“Walmart of the World”

This is another of my sporadic posts dedicated to the little city we’ll soon be leaving.  

It happens that our county is largely agricultural, specifically in the way of orchards that produce apples and stone fruits (eg. peaches, cherries) and vineyards that support a growing wine region.  We also have a lot of dairies, though they don’t typically employ many migrant workers.

Our city’s Super Walmart is the nearest for a great number of big farms in our county.

“Walmart of the World”

In the summer, on occasional Saturdays, the local Super Walmart

becomes a kind of United Nations

when the pickers are allowed to do their shopping.

 

They’re brought in on buses of dubious ancestry,

decrepit except for the obfuscating paint,

a habit of hiding that carries over into many aspects of the riders’ lives.

 

The men shuffle off in a spot far from the front doors with their perky greeters lying in

wait.

Maybe it’s to make it easier to park the bus

but probably it’s because the owner tells the driver to do it.

Put it somewhere where it won’t draw so much attention.

(Remind them of their place—outside the day in, day out of your

average American Walmart shopper.)

 

Subtext is everything when you’re living the migrant life.

 

The superstore hires additional security for summer Saturdays.

They shadow the pickers up and down the air-conditioned aisles.

Sometimes there’s a sheriff’s car or two parked in the fire zone

for added insurance.

 

Nothing says welcome like the immediate suspicion that you’re going to steal something.

 

Of course, they aren’t welcome at all.  Why would they be?

They do the brutal work few American workers would withstand.

They live in conditions not fit for livestock.

They’re treated like pariahs by the people in the communities who benefit from the

profits

those big farms pull in.

 

They shop in our Walmart and we sneer at them.

 

I listen to the gentle rain of their Jamaican patois.

I enjoy their laughter, wonder what they’re saying.

There’s something big and lively in their manner.  They make me smile.

 

They aren’t here to entertain me.

 

The workers from Central and South America are more circumspect and furtive,

as if they deserve the extra security.

In fact, I think they’re just afraid of being suspected.

 

I remember one young man years ago at our local June street festival

smiling tentatively and indicating with his camera

that he wanted a picture with my mother and me,

who were eating fair food at a plastic table in the sun.

He sat with us, and I dredged up my high school Spanish

enough to ask him where he was from.

He smiled nervously as if he didn’t understand what I’d said

and fled soon after.

 

I often wonder if he sent that photo home.

What did his loved ones think of him sitting

with the withered, unhappy old woman

and her awkward daughter who asked impertinent questions?

 

I hope he told them we were friends.

I hope he said in his letter that he was welcome here.

November Questions

This is another in a sporadic series of posts dedicated to memorializing our Lockport life before we move away.

November Questions

There is nothing romantic about early November in Lockport.

The air is wet and cold.

Houses huddle together under a ditchwater sky,

and Clinton’s Ditch gets drained until there’s nothing but

the dregs—brown, brackish, like what an ugly lung would hawk up.

Punctuating this poisonous stew are shopping carts and stolen bicycles.

We play a game of counting, seeing who can spot the most,

a kind of blue-collar, rustbelt bingo.

It passes the time.

We wonder:

Why does the bicycle thief drown his plunder instead of selling them?

Is there some secret thrill to shoving a Schwinn off the High Street Bridge?

And then there are the children who gather at the edges

to watch the corpses of their dreams fished out of the muck.

What innocence is lost when the pink Huffy is uncovered,

its plastic pennants streaming algae from the handlebars,

white-walls dulled to the grey of institutional underwear,

the banana seat diseased, the horn swollen and burst like a pustule?

These are November questions.

And then there is the further mystery of

who pushed the Dollar General cart three miles so that she could dump it here?

What was in it that wouldn’t fit on the bus?

And why the waste?

In this city, there’s a bounty on every functional cart.

Store managers wait

Like anxious sea widows to find out which and how many

will be returned home to them

when they’re finally brought up dripping from the slimy stew.

Against the rusted steel skyline, beneath the bare bones of winter trees,

the graveyard of November slowly empties.

Someday it will be spring again, when the canal will fill

with water and the indiscriminate killing will resume.

For now, we return home, curiosity unfulfilled, awaiting the less gentle

season to come.

Ode to “Ghetto Gas”

We’re moving in a couple of months from the little city with all the big city problems where we’ve lived for more than eighteen years to a rural/suburban island–literally–vastly different from this place we’ve called home.

Lately, I’ve had the urge to commemorate our experiences here, to leave some little legacy of our lives when we were a part of this place.  It’s weird to eulogize something that isn’t dead.

To that end, I’m going to ramble now and again about various experiences that make living here unique.

Ode to “Ghetto Gas”

She weighs maybe eighty-five pounds.

Grey-haired, stooped and cackling, eyes jazzed with crack magic,

an urban witch on the prowl,

she shuffles her sneakered feet on the diagonal,

holding up all four lanes of traffic at the intersection

where unsurprising stabbings happen.

It’s daylight, but even with a high sun this spot is shadowed

by the graffiti on the dumpster

and the filth in the gutter—

Ho-ho wrappers, broken bottles, a forlorn garage sale sign

fading to obscurity.

Everything is for sale here,

but it’s mostly dreams that get scratched away with every

swipe of a dirty penny,

holding up the line with wizened grip as she

waits for sevens—sevens—sevens.

What would she do with $1000 a week?

The next guy in line cradles an inevitable six-pack.

He stinks of unwashed clothes and cigarette smoke.

Toothless, he mouths the tired litany of the disenfranchised.

The cashier rolls her eyes at the food stamps: She’s eighteen and

already hardened to the realities.

“You can’t use those for beer.”

She doesn’t make the rules, doesn’t legislate dubious ethicalities.

He grumbles, something obscene and anatomically unlikely,

and then pays with change painstakingly fumbled

against the counter.

A dime chimes on the dirty floor.

Outside at the only payphone left in the city,

another desperate soul slurs into the greasy receiver.

The view is of a cracked concrete lot where something

Once stood.

Now it’s mostly home to weeds and trash and the occasional rat.

No one stays long.

We gas up, go on, pray that no one holds the place up while we’re there.

We pay at the pump and remind ourselves that next time we’ll get gas at

the nice family-owned place out by the strip mall.

We pretend that these people aren’t just like us,

that this sad mecca for the homeless and oppressed isn’t a half-mile

from where we have an only tenuous grasp on prosperity.

It could be you, the cracked glass door suggests.

It could be you or you or you.

There’s no margin in judgment.

Let[’s] go.