Now that the advice column has proven to be completely unhelpful, the only thing I can pick for you is flowers. Follow Stephanie Lessing on Instagram.
My one New Year resolution is to stop telling people what to do. . . until 2017. So there goes the advice column. Sorry, but it was either that or go on Weight Watchers again.
I especially want to apologize to all the people who took my genetic algorithm stock trading advice. The truth is I can’t even add.
The day I signed up for flower school, I was deliriously happy until I had to admit what I’d done.
The words flower and school have a similar rhythm to the words nursery and school, and I’ve always thought of flowers as toys. It felt like I was telling my friends and family I signed up for toy school.
I knew I’d have to explain that flower school involves much more than putting flowers in a vase.
I told my mom first because she loves me the most. Fortunately, she was in a deep Ambien sleep when I called to tell her the news.
“Hi Mom, I signed up for flower school today.”
“Oh! Me too, Honey,” she said, and went back to sleep.
Then I told my sister.
“I’m going back to school.” I eased in.
“Wow! You’re finally going to get that Masters in Creative Writing. I’m so proud of you.”
“Well, not exactly a Masters. I’ll be getting a little certificate with a picture of a daisy on the back that says, ‘You completed Session 1.’ And, instead of creative writing, I’ll be learning flowers.”
Next, I called my oldest friend, Beth. She is always honest with me about everything, but in a nice way. I thought it best to get her reaction before I moved on to telling my children.
“I signed up for flower school, today,” I said.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Flower school. A school for flowers.”
“No, it’s not! They teach you a lot of things.”
“Let me save you some time. Fill up a vase with water and put flowers in it.”
“It’s not just about putting flowers in a vase! There are other things.”
“Like cutting the stems. And not stepping on them.”
“What else?” she asked.
“Well, there are clippers to be dealt with, and quick dip, which is a product that has to do with dipping, and we use ribbon. But just forget I even told you. You wouldn’t understand.”
I called everyone else on my contact list to yell at them before they could make fun of me. Some of my friends even said they wanted to take the class with me.
Unfortunately, the dates didn’t work out for them.
Some thought it was a phony phone call.
Eventually, it was time to break it to my children. I dropped it on them simultaneously by using the reverse psychology technique of self-mocking to avoid being mocked. I did it via text.
“Want to laugh?” I wrote.
“Sure,” they both wrote back.
“I signed up for Flower School. Isn’t that so so so funny?”
“No, that’s so cool. I’m so proud of you.” They both wrote back the exact same thing.
So I knew they were trying not to laugh.
My kids and I are forensic conversationalists. Nothing gets past us, despite the words that actually come out of our mouths.
I once had the following text exchange with my daughter.
Kim: Hi Mom. Do you really like the pajamas I got you for your birthday? Tell the truth.
Me: OH MY GOD!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE them!!!!!!!
Kim: You can return them.
Me: Ugh! Thank you!!
Jesse has gotten to the point that he translates what I’m saying while I’m saying it.
When his girlfriend told us about a girl she saw on TV, who was addicted to bleaching everything- including herself- he sat there waiting for me to finish reacting so he could explain.
“I can’t believe that!” I said. “That is completely insane. I mean whoever that girl is she needs serious help. That is the sickest thing I ever heard!” My face turned bright red and everyone at the table turned to look at me.
“She’s just afraid I’ll accidentally drink bleach,” Jesse explained, which was spot on.
The translation of:
“Oh my God. That’s so cool. I’m so proud of you,”
Is the following:
“Oh my God. You’re so senile.”
After I told my kids, it became much easier to confess to everyone else.
One of my friends asked me if flower school was my way of pronouncing botany school.
“Yes, in a way it will be the study of botany, but not in a way that would be true.”
“So you’re not studying botany?”
“What is it then? Do you learn how to grow flowers? Or plant them? Or design gardens?”
“Not as much as one might think.”
It was at that moment that I understood that flower school wasn’t about what it’s not. It’s about doing something simple, something I really love.
“So what exactly do they teach you to do with flowers?” she continued.
“They teach you how to put them in a vase.”
I love throwing things away: Furniture, appliances, anything that’s a little dusty, important documents, loose change, spiders that I want to help move on.
Lately I’ve been throwing my clothes away in a metal donation bin in Closter, NJ.
