Yesterday I left for work without having eaten anything all morning. For a person with a normal schedule this would be no problem, but I start work at 12:30 PM and don’t take “lunch” until about 5:00 PM.
My office is on Hudson and King Streets and I take the C train to the Spring Street Station. It’s only a five-minute walk. I had some money on me and was planning to stop for a bagel, but kept thinking how dry bagels are even with the cream cheese and having eaten nothing all morning I didn’t really have that much saliva to facilitate the mastication process.
As I ruminated on my hunger, I came up above ground to see before my very eyes a much spittier and even more delicious solution. Just across 6th Avenue was a fruit cart and its little peddler.
Fruit should hold me over for five hours, I thought, crossing the road. The Fruit Man is dark olive-skinned and very short and has a trim mustache. Even in the sweltering mid-day July heat he was always wearing Khakis and long-sleeved button-downs, all tucked in like he was at the office.
I looked over his selection and saw that “Juicy Peaches” cost seventy-five cents a piece, or three for two dollars. He noticed me looking and grabbed one off the top and shoved it in my face.
“The peaches,” he said admiringly, through a thick accent, “So fresh. Soooo delicious.”
Remembering from grade school never to smell anything a strange man sticks under my nose, I lowered the peach from my face and took it from him, pretending to examine the firmness and ripeness of the skin.
“Okay. Can I get two for a dollar?” I asked. Whatever, I had the two bucks but I’m a cheap bastard and didn’t want three peaches. But two…two is the magic number.
“No. No no. Three for two dollars?”
“No. I only want to spend a dollar. What else can I get for a dollar?”
He looked around his cart searchingly, not wanting to lose the sale, and finally picked up a small banana off the top of a stack and put it in a small plastic bag.
“Here. Banana and peach for one dollar,” he handed it to me smiling, adding that he was losing a dime on this transaction as special favor to me. I returned the smile and thanked him kindly, because who knows what a dime is worth in his native country? Peach in one hand and banana bag in the other I headed down Spring Street to work.
Now I’m not usually in the habit of agreeing with fruit vendors, but this guy was right. It was the juiciest and most delicious peach I had ever eaten. The slightly green banana was kind of disappointing afterwards, but hungry as I was I had eaten both of them by the time I reached the office.
The next morning I went grocery shopping and was so in the mood for more peaches, I decided to pick up a couple. I had the option of .99 cents a pound or a 1.99 a pound. I went for the good stuff. I had tasted peach ambrosia. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I picked out three peaches, checking each for firmness of flesh, ripeness of skin, and what I figured to be its juice potential.
When I got home, I checked the receipt. Three peaches had cost me $2.91. That’s like a half a pound each. Growing up in a world where a pound of Swedish Fish can make you deathly ill and a pound of cocaine can fetch several thousand dollars, I guess I had overestimated just exactly how much you got in a pound of peaches. And these really didn’t seem like any extraordinary peaches.
It was this line of thinking that made me say, “Fuck it, it’s cheaper just to go to the fruit man, who has awesome peaches.” So even though I had three peaches for which I had just paid $2.91, when it came time to pack my lunch, I made a sandwich, but did not pack a peach.
Off the train and across the street, I approached Fruit Man with my two dollars at the ready. He finished up with his customers and I said in a strong clear voice, “Three peaches please,” thinking what a compliment I’m paying him by actually wanting to spend more money on his fine produce today. Proud you should be Fruit Man. Proud you should be.
He selects three peaches from the pile, puts them in a small bag and hands it to me. I thank him kindly with a smile, thinking what a nice morning tradition this will become. I’ll be a regular. He’ll get a new shipment in and recommend the plums, very ripe in August. Or the nectarines, too tart now, but give them a week. My own personal fruit vendor. He’ll pack up in the late summer or early fall and say goodbye, and then remember me next May when he sets up shop on the corner again. We’ll meet eyes across the Avenue and smile and wave and he’ll ask how my winter was as I approach. Just fine Fruit Man, just fine!
