When blood-siphoning hedge-fund greed and the declining fortunes of what young techno-Turks sneeringly label “legacy” media forced us out of our old offices, among the things that new management said we could not under any circumstances transfer with us to our clean and green and ergonomically astute new offices were our potted plants. The news came in the form of an item in an emailed newsletter from the image-makers involved in the Big Move; here is the notice:
Puzzling, this. One would surely assume – and, thus, one would be so utterly and completely wrong – that plants could only be good for an enclosed work environment, that their beauty and pet-like quality might help soothe those toiling in a pressurized and deadline-driven occupation, that the oxygen produced by personalized in-your-face photosynthesis might bestow on sleep-deprived and lung-capacity-diminished journalists a puff of non-caffeinated alertness, that having to occasionally water a bit of philodendron or petunia might demand a certain level of responsibility and interest in something other than self rare in this ego-drenched and cynicism-thick atmosphere. The owners of the building in which we now lease space expressed concern, apparently, that plants might add something unbalanced to the filtered and formulated air, and that these undocumented aliens might harbor insects that – what? – might ruin this year’s 3rd-floor-office peach crop? We were assured that professionals would be determining and providing the proper flora, and that they would maintain them with perfect light and hydration as only professionals can.
OK. But, first, a bit of necessary background: The newsroom from which we were deposed by squeeze-the-corpse-dry owners – that storied, classic, fabled, memorable newsroom – was, let’s face it, a subterranean, black-lung-dispensing pit with carpeting that had not been vacuumed in anybody’s memory and twice that long for the cleaning of the air ducts (the most frequent sound in the place was not keyboards clacking but everyone sneezing), with oozings and droopings and ashy moundings and vending machines that dropped down items already chewed on by mice. Natural light came into this room only on the side of a beer can, and then it was spelled L-I-T-E. The idea that we bad-news bearers might have the urge to bring illicit contraband potted plants with us to the new clean-room office stumbles on the reality that the old office was so toxic it barely supported human life let alone pansies. The main reason we would not be bringing our plants to the new place is that we had no plants, in the way that sensitive couples decide not to bring children into this terrible world.
(But we would not tell management that turning the new digs into the equivalent of the California border’s agricultural Maginot Line had no meaning for us leafy green-less deportees – we might be able to use it as a grievance come contract negotiations.)
And, so, when on a Friday we bade farewell to our beloved Superfund site and on that following Monday arrived for work in an entirely new environment, one so scrubbed and kilowatted and boxy and soulless, that not a one of us – trying to find our cubicles among the rat warren of minimum-security cells – gave even half a thought to potted plants.
Until we saw them. In our area, 6 of them.In dark ceramic pots. About 6-inches tall, including the (now that we look closer at it) possibly ceramic pot. Looking for all the world like half a dozen packs of wheat grass waiting to be juiced. Aligned in two perfect rows atop facing walls across a work-station aisle from each other, they seemed – how you say? – disappointing? No – insignificant. Negligible. Puny. Absurd. Hilarious.
And, preternaturally odd. Something …
I tried to pick one up, to see how heavy the pot was. I could not pick it up – it seemed, all several square inches of it, to be as densely weighted and gravity-redolent as a black hole. It was then I discovered that the pot – indeed, all of them – was glued to the surface, as if it were the Hope Diamond in a museum setting, held in place to thwart that menacing band of roaming wheat-grass thieves.
The grassy stalks were so lushly green, so perfectly trimmed – I ran my hand across their crew-cutted top – so … artificial. Plastic. Plastic wheat grass. The perfect plant for this unliving George Tooker-ish office.
It is somehow depressing to consider that these tinted and decorative bits of petroleum byproduct will almost surely outlive the enterprise that they have been drafted to decorate. The newspapers will be the stuff of memory and mold when these perky simulacra will be, unchanged, ever unchanging, the belles of the landfill.
However, I have noticed something of hope. Recently, secretly, colleagues have begun to stick things into the artificial grass, and place things atop them, in ways that can only be deemed clever or, at least, anarchic. First it was candy balls – a sure sign of simple rebellion, but a serious one, because I know of no journalist who readily or easily lets food out of his mitts. Then there was the wag who, in a nice film reference, stuck a packet of artificial sweetener into the stalks: Splenda in the grass. Just the other night I became aware of tiny toy reptiles placed to lend a kind of jungle air to the thick growth – and, in a way, the plastic animals made the plastic grass seem more real.
This is all good news. What is happening to these green accessories is what happens to statues on campuses that become the targets of student pranks and hazing requirements – old Civil War generals or figures personifying virtuous values suddenly, in dawn’s light, seen to be wearing sweaters or painted blue or holding a leashed goat or sporting a tattoo. Our wheat grass has become the equivalent of this sort of ritualistic nose-thumbing; I can envision them becoming the repository of little Halloween costumes and Christmas ornaments, office supplies and all sorts of offensive stuff that will give vent to journalists’ sarcasm, darkness, insubordination, mistrust of authority and general screw-you pissed-offness. In other words, in some strange ironic way, these artificial plants will have brought something very natural into the newsroom, and given it a place to thrive.
Just don’t add water.