Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Market

The fact that there is a farmers' market within walking distance of my house is one of the salves of my new location. It almost, but not quite, makes up for the fact that the sky smells off, the vowels taste wrong, and the air is rotten with myrtle. There's no place like home, and I am not there. But at least I can market!

The market is dinky, dominated by craft stalls that stock wares of distressing inedibility. But there are a few vegetable stands, and, after I have fumed over the stomach-clogging baby hats, the schlocky silver earrings-cum-esophageal lances of death, I pick out some peppers and okra and arugula and call it a day.

Mostly, though, I savor the walk. It is late Tuesday afternoon. The sun is high but slightly deflated, like a balloon the day after a birthday party. I walk down the tree-lined main drag of my neighborhood, cross a big street, head past the old folks home toward the park. Just before the trees close in and the road peters out, an exit ramp arcs above me. There's a pocket of space on either side of this underpass, just big enough for a man to lie down.

A man does lie down there. I assume he's homeless. Why else would you, your foot-long beard, two camp chairs, a sleeping bag, and assorted paraphernalia hang out under the bridge 24/7? Sometimes, when I pass by, he is sleeping. But mostly he sets up his camp chair and surveys his domain, or strolls up and down the dead-end road.

I used to approach with trepidation. There are no cars down that way, and very few other pedestrians. And my experience with the homeless includes agressive pandhandlers and the crazy dude who grabbed and then shoved me toward the rails on an NYC subway platform. But after a few pass-throughs, I grasped that under-the-bridge man didn't want money. He didn't want to hustle people, and he wasn't interested in shoving or grabbing. What he wanted was to talk about the weather.

Beautiful day we're having. Nothing like a walk! Or, Look at those clouds. Maybe we'll get some rain soon. Or, Wow, it's hot! They say it's a drought. He had a wizened grin, a tanned face, and small eyes. I'd say something about the weather in return, and pass on. Behind me I could hear him start up the spiel with the next person.

Weather: the great equalizer. You can live under a bridge, in an apartment, in a Victorian mansion, and you still care about the clouds, the wetness, the first nip of chill in the air. You care about the currents of air, the transfer of heat, the onset of damp. You care if it's summer or winter, snowing or sere. It's the last great shared obsession. And it is wondrous.

It takes a long time for fall to work up steam down here, but a few nights ago I woke for the first time in a long time searching for a blanket. It was chilly on the porch this morning. The sun keeps rising a few heartbeats later each day. It's almost, but not quite, summer's end.

At market they are selling butternut squash and onions. My weatherman is gone. There's no trace of his things under the bridge, and I haven't seen him in weeks. I wonder where he went, how he'll weather the change.

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