A Tale Of Two Holidays And A Tulip
In between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day of this almost-post-pandemic year of 2023, I went vegan and eliminated wine from my diet at the same time.
No one ever warned me that mixing veganism while quitting wine can cause a kind of Tourrette’s syndrome where women are suddenly emboldened to blurt out words like “patriarchy” and “feminism” during a mixed-gender Sunday brunch.
I’ve named this condition “Tourreganoholic Syndrome” and added it to my list of other syndromes.
So be warned…this rambling story, which does indeed include the words “patriarchy” and “feminism,” may expose you to disclosures about my past and outspoken opinions that some may find disturbing.
I’m sure that on my end, I’ll regret sharing them within 30 seconds of hitting “send.”
Anyhoo, I never liked New Year’s Day with its pointless resolutions because all it meant to me was no cupcakes or wine for two weeks.
With each year’s resolution, those essential life pleasures were replaced with Costco-sized bags of kale and Brussel sprouts that inevitably succumbed to death-by-wilting in the fridge.
All of that changed at a point of enlightenment somewhere in between finding my first silver hair and receiving my first Social Security check, when I awakened to the realization that my yearly New Year’s Day resolutions were nothing but self-imposed fat-camp staycations.
They always started out with high hopes and morning trips to the gym, but soon devolved one cupcake and glass of wine at a time until all hope disappeared, along with the Christmas ornaments, menorah, kwanza decorations and Festivus pole.
That said, I have to give New Year’s Eve of 2023 a modestly respectable score of six on the Holiday-Fail-Scale of one to ten, because I did enjoy the sharing of a midnight toast.
Four points had to be deducted because that toast was shared with my rescue dog, Blanco.
No fella this year, but I found a way to celebrate anyway.
As the first chilled sip of champagne crossed my lips, I toasted to the freedom of never having to make a resolution again - and only having to wear a mask in Walmart.
By the end of the third glass, it didn’t seem strange at all that I was sitting on a velvet bedspread awaiting the stroke of midnight dressed in pink silk pajamas, happily feeding Blanco little rosettes of paté on toast-points in between sips of sparkling water from his matching crystal champagne flute.
I told you I’d regret sending this.
In my younger years, Christmas and New Year’s Day were ok holidays, but what really made visions of sugar hearts dance in my head was Valentine’s Day.
Every year around the time Christmas decorations appear, I started planning what I wanted to do for the fella on Valentine’s Day.
I contemplated what dress to wear to dinner, what to wear underneath for after dinner, and what brilliantly-perceptive gift I could conjure up to prove I’m an amazing almost-fiancée.
With the arrival of heart-shaped chocolate boxes on store shelves, Valentine’s Day never failed to renew my romantic hopes - along with those of single twenty-something girls everywhere.
We wondered hopefully if this might be the year we’d receive that little velvet box holding a diamond engagement ring, which, once placed upon our finger, held the promise of forever-love and fairy-tale marital happiness.
That scenario may seem ridiculously naive these days, but back then I was a magical thinker - an unfortunate condition still hanging in there from childhood.
Like baby fat and cowlicks.
In my defense, I was a rather dedicated feminist before intellectual ideals gave way to the hypnotizing call of the patriarchy as it seduced me, along with millions of other lovesick single girls, with promises of happily-ever-after.
This was deemed to only be possible after Prince Charming’s kiss awakened us from girlish innocence to discover the mysteries of womanhood.
Which Prince Charming, knowing more about women than any actual woman ever could, would mansplain to us for the rest of our lives.
That part was hidden in the fine print.
You’ve probably guessed that for me, a woman in her sixties, blind illusion has long since faded into a slightly jaded and more realistic view of romance.
Yet for some reason, as an artist, my artwork still expresses the optimistic world view I held as a magical-thinking child.
I never outgrew the baby fat and cowlick either, but that’s a story for another day.
