Photo by Ryan Leighty
“There’s three women in your life that will always be there,” he said. He had just sold me three pairs of socks for my daughter, and after he took my five-dollar-bill was ruffling through his wad of money. We were on the sidewalk across the street from Manhattan’s Union Square, and it was a warm spring Saturday. I usually find shopping for clothes overly involving and embarrassing, so I like being able to stop by a table near a corner. Maybe you’re browsing, maybe you’re just waiting for the light to change! A moment after I had paused over the table and zeroed in on girlish socks, I looked up, poised to buy. The vendor, whom I hadn’t seen until then, hustled over from the shade of a newsstand. “What do you need?”
“Socks for a little girl.”
“I have one who’s three. These,” he said, lifting one of the pairs I was eying, “are too big.” He held up his palm for me to wait, and he went behind the table and into the street, and opened the back door of a white van. He returned with a clear plastic bag of socks that resembled the ones on the table, but smaller. “These’ll fit.” There were five or six designs.
I lifted the bag, and he pointed to one pair, saying, “She might like those.”
They looked too immature, I thought. The ABC print looked as if they were for a girl who didn’t already know how to read a little. I imagined my daughter Odette scorning them as immature and telling me, “Daddy! These are for a little girl!”
“Maybe not,” he said. “Girls are different. They like different things.”
He gave me enough room to consider.
(When saleswomen at children’s clothing stores give me advice, they give me absolute advice: “Between this and this, Daddy?—This one.”
“Not this?” I’ll ask lamely, pushing forward my favorite.
“No. N-O. Put it back. She’ll like this one better.”)
I selected three different designs, and he said, about one, “I like those.—But you never know. The one you think they’ll like the most, they like the least. And then there’s the Daddy-factor. Because you bought it for her, she likes it. My daughter won’t wear the things her mama buys for her.”
I agreed, offering a not wholly true illustration from my experience: “With my daughter, sometimes my wife can’t win for losing. My daughter won’t like the jacket or the shoes my wife bought her—but if I had bought them, she’d wear them.”
“Right,” he said. “Even if she didn’t like them.”
Holding his money in his left palm as if it were a book of tickets, the vendor lifted his hand and counted off on those same fingers the three women in men’s lives that will always be there: “Your mother, of course. Through thick and thin, hell and high-water, she’s always been there for you—isn’t that right?”
“Your daughter.” He nodded, and I nodded. “You’re her daddy! You can’t hardly do no wrong.”
“And then, number three …” He opened his eyes wide, for the surprise entry: “That’s your sister. She’s known you since you was nothing.”
He said, “No offence, not saying anything against your wife, but, you know how it goes: things don’t always work out. You get a divorce, you split up. You’re not related to your wife.”
I had to agree—it was, after all, a fact.
He kept the wad of bills out in his palm, and I was wondering if I had given him a ten or twenty by mistake and he was about to give me change. I stared at the bills, and he put them away in his back pocket.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Your daughter’ll enjoy those socks,” he said.
I patted my bag of socks in my book bag, reassuring myself of my prize, and crossed the street, watching for the careening taxis, and entered the farmers’ market, suddenly feeling the need to buy a guilt-gift for my wife.
Bob Blaisdell teaches English at Kingsborough Community College and edits anthologies for Dover Publications.