I sidle up to the curb, park my car, lug the huge hefty bags of clothes out of my trunk, lift the bin lid, look around to see if anyone’s looking, and then I toss the bags in and run. I always feel horrible afterwards, like I killed them.
I have no idea where the clothes go once I abandon them. I assume they wind up in someone else’s garbage. Recycling is great for some things but it would be better if my old bellbottoms would just disappear or become reincarnated as something other than silly pants.
Which brings me to today’s idea: biodegradable wardrobes made out of seed paper
I had a white paper jumpsuit in college that I, regretfully, belted, but I remember how much I felt like David Bowie in it, and how happy I was when I got to throw it out at the end of the night. I didn’t have to wonder how I should go about cleaning the ketchup off both sleeves, or fold it. I just rolled it up and put it in the incinerator. I vowed to live a minimalist life from then on, and create a full line of disposable clothing some day. I envisioned a huge paper towel roll of perforated jump suits in everyone’s closets instead of regular clothes.
Since that never happened, I’m hoping one of you eco-fashionistas might want to pick up where I left off and make your own disposable clothing line. Inject plant seeds into biodegradable fibers so you and your customers can just throw your pants out the window (into a pre-dug hole), watch them disintegrate and then grow into something else a few weeks later. There’s plenty of seed paper out there. All you’ll have to do is buy some big sheets and cut them into the shape of clothes. And then sew it all together somehow. And then try to make it not feel like paper, or seeds.
I would do it but I’m busy, and I don’t know that much about paper, or seeds, or anything really.
“I can’t stand sitting next to two people in a row. I have an uncanny sense of smell,” I explained to the Jet Blue phone reservationist. “There’s got to be an aisle seat somewhere on that plane.”
“I only have two windows left. How about a more leg room seat?”
“That won’t help. I can smell other people’s saliva even when their mouths are closed. Just knowing they have saliva bothers me. And I become very suspicious on planes. I report people constantly. I’m a nuisance. It’s in everyone’s best interest if I only have to sit next to one person at a time. Please find me an aisle seat. I’m begging you.”
“You’ll only be sitting next to one person if you keep your window seat.”
“It’s not the same. The window seat is a trap. There’s nothing but scalps everywhere. The aisle seat is like having my own apartment. I can face out and breathe in the fresh aisle air. I can see the flight attendants opening cans of soda and slamming cabinets shut in the kitchen. It’s like a live show.”
“I’m sorry,” she lied.
As soon as I got to my seat, I put on my headphones and opened my book, “The Language of Flowers.” I purposely brought it on the flight hoping an orphan who hits her bus driver over the head with her backpack would be enough of a distraction in case the person sitting next to me did something horrible like cough or scratch her leg.
As my soon-to-be seat mate approached our row, I could see he was a man dressed as an old woman. He was carrying a stiff pocketbook, obviously not real, and he had on a black, wool kerchief that completely obscured his face. It was one of the worst disguises I’ve ever seen. He didn’t even bother to shave his mustache. When the flight attendant asked him if he needed help with his bag, he shook his head and wagged his finger to pretend he didn’t speak English. But then I saw that he had on this dainty little gold bracelet watch. It was too good of a prop to be a fake. The man was a woman.
I relaxed a little, but as soon as the old woman plopped herself down next to me she sighed as loudly as a person could possibly sigh without shouting. She was the type that would have me doing favors for her the entire time, and I’m just the sucker who would do them. All I wanted was some private time to read my book and learn everything about the language of flowers.
I turned the page and quietly mouthed the words aloud so she would know I was concentrating on my translations:
Mistletoe: I surmount all obstacles
White poplar: Time
I smashed myself against the window as best I could to avoid any kind of physical contact, but she spread herself out so far, her upper arm was immediately touching mine. Married couples don’t sit that close, but she was obviously from a country where it’s perfectly normal to rub up against a stranger.
I casually stood up to brush some imaginary crumbs off my lap hoping she’d politely take the hint and adjust herself accordingly, but she wouldn’t budge. From a standing position I was able to see why she had to lean on me. It was her floor length puffer coat. It was too bulbous to be contained. The top half of her body mushroomed so far over the other side of her seat she had to tilt toward me to avoid completely falling over to the other side.