Many of my works are painted in a style called Magical Realism and allude to an enigmatic somewhere-over-the-rainbow filled with flowers and butterflies, where life is terminally beautiful and love lasts forever.
That idealistic perspective might sound poetic on its face, but in reality, when you’re obsessively watching CSPAN for the latest decisions affecting women’s rights while simultaneously painting a butterfly perched on a lotus blossom, it creates serious problems.
I figured that at some point, either the me that watches CSPAN or the one who paints in the style of Magical Realism had to go, because functioning in that way forces me to use both the right and left hemispheres of my brain simultaneously.
And whole-braining-it through life has drawbacks.
The problem of Women-Using-the-Whole-Brain (WUWB for short) is that it’s an affliction which had historically done serious harm to men, by causing their brains to soften until they inexplicably lusted after teen-aged girls in church.
After which, these victimized men could only restore their souls and sanity by burning WUWB-afflicted women at the stake.
So I really need to take this seriously.
Am I taking this too far? Should I keep these opinionated thoughts to myself? Is my Tourreganoholic Syndrome showing?
I was going to mention how the binding of a girl’s feet had historically relieved man’s generalized anxiety and the discomfort they suffered at having to watch girls walk; but perhaps that’s a story for another day.
Anyhoo, for a while wine helped me avoid painting in the style of Magical Realism.
However, I quickly realized that drinking before 11 a.m. in my studio isn’t a good lifestyle choice, so I opted instead to listen to relaxing music while painting and save the wine for dinner.
This helped, but was not a cure.
I still needed a solution to cure me of living the two extremes of Jaded-Feminist and Delusional-Romantic.
Because how could I possibly fit into polite society as both?
To continue on in this way risked being labeled a Dualist, which has serious business and personal ramifications.
Polite society expects a girl to find her specific niche and stay there - such as the time-honored niche of “Good-Wife-and-Loving Mother” or its alternative, “Slutty-Tart-and-Gold-Digger.”
Simple, single-faceted niches that society understands and can use for the benefit of all.
Well, maybe not all.
The Dualist lifestyle, on the other hand, is way too confusing for the general public to accept.
Girls who try it often end up relegated to the social equivalent of a biker-bar situated on the outskirts of society, where they find themselves associated with the likes of notorious Dualists such as Madonna-Whore, Merry-Widow, and Woman-President.
To avoid that fate, I joined an artist-focused twelve-step program that offers classes in painting abstracts, which is the stylistic equivalent of an outpatient methadone program.
I did ok at first, but then I failed to make it past Step Two.
That’s where I was required to recite the words, “a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
After discovering marijuana at 18, being dosed with mushrooms at 25, impulsively consuming (and then vomiting up) Ayahuaska after a bad break up on my 40th birthday, overdosing on asthma medication at 50, and then sharing champagne and paté with a dog on New Years at 60-something…it would be delusional to imagine that any power on earth or beyond could restore my sanity.
Why lead myself on with false hope?
After that letdown, all that was left was for me to accept that I’m a Tourreganoholic Dualist.
Still, the label of Dualist carries such a negative connotation!
I had to rename it with something that focused on the positive, in keeping with other groups that traded up for more positive names - like Domestic Goddess for housewife, Custodial Engineer for janitor, and Conservative Republican for crazy conspiracy theorist.
Rather than Dualist, I’d call it “Fully Actualized Woman Syndrome,” or FAWS.
The disturbing symptoms of FAWS include expressing feminist or LGBTQIA+ opinions (especially on a first date), spending holidays alone with a dog, cat, ferret, iguana, parrot or horse; craving time alone to pursue creative and intellectual interests; and caring more about global humanitarian issues than one’s hair, nails, weight, or number of followers on social media profiles.
If that was to be my fate, so be it.
Anyhoo, returning to that fateful Valentine’s Day in my twenties…
I made sure my fella’s secretary had the address of my workplace so she could send me flowers on the fella’s behalf, which I would exhibit on my desk along with the other contestants in the office’s annual “She’s Got a Sugardaddy” awards competition, floral category.
