Mine was a late arrival at the Sunday morning market. A farmers’ market, in these our United States. It will be decades before this idea of a regular outdoor gathering of itinerant vendors gets fully established in this country. So farmers’ market it is, unless it happens to be a flea market, another misnomer. Because, let us be blunt, farmers are pretty thin on the ground on Sundays in Menlo Park. There are a few vendors who grow, or are close to people who grow, their own food. But not many. And I’m not sure why I care about this, but I do. Especially on this particular day.
Let us buy lettuce. Two heads, attractively packaged, red and green, in one plastic bag. And the lesson for me as a suburban farmer myself lies in the presentation, as it were. I appreciate that the fruits of the earth, particularly the edible ones, can have beauty. What is happening in my own garden has proven complex. But carrots are rampant and, temporarily, shading out lettuce…which is growing, but slowly. That’s why I’m buying some.
The woman selling me the lettuce has a mild Eastern European accent. I ask her how business has gone on this particular brilliant California late summer day. Spectacular, she says. Having sold 500 pounds of tomatoes in just a few hours. I commend her on this. They are special tomatoes, she adds, grown in Paso Robles. There is so much sun there, she tells me. I wait a beat, expecting to hear more. But that’s it. I want to tell her that there must be much photosynthesis in Paso Robles. I don’t. I feel grateful for my own photosynthesis, however complete. As the song says, I’ve got the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
Which actually is not true. I do not have nearly enough sun in the morning, owing to an impertinent oak tree. The latter, growing like an arboreal weed, is creeping across my agricultural space. Shading a prime vegetable growing region, and dropping acorns at an unpleasant rate. And it says much about the general pleasantness of my life that I can think about such things. Summertime, late summer time, and, yes, the livin’ is easy.
I wander among the market stalls without much concern. Though there is some, just enough to remind me. That I am in a wheelchair, a rather massive one at that, which makes me stand out. However much I try to fit in with the flow of traffic at the market, though, it’s hopeless. I don’t. People walk into me, not seeing the low-lying wheelchair. Vendors handing out sample slices of fruit, and there are several, don’t quite know what to make of the guy in the wheelchair. Some ignore me, and others aggressively shower me with samples. Either way, my general need is to simply fit in. That is to say, not stand out. Just be one among the many. Which cannot be done. Somewhat like the lone black man who made his way past the potato stand, looking uncomfortable. There was only one of him. At this moment, there is only one of me. Still, I do ask the nectarine guy for a sample of the white variety. Truth be told, I am not all that comfortable, even in this mild moment of assertion.
So consider what happens when my profile rises slightly higher. Reading at Rosh Hashanah services being a recent example. But, really, this could be anything. Speaking up at the monthly Caltrain meeting, despite my status as a 10 year veteran. Does this sort of thing never get easier, never get better? Perhaps.
Thing is, the older baggage is most burdensome. If rejection already seems a constant possibility, getting disabled only provides more opportunities for putdowns.
At Peet’s I read a funny piece in the Guardian, a British publisher lamenting that these days writers outnumber readers. Not precisely true, of course, but I know what he means. The publisher points out that writers do have egos. They believe that what they have to say is worth noting. That they are worth reading. And although some may insist that the very act of writing is a reward in itself…and they are right…still the truth is that writers want readers. They want recognition. They want to get published.
Which is harder than asking the nectarine guy for samples. Quite a bit. In means exposing oneself. Facing failure, or its prospect. And in my case, facing rejection. And since I am currently facing an annual conference in Minnesota, a place where I have a readership and even an audience…it is up to me. To let it be known that I want to have another reading, as I did last year. And, yes, there in what is the safest of environments, it still isn’t easy.
Nearing the end of my ride home on Caltrain the other day, a man asked me if I needed help. I forced a smile. A second or two passed. I told him I had a spinal cord injury, a permanent condition. He told me that I had been struggling to pick up my briefcase. I forced another smile. He departed.
Actually, I had been doing some quadricep lifts on my left leg. So I was sitting there, working hard. Not attempting to reach my briefcase, by the way. But this doesn’t matter. What matters is to watch for this sort of response in myself.
The man meant no harm. He was at worst clumsy in his effort to help. So what? I may not need help in his way, but I probably do in another. So why get miffed? Because my ego is fragile. It needs feeding, of the right kind. And the right food? Knowing that is up to me.