A touch of Type A personality may be essential to maintaining carefully arranged piles of fruit for 12 hours at a time. It's a task made especially challenging by crowds of passersby who reach for, say, a plum in the middle of a pyramid. A common complaint about Haymarket is that the vendors sell you fruit from boxes behind the tables. But Abdul (who also wouldn't give his last name), a Haymarket veteran of nearly a decade, firmly asserts that there's a reason for that.
"If I look behind me and someone picks from the bottom, the pile will collapse. It takes 15 minutes to fix, and I lose time; the boss loses money. That's why we don't let them pick. If they wanna pick, they should go to the supermarket. If one person picks, everybody picks; then my stand looks bad," he says emphatically. "You have to be alert and never sleep. People steal. There's no shame. A guy wants one potato, he'll drop it on the ground, walk, then come back and pick it up."
Avocados are the worst, he declares. People squash them, and they turn black when air gets in. Then nobody wants to buy them. And it's important to sell the fruit, because there's a cost for dumping pallets.
Abdul has salt-and-pepper hair and chiseled features. He brings to mind a young Omar Sharif. One wonders if some of his vigilance comes from having his trust, and his heart, broken in a big way when he came to the States. When he was living in his native Morocco, selling encyclopedias, he fell in love with a woman he met online. After seven months of online exchanges, she visited. They got married and he moved to America. Then things fell apart.
These days, there's a new woman in his life.
"My girlfriend now was my customer. She said, 'I like the way you work, how you treat customers.' "
Abdul speaks French, English, and several dialects of Arabic, and he's learning Spanish. When he told me this, he tapped his head. "I have a 4G brain," he said, looking groggy. He had just come from his job at a garage in the neighborhood, where he does janitorial work. His stories of the gig paint a grisly portrait of the bad behavior of weekend revelers at Faneuil Hall and the North End. But that's work. He has car bills to pay. And he likes nice clothes.
"It's a dream country — you can drink, you can get rich. There's security: if you get scared, you call 911, and they're right there. There's opportunity. Don't tell me there's no jobs. You have to create jobs."