The value of persimmon

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 25. Prompt by Dinah Lenny.

Professional prospects have been fickle for a long while for those with newly-earned bachelor’s degrees, and I was no different in 2018. I was employed throughout my education, of course, but my call center job only allowed their fundraisers to be students at the university, and my internship was at a small nonprofit with a sole employee and the remainder of its staff were volunteers and unpaid interns. I did apply to be a manager at the company that operates these call centers, and the steady hours would allow me time to sit on a nonprofit board or do anything else for enrichment, I thought.

While I did accept an interview for management, my candidacy was swiftly rejected. I applied elsewhere, as an admin assistant, an account executive, a copywriter, a sales development representative, and many others. An interview here, a rejection there, but I had been a bachelor for nearly a month and a half, and couldn’t land much anything. I decided to seek outside a daytime office job and applied to the Sears at my local mall for a role in the fine jewelry department. I recalled a few summers earlier interviewing at the same place for around twenty different roles in softlines, but was rejected after a handful of days. This time, I interviewed and got the job on the spot. Some drug testing and computer training for a few, but within a week’s time, I was on the sales floor.

Sears is notably a struggling company nowadays, but it didn’t phase me early on. After all, my university had been the runt of the litter of a network of five state-run university campuses late in my college years. They were faced with debt, uncertain funding, and lack of clear vision in a new 25-year development plan. Meanwhile, our flagship sister school acquired more attention and love from the university president and other higher administration actors, even acquiring the campus of a newly dissolved Christian liberal arts college, despite the fact it was in closer vicinity to my own school, though I digress.

Sears was different. They downsized from the two-and-half story place my family and I had known throughout our lives and reduced it to one-and-half, a ground floor and basement. The second floor was technically still Sears’ property, but it was leased out to another retailer (this has been done to several Sears stores as a means to make extra money, as our CEO/chairman, Eddie Lampert, is more versed in real estate and struggles in maximizing retail potential). But one thing remained the same, my meal breaks. A sold thirty-minute chunk usually placed in the middle of my shift was something I had nearly every day.

During these breaks, I noticed another routine: this strange fruit being toted in several of my coworkers’ lunch bags. It looks a little like a tomato outside, but the resemblance stops once you pierce its flesh. It’s juicier, veinier, and pitted. It’s more golden-orange in color, and it smells sweeter. Persimmon. I knew it. I’d only seen animated renderings of it in my favorite handheld game, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, where I could find it on an island separated from my town, then I’d plant them as trees on my town to maximize value and the appetite of my residents. My character in the game had eaten a persimmon, but I could not taste through her. So I asked about them through my coworkers.

A few bought them at Stop and Shop or Shaw’s/Star Market, where my family typically shopped, but I never remembered seeing persimmons there. A few mentioned they were cheaper at some local Chinese/Asian markets, which I kept in mind. One friend shared half hers with me, and I thought it tasted both peach and apple-like. I told my family about how crazy the “office” was for these things, and my dad surprised me with his remarks.

“I grew up eating them,” he said. “My grandmother gave them to us. Sometimes she made sugar cookies with little persimmon pieces inside. They were pretty good.” My dad’s grandmother was Sicilian. I knew persimmons were a foreign fruit, but still, them being foreign doesn’t necessarily make them uncommon. Pineapples, avocados, mangoes, kiwis, and kale all seem to get much more attention. But I hadn’t realized they touched down in Italy. My coworkers were a diverse bunch, and all the persimmon munchers especially so. Columbia, Philippines, Albania, Trinidad, Haiti, Cape Verde, Portugal, China…some had come of age in the US, partly or entirely, others hadn’t. Seems like persimmons were transcending the world and Americans were missing out. I envied both my dad and mom who had grandparents from “the old country,” though for my mom’s side, that country was Ireland. My own grandparents had done a decent job explaining my cultural origins to us, but a lot was lost with time, practicality, and preferences.

I once went out to eat at a diner and was confused as to what black pudding was, and the waitress informed me it was pork sausage composed not of meat, but blood. Yuck. I told my maternal grandfather about this, and he recalled his father enjoying it often. During a holiday I explained to my maternal grandmother how popular persimmons are at work meals, and she remembered the cookies her mother made, whose recipe somehow never transcended generations onward. But perhaps it will one day.

In December 2019, I received a new job offer at a telemedicine company, full-time, in an office, on a contract. I wrestled with the decision, but I decided to resign from Sears. I was getting weary working until 11pm so often, as hours were extended for Christmas, I didn’t want to work from 10am to 6pm Christmas Eve, and problems with care plans, web orders, inventory maintenance, poor equipment, and dwindling staff across nearly every department proved increasing difficulty in being an optimal saleslady. I thought of reducing my hours to solely weekends or simply as needed, but didn’t want to bother with the negotiation as to how, and feared this new job would make me too exhausted to do anything. I only provided around a week’s notice, but explained the contract’s timing as reason. Remarkably, my boss received the news well.

My birthday happened the following month and the dinner and dessert presented to us by my family were exquisite as always. My mom gifted me a new corduroy and denim coat, courtesy of both parents, of course, and my dad got me a persimmon, the one pictured here. The persimmon is more than its image because it is one of the few discussions I’d have about my recent job that wasn’t in varied frustration, but simple bewilderment. It was affirmation that my family listens to me. Certainly, it’s a symbol that there is sweetness even among uncertainty.

(Also, this was domestically grown but stillĀ  $4.99 per piece…)

Collecting Places: Nantasket Beach

Part of the Isolation Journals, Day 23, Prompt by Stephanie Danler.

  • Salty air
  • Wisps of sand in the breeze
  • Defunct amusement park, Paragon Park, was once in the area, and my parents used to visit there alongside the beach in the summers
  • Paragon Carousel is the only remaining attraction from the amusement park. We used to ride it often after visiting the beach.
  • There is a snack bar nearby. My siblings and I used to love getting Snow Cones with a gumball at the bottom.
  • Parents would bring a picnic of sandwiches, seltzer, watermelon, cantaloupe, chips, crackers, etc.
  • We would sometimes walk to the ice cream parlor near the carousel. They had “Lobster Tracks,” a flavor much like Moose Tracks but with red-colored chocolate pieces
  • We have family friends who use a vacation house near the beach, and we’d visit a private, residential area away from the main beach. An ice cream truck makes stops nearby often.
  • There are several restaurants across the street. I usually want fish and chips after a day of swimming.
  • The warm, low tidal pools.
  • Dripping cool, partially wet sand on my body and the ground. I loved the circular designs. They reminded me of an Eastern Orthodox basilica or Hindu mausoleum.
  • The tides and salt made me feel weightless. It was at this beach that I realized I didn’t need pool shoes or water wings anymore.
  • When I got older, we would get iced coffee or tea on the way home at Cumberland Farms
  • The cold water, especially after rainy and snowy New England winters and springs
  • Seaweed tangling my ankles
  • Little minnows and crabs in the tidal pools