Doing the Parnell Hustle

I never knew what a hard-sell was until we moved to Parnell.

I’m referring to the small, family run fruit-and-vegetable operation up on Parnell Road, near the Japanese joint; one of them mother-daughter situations.

Until yesterday, I’ve only ever transacted with the daughter. She is courteous and efficient, doesn’t interfere, mainly because she finds the whole situation hopelessly dour.

At least that’s the impression she gives. It’s a resignation, but not in the slump-shouldered manner in which I carry mine. She just looks like she knows that every day, her customers rely on her to ring-up and bag their fruits and vegetables, which used to make her want to put a shotgun in her mouth.

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Not anymore. She is a beaten soul who does her job adequately, and keeps to herself, which is why it’s always such a pleasure to see her. In and out. No chit-chat, no hard-sell. No wonder she’s been the Parnell Merchants Association “Produce Salesperson of the Year” three years running. Keeps one of the certificates on display somewhere under the mints and chewing gum.

The mother is a different story. Jacquie warned me a long time ago. “Stay away from that woman,” Jacquie said, dressed in a fortune-teller costume she sometimes wears to work, “Yesterday that woman used her evil powers to make me buy a half-eaten apple. And it wasn’t even that good.”

If only I’d listened to that crazy old gypsy woman. But then I never would have seen for myself how spot-on Jacquie was. I understand now why she always says, “Keep walking, keep your eyes down” whenever we’re shopping for fruit and the mother happens to be lurking.

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Yesterday, I made dinner because Jacquie was in a temporary coma and didn’t have time. So I planned our meal and went for a few ingredients at the stand.

It took some time for me to shop. For instance, not being sure what an onion looked like, I walked the two aisles for about seven minutes. I was fine once I did a Google Image search. But my lingering attracted the mother’s attention, not out of suspicion, but out of hustle.

She started asking me if I wanted to buy something she was holding in her hand. It was labeled in Chinese, with a picture of something I wasn’t sure was intended to be eaten.

“You buy this,” the mother said.

I said I didn’t need it and she quickly put the box back on the shelf, and came back with a bag of yams.

“It’s good, you buy it.”

I said no again.

The mother spent a lot of time pushing a tray of various fruit sliced up. It was getting toward the end of the day, and she was anxious to clear the inventory before it spoiled.

“It will make you strong.”

I said no, but a few minutes later, when I went to pay, she came back out from the register to make one last pitch.

She picked a tray out and tried to put it in my hands.

“It’s good, you buy it,” she said.

“I have bananas at home.”

She drew closer, and patted me on the belly.

“It’s good. Fruit for dessert. You buy it.”

“No thank you.”

“Sliced apple, orange.”

“I have fruit at home.”

“Kiwi fruit, orange.”

“I eat bananas.”

“This has no bananas.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

I felt bad. This woman was really putting her all into the sale. But she didn’t provide any metrics, or demonstrate a total cost benefit analysis, and how she was working without a PowerPoint presentation, I don’t know. Let’s just say she couldn’t justify my $3.95 investment in fruit when, as I told her, I already had some at home if you count the chocolate covered cherries molding on top of the fridge.

I watched as the mother replaced the fruit and returned to the counter, looking at my purchases and rubbing her hands together. She was completely unfazed. She knew she was not closer to hitting her quarterly targets, or winning that set of steak knives, yet her spirit was not crushed. The mother pointed at each item.

“Onion, pepper and noodles,” she said.  “Stir fry for dinner. It’s very good.”

And she continued to praise my good taste and judgment in my evening’s menu choice, right through until I left the store.

 I thought I’d gotten away with it, but annoyingly, as I returned from the dairy with milk and bread, she stopped me on the sidewalk.

” You came back,” she said, and went to get the fruit.

Which I ate later for desert after the stir fry and chocolate covered cherries, which made me vomit, so none of this mattered anyway, in the end, but that’s another story.

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