Transcribed from Moleskine notebook dated 5-29-04:
I’m at Cactus and Tropicals. Mike is looking at plants, periodically bringing me interesting specimens. I am sitting in the Bonsai Area, listening to the water of the fountains and the classical music on the overhead speakers.
The place is packed. I hear voices coming from the Topiary Area, the employees are talking at the Service Table and many feet are crunching the gravel. The vents turn on and off at seemingly random times, surprising me every time they turn on and relieving me every time they turn off.
A pack of four male employees were grouped by the pots and baskets. I thought they might have been moving heavy objects, but after watching them for a few moments, I realized that wasn’t the case. The furtive smiles and embarrassed eyes told me that they were looking at a girl. I was so far away from them, I assumed it wasn’t me, even though they looked in my direction. A female employee was sweeping the walkway, but the embarrassment in their faces couldn’t belong to a fellow employee. No, it had to be a customer.
She was looking at the bonsai plants at the front of the Bonsai Area. She had a black scarf with white polka dots glamorously wrapped around her head, through her hair, and trailing down her back. Her maroon shirt wasn’t quite long enough to meet the top edge of her size 2 jeans, so a thin strip of skin showed all around her waist. Her belly button was modestly hidden and she was completely oblivious to the attention of the male employees.
She tired of the bonsai and moved toward the Topiary Area, out of my line of sight. Slowly, and one at a time, the male troupe followed her path, keeping a distance. Now, there is only one male employee remaining. He is looking in the direction that his coworkers headed and he appears to be contemplating the idea of following.
Mike just brought a Peperomi Asperula over for me to watch. The succulent now sits at my right with his jacket and my purse. He always worries that I will be bored and I always feel like I never get enough time here. Just like Barnes and Noble, he shoves me out the door before I’m finished.
It’s not literature that I read while I’m at Cactus and Tropicals, it’s people. I never get enough people watching time when I’m here. Mike bores of the botany far before I bore of the sociology.
A noisy family crunches the gravel in the Bonsai Area. The ten-year-old son points to the small bamboo chair, nestled between the plants and says, “That’s the time out chair.” The father calmly replies, “Yes, that’s the time out chair.” I can’t stop myself from laughing out loud.
Rule number one of people watching is to not draw attention to yourself, especially by laughing at them. The father looks at me, “Yeah, he’s a smart aleck.” I laugh some more, trying to hide the Moleskine. Maybe he won’t think I’m strange if he doesn’t notice the notebook.
The perfect family walks into the Bonsai Area. “Look at the bonsais,” the father says. The mother holds an alert and silent baby. The oldest child is a faultless girl with immaculately coifed hair and impeccably clean clothes. She leads her brother in a hushed game of Follow The Leader. The father and mother compare various bonsai. The baby remains a noiseless bundle in the mother’s arms. The other two children hover around them. The five of them are a rarity in Utah: a perfect, quiet family that no one notices because they are not the squeaky wheels of society. I wonder if the children ever need a time out chair or even know what one is.
Mike comes by again. He has no specimens for me to see or acquisitions for me to guard. He is just worried that I’m bored. “Did you find anything else that you want?” He kisses me, “I want so many things, but there’s not room.” I assure him that there is always room for more plants in our house. He kisses me again and looks for more acquisitions.
I can barely hear the water in the fountains when the vents are moving air. There is a meditation technique in which you isolate one sound. If you are listening to music, for example, you try to concentrate on just the violins, ignoring the rest of the orchestra. I am at Cactus and Tropicals, I am concentrating on just the water, ignoring the voices, vents and gravel. It is very difficult to do, but if I concentrate, I can hear the water despite it all.
Mike is hovering in the Bonsai Area. I think he has finally bored of the botany and it is time for me to reluctantly leave.