Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Poinsettia, poinsettia, fly away home

The grass is out—Easter basket grass, that is, and lovely pastel egg dyes are front and center. Most of those jarring pairings of red with green that are tolerable only at Christmas are stuffed back in a closet, locked away until, please, the day after Halloween. But not all things red and green have disappeared—scattered around town are still far too many poinsettias, each in the throe of disintegration. Not centerpieces now, they fall apart in their green plastic pots, those FEMA versions of adequate housing. Maybe there's one wasting away in your house, by this time probably shifted to the laundry room between the Tide and Clorox, pray not on the nightstand in little Benny's room.

These days, poinsettias serve only as dreary reminders of shopping days past. But they're still alive; we must deal with them. If you think it's ethically unacceptable to let them gradually expire, I know of only two ways to make a poinsettia disappear: The first is to yank it from its pot and toss it in the Dumpster, but many aren't capable of such a breathtaking act of violence. The other way, the Dalai Lama way, is extremely demanding. The Dalai Lama's way would have us cut the plant back, transfer it to a larger non-plastic pot, give it a sunny spot until mid-July when it can be safely planted in outdoor Idaho, and then dig a hole for it in a shady place so it can acclimatize. When it becomes obviously hearty and comfortable, dig it up and put it in a sunny flower bed where you must lovingly water and feed it right up until 24 hours before fall turns deadly. Then, dig it up yet again, bring it inside, install it in a place of honor where, come Christmas, all will "Oooh" and "Aaah" at its gorgeous blooms.

But, dear pilgrim, there's more to the transformation than that. Poinsettias are short-day-long-night plants, so unwanted light lets them churn out leaves but never flower—even a streetlight can halt a poinsettia's flowering. This second disappearance option is obviously Advanced Dalai Lama Stuff, and you may be there but I'm not.

When my kids first embarked on their lifelong journeys through the workplace, and they'd find a few spare bucks to buy something special for me at Christmas, I'd already laid down the law: A poinsettia was to be presented only if the giver swore to show up by New Year's Eve and handle its disappearance—and I wasn't to be on the premises. My children observe this commandment; they never give me poinsettias, but I have a couple of friends, and one or the other always sees to it that at Christmas my house isn't barren of this living expression of joy. And I do enjoy this poinsettia, sometimes right up until December 30th, by which time all other things red and green are back in the closet. This year's poinsettia became my I'll-deal-with-it-later challenge, and though Easter's just around the corner, I'm still bearing witness to its out-of-season downward spiral.

I'm not as callous and unethical as the stealthy co-worker who solved his/her disappearance problem by slipping his/her poinsettia onto the table in the lunchroom. This poinsettia has degenerated into two spindly stalks, a couple of leaves and two faded flowers. When I microwave my daily slice of last night's pizza, I try to look anywhere but at the poinsettia. I reread the stuff on the refrigerator door—old menus ... a snapshot of last year's softball team ... the occasional meant-to-be-uplifting quote. If I feel robust, I open the refrigerator, step back from the whiff of yesterday and check for new offerings, something other than six French fries in a Styrofoam cup, five half-filled pots of Despos' salsa and beaucoup half-eaten Yoplaits. You'll never find munchies in the refrigerator that aren't wholly safe from plunder.

Sometimes I watch the coffee pots make sludge. Sometimes I toy, briefly, with the notion of scrubbing the seldom-scrubbed sink. But no matter, it's as hard not to stare at that poinsettia as it'd be not to stare at Dick Cheney should he pop through Grumpy's door.

A poinsettia is nothing like our upcoming attraction, the Easter lily. The Easter lily is a wonderfully short-lived plant—it keeps reaching for the sky and then bursts into flower and then collapses like a sacked quarterback. I love the Easter lily. The Easter lily knows end game, the Easter lily knows Mission Accomplished. Hear-hear—let us raise a glass, after Lent of course, and drink to this user-friendly plant!

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