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Friday, July 22, 2011

What about Watermelon man?




John says we're soft.

He didn't mention anyone by name. It seemed like a general statement, i.e. everyone. This he told me under the direct summer sun while shining each watermelon in the back of his truck.

He might have a point. At this moment, I'm sitting in my 76-degree home and eating apple sauce, which is the equivalent of apples post-chew. Before I even sat down to write this, I changed from a dress to shorts, so I could get cooler. Then I poured a glass of cold water, so I could be more refreshed. And turned on my ceiling fan, so I could labor under a perpetual breeze.

Too soft? Yeah, okay. You've got me there.

I've driven past John nearly every day for weeks. Through the excessive heat warnings, the temperature map plastered on Drudge, the dire predictions of death's imminence if you step outside, there's John. Sitting off SH 97. Waiting to grab customers leaving Sand Springs and heading toward Sapulpa. And hoping they might fancy a fresh watermelon.

In the, aghast, triple digit temperatures.

When I asked him how he handled the heat, he simply said, in this very country boy voice, "I'm use to it. I didn't have an air-conditioner until 2009."

And there you have it. John's tough.

He is, by the way. Quite so. I don't know if he's a man of integrity or honor, of intelligence or information, he could be all of those things. Or none of them. I only spoke to him for a quarter of an hour, and that included getting interrupted by customers and losing my pen twice.

He is, however, a worker. When I asked him why he does it, he simply said, "You've got to do something."

That you do.

John use to lay cement. He still does to fill in the payroll gaps. It's work few people want because, and we come back to this, they're soft. And he isn't. Not a point he makes for vainglory sake. Just a reason why he can always find work.

He sells watermelon in the summer, hay in the winter and spring and fall, and works a few cows in between time. That all came after a short duration of hauling. It didn't, however, pay the bills and so he had to move on.

No nest egg. No unemployment benefits. He just moved on to whatever work was before him.

"Are you making money selling these?" I asked this after one of John's customers asked me if I like watermelons and I accidentally answered honestly. No, not really. I should have used more creativity to get out of that one.

Yes. He's making money. He's sold 1,025 watermelons in five weeks. Or, another way to look at it, he and his business partner have sold 38,700 pounds of watery fruit. To put that in other terms, John has sold the weight equivalent of 500 books, four SUVs, and two killer whales.

That's a lot of fruit.

He drives 350 miles one way to Texas to pick them up, and then all the way back to sit in the brutal heat. Within weeks, or even one, John says there won't be any more watermelon. So he's got only days to turn his last load around.

"If you'd wear a green-stripped t-shirt, we could sell these in an hour," he told me.

Aww, shucks. Thanks. But today I wore red.

John is one of those rare breads in American culture. He works without complaint and does whatever needs to be done. And doesn't believe life is unfair, he's been short-changed, and someone owes him recompense.

Though, if you wanted to buy him a cold beer, he'd drink it.

"I have to do something."

He didn't take my compliments easily. I admire that kind of tenacity, that kind of work ethic, that kind of pioneer spirit. When I told him I saw that in him, he just did more hemming and hawing and a little grin here or there.

"So, what do you do with your down time out here?"

"I just sit," he said, back to polishing those money makers. "I figure out when I'm going to go bankrupt and how long before I'm living out here in my truck." Then he laughs. "Nah, I'm just kidding. I'm going to be just fine."