is she not happy.” Everyone crowded around my phone to see what she’d said and I ended up passing my phone around the workshop to make sure everyone got a good look:
I hired these guys for my wedding one year in advance. I was confident that my vision was understood. We discussed the floral vision in depth and I gave Nadine photos of what each floral piece should look like. She was fully aware of the vision. What we received was anything but!
I had decided on a floral crown rather than a veil. Floral crown was hastily put together- noticeable glue was stuck to the flowers. The anemones fell off, flowers broken. Unable to be worn and was nothing near what the crown itself was supposed to look like.
Centerpieces- the colors did not match. When speaking with Nadine, I was advised that the pink shad she picked out would be close to the dusty rose shade that would match our wedding colors. Not the case. Flowers were baby pink.
Floral cage for arch was not a cage at all. Did not match what was shown to the wedding coordinator. Guard petals were not removed from the arch and the arch flowers were wilted.
Husband’s boutonniere was majorly disappointing, anemone was brown and wilted.
Vase of flowers for a memorial table was supposed to be small and in a bubble bowl and was not. The flower arrangement would not fit on memorial ladder.
Eucalyptus that was given to us for centerpieces had many of the stems broken.
They started my flowers two weeks in advance and they died upon delivery.
All flowers agreed upon were not necessarily what was received. It appears the order was not treated with care but instead hastily put together due to being short staffed.
When I called in the day of the wedding about my floral crown, employee Summer’s response was ‘okay.’ It was certainly not okay. My wedding vision was not attained. It was brushed off. I asked for a call back. No call received.
I called in after the wedding on Monday and spoke with the Manager. She apologized. I told her about Summer’s response and she said that did not surprise her. She also said she had a stack of issues on her desk- including late wedding deliveries. I was flabbergasted. We talked about what could be monetarily done. She said she would speak to the owner. He advised he would refund $300. We spent $2000. Flowers were ruined.
I would not recommend them to anyone! I am so upset and disappointed.
The review included photos of the flower crown, which was wilted, looking like it had been left in a hot barn for an hour.
In any Yelp review, it’s important to realize how much of it is actually true versus how much of it is an extrapolation of the truth. For example: here she claims that we would only refund $300 when the number we gave her was $840. Nadine excluded, no one recalls any of the details mentioned in the order- the bubble bowl, the pink shade, the floral cage, no photos attached to the order. All of these escaped when Nadine went to Texas.
We were actually not short staffed at all. We had all hands on deck plus extra help during the day to make sure we got this wedding, three other weddings, two dozen funerals, and all our daily work taken care of. But you can’t tell that to Pandora. Pandora isn’t known for heeding the words of authority.
It is in no way our fault that she chose to have cool-weather flowers during one of the hottest months with record-breaking temperatures in a barn out in the country. It is, however, Nadine’s fault for not warning her that September would be too hot for most of her flowers and also for charging her way, way, way under the price she should have- and then leaving us out to dry.
I have decided that Summer is my worksona. Summer enjoys working hard, being neurotypical, and being the literal worst at customer service. Summer has scarred her for life. Summer bringeth, Summer taketh away.
You’d think that a bad Yelp review would be the end of the conversation, but oh… oh no.
Speaking with the Regional Manager at this point. They will refund me $840. However, if I was this business I would have refunded the entire amount due to continual ball drops; not to mention the lack of being able to photograph the flowers due to lack of quality. I still do not recommend.
She still used the bridal bouquet, the maids bouquets. There was much, much more on that list than what she put into the review. And why mention photos? Did she want us to refund her the amount that she spent on a photographer?
Rumors started flying that she actually did get photos with her pieces, but that she was hiding them for the sake of creating this narrative. Perhaps she got pictures taken, perhaps not. But those bouquets were still $100 a piece.
A paper printed out on the printer. A refund for $840 to Pandora. So she must have taken it.
Oh and more, still.
