Salad

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Sixteen

 

Rae said something. I couldn’t hear. 7th was too loud. She looked back over her shoulder to hear my answer, so I just said, “Yeah.”

Her hair was getting long again, curled up at the neckline. Each boot step clicked in a nice musical way.

She motioned for us to cross. The sidewalk got wider and it was okay to walk side by side with her, people had all the room in the world here.

The bars were packed with people. The restaurants had full tables. The jails were at max capacity too. The bookstores and churches were empty.

I said, “What did you say back there?”

“Wait…you said ‘yeah’.”

“I’m not going to blindly say ‘no’.”

“True.”

“I’ll blindly say yes, but …”

She said, “I asked if—”

There was a collision. A man going the opposite direction bumped into me. Or I bumped into him. We bumped into each other. Shoulder to shoulder.

A salad in a plastic container flew out of his paper bag, did a front flip, landed on the concrete in an explosion of lettuce, tomato, and grilled chicken.

I kept walking. Just a step or two, but then stopped. The guy yelled, “Shit, mother, son of a—shit.” He wasn’t yelling at me, he was just yelling. I looked back. I could see there was red onion in the salad, little hunks of carrot, a lemon wedge. Now Rae was way ahead, standing in the neon glow of a bodega sign.

She had her hands shoved in her jacket pockets. Motioned with her head, two shakes, let’s go.

I walked back to the man, got even closer. He was  the size of a linebacker and it’d be better if he didn’t have to chase me. He was so sad about the dead salad. Hunched over, using telekinesis to bring it back to life. I had to pump myself up to be able to say this, but I said it. I said, “I’m sorry.” He looked up, angry. But that faded away, and he was just looking at me neutrally. How angry could you stay if someone was apologizing for destroying your salad? He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.

I took out my wallet, opened it wide. I didn’t have any money. I saw it then. I had zero dollars. He looked at my wallet. My wallet was hot pink and purple and it had a wolf on it with laser beams coming out of its eyes. I saw him look at my wallet and kind of snicker. I said, “Yeah, I know, it’s a little girl’s wallet.”

He said, “I just lost my job, I’m pretty hard up.”

I waved over to Rae, she was standing even farther away. She looked worried, like she thought this guy was going to fight me. I guess some guys got into fights over salads. Not us. Not me and my new friend. We were civilized human beings. I said, “Hey Rae, get over here, please.”

Rae walked closer. I said, “Give me some money.”

She dug around in her purse and pulled out all kinds of different bills. I whispered, “Can I get a ten?” She gave me the ten and I gave it to the man and he said, “Thank you.” He sighed in relief. I leaned down and picked up the plastic bottom of the salad container and the plastic lid of the salad container but I left the roughage all over the sidewalk.

A restaurant worker who’d been smoking outside a nearby door, snuffed out his cigarette and said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but see…What kind of salad was that?”

The sad man said, “What kind of salad?”

“Yeah. What kind of salad.”

“Oh, I didn’t get the salad there. I got the salad back there.” He pointed up the block towards infinity.

“Okay, yeah. But what was in your salad?”

And the man with the waylaid salad said it was a chicken mixed green salad with carrots and red onions and balsamic vinegar and it had croutons and oh, he said, it had some shrimp on it too. Lots of shrimp.

The restaurant smoker person said, “Okay, wait here, we’ll make you a salad, on the house.”

This was just one of those random good deeds I’d always heard about. Well, bless my eyes, I was actually seeing one. The restaurant person disappeared. I stood there holding all the plastic shit and the man looked over at me and I looked down at the sidewalk and he knew what I was looking for and he knew he was caught, so with a little guilt, he said, “Yeah…there’s no shrimp, I guess I shouldn’t have said that.”

“I would have done the same thing. I’d have said steak too.”

“I had gold nuggets in my salad,” he joked, and started laughing at his own joke. His laughter was a high shriek.

“Diamonds in my salad, my teeth are busted, my gums are bleeding.” I held my jaw for effect.

We laughed on and on. I looked down at the mess. There were no croutons either. He’d also fabricated the croutons. We said goodbye. I told him I’d be walking on the other side of the street when I was coming back for the train, and he gave me the thumbs up, said he’d stay on this side. He leaned against the brick wall where the worker had been smoking, looked so serene.

Rae and I walked on toward the traffic light. I was in a little bit of a rush, trying to get to the trash can to throw out the plastic crap, my hands covered in balsamic dressing. Sticky.

Rae said, “Do you think that was some kind of scam?”

“What? A salad scam? I don’t think so.”

“Whatever it was. Did you bump into him or did he bump into you?”

“We bumped into each other,” I said.

“But who just carries a salad around with them?”

“I don’t know. You have to get somewhere with a salad sometimes.”

“Not really. You just eat the salad wherever you are.”

“It’s not a fucking scam. Let’s say that guy did have a salad scam going on. What? He’d make the salads at home for $1.50? Then bump into people and get them to volunteer to give him $10? That’s an eight dollars and fifty cents scam with a lot of moving parts.”

