Not too long ago I came home from my real job and, upon entering my real home, where my real wife and real kids and real pets live, I saw my real wife pulling out of a shopping bag a real plant. Vibrant dark-green leaves polka-dotted with little white spots sprouted from a good-sized clay pot.
“Do you like it?” my real wife asked.
“Yes, where’s it going?”
“The bathroom,” she said.
“Well, that must be a hardy species if it can live there. It gets so cold and dark in the winter.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said, “because it’s fake.”
The plant looked so real that I felt compelled to walk over and poke the fake soil it falsely grew in with my real finger. My finger stubbed against something akin to concrete.
“Ouch,” I said. “That really hurt!”
Since encountering a fake plant that will reside in my bathroom and require no maintenance besides dusting, I have thought about the fake items that live out their lives pretending to be something they’re not. Take my grandfather’s false teeth, for example. I was a young boy when he died and most of my memories of him are with his teeth in his mouth. Next to those memories is the other jolting memory — when I discovered his false teeth out of his mouth and soaking in a jar of Polident solution on his bathroom sink.
Objects that do good impersonations are often labeled as “fake,” “faux,” “false” or “artificial.” Of all these words, fake is certainly the one that brings up real negative feelings. When I looked up each of these words in the dictionary, I found out they basically mean the same thing: not genuine.
“Fake,” with that rugged and abrupt K sound, too readily admits its falsity. “Faux” and “false” perform verbal sleights of hand and suggest something not genuine is more genuine than something genuinely fake. For example, would you rather admit to owning “fake” pearls or “faux” pearls? How about wearing “fake” eyelashes or “false” eyelashes?
To be fake implies deception. To be faux or false implies a sincere attempt to imitate something of value. For example, a few years ago I purchased a genuine faux, not fake, leather couch.
The word artificial is used to describe an odd assortment of items: sweeteners, flavors, Christmas trees, limbs and hips.
To write this column, I took it upon myself to conduct real journalism. I called a greenhouse and asked if they had any “fake plants.” The clerk said they had artificial picks and sprays and one “faux” — he emphasized the word “faux” — sansevieria plant that sold for $67.
After our phone call, I realized how fake I had been. Here I was calling a greenhouse pretending to be interested in buying a faux plant I had no interest in buying. I was taking this honest look at fakeness too far and becoming disingenuous.
Feeling like an imposter, I wandered to my bathroom to look at the faux plant that would never reach out for the winter sun’s feeble rays, that would never die or grow.
Bubbling up enough animosity to make a young man named Holden proud, I said to the fake plant, “You’re such a phony!”
Then I flossed my real teeth and wondered how I might jolt my own future grandchildren when they come over for a visit someday. What fake ghoulish object will they come upon floating in a clear jar? I don’t know. But I do know the plant that’s beside my sink will be there waiting.
Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”