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One of Those Thembi Stories

27 March 2008 10 Comments

I forgot that one reason I started blogging was to tell stories about the crazies I encounter. I have a special talent for identifying, attracting, and setting them off. So I’m going to write about it more for my own sanity.

West Philadelphia Produce Truck Brouhaha

I live in a part of Philly where gentrification and the hood are at odds block by block. So when I go to the produce truck that’s always parked across the street from the supermarket I’m in line for bananas with all types of people. The other day I was in line behind a pretty cute white guy in his late twenties who seemed reasonably hip by his leather jacket, designer jeans, iPod headphones, and gelled Collin Farrell haircut. On the other side of a cart of apples was a big lightskinned black woman with green eyes and that snatchback ponytail you see on sisters most Saturday mornings at the market. She was smoking a cigarette and as she finished and threw the butt into the street, the white guy said:

“Jesus didn’t walk this earth so you could treat it that way! Jesus doesn’t want your trash on his earth!”

He kept repeating this to the woman as he gathered what seemed like a lifetime supply of green vegetables. The man who runs the truck is of some type of Southeast Asian extraction and I quickly got the sense that he had no idea what was being said. Finally, although it was against all likelihood, the woman realized that he was in fact talking to her.

“Excuuuse me?” she said with that neck move that we do.

“Jesus did not hang on the cross so that you could throw your nasty cigarettes on the ground, you’re nothing but a glutton taking everything you see!” Not only was that a pretty severe label for a litterbug, but how much of a glutton could she be? She may be overweight but this is the line at a produce truck, not Mickey D’s, give her a break. He continued to nod his head and look around the crowd of shoppers waiting for us to cosign. Between assuming the universal acceptance of Jesus as our savior, calling out a black woman, and the fact that I don’t really consider a cigarette butt littering, there was no cosign from me.

“Excuse me, I am grown!” the black woman said with a sneer.

“Yeah you sure are, glutton, in both directions!”

At that moment, the needle came off the record. The fact that he was talking to strangers at all made me ask, wow, do folks really think they can just comment on a black woman like that without catching some wrath? About Jesus and his feelings on Newports no less? But then it was clear: no one makes his first word to a stranger “Jesus” unless he is highly devout or plumb crazy. And this dude was clearly the latter, because talking about a woman’s weight will get you cut worldwide. And Philly chicks are known to carry blades. And because that comment was the one all of the bystanders really heard everyone just stood there stunned looking at homegirl to see what she’d do next. And you know I don’t need extra crazies in my life so I just kept my mouth shut and gaze averted.

“You know what you are, you a devil worshipper!” she snapped. Hm. Not the best comeback on her part, but I hoped that would at least get his goat. They went back and forth calling each other all types of glutton and devil worshipper and such, she finished with “You have a blessed day, devil worshipper!” and the nutball just gathered his things, made a last-ditch effort at getting crowd support, and walked off.

The woman turned to me and said “I shoulda knocked him the eff out!” Um, yeah. But, being the ambassador of Zen-approaches to dealing with black rage I just said “You never know who you’re dealing with though, he was clearly crazy.” To that she said “I know! That’s what I’m sayin! He don’t know me! He’s lucky this apple cart was between us!” Sigh. Not quite the point I was making, but let some stranger accuse me of one of the Seven Deadlies and who knows exactly what I’d do.

As I got my vegetables and got into my car, I saw homegirl talking to the dude she was there with, who had apparently picked the wrong day to wait in the car. She was trying to point out the direction that the white dude had gone so that her man or father or brother or whoever he was could go regulate. By that time though, I’m pretty sure he was long gone and back to blending in with us sane folk.


  • Invisible Woman said:


    Philly is like Oakland in the almost/not quite gentrified parts; you never know what you’ll see and hear—there’s too much going on at once.

  • Anonymous said:

    Last night, I was walking into my apartment building in the very un-gentrified East Orange, New Jersey. A man and his son came out. Little boy looked about two years old. Drinking a juice box. He’s squeezing the life out of the box that is clearly empty which makes me smile. The little boy is walking a few steps behind the father, working on the juice box. I turn to look at him and I see him hold up the juice box, shake it, realize it really is empty and then just toss it on the ground!
    Okay, he was very young. But seriously, who tosses a juice box on the ground! Don’t we learn very early on that empty containers go in the garbage? Does this child not watch Sesame Street? It’s bad enough that people walk by and deposit condom wrappers and beer bottles on the sidewalk. But toddlers can just toss juice boxes too? Uh, no. I picked up the box and walked toward the kid. I said, “hey there. You can’t put this here. This goes in the trash. Hold on to it until you find a trash can.” He looked at me like I was crazy. Though he did take the box. His father apologized and then scolded the boy. I took one last look at the little hellion and I saw he still had the straw in this hand. He looked me dead in the eye and threw it on the ground.

  • LaJane Galt said:

    Philly = Oakland = DC

    I live in a gentrified barrio and need for people to understand that chicken bones, Schaefer cans and puke on the sidewalk are not the business. Half of my neighbors are from Central America and apparently aint never seen a trashcan. I mean mugged this man into picking his cheeto bag off the ground.

    Speaking of crazy…I was at the Giant once and heard this lady (black…sigh) screaming about how she is God’s anointed.

    I would gladly pay taxes for the return of the paddy wagon.

  • theblackactor.com said:

    Having lived in NYC, Oakland and Atlanta, I see black youth littering ALOT… VERY OFTEN.

    I hate it. They’re not taught to respect where they live or the earth or…


    It’s a sad state of affairs, representative of so much gone wrong.


    BTW, I don’t consider flicking a cigarette butt to the ground littering.

    He wasn’t crazy; just a wicked hatemonger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ill Mami said:

    How can you guys not consider flicking a cigarette on the ground littering??? It’s certainly not because cigarette butts are biodegradable or compostable, is it? If people want to smoke, that’s their business. But just like the little boy who threw his juice box on the ground, if you smoke, find a proper receptacle for your loosie. Plus, you can start forest fires that way.


    Other than that, Thembi, this post reminded me of why I decided to move to LA after living in Philly for 6 months. Philly frightens me a bit whenever I’m not in Center City or south of it.

    And for the record,

    Philly=East New York

  • justjudith said:

    thembi, you write the best stories!!! that was hilarious.

  • justjudith said:

    ps — who knew the commenters could also produce such sad but funny littering stories. i don’t have any. not in columbus. st. louis didn’t have a lot of littering, but plenty of shootings and robberies.

  • Undercover Black Man said:

    I love this story, Thembi! It was like watching a movie.

  • jjbrock said:

    Thembi good article by chance do you know Field?

  • dara said:

    “Philly = Oakland = DC”

    Only been to Philly once, never to Oakland. If they’re like DC, then I know they have some crazy folks walking the street. I used to take the 70/71 bus up Georgia Ave. And encountered the freakiest nuts on that line. This one guy whipped out a banana one day and instead of peeling the banana, he started chompin’ away…eating the peeling and all!

    Good story Thembi!

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