I sat back down and tried to read, but something started to smell like salami. I wasn’t sure if was her body or if she had a sandwich somewhere on her person. The temperature on the plane had risen considerably and I pictured her slowly decomposing until just her coat was left.I don’t know how air works, but her coat was either filling up with carbon dioxide or she was slowly sinking into it causing it to balloon out even more in my direction. I wedged my sweatshirt between her arm and my body, a subtle indicator that she had wandered way past any kind of ethical human boundary and that we were now enemies.
She showed no signs of being insulted. She remained completely inert. She couldn’t even change her TV channel. She was stuck there watching Family Guy, and I began to suspect the whole thing was an act.
Her handbag was partially opened on her lap so I did a quick eyeball search for explosives. There was nothing as far as I could see, but people don’t just leave bombs out where you can see them. They tuck them in.
When the flight attendant delivered our snacks I looked up pleadingly, hoping she might take pity on me and ask the woman to remove her coat, seeing as how it was occupying such an unfair portion of my seat, but then I remembered that flight attendants don’t have feelings.
I focused on my book and found myself folding my seat mate into the story. What if she had just been adopted as an elderly woman and was being transported to her new family? Maybe she’d been hired to replace an aunt or a grandmother who had recently died. I pictured her growing old in her orphanage, somewhere in Romania, having to avoid cruel childish pranks like the time a bunch of other orphans set her bed on fire, until just a few days ago when she got the phone call, at age 79, that someone finally wanted her.
I started to take pity on her in the same way I feel sorry for bank robbers on TV as they’re being taken to prison. I always want to hug them for having such bad luck.
“She may even be blind for all you know,” I thought to myself, and just then, almost as if she knew I’d forgiven her, she turned to me and handed me her bag of chips.
At first I thought she was just flat out giving them to me, but then she looked up at me with her sad caterpillar eyebrows and graying little mustache whiskers and mimed that she was unable to open the bag by herself. She smiled hopefully, knowing, despite everything, I would be there for her if she asked. It was the Language of Airplanes.
Potato Chips: Forgiveness
I wasn’t really all that busy anyway. My mind had already wandered off my book like eighty times, and I felt it was the least I could do for having shunned her for accidentally touching me, and then accusing her of being a man and then a terrorist.
I opened the bag and handed it to her. I watched her place one broken chip on her tongue, and just let it rest there like a Listerine tab.
“You’re gonna need to chew that,” I said, patting her sleeve.
As the plane hit the ground she squeezed my arm, and I put my hand on hers.
I looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing rubber boots. The pilot had just announced that it was 81 degrees in Florida.
She pointed to the knot under her kerchief to indicate that I should untie it. Then we both stood up, and I helped her off with her coat.
Today’s idea is the disposable toothbrush head, and it’s all yours.
Go make it happen!
I will be your first customer. I’ll buy one for each of my two children, one for my husband, one for my sister, one for each of my sister’s two children, one for my mom and one for myself.
That’s seven sales.
I even have the domain name picked out. You don’t have to use it, but I checked, and it’s not taken:
Hold on. I just have to check one other thing.
Somebody beat us to it. The disposable toothbrush head is almost completely sold out on Amazon. I knew it was a good idea. Although they went with the name Eco-dent, which is ridiculous.
I can’t believe I’m living through this again.
This same thing happened to me with: the eyeglass chain, the mommy doll, and the lint brush mop. In fifth grade I invented the drone (at the time I called it the flying robot slave) but I wasn’t sure how to put together the wiring and everything so someone stole my whole concept on that one as well.
Don’t worry, though. I’ve got plenty more.
If you’re looking for something to invent, something to write, or lyrics for a new song, you’ve come to the right place. I have an idea every hour or so. They have piled up over the years. It’s now time for me to start giving them away. They’re free, so just take one and make it happen. I would do them all myself but I’m busy.
Today’s idea is:
I just got word that this one is taken. Therefore, I will post a second idea today.
Today’s second idea is:The towel pillow
The towel pillow is a pillow that has been slip-covered with towels. Admittedly the iphone was a better idea.
I had just finished reading “The First Bad Man” by Miranda July when my husband walked through the door.
The first thing he asked me is why I’d cut my hair like Geraldine Ferraro. Then he wanted to know why I was carrying a baby and why I had a black eye.
