"Pickles! Pickles! Hey, man, you want one of these pickles? One dollar."
I open my mouth to speak. "Uhhh . . ." I had just walked out of the cramped convenience store on the northeast corner of East Bruce Randolph Avenue and York Street, an intersection that I call the "new Five Points" after the old Five Points became a place for white expatriates of other gentrified 'hoods.
"Pickles," he repeats, standing near the alleyway near two other black men. At their feet is a jar about three-fourths full of extra-large pickles floating in lime green fluid. It's one of those big jars, the type in which scientists keep brains and deformed fetuses. I had seen a similar jar inside the convenience store, but this jar of pickles was apparently under the control of these random men, who also happened to be crackheads.
I close my mouth. I shake my head.
"Pickles, pickles," he says with less enthusiasm.
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Later, when I recounted the experience for my girlfriend, she said, "How do you know they were crackheads?" all accusingly. Like maybe I was letting stereotypes perpetrated by The Corporate Media and Racist Amerikkka cloud my perception. She was right. Maybe they weren't crackheads. Maybe they were methheads. Maybe they had some really bad cocaine hangover that made them all twitchy with cracked lips and eyes that were weary yet hungry. No, no, they were crackheads. By which I mean they were smokers of crack, nothing else.
I know some people go about their day throwing the word crackhead around all willy-nilly, like, "Dude, she was a total crackhead!" I am not one of those people. When I choose to drop the term - especially about a group of people who come up with a business plan involving selling pickles to strangers on the street out of a huge, disgusting jar - it is after some mental deliberation. My brain processes the information and says to me, "Jared, I do not think it is a good idea for us to be buying pickles outside this convenience store from these people whom I have determined are crackheads." And I say back, "Thank you, brain. Thank you for working so hard for our self-preservation. I really mean it, buddy." To which my brain replies, "Don't mention it, Jare . . . Holy shit is that guy over there going to buy a fucking pickle?!"
And this is when I look up and see a guy, a guy in his mid-thirties who just finished pumping gas into his Jeep, walking over to the makeshift pickle shop. I'm near the other side of the building by now, so I can only see that they're having a conversation. The guy fishes around in his pocket and then hands over his change to one of the crackheads. The other crackhead then sticks his hand in the jar, fishes around, and emerges with a green, bumpy catch.
He inserts the pickle into a wax paper sleeve (where did those come from?) and passes it on to the guy. On his way back into the jeep, after muttering some pleasantry like "Thankya," the guy takes a nibble off the end. I look away, suddenly aware that I'm staring. He drives off with his crackhead pickle. I wander back to my car, dazed, confused, a little terrified and oddly peckish. -- Jared Jacang Maher