'Here, Karen, take the keys to the store! I'm having a baby!'


May 13, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

Karen Cheng does not plan to list the experience at Baskets & Roses on her resume. After all, it's not as if she needs to. She has a fresh degree in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University and an internship in the public finance department at Alex. Brown to her credit. She has a job lined up this summer with J.P. Morgan in Chicago. So, OK. A couple of weeks wrapping roses in a flower shop in Towson would, at best, be a minor entry on a resume.

Still, the job might justify listing "resourceful" and "handles a crisis well" as personal characteristics. And, at the very least, it's a good story. "It sounds like something out of an 'I Love Lucy' episode," says Sam Ketterman, who worked with Ms. Cheng at Alex. Brown. "Like, 'Here, Karen, take the keys to the store! I'm having a baby!' "

In April, Karen Cheng and her sorority sister, Valerie Humbert, were trying to raise money for a Hopkins event to benefit the Maryland School for the Blind. They went to Towson Commons to solicit contributions from some of the upscale businesses there. They walked into Baskets & Roses, a flower and plant shop open but a few weeks. The proprietor was a pleasant woman named Shirin Bozorg. Karen made her pitch. Shirin seemed interested in the charity, but even more interested in finding someone to watch her shop. She was pregnant. Overdue, in fact. And, as the baby could come at any hour, she had to find a reliable person to keep the business operating.

"It was closing time at the shop and she had to leave," Karen recalls. "This all happened real fast. She said she wanted me to run the store. She said, 'Come back tomorrow!' I knew nothing about flowers. She knew nothing about me."

But the whole thing happened so quickly -- Shirin was fairly throwing the key to the store at Karen -- that the Hopkins grad was stunned."I really didn't know what was going on or what I was getting into," she says. "We were definitely strangers." And Karen couldn't believe -- who could? -- that a stranger would trust her with a business. "I mean, I didn't even know how to run the cash register."

Next day, Karen showed up at the shop. Shirin's husband, nervous as any first-time father might be, told her about the keys to the store, about the flowers and their prices, and left. And, for the next two weeks, Karen Cheng tried to be a florist.

"And Secretary's Day was coming!" she says. "I didn't know the names of flowers. . . . Shirin is a very talented and creative person, there's no way I could do what she can do with flowers. People would call to ask about different flowers, and I would try to sell them roses. That's all. Roses. I really pushed them. I opened that shop about 11 each day, and people came in to pick up orders. . . . I actually did two arrangements. One time I called another florist and, without telling my situation, sort of asked a lot of questions about arrangements. You know, like, 'What do you put with roses?' [Shirin's] husband came in, and he'd tell me, 'Make more bunches! Make more bunches!' And one time I didn't have enough roses and went to a supermarket to buy some. The thing is, I have allergies. I cried every day! I brought a roll of toilet paper to work."

It was a crazy couple of weeks for Karen. But she managed. That's the point. The shop was open every day until Shirin came back. "I guess I was trying to be nice," Karen says. "I'm a sucker for someone in need. And Shirin needed help, and she was just getting the business going."

"I desperately needed someone," Shirin recalls. "[Karen] seemed nice and sincere, and I felt I could trust her."

All's well that ends. Karen is finished with flowers. Shirin Bozorg and her husband, Shahriar Etemadi, have a baby girl now. Her name is Yasaman.

Waiting at the station

Police believe it was drugs that drove a desperate 38-year-old man to a crime spree in a Lutherville garden shed the other night. According to a Baltimore County police report, the man went into someone's back yard, rummaged through the shed and walked out armed -- with a chain saw, electric hedge clippers, 100-foot extension cord and a sprinkler. The suspect vamoosed toward Seminary Avenue, in the direction of the Lutherville light rail stop. Police were contacted. Officer Aaron Hoffman arrived at the train station along with MTA police. When Officer Hoffman made the arrest, the suspect was displaying a ** disarming nonchalance -- and the chain saw, clippers, cord and sprinkler. I asked Officer Hoffman what the suspect was doing at the time. "He was waiting for the train." Oh.

Slimax Splash moving

Plans for the Slimax Splash, featuring Boog Powell sliding into 2,000 gallons of lime gelatin to benefit the Maryland chapter of the Leukemia Society of America, ran into a prickly speed bump called the Canton-Highlandtown Improvement Association the other night. The association raised so many objections to the location of the June 18 event (a city-owned lot between O'Donnell and Boston streets) that its organizers decided to relocate. What a pain. The Leukemia Society had printed 30,000 brochures and 5,000 posters listing the Canton location. The community association claimed there were too many events scheduled for the area the same weekend. (The Polish Festival is slated for Patterson Park, about 10 blocks away.) Bohager's Bar and Grill stepped in yesterday and agreed to be the host of the event on its parking lot off Eden Street. So, despite the groans from Canton, Boog will still take the plunge. Get your cameras ready.

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