Friday, January 16, 2009

True Love

My mother used to say that husbands were for the warm bellies, upon which one put one's icy feet in bed in the dead of winter. My dad would grin when she said that, and that's as far as I want to go with that scenario. However, my current version of True Love is letting Benji sit on my lap and stick his head out the window while we drive around doing errands, even though it's only fifty-eight degrees out there with a windchill factor of sub-twelve. Ouch!

I hereby issue a Plea for Followers. Well, at least one. I want one other Follower so that I can switch robes and have two full rows of pictures. A Follower is merely someone who publicly acknowledges that s/he shows up at this blog now and then. It's apparently a prestige thing -- for me, not you. Odd, huh? It's a vote of confidence or an act of friendship. It's better than a chain letter, in any case, as is a sharp stick in the eye.

I see I haven't written in over a week. You can judge my mood by how often I write. Good = Write. Bad = Don't Write. By the end of a year, we'll have my biorhythm chart.

I went to the Wagon Wheel Flea Market last Saturday with the intention of sizing up the situation and seeing if it would be a good venue for me. Next time, I'll send someone who knows something. The Wheel is Florida's largest indoor flea market, possibly the largest altogether. Consider this: I checked out the African American Heritage Festival in Tampa this month, thinking I might sell some tee shirts there. The booth fee in November, the deadline, would have been $440, but since I'd clearly missed it, it was $550. The Wagon Wheel -- which gets thousands of visitors each weekend -- is $6.50 for an outdoor site and $10.50 for an indoor site. And it's cheaper if you do it in groups of a whole weekend or a whole month of weekends.

Those prices alone should have tipped me off.

But I skipped merrily over to Pinellas Park early Saturday morning, and set up my 10x10 space inside. I sold nothing, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that I paid in advance for this weekend (which starts tomorrow) and I don't want to go.

I don't know what got into me.

The Wheel is actually shaped like a comb, not a wheel. When I scouted it, I just quickly marched through the spine of the comb, not the tines. Uh, teeth. Certainly not spokes. It was like driving into any small city in the Eastern United States, but instead of Denny's, Wendy's, Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Tire Kingdom, Denny's, it was cheap-ass, generic sunglasses, socks, belts, sunglasses, sheets, magnetic jewelry, sunglasses, tee shirts (a sailboat with FLORIDA on it ... or MICHIGAN or KANSAS), sunglasses.

During my exploration, I ran into my friend Kofi, the first Ghanaian I'd ever met, the man responsible for my having gone there (whether he knows it or not). He was selling sneakers and tee shirts. His nine-year-old daughter was there, pouting, wishing she were home. Somewhere else among the hundreds of other vendors was his wife and small son at their own booth. They also have full-time jobs during the week (well, not the son). And Kofi silk-screens tee shirts in his garage.

He told me that establishing a presence is the important thing at a flea market: just show up, week after week after week.

Out of the hundreds of spots there, only about ten were available, so I took I-41 for the next day, for Sunday. It's in one of the tines. I was the only one within sight who was ready at eight, when the flea market opens. The others were drinking coffee and chatting and slowly removing tarps from their goods. You can pay extra to keep your socks, belts, Denny's, and sunglasses at your booth during the week, when The Wheel is closed.

I sat there like the new kid that I was, hoping the morbidly obese, toothless vendor next to me wouldn't smoke. She did, though. Among other things, she was selling Avon products, some of which she was modeling on her eyes. She also sold crocheted items that her mother, unable to attend, makes, including but not, alas, limited to, fly swatters. Yes. It's done somewhat like needlepoint, using the tiny plastic squares of the swatter. The smacking side has just a bit of yarn on it, to hold onto the other side, which is thick with it. I'd like to think that these are decorative only.

The thirtysomething Filipina across from me sold Asian clothing. I say Asian because I don't know if it's Chinese or Japanese or Malaysian or -- hey! maybe Filipino! I do know that there's no XL and that their L is our XXXS. This woman had a little (of course) girl who spent the day quietly playing with the whole Flea Market Community.

