Last Wednesday, the baby and I were on our way home from the 2/3 train when I heard someone say behind me, "Hey, why didn't you get no bananas?" While the statement itself seemed to be essentially gibberish and I had no reason to believe it was directed at me, something told me to turn around. There was a woman standing behind us with two large bunches of bananas in plastic Dole wrapping, and sure enough, she was looking straight at me. "Hey," she repeated, "why didn't you get no bananas?" And she gestured towards the baby as though to say, Can't you see your baby wants bananas?
"Bananas?" I asked politely.
"Yeah, bananas. They're giving out free bananas over there. You should get some. For your baby, you know?" And she gestured towards the baby again. I saw that the bunch of bananas in her right arm were still green, the bunch in her left already ripe.
I looked past her down the street. On the sidewalk in front of the Salvation Army community center was parked a large City Harvest truck, emblazoned with the motto "RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY," and I could see from where I stood that the folding tables next to the truck were indeed piled high with bananas. Looking around me, I saw that at least a third of the people on the sidewalk had one or two bunches of bananas in their arms, poking out of their bags, or in their wire shopping carts.
I realized that the woman was still looking at me encouragingly. "They're free!" She said.
"Um," I said, thinking, This woman couldn't possibly believe that I am in a free-banana sort of situation. "OK. Wow, yeah. Thanks. My baby likes bananas. Um, I have to run home now. I think maybe we'll get some on our way back out."
The woman nodded, satisfied, and set out across Lenox with her arms full of banana. I turned away, took a few steps, and stopped. The baby does like bananas, I thought, and we don't have any money. Really, we are in a free-banana sort of situation right now. I started tentatively back towards the City Harvest truck, took a few steps, and stopped. RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY, the truck said to me, and I watched as my neighbors stood in front of the tables, selecting bananas, helped by the smiling cargo-shorted volunteers. I suddenly, desperately wanted free bananas for my baby. I would do the same as the woman had done - take one ripe bunch to eat right away and one green bunch for later in the week. I would slice bananas in the baby's cereal and maybe freeze one or two to eat as pretend popsicles. Or maybe blend them with yogurt and honey for smoothies - or put the smoothie in the popsicle mold for real popsicles.
RESCUING FOOD FOR NEW YORK'S HUNGRY - well, I was hungry, and poor too. It so happened that I had been near-desperate with money anxiety for the previous few days. The bills were barely paid, and there was no money left after, and I had been wondering what we would do about groceries. Despite this, though, I knew in my heart that I did not count as NEW YORK'S HUNGRY. Even though things looked dire on that very day, they were mostly OK before that, and would undoubtedly be mostly OK again soon. I looked across at the City Harvest tables again. Were all of those people really NEW YORK'S HUNGRY, or were they just neighborhood ladies like me rejoicing in free bananas? Could I do it too?
In a fit of indecision and desire, at least five times I started towards the free bananas, then stopped, turned, took a few steps towards home, then stopped, turned, and took a few steps back towards the bananas.
The feeling was a familiar one - to obtain, or not to obtain? I have wrestled with the same thing countless times in rather different circumstances. Do I want it? Do I deserve it? Is it really a good idea? I remember in particular, two winters ago, a cream-colored cropped boiled-wool jacket at Club Monaco. I had waited patiently for it to go on sale, and when it was finally marked down to half price, I took it from the rack and bore it triumphantly towards the register. Halfway there, though, something made me stop. Should I really get it? I mightn't wear it very much - it was really a rather awkward weight - too warm inside and not warm enough outside - and it would get so very dirty right away. No, no, not a good purchase. I took it back to the rack. And yet - it was so beautiful, and I had waited so long for it, and I could wear it with a red skirt and black tights and look like a Godard girl. Back towards the register. I did this dance several times, finally ended up leaving the store and boarding the subway minus jacket, and then getting off the subway after a few stops, going back to the store, and buying the thing.
I knew that now, though, I couldn't do the same thing. If I went home and put away the stroller and washed my hands and washed the baby's hands and took off the baby's shoes and pants and diaper and offered him the potty and fed the dog and THEN decided that I wanted free bananas, it would be too late. The truck would be gone, and the free bananas with it. DECIDE NOW, I told myself. I took another step towards the City Harvest tables, and then turned and trudged home banana-free. I could not, in the final bargain, bring myself to approach those tables and ask for free bananas - not wearing my good linen pants, holding my baby on my hip in a handwoven Belgian sling, and pushing my boutique-brand stroller. I am sure no one would have minded - everyone in this neighborhood knows that hard times can wear all kinds of clothes and push all kinds of strollers - but I could not do it.
When I got home, there was a long-overdue paycheck in the mailbox that would cover the rest of our bills and leave a little to spare for the next week or so. That evening, when I went to pick up our farm share vegetables, the couple we split our share with said we could pay our portion in installments and not to worry. The next day, my mother said she would help us with our daycare bill for the next couple of weeks. I went to the grocery store and bought blueberries and yogurt and salmon and bread. But no bananas - the sight of them made me a little queasy.
As for the boiled wool jacket, I had been right. It was utterly impractical, and I never wore it, not even once. Soon enough, I packed it off to Buffalo Exchange, where I traded it for very little money indeed.