Living the Orange Life, Jennifer Bloom

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I lined up the trees like little soldiers. One by one, removing pallets of them off the semi with the best precision a forklift and flagger could provide on a hot June day. Most of my coworkers were ex-soldiers, ditched by society into jobs without promise. My workmate Chris told me that in Iraq, he shot a little boy in the face for throwing rocks at them. They were rubber bullets, he confessed, his face distorted with the agony of knowing that it didn't matter when the child fell off the six-foot wall and out of sight. He’s told me this several times. Each time, it’s a confession. I feel like a confessor of sorts. My role in society is hybridized because I’m a lesbian; I take in many confessions. 


These trees, like soldiers, are disposable. If they  aren't purchased quickly, they wind  up being tossed. Their new home: the trash compactor. Drought exacerbated our company policies, reducing worker’s hours to under thirty a week and resulting in plants dying en masse from neglect-induced desiccation. Later, a giant of a Samoan and I threw them into a secondary dumpster our store rented to reduce strain on our compactor. We sawed the trees apart and threw them in. Nick wanted a machete, which he said would make fast work of it. I could only toss and pray that no one would see him clambering up the forklift as if it were a jungle gym and into the dumpster, an activity, if seen, that could get us terminated. I’d not mind termination if I had anywhere else to go, which I didn’t, lacking degree and adequate income. I, like my comrades, was a slave to pillow, to plate.


Ex-soldiers walk the isles helping customers with false grins, their hearts damaged, knowing that a forest winding up in a landfill isn't the worst compromise they've made. Like trees crammed into burlap and plastic, they have nowhere to go. What do you do with a resume of knowledge on  how to kill insurgents? Lacking the “experience” of academic credentials, there’s no place but retail or security for the likes of them. They lick their wounds, damning Obama for the cutbacks and professing the ideals of revolution, never leaving their militia compounds. Andrew was like that; each lunch was marked with gruff remarks from him and other veterans condemning the current government for the predicament of their kind, exonerating Tea Party actions but never committing any acts themselves save making bullets, as Andrew did, for fellows of the NRA willing to pay top dollar for handmade ammunition. I wondered if blaming Obama was easier than blaming the citizens around them who turned a blind eye to the veteran’s fate in the hope of lower oil prices and cheaper stuff at big box stores. I wondered if Andrew thought twice about taxes being bad after his compound burned down in the Black Forest Fire.


I was the garden receiver, which, in the sexual-jest-arena, implied that I could take a good ravaging. Being a lesbian—a hybrid—I liked poking females, too, so I obviously wouldn’t mind the endless misogynist jokes. Fueled by the ability to be “one of the men,” yet secretly knowing my inequality, I took the receiving job and the jokes therein. Each morning, I bent over and took it up the ass. I lubed it with a smile, with sincerity, with outstanding customer service. At least the plants had me and I them, our souls bound intricately—both symbols of fertility, both Blooms. Their song was my breath, my breath their water. I loved watering them out on the asphalt, hidden from view in their dancing leaves and fragrant blossoms, singing a prayer of hope to Thor, asking for rain.


Thor let it rain, let it rain on down! To heal my Earth, to soothe this ground! Thor, let it rain, let it rain on down! Let your hammer fall, let it touch this ground!


Most days, though, I couldn’t water, and was told to walk the isles, seeking and destroying the customer’s peace with up-selling. I complied after protesting the needs of the plants. It is a store full of damaged soldiers and sacrificed dreams. I, a debt thrall of Sallie Mae, they, thralls to their haunting memories; we could not resist enemies unseen. Corporate knew best, our managers would say, and we would buckle down and carry on, a hodgepodge team of do-it-yourselfers willing to give it up for a few more hours of pay.


“Garden receiver” also carried the informal title of being in charge of cataloging plant death. I saw the waste every day, my mind magnifying that waste with every garden center of every store in the district. Once, the district plant purchaser walked our store. I was in the back, knee-deep in a collapsible gaylord full of plants that no longer flowered. My dreads dangling like snakes underneath my cowboy hat, I looked up, directly at the corporate man in charge of plants and couldn't help but stick my foot in my mouth.


Self: When is Home Depot going to compost these plants? This is wasteful, and  it can't be good for the bottom line. Our customers would buy the compost.


He looked at me, with his beady, ice-blue eyes, his mannequin smile, his shiny bald head and his jogger body, and replied.


Bossman: Well, that's a fantastic idea, Jenny. There are a couple stores in Seattle doing just that. Unfortunately, on a national level, it's too costly for Home Depot to implement. 


Too costly for Home Depot to implement I thought was absurd but knew to be true for a company who wouldn’t even offer part-timers full time to evade healthcare law under the guise of that being too costly as well.


