The young man was looking up into your yards as he walked slowly along the street.
"Excuse me," he asked an old woman working in a near vertical front yard, "I'm looking for a woman up here, grows vegetables… ."
"That's me," she smiled down at him. "Supposed to be a nutcase? Cause she gives'em away? Neighborhood nuisance?"
"Well, I heard… .?"
"That's me, grow' em and give' em. Would ye like a tomata? They were Gen. George Washington's favorite fruit. Course who in the hell is George Washington? Right? Get offa a street there, though criminals speed through here going over to El Sereno, police chasin em, not ta catch'em just ta look like they're chasin."
The young man got up on the little brick patch of private sidewalk in front of her yard.
"That's the trouble growing too derned many vegetables," she said, "gits ye a bad reputation, an buildin too much lonliness that just eats you up inside, is that folks get tired of 'em, vegetables, an you and your lonliness," shaking her head, she had long stringy hair. "Least it's so up here in Montecito Hts. Used to be, before folks caught on to me I'd grow me nice mess of eggplant or tomatas, even slimy okra and folks'ud be glad to see me coming--now--even if I never even charged nobody nothing fer vegetables here in Montecito Heights, they don't even answer a door, quaking in their boots it's talky me outside with my vegetables ta give away again; wantin ta actually talk to them. They just wanna be faithful married ta their TV sets, and their electronical sex gadgets, with their untalkin husbands or wives or children or dogs that also don't never talk no more --it's a wonder people can even manage ta git away from their TV's ta have beautiful anymore--how do they do it? -- procreating while they're watching the Tonight Show, eaten they suppers and there's that malicious eye peering at em, the deadly, soul killing flickering TVs shadow - why even get married no more at all? Why bother, just eat and work and cheat on yer husband, cause only they just don't wanna risk feelin some emotional feeling, or care about anything cept what they just bought, or are gonna buy"-she kept picking up handfuls of black earth, "Look at my front yard dirt here," the dirt was sticking to her fingers, a dangling earthworm came up with a handful, "I always hoped that a good mess of young string beans," she was carefully removing the worm, "baby summer squash, so full of a God's love an tender it melts in your mouth," she was placing the squirming beast back in the friable earth, "that my sanctified vegetables'ud bring folks around to a more human point a view," the worm hid, pushing itself back into the earth, "cause my vegetables are fulla of prayer and sanctifying grace. Eat' em and they warranteed ta make ye feel better-- here, you judge, try one of these succulent Brandywine tomatoes, see if it don't perk ye up. Worked good for George when he was crossing the Delaware."
Here she smiled a sad smile, "vera sad for me all this silence, but I still keep talkin to God, to the universe just by my vera act right here a growing these here holy vegetables, also, may God forgive em fer their laziness, the rotten Hollenbeck division police. You go down there, 7-Eleven on Figueroa and there's 10 police cars hanging around laughin, eating, playing grab ass, donuts, to get so morbidly obese, it sure ain't my vegetables."
She laughed, "an these girly neighbors up here, stealin, they rather steal than let me give'em nothing rippin fruit off my trees-- I hate to be stolen from--even show the police pictures of who's doin it and they don' do nothing unless yer a hated minority, a street bum can come up destroying yer trees come on your property. I'm supposed to be crazy anyways given away vegetables like this anyways. How's that Brandywine, want another?"
She was working in the earth as she talked pulling out a bamboo stake then sticking it back further in, with knobby arthritic fingers, back into the soft fertile ground.
"Gotta confess, I am guilty though, caught myself talking, know I did that, I'd bring some unsuspecting neighbor a cauliflower, at one time people used to like the caulis, expensive in the stores, bring em a big cauliflower plump and fresh with dew and then stay too long. Course, I mean stay more than five minutes. Even took to timing myself though, put a egg timer in my apron that'd ring and when it did I'd scamper--can't foist off your own loneliness on people. Course that might be me just wantin to hear a human voice and exchange a few simple sentences maybe even--and I know this is going some--a thought or two, can't really go no place from up here in Montecito Heights, least not with a bicycle, hard for me to get back up this steep hill on this old part-busted bicycle with no gears to help."
