Herb-1

The apricot tree in the alley.

After the rain, I walked down the alley. Alleys can tell you a lot about a neighborhood. Who lives there and who doesn’t.

I spotted the apricot tree and its owner, clad in a red robe. She was busy, bending over, picking up apricots, their grip loosened by the rain that had fallen the night before.

When I was about 75 feet away, I waved. Waved, both to let her know I was coming so not as to startle her and waved to be friendly.

‘Remember me? I live close by. I have a blind dog, I won’t hurt you. People with blind dogs are not homicidal maniacs.’

As I approached, she picked up several apricots and then hurried into her garage, saving us both the awkwardness that a red robe — appropriate alley wear that it might be — and an unplanned encounter can sometimes engender.

Alley empty, I had the tree to myself. Since Mary and Charlie Dodge moved and then moved on, I have inherited their neighborhood picking privileges. Although these privileges were not specifically spelled out in the picking portion of the will, I believe they were implied and that the Dodges would approve.

When they were in their gleaning prime, who could turn them down: Charlie’s infectious smile and elegant Mary, with the regal bearing of the first female police officer in town.

I picked an apricot, wet with raindrops. The apricot was orangish gold. Soft, but not too soft. I took a bite and a ride to apricot heaven. The sweetness, which hit the roof of my mouth and then trickled down the side, was like apricot honey, honey.

I ate three. Two wasn’t enough and four was too many. Three left room for next time, although with apricots, there might not be a next time.

Two days earlier, I had walked the same alley, a walk that had not included my red-robed neighbor, the one who granted me picking privileges without even knowing it.

I’d picked an apricot but it was tart. Tart is good for some things — apples, kiwis and Sour Patch Kids — but not apricots.

The first apricot was tart, as was the second and third. Picking more was not making them more ripe. A man can be stripped of his picking privileges if he demonstrates thriftlessness. He might as well fish out of season or hunt dove in the spring.

The apricots weren’t ripe. Not then. Two days later, my red-robed neighbor, had officially declared the season open and the apricots were heavenly.

Two days from now, apricot season could be over. With another wind, a rainstorm or with the 90s expected later in the week, the whole crop could ripen, fall and be food for ants and other things that crawl and scamper.

Ripe apricots are best eaten on the spot. They don’t travel well, or hold up in fruit baskets or refrigerators. Apricot season is sweet but short.

Short and the perfect metaphor for life. It comes quick, we ripen and before we know it, we’re lying on the ground — which beats lying underneath the ground — with our eyes open and the words on our lips, “Please pick me up, otherwise it will just be me, the potato bugs and the blue sky.”

Maybe the red-robed stranger will help but maybe not, because she is busy, has poured herself a glass of tea and there is a show that she likes.

Apricot season is short and sweet. I learned this in an alley. Alleys can tell you a lot about a neighborhood and other things, too.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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