TF: The flowers are in the trash

TF: The flowers are in the trash February 22, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 157-162

Rayford found Chloe miserable.

And for the next 30 or so pages, there's no other way to find her. Except maybe as bitter and kind of nastily vindictive.

She's been made miserable due to her confusion over the whole Alice situation — a misery made worse by her refusal to talk about it with anyone who might be able to clear things up. The anonymous flowers she received, which she mistook as a gesture from her supposedly two-timing beau Buck, only made her more miserable.

"Those made it worse, Dad," she tells Rayford. "At least my reaction showed me something — how much I cared for Buck."

And this moment of semi-detached self-reflection launches a half-page of rumination on gender — how men are so analytical and women are so touchy about being reminded of their inherent inferiority:

"That sounds pretty analytical for you," Rayford said, regretting it as soon as it was out of his mouth.

"I can't be analytical because I'm a woman, is that it?"

"Sorry! I shouldn't have said it."

"I'm sitting here crying, so my whole response to this is emotional, right? Don't forget, Dad, five semesters on the dean's list. That's not emotional; that's analytical. I'm more like you than Mom, remember?"

"Don't I know it. And because we are the way we are, we're still here."

"Well, I'm glad we've got each other. At least I was until you accused me of being a typical woman."

So Chloe agrees that women are emotional and men are analytical, but just thinks she's not a "typical woman." And the authors want to reassure us that these broad generalizations aren't sexist because, after all, the non-analytical, emotion-driven approach of silly women makes them more receptive to real, true Christianity than cold, manly, emotionless brainiacs like Rayford.

The RTC faith, apparently, is not something the authors regard as capable of withstanding analysis. I might disagree, but since I can't make any sense out of what they mean by either "analysis" or "Christianity," it's hard for me to say.

Back to Buck who, abruptly, is no longer in Nicolae's office:

On the plane, again coddled in first class, Buck had trouble not chuckling aloud. Publisher of the Tribune! In 20 years, maybe, if it wasn't owned by Carpathia and Christ wasn't returning first. Buck felt as if he had won the lottery in a society where money was useless.

That last sentence is a bit "10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife." But if we don't trouble ourselves with: A) asking why a society where money was useless would bother conducting a lottery, or B) the fact that just Sunday, in church, Buck heard Bruce deliver a sermon about, among other things, how they are now living in a society in which money will very soon be useless ("a piece of bread could buy a bag of gold," in Larry Norman's paraphrase), then I suppose we could interpret this as meaning he's feeling frustrated.

And he should be frustrated. Not only can he not accept this fantastic offer to run the Trib, but he's also sitting there with one of the biggest news scoops of all time and he can't write about it. He just learned that Nicolae Carpathia is the sole heir to Jonathan Stonagal's banking fortune. That's huge news on its own, but Buck also just learned what Nicolae intends to do with the money — create the largest media monopoly the world has ever seen. Buck has this huge, historic, career-making story before any other reporter on the planet, but he can't write about it because …

Because …

Well, I'm not sure why exactly, but there must be some very good reason that he can't write about it because otherwise he wouldn't be on a plane headed to Bruce's inner-circle Bible study, he'd be back in Manhattan, bursting through the doors of Global Weekly's main office and yelling, "get me a computer!" There has to be some explanation for why he's not doing that, because otherwise it makes him look like not just the worst reporter in the history of reporting, but it makes him appear complicit in Nicolae's schemes. Unless there's a very good reason for him not to be running to the press and the networks and the world with this story, then we'd have to conclude that Buck isn't a reporter at all, just an unpaid member of the steering committee for the Antichrist's strategic planning process.*

Buck's thoughts soon drift back to his great loves: Chloe and telephones.

Maybe he should call her from the plane.

And we cut quickly back to Rayford and Chloe, who is telling her father about the job offer she got from Bruce Barnes:

"A paid position?"

"Yep. Full time. I could work at home or at the church. He would give me assignments, help me develop curriculum, all that. He wants to go slow on the teaching part, since I'm new at this. A lot of the people I'd be teaching have spent their lives in church and Sunday school."

As an emotion-driven woman, Chloe is free to accept a job without agonizing over it the way her analytical male counterparts in this story do. She thus doesn't have to spend two whole chapters declaiming that she will never, ever accept such a position before turning around and taking the job.

After describing her new duties, she quickly reverts to Angry Chloe and we learn that her anger is not driven by anything as petty as Buck's supposed betrayal of her personally. No, she's angry because of the moral principle — angry with Buck's dirty, immoral premarital cohabitation with dirty, immoral, unbelieving Alice.

"[Bruce] doesn't know yet what Buck's up to with his little fiancée."

"And you were prudent enough not to tell him."

"For now," Chloe said. "If Buck doesn't realize it's wrong — and maybe he doesn't — somebody needs to tell him."

If we try to think of Chloe as a real person — or at least as a realistic character in a story about characters who resemble real people — then we might be tempted not to believe her claim of only being upset by Buck's impropriety and not because she feels personally betrayed. That would be a very human response — shielding oneself from an imagined personal grievance by pretending it's really about concern for some external, larger, abstract moral principle.

