Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mucking Mendicants at Haymarket

Warning: Off topic. A heavy schedule has slowed posting here and will next week as well. Meanwhile, Boston bounces along.

Yes, the Haymarket was open and pushing produce today, slushy St. Patrick's Day 2007. The usual area mendicants did not seem bothered by the icy, windy streets. Nor did they seem lit, unlike so many of the youth already staggering and careering into each other and buildings well before noon.

I normally hit the stalls around 7 or 7:30 in the morning. Today, I arrived in a pout about 11, feeling sorry for myself that our forecast eight inches of snow ended up after 14 hours of drizzle like a vanilla Slurpee. There's no cross-country skiing in a dessert drink.

I live a short drive or shortish walk to either the Arboretum or Franklin Park Golf Course. Given six or more inches of snow, they are mass or private Nordic ski resorts. There is much to write about the coniferous landscape of Arnie's place, with blue spruce sagging with the white stuff. However, Bussey Street and the three tiny parking areas quickly fill with suburban SUVs. The Snooton and Swellesley decals proclaim that suburbanites feel safe enough among the Boston lanes, so long as the Harvard trees are there. It's too damned crowded for a decent ski, no matter how beauteous.

A short distance away, the skiing is better, both for a better choice of terrain and for the still, silent swards and hills. A lot of people remember or have heard of when a trip to Franklin Park could mean a trip to the hospital or the police. Many area folk do not, will not go there...and I thank God for that.

Skiing there is a delight. You are often alone or one of three or four on the whole of it. Some late mornings or early afternoons, a half dozen kids hit the monster hill with their sleds, but they are neither loud nor in the way. Instead, they seem posing for Currier and Ives prints.

It's no matter today, because of the miserable slush. Lackaday.

So instead, I dozed fitfully abed, listening to the rain that was too cowardly even to become sleet. An icy topping would at least have been skiable. The pale mush today was heavy and so wet, it offered no sliding at all. Pout.

My number two son and I shoveled our sidewalks and the neighbor's. Then we did the serious lifting of clearing a car and a van, chiseling out the packed muck the road scrapper piled to the top of the wheel wells. We had to lug each scoop well clear of each vehicle, front or back, and damn, it was heavy stuff.

When the freezing drizzle slowed enough, the best bet to recover the morning was to admit that the Haymarket would be open, with maybe a third or half the vendors as dumb as us regulars. After going there almost every week for 27 years, I have a real Blackstone Street jones. It's a sorry Saturday without the loudness, lip and lushness of the Haymarket. Even on vacation, I miss it. In Paris, I was very pleased to find numerous small and one huge open-air market. It really hurts to pay four times as much to buy fruit at Stop & Shop that will rot before it ripens and will never smell like food. Those Styrofoam tomato-like objects belong in toy stores.

Sure enough, about half the vendors were there. More would like have been too many. Even though the temperature was much warmer than it has been for several Saturdays, few shoppers were there. Most vendors had already begun marking down prices like they do at the end of the afternoon. There's little sense in loading trucks with ready-to-eat fruit, which is also ready to go terribly rotten. Large ripe pineapples were $1 and gorgeous strawberries 75¢ for the pound box.

On the way, I had to swing into the Citizens ATM next to the bagel shop (no longer open on Saturday). Two stalwart scroungers were there. I suppose if I were slight, they might have made me uneasy. They were dirty, but not mean.

They did a good job asking for a dollar, but I said I would get twenties from the machine and wouldn't give them one. Pressed for the dollar, I told them the truth, that number one son had been by the previous evening, needed bus and walking around cash and I pressed my bills on him despite his protest that he probably had enough. Parents!

After the Haymarket, my fresh-food therapy worked. I knew what I'd cook for the next several days and had goodies for everyone at home. It's Santa on the cheap.

I park in free spaces. On the way to the car, I saw clumps of teetering teens -- they can't have been legal drinking age. There was also a regular winter mendicant with his plastic St. Paddy's hat.

He's not there in warm weather. There are definite shifts of the street free lances.

Well, even a few of the Haymarket vendors like to disappear if they can to hide from Boston weather. Poor, rubicund Jimmy has never cared for local winters, but he's often there before 7 a.m. with the bitter wind chill and an unconvincing grin. Ask him and hear, "I hate the cold!"

The bearded and smiling mendicant by the Orange Line entrance seemed sober enough but alert and jolly at 11:30. He was quick with the God bless you for a bit of cash and had plenty of spare "Happy Saint Patrick's Day" greetings for us all.

It often is worth the trouble to be out and about when nature makes you want to hide.

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