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New York City

Gassed Tomatoes


August 30, 1979

Our tomatoes didn’t ripen over the trip.  Kroger’s refused the load.  Picked too early, the tomatoes were hard as apples.  Dispatch sent us to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx, New York, to get rid of our green tomatoes.  There, a wholesaler would gas the tomatoes to make them turn red and then sell them, but not to Kroger’s.  I wondered if I’d ever eaten a gassed tomato.


After writing down dispatch’s directions, I got to drive in New York City.  We drove under train tracks casting a dark pall on all the concrete in the late afternoon.  Clutch in, clutch out.  Clutch in, clutch out.  I listened to the hiss and pop of the trains’ electric wires, in spite of our own loud engine.  Drove through the smell of rotting fast food, liquor, and saw a dead rat in the gutter, a dead dog left in the street.  Rolled up the window.  Clutch in, clutch out.  Listened to the engine, the air conditioner.  

We arrived at the warehouse, where, in the left turn lane, we got in line behind five or six trucks, out on a six-lane street.  The truck in front of me threw fast-food wrappers out his window.  On top of that he emptied his ashtray.


Prostitutes lined the warehouse, maybe five of them.  An hour later, still idling, the air-conditioner dripping, I watched a stark-naked woman walking down the median, approaching our truck, at 3:00 in the afternoon, in sweltering heat.  Barefoot.  Her eyes at half-mast, she bent her elbow and waved at us like a president’s wife, palm open, hand rocking back and forth as if to include everyone.

She was beautiful.  Full body, coffee colored, smooth skin around generous curves, big hips, big boned, bouffant hair without the ragged ends.  I didn’t watch her in my rear-view mirror, but put my head in my hand, because I saw the little girl inside her, covered in opium, dying of loneliness, begging to be seen, all hope nearly extinguished.

We finally entered the warehouse, a weedy, dirt courtyard with open concrete bays on three sides.  We parked in the middle of the yard, and a forklift began stacking our pallets on the dirt.  The bays angled downward like entrances to underground parking, and I watched as a bulldozer drove in one, scooped up tomatoes, and backed around our trailer.  He raised his bucket and poured a red and green mess into a waiting dump truck.  Pig food, I hoped.  Surely, not tomato sauce.   Garbage strewn everywhere, I could taste the smell.  Cooked in the heat and rotten on my tongue, it reminded me of the slaughterhouse on I-5 in California.  Not that death smell, but just as bad.  I had to pee in the weeds, and hoped no one could see. 

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