Into the compactor the plants went, my soul with them, my name of Bloom echoing their unsatisfactorily flashy vaginas that had wilted from lack. My voice: silenced by the whirring hydraulics and the cackling laughter of Tom. A snaggletoothed receiving worker with 2 sons and a wife, Tom was paid $20 an hour to shovel boxes in and out of trucks. I was paid $10.75, the most I'd ever made. He liked to tease me about my lady-bits. He liked to goad me for being one of two females who drove the forklift and reach.


Tom: Honey, you got a license to drive that thing? [Cackling laughter] Woah! Watch out, everyone! Woman driver!


Those phrases echoed in the isles, emanating from coworkers and customers buying toys at their favorite store. Their eyes were always on my backside, making sure I didn't step out of line. If I did, I should at least do it prettily. 


I thought: Be as pretty as the flowers. Make sure no one sees you wilt, no one sees you fade. You must always bloom, Bloom.


They liked to see me lift those trees, hoist them into the compactor, my snakes dancing to and fro as I swallowed my ideals in exchange for greenbacks. I could lift well, a linebacker female. They'd stand around and talk while I chucked dahlias and aspens like footballs into the hole. I'd pretend not to notice, play dumb behind the veneer of cute, knowing full well that I was Medusa, with a heart of sorrowful rage and eyes willing back tears.


Bye bye, dahlias, you firework lions.

Their faded manes dried by the tarmac and neglect of those who only wanted bonuses.


At the end of my day, sore of bone and muscle, dehydrated from labor, I’d return to the Tuff Shed my wife and I had made our home. Our landlord had moved back into  our place suddenly after the fire, and the only place available before winter became too brittle was my mother’s house in Manitou. With rooms too small to provide privacy and tension amongst in-law and spouse, the Tuff Shed would have to do. It was a bitter place, lacking windows to witness summer in full bloom. Circumstance had kept us there longer than we were welcome, but we’d not be living there were it not for others’ greed.


The soldiers wouldn’t have been neglected were it not for the greed of the many who would compromise anything for a cheap tank of gas and a drill made in China for $49.97. The plants could have lived if those who  collected bonuses would have listened to the women in the garden centers, years of wisdom under their belts, pleading for more water and more work. The severity of the drought could have perhaps even been reduced  were it not for the compromising hunger for oil, that black gold which fueled it all—from labor inequality, to victims made in war, to trees grown cheap in Oregon and shipped all the way to Colorado only to dry out in the high plains' desert sun. 


I thought it would be fun, for I am of the Earth. My ancestors were native to this land, and all its life seemed to sing to me in a way too deep to measure. The plants and the trees, the  vegetables and the soil, they and I were one. And yet, my Earth lay in bags and containers, consumerized like a whore, for SALE! For what? For beautification and elevation! For greening the ego! Hail image! Hail plastic smiles and better-than-the-neighborism! The birdseed lived next to the pesticides, like friendly neighbors sharing tense glances they went from origin to box, to boat, to truck, to store, to man, to cart, to shelf. SOLD! By the woman with the dreadlocks, who recommended the vinegar over the Roundup and got a weird look, that carcinogen flying from shelf to home, to water, to return.

I sang a mantra.

The Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water, Return, Return, Return, Return…


Faced with the compactor and my duty as Plant Mortician,  I would soothe my compromise with a song sung from a distorted face not unlike Chris’s. Eventually called into a “Town Hall Meeting” with our store manager, Matt, I disclosed my ideas to him about how The Home Depot could improve.

Self: If we compost all the plant waste, we could make back the money lost to that shrink. We could sell it back to the customers who are interested in buying local and green, and we could return that money to the small-farm growers at the front end of it all. We could begin to implement the reduction of waste on a larger scale, and perhaps donate the out-of-date doors and warped lumber we toss, maybe making small gardens for soldiers on base with the wood and the torn bags of mulch. We could improve the lives of so many. The natural world is the limit. It’s the bottom line to our economy. It is, after all, the only reason we have any stuff to sell, and we might as well start taking care of it!


Doug: Well, it’s neat that you’re so passionate about this, Jenny, but it simply cannot be done. It’s not how business works, and it’s not how Home Depot works. This kind of change will never happen; it’s simply unfeasible. More power to you for thinking about it, but it won’t be implemented. It’s just not in the interest of profit.


I’ll never forget his face, pudgy from physical inactivity coupled with too much take-out, his Ken-doll smile and his dimpled chin, those eyes looking down at me as if my idea was insane. I wanted to hit that face and shove it into the wall, make it see what I saw, see what I had compromised and what compromises I had seen my workmates endure  because of waste and greed. That look burned through my mind like a hot coal through wax and propelled me back to university. No one tells me something cannot be done. 


Integrity, Maggie Straub

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July 21st-25th 2011

            My trip began with a foreign exchange in Paris, but I ended up in a small town named Frauenau in Germany... to meet a boy... who I met on Facebook. His name was Mad Strauss. His real name was Martin. He tested my moral integrity; I failed.

February 1st 2003

The world watched as the Space Shuttle Columbia entered the atmosphere. The seven astronauts on board were more than ready to get home. They had completed their missions. They had done their jobs. At 8:59 EST it all went wrong.