I noticed that Kofi didn't let his daughter run around, but other people seemed to. There was an absolutely gorgeous set of Mexican brothers, maybe twelve and three, who rode a single bicycle through my area, over and over. I'm sure their parents were there somewhere -- probably in two different booths like Kofi and his wife. When I started noticing the kids, I could see that this flea market probably replicates the weekly markets in Third World countries, where it's a family affair and where people feel safe enough to let their kids roam.

I went to Africa and to Panama and Colombia because of people I met in the lunch room at Valpak, so I really missed the immigrants when the production department moved to that fancy new building out by I-275. Well, I got the slightest taste of it at the flea market. There was a Mexican family next to me, asking prices for the love birds (!) and a cage. The teenage daughter was translating. When the Filipina across from me got her husband's attention by calling out, "Hey, Papi!" the whole Mexican family turned around. Home! they're thinking.

The whole experience was a mix of pleasure with the foreigners and -- I confess it with shame -- disgust at the fat, unhealthy Americans. Here I sit, forty pounds overweight, a former three-packs-a-day smoker, a reformed lush, and I'm judging -- harshly -- the Americans with stringy hair and bad teeth and terrible posture.

I'm chuckling at the Young Goths with their all-black clothes and their metal-filled body holes, at their lank dark hair and rivets and chains on their pants ... and their brand-new baby in a mega-stroller padded and belled and whistled like a pair of two-hundred-dollar basketball shoes, wearing the completely traditional pink or blue. I think they're cool, but I don't want them to grow up into the next couple to saunter by, a middle-aged couple with matching guts hanging over their too-low pants. One's limping because she stands all day at some factory job and, despite the accompanying health insurance, can't really afford all the chiropractic work she'd need, not to mention the orthotics. So she limps and eases her pain and anger and disappointment with Big Macs. He ended up having all his teeth pulled rather than deal with the ongoing dental appointments since her insurance doesn't cover it anyhow.

Then a trim couple from Montreal strolls by, murmuring quietly in French, wearing well-designed and -fitting clothes totally devoid of corporate signage. Isn't that unAmerican?

Here comes a huge couple: tall and muscular, fit and ready. They're speaking German. They're exactly the examples of the Aryan Race that what's-his-name was talking about. I give their small boy -- surely not more than three -- a postcard with a picture of my car on it and he says, "Thank you" in perfect English. When I respond, "You're very welcome, sir," his parents laugh and move off.

Does anyone know what I'm getting at here? Me neither.

Do I have a prejudice against poor people? I think I might. Shite.

I had a friend who said, years ago, that rich people seem cleaner than poor people. I instantly got indignant about that, but then he made a few points. Rich people can, in fact, afford the twice-yearly cleanings at the dentist. If their teeth fall out, they can be replaced. Not so for poor folks. If you're recycling the six shirts in your wardrobe, they're bound to get raggedy a lot sooner than the dozens of shirts in the rich man's closet. Someone with money wouldn't dream of walking around with that stupid hair cut, and if his hair were that thin and ugly, he wouldn't let it grow long. He just wouldn't.

See? I think Gary was right.

I'm cool with The Homeless -- with the truly down-and-out. I don't care if it's because of untreated mental illness or untreated alcoholism, I don't look down on The Homeless. They're in a whole separate category from me, see. I'll never be homeless. (Are some of you gasping out there, fearing that I'll bring homelessness onto my head because I was bold enough to make that statement? Or am I the superstitious one?) Anyway, it's apples and oranges with The Homeless and me.

But the working poor? The ones who have to buy those ten-dollar sheets because the forty-dollar ones at Wal-Mart are too expensive? Those people? The ones who buy the three-dollar magnetic bracelet and have the blind faith that it'll work because their wrists really hurt and there's no other recourse? I think they scare me. I think I'm going to become them. I won't be able to afford Moose Tracks anymore, so I'll have to settle for McDonald's. And why bother with the McSalad when the Big Mac fills me up more?

Yeah. That's it. Fear. I turned my fear into disgust and superiority like an alchemist changing ... gold into lead ...

But wait! I said working poor, didn't I? Yay! I haven't worked in over a year! I'm safe!

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