The Bonsai Tree
My sister said I needed a hobby. She said it’s not healthy to work eight-hour days in a cubicle under florescent lights staring at a computer screen and coming home to watch late-night TV alone eating stale pizza. Maybe she’s right.
I used to play online poker, at least that gave me some feeling of a social life, however superficial and tenuous, until that turned into a gambling addiction. I didn’t sleep for four days, missed work the last two, tried quitting for three days, fell off the wagon on day eight and played for sixteen hours straight before I finally figured out that if I removed the power cord from my computer and hid it some place very inconvenient to reach, my laziness would take over and crush my cravings to play.
So, a new hobby. I went to the mall. I never go the mall unless there’s something specific I need. I don’t really “shop”. If I need shoes, I go to the shoe store and buy shoes. If I need something for the kitchen, there’s a store for that. But where do I go for a new hobby? I wandered aimlessly as the flood of consumerism swirled dizzyingly around me. It was a little like holiday shopping, not knowing what to get for any specific person, drifting from store to store, idly picking up an item, inspecting it, and asking myself “would they enjoy this?” How odd when the person who is “hard to buy for” turns out to be myself.
I pass the music store, figuring my neighbours would appreciate me not choosing that particular pastime. Pet store, well, I can barely keep myself entertained, how would I support another living creature. The thought of my life being too dull for a goldfish to enjoy is so crushingly depressing that I consider dropping the whole experiment. Instead, I check one of the generic “gift” stores that seem to have everything that no one in their right mind would be specifically looking for, but when stumbled across seem like a good idea at the time.
Aisle upon aisle of paperweights and clocks decorated with wild animal motifs and my spirits are sinking ever lower when I finally spot something promising. “Do It Yourself Bonsai Kit,” reads the box. I recall hearing somewhere that these are supposed to be centering and stress relieving, and mind numbingly simple. Perfect, about as non-committal as possible. I simply leave it out in my apartment, make casual reference to it occasionally, and my family can stop worrying about me. I pay for it on my credit card, the thought of contributing to my climbing debt with a stress relieving kit too deliciously ironic to pass up.
As I sit on the bus on the ride home, holding my colourful gift bag, I start questioning my purchase. I start asking myself, did I really just buy this? Am I that person now? Is this the gateway to expensive gourmet coffees, ridiculous sweaters, books of poetry and an undeserved feeling of superiority? Or, alternately, will this lead to incense burning, clothing and accessories made of hemp, self-written poetry scrawled on napkins, and an undeserved feeling of superiority? Well, I can honestly say I’ve never felt superior to anyone or anything, and trying to ignore the thoughts of how sad it is that such a thing could cheer me up, I disembark at my stop and walk back to my building.
Back home, I set the kit, still in the bag, on the table and leave it there while I go back to my usual schedule of watching TV and waiting for time to pass. The gift shop bag haunts my peripheral vision, its bright colours impossible to ignore, those clever marketing fiends. A moment of internal struggle as I look from the TV to the table, deciding whether my current comfortable state is more important than my feeling that I should probably do something with this item, if only to validate its purchase.
Sitting at the table, I pull the box from the bag and set it in front of me. The bright colours and floral patterns stare back at me. I shake my head, stand up and fetch myself a glass of water. I drink it standing at the counter and gaze at the box from a safe distance. After a moment, strength regained, I sit back at the table and open the box. The first thing I find is a brief sheet of instructions, including box contents. I keep this handy as, if I want the illusion to work, I have to at least make it look like I know what I’m doing. I remove the rest of the contents of the box, making a mental note of each item and checking the list. The tree, already potted. The packets of fertilizer and vitamins. The decorative sculptures. The wire for guiding the tree during growth. The…
Wait. The list mentions a pair of shears. What I’m looking at is a pile of non-shear items, and an empty box. An empty box with a picture of a pair of shears no less. They must have forgotten to include them. I check the list again. I check the box again. They have definitely forgotten the shears. I sit and contemplate for a moment. I read the “Quick Guide” notes. Do I really need the shears? Couldn’t I use regular scissors? Or some other generic trimming device? I decide, yes, I probably could. However, if I used regular scissors, it may be noticed. I may be found out for a fraud. Someone might ask why I’m not using the shears that came in the kit. Maybe someone else I know has seen the kit, and knows about the shears. I could make something up, could fabricate some line about wanting a personal feel with the plant, wanting to use a tool that I am more comfortable with, maybe include something about reading and researching and finding some important bonsai tree expert supporting my choice. But they would check into that, for sure. I’m over thinking again.