But I'm certain that's not how the authors intend us to read this episode. They'd much rather risk having Chloe seem like an unlovely, puritanical scold than risk opening the floodgates to the possibility that sometimes good RTC people might only be pretending to be upset about large, abstract moral principles as a way of justifying their lashing out in response to perceived personal insults which, if they really understood the situation, turn out to be nothing more than their own confusion from jumping to false conclusions. The idea that moral indignation might sometimes be a mask for misplaced personal umbrage is not an idea the authors would be willing to entertain. That way lies madness and the dissolution of their entire worldview.

The phone rings. It's Buck.

She's cold, guarded and terse. He's overeager, with a tail-wagging, canine enthusiasm. It takes him half a page to get around to asking:

"Chloe, is something wrong? Am I missing something? You seem upset."

"The flowers are in the trash, if that&#
039;s any hint," she said.

The flowers are in the trash, he repeated in
his mind. That was an expression he hadn't heard. It must mean something to someone from her generation. He might be a famous writer, but he had sure missed that one.

"I'm sorry?" he said.

"It's a little late for that," she said.

"I mean, I'm sorry — I missed what you were saying."

"You didn't hear me?"

"I heard you, but I don't get your meaning."

"What about 'the flowers are in the trash' do you not understand?"

Buck had been a little distant from her Friday night, but what was this? Well, she was worth the work, "Let's start with the flowers," he said.

"Yes, let's," she said.

"What flowers are we talking about?"

Others may disagree, but I contend there's a good joke in there somewhere. Jenkins doesn't quite hit on it, and then he circles it for far too long. And later he'll come back to it, circle it some more, seize it by the throat and shake it until it's dead, hoist its corpse on a pole and wave it like a flag until the reader cries out, sobbing, "Please, for the love of God, just stop! Enough with the flowers in the trash already!"

But while that proves that Jenkins cannot be trusted to know what to do with a decent joke when he stumbles across one, I still think that, in more capable hands, the phrase "the flowers are in the trash" and Buck's ensuing confusion are ingredients that might have been turned into something amusingly endearing.

Rayford motioned with both hands for Chloe to take it easy. He was afraid she was going to blow, and whatever was going on, she sure wasn't giving Buck an inch. If there was any truth to what Chloe was alleging, she wasn't going to help restore him this way.

Chloe mercifully (for the reader) hangs up, cutting the conversation short and, Angry Chloe having run her course, we find her again miserable:

She sank to the couch and rested her face in her hands. "Dad, I know we didn't owe each other anything, but don't you think he and I talked enough that I should have known if there was someone in his life?"

"Seems like it, yes."

"Did I just totally misread him? Does he think it's OK to say he's attracted to me without telling me he's unavailable?"

"That's why they call them crushes," Rayford said. "If they were easy, they'd call them something else."

OK, you caught me again. That last line isn't from Tribulation Force, it's from John Hughes (Molly Ringwald's dad says it in Sixteen Candles). Rayford doesn't manage anything quite so fatherly.

Rayford didn't know what else to say. If there was anything to what Chloe was saying, he was beginning to lose respect for Buck too. He seemed like such a good guy. Rayford only hoped they could help him.

Rayford's concern for "helping" Buck be "restored" might seem surprising in a book that doesn't offer much in the way of second chances for sinners. But this is very much in keeping with the theme of this series: Sinners in the End Times will be given a choice between restoration and damnation. So too Rayford feels obliged to give Buck a choice. And if he doesn't take it? Well, then I suppose it will fall to him and Bruce and Chloe, as the remaining members of the untainted Tribulation Force, to take him out and stone him. Alice too.

Just as with Rayford being falsely accused at work, we're meant to see Buck here as virtuous by virtue of having been falsely accused by Chloe. In these books, "unjustly accused" equals "just." I still don't understand how this is meant to work. The authors wouldn't think of trying to convince us that Buck deserved Chloe's affection just because he isn't two-timing her with Alice, but they seem to think it does show he's deserving of her if he isn't really two-timing her with Alice after all.

For his part, this phone call has reduced Buck into Whiny Self-Pity Guy. "Buck was wounded," we read, and he licks those wounds from now until he finally resolves things with Chloe.

This is, for me, the final nail in the coffin of this attempt at romantic comedy. Whiny Self-Pity Guy should never end up with the girl.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* I don't know if you've ever suffered through such a process. It's
unpleasant — the logical extreme of the executive mind-set in which
meetings are mistaken for productive work.

Come to think of it, this would have been a more effective strategy
for the Tribulation Force. Instead of forming a feeble, do-nothing
"resistance cell," they should have incorporated as a management
consulting firm and gotten themselves hired to conduct an 18-month
strategic planning process for Nicolae's new One World Government.

Sure, he'd still be the Antichrist, but he wouldn't be able to do anything about it for the next year and a half.

NICOLAE: But I have chosen New Babylon as the site …

BRUCE: Goals and objectives, Nicolae, goals and objectives.
You still haven't shown me how transplanting Global Community
headquarters to the deserts of Iraq would serve the core goals and


CHAIM: I'm sorry, but could we go over the difference between a mission statement and a vision statement just one more time?

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