This has been an absolute nightmare. I advised that the original account I paid with had closed and that funds could not be credited back to that account. Regional Manager (Redacted)- who by the way is a puppet for the company- said that their protocol is to credit it back to the original account even if closed. I advised multiple times not to credit to this account as it would create delays. Nobody seems to listen. I keep getting the same responses such as: “This is our process.” “This is on the bank’s end.” All of which are bs excuses. I cannot stress enough to NOT use this florist for your floral weddings. You will regret it if you do!
Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on at our HQ. But we usually credit things to the account they were spent on as a means to prevent fraud, which is generally on par with most places I’ve worked. If you return something to a store and you paid with a credit card, it has to be on the same card you bought it with. It really is commonplace.
But with the account closed, there really isn’t anything we can do.
Now why would the account be closed?
One of the two heads that runs this company is very good at snooping and eventually it was revealed that this wedding wasn’t paid with her own money. Which is common- usually it’s the groom’s family that takes on the financial burdens of a wedding, at least in a lot of traditional marriages.
And a refund would go straight to her in-laws. And not to her.
Regional Manager (Redacted) is more pissed about the fact that she used his full name on a Yelp review than the fact that she called him a puppet. All managers are puppets. Even the cool ones. If you think that a manager is going to side with a stranger over their paycheck, then you have lived a life of privilege.
“She likes the F-word more than you do, Grandpa,” he said over the phone. But it was in the bank’s hands now. It was over.
Oh, and yet-
Still a myriad of delays. I’ve had to go out of my way to provide proof to them of a closed account. Their accounting ways are antiquated and creates hassles for customers.
If she had just waited a few days, the bank would have sent her a check. It truly was out of our hands at this point.
And after all of this, she still didn’t provide a credit card to put it back onto. She wants cash and she wants it now.
We kept waiting for the next update, but I presume she was too busy emailing our Regional Manager (Redacted) every hour on the hour. You think that I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.
She began at 10am.
Where’s my money, (Redacted?)
Still haven’t gotten my money.
I haven’t gotten that refund you promised, (Redacted.)
If you don’t get that money to me in cash by closing time tonight, I am suing.
This was the third time that we were threatened with a lawsuit over this. Not to be cocky, but a lawyer is going to cost more than any settlement she might get out of suing us. Go on, sue Summer. I hear she’s worth millions.
It went on like this for the rest of the day until (Redacted) finally had enough and emailed her back.
We sent the refund, we can’t do anything about this now. Will you give it a rest?
Which is about as rude as (Redacted) gets on any given day.
Eventually, the emails slowed down. The Yelp reviews stopped. She must have gotten her money. Good grief.
We now have a rule that if there are any weddings that Nadine ordered coming up, we have to call the bride to make sure she took the right notes. This whole thing put a major damper on our spirits. Blue talked about quitting. This was too much for her- dealing with brides like that. We told her to wait it out and see.
This, too, shall pass and other pleasantries.
The next week had a goth wedding and she second-guessed herself constantly. Is this red or is it burgundy? Are these calla lilies too purple? Is this going to die before it gets there? Is it going to be 94 degrees again?
One bad week can screw a person up for months.
We sent it out. We heard nothing. Nothing was good. Nothing was very good. No news was good news.
But then we got an email from that bride and everyone’s blood froze. Oh god, did she hate it? Was it another refund? Were we doomed to another bad rash of brides?
Thank you so much for doing our wedding! Everything was perfect! Please feel free to share this video our videographer made for us.
Once again, we passed around a phone to see what someone else had to say about us. Music swelled, sound clips of vows were cut in, tears were shed. I started to cry when the bride said ‘to have and to hold and to not get mad when I bring stray cats into the house.’ And numerous shots of our flowers from every angle.
Yelp is an awful metric to weigh your worth on. People only ever comment when they feel strongly about something and the unfortunate happenstance of it is that there are some people who only feel strongly about negative emotions. And for every terrible experience, there’s at least three good ones that no one thought to say anything about.
But sometimes you get that one person who really makes it worth it and lets you forget about Yelp for awhile. I think Agnes would be proud of me for how we handled it.