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Tamara Linse

Men Are Like Plants

If a geranium were a man, it’d be a pimp. I’m not kidding. All those showy flowers, sorta like gold chains and purple polyester, don’t you think? And those leaves, all romantic ruffle, like the artist formerly known as Prince would wear.

And they’re persistent. Prolific. Hardy. The whole New York police force couldn’t stop ‘em. Heck, a nuclear war couldn’t stop ‘em. The bomb would hit, they’d wilt a little, and as soon as the sun stimulated them—Bam!—another bloom would poke its head up.

And the smell—like bad aftershave mixed with pepperoni. Persistent and annoying.

Now, your philodendron, on the other hand, he’s a guy I could get to now. A little bit of pizzazz—those broad split and elegantly arched leaves, so simple and grand. Sort of like tuxedo tails. Sturdy yet supple. Doesn’t move too fast. Doesn’t rush things. Makes his way from the pot to the wall, growing out faithfully and steadily.

Hmmm. Maybe a little too steadily.

Your cacti, now, they’re the “nice guys.” You know what I mean. The guys that you just want to be friends with. The ones you think of as brothers.

The spines, you ask? Well, of course—you’d get a little prickly too if you were always the last choice. The one asked to the Sadie Hawkins dance only after the girls’ best friends ugly kid brother was already taken.

They don’t look so sexy, sometimes, and they’re shaped kind of funny, but they’re the best guys to have around when you need your car worked on or just someone to go to the movies with. Heck, they’re probably the best type to marry, too, if you can get past the spines and bulges.

I have lots of cacti in my apartment. Like I said, they’re great company.

On a first date, I have a question I ask. It’s a great litmus test. Never fails.

I ask, “If you were a plant, what kind would you be?”

Sometimes they give me a weird look. I end the date early.

Sometimes they laugh outright. If it’s a good-natured laugh, that’s ok, but if it’s one of those you-must-be-one-of-those-hippy-dippy-crystal-beads-and-love-chicks kind of laughs, I split.

Some of them take me seriously. These I let kiss me. Heck, if they give a good answer, I screw their brains out.

I get a lot of trees—oak trees, pine trees, redwood trees. They have their uses, which don’t usually extend more than 6 inches from their bodies.

“Grass,” one guy said. “Wow!” I thought. Grass. Why would he be grass?

This guy was good looking, short, with dark spiky hair. He was a little soft, but lanky. He slouched a lot. We went out for breakfast after the bars closed one night.

“Yeah. Grass. Not weed. Not that kind of grass. Though that’d be fun. But real on-the-lawn grass.”

“Grass,” I said. “You’re the first person who’s ever said grass.” This could be a bad thing. Maybe he wanted to take over the world. All the grass I know is in stiff competition with the trees to cover as much space as possible. I have these huge flower gardens that I take care of for some rich friends of mine. The most beautiful bougainvillea and nasturtiums. A whole hill of portulaca. Anyway, the grass scales walls, or climbs under it, or through it, if there’s no other way, to lay siege to the flower beds. You can see the flowers beat a hasty retreat, their leaves and stems pumping. The lily-livered bastards run away, and the grass marches on.

“Nah. Don’t look at me like that,” spiky-hair said. “Grass is commonplace. The everyday. Like words. Everyone knows grass. Everyone uses grass. It surrounds us. We are immersed in its pollen, its sex. We roll in it. It gives us oxygen. Or is it carbon dioxide? Whatever. It’s my metaphor.” He nodded importantly.

“Your metaphor?” I prompted, intrigued.

“Yeah. I hadn’t thought about it till just now,” he said, “but grass isn’t just common. It can be beautiful, like the prairies in the flames of the setting sun, the wind fanning it.”

I love this image. This guy had me right here.

“Grass can be exquisite,” he continued. “Elegant. Ever seen pampas grass? It can also be utilitarian. Bamboo is a grass, I think. The Japanese use bamboo for everything.”

He sipped his coffee and smiled. I smiled back. We called for the check.

Turns out that grass is not particular about who uses it. How many at one time. Where. All that. Grass isn’t good in a monogamous relationship.

Another guy says he would be a tomato plant. We are sitting on some deck chairs in his back yard drinking Mai Tais.

“A tomato plant?” I ask.

“I’d be a tomato plant,” he says with finality. He’s a little bald, and his body is round and strong. Not in a bad way, though. He wears a polo shirt and Dockers.

“Why would you be a tomato plant?” I prompt.

“Because I love them,” he continues, sipping his Mai Tai. “Their smell takes me back to my Grandma’s garden. Did you ever sneak into your grandmother’s garden while the tomatoes were green just so you could sniff the plants? I’ve driven out of my way just so I could rub the leaves.” His eyes are far away.

Then he looks at me. “I’d definitely be a tomato. What would you be?”

I am floored. Caught flat-footed. No guy has ever asked me before.

You seem shocked. Don’t be. If you discount the ones who laugh and the trees, too busy being independent and virile or trying to pollinate, you have only a couple of guys. Some of whom are married and thinking only of their stamens. Now we’re down to just one or two.

