The Watermelon Wars
There have been some epic feuds in the history of mankind; The Hafields and the McCoys, The Montagues and the Capulets, Mariah Carey and Nicky Minaj, but none as insignificant as the great fruit and vegetable wars of Talpiyot Street in Ramat Gan.
Most Israelis get their produce at the shuk, the open air market, be it the big one in Tel Aviv, Hacarmel, the smaller one in Tel Aviv, Hatikva, or the one in Ramle. Since all the produce essentially comes from the same place and the shuks get it first they are the freshest. Some Israelis get their produce from the local supermarket. Others from small neighborhood fruit and veggie stands. I am a bit agoraphobic, which, when translated from the Greek, means ‘one who fears the marketplace’. I fear the shuk. Literally. It scares the bejesus out of me. That leaves the supermarket and the local grocers. I am a big advocate of small businesses so my choice has always been to support local mom and pop places.
It all started when we moved in to our place three years ago. I was taking D. for a walk and as we passed the fruit and vegetable stand, a kind looking bald man thrust a watermelon slice at me. “Try it.” So I did. Granted, I have a difficult time refusing free food samples, be it on the street or in the supermarket. It was good. It really was. And before I knew it I was toting half a watermelon in a plastic bag. “I’ll give you the best stuff” he says and winks, “and for a lot less than the other guy”. I didn’t exactly know who the other guy was, but I was guessing it was the fruit and vegetable stand right across the street.
For the following months I did all my produce shopping at his stand. I got to know the vegetable man (Avraham) and his twin brother (Manny) pretty well. He would hand pick all my watermelons, inspecting them like a dog show referee would inspect a Bernese Mountain Dog. Often dissatisfied, he would make a face and go into the back and return with the most amazing specimen. He always picked a winner. Always.
My produce needs were being met and life was good until that fateful day in September when M. asked to come along and meet this fruit and vegetable guru, this watermelon whisperer. The first thing she noticed was that there were no prices on anything. “How do you know he isn’t ripping you off?” She asked. Of course he wasn’t ripping me off. It was Avraham. My main man Avi. She asked how much the lemons were. 15 a kilo. We bought them and went on our way. Realizing I had forgot my mobile phone I went back just in time to hear him say to some kind old lady that for her the lemons were 12 a kilo.
On the West side of Talpiyot Street, is one of the best butcher shops in Ramat Gan. In order to get there from our apartment we have to pass by the other fruit and vegetable stand, a father and son operation. Whenever I walked by there I would get a nasty look from Shay, the owner. Once he even spat on the ground as I passed by, but the jury is out on whether or not he was actually aiming at my foot. So you can imagine his surprise when he saw me sifting through the tomatoes. “Here, let me help you.” He says and proceeds to go to the back and fetch some beautiful tomatoes. “You want a cigarette?” He asks. I didn’t but after living in Israel for so long I’ve learned to take anything that’s given to you for free without asking too many questions.
And so began my romance with Shay’s fruit and vegetable stand. He handpicked all the watermelons for me and topped it off with a free cigarette or, if he was in a particular mood, a free sample package of peppers (which would invariably sit stagnant in our fridge until it was eventually tossed) As for my former watermelon pusherman Avraham, I would go out of my way to not walk past his stand lest I would have to have a “it’s not you it’s me” conversation.
Shay was very fond of my son D. We were both roughly the same age and there was an immediate bond. Since the butcher was on his side of the street it made the most sense just to shop there even though none of the prices were listed above the produce. There was something about Shay that inspired trust. The free cigarette or sample package of peppers was just the icing on the cake.
When we renewed our lease Yossi, our landlord and his wife Neta came over. We served them a seasonal fruit medley hand picked by Shay. They had lived in our place for years before they had had twins and needed more room. Yossi took a bite of the watermelon and smiled at his wife. “I remember there was this asshole grocer who used to charge me double for my produce but he would always give me a cigarette or a pathetic free sample of peppers. What an asshole. Where do you guys get your produce?”
Nowadays I shop for all my produce at the large Shufersal in the mall. When I carry that heavy watermelon back home I do the walk of shame in the middle of the street and keep my head low so as to avoid eye contact with either grocer. While this tends to hold up traffic a bit on Talpiyot Street, at least now I know exactly what I’m paying for.