I spot a “Questions or Problems” phone number, toll free, exactly what I need. I dial the number, wondering exactly how many questions or problems could be generated from a do it yourself bonsai kit that it would facilitate a call-center to deal with the call volume. There must have been a lot of forgotten shears from this batch, because I’m immediately put on hold, and given no time estimate. I consider hanging up and calling back later, but feel like if I hang up there’s a chance they would have picked up after only another thirty seconds. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s the way the mind works sometimes. See also, my gambling addiction.
I realize I haven’t eaten anything for dinner yet, and I’m all out of leftover pizza. I check the fridge and discover that leftover pizza is not the only thing I have run out of. I would order a pizza, but realize I am still using the phone to listen to hold music. This particular call center has chosen smooth jazz covers of popular tunes from the 80s. Delightfully nauseating. It’s a good thing my kitchen is maintained with a certain level of clutter because I spot a delivery menu and realize for the first time that they have an online ordering system.
And so I’m standing on my toes on a chair, stretching out my fingers, trying to reach a power cord from the back corner of the top of my kitchen cabinets without dropping my phone in the sink. I finally succeed with only a few balance related near-death experiences, and crawl under my desk to get the cable plugged into my computer tower. As I’m struggling in the dark to find the appropriate receptacle and get the plug fitted snugly, I hear a voice on the phone and smack my head on the desk. As the stars fade from my vision, I realize it’s a recording, informing me that my call is important, and to stay on the line.
The computer gets powered up, and my internet connection works the first try for a change. My first bit of luck. As I’m navigating the online menu, choosing toppings, someone finally picks up on the other end of the line. I don’t catch their name, as I’m not familiar with the dialect of English they’re speaking. I’m sure they’re throwing in words from at least two or three other languages. I attempt to explain my situation as clearly as possible, and hear typing on the other end of the line. Their response sounds something like they are unable to process returns or refunds and they are transferring me to another department. I try to let them know, frantically, that they have misunderstood my problem, but I’m back to smooth jazz. In my frustration, I accidentally click on anchovies as a topping for my pizza, and end up spending another ten minutes trying to find a way to remove them from the order.
I finally remove the anchovies, confirm my order, and send it off into cyberspace, where I assume someone will read it, and send a pizza to my address. I decide to wait on the couch, with the TV on in the background, mute button at the ready in case someone picks up. The nature channel is showing some sort of documentary about the hunting patterns of different predators which, when accompanied by smooth jazz 80s covers, comes off as some sort of abstract art form.
Thirty to forty five minutes later my pizza arrives, and someone picks up the phone at the same time. I attempt to answer the door and pay for my pizza while explaining to the bonsai tech support people that I would like a pair of replacement shears shipped to my house. I get the pizza paid for, but the bonsai people need a serial number from the box to know which specific kind of shears I require. Apparently there are a few variations of these kits. I locate the number and read it for them. There is a lot of confusion, and it takes multiple confirmations before the number the phone representative is reading back to me matches the one I’m reading to them.
Satisfied that the shears are finally on their way to my address (which was another battle of communicating through a perceptible language barrier) I settle down to my pizza, which is absolutely covered in anchovies, and wonder exactly how much stress I’ve managed to relieve so far.
Six to eight weeks later, I receive my replacement packets of fertilizer, and laugh heartily as I dump the whole kit, including the fertilizer packets and the shipping envelope they came in, directly into the dumpster outside my building, wiping tears from my eyes.
Note: not sure if this is the right place for this, so feel free to move it