The current frontrunner was Tiffany, who received a funeral-sized arrangement in a crystal vase holding exotic flowers like tulips and birds of paradise.
The rest of us awaited various combinations of daisies, carnations and roses.
Tiffany was our sultry brunette receptionist, a smoldering goddess of a woman who wore a diamond ring large enough to send signals into outer space.
She kept to herself and didn’t participate in office social activities, but was polite to all in spite of her caste status as one of the office Untouchables.
There was a group of girls in the office who ran things as if they were the ruling elite in an ivy-league sorority (or a prison B-movie), and they treated the office as a members-only club in which some of us weren’t invited.
Votes among the Sorority as to the diamond’s authenticity usually came out about 60%-40% against, due to the assumption that if it was real, Tiffany surely wouldn’t be working as a receptionist who brown-bagged tuna sandwiches to work.
The 40% who thought it was a real diamond felt that in spite of the tuna sandwiches, Tiffany had both the good looks and “je ne sais quoi“ one needed to land a man who could afford a diamond like that.
And the fact that she wasn’t living with him prior to marriage upped her believability.
The Sorority knew how prized chattel should behave, and heeded the advice of renowned Greek philosopher, Socrates, who stated in his most acclaimed historic address to the senators of Athens: “Why buy the cow if the milk is free?”
I, on the other hand, (literally on my right hand…), wore a vintage ruby ring which I acquired by trading a small painting of Buddha to a stoned guitar player at a mushroom-fueled music festival in the Northern California redwoods after his lady-love took off with the drummer before guitar guy could propose.
At first I felt guilty about taking advantage of a man who was drunk, broken hearted and possibly suicidal.
But then I surmised that keeping the ring would only remind him of his failures, whereas meditating on my Buddha would bring about healing.
So I made peace with it.
Needless to say, I didn’t really “fit in” with the Sorority at my ultra-conservative insurance claims processing office, despite a year of ongoing efforts towards that end.
I had attended every Tupperware party, baked cupcakes for office pot lucks, dressed in the Sears polyester office style, suffered through every Hallmark-esque romance novel the book club recommended, Bondo-filled the hole in my nose where I once sported a nose ring, traded my purple Volkswagen for a Toyota, and replaced my India wall hangings with beige throw pillows and matching curtains.
What more did they expect?
But alas, despite my best efforts, evidence of my Northern California persona seemed to follow me like an unholy miasma, which the Sorority clique, much like the trained pigs that root out truffles, seemed supernaturally equipped to sniff out.
It’s their gift.
As it just so happened on that fateful Valentine’s Day, the fella had broken up with me the day before, after we quarreled over something stupid I can’t recall at the moment.
Still, I felt secure in the knowledge that he’d come to his senses and want me back as always; and what better way to make that happen than by sending roses and Sees candy?
How could he not?
Hadn’t I proven my love by morphing from the free-spirited bellydancing artist who had wildly aroused his interest, into the apron-wearing, bookclub-joining, sushi-eating, cupcake-baking woman-child he had encouraged me to become, to assure my acceptance by his parents as his not-yet-formally-engaged wife-to-be?
Yes, “fitting in” comes at a price, but I was a girl in love and willing to pay it - so I turned my attention to claims processing while awaiting the arrival of a forgiveness bribe from the fella.
Our office boss was a man, of course, because this was the ’70s and I couldn’t open my own bank account or apply for a credit card without the signature of a husband or father.
Women were still relegated to support jobs that served important men, as infantilized and marginalized within the workplace as the nuns who served the important men of God within the church.
And even in those halls of polished pews and stained glass, our expected roles were made clear as men in black frocks Godsplained how girls, wives and mothers were to direct our spiritual devotion:
“He worships God, and she worships the God in him.”
Which leads me back to the claims office, where our boss did indeed expect to be worshiped as a God.
