Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

C R E A T I V E   N O N F I C T I O N
VANDLING UN HANDLING
b y   z e l d a   l e a h   g a t u s k i n   ~
a l b u q u e r q u e ,   n e w   m e x i c o

Vandling Un Handling,  1994, 2000 - Zelda Leah Gatuskin - this image shall not be reproduced legally without permission from the artist   
"VANDLING UN HANDLING" - Collage by Zelda Leah Gatuskin

OUR LOCAL "Mercado" is essentially a mall of stalls. It's a big warehouse partitioned into many aisles of cubicles of assorted sizes which are rented by the month to businesses of varying degrees of formality and permanence. Everything imaginable is sold here, sometimes all in one booth. The Mercado is only open on weekends; in most cases the owners and craftspeople, with the help of family members, are personally selling their wares. Yes, much of the merchandise has a distinctly American flavor, and the whole outdoor ambience is sadly lacking, but in spirit this is truly a market like those from other times and other countries.

Hard times; poor countries. There's a feeling that everyone here is scraping along on the fringe of the system, unable or unwilling to do business on a large scale, in a more professional context. The vendors keep each other company and commiserate about the lack of sales. Everyone looks but no one buys.

There's a band playing at each corner, where the refreshments are sold. The music makes the food seem good. Banks of fluorescent lights illuminate without warmth; their flicker plays on the nerves even though invisible to the eye. There are few serious shoppers here, just people spending the afternoon seeing and being seen. Some of the clothing worn through the aisles of the Mercado puts the racks of new garments to shame.

At least there's an interest in clothing. But here I am trying to sell books. My great-grandparents are rolling with laughter in their graves:

"Books? Books! She is trying to sell books! Storybooks!"

"You should sell soap. Everyone needs soap."

"Herring. You could make a good living selling herring."

"Sell the dairy goods; make some cheese; raise some nice chickens and sell the eggs..."

"Sell them anything they want. Get yourself a little market; you could even sell a book, maybe! Ha ha ha ha ha."

"Wait a minute. One of you had a printing press..."

"And it was a good business, too. I never had to sit in the market; everyone came to me. Not like selling books!"

"But I wrote this book."

"Mazel tov. But look around you, meydela, they don't seem to care."

There is a dance these browsers do through the endless aisles. Step slide; step slide; look over the right shoulder and keep the head turning until it is almost turned around backwards; but never stop; never stop. Step slide, step slide; and snap the head back around to take in the next booth just as you approach it; and repeat. Step slide; step slide; twisting back and back to the right until you've seen the whole display by the time you've walked by it and Snap! Head back to the front and the next booth coming up, and step slide; step slide; step slide. Never stopping, passing booth after booth. Perpetual motion. Sometimes a family or several friends come by together and one looks with more interest than the others. You can see his or her head craning back and back while the companions are already on to the next display. But does the one with the light in the eye say, "Wait, look here, here is something interesting?" No, never. When the head will not rotate any further around, it is reluctantly turned forward again and the step-slide quickens for a moment to get back into tempo and the fleeting interest is gone. Today the merchants say tomorrow will be better and tomorrow they say it is only the weather or some event across town that has kept the tourists away, next week will be better.

"Listen to them. It's just the same as in our day: 'Tomorrow will be better; tomorrow will be better...' They stood in a stall and watched the world go by and said, 'tomorrow will be better.'"

"Most of you did have better tomorrows; or your children did. Some of you did very well as grocers and salesmen."

"But we were always at the mercy of our customers. If they didn't buy, we didn't sell. There was always something out of pocket just to get started, and if you traded in perishables..."

"... you could lose your investment."

"And don't forget that we gave credit. People had to eat. Better to give some cheese away on credit than let it go bad."

"We trusted people to pay us, if not in cash then in trade."

"Really, it was a big barter system; we had a community, we had to help each other get along."