She was wearing a long apron and loose trousers that had brownish black soil stains where she knelt in the soft dirt of her very steep front yard.
"Just gets awful, wind-swept lonely up here with nothing but your plants to talk to--if nobody needs you might as well be dead-- people go by fast on Montecito Dr., some of them do stop and talk to me--they love the big tall purple flowers of my bristly artichoke plants, but they don't stop long, not for more than a minute or two long, and it just gets to the point where you crave the sound of a human voice.
"Used to be married, husband never talked much--drove him crazy, loved him more than anybody can stand to be loved. Used to get up early and watch him sleeping in the bed. Tryin to think of something wonderful to do for him that day. He'd wake up, catch me watching, made him nervous I just loved him so much. You get married and have all kinds of luminous fairy tales in your head when you get married bout children and how wonderful your family's gonna be, lots of kids sweet little dear ones, every time I see one I just want to hug' em up close to me, their little voices raising a ruckus, the good times that you're gonna have. I wish my love muscle would shut down some so I could stand it. Scary how strong a force love is, isn't it?"
She wiped her hands on her apron. He looked into her face full of kindness wrinkles. There was a compelling gentleness that emanated from her that was a little astonishing. Perhaps even frightening by its incongruence to the rest of the world.
"I know, I'm just turned into a tiresome old nuisance, a throwback to times when people talked and loved each other. Course, I still got my sweet little hummingbirds up here and they squeak and spat--never get tired of fighting, I remember folks would spat like that, I'd hear spirited discussions coming from houses, there was passion in marriages like my little birds squeaking their yells at each other, and after all, charity has to have a human voice and pity a human face--I know it's a weakness to admit it. Should be just contented with the evil empty TV. Poetry, prayer, an conversation, that's what I crave--oh look!"
"You are a lucky man," she suddenly crouched was whispering behind her hand and pointing, for him, "look right up there! That's a vision."
He saw a bright yellow bird. "That's a very rare sight, see up near the house that flash of bobbing yella? That's a oriole, very shy hardly ever see'em, only three or a year--oh that's a visitation from God, yellow is the color of God The Father--wonderful sign."
"Very beautiful," said the young man, looking at her and the bird and meaning both.
"But in desperation," she went on, " I had ta start sneaking my beautiful shiny fresh vegetables down to the Food for More, I call it Food for More, really called Food for Less but they charge terrible prices for the worst, most tasteless vegetables you ever had in yer life--Mexican stuff that gives you salmonella diarrhea constipation and pyorrhea."
She looked around her garden, the stalks of broccoli, the rows of tomato cages, "I know it's silly to be proud a something nobody else inna world thinks is worth nothing like a garden. Nobody grows a vegetable garden up here these days, they just supposed to just go down Food for More an drop lifeless, wrinkled, over priced garbage in your little cage on wheels, just put tasteless unripe stuff in a cart so they can go back to their ever lovin TVs. Nothing beats planting something, growing little baby sprouts, making up soil pellets ta plant it, taking a seed watching its sprout in the ground, making that little sprout grow into a great food producing plant--tell you a secret nobody knows about me and you can't tell anybody else either because then they'll think I'm a egregious looney for sure, but I pray ever over evra one a these here sweet plants specially at night when my vicious neighbors can't see me and think I'm crazier than ever, that liar that's the president of the Montecito Heights Improvement Association, I pray against the gophers and pray for the plant roots--I say prayers for all of us: how can we stop hating each other so bad? How can we get back to loving, that sweetness, kneeling on here on this holy ground. Look at that purple over there, kneeling out here in my garden at night-- remember Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane--gardens is holy places. I'll swear they's difference in my vegetables coming outa prayer. Holy Ghost power--that shiny and purple that egg plant over there's the same color as the shrouds they puttin on the statues during Lent at St. Therese church over in Alhambra? Well I defy you grow a a egg plant like that--big beautiful heavy swole up fruit like that on it--grow it without the prayer?--can't be done, leastways I don't know anybody does it, gotta be jampacked crammed with Holy Ghost power--you can see you kin see the Holy Ghost's purple shining right through its skin. You know how they cover all the statues at Easter Time with purple cloth because it's the Holy Ghost's color? Same color as that egg plant. Every time I stick my hands in his holy dirt out here that I made myself outta cow poop and garbage and love --I call it holy cause it does holy things, it makes special Godly food for people-an I give the fruit an the blessing it carries with it away--give the vegetables away, give the lettuce away, cause I know people need the good God's grace they get when they eat it, I gotta believe that even they're all burnt out and don't think they need it, so, anyways, I got desperate an now I'm sneaking my beautiful vegetables, fruits down to the awful ugly and dirty over priced Food for More.
