Good Apples In Bad Times

There’s a man who works in the Helm’s Bakery garage. His name is Oscar. I haven’t changed his name because I don’t want to, but also because I don’t believe that people want their names changed.

Oscar has worked in the garage for twenty years. I’ve parked there for almost a year. I’m not supposed to do this. I’m supposed to park across the street, in the open-air lot, where my permit allows. But one time Oscar said it was okay. Go ahead, park in here. I have taken advantage of that kindness since.

I knew I crossed a boundary. Under the crinkled metal of the garage door, I broke rules. And because I knew this, I began to assume a discomfort with Oscar. Where once he and I would exchange morning pleasantries — hi, good morning, what weather, etc — time now brought with it an avoidance of this man. I developed a pretend feud: he is upset, angry, determined to will me out of his space that I’ve intruded. He hates me. He must. He hates me with a shoulder that doesn’t turn when I pass, with a silence. He hates me in the way I act. How I go out the back door to avoid him, how I wait in my car for a moment he’s too busy to see me slink by. He hates me in how I avoid the man who let me inside on the day it was so hot. Remember — go ahead, park in here. Park in here.

My work is moving out of the Bakery. Our new office does not have a garage. It does not have an Oscar. As I’ve counted down the last days of our silence, I’ve noticed Oscar turn his shoulder as I pass. I can feel his eyes on me as mine are on the ground. I dive into deep anxieties about this. He could be planning something. A small revenge for my transgression, for my thieving of his space. There will be a nail in my tire. A long, jagged scratch across my passenger door. A broken window and a note: “Asshole.” I decide I have to say something to Oscar. I can fake a kind of treaty. Throw back into the peace of hi, good morning, what weather. Because I can’t afford a broken window. And I can’t afford an “Asshole.”

 a self-portrait

a self-portrait

I make a plan. I have to walk through the garage and by his office, a folding table with an apple core, to get to the mailbox. I’ll start walking to the garage at 4pm, the walk is two minutes, Oscar leaves at 4:05 every day, the mail comes at 4:10, two minutes back is twelve minutes. It will be twelve minutes and painless and I will be cleared of wrongdoing. I will move with my conscience intact. We’ll forget about this.

I should mention it’s Thursday. Two days after the election. I have not showered since they called Florida. I’m wearing a red bandana to hide my dirty hair and to hold my head on straight. This picture of stability walks into the Helm's Bakery garage at 4pm. Striding with chelsea boot heels clicking. Dizzy, maybe dehydrated, maybe tied too tight.

I peak around the cars parked in front of Oscar’s office. Don’t see him. Might need to reschedule this, fine, that’s fine. Keep walking, get the mail, still have to get the mail, should I leave a note? Jot it down. “Sorry.” Or “I’m sorry.” More sincere? I’m. Click, click, click. At the door that leads to the mailbox. Turning the handle. I hear him. He’s on the phone, walking behind me. I let go of the handle and think how a wave is a kind of apology. I go to move my hand in the direction of a chickened gesture, and then: “Hold on, I’ll call you back.” Oscar hangs up the phone.

“Trump?” He points to my bandana. 

“What? No?” 

“It’s red.” Upper hand. 

“No, no — haven’t — never — I hate him — haven’t showered.” 

“You okay?” No. 

“Yes. Fine. Didn’t plan for this. It’s hard, Oscar I wanted — ” 

“I wanted Hillary too.” 

Fuck.

The next thirty-five minutes embarrass me. Oscar takes it upon himself to console me of a loss that isn’t mine, but he knows, he knows, feels mine. He sees all kinds of people come through the garage. He says, with a gesture to my eyes that scan the ground for help, everyone’s like that, look, eyes on the ground. Everyone with heads down. Everyone sad. He’s sad too. But his head is up, gotta be up, you know? He’s lucky. He throws his arms to the garage, see, see what he has. Oscar is from El Salvador. He’s been in this garage since he left in the eighties, heads rolling outside his home, children screaming. That gets to you, he says. But here, here in America, oh. You all see so much sadness in everything. So personal to you. Yes, it’s sad. But there is worse. There is worse.

“See that?” he points to the apple core on his folding table. 

“Yes.” My eyes are off the ground now. I’m airing out. 

“That is good. An apple. An apple means I am lucky. I am working. There is so much good in the apple.” There is so much good in an apple.

I stammer about fear and what this means for America, how could there be so many people that believe hate. Oscar shakes his head, puts a hand on my shoulder to steady me. I realize I’m talking to myself. He eyes me dead on.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

He says he notices things. He’s notices things about me. Arms thrown back again to the garage. His space. His home. Been that way for 20 years. Met a lot of people. Different kinds. Some good, some not as good. He takes his hand off my shoulder. Now I’m steadied on his gaze. Serious. I swallow that look.

“You’re good.”

I’m — he searches — humble. I’m — he finds — respectful. Not everyone’s like that. Respectful of his space. He says something about care, about hello, about taking out what I bring in. He’s been meaning to say that. Knows I’m leaving soon, that’s that. Says it’s important people know how others see them. He thanks me. Knows I have to get back to work. Come say bye before you’re gone. You know, gone. He shakes my hand and I consider how fight-or-flight disregards the more obvious melt.

I forget the mail. Instead, I take a walk around the block. I haven’t processed much the last two days. Maybe for the lack of showering. But this is enough. Do me in. I haven’t cried yet. So I do, finally, in the alley behind the Bakery, which is cliché. But so is being sad. I think, while stray tears hit pavement, how it’s funny this is best described as an L.A. rain. Tears in back alleys. Another cliché. Hard to get away from in California.

I walk back to the office, dragging empathy at my heels. I use my phone to take a photo of my eyes, a final check before I sit back down at my desk. They match my bandana.

The rest of the day is quiet. My coworkers know my mood after Tuesday and Florida and red states and whiteness and will everyone just fucking own up. At some point there’s a question about mail. I don’t hear, my mood, etc. They retreat. I lean back and stare at the ceiling and think about tomorrow. I think about perception. I think about Hillary Clinton and I think about Oscar, who I just now know. I think about sadness and hands on shoulders. I think about the goodness of apple cores. There is so much good in an apple. There’s good in apple cores too.