I couldn’t possibly explain to him what had gone on in the hours that he’d left me at home, alone, with that book. How July’s profound and peculiar brand of loneliness felt like she’d stuck her hand into my stomach and waved it around in there in case I’d forgotten my own. Or how her pathetically hopeful, ethereal imagination forced me back to my 18 month old self, a time when I knew myself so well I walked around in a constant state of embarrassment for having shit my diaper for the 850th time.
She not only forced me to go there she slapped me across the face the whole way there and back, with some ill-mannered, gargantuan girl’s foul smelling flip flop. I had to cut my hair off, what else could I do? The perm was an afterthought.
As the day went on she forced me to look at a vagina really close up. The vagina had a baby in it. A screaming baby with a talking soul, whose name escapes me, but it sounds like something you might find at Ikea- something like Kubelko Bondy.
And there were snails everywhere. And brown shoes.
How could I explain the revolting but thankfully hurried sex she made me have with a very old man and something pink that I can’t remember? Oh right, his penis. What explanation could I possibly come up with to explain why the whole house reeked of a sweaty sleeping bag doused in suntan lotion?
“She did this to me,” I said, on my knees. “This is what she did to me, while you were at work. And the thing is she did it so well. She’s a writer. So much a writer . . .
‘That for a moment I wasn’t sure what I was.’”
Sometimes I like to fantasize that I accidentally got a job.
I rush around the morning of my first day in my 80’s power suit and heels, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and my briefcase in the other. I check my watch, kiss my husband goodbye, and rush off. To Google.
When I get to my desk, I look out at the Empire State Building, the Chrysler building, parts of New Jersey, the Hudson River and then I hug myself for having such a big window.
Later I arrange some important papers on my desk and type a letter to Hillary Clinton about what not to wear and changing weather patterns.
I typically have lunch at a place called Claud’s, which I made up, followed by drinks on the rooftop of the Peninsula with some of my colleagues, secretaries and bodyguards. Sometimes I have to step away to take an important call from the President of the Ford Motor Corp.
Back at my office, I slip off my shoes and put on my sneakers. I jog on my treadmill while watching the stock reports on TV. Then I imagine myself having stocks.
Before long someone walks into my office while I’m dictating a letter or polishing my trophies and demands to know who I am and what I’m doing there.
At first I’m taken aback, but then I yell, “You’re fired!” and demand a raise. I storm out of the office to sit in my private ladies lounge on the third floor. I splash some cold water on my face in front of the mirror, and look myself straight in the eye.
“You go right back out there and show them what you’re made of!” I say, and take the rest of the day off.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Helloooo
Me: Hi, is this Sleepy’s?
Sleepy’s: It is indeed.
Me: I’d like to purchase a bed frame.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Yeah, we got ‘em in stock. You can have one for like seventy five dollars I think.
Me: Okay, great.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Actually.. hold on….yeah like 75. I just had to check something.
Me: Okay, I’ll stop by today.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Awesome
TWO HOURS LATER
I arrive at Sleepy’s. It’s 12 degrees outside and there’s a piece of paper taped to the glass front door, sideways, that says, “Back in ten minutes” with a cell phone number. I tilt my head and call the number.
Me: Hello? Hi, I’m in front of the Sleepy’s store. There’s a note that says, “back in ten,” but I’m wondering when you left the note.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Oh yeah. I left that note cause I went out for breakfast. I’ll be back in like ten minutes.
Me: Oh, I must have just missed you then.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: That’s okay. No problem.
Me: Wait? What?
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
A guy in a really dirty suit and thick glasses comes strolling over holding a gigantic Dunkin’ Donuts bag. I smile even though I think he shouldn’t have left the store to get a million doughnuts. The back of his suit has white glue all over it. My guess is his jacket lining was drooping a little in the back, and so he chose glue to remedy the situation.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Hey how’s it going? Thanks for waiting for me. Beautiful day, isn’t it?
Me: It’s pretty cold out, even with the 12 degrees.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: And the sun is shining!
As we stand outside the door in the bitter cold, I quietly watch him search all of his pockets, over and over again, for the door key to the Sleepy’s store he was hired to manage. I smile encouragingly. I’ve smoked enough pot in my life to know what can happen to keys. I touch my nose to see if it’s still there. The keys don’t appear to be in any of his pockets so he searches the doughnut bag. I try to sway from side to side a little to keep my blood moving.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Wow. I might have left them somewhere.