"When I first started going there I' d just stay outside the main store door down there on dangerous Figueroa, in the Food for More's parking and say to the Spanish coming in, 'Free Gratis' and give' em a mess of lettuce or hot peppers, you know Spanish like the hot peppers and I can grow big orange Matzanos peppers that Food for More charges 7-8 dollars a pound for? I had to bring it all downhill on my bustin up bicycle--whole sackful that slung over my back and tied onto the back of my bike I don't care who sees me carrying vegetables around anymore except the Food for More ran me out of their parking.
"So now I gotta sneak right quick right on into the store and quickedy quick goin all the way back to the produce section with my fruit hidden and concealed in a carryin dark bag so that the Rent a Jerk guard at the door don't stop me. I go right in along with a whole crowd's coming in, just getting off work and talking a lot to each other--wisht I could hablo Spanish--right into the store and right quick all the way back to the sad tasteless produce. It's like a fruit funeral and when the produce manager's not looking, specially when there's a little space in produce bins after people been already wasting their hard earned on that garbage, I talk to the people, slip'em in my beautiful vegetables right in the next to the store's--feel like I oughta special label them cause people don't know how delightfully my tomatoes are, how inspiring and refreshing, just outstanding. I put them only in a certain little section I call Myra's corner off to the side and I saw one woman watching me one day, smiling, me putting my tomatoes in that little bin with leaves still on and vines-- taking the store tomatas out and just fillin up my special bin. Anybody ast me I tell them 'I grew these tomatoes with God's help and they are beautiful you want some? Course store sells my tomatas, but hey, what can I do? All I can do is try to serve God best way that I know how. The first thing a person's gotta do is first to try to save their own soul and then if they still got time and energy to try to help the people around them. And me, I already got to that second stage in spades and try to help as much as I can and I'm given forth the fruit of his holy ground right here. Some day I hope to smuggle my beauties into Gelson's. Would you like a other Brandywine tomata? You know they original thought tamatas was poison? a type of nightshade and tried to assassinate George Washington with tamatas.
Course old George he foxed 'em, ate the tamatas and
smacked his presidential lips and said, 'Poison me some more,'tween
sips of good whiskey. I got a striped variety also's vera tasty. And
a little salt, got salt in my apron here. Should I cut it for ya?
I likem sliced with a little salt.
Pierrino Mascarino has published 45 stories in The Linnet's Wings, The Beat, Bartleby Snopes, Darkest Before Dawn, Penguin Review, Black Lantern, 3 in Hackwriters, 2 in Fear of Monkeys, Troubador 20 . He has published the print quarterly Invertebrata, the instructional novella, My Aunt Rose, played the title role in the movie, Uncle Nino, appeared on National Television over 6000 times, lives alone atop a hill in downtown Los Angeles growing rare fruit. His paintings, stone and welded sculpture are part of 2 museum's permanent collections. Hundreds in private collections. Has lectured widely on family values. Taught writing for the last 12 years at Writers Helping Writers. Taught acting for the last 20 years. Written commercials and screen plays. He has traveled extensively in South America, Suriname, Gayana where he recently captured and supplied the Baltimore Aquarium with a 275 lb. anaconda. He has been a prominent tarantula and parakeet breeder, painted fish underwater in the Bahamas, been a psychotherapist to actors, and a Diamond broker in downtown LA and acted in 75 national commercials and many features: Tears of the Sun, Missing in Action, Lets Get Harry.