He often quoted the Bible in staff meetings and referred to our all-female staff as “his girls.”
I gave him the nickname Boss-Daddy after he placed a sweaty palm-full of Hershey’s Kisses on my desk, patted my head as if I was a poodle, and told me I was a good girl.
After that public demonstration, I got the evil-eye from the Sorority girls for two weeks; but then Boss-Daddy gifted a petite blonde typist with a package of Hostess HoHos and told her she looked pretty, and I was off the hook.
I feel the need to state this important detail for the record, and clarify that I’m using the term “girls” mockingly in this story…because some of us girls were grandmothers.
In dealing with Boss-Daddy, some of us played along by indulging in flattery, giggles and baby-talk when receiving unwanted attention - a ploy that ensured continued employment and possible promotion.
I retained a strained Mona-Lisa smile while scream-whispering “idiot!” inside my head as I fantasized about escaping to anywhere in the universe that I could live as a competent adult.
Like maybe on the Starship Enterprise.
Every Valentine’s Day, our otherwise disinterested Boss-Daddy presented each of his girls with a single white rose in a glass vase.
We, in turn, carried offerings to his desk like dutiful children, armed with cookies and cupcakes we baked ourselves in grown-up Easy-Bake ovens.
Offering up baked goods, greeting cards, chocolates, flowers and jewelry on the American Love-Market’s top-sales-day-of-the-year was every patriot’s obligation.
A man’s role in this ritual required about as much participation as in the creation of life: man makes the required deposit, woman turns it into a life-or-death event.
And in the hearts and minds of lovesick girls, Valentine’s Day was indeed a life or death event.
Any time flowers or boxes of candy were delivered, a crowd of twitterpated Sorority girls gathered at the recipient’s desk.
Outwardly each onlooker would oooh and ahhhhh, but internally they were busy recalculating the recipient’s social status within the office caste system based on the quality of the delivery.
Extra points were awarded for a double-hitter, when flowers and chocolates came together.
Any girl whose fella actually showed up at work to deliver her gifts was made queen for a day, which meant she didn’t have to perform any of the office janitorial duties like scrubbing the toilets and mopping, which were performed in a weekly rotation since we were getting paid to be there anyway.
At the end of the day, each girl’s overall rank in the Sorority caste system was recalculated based on beauty, bra size, age, marital status, wealth, and family connections.
The results would establish a girl’s rank until the next Valentine’s Day.
Everyone in the office knew their ranking and I was clearly near the bottom, either tied with Tiffany or maybe one point above or below.
This united Tiffany and me in a strange kindred-spiritship that neither of us acknowledged or wanted, yet both understood.
Navigating this strange world of Sorority bullying and conservative office politics still felt foreign to me, but I nevertheless toiled onward for the sake of earning acceptance as the Future-Wife-of-a-Country-Club-Guy and the promise of Forever-Love that accompanied it.
He was my much-adored Hubble, and I was his shiksa Katie.
By day’s end, every desk in the office sported its floral award except for mine.
It sucked to endure the public humiliation of not receiving flowers that day, but more importantly to me, I understood that my fella wasn’t coming back this time.
Broken hearted, I kept myself busy and tried to ignore the whispering cluster of Sorority girls dining greedily on my humiliation.
Just before closing, as I was getting ready to make a quick walk-of-shame getaway out the back door, I looked up to see Tiffany standing at my desk.
She handed me a single, perfectly-formed rainbow parrot tulip, plucked from her own arrangement.
I was surprised by that act of kindness, which landed before me like a life preserver from the hand of a goddess.
I thanked her as I stuck the tulip into the vase that held Boss-Daddy’s white rose.
I’m not sure what motivated Tiffany to confide in me that day, but she leaned over and whispered that she was quitting and wouldn’t be coming in the next day.
My response was to stare back at her while pondering whether to say, “Hey, that’s great!” or “Oh no, I’m so sorry you won’t be here with us any longer!”
