Rotten Cucumber Blues

When I was a simple farm boy with a face like a melon and arms and legs like sturdy trunks, I had no idea I would one day be singing my blues on this international electronic street corner. Yet here I am � unless we�re meeting somewhere else, like between the covers of a battered book you found a million bright summers from now, with my name printed in ink and blood.

Put the money right here, mama,
in this ol� coffee can. If you do,
I promise someday I�ll try to be good.

I�ve been thinking about all sorts of things today. Rotten cucumbers in grocery stores, to name one � corporate cucumbers nobody is responsible for, because the owners and stockholders are far away, counting their money. Should you complain? Should you take your business elsewhere? Forget it. Save your breath. The truth is, unless you grow your own cucumbers, or can buy them or steal them from a nearby farm, you�re stuck � condemned to a life of eating rotten cucumbers coated with wax, gassed in cold storage plants, and bounced all over the country in refrigerated trucks.

I�ve also been thinking about shoe stores. Someday, I will tell my grandkids about them. I will tell them about the shoe stores and shoe repair shops of my youth that were owned by crazy little Armenians and Italians who smoked cigars and ate garlic and took care of their customers and entertained them and said hello to them in the barbershop and waved to them on the sidewalk: Hello, Mrs. Butterball, you got a lot of nice kids there, with big beautiful feet. How is Mr. Butterball? Still the best butcher in town, hah? . . . Yes, I will tell my grandkids there was a time when the owner of a shoe store would personally take off your shoes and slip a new pair onto your tired feet and lace them up, then push down on your big toes to see if they were ripe and say, �How does that feel? Like you got enough room?�

Once upon a time, I went into a shoe repair shop owned by an Armenian. It was a little place on Main Street. The owner was smoking a cigar that cast a shadow across the counter. He was listening to the San Francisco Giants game on his transistor radio, and wearing a Giants cap. The place was real. He was real. The smell of leather and cigar smoke was real. The man had real hands, with hair on his fingers. There were real boots and real shoes stacked up all over the place, waiting to be massaged by his intellect and skill, waiting to be understood and appreciated and returned to their humble lives of service.

Light a cigar now and you offend half the rotten cucumber-eating nation � the same people who beep at you and give you dirty looks on the freeway. Get out of my lane. This is my lane. There is no other lane like it anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, if you dare smell like garlic or onions, you offend the other half � the ones who love �reality shows� and think it�s fine to blow up the world as long as it doesn�t interfere with their plans for the weekend.

The world is polluted, the air, the rivers, the oceans, the lakes, the food we eat, the water we drink, everything, but it�s against the rules to smell like onions or to puff on a cigar while you rummage through Corporate America�s bin of imported sweatshop goods. Now you can�t buy a pair of shoes that are worth repairing. Either they don�t exist, or you can�t afford them. This is progress?

Up the street, there was an old black man who had a wooden shoe-shine bench in the barbershop. Once in awhile, a customer would climb up and take a seat and the black man would go to work with his brushes and rags. The customer didn�t have to take his shoes off. All he had to do was sit and enjoy the attention, and the personality of a man whose history was tragic and profound. Watching them was communion in its purest sense. It returned me to a state of grace and balance.

July 21, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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