Upon exiting the car, we instantly noticed how early we’d arrived. When we were younger, it never meant much to get there first thing, before the crowds started to settle in. Nope, in fact, back then, watching them, was kind of the point for going there in the first place.
Today, well, I don’t make many trips to the Bazaar. Haven’t been there in some time and don’t spend nearly the time I had as a kid. It’s not even close really. Where we’d spend a good afternoon meandering about the various stands, watching all the different peoples, mingling amongst themselves, bartering with customers, transforming from seller to buyer, where they’d then, become minglers and barterers themselves. Now, it’s a case of knowing what I came there for, where it’s located, and trying to get in and out as fast as I can.
There are many reasons for the change. First would have to be: with age, time constraints seem to alter the courses steered. Then, I recall there’s several more, but only one comes to mind, that being: How rundown and dangerous the areas become.
So back I go, to days lost in time. Back to youthful loitering, watching the characters that exist in full frame, making up the conversations we cannot translate, predicting the next actions individuals would make, and then following them about, just to see who had won the Peach soda and the Gelato cone.
Upon exiting the car, a beat up Pontiac Bonneville, seated seven, yet most days it was but three, Myself, Mark and Johnny. Repaving was a language this parking lot never knew. Mark would say the cracks gave the Bazaar character, Johnny would just say the owner was cheap.
Dirty grey, should be white, building on the fringe of what is and what should be considered for the list to be condemned. Paper signs, written in pencil, taped in Scotch, line the lampposts that hadn’t worked in twenty years, providing the sales, for those who took the time to scribe away.
Upon arriving to those double-doors, we’d check to see which autographs were new since the time before. To open those doors, you knew you’d arrived, for the scent was as distinct as an odor could be, at first unpleasant, quickly unnoticed, yet that first whiff of food, dirt, sweat and dust, is one you’ll never grow conditioned of.
Leon, four hundred pounds and all, would sit upon that wobbling stool, checking bags and frisking the incoming patrons tight. Johnny always thought he frisked the girls a bit too long, but, in all the times we’d gone past, never did a woman stop to second guess. When he was done he’d grab a cigarette and make some off-the-cusp innuendo or two, which were humorous the first few hundred times you heard them through. He wasn’t a cop, just somebody the developers knew, that could be trusted in keeping things in line, and would work off the books for many less the dimes. Mark would always kid him, “you lost a couple since last time, eh?” to which he’d whip out his wallet and show a conveniently placed picture of a little baby girl, say had her just the other day. We’d go on and laugh, and I’d reply, “Leon, how old is she by now anyways?” to which he’d always say, “older than you, older than you.” And in we’d go, and once in, we’d roam the aisles mighty slow.
Denisia and her fresh fruit were always the first to see. She’d flirt with us as we passed by, until a more likely mark would catch her eye.
Tristene, she had a stand close by there, but no one ever got a straight answer, as to what exactly she peddled by.
Marquez and those fresh Goya drinks, first stop we’d make, pick up a pack of seeds, enough to bide away the morning day. He had issues though, wouldn’t make eye contact, not one bit at all. So of course we’d play that game, drooping and bending knees, watching him avert his gaze, over and over until he swam us with his hands, and we’d laugh it up down the way…
Only slowing to a crawl, when we saw Mr. G, and his carved wood carved ware. But as interesting as they were, I’m pretty sure he knew we were too old for some toys, and if that wasn’t enough, he must’ve had to mop up the drooling pools that formed, the second his eldest daughter Tina came out to view.
Once we had our libido’s sparked, we skipped on out and passed quickly by a bunch of stands we cared not for, and ventured deep, into the heart of this bazaar place.
Exotic fruits and flowers were the first place here, can’t remember her name, but a nice old Chinese woman manned the space, always smiling and nodding to us, didn’t speak a lick of English, but none of that mattered much, the goods explained themselves, and they always changed from week to week.
The fish stand was my favorite of them all. Here you’d get fresh catches from the lake, where you could purchase them freshly fileted, right there, if so you liked. Big burly Samoan guy, probably not really Samoan, but to this day, Singh is the only Samoan I ever met, so I always say that’s what was his nationality.
More of the same stands there stood; fish, fruit, flowers, snacks and meat, each owning their own nuance and novelty. A uniqueness they couldn’t hide if it was what they one day decided to try for. Just to watch the customers interact, sometimes successfully, sometimes in scenes from sketch comedy, perhaps a parody you’d expect to see upon late night TV, or, in some cases, unlike anything you could possibly dream.
We’d watch the couples meander closely near, examining the products and looking to deal, speaking foreign tongues between themselves, as if to tell the shop-keep, “hey, you can’t understand us, so we’re talking about how we can make you give us a huge deal,” of course, their efforts fell, for the most part on deaf ears.