Me: You definitely did. You should check your car and all of your pockets again. And, in the meantime, I’ll do an errand or two, and come back a little later. One of my toes is so numb it’s numbing the toe next to it. I’d hate to lose any of them.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: You came all the way down here though. It won’t be much longer.
Me: I’m really cold. I don’t mind coming back.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: You’re right I should check my car. But don’t leave, okay? The reason I left the store unattended is that I waited for you all morning. I thought you meant that you were coming over right away when you called. I sat here starving to death. I waited as long as I could, and then I was just like, man I gotta eat something. Oh wow I didn’t realize I taped that sign on sideways. That’s messed up.
And then he finds his key in his right hand pocket and holds it up.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: So I’m gonna give you a discount for waiting, okay?
Me: No, seriously? Should you do that?
He points to the Sleepy’s Logo on his desk mug.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Of course I should. That’s me. The Sleepy’s Mattress Professional!
He laughs. So then I laugh.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: My brother is the number one salesman of 7,000 employees.
Me: That’s impressive. What number are you?
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Ha Ha Right. Yeah, well I only work here occasionally. I fill in for my brother if he really needs me.
I wonder if anyone besides him and his brother know that.
Me: What do you do on the other days?
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: I’m a musician.
Me: A h h h. What do you play?
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Everything, man.
Me: Seriously? Every single instrument? You play every instrument?
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Pretty much, yeah.
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: And I sing, produce, write, and I have a line of clothing coming out, too, which should be cool.
I realize my whole approach to living is off. Why shouldn’t a salesman be able to get a quick cup of coffee and a tasty doughnut during business hours to clear his head a little? Sleepy’s isn’t jail. It’s just a store for crying out loud.
Me: What’s your name? I’ll look you up!
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Be True.
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Sleepy’s Mattress Professional: Be True. That’s my name.
Me: Oh, it’s like a stage name.
Be true: No, that’s my name.
Me: So your first name is Be? And your last name is True? Just the letter B or B-e, or B-e-e, or B-e-a like Aunt Bea?
Be true: No, my first name is Be True. A very important person gave it to me and it stuck. It’s my name now, because that’s what I’m all about. I’m True in every way.
Now I’m fiddling with my phone trying to tape the conversation in case he doesn’t actually work at Sleepy’s, but of course my battery is always dead whenever I meet someone named Be True. I decide to trust him, but test his True-ness.
Me: Did you know they spray these mattresses with fire retardant, Be?
Be true: Yeah, they do. Except the Gemma beds. Come over here and take a look.
He walks me over to the Gemma Bed and reads the little tag, which says how safe and clean and chemical free it is.
Be true: I know everything about mattresses. That’s how I knew about the Gemma bed. I’m a mattress geek. And do you want to know why?
Me: I sort of do, yes.
Be true: Because everyone sleeps. Think about that.
We walk back to the computer which Be true tells me is from 1996 because the owner of Sleepys, who also owns Rockaway Bedding, 1-800 mattress (and a few other names I can’t remember) doesn’t want to spend the money for an upgraded computer.
Be True: It’s all about money, man. This whole business.
Me: As so often is the case, with businesses.
Be True: Yeah. So I’m gonna charge you 59.
Me: 59? Really? Are you sure?
Be True: Yes.
Be True starts pressing numbers into the rickety old computer. His fingers are slipping off of every key, I imagine he’s typing a series of cartoon curses $%^&&#$#%
A receipt comes out of an old-fashioned, boxy printer and he hands it to me. I check for spelling errors. There are none.
Be true goes to the back and comes back carrying the bed frame on his shoulder. He starts walking toward the front door with it, and nods for me to follow him.
Be true: I’ll carry it out for you.
When we get to my car, he slides the frame in, which fits in the car perfectly, and then asks me if I want to put the back seat down.
Me: Not really. The frame fit right in.
Be true: Yeah, it does actually. I see that. It’s perfect. It’s a perfect fit. Awesome.
Me: Okay, well, nice meeting you. Bye.
Be True: Hey listen. . .
Be True: Enjoy this day. That’s what it’s all about.