About a week ago we bought a pineapple for the ridiculously low price of 98 cents at a supermarket. I say ridiculously because they usually cost three to four times that much. This particular pineapple was large, yellowing nicely to suggest it was about ripe, and just perfect in its appearance.
We waited about four days to cut the pineapple. It was as juicy and flavorful as any pineapple we could remember. It was at its absolute peak and we were amazed that we bought it for only 98 cents.
Whether the store sold this particular shipment of pineapples as a loss leader to draw customers to the store, or whether they got a deal on the shipment due to a surplus supply at the time, we don’t know. Either way, given its size and superb quality, it was an exceptional deal the day we bought it.
I wondered out loud how much the producer of that 98-cent pineapple had been paid for it. Ten cents? Twenty cents? It could not have been much, considering how many times our pineapple changed hands, its shipping cost, and related charges.
As Ellen and I discussed this point, a memory flashed through my mind that has haunted me for many years. The memory is like a photograph taken to show an aspect of abject poverty and human misery.
While traveling somewhere in Mexico, and I have no idea where it was, I looked from an open elevated walkway down into a large ground level bin of pineapples. The bin was about the size of a stall in a barn, or a bedroom in a small house, and many of those bins ringed the perimeter of the market. There in the middle of the pineapples was a diminutive, emaciated-looking middle-aged man apparently sorting them. He wore only sandals and a pair of ragged shorts. He appeared far worse off than most of the homeless people on the streets.
Something about that image caused me to freeze in my tracks and look intently at the man who could not have weighed more than a hundred pounds. His eyes locked with mine in a painful, silent gaze, and that image became permanently imbedded in my brain.
I felt a rushed mixture of embarrassment, pity, and hopelessness for his situation. I was sorry that I stopped to look at him, feeling that I had communicated my shock and sadness through my eyes to his. Within seconds I moved along, but I could not undo what I saw and what I felt.
That image comes to mind fairly often when I see a batch of pineapples in a store. Somehow, contemplating the “good deal” on a 98-cent pineapple made me wonder what the person who grew it was paid. Then I wondered how much less that poverty-stricken man in Mexico was paid to sort that bin of pineapples.
My analysis of all this is ultra simplistic. Pineapple production and sales involve thousands of pineapples, sold by truckloads. But in my memory that doesn’t matter. What matters is the sad juxtaposition of pineapples and one man’s grinding poverty.
I will never forget him, not because I want to retain this memory but because I cannot erase it.