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What would Darwin do?

I was the second to arrive for the daily dumb lottery, wherein sidewalk vendors determine what patch of sidewalk they'll vend at. "Hello," I said to the only other person there, a lady vendor I'd worked next to last week, and she looked at me and said nothing.

Nodded at the fifth person to arrive, and he said nothing to me either, breezed right past and started talking to someone else. 

Said hello to another vendor a few minutes later, a bearded kid, and he sorta grunted at me.

Yessir, the vendors on Telegraph Ave are a tight-knit bunch, and I am not invited to join the club. All of them (certainly not "all of us") know each other, most have been working the same block for months or years, and I'm the new guy, a loner by inclination and habit, so even in what for me was a gregarious frame of mind on a sunny morning, I couldn't chip through their ice. For my attempt at faking sociability, all I got was that grunt, one disinterested 'hello', and the minimum words required to participate in the morning draw. If it takes years to become a "vendor buddy," that'll never be me.

We do watch out for each other, though, and in that regard I'm included just for sitting on the selling side of a table. When I need to take a pee or poop break, I can ask my neighbor-vendor to watch my stand. That's a trick I learned on my second day, when my next-table vendor (who hadn't previously said a word to me) didn't ask but tapped my shoulder and announced, "Gotta pee," and with that he was walking toward the corner Sanican.

His table, selling rings and bracelets, had been left unmanned, so I kept an eye on his stuff, made sure nothing got swiped. That's how it works. Yesterday while I was peeing, my neighbor-vendor sold three stickers off my table. I never would've noticed, but when I got back he gave me the cash, and told me which stickers he'd sold.

If you're talking with a prospective customer, the next vendor will keep half an eye on your table, to be sure nobody's shoplifting while you're distracted. If you need change for a twenty to make a sale, another vendor will swap for four fives or two tens if he or she can.

In that sense, there's great camaraderie. In the human sense, though, damn, they're a tough crowd.

Anyway, 74th pick out of 90 vendors this morning, I picked a slot in front of one of Noah's ubiquitous bad bagelries, because I sensed that I might need coffee. Indeed I did, and it was shitty.

The woman working the next booth was selling candles, and she was remarkably beautiful, like a leggy supermodel, so what do you think I said to her? Not a word, all day.

♦ ♦ ♦

Selling fish is an enjoyable but unusual gig, but perhaps I haven't adequately described what I do all day on Telegraph, so here's the basics. (If you already understand, you can have a hall pass and skip the next paragraph.)

I sit at a table and sell Jay's sacrilegious stickers and magnets — Darwin as a fish, of course, but also Gefilte fish, 666 fish, or JR 'Bob ' Dobbs as a fish, etc. It's a laugh, $2.50 for a sticker, $4.50 for a magnet.

Passers-by often ask, "What's with the fish?" and I try to answer patiently, without a withering glare, because if you weren't raised in an excruciatingly Christian family like mine, you might not know that a simply-drawn fish was the ancient symbol of solidarity between Christians. That was thousands of years ago, when Christianity was new and Christians were oppressed, instead of being the oppressors like today.

When people don't know the above, it's an ignorance I can understand.

It's hard to hide my disdain, though, when college-age or older people pause at the table, and frown and ask, "What's Darwin?" It happens at least once every day, and I do not understand how grownups can be that stupid.

What's even worse is that I see that same look of confusion when people pause but then walk away without saying anything. I am positive that they don't know who Darwin was, either, don't understand anything about the concept of the fish, but they're not even curious enough to ask.

Today a middle-aged woman studied the entire display, 25 different kinds of fish stickers and magnets, and asked if she could buy a Jesus fish. Sorry, ma'am. We don't sell Jesus fish. Go to Utah.

  From Pathetic Life #13
Sunday, June 18, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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