Trader Noir

Everynight, as I walk from the hospital to the subway, I happen to pass a Trader Joe’s. In the light of day, it is nothing more than a trendy and cheap-ish place to shop. But by night, it turns into something so much more.

Much of what I will speak of is shrouded in mystery and fantasy. And some of it will be entirely fictional. I invite you to come with me on a journey of dumpsters, darkness and orchids.

Date: 2/29/2009
Location :Trader Joe’s, Corner of Atlantic and Court, Brooklyn NY
Time: 11:13pm

The night was cold. There was a chill in the air that I should have expected at the end of September. Foolishly, I had left the house without a coat and therefore, held myself tight as I walked quickly to my train.
I do not like walking at night in the city. My mother always said poor night vision runs in the family, but think it is something more basic, more human. Everyone is afraid of the unknown, and things can hide in the dark.

I looked ahead as a beam of light cut into the darkness. A single square of clarity in the night. It was a doorway. To the back of Trader Joe’s. A parade of workers came out and brought with them bulging bags of the day’s waste.

I quickened my pace. The smell of trash, the sweet mixed with sour. It gets into you clothes. Into you head.

Then I saw it. It. Them.

At first I thought it was a trick of the night, a trick of the light. Shadows moving, climbing, building in size and strength. I couldn’t focus on just one, for it seemed that everything had suddenly come alive. This change in activity overloaded my senses. I shook my head like an etch-a-sketch hoping that a clean slate would appear in front of me.

No good. These were not shadows I could will away. They were people. Or what was left of people. They seemed to have been there the whole time. Hiding. Waiting. Or maybe they crawled out from the depths of the earth. Or the very depths of hell. My heart beat fast in my chest. They all hurried towards me, fighting each other to be first to the garbage. I relaxed a little. Their eyes looked right through me. Since I was no competition for them, they let me watch unharmed, like Fosse and gorillas.

Who were these people? Waiting in the darkness, in the cold? They attacked the bags with surgical precision. One would slice the bag open with a knife, and gut the contents of the bag- then, like hyenas, the others would circle, and with bare hands sift through the trash to find their treasures. Hands would spring up in the throng triumphantly holding an orange or asparagus high in the air.

A tiny Chinese woman crawled into a dumpster. Her husband guarded it with an umbrella held menacingly at his side. Down she went, into the miasma. Down into the depths of her humanity. What would she find?

At this moment, the streetlight changed from green to red. An ominous hellish glow. The Chinese woman surfaced. Holding an orchid. The pot had been shattered, but the roots held fast to the soil. This orchid was dying, yet held fast to life. In the dark, it was hard to notice color. But the orchid looked sad. Worn. Tired. This woman held it in her hands like one would hold a crying child.

I lit my cigarette and walked on. I had seen enough. These people had work to do. I took a long drag and thought to myself “sometimes a dead orchid is better than no orchid at all”

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