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Article 23

Article 23 - The Orange Karen Tei Yamashifa Los Angeles...

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Unformatted text preview: , The Orange, _ . Karen Tei Yamashifa. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997_ Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif: Jun 30, 1991. pg. 12 (Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles 7imes 1 991 all Rights reserved) It was summer solstice at the Tropic of Cancer. To be more specific, it was June 22, and it was noon. The sun was a great ball of fire directly above the orange tree. To be more specific yet, the sun was in a direct line above an orange on an orange tree on the small farm of my cousin Gabriel. My cousin Gabriel lives not too far from the Mexican city of Mazatlan. lt was‘he who told me about this orange, but it was I, living in the big American city of Los Angeles, who first noticed the consequences. it wasn't much of an orange. in fact, it was an orange that should not have been. it was too early. The weather, they said, was changing. There had been untimely showers and a tropical breeze. Global warming, they said. The tree believed it, and little pimples of budding flowers began to burst through its branches. In the case of this Orange, it was the first bud and the first flower. The others withered away or went back to sleep, but curiosity and luck made the first bod stay and flower and take fruit. So this was an aberrant orange. No one would think to pick it; it was not expected, and it could not be very sweet. But from the very beginning, Gabriel said, this orange was special. Just there, where its tiny bud had broken through the tree's branch, an invisible and imaginary line was pulled with delicate tautness. This line, finer than the thread of a spider web and as supple and potent as a continuum of light thr0ugh optic fiber, was the Tropic of Cancer itself. The soft petals of the orange blossom caressed the line with such a lovely perfume, and the Tropic of Cancer shuddered with delight when the African bee landed there, its furry feet dusted heavily in yellow pollen. And then, the Tropic did not complain when the baby orange appeared and grasped the imaginary line as its parent. The orange did not grow to be very big or very succulent, but it did hang rather heavily. And when the wind blew east from-the sea, it rocked back and forth like a small cradle, and the taut but imaginary line, the Tropic of Cancer-running through the growing orange-rocked back and forth with it like a lullaby. All around the world along the Tropic of Cancer, people should have noticed something. Here in Los Angeles, there were scattered events like tiny tremors beneath the earth. One night, my mother, for no apparent reason. stir-fried vegetables in the big iron pot she usually makes beans in. They were delicious. No one said anything, . and my mother forgot the recipe. Or I swear I understood Korean for a whole six minutes on Korean TV. It was uncanny. I kept going back to the Korean channel to see if it'd happen again, but everyone got mad. "What are you, nuts? This is the playoffs! The Lakers have six seconds to bag it!" I figure everywhere in the world the consequences of the balancing orange reverberated down that imaginary line like sound down the string of a bass fiddle. But these things were momentary and ever so slight; no one paid much attention. Then on June 22 at 12 noon, the orange had the irresistible urge to fall, and with a warm gust of summer wind, it dropped from a height of two meters and rolled south down a steep slope, pulling the Tropic of Cancer with it. The other lines of latitude that measure their distances from the Tropic hastily adjusted themselves. Everything stretched south. That's when people began to notice something was different. My grandmother told me that Father Rodriguez did the Sunday Mass that morning in a strange language that turned out to be Hebrew. Somewhere in the city, a rabbi was praying in Latin. And suddenly, my neighbors who always spoke Spanish were speaking Armenian like the couple across the street. The Korean market was selling homemade tamales and the Mexican place had Afro bean pie. We all got used to this after a couple of days. After all, there are teriyaki tacos, and even McDonald's has Chinese chicken salad. But about this time, a man pulling a cart of cactus leaves trudged past my cousin Gabriel's farm, heading south 1. to the marketplace in Mazatlan. He saw the orange where it had rolled into a ditch at the side of the dirt road. He thought it must be out of season but that it still might be worth something. An orange on the side of the road can't belong to anybody, so he picked it up, threw it into the cart and continued down the road, dragging the Tropic of Cancer with him. Then things really started to move. The first thing I noticed was that distances changed. Some things were a little farther than I remembered them and some things a little nearer. And some of the streets began to curve. More and more people who never spoke Spanish in their lives were suddenly talking like my relatives back in Mexico. My Chinese-American friend Ben was fluent in it, too, but stranger yet, so was his grandma who had survived the Cultural Revolution. On the other hand, I was speaking Chinese, and Mandarin at that! ' I got on the bus. I figured I had to move around the city to get the full sense of this phenomenon. The bus driver yelled something at me; fortunately it was in Mandarin. I dropped another quarter in the machine, and he thanked me in Swahili. I could tell people were