Lovers would walk hand in hand, picking things as if they had a plan, when reality was they were caught up in the atmosphere, as were we all, walking short yet feeling tall.
There wasn’t any music in the air, just the sounds of old AC units chugging through, combined with the sounds of a mix of languages galore. At all different pitches and randomly paced beats, the sounds we heard were never the same, and unique from one moment to the next.
Olga’s stand we love, at least my mother did, as she’d send us there specifically for her homemade pierogies, three dozen potato, four dozen cheese and a half dozen Kraut, as only my father would eat those. She was a nice woman in her mid-forties back then, who spoke English, yet had the coolest little accent, the one that forever reminded her of the home she left behind, so her children had the opportunities she and her husband never knew. Her girls were cool, but a bit on the wild side, we knew one of their friends, and saw them out here and there, and laughed between the three of us, as the picture they presented there at their parent’s stand, couldn’t have been more different, something Olga and Tom, would never accept or understood.
To get to the back part of the Bazaar, you had to pass through a dark, dark tunnel, where the lights hadn’t been on in years it seems. This was a place where the scents were not unique, as they could be found in any restrooms across the land.
I’d always find it amusing; in fact, this was something we’d bet upon as well. We’d stand alongside the raised café platform, where we’d eat our Gyros and sip our tea, looking down at those who were emerging from the tunnel’s dark. We’d wager as to how many of the sweatered uptown folk, would pat their butt, as if no one could tell that they were making sure their wallets were yet sitting still.
One last place before we would venture back. It was always hit or miss though, for this news shack was open when Adibi chose to come in. You see, he didn’t need to open at all, for one day he bought one of the lottery tickets that he would sell, and he it hit big, yet, for traditions sake, he never retired completely though. So, we’d go there, as he wouldn’t proof for dirty mags, cigarettes or beer, which we didn’t complain, but found it mighty strange, that he would ask for ID when we tried to buy a scratch off lottery ticket. Go Figure?
Out we’d go as we came, a bit quicker of a pace than what we first had made. Some days Johnny would make us stop though, at one last place, the comic exchange, where he’d pick up a bunch of terrible titles that never sold at the other shops in town, and there he would get his dimes and quarters spread clean across the chipped glass counter, and the two Korean brothers would curse at us, well, Johnny more than me and Mark. And here’s the kicker, Johnny would come back every time, and say that he needs to learn Korean, because he needs to know if he should take offense to what they were saying.
Well, one day, this little girl, probably nine or ten, popped her head from behind the jewelry cage across the way, and spoke, as if she was ashamed for needing to correct the lack of knowledge possessed by us three, “ They say, ‘you fool, same thing every time, coin, coin, coin’… not Korean, this is Korean,” and she rattled off a string of words, “what they say is Vulcan…geez,” as she ran away, but not before she waved her fingers at us in that spockish way…
Then, we returned, back to the parking lot, and stood today, just Mark and me. We’d lost track of Johnny after he moved away. At first we all made a point of keeping in touch. In fact, he came up and crashed in Mark’s basement now and then, and we’d return the favor once a year or so. But as time grew further removed, he met a girl, and they moved in together and had a child of their own. And somehow, we faded from priority, and now, once a year or so, we’ll get a postcard, showing his family, where, despite the soreness over losing such a one-time link in our three piece chain, his happiness could be seen in each these cards, a happiness I was glad he found.
And we were wondering how things could have changed so much. The faces were distant, the mood was bland, the parking lot was rife with needles, and gangs of boys trying to earn their stripes as men. The stands were more spread apart, not nearly enough to warrant a trip from the suburbs in.
As depressing as it was, we still heard a myriad of foreign tongues, mainly bickering over the economy, or so we thought. But the voices were there, just not as many of them, and that, although not we had looked forward to. And once we got over the disappointment of the memories from way back when, I guess, was still enough to bridge the gap of time, returning, at least a part of those memories…
Out in the lot, I asked Mark, “ Feel like Fondue,” to which he replied, “Sure, where to,” and then I simply said, “well, The Melting Pot, of course”
Brian Miller is spending his night hosting Poetics by People Watching. Head on over to D’Verse, and share in what our poets see. While you’re there, we’d love to read, or hear, what your people-watching expeditions have produced. This piece is another longer piece, as you know by now. I had this idea for awhile now, getting down a short story that revolved around change, and how it can be explored through the examinations of character. In this case I mainly used people as the foundation, but the settings and the scenes themselves I’ve also attempted to treat as characters themselves. To keep the short story in a poetic state of mind, I amended my speech patterns in the recordings, hopefully creating a more musical/poetic effect, something I also tried dearly to do within the words themselves, by replacing traditional prose with, I hope turned out to be the most part, poetic prose. Another great them tonight at D’Verse, can’t wait to head on over and dig into what y’all watched. Hope to see you there.