The proper strategy for an art museum is to immediately disregard any piece of art you don’t like and plow through to what you do. Insensitive? Possibly. But there’s no other feasible way to do it. The alternative is to slog through ancient pottery or portraits of old English monarchs, all of which bear the same self-satisfied, smug smile that says, “I just had a five course meal while most of my country wallowed in poverty.”
And you have to be quick about it, too. I have never seen people so utterly incapacitated as those in museum chairs. Something about museums takes whatever drive and spirit you have and shuts you down like mashing the power button on a Microsoft computer.
As my parents and I stumbled out of the Melbourne Art Museum after several hours of perusing, we chanced upon the last exhibit composed of flowers called “The Moving Garden.” In my stupor, I was ready to discount the whole thing, but I halfheartedly read the attendant sign while my father bought a postcard. The sign encouraged viewers to take a flower and give it to someone they encountered during the day.
The whole idea threw me into a happy hippie trance. And as a museum assistant tied a small plastic bag with a bit of water to the bottom of my flower, I envisioned myself blessing every poor, calloused soul I could imagine—a poor orphan child, an old grump of a man, a businessman trapped up in the word of finance and deadlines, a woman on the verge of suicide. I immediately set out to find most indigent soul I could find but soon encountered a problem—who to give it to?
By default, I ruled out any relatively attractive woman and most men. It would seem… not wrong per say to give an attractive person a flower, but pretty girls get more than their fair share of attention in this world anyways. It’d be a bit like giving a rich banker more money. As for giving it to a man, well, you try and give a flower to a man.
The first major group that comes to mind is the homeless. But if I give it to a homeless person, should I give a spare bit of change as well? Probably. It would be pretty low to give a bum something they can’t eat, that won’t buy them anything, and that is going to shrivel up and die in a couple of days. It’d be a bit like giving a DVD player to a Kenyan orphan. But how much money should I give? Should I give less than I normally would? More? This was getting terribly complicated. I decided to move on, mostly because every bum I could see already had a flower.
The second obvious choice would be an ugly person, someone whose parent probably slept with a baboon and who was so irredeemably mawkish that a flower would be the first gift they’ve been given for years. But would they then question my motives for giving them a flower? Would they see my gesture for what it was—an act of pity, an act of charity for the poor soul with the mashed potato face? And then realizing that, would they feel worse about their life than before?
It was then I decided to give it to a pretty girl, but… sigh, realized that was where I started. This whole flower thing was like worrying about being racist. You obsess about how an action will be perceived by someone you know absolutely nothing about and who probably doesn’t care much in the first place.
By this time the flower had begun to droop, its center already starting to collect various bugs. My mother had already rid herself of her flower, finding a little girl and deftly handing it off hours earlier. Inspired by her example, I decided an old grandmotherly type or a small child would be best, the best situation would be encountering both together and enriching both.
Then I encountered the second main problem after a lady of respectable oldness rejected my gift, issuing a flat, “no thanks”—as if I was giving her a mildewing tendril of seaweed. The problem is no one in a big city trusts you. People won’t even make eye contact while walking down the street, and if they do, it’s a fearful, hurried mistake, as if they’ve just seen you naked.
By this time, I felt pretty miserable about the “Moving Garden.” Even in the simple act of walking down the street, I received looks askance and odd, slanting smiles—smiles that said, Who the hell is the guy with the flower? A somewhat frazzled man took me aside in the library and assured me that I looked as if, “I had come out of a forest,” and made sure I was going to vote for the Green Party next election. I had to get rid of this thing.
In desperation, I found an adequate target in the grocery, a family with two small children, and made my main target the child in the stroller. I first addressed the mother, thinking that in an age of gluten intolerance and allergies, a flower could be the exact thing to send the child into a fit. And Lord knows that was the last thing I needed.
“Can I give you…” I got a strange look from the father, “your child a flower?”
The words fell to the ground with the finality of large cement blocks. The woman looked at me like I’d asked to give her a dead fish, which, considering I looked like I had come out of the forest, wasn’t wholly misplaced.
“Sure,” she answered slowly. “That would be… fine.”
God knows it was ill advised to try something in that packed hellhole of a grocery. We were in the middle of the biggest mall in the middle of Melbourne’s central business district, and it was five o’ clock, a time not usually associated with peace of mind, rational decision making in the supermarket, or receiving, much less desiring, an overgrown dandelion. As if to completely spite my gift and the whole idea, the little girl threw the flower on the ground within fifteen seconds.
After that, I pleasantly forgot about the Moving Garden until the following day when we saw a girl in her twenties in the expansive park near the Art Museum; she looked happy in a wandering sort of way. In her hand, she held a bright pink flower with the little baggie filled with water still attached. Judging from her jaunty step and light smile, she must have been in the early flower-power stages, still high with the possibility of brightening someone someone’s day.
Ben Rietema (’14) lives in Wanaka, New Zealand at the moment. Besides staring at and running in mountains, he makes a wicked hospital corner and can clean a bathroom like Gandhi (if he were a housekeeper) at his job at a local lodge. He also enjoys saying “HOUSEKEEPING” in the highest pitch voice he can muster before entering a room to service it. benrietema.wordpress.com/