by Jared French
Oranges! He yelled. Ripe, fresh oranges the color of sun rays lay strewn about the sidewalk in bags of red plastic mesh. A logo sewn into the mesh boasted of some or other fruit company offering the most delectable citrus around. The cubano had lain his goods on the curb of this semi-busy street every morning for the last six months, and had sold, at most, four bags of oranges. If one were to take even a moment to wonder how this poor man could sustain himself on the profit of four small bags of oranges, they would be shocked. No-one ever takes the time to consider that though. They just walk on by the smiling entrepreneur perched on the curb selling oranges. A bit down the block, a large elm tree jutted from the last remaining patch of grass in a bustling city. The elm grew out like a mutated appendage, nowhere close to fitting in with the asphalt soil and brick forest surrounding it. The shade it provided to passerby only served to remind them of the sweltering heat they encountered upon crossing the shadow’s breadth. A baseball game droned through the window of some dilapidated apartment, the window open because both the centralized air and the window unit were broken. No doubt a middle aged man sat inside working hard at sweating through a plain white t-shirt, or a single mother folding the pants of her gangbanger son, out “hustling” or “slanging” or whatever they called it nowadays. Across the street from the apartments, a small gas station wavered on the edge of memory, the kind of place that is so unremarkable it only exists when you are staring right at it. Dirty digital gas pumps from a decade ago, dated styling of the building and logo, and lines of shelves stocked with outdated canned goods, headache powders, potato chips and motor oil/antifreeze inside. Does anyone work there at all? Who knows, other than the occasional customer that immediately forgets of the place’s existence when they leave. The Mirage of June St. should replace the faded Texaco sign attempting to hold the convenience store’s place in the universe from fading away.
As I oozed down June St, the noise of downtown crescendoed into main street, where businessmen, tourists, and young thugs alike shared minute amounts of parking and high amounts of pollution. Various restaurant-goers held congress in outside seating patios, sipping overpriced wine and beer and talking about Mad Men. The thing about these people are, you would assume their lives hold no depth as you pass by their idle conversation. That they cease to exist, along with The Mirage of June St when you pass them by, nameless faces like extras in a daytime re-run lacking any context. But people have stories too, and that gas station was once someone’s proudest moment as the doors open, and that baseball game could be attended dutifully by a wonderful young child with a heart of gold, and the cubano selling oranges is indeed struggling to get by, and good god is it hot out here, how does he get by in this heat?
When my cynicism crashed around me I realized I was staring. This middle-class date night before me looked perturbed as I finally shuffled away, feeling guilty over getting wrapped up in my own thoughts and disturbing some “Drew” and some “Vanessa” enjoying their sushi. I laughed inside, because people who eat sushi want you to know they eat sushi. Vanessa is fawning over the idea some stranger noticed her eating sushi. Drew is thinking only about bedding Vanessa. The waiter is only thinking about bedding Drew. Maybe I should stop digging so deep for context in a world where there is none in the grand scheme of things.
Just like that I was where I set out to go. The park spread out before me, a playground for those who fancy themselves deep thinkers, philosophers, and students of life. Where people who don’t want to be seen go to be seen. Where young men and women alike go to peck away at laptops, read obscure novels, and drink chic coffee beverages. My target was a bench with whom my ass had romanced since my arrival in the city, a perfect place to sit and look like I enjoyed nature, to reign over my domain as prince of the posers. I sat and watched a kid play frisbee with his father and my satirical view of the world collapsed around me once again. People actually enjoy this place. Funny how my view of the world never seems to change no matter how many times it is disproven. Prejudice is my shield, protecting my vulnerable feelings from the risk of being hurt. Why seek friends when everyone is a fool? Why seek love when every woman is a witch? Nothing ever seems to work for a cynic.