"Just like here at the Mercado. When we get tired of sitting at the booths we walk around and browse and sometimes buy things or trade with each other. We're our own best customers."

"Buying and selling is not so bad. It could be worse. But it would be better to have a craft, a meloche."

"But I have one, I'm a writer and an artist."

"There she goes again..."

"For this kind of a craft the world is beating down your door?"

"At least no one can stop me from writing. Look, I'm writing this very minute, right here in the book booth at the Mercado. Hey, I'm writing you! We wouldn't be having this conversation if I wasn't writing it."

"Well, she has a point."

"Another scholar in the world!"

"A craft is a living, but art? Oy! You should go to work as a teacher."

"I guess I thought you would be more supportive..."

"You're the one taking this down. You can change it if you want."

"Sure, write down that you have fulfilled the family legacy, he hopes and dreams of your forefathers."

"That would be truth."

"You know we're very proud of you."

"But you showed up laughing."

"Honestly, we thought it was a joke."

"Look at this market! How far we haven't come!"

"And you in the middle of this whole mishegas trying to sell books."

"I wish you could explain it to me. What we're still doing here in the marketplace."

"And we wish you could explain it to us.

"I suppose I can try. How about this: Regardless of the setting and the circumstances, people are just people. I'm sitting here at the market just like you did and all of the generations before you because people like stuff. We make it, we look at it, we trade it -- we write about it. Being around stuff of human creation comforts us; owning stuff makes us feel secure. As a species, we are defined by an affinity for stuff, the result of having opposing thumbs and linear thought."

"Very nicely said!"

"She has a good kup, that girl."

"But in our day we shopped for need, not for pleasure."

"Pleasure isn't a need too? We needed, and we took pleasure in finding a bargain."

"The people here are not shopping for butter and eggs, but they still consider that they 'need' the black mini skirt or the howling coyote salt and pepper shakers or the Star Trek communicator pin."

"There's no accounting for taste."

"You think we didn't have our idiosyncrasies?"

"Still, I can't help feeling like I'm letting you all down, sitting in this stupid booth. You had every right to laugh."

"We can laugh because this is familiar to us, we understand it, not like some of your new ways of doing business."

"What do we know from shopping networks and money machines?"

"But listen, if this market seems primitive, maybe lower class or old fashioned, you should look again. There is no difference between you in your little stall and the executive in the big bank or fancy hotel or high-rise office. At the heart, it's all just vandling un handling, handling un vandling."

"Now that's truth."

"See, we all put our heads together we come up with the answer."

"People are just people and life is just vandling un handling? That's the answer?"

"That's about it."

"I couldn't put it any better."

"What about God? I thought religion was very important to you."

"Oy! Now the subject is God? Do you want to sit in this booth and scribble all night?"

"No, not really."

"Then leave it at this: Having a religion changes us, but it does not change God. People are people and God is God. We spend our lives vandling un handling, our fortunes rise and fall, for which we may worship, reject or curse God; but God is unchanged..."

"Amused, maybe..."

"Don't confuse the girl, I'm being serious here."

"Serious like God?"

"Why do you interrupt? You don't like what I'm saying about God?"

"Please! Don't argue. I think I understand: God is not humorous or serious. Those are human traits. God does not vandle un handle, these are human activities. People might organize their lives and their thoughts around God, what they shop for and when, but they are still just people, people vandling un handling.

"This is truth."

"I told you she had a good kup."

"And a good heart."

"And a booth-full of unsold books."

"Go home meydela, you've done enough vandling un handling for one day."

"Thanks. Thanks for keeping me company."

"Don't mention it.

"Our pleasure."

"Yes, it was just like old times."

GLOSSARY OF YIDDISH WORDS AND PHRASES
Mazel Tov -- (Hebrew) Congratulations
meloche -- (Hebrew) craft, skill
meydela -- girl
mishegas -- madness, silliness
Oy -- Oh (all purpose exclamation)
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