enjoying the change. I rambled down to Olvera Street, and they were selling sushi. ln Little Tokyo, they had tortillas. ln Chinatown, blintzes and baklava for dessert. Everything was a great jumble. People were laughing in the streets. People who had never talked to each other before were cracking jokes together. When Gabriel walked out to the orchard, he noticed the orange was gone. Then he saw the odd way the land seemed to stretch out. Suddenly, his little farm was an enormous hacienda. He tried to run to the edge of the farm, but there was no end to it. - ' Meanwhile, the man with the cart was talking to another man. This other man was going north to California to find work. He pointed to the odd orange in the cart full of cactus leaves, and both men agreed it was out of season. "Maybe it will bring you luck," suggested the man with the cart. "And maybe not," shrugged the man going north. But he bought the orange and got on a bus. Gabriel saw the bus heading north and the borders of his farm moving with it. He ran toward the bus, screaming at it to stop, but it drove on in a cloud of dust. For one short moment when the bus passed my cousin's farmhouse-and the orange tree-every thing went back to what it had been. But then things really started to change and change fast. It was as if the geographical rug were being pulled out from under everything and everyone. it was not just the languages and the food that were getting jumbled up; people who used to have one job suddenly had another. People who were rich and lived in big houses were suddenly homeless, and homeless people were coming down elevators wearing suits and carrying briefcases. My brother-in-law who is a mechanic got a job as a chef. My sister who is a teacher was suddenly a nurse. My mom came home every night in a new uniform. One day she was working for the airlines; the next she was a forewoman in a meatpacking plant. My dad hopped from one downtown high-rise to another. By the end of this confusion, he had had every job from janitor to CEO. Me, I'm a student, and I saw my grades go up and down and up and down. And that bus was still moving north. I called up Gabriel to find out what was happening in Mexico. lt seemed to him that Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador and the whole rest of Central America were getting wedged up into Mexico. That would be the only explanation for the strange dialects of Indian and Spanish popping up all around him. Also, the weather was heating up; the Equator was moving his way. I "\Miat about the civil war in El Salvador?" l asked. He didn't know, but it could be at his doorstep soon. I ran over and tumed on our TV. Sure enough, all the channels were in Spanish. I ran back to the telephone to tell Gabriel. "Que esta pasando?" Gabriel said, "It's that orange. it's all the fault of that orange." 'What orange?" AA..II 3 'The orange with the Tropic of Cancer," said Gabriel. "l traced it to a poor man going north. I think he's still going north, your way." Gabriel explained what he could. ’ "VWat about the Earth‘s orbit?" l yelled. Gabriel said something that I couldn't understand because suddenly he was speaking an Indian dialect. We hung up in frustration. I ran outside, got on my bike. I had to find an orange, a single orange coming this way. I had to find a single orange in a giant metropolis. Was I crazy? Where would a poor man looking for work go in a big city? I headed south from Hollenbeck Park, cruised under the Santa Monica and jagged west across the river. Then I saw it all, Gabriel's little farm stretched up like a great skirt sliding into the city. I raced around the edges of it and got lucky. There he was, the man with the orange, next to the Coca-Cola bottling plant on the. corner of Central and Olympic. I knew it was him because he looked so weary, dragging a heavy load, an entire continent, a gigantic mass of land and ocean, on his very shoulders, in the very palm of his hand. If he had looked back a few blocks south of Olympic, he could have seen it all himselfGabriel's little farm and Mexico and then the rest of Central America, the coffee and banana plantations, the civil war, the crowded cities, the poor and the rich people, the rain forests and all those tropical plants and animals. He had a penknife out and was about to cut into the orange. l rammed my bike up on the sidewalk and screamed at the poor man in every language but the one he could understand. He stared at me in great confusion and fear. He dropped the penknife and the orange and ran. l grabbed the orange and sped south down Central into Gabn’el’s farm. I must have pedaled for miles before I saw a bus coming up the road. It stopped and out stepped Gabriel. I handed him the orange. lt was bruised by then from so much travel and handling. Gabriel put the orange in his pocket, smiled and got back on the bus. I waved to him, and the bus turned around and headed back south. I stood there a long time watching it trundle down the uneven road, Gabriel's farm slipping away with it, swallowed up by the familiar scenes of traffic and urban sprawl. Gabriel took the orange back to his farm outside of Mazatlan. He put it under the orange tree and left it there in the shade. It took a while, but the orange got soft. The birds pecked at the pulp. The ants carefully dissected it and carried away what they could. Sodid the worms. The mold ate the rest. The sun dried the peel. The wind scattered that. And that was that. ...
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Article 23 - The Orange Karen Tei Yamashifa Los Angeles...

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