So I am shocked.

“What kind of plant would I be?” I stutter. Now that was a personal question. I’m not sure that I’m ready to share that with him.

Hedging a little, I say, “Tomatoes are a little finicky. They need lots of attention and warmth.”

He doesn’t seem to notice the obvious dodge. “Yes, yes,” he nods. “I certainly know what I want. I have goals. But that’s a good thing, don’t you think?”

“Hmmm,” I say. “Yeah.”

“And I do seek the warmth and light of those I care about. Just as I like to think I shine, I give that warmth back.” He grins. “I’ve got a very attractive odor, too,” he says and breaks into a giggle.

Yep. It’s a giggle. Not a chuckle or a laugh. But it sounds good on him.

“What about the whole fruit thing?” I ask.

“Oh, yeah. That’s right. Tomatoes are a fruit,” he says. “That doesn’t sound too good, does it?” His eyes twinkle. “So if I were a sauce, would I pour over the robust manicotti or the lovely angel hair? What do you think?” he said.

“I was hoping you’d be more inclined toward the angel hair. Or even the slightly less lovely but much more fulfilling spaghetti,” I say.

“You’re right. I’m more of a spaghetti man.” He cocks an eyebrow. “Though angel hair is not without its charms.” He sees my expression and then quickly adds, “But so much preparation. And it doesn’t keep well. Spaghetti. Now that’ll keep for weeks. Heck, even months.” He laughs.

I laugh.

“Seriously,” he continues, “though men can’t ‘bear fruit’ I like to think that I am able to give back, to provide, to...” He pauses, as if he were looking for just the right word. “To work with others to bring to life something new. Yes, that’s it.” He nods.

“I don’t know many men who would...” It’s my turn to hesitate. I’m so impressed at this point that I’m afraid that whatever I say will spoil it. I continue, “Not many men would lay claim to a maternal side.”

“Well, I’m not many men, am I?” he replies. “Now quit dodging the question. I’ve answered fair and square. Your turn. What kind of plant would you be? You’ve obviously thought about it.”

Yes I had.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a flower. Every girl wants to be a flower—specifically a rose. I fervently, feverishly, ardently wanted to be a rose. One of those delicate varieties, Mutabilis or Queen Elizabeth, preferably red. I’d read Cinderella and Snow White and the Princess and the Pea. I wanted to bloom gloriously and to die romantically, maybe in a garret.

Then I realized the drawbacks of dying in a garret. But still I wanted to be a flower. I pondered the beautiful elegant columbine, with all its colors. Or, better yet, the delicate white variety with lace and ruffles. Then I realized that I might as well be the rose, because the columbine is even more delicate. I’d die in the gutter instead of the garret, and I wouldn’t have thorns to protect me.

Questing further, I was still thinking flowers. Then I saw Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I was calla lily all the way. Such elegance. Such charm. I lost ten pounds and tried on an English accent.

I think being a calla lily was good for me. It matured me. Gave me poise.

I remained a calla lily for a long time, but then one day something happened. I was fourteen and was asked to lunch by my best friend Minta. We made it a point to go to the fashionable Café du Paree, all potted palms and fig trees, even though we were only freshman. All the in-crowd seniors hung out there. Not the jock in-crowd but the kids with money. I didn’t have a lot of money, so Minta would often treat me.

My cousin Jessica started working at the Café du Paree. At one time, she was my idol. She had this slender dark-eyed grace that reminded me of a cross between Marlene Deitrich and Twiggy. But she stuttered her M's when she was nervous, so she dropped out of my top ten most beautiful people of all time. But I still adored her.

I will never forget it. She came out to wait on two couples, teenagers, some of the wealthiest kids in town. Beautiful, graceful people. Calla lilies all the way. They must have said something to her because I could tell she was stuttering. Her eyes were closing spasmodically and her top lip was pressed against the bottom in a desperate attempt to get out an M. She was trying to say “may” as in “may I get you something.”

She couldn’t do it. She flushed to the roots of her hair.

The kids weren’t helping her either. They just sat there and snickered.

She must have switched her working—”Shall I get you something?” perhaps—because soon the couples gave their orders and ignored her.

A small incident, I know, but I thought, “A calla lily. They’re beautiful, yes, but their grace only lasts as long as you water them carefully, bow to them as if you worshipped them, give them their way every time, give in to their every whim, their every need. Calla lilies aren’t beautiful and graceful on the inside like they are on the outside.”

I suddenly didn’t want to be a calla lily anymore. But I had wanted to, and I’d been—or thought I’d been—at least for a little while.

It made my skin crawl. The way they made Jess blush and stammer.

I was no better than them, I realized. I might have even done the same, had it not been Jess.

I wasn’t a calla lily. I didn’t want to be a calla lily. In fact, I was much more of a weed. A kochia, or a knapweed. My outsides matching my insides. The world wasn’t a garden where carefully tended plants thrived. Rather, it was a back lot where plants strove against one another for survival. Where the really beautiful could not live.