Luckily, before I had to decide, she went on to explain that she was leaving corporate life to continue her art career, and would I be so kind as to inform Boss-Daddy so she didn’t have to speak to him?
We hadn’t shared a single genuine conversation in the entire year we’d worked together, and now, in my hour of broken-hearted need, I find out that the goddess with whom I’ve had an office girl-crush since day one, is an artist.
Like me. Oh, the humanity!
As I agreed to inform Boss-Daddy, I was sure she saw my cheeks turn flaming red - a poker-tell that had betrayed every secret I ever held - starting with my first criminal act, when they tipped off my mother after I stole a box of crayons from right under the noses of the nuns at my kindergarten, thus ending what could have been a promising criminal career.
As Tiffany departed with her tower of flowers in hand, she flipped a long tendril of brunette hair out of her eyes and offered me a few words of advice:
“ Find another job before this place crushes your dreams…you don’t fit in here either.”
That night in bed, I thought about Tiffany’s words, and my job, my now-departed fella, and my seemingly-ruined life; what the Hell happened to my perfectly planned-out future?
But then, like that scene in Gone with the Wind after Brett walks out on Scarlet O’Hara with the famous words, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” and she realizes it’s over and heartbrokenly runs to the stairs in tears but then gets a determined look on her face and cries out, “I’ll think about that tomorrow”….. I repeated Scarlett’s words until I found my own moment of determination.
I got to work early the next day and gave Boss-Daddy Tiffany’s message.
Later that morning I overheard a few girls chatting about Tiffany’s sudden departure, and all the possible reasons a girl might have to leave town so suddenly.
Pregnancy? Fired? Embezzlement? Failed affair with Boss-Daddy?
A primal scream worked its way into my throat as I sat at my desk imprisoned in layers of hot polyester and constricted from the waist down by torturously-tight panty hose that left little blood available for my brain.
I felt a sudden, powerful urge to storm over there and tell those girls that Tiffany was the most beautiful creature in the universe, and they could f’off.
However, as with the fart that sucks back into your colon like a frightened turtle instead of forcing its way out at Thanksgiving, I stuffed that primal scream deep down into my gut, as millions of women have done since the beginning of time, until only a silent scream remained.
The silent scream, unlike the externally-focused and more popularly-understood primal scream, slowly transforms passivity into anger…and that anger, if not curtailed by a strong will, can lead to unhealthy actions.
Like when that sweet, silver-haired church-lady grabbed an axe and murdered her husband in his sleep.
That’s the result of swallowing one-too-many silent screams.
Or in my case, to quote Mother Theresa’s cousin, Sister Magdalene: “Get me out of here before I cut a bitch.”
When I got home from work, I tossed Boss-Daddy’s white rose into the trash and placed the vase holding Tiffany’s tulip on my nightstand.
Staring at it in the lamplight, I pondered how that single tulip had conjured up so many conflicting emotions.
Then, as the artist in me awakened, I marveled at its rainbow array of colors, the strength of its body, the way the lamplight highlighted the delicacy of its stamens as they reached out to capture the seeds of love it needed to fulfill its destiny.
I was reminded that each flower and creature in the world is unique and beautiful, in its own way.
Like Tiffany, the dark-haired goddess who felt she had to hide herself from the world to keep from being devoured by its beasts.
The next morning, after staring into swollen eyes in my fogged-up medicine cabinet mirror, I shoved a safety pin through my nose to re-open my piercing and slipped my nose ring back into place.
Fortified with half a pot of coffee and a full carton of cream, I proceeded to pack up my art supplies, paintings, bellydance costumes, India wall hangings, faded Tarot cards and other treasures, and loaded my car until it resembled Jed Clampett’s truck arriving in Beverly Hills.
And then, with Tiffany’s tulip in hand, I locked up my rental cottage for the last time, placed the key under the mat, and stepped out into the morning sunshine to follow my dreams.