Greenpoint, October, 2015

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pickle Barrels, Piano Stools, and Pea Shooters

Before food trucks lined New York City streets, there were pushcarts....

The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, first published in 1964, was reissued last year by the New York Review Children's Collection. The novel has an interesting timeframe: The narrator (Jean Merrill), writing in 2036, recounts the events of 10 years earlier, when pushcart peddlers stood up to the massive trucks taking over New York City streets. The illustrations, which I have remembered since childhood, are by Ronni Selbert.

The Pushcart War started on the afternoon of March 15, 2026, when a truck ran down a pushcart belonging to a flower peddler. Daffodils were scattered all over the street. The pushcart was flattened, and the owner of the pushcart was pitched headfirst into a pickle barrel. . . .
      It was near the corner of Sixth Avenue and 17th Street in New York City that the trouble occurred. Mack was trying to park his truck. He had a load of piano stools to deliver, and the space in which he was hoping to park was not quite big enough.
      When Mack saw that he could not get his truck into the space by the curb, he yelled at Morris the Florist to move his pushcart. Morris' cart was parked just ahead of Mack.
      Morris had been parked in this spot for half an hour, and he was doing good business. So he paid no attention to Mack.
      Mack pounded on his horn.
      Morris looked up then. "Why should I move?" Morris asked. "I'm in business here."

I decided to check out "ground zero" for the Pushcart War. There were no traces of the "Daffodil Massacre" on the corner of Sixth Ave. and 17th St. You more likely to see a Citibiker than a "Mighty Mammoth" (the juggernauts against whom the peddlers struggled, most often with peashooters). Not a pushcart in sight.

We have just over 10 years until the Pushcart War breaks out. How about dedicating one wall enclosing the parking lot to a mural reproducing one of Ronni Selbert's illustrations? That would be an appropriate memorial before the fact.

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