(Photo from New York Times.)
In the past few days we have lost a great writer. Updike has passed, yes, may he rest in peace. But it's the death of Joe Ades, the street vegetable peeler man that I mourn. It was at least ten years ago when I noticed something special about this one, in suit and tie, sitting on his milk crate, squinting up into the sky at the mix of midtown Manhattan office workers and tourists who gathered to hear his spiel and watch him slice, chip, peel and julienne.
In that elegant British accent that we Yanks always fall for, he delivered a polished pitch that never deviated, for at least a decade. And why should it? It was a brilliant work of rhetoric. And I don’t mean that tongue-in-cheek. His routine was infused with wry humor, “I know this is a carrot.” Style, “Give these to your children and they’ll eat their vegetables like they were candy.” Populist wit, “You can use it right-handed, left-handed, or like a politician, under-handed.” Blatant hyperbole, “Nothing that came from Switzerland was ever cheap.” And brilliant little digs that pulled us in closer, “You can all do that.”
For the past decade, every time I saw him I’d stop for a moment to soak up a bit of that patter, and to appreciate a man doing a job that so many of us would rather die than be caught doing. A man who did it for so long, and did it so very well. He was careful never to engage with me when I told him I was a fan. But one evening, as he was exiting a restaurant on Cornelia Street, and I was unlocking my bicycle, I got a word or two from him. “It’s nice to see you out of context,” I said. “It’s nice to be out of context,” he said.