A Fair Trade

by

12/31/2006

7507 37th Ave, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

Neighborhood: Outer Boroughs, Queens

Somewhere, over the din, a thin voice called out, “Open!”

I darted around, swaying from one foot to another, but before I could realize what had happened the elderly woman in line behind me had already scampered around to the newly opened lane. In her shamrock green coat and stiff knit hat, she leaned over carefully to begin taking out her few items – Wonder bread, mustard, laundry detergent – and as she paused to push the glasses farther up on the bridge of her nose, I thought, ugh, bitch.

After all, I was standing there with a baby in tow. I had been in front of her when we were both on the longer line. She didn’t once look back at me – knowing full well what she had done – but if she did, I was there with a few loose strands of unwashed hair hanging in front of my eyes, ready to be puffed aside with a deep, exasperated sigh. This was now the only lane in the whole store big enough to fit my baby’s stroller.

If strollers were not meant for the real world, as the cracked and crumbling sidewalks of New York make it seem, they certainly were not meant to go into a city supermarket. And if you are a mother who decides to push through the blackened and re-frozen slush at the corner (just so you can get to the store to buy food to feed your family, after days of being stuck inside your overheated baby-proof apartment without so much as an inhale of that crisp, bitingly cold air), you are truly alone. No one will help you pull those wheels– once a glorious shiny black, now a beaten charcoal grey – to flat land, just as no one in Trade Fair will step aside when they see that monstrous stroller coming toward them. Most people just lean a bit to one side, allowing you to roll into one half of their puffy winter jacket. But the old ladies of Jackson Heights are stronger than that; they won’t budge.

Excuse me. Smile. I’m sorry, excuse me! Could I just…

No use.

Pathetic attempt to roll out backwards, down the isle. Oh, sorry. I didn’t see you there. Excuse me.

Not a chance.

Cue crying baby. Give her a pale pink tomato to play with until one of the ladies leave room. Strongly suggest to baby that she throw it… well, never mind.

The ladies will use all of their mental energy trying to will you out of their way, with a simple, penetrating, bifocal stare. It is a look they have perfected, having warded off carts, strollers, and swarming crowds of freed schoolchildren for who knows how many years. I’ve only been here in Queens for little more than one year, which makes me a mere amateur, a freshman. I haven’t perfected anything yet.

“Oh my goodness, I’ve forgotten something!” The woman in the shamrock coat again. I watched her check her empty cart once more. “Would you mind, dear, if I ran to get my meat?” She was asking the cashier, who was still fidgeting with the tricky register and permit her to leave. Her voice matched her pointy nose and the two made her seem like a schoolteacher from some children’s book – it sparked in me some feelings of remorse, but my heart was still fluttering with indignation.

“Honey, come here and put your things down.” She began to push aside her few things on the conveyor belt. “I was behind you before anyway.” She stashed a plastic wallet full of coupons into her overcoat and, with a sympathetic smile, waved me toward her. Chin tucked to her neck, positioned as if to say aw, how cute, she looked upon my child adoringly and laughed in my direction as we traded places.

Now I was the one leaning to one side, allowing her to slide past me and my puffy winter jacket.

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