UNITED STATES—Sam Delaney was an ingratiating presence, and he had a big fine office building (at 12 stories you could do a lot of damage by stepping off the top, but nobody ever did in that steamy, comforting town where the atmosphere clung like amniotic fluid that surrounds a fetus, and it kept people from making that long step). People mistook the office for something he created, in fact it came long before Sam was on the scene.
It was an ornate skyscraper (at 12 stories a skyscraper by New Orleans standards) built fully 11 years before had any notion of finding greater opportunity than that found on the Chamelecón River. Right on the eve of the market crash he sold his controlling interest in the Chamelecón Fruit Co. to his main competitor, the Allied Fruit Co. and looked forward to retirement, devoting himself to the music and mathematics he loved most, and walking his dogs, letting Rebecca collect art. And the people made fun of her; she bought pieces from this charlatan with the melting watches and a guy who did square colors. They ridiculed her when she got these color explosions from this Spanish guy who lived in France.
But the timing was right, Allied Fruit, already known as the Octopus, El Pulpo in Bananaland, was big and just got bigger with Sam’s thousands of hectares of rich black soil perfect to cultivate the banana plantations that grew on the banks of Rio Chamelecón.
Quite the contrary, with that exquisite timing maliciously attributed to being privy to information that only the anointed possessed, he sold the controlling interest in Chamelecón the time that Sam took over Allied Fruit. And it was after the stock market crash, he knew it was time to bet it all again, even if he had lost plenty himself, he still had more than most.
A few times Sam bet it all to save some AFCO worker’s family from eviction—there’s no scourge with more fangs than the landlord laying in wait to change the locks. He remembered such misadventures with his ne’er-do-well father. Once also, Allied Fruit was going through some hard times, and through a proxy, Nate the Shark, Allied Banana was able to keep its head above water and be swallowed up by Allied Fruit. So Sam always got called shrewd and it wasn’t that at all. He was lucky.
There was a destiny in all this, around the time he got married to Rebecca, he keenly felt the need to recuperate the ten percent of his banana business he’d sold to the Octopus –Allied Fruit—to establish his full independence. For good reason the Octopus was called Octopus: it grabbed into markets and land with its ever multiplying tentacles and never let go. The surprise was that Allied uncharacteristically accepted Sam’s offer.
In this case, Sam’s erstwhile irritant the U.S. government did him an indirect favor. It was the time they were going after monopolies in oil, bananas, you name it. Now the Allied Fruit Co. looked like a monopoly, smelled like a monopoly, and it was in fact a monopoly. Unbeknownst to Sam Delaney, when his offer in 1911 to buy back the ten percent it was greeted with shouts of hooray. The transaction gave Union Fruit the true appearance of having relinquished part of its influence in the Banana Trade.
By the 1920s banana shortages threatened peacetime America again and again. It really was the favorite fruit. Old Bernie Lukasey did some of his of black magic and staged a Banana Riot in Chicago, it was all over the news. The plant wandering disease, the fusaria wilt can be credited for driving up banana prices and the chronic shortages and it spawned the song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas.”
And all of this helped to further cinch the banana in the public palate as an indispensable fruit for being able to get through the day.
There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.
We’ve string beans, and onions
Cabbageses, and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned to-mah-to
A Long Island po-tah-to
But yes, we have no bananas.
We have no bananas today.”
To be continued…
Graydon Miller is the Wizard of Fiction