One Friday in July—after withdrawal of U.S. troops from Cambodia, but before release of Kermit’s Bein’ Green—I knocked off work early because I was seeing someone later in the West Village. As a census enumerator in Harlem, I knew where to buy the best bean pie, ginger beer, smothered chicken, pork ribs, and what have you. I also knew all the sidewalk vendors. That Friday, I was drawn to one’s classy digs—a tie-died dashiki—and by her fermenting bananas’ odor. “What’d make someone smile?” I asked myself, out loud. I decided on watermelon, but “not jes any ole watermelon.”
“I knew somebody’s gonna buy Big Daddy, but never’d thought it might be you,” said the vendor, shooting a left-eyed wink. “You think you’re man enough to tackle Big Daddy?” she asked, smirking, all to the right side.
“How much?” I asked.
“For you, only three dollars,” she said.
“A bargain at any price,” I said. Big Daddy was mine. Teddy Roosevelt must’ve felt the way I did after bagging his first hippo. “Here you go,” I said, handing her two crisp ones plus a dollar in coins.
“Hey, man, I appreciates the change. Have fun with Big Daddy. Tell me about it tomorrow,” she said.
I hoisted Big Daddy—the first heavyweight contender disguised as a watermelon—onto my right shoulder, switched to my left, then back to my right. When we reached the 125th Street Subway Station, I curled my arms to cradle Big Daddy like a newborn and took the steps gently. Pocket fishing for a token, I rested Big Daddy on the turnstile. He lost his balance, then slipped. With visions of Big Daddy face-planting on the concrete, I bent my legs and caught him against the turnstile, then returned him to the safety of my cradling arms. A six inch crack had formed, lengthwise. The train arrived promptly and we made ourselves comfy. Big Daddy rested securely on my lap.
Two schoolgirls in uniforms walked over and sat next to us.
“I’ve never seen such a big watermelon before,” one said, patting Big Daddy.
“Did it crack because it got big?” the second asked.
“Naw,” I said, “it cracked because it slipped. You ever seen a man juggle watermelons?”
“You got more watermelons?” asked the first.
Mom yelled, “What’d I tell you? Get back over here this minute.”
I soon realized the crack had widened and something cool dripped down my leg. The drip eventually turned into a steady stream. I thought about crossing my legs but concluded that would make no difference. I looked down and saw a puddle about 12 inches wide on the floor beneath my seat. I thought about switching seats. It was then I noticed anybody near us was already switching. And anybody who boarded our train and inadvertently moved in our direction quickly had second thoughts and redirected.
“It’s not me,” I said to the homeless man sitting across the aisle from us.
“That’s what I always tell ‘em,” he intoned, “Don’t let public opinion get you down.”
As we approached our stop, I pulled out my handkerchief and did my best to clean Big Daddy up. He was still sticky wet so I wrapped his underside with The Daily News. By the time the train stopped at 14th Street, Big Daddy and I had planned how we’d make our break. I cradled him again in my curled arms. No token is required to depart, but the rapidly-turning, one-directional exit gates make no provision for extra-large watermelons. I contemplated asking to use the handicapped gate. I envisioned security demanding papers proving Big Daddy was handicapped, as if that weren’t blatantly obvious. Instead, I slowed the exit gate’s crushing whirl, escaped injury-free, and began ascending the steps. People coming down—having no notion of the mortification we’d suffered—smiled and rudely asked if I wanted to share. With only a block left between us and our destination, I felt stronger now—lighter, as if a weight lifted. It dawned on me, people were looking at my pants, especially between my legs, because standing up I lost all ambiguity.
A homeless woman lurched at me, asked for a quarter, then retreated saying, “No, it’s okay. Not today, thanks.”
I reached my destination and nudged the blue outer door opened with my left knee. I climbed four steps gingerly. My arms felt ready to fall off. I asked someone who was leaving to press the button for Apartment 1D. He hesitated.
“Oh, that. Been running. Sweating,” I said, smiling as naturally as possible.
With a look of complete certainty he was doing the wrong thing, he pressed the button.
Eileen answered, I identified myself, and she rang me in. I leaned into the next door and beelined to my right.
“What’d you bring me, Jimmy?” Eileen asked, opening the door, mouth open wide and arms held aloft to show surprise.
“That’s Big Daddy. We’ve had a long trip. Can we sit?” I asked.
“Make yourself comfortable. Anywhere!” Eileen said.
I positioned Big Daddy on the kitchen table.
“And you brought me the Daily News! How’d you know I didn’t buy one today?” Eileen asked.
“It was Big Daddy’s idea,” I said.
“Thank you, Big Daddy,” said Eileen, caressing Big Daddy. “Can I get you two anything?”
“A scale, for the weigh-in,” I said.
“You want to weigh yourself?” she asked.
“No, Big Daddy,” I said.
Big Daddy weighed in at 42 pounds.
“Hey, what happenna you?” Eileen asked, waving her finger at my crotch. “You wanna take those off?”
“Ask Big Daddy. Yeah,” I said as I dropped my sticky wet pants and handed them over.
Eileen lifted Big Daddy and held him close. They danced to Santana’s Black Magic Woman as he juiced down her shirt and into her pants. “You crack me up,” she said, as they fell together onto her waterbed, where I joined them. “They’re gonna say we turned this neighborhood seedy,” Eileen laughed.
About the author:
Jim Ross is a recently-retired public health researcher. Over the year since his retirement, he's published 15 pieces of creative nonfiction, 4 poems, 39 photographs, and 2 podcasts in 15 journals, with others forthcoming. He and his wife split their time between Silver Spring, MD and Berkeley Springs, WV. This past summer, they finally became grandparents when their daughter gave birth to twins.