My car warns me that at 1 pm it’s 91° on this bright sunny Saturday afternoon. I am at the largest flea market in the world, over 2000 vendors with booths selling any and everything imaginable; designer knockoff purses, power tools, weed, laundry detergent, cell phones, pots and pans, comforters and sheet sets… and Mexican babies. Raggedy parakeets and other not-as-easy-to-identify birds screech and call and make steady racket, they are apparently unhappy because someone has stolen their feathers, a lot of them have bald patches. There are several booths with homemade signs that say “XXX” or “Adult Video & DVD” or my favorite “All Homo.” What the ?…don’t they know porn is free on the internet? There are absolutely No books of any kind, anywhere, for me to buy. The flea market is also a 14-screen drive-in movie theater by the way….no thank you to that. I would almost certainly get beat up trying to fool around in the backseat of a car, or arrested.
This ain’t the tourist season, I’m pretty sure that the market will be way more better in a few months, but I am cautiously optimistic and find myself having a good time as I wade in and start shopping in earnest. Today I’m feeling confident, I’m willing to bargain and haggle and make deals and walk away. I make some good purchases; 12 pairs of socks for $5, 2 boxes of authentic blue-box Nag Champa $4, $2 for some Colgate toothpaste and $3 for Crest mouthwash. I am unsuccessful in talking a Jamaican woman into selling me a bottle of roach & ant spray for $2. When I offer this ancient Haitian woman $5 for some Tide detergent that is marked $7 she smiles and says “No, but for you, just for you, I give you two boxes for $20.”
The flea market patrons and vendors are mainly Hispanic, Haitian and Jamaican. Both Jamaican and Haitian languages are in use, melodic and lovely to hear, Haitian Creole sounding very different and more appealing than the bayou cajun Creole I am familiar with.
The flea market has a little roller coaster and a decent sized Ferris wheel, both look a little dingy. I briefly debate going on the Ferris wheel alone, but that would be kind of gay, so I don’t. I am parched, thirsty. I pay $6 for about 6 ounces of “fresh pressed” cane juice, which tastes like really weak aloe-vera kool-aid. I’m still thirsty, so I make my way to a stall where a Jamaican man with a machete is cracking coconuts, so I buy one for $8. The coconut is very cold, it has been cracked so that I can pull it apart and there is a big straw sticking out for me to drink the juice. I sit down and suck down as much of the coconut water as I can (it tastes yuck, like watery coconut water…). I briefly try to break the coconut into pieces and eat part of it, but it’s difficult and everybody is looking at me so I throw it away.
I am hungry, the busiest food booth sign says “Fresh Ceviche $8.” I’m not willing to include ceviche in my culinary adventure, not on this blisteringly hot day, especially when the guy behind the counter is Indian. Instead I opt for Vaca Frita (fried shredded beef) with tostones (twice fried-plantains) and mojito dipping sauce. The sauce is fantastic, vinegary, with garlic and lime juice.
As I leave the flea market it starts to sprinkle, then rain harder. For a minute, the insecurity and unhappiness that are my lifelong companions try to rear their ugly heads, but the negativity won’t last …not today. I am feeling good. Tonight I won’t go out to the bars and pick someone up. I don’t have a date and nobody is interested. Tomorrow I won’t be doing brunch with the girls, tomorrow night I won’t be cruising the internet and hooking up with some random guy. I am through searching, waiting, hoping there is someone out there for me….because there’s not. I have my dogs and books and music…and my most reliable and closest friend the television. I’ve found a new friend in this flea market, it’s eclectic and chaotic and fun and depressing…it’s a little sad and hasn’t aged well. The flea market’s new friend no longer feels he will find someone…and understands he’s not very special after all.