Wednesday, April 6, 2011
I fell in love a few weeks ago.
The moment I stepped from the van, my heart commenced its love affair with the lusty salt smell associated with the sea. There are stories in this place, I thought as we walked across the gravel parking lot. Inside, I hugged myself against the chill of the freezers, as I pressed my way through the crowd of people gathered around the front cases. And there I fell in love—with fish heads, their milky eyes staring pitifully at me through the glass; miniature squids, resembling some kind of rubber bath toys; slabs of scarlet salmon and metallic-skinned tuna; and brilliantly colored fish eggs—orange and green, shining like plastic beads on a dollar store necklace. I cheered on humongous lobsters fighting their way to the top of the tank, climbing over others who, resigned to their fate, lay on the bottom. I stared for an unacceptable length at the large-nosed Italian man perched against a stool, calling order numbers into a microphone and thanking customers at full volume for their loyalties. Yes, I fell in love with a seafood market.
I’d heard the name of the place in many conversations, each time hearing others rave about the seafood market and its restaurant. As an avid seafood lover, it seems strange that my reason for finally visiting was far from purchasing my favorite food. Instead, I visited the shop under the most curious of intentions—not to buy seafood, but to sample scoops of gelato, the smooth and marshmellowy textured Italian ice cream. If it weren’t for my world-traveling friends who knew of Italy’s delectable desserts, I’d have never gone. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed to find such a delicacy in a place like that.
Patty and I surveyed the tubs of dazzling colored gelato and sorbets: pistachio, raspberry, hazelnut, butter pecan, peach, coconut, and all the average flavors. We sampled several, and then ordered a scoop each, she savoring raspberry and I the fresh white coconut.
At the check-out counter, I flinched at the young cashier’s rudeness when she snatched the ticket angrily out of Patty’s hand. Eyeing Faye, I took a step back, feeling an awkward moment about to unfold. Faye rarely tolerates rudeness and the fallout of her intolerance can range anywhere from mild scolding to cruelty. Surprisingly, she said nothing.
The more I watched the woman, the more I realized that she wasn’t an everyday-run-of-the-mill rude worker. There was a world behind the counter that I knew nothing of and I felt distinctly as if we were being punished for the crimes of others. In addition to us, she took out her frustration on her bubble gum, smacking it, gnashing and chomping it. Her eyes looked sunken, tired, as if she’d forgotten to put on eye liner—or just hadn’t cared to. Then, from no apparent provocation, she began to delineate her trial of the snowbirds.
How she hated snowbirds who hauled their old selves and money down South—the way she talked—with the express purpose of tormenting her.
“They threw their trash in my tip jar.” She lamented, picking up the plastic container much like the one holding my gelato only with ‘Tips’ written in pastel marker across it.
Patty and Faye had walked away by now. But as I stepped up to the counter, the woman was far from finished. “One lady was looking at the shirts and then she came up here and said, ‘I’d buy a t-shirt if it was a ‘reasonable price.’’ She grabbed my gelato container, scanned it into her register and then slammed it down on the counter and said through clinched teeth, “I had to get this—“ She reached under the counter and for the briefest moment I pictured her pulling out a super soaker squirt gun or an Uzi. Instead, she held up a hardcover book and pointed to the title.
“Just to keep me from killing them.”
I read the cover silently: “The Love Revolution by Joyce Meyer.”
She shook her head wearily and stuffed the book back under the counter. “$1.25.”
Unsure of how to respond, I held out my money and smiled, happy to have been a sponge to absorb some of her frustration. I wished her well in her quest for patience and hoped for a swift migration of her invaders. Then I walked away to join my friends out at the van.
Love will always call you back. And it did. A few days later I returned to the market. I browsed the same route—staring in at the fish; watching the lobsters who had yet to figure out a way to escape the tank. Then I made a wish list of crab dips, and cheeses, seasonings from the world over, and exotic flavors of hummus. I tasted a sample of pistachio gelato, the color of a million smooshed peas. Then tasted the hazelnut—and predictably ordered a cup of coconut.
At the counter. I smiled to see that she was working again. She didn’t remember me, but when I asked, “Are the snowbirds gone?” her eyes lit up with recognition.
“Well, they’re gone, but now we’ve been invaded by spring breakers.” She sighed and swiped my deli ticket under her scanner. “I figured out that I’m just burnt out on this job.”
“How long have you been working here?”
She scrunched her face as if calculating. I expected her to reply with a copious length; perhaps she was in the owner's family and had been working there since she was a little girl, or—
“A year.” She replied. “I’ve been here through two tourist seasons.”
I fought back a snicker at her lack of endurance, until she explained, “I’m getting ready to start college and the personality test I took said I didn’t have a personality for being a cashier.” She threw her hands up. “There you go.”
“What are you going to college for?”
“To be a dental hygienist.” She beamed, as if she had told me she’d been accepted to some elite university where she would learn to cure the common cold.
My mouth fell open for a moment while I tried to formulate a way to tell her what I was thinking. “I can’t explain it, but you LOOK like a dental hygienist.”
She looked at me doubtfully.
“No, really. I’d let you clean my teeth.”
This time she laughed;
So excited that I’d fulfilled my mission, I said, “See you later,” and started walking away.
“Hey.” She called. “You forgot your gelato.”
Rolling my eyes at myself, I grabbed the container. “Thanks.”
I walked out of the store, smiling because she had no idea that the gelato was only an excuse for what I had really gone back for—to see if she was there, to hear more of her story. Just outside the door, I sat down at the table and took a bite of the cool gelato, content that I’d found what I went for.