This man, my tomato plant, is looking at me expectantly.

Would he know the gravity of my choice?

I look over at the lilacs, all fluffy purpleness, the miniature crab with delicate sprays of pink, the tulips shouting red, the small flowers—pansies and petunias and cosmos. This back yard is a place where flowers could grow.

Looking at the yard and back to him, I realize that these are his flowers, and this is his back yard. He is the one who carefully tends these buds.

I look again at the yard, this time with new eyes. It is well tended. But not over-tended. You know the yards that nary a dandelion dare rear its head? Every hedge is carefully clipped—and there are always hedges, and straight-line walls, and paths in perfect squares, usually of impermeable brick or cement. Where grass is carefully kept at the prescribed 1.75 inches. Where everything grows wonderfully, but only in its carefully designated area.

No. That is not this man. This man, his name is Michael, carefully tends his plants. They glow with riotous good health. They thrive. But they also fall over one another in a joyful climb to the sun. Dandelions dot his yard, but so does scarlet globemallow and plantain. His grass is mowed, but in the same way you might prune a rose bush or dead-head flowers.

He allows them out of his control, but he doesn’t let them run wild. It is as if he were holding a beautiful soap bubble, such a delicate touch.

When I realize this, I flush to my toes. This is the man. The man who would understand me. The man I have been waiting for.

All of a sudden, my answer takes on gigantic proportions. Would he understand?

I rattle the ice cubes in my glass. “Looks like my drink’s empty. May I have another? Please?” I say, doing my best to bat my eyelashes.

He considers this for a minute. “You’re still stalling,” he says, his brow wrinkling. “You started it. All right. I’ll get you another drink, but when I get back, I expect an answer. Kidding aside.” He unfurls and takes my drink.

Would he understand? This obvious lover of plants? Well, I can’t lie, can I? I could tell him what he wants to hear. I could tell him that I’m a rose. That was what he wants to hear. Isn’t it?

But I can’t do that to him. As much as I want to—no, need to. I will admit that. I need his approval. If I don’t tell him the truth, it would be a lie. What would be a lie? This. All of this. What we have, or will have, if there is going to be an us.

He comes back and bows, ceremoniously placing the glass on my arm rest.

“Now,” he says, “is the time for all good women to 'fess up. What plant would you be?” He says this a little too loudly and a little too forcefully. He sits down.

“I would be a...” I hesitate. I was going to do it, to say “rose,” swear to God. He is too important. This is too important.

Then I say, “No. I can’t lie. I wouldn’t be that.” I say this sort of to the back yard and to all these beautiful flowers.

I take a deep breath. “I couldn’t be a plant,” I say.

His eyebrows shoot up. He looks a little angry, as if I’d been making fun of him. His open gaze slams shut. “You wouldn’t be...” he ventures. “No. Not wouldn’t. Couldn’t,” I say, mentally berating myself. You should have said rose, you idiot. Same-old, same-old. Now this guy thinks I’m fruitier than an apple tree. I continue, “No, I couldn’t. I am too...” What could I say? “Too impure, too human,” I finally say.

His eyes soften a little.

“What I mean is, I am not worthy to be a plant. They only ask for a little water, a little sun, and a little space. I could never be that humble, that uncomplicated. That pure. It’s...” I hesitate again, “it’s sort of like Zen. I could never be able to elevate myself that much. Plants accept. I am judgmental.”

On this last word, I fasten my eyes on my drink, not daring to face him. He’ll think I’m so stupid!

The silence is heavy. It stretches longer and longer and gets heavier and heavier. I am at the point of jumping out of my chair and leaving, when he says, “Hmmm.” Just that.

I glance over at him. He is looking at a large dandelion blossom that he is twiddling in his fingers.

Now I’ve done it. I’ve really done it. Then I do start to get up.

“No. Wait,” he says. “I don’t know what to say.”

I hesitate a moment, and then I do get up.

“No. Wait!” he says again. “It’s just that...” He hesitates. “I’m still absorbing it. Your answer, I mean.”

I’m skeptical, and he can tell. I stand very still.

“Your words make me look...well, silly.” He finally says.

Then he turns his full attention to me, his lips pulled kind of back. Not a smile exactly. Puzzled, as if he’d stumbled into a rain forest and found a new species. Or the possibility of a new species. he’s found that the Jones moved in next door and have brought out their herbicide.

I still say nothing.

“Tell you what,” he says, carefully placing the dandelion in his Mai Tai. “You don’t leave right now, and I won’t regret what just happened for the rest of my life.”

Oh my God! He still likes me! He’s tasted my pith and found it sweet!

©2008 by Tamara Linse

Tamara Linse lives in Wyoming, where she writes historical and contemporary fiction. To support her writing habit, she also freelances, edits, and occasionally teaches. She was voted most likely to succeed (way back when) by her fellow high school seniors, and she’s wondered why ever since. For more information see her Web site.

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