Late Bloomers

Valentine's Day was long gone. The wilting wait for the flowers wasn't.

Five years ago my brother sent me a dozen red roses because he wanted to make sure I got flowers from a boy. That made me so happy, he sent bigger and better bouquets every year.

Last week he called to wish me a happy Valentine's Day. He said he'd sent his fiancée flowers. That's nice, I said. I bought myself some. He said that was very sad.

He told me to call him when I got home from work. Can't, I said, curtly. I have a date. I spent most of the day watching other women get flowers, wondering why my brother hadn't sent any. The next morning Sicola's Florist left a message saying they were sorry they hadn't delivered my flowers -- and they probably wouldn't be able to get them to me until Friday or sometime after that.

When I called the florist back, the woman couldn't find my order; she had no explanation for why it was late and said I should be happy someone sent me flowers at all. I said I'd been sad I hadn't gotten them yesterday; she didn't care.

I called my brother and asked if he sent me flowers.

"Yeah," he said. "I could tell you hadn't gotten them when we talked yesterday. Tell them that you're never speaking to your brother again."

We have the same last name -- he could've been my husband away on business and we could've been fighting about him never remembering holidays and sleeping with other women and this could've been the last straw.

"Tell them that you're filing for divorce," my brother said. "And that you've put the kids in a burlap sack and you're going to throw them in the river. Every minute that those flowers are late you're just adding rocks to the sack."

My brother spent 45 minutes on the phone with 1-800-FLOWERS; they promised they would get here on time. (My mom and soon-to-be sister-in-law didn't get their flowers either.)

"They weren't supposed to promise," said Bonnie Baldwin, the temporary holiday help at the floral shop. "We didn't promise. We told everyone we'd do the best we could. We had over 1,000 orders coming through the machine. We couldn't turn that thing off."

Since they jack up the prices on Valentine's Day, I thought my brother should get most of his money back (Christmas trees are always half-price the day after). She acted like she had no idea about holiday price inflation.

"We've been really pushing it," she said. "You can apologize all day, but people still don't understand."

Nope, not really.

They weren't the only Houston florist doing a suck job handling the year's biggest flower day. Many florists stopped taking orders, or they pressed people to have their flowers delivered on Monday or Tuesday. Which led women to call their husbands and tell them that they were idiots and that it wasn't Valentine's Day yet.

I phoned my way through the florists in the yellow pages. Many said they were way too busy to talk to me -- they had people on the other line calling to complain about their missed deliveries, customers in the store and orders that still had to go out.

"I don't have time for talking," said Henryka Spiewak, owner of the Heights Boulevard Florist. She hadn't slept in 48 hours. "I'm still busy. We're still sending the rest of the flowers."

"Our unscrupulous competitors are going to take every order they can," said Chris Brock, manager of ABC florist. "They take people's orders and they don't deliver them till the next week, sometimes. They have to know when they're taking that many orders there's no way to humanly deliver them."

Once upon a time, Brock worked for the now-defunct Quick Stop florists. They hired off-duty firefighters and 23 extra delivery people for Valentine's Day, and it still took them a week to deliver all the orders. So this year he said no to what he couldn't handle.

"We turned away more than we delivered for sure, by ten times," Brock said. "We're not gonna do that kind of thing."

His store was packed until 1 a.m. Valentine's Day Eve, and he opened the door to a crowd at 6 a.m. "I've survived 33 Valentine's now; I may not do another one. It's just a nightmare."

He tried to talk customers into getting their flowers delivered on Monday or Tuesday too, purely because delivery is a pain -- especially to downtown office buildings where parking is a bitch. He told customers that if they got the flowers on Monday they could "enjoy" them all week.

Robert Holman, manager of Magic Moment Florist, said Valentine's is every day.

No, it's not. It was yesterday.

"It's still kinda Valentine's Day," he insisted last Thursday morning. "It should all end today. It's the biggest day of the year. You got three days to do it: the 12th, the 13th and the 14th."

Since when is Valentine's Day a three-day holiday? There isn't a week's leeway -- there is one day that gives people the chance to show off that someone loves them with stupid Mylar balloons, "be mine" teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of candy. It's a nice idea to say "I love you" all week and extend the holiday, but I wanted my flowers when every other woman in the world was getting hers.

"Did you get flowers?" Holman asked.

Yes.

"What kind?"

I don't know, I didn't get them yet.

"So you didn't get flowers."

Right.

"Who sent them?"

My brother.

"Your boyfriend didn't send them to you?"

We broke up.

"What's your address?"

 
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