My life ain’t so hot / But I’m past the point of caring / About all the things / I ain’t got.
Sitting on the tailgate of a pickup and haggling over squash was simple compared to, oh, writing a book. Sam Maitlin tended to ruminate on the simple pleasures while he waited on some customers and for others.
People told him he ought to “market” his produce on social media. People would tell you anything. He had a Twitter follower in New Zealand. Facebook “friends” were mostly in the lower forty-eight. Sam was sure they’d all be fascinated with a five o’clock special on canteloupes “ready to cut,” i.e., they were about to be overripe. His self-proclaimed consultants, a couple of whom he suspected of being tipsy at ten in the morning, knew lots of words but were shy on what they meant. They said he needed to “target” his clientele. They all had sons and daughters who were “up on all that stuff.” Some had grandchildren studying it right now.
“Aw, yeah, Bradley Junior, he’s up on that Internet, I’m a-gonna tell you sure ‘nuff.”
Sam gathered over time that some came to shop and some came to talk, and there wasn’t much overlap. At first, he tried to make conversation, but gradually he learned just to nod. The talkers required little encouragement. Sam said “I reckon” a lot. The shoppers didn’t waste his time. They asked the occasional pertinent question – “How long you reckon these’ll keep in the Frigidaire?” – made their choices, and went on their way, possibly so the okra would “keep” as long as possible.
On Thursday, when Sam turned on his radio, the better to listen to incessant sports talk, he found nothing but static at the usual frequency. Come to find out, it had shut down after being at the same spot “on your radio dial” for Sam’s entire life. He had two thoughts. So much for working there again. He’d been a student disk jockey in high school. I reckon I’ll have to go to all the high school games this fall. There he was with “I reckon” again.
As he sat on that tailgate, sweating anyway because it was hot, Sam felt his money seeping away like the perspiration. One advantage of selling produce was he had plenty of time to formulate great plans for future success, some of which involved the South Carolina Education Lottery and the rest the Publishers Clearing House. His situation was so hopeless, it was hilarious.
The experience took Sam back to his boyhood, when he’d worked at a curb market, sacking groceries, stamping cans, and stacking them on shelves. Mister Ed, he’d called him, and Edgar Shucker had taken a liking to him, teaching Sam how to run the cash register, dip soft ice cream, and cut up chickens. Those were all useless skills nowadays. Cans weren’t stamped; they had bar codes. Modern registers had taken away the need for clerks to know how to count. These hot, dusty days under the tent and on the asphalt brought back the loneliness of working behind a counter, the kind where it doesn’t matter how many folks are around. It wasn’t the type of pastime a man naturally enjoyed. It was an acquired taste but a lesser addiction. Sitting on a stool behind a counter could drive a man to drink, as did it Mister Shucker, by and by.
Or that’s what they said. It seemed like “they” sure liked to hang around.
Sam had a truck, a table, and a pop-up tent. What he didn’t have was a sign or, for that matter, a name. He wasn’t planning on doing this forever.
TO BE CONTINUED