Present Day

Every day my aunt Holly lies about something. Even things she doesn’t need to lie about. Things that don't matter. She’s a pathological liar. I asked her what she had for lunch the other day knowing she had halibut. "The roasted chicken," is how she replied.


January 16th 2003

            Space Shuttle Columbia finally lifted off to depart Earth’s atmosphere at 10:39 EST. 82 seconds after liftoff a large piece of foam from the External Tank, also known as the Drop tank, which holds the liquid hydrogen fuel needed for liftoff, ripped off. This foam block hit the left wing’s RCC panels (reinforced carbon-carbon), creating a large hole in the wing. This impact would lead to the catastrophic explosion that would happen 17 days later.

March 6th 2010

Mad friended me on Facebook because we had the same last name. I asked him if we were related and he responded the next day:


Mad Straub March 7, 2010 at 8:18am 

So first, sry for adding you, but i think our names are quite cool, and no, we don't know us, i was searching for names here and found you.
no problem, i speek both, English and french ;)
sry, but where is Northglenn.
You know anything about bavaria?
sry for my mistakes,

We became fast friends, messaged each other every day, slowly becoming close.

Maybe too close. The next year I came to visit.


Present Day

Aunt Holly constantly finds new ways to make me lose faith in humanity. Between forgetting her own son’s birthday, drinking herself blind or stealing her own mother’s credit card, I’ve decided that if this is what humans regress to, then I don’t like humans very much. Every 3 to 4 months we can’t find her. We don’t know if she’s alive or dead.

Most of the time I wish she’d never come back.

July 22nd 2011

            I went to school with Mad. I only spoke to him and his circle of friends. And his English teacher, who had me speak in the front of the entire class. I remember asking them, “Do you want me to speak normal, or slow?” The teacher answered for them, telling me to speak as I normally do. I remember watching all their eye widening as I spoke, confusion clear in their eyes. So I slowed down. Nothing else those 4 days did.


February 1st 2003

8:59 EST Space Shuttle Columbia began to burn up in the atmosphere.

The destruction could be seen from Nevada to Louisiana.

There were no survivors.

Present Day

            There are days where we get calls from every state with an arrest warrant for my Aunt. Sometimes I wish I knew where she was so that she’d be locked away. Then I feel awful about not feeling awful about it. Maybe I’m still holding a grudge for when she blatantly slammed the car door on my foot when I was seven. Maybe I’m still mad at her for throwing up in my mother’s rose bushes when she promised she hadn’t been drinking. Maybe I’m still disgusted with her for going back to her drug dealer Jason for sex and drugs every few months. And maybe...

Maybe I just hate her.

July 22nd-25th 2011

Mad ditched me at Volksfeste to sleep with his ex-girlfriend. His friends were furious with him. Simon especially. The next day Simon came with Mad and I to Munich. I ran up 8 different 10 flights of stairs that day. Mad behaved better, he stayed with me and paid attention to me. Simon kept a close eye on us. He knew I had an “almost boyfriend” back in the States. He knew that Mad would try something. I knew it too. But I denied it.

February 1st 2003

President George W. Bush addressed the nation. He commented on the tragedy. He told us there were no survivors but then...

Then he said, “The cause in which they died will continue...our journey into space will go on.”

Present Day

I don’t know where my Aunt Holly is. I don’t want to know. Part of me wishes her dead. Part of me wishes she’s in prison. And part of me wishes that she’d never been born. But wishing gets you nowhere when the person you’re wishing for lacks integrity.

July 25th 2011

            Mad kissed me. He kissed me a lot. When I was almost asleep. He wanted to go further. His wandering hands told me so. Part of me wanted it too; I was too tired to think.

            The next day Simon kept looking at me with wary eyes. I was in a green dress. I was so tired.

 Mad took me to the train station. He kissed me good-bye. I never saw him again.

            Simon is coming this summer to visit me. I wonder if he ever knew what happened. I wonder if he has expectations. But then I remember.

            Out of everyone I know, I can’t think of a single one with flawless integrity.

 Present Day

NASA shut down the shuttle program. Columbia: Rick D. HusbandWilliam McCoolMichael P. AndersonDavid M. BrownKalpana ChawlaLaurel B. ClarkIlan Ramon. Challenger: Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNairEllison Onizuka, Judith ResnikMichael J. SmithDick Scobee. These lives, these disasters, will never happen again.

They say that they knew something would happen because of the foam that fell off, but they never told the astronauts. Would you rather not know, die unexpectedly, and be a hero? Or know and just wait for the air to run out because there’s nothing you can do?

 I’m not sure if it was better this way. I’m not sure if honesty would have been better.

June 29th 1964

At 12:08pm Holly O’Bera Lancaster was born to Julie Lancaster and Thane Lancaster. It was a Monday. The Kentucky sun shone down on the infant on the hot June day.

She was beautiful.

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