I took out the top peach as I walked away and consumed it with relish. Juice dripped down my hand but I artfully avoided getting it down my chin. I finished it about the same place as the day before and discarded the pit through the same chain link fence in front of a parking lot. Future generations will know it as the Peach Tree Parking Lot, I thought, feeling quite satisfied with myself.
I arrived at my office and out of curiosity I casually looked in my bag at the remaining pieces of fruit. What I saw, to my dismay were two lumpy, brown, squishy, shitty, shitty peaches. Two of the shittiest peaches you could ever see. Two peaches you would assume have been sitting forgotten in the fridge behind a bag of oranges purchased after you forgot you had the peaches in there. I stopped in my tracks and checked the clock in the lobby. Was it worth going back? Surely he didn’t mean to give me, his new friend and regular customer, shitty peaches! Did he?
The truth of it started to set in. I was livid. I was no more special than any of the other rubes he cons every day. Put a pile dog turds in a bag and single bunch of grapes on top. That’s how he makes his living. He’s ruining the image of the honest American Fruitseller. Or at least the image of the honest Foreign Fruitseller Selling Fruit in America. He’s hurting his own image! Destroying what so many of us hold so dear. The friendly neighborhood fruit vendor. I should have known, with his khakis and long sleeves in the middle of July. What ever happened to trustworthiness? Standing behind your product? Winning repeat business? I was really pissed, but I already five minutes late, so I went upstairs.
“Hey man, how’s it going?” I was greeted by Josh, the head of my department as I walked by the front desk.
“That mother fucker, the fruit guy sold me these shitty rotten peaches!” I said, still completely indignant and thankful to work in a casual office where cursing is encouraged as a means of expressing extremes of both anger and joy.
Josh didn’t seem understand, “What, didn’t you pick your own fruit?”
“Well…” It hadn’t occurred to me to do this, as I was inherently trusting in Fruit Man’s willingness to sell only the finest of produce.
“You gotta pick your own fruit, man. You didn’t know that?”
“Well, yeah but,” I began, trying to defend my now obviously foolish actions, “he was standing there, you know… by the peaches.”
“Huh ho. Man, he saw you coming a mile away,” he laughed at my idiocy.
Josh was chuckling more inwardly than directly at me, truly enjoying the situation, which pissed me off more than if he had just been breaking my balls over it. He was taking time away from his busy day to let the scene play out in his mind like some ridiculous Buster Keaton film in which the hapless protagonist’s actions are so transparently the opposite of what any normal intelligent person would do, the audience is simply left to groan at the screen and shout, “Don’t do it!” to the deaf ears of poor luckless Buster as he purchases the bag of dog poo from the unassuming fruit vendor wearing a top hat, cape, and Dali-esque mustache.
“I’m tempted to go back and say something. Exchange it or get my money back,” I said, testing the waters, essentially seeing if my boss would let me leave work to harass the man who sold me bad fruit.
“Uh huh,” he said, probably just getting to the part where Buster opens the bag and sees the dog poo.
“I guess I could do it at lunch,” I said and walked away, my head hung low.
At lunch I sat alone at the long kitchen table prodding the peaches, looking for spots that weren’t mushy and brown, hoping I could take a few bites. From the two, I ate maybe a third of a peach total.
I decided it wasn’t worth going back and making a big stink about it. What satisfaction would I get from calling this guy out on what he already knows he does, something he does intentionally, and will continue to do regardless of my actions? Even if other people were there to see me protecting their consumer rights, calling him out on his shady business practices, they would probably just say, “You’re buying something from a man who can literally pick his store up and run. What did you expect? And why didn’t you pick your own fruit?”
No, there would be no justice served cold for this man today. I would swallow my pride and the two dollars and take away a valuable lesson that apparently everyone else had already learned. One more nugget of truth to go along with “don’t smell gifts from strangers” and “the more you touch it, the longer it will take to heal.” Always pick your own fruit and never trust a man who does not sweat in 90-degree heat.
Connor Gaudet is a recently laid-off, 27-year-old male, living in Brooklyn, surviving on government assistance, and trying to “make it” as a writer. He keeps track of his triumphs and humiliations at thedailyhell.