“Well, he also got a free salad from whoever that was.”

“A nice person, that’s who that was. Was probably a caring sharing Buddhist communist or something.”

“That guy was in on it too.”

“Who? The smoker? No. No. Fuck you.”

“Yes. Yes. Fuck you, Mr. Bud Smith.”

“Leave that innocent cigarette smoker out of this grifting.”

“Grifters, yes. Oh, they can’t be that nice. They’re probably going to tweet about it. A big social media blitz. Whole restaurant looking like heroes. Tonight on Carmine Street a big ugly guy knocked an innocent out-of-work man’s salad on the ground, we replaced it…” She threw her hands up, pretending to be exasperated.

I threw my hands in the air, pretending to be exasperated. Everyone, as far as we could see, was also faking exasperation.

I said, “Truth be told, if anybody got scammed, it was you by me. I got ten bucks out of you without a second thought.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

There were footsteps behind us. A grating voice, “Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me!” I turned back. It was a guy in bright yellow pants and a giant sweater. “Did you throw all that stuff on the ground?”

“Not really.”

What was there to say? He pointed at the garbage in my hands. The plastic clamshell, the paper bag. The forks. The crumpled napkin.

“Get back there.”

“It’s lettuce…”

“All over the sidewalk like that?”

“I didn’t…Well…Some dog will eat it.”

“Some dog will eat it? Really? That’s what you’re gonna say.”

“It is. Some dog.”

“Wow. You know what you are?”

“A scumbag,” I said. I threw the plastic container in the trash can. My hands were still disgusting. I reached back in the trash can and wiped them on a McDonald’s bag. There was a half-drank bottle of water in there. I opened it and dumped it on my hands. When I turned back, the yellow guy was still there. I said, “Okay, move along.”

“Seriously?” he said, hands on his hips.

Rae was doubled over, laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe.

“You’re gonna kill my wife. Stop it. She’s dying.”

“Bud. Bud. Bud.” She stomped her foot.

“Please, say something you think is funny, that’ll make her stop laughing.”

“Pick. It. Up.”

Other people stopped to look at us. Two guys eating pizza were confused. There never would be an answer, they’d stay confused for all time.

“You taught me a lesson about salad,” I said. “I’ve heard enough.”

And, miraculously, the guy in yellow left. He was satisfied just to hear me say I’d learned a lesson. That’s all he wanted. Mission accomplished. He hustled off down the sidewalk.

I didn’t move.

Rae didn’t move.

We just stood there, getting older.

Loud people, cackling and dressed in feather boas, caught our attention on the opposite sidewalk. Men and women, together. They had a purple inflatable penis balloon. They lugged it around like a talisman.

We watched the loud people go around the corner with the penis and become someone else’s problem. The traffic light changed and the cars I’d forgotten were there at all slid away. We watched the traffic light turn red again. We saw new cars grind to a stop. They stopped. We stopped. Everything stopped.

It was that time of year when you got a warm, rouge night, and some people (not Rae, who was cold in the summer) are without their jackets for the first time in months. Revved up. Excited for spring. I blinked my eyes, I was one blink closer to spring. Rae blinked her eyes, she was one blink closer to spring.

There was no reason to complain. I had my problems but anything negative I could say was a waste. I scanned down the block, not so much looking at where to go to next but just focusing on what was here. A barber shop, where I could see a bearded man with a shaved head shaving another bearded man’s head while other bearded men with stubbled scalps waited. A flower shop. A store that only sold things made of leather. A woman on the third floor of an apartment building, in white shorts and a peach hooded sweatshirt, smoking.

“That guy liked my wallet,” I said.

“Oh yeah?”

“If we see him walk by again, I’ll tell him you gave it to me.” For my birthday each year, she bought me some kind of strange wallet made out of the same material as FedEx envelopes. One time she made me a wallet out of duct tape. It melted in my pocket in about an hour. Fell apart. A dollar or two got glue all over it. I never was one for carrying around a lot of money.

Up above, the sky was black, but clouds streamed across, lightning white. I felt no wind down here. I blinked my eyes and was one blink closer to spring. Each orange light in each window, all around me, contained people with their shoes off and their whole lives ahead of them, even if the lives would only be a few more minutes in length.

I looked over at my wife. I looked at her hair. She’d asked me to cut it for her. She was worried she was developing a mullet. I’d said, Yes, yes. But I hadn’t done it yet. There was a rule that any scissor work was to be done sober, and no evenings had allowed for that yet.

By the trash can, I took her hand.

That’s what you do when you love somebody. You take their hand and stand there with them for as long as it takes for problems to seem to go away.

And the mind, like a computer, reboots. And the mind starts processing again.

“Come on, let’s do something,” I finally said.

“Let’s do something,” she said, grinning.

It’s always like that, it’s like your lives are just beginning. It’s always like your life is suddenly just beginning. I kissed her and the men eating the pizza shouted at us. Cheered us on.

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

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