Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I once considered them monsters. Men without conscience in dark expensive suits and gelled back hair that reeked with the scent of hundred dollar bills and imported cologne. I pictured them as clearly as a dream, surrounded by smoke and ash, rising higher as they trampled over bodies in their shiny leather shoes. They never thought about the blood or the oil, the trash they left or the babies born without arms and organs. Men who lived so far away from the rubble and graves that their gated bubbles allowed in only certain parts of reality. Reality that smelled only of roses, filled only with the sound of cartoon cash registers opening and closing. Cha-ching!
Late at night, surrounded by books and pipes and stories I could hardly bear, I cried. How did those monsters sleep and move and breathe? How could a mirror not crumble with their stare? Were they just hollow shells of flesh, content with their bank accounts and fresh strawberries in winter and champagne at every meal? This was the evil in the world, the web of corporations and their flesh-covered robots that breathed in stocks and exhaled only blood. Money was their god. They sucked on half-dollars and bent over for the penetration of rising stock, orgasming into the bright red passing numbers of the trades. Maiming, bodies…it was just part of the game, those born without fortune.
I studied them in school, corporate criminals. Men who pushed hard towards the bottom line, relentless in their pursuit of power and wealth, one begetting the other in a perfect circle. In round table meetings, they decided to knowingly sell faulty cars and tainted food. They used algorithms to determine which would be cheaper, settling the wrongful death lawsuits or a massive auto recall? They were monsters that hid behind a massive establishment, never finding the harsh eyes of the jury upon them.
I thought of them as inhuman, men who could put money before human life.
I thought of them as monsters, until I became one, until I glimpsed the world through their eyes.
Early Saturday morning I loaded up my truck with baskets of fresh baked artisan bread. It was bread I was proud to sell, being both beautiful and delicious. I was in one of the worse neighborhoods in San Francisco, at the very end of Revere St, where the slumping houses gave way to gray warehouses on the edge of the bay. Here, there was graffiti and piles of refuse and old rotten couches on every other corner. Old Victorians sat crumbling, sagging under the weight of years and poverty; and shriveled, skinny prostitutes wandered the streets, looking for another way to score. It was trash and dog shit that littered the streets, and I drove through there every Saturday morning to load my car with handmade bread.
It was an overcast morning, but the air clung to my skin in humid clumps of moisture and I felt the day growing hotter with each minute. My truck was packed with an umbrella, two tables, and all the bread I could hold. There were loaves covered in sesame seeds, others with poppy, a bin of long plain baguettes. I closed the hatch of the truck and walked to the driver’s door, opening it and taking off my thin sweater before I got in. A sound made me look up and towards the back of the open bed truck. I saw a fluttering and before my mind knew what was happening, I was walking towards the bed of the truck, yelling and waving my hands. A tiny bird flew up and away from the bread basket, beating its wings as it dropped a few of the stolen sesame seeds. It flew back to the withered sapling that stood next to the blue door of the warehouse.
I looked into the basket. There were over ten loaves of bread in there, each one covered in bright white sesame seeds and a golden crust. I looked at them, searching for a sign of the bird; a hole, a place without seeds, I could find nothing. An ethical dilemma had been born, brought into existence by a hungry bird and my own conscience. I had no idea which loaves had been contaminated, if any. I just didn’t know. I knew I would not want any loaf in that basket, but I couldn’t just throw the entire basket away…could I? Should I? There was a chance the bread was fine, but there was a chance it was contaminated. It could make people sick. The possibilities played in my mind. Customers retching, wondering what they had eaten.
I got into the car and drove over the bridge to the market.
When the tables were arranged with a red table cloth and all the baskets, I stood, waiting for a customer. I still didn’t know what to do. The first customer of the day was a loyal regular. He reached out and grabbed one of the seeded breads, though luckily he picked one that was close to the edge of the basket, the least likely place to have been touched by the bird. After he left, I walked around the table and inspected the bread leaves another time. I couldn’t see any sign of the bird, but I grabbed the four loaves in the middle, the most likely ones to have been contaminated and put them behind the table.
These were regular customers, how could I knowingly put them in danger? But what if there was no problem, then I was wasting bread. Which was more important, a few sick people or the sale?
I realized it then. I am not pure. In me lies the flecked specks of every monster. In them must lie the sparks of flowers and soft kisses. In me is that which I despise. Now, I could see the bridge.