The Kinky Green

Sorting Zucchini

Posted in The Social,The Spiritual by Joy on July 20, 2009


When we arrive that morning in the rain, they ask us to sort a pallet of zucchini. “Some of it may need to be tossed. If you wouldn’t have it in your refrigerator at home, trash it.”

And trash we do.

In the end, we are sorting through a box of 40 or 50 zucchini to salvage 10 or fewer. The donated pallet of vegetables has gotten wet and been left to mold and rot in the heat of the stock room for who knows how many days.

Some of the more vicious bad zucchini explode as we pluck them up with our gloved hands, raining putrid zucchini juice on our arms and clothes, and down to the concrete floor. The meeker of the unwanted produce tends to bend into unnatural shapes or break off in particularly gooey messes during the process.

When they call us together to start the distribution, I gladly volunteer to work the front lines. Get out of the back. Away from that rotten zucchini and the foul taste it’s leaving in my mouth.

They have a system here.

Three volunteers rotate through the makeshift store, accompanying each customer to the shelves of miscellaneous items after another volunteer has returned to the post by the door. “Two items from this shelf. Solamente dos.”

From there, it’s on to one box of cereal and varying amounts of produce. Next, one pastry and a bag or two of canned goods, depending on the size of the family. Milk and eggs. “Hot dogs or chicken?”

The customers stand patiently in line after handing over their information, being assigned a number, taking all the bread they want.

Today, we serve 123. Ten more get numbers but don’t make it to and through the store.

Only twice do I notice abuse of the system. The man comes first, and he’s all milk and honey. Sweet-talking his way to the front of the line with the blessings of the woman in charge. “This gentleman needs to be served next because he can’t stand long.” And he walks with his cane right into my charge.

I help him find the can of mushrooms he seeks on the miscellaneous shelf. He confirms my identification of unidentified produce.

In truth, I favor the man. But the sight of the woman who lost her place to him nags me. My broken Spanish is so poor I don’t even try to explain. I just walk away with the man, leaving her there, purple ticket in hand.

In the end, there is plenty to go around. The woman’s lost nothing to the old man with the cane, but I feel bad for doing what I’ve been told. I feel the man has no more trouble standing with his cane than many of the elderly people we’ve seen already. Than many of the elderly people still waiting patiently for their respective turns.

The woman in the silken head wrap shows up just as Mr. Cane is leaving. She’s knocking on the glass of the exit door, and I smell trouble. As Mr. Cane makes his way out, she bee-lines inside and asks me for white bread. “I used to work here,” she says. “It’s in the back cooler. Can you check?”

I tell her I’ll find out and make my way toward the coordinator. “She’ll have to take what’s already in the front,” the coordinator begins.

Before she can finish the sentence, the lady and her head wrap are upon us. “I work here,” her story changes. “I’ll just go look myself.”

The coordinator’s merely a volunteer. She shows up once a month with our group. How is she to know? She nods and gets back to her task, but I know it’s best I don’t continue in the front lines.

By the end of the day, the woman in the head wrap will come through the store three different times, claiming to have forgotten this or to have missed that. Another volunteer will see her leaving in a nicer car than many of us are driving, back seat completely full of the food she’s laid claim to in the course of her shady dealings.

Watching her abuse the system that’s there to help people who really need it, thinking about the people she’s likely depriving with her greedy actions, the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

I take my opportunity for escape. When you get a chance, can you relieve me up there? I ask the coordinator.

They’ve been rotating people in and out of the front all day, I justify to myself. There’s nothing wrong with working in the stock room. I’ll even sort zucchini.


Brought Together by the Hoop

Posted in The Physical,The Social by Joy on July 17, 2009

The gentlemen in the first forward-facing seats let us stash our hoops at their knees, out of the aisle as people continue to meander in through the open doors.

“What possessed you to bring these huge things on this crowded train?” the elder asks me as we wait for the trains ahead to make way on the track.

We’re going to a hoop jam in Dupont Circle. It’s unfortunate we had to come during rush hour, but… it is what it is.

“Where?” asks the woman in the seat behind him. “I have to see this.”

Reeta and I give her details. Invite her out. All are welcome.

Hooping is infectious, like a lovely virus that fills you with happiness and good will. Later, we find ourselves with about 20 other hoopers on the south side of the Circle as we pick ourselves up off our yoga mats and tration into hoop mode.

Dupont Circle is, of course, no strange place for spectacle, but the pedestrians slow to a meander as they walk by us. Some stop to watch and take pictures. Not a few venture over and lay hands on an unclaimed hoop.

At one point, I look around and see we’ve been joined by a lady who could pass for anyone’s grandmother, a Hill staffer still in his tie, a couple of Middle Eastern guys heading out to meet some friends for drinks, and any number of 20-something ladies. It’s starting to rain, and still no one is giving up their hoop.

“So, when you saw these people, what possessed you to come over here and do this?” the Hill staffer asks me.

Me? I came on purpose, hoop in hand, to do this.

