“Glad I’m not married to you…”
As I recalled those words, somewhere deep in the darkest hours of graduation Sunday in Charlottesville, I had just awakened from the the first leg of my customary post-City Market nap. I’d been passed out from sheer fatigue since about 5 p.m., so it had been night for many hours, and I was disoriented–the only sounds to guide me those of wheels droning through sopping wet streets, a dolorous rock band winding up its final set at the bar way up at the corner of Preston Avenue and 10th, and of course, the nigh incessant rain tip-tapping on my tin roof.
Excepting the band, these were the very sounds that had lulled me to sleep 24 hours earlier and to which I awakened, four hours later, horrified by the thought of what the sounds portended. I showered in a haze of dread, loaded my van for the market in the dark and wet–and the maddening monotony of that soft pitter-pattering was to be the backdrop of roughly the next seven hours of my life.
So to call me a cheerful City Market vendor would be akin to burning the gravy and calling it brown. I was a distinctly unhappy City Market vendor–the moreso because my Saturdays are normally such a blast. The constantly changing pageant of buyers and sellers and the dance we all dance never fails to interest, even to delight, me. Someone offering a new rose geranium tea–or changing a display. Seasons changing–and the light along with it. The changing colors of the vegetables and jewelry and the faces of the vendors in the pre-dawn fluorescents. The spicy, greasy, garlicky smells. The cacophony of laughter and accents.
All silenced on graduation Saturday, the busiest buzziest Saturday of the year, by the sound of rain.
Cold, wet to the knees, my chic little ’50s-vintage apron covered by a hideous orange poncho that screamed “Virginia” to passers-by. What few there were…
Rain makes for a very long day on market day. The crowds are halved, and they’re not for the most part buying. That dissectum Jap maple may be in tree heaven at its hours-long immersion in water, but the cohort of persons who are willing to sling that dripping canopy of foliage over one shoulder and insert it into a nice clean Volvo wagon is self-limited.
All the vendors were in the same boat, well aware that the folks coming through the market that day were likely on their way to somewhere else. Happy to glance in, to wave … without actually breaking stride.
So all this is to explain the context of the odd encounter in which I found my hand in marriage rejected by a man old enough to be my father whom I’d never met in my life.
This occurred fairly late in the day, around 10 a.m., after a sudden doubling in the storm’s strength had forced us to give up all hope that the skies would clear in time to lure the out-of-town crowds to the market. I bitched to Holly, who glinted a smile back at me from underneath the visor of her baseball cap, then bitched back. Well, we thought that was kind of cute, so someone bitched to Elise who had something really funny to say in reply. And suddenly we were all at it, laughing and fussing–only half-seriously–about the weather. And suddenly the day no longer sucked quite so badly.
Then Elise’s customer laid into us. “Gosh, you women! What a bunch of whining!”
I thought, Whoa, dude, and looked over. The speaker was a well-heeled sort, dressed like an ad for Jos. A. Bank casuals with a combed-over shock of white hair. I had barely noticed him. There was an infinitesimal pause and then, as if by agreement, Holly and I started in, quite deliberately, on the perfidy of weather men who had sworn the skies would clear at 8 a.m. Our tongues were firmly in cheek, but this time … a bit maliciously.
But let me be clear. As bitch sessions go, this was strictly vanilla fare. We weren’t angry–more like … commiserating. But something about our mild chorus of kvetching seemed to drive the guy mad. “God, you women and your whining! Do you hear yourselves whining? Well, I’ve been up since four in the morning too!”
Then we really looked at him, looked at him hard, this elderly man in a crisp canvas windbreaker and deck shoes. He looked toasty warm and quite dry to us. And a little insane–his face contorted and red, apparently angry enough to blow. A moment later he did: “Gosh, I’m glad I’m not married to either of you!” he exploded. And grabbing the bag of kale from Elise with the air of one who had delivered a withering insult, he stalked away.
Shock and awe bought him about five steps–we couldn’t quite believe our ears–and then we doubled over with laughter. “Glad you’re not married to…!” “Me too!” “Who wants your old ass anyway!” It was actually a bit of a gift. Over the final hours of the market, the old man’s rant proved good for a gasp and a gust of laughter wherever and with whomever we shared it.
But while the words failed in their object–they did not wound–they have kept me … thinking.
The writer in me wonders who the little old man was really yelling at. What woman–mother? wife? daughter? all of the above or none?–had given him such a horror of “whining”?
The gender studies prof clucks her tongue at the overt display of masculine privilege, the attempt to define our reality, then shame us out of it, and bring us into line with his notions of proper behavior.
But the city market vendor in me is pissed. Because, apparently, in this rich guy’s bucolic fantasy, the lower orders who serve up his weekly share of fresh, local, and organic are robotically cheerful and upbeat, even when cold, soaking wet, and facing hours of excruciating boredom because our customers have been scared off by the rain. Don’t you even mention those aching feet! We’ll make sure no man marries you!
It would be nice, I often think, if guys like that just went to Whole Foods… There the illusion of assembly line perfection can be seamless because it’s enforced by corporate policy. People! At our store, we never let them get between you and your produce!
That is, of course, because actual farmers, human producers, are a relatively insignificant part of the supply chain even at Whole Foods. You can buy that sweet red pepper in January never wondering if the hands that brought it to you belong to a person who could afford a dentist — or even had a bed to sleep in.
Rustic lives. Of course, I understand how essential they are to the fantasy of shopping at farmers markets. That’s fair. They’re no less powerful a motivator of the decision to become a farmer in the first place. What I didn’t realize, though, was how precarious the whole apparatus is from the consumer’s end: that the corporeal reality of three wet women and a few casually chosen words could topple the whole thing and tear off the mask to reveal the master, bidding the servants to sing.