The line shifted and we moved one step closer to the Happy Moments Flower Stand, which was mobbed with anxious looking guys, shuffling their feet and checking their watches. Seems like just one year ago, I was in this same line with these same guys and we all swore that next Valentine's Day, we'd shop earlier. But here we were again.
We all felt envious of the guy with the miniature persimmon tree -- even if it had been severely pruned like that.
"Got it at OSH. Last one they had," he said. "They taped on a picture of what it's supposed to look like. See?"
"That's beautiful, man," we said, watching him head home, wishing we'd thought of the fruit angle.
From our vantage point we could see stems, leaves and bits of ribbon flying outward as if a mower were being driven through a field. In the middle of the flurry were two frazzled young women gathering, trimming and wrapping as fast as their callused little fingers could move.
"Think they'll still have roses?" one guy asked. We looked at him like he was nuts.
"I completely flaked one year," the guy behind me said. "By the time I remembered, it was too late for flowers, so I grabbed two yards of sod from a landscaping job I was doing."
"Sod. Wow. Good one."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, until my wife reminded me we lived in a second-floor condo."
A relieved looking guy with glasses askew walked past us, holding a bouquet to his chest as if he were protecting a baby.
"What'd you get?"
"How long'd it take?"
"Hour and a half."
There was a groan, then one guy broke rank and ran for the five and dime. "I can't take it. I'm going with plastic petunias," he yelled.
We gave him a round of applause for bravery.
"How long do you think the guy that invented Valentine's Day would last if he was thrown out of a moving van into this parking lot right now?"
"Fifteen seconds, tops."
The line moved. Ahead, I could see a lot of empty white buckets that had once held cut flowers.
"I used to do jewelry," one guy said. "Bought this necklace with a little gold heart. Unfortunately, I bought exactly the same thing three years in a row. Somehow it lost its cachet."
A number of us nodded, knowingly.
Several guys left the line, then several more, then finally all of them.
"What's going on?" I asked.
I approached the two young woman. "You must have something!"
One of them handed me three sprigs of baby's breath and a carnation with a broken stem. "Sorry."
I lowered my head and started for my car. Then I spotted something in the back of her SUV.
"What the heck is that?"
"Succulent," she said. "I'm redoing my yard at the trailer park."
I took out fifty bucks. "Can you put it into a nice pot?"
I raced home. "Happy Valentine's Day, Dear!"
Her expression said it all.
Next year, I'm going with the persimmon tree.