My story is less interesting to him than that of Lynette beside me.

“What about you?” he asks, turning his attention to her.

Lynette is intent on the hoop she’s claimed, the sheer joy of the experience is visible on her face, in her person. “I saw a bunch of hula hoops, got really excited, and came over here,” she says, watching the hoop spin at her waist.

The Hill staffer and Lynette’s conversation continues as I move around to others. Teach my friend Liz how to take her hoop into Halo, give her the beginnings of the Corkscrew. Pick up a new move I’d been flubbing, the Helicopter, from Fiona. Share my tips for chest hooping with a girl dressed in head-to-toe salmon whose name I never got. Watch a guy with a bridge piercing keep his hoop moving in halo, above his head, as he lowers himself to the ground, lies down, and rolls over onto his stomach.

There’s so much here to see and share. So many lives and stories converging in this one place, connected by the hoop bug.

I glance up to see the Hill staffer getting Lynette’s number, hugging her goodbye. I secretly hope they find themselves together telling the story of their meeting for many years to come. Brought together by the hoop right in the middle of Dupont Circle on a rainy Wednesday evening.

Karma & Teddy Bears

Posted in The Social,The Spiritual by Joy on July 15, 2009

“That lady over there took two,” the girl who used to be my neighbor runs around the corner to tell me, followed closely by her new young friend. The two are panting in the pounding sun, but seem satisfied immediately upon speaking the revelation.

What lady? I ask, distracted by the bags and boxes, produce and meat and juice before me. I’m focused on sorting, finding balance, ensuring there’ll be enough for everyone to get a share.

“The lady over there,” they point in unison beyond the bushes at my back, which effectively separate my fellow sorters, baggers, and boxers from the folks we’re there to help.

Over there? I’m not sure what’s over there. What did she take? I ask, my mind still on the cabbage before me. The squash, eggplant, potatoes. There will not be enough potatoes.

“Over there. They’re giving away some…” the first little girl trails off, noting my lack of attention. “She took two,” the second girl pipes in, speaking for the first time.

Earlier they’d come over, first my former neighbor, then the other child of the same age. They’d helped us bag up green beans and limes for each of the 300-plus families we were told to expect before the sun and give-aways came out full-force and pulled them off to other distractions.

I stop what I am doing and focus on the children in front of me.

So, she cheated? I ask.

They nod their heads vigorously in unison.

Sometimes, people cheat, I tell the girls, watching as their eyes wander past me, no doubt to the culprit.

I have no authority on the other side of the bushes at my back. Heck, I have no authority on this side. I just showed up. Started doing as I was told. Gave direction when I saw a lack of coordination and focus among the many willing to help but less inclined to lead.

It’s not fair, is it? I ask the little disillusioned ones, and they shake their heads. No. It’s not fair.

Have you ever heard of Karma? Again with the shaking, but this time their eyes are back on me.

Karma is how the world pays you back for what you do. If you do good things, the world does good things for you. And if you do bad things, like cheat, the world pays you back with bad Karma, I tell them. Sometimes, when you see people cheating and you can’t do anything about it, it’s enough to know that the world will take care of them. That Karma will.

They nod, but they’re deflated again, knowing that I won’t be taking item number two back from the greedy cheater. Knowing that what she took means one less thing for them or someone else to have.

Later, they’re back. They’ve gotten brand new stuffed animals from the woman at the table under the trees, and they’re all smiles again. Their teddy bears having seemingly eradicated concern about the cheating woman and her item #2 from their minds much more effectively than I.

Good for the Gander, Not So Much the Goose

Posted in The Social by Joy on July 13, 2009
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I met him on the dance floor. Or, more accurately, off the dance floor. But dancing nonetheless. He was friendly, and I had a fine time dancing and talking with him, so when he asked for my email, I gave it to him. We exchanged several messages before we made arrangements to have drinks the following Wednesday.

When Tuesday rolled around, he remembered an event that he couldn’t miss on the following night’s docket. He was apologetic about the lapse in memory, I was accepting that we all sometimes forget, and we rescheduled for Thursday.

When Wednesday rolled around, I remembered an event I couldn’t miss on Thursday night’s docket. I apologized for my thoughtlessness and proposed another date and time for our rendezvous, to which he agreed. He, however, seems to be less forgiving of the forgetting, as I haven’t heard from him since.

The fact that the date didn’t happen doesn’t bother me. What does kind of bother me is the abrupt cessation of communication after I asked him to extend the same courtesy to me that I’d extended to him.

It’s odd, really. While I would normally consider such behavior rude and be angered, I’m really just more intrigued.

Did he find it unacceptable that I didn’t flake on my original commitment in order to spend time with him?
Did he think I made up the engagement to spite him?
Did he dislike my proposal for a make-up date?
Did he take umbrage at my choice of words, grammar, and/or punctuation?

I suppose I could just ask the man what made him suddenly run for the hills without so much as a Suck It, Sister.

But that would take all the fun out of the guesswork, now wouldn’t it?