Gardening at Mosswood Park
on December 1, 2016
Saved from staggering by the blue bench beneath him, a man sits. It’s Thursday at Mosswood Park and, perhaps, this is his usual spot. The sun reflects off his balding head, which is framed by salt and pepper puffs of hair and connected to a beard that’s more salt than it is pepper. He gazes across the basketball court, staring at no one in particular.
A group of folks make a diagonal beeline across the court. They are a motley crew, with disabilities and quirks that are hard to name. Their caretakers are in tow. It is their time at the park.
An older man finds his seat on an identical blue bench. Without hesitation, he lights up. Clouds of smoke plume into the air but before they’ve disappeared—he is reprimanded.
“Do that sh—t after school!” yells the other man from across the court.
There are children nearby, playing. He smokes on, unbothered.
His chastiser’s feet drag when they walk, scraping against the faded concrete. His feet sit in khaki boots that meet cuffed blue jeans that meet forest green jacket. He stands now, watching a man in a white tee, not yet soiled by his work, tends to a garden.
Jesse, a member of Mosswood Community Garden, tends to his plot. It looks as if tomatoes are a common yield in the garden, as are a mix of bright orange and yellow flowers. Some plots are more barren than others. The man speaks to Jesse. Jesse speaks back. They make some sort of verbal agreement. He returns to his seat.
The other man continues to smoke, then cracks open a can of soda; the gleaming red and silver exterior undeniably belongs to Coca-Cola. There is an almost mechanical way to how he drinks his Coke. He jiggles his thin legs. Takes a sip. Sets the can down. Looks down. Wiggles his knees. Sips some more. Sets it down. Drops his chin. Quakes his legs. Sips again.
As he nears his last sips, he rises, walks around the bench, pauses, brings the can to his mouth, extends his free arm into the air, and tips his head back, drinking the last drops of carbonated crack with reverence.
Another man has sat on another identical blue bench. It is not particularly cold, or chilly even, but he wears both sweats and a black hoodie that has OAKLAND arched across the chest, like the crescents on the basketball court.
He speaks into his cell phone. “I just feel… I need more help. I miss that nutrition. They had a nutrition class.”
“Fried chicken. Fried food. Vegetables—that’s the fucking key—vegetables. Japanese, Chinese, Asia—they eat the right things.”
He nods his head to what’s being said on the side of the phone. “Right, right, right—and they eat rice everyday, seven days a week. Life is more natural… healthier nutrition…”
The conversation comes to an end.
“Alright baby boy, I’ll holla at you.”
Jesse is done tending his garden. He makes good on his contract, hands the man whatever it was that they had agreed upon earlier, then leaves.
Having gotten what he wanted, the man too leaves, his feet scraping the concrete with each step.
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