Monday, January 24

''s that I grew increasingly determined to understand the phenomenology of papayas in New York. How did a tropical fruit come to be so prominent in a temperate-zone city. Why were there so many papaya stores? Why did all of them sell frankfurters, too? (I mean, were they health food stores or junk food stores?) Why did so many papaya stores include references to royalty in their names? [Papayas Kingdom, King, Prince, Princess, &c.] Why were all of them decorated with signs using stilted, hyperbolic descriptions of papayas, like THE ARISTOCRATIC MELON OF THE TROPICS, THE FAMOUS MAGICAL PAPAYA MELON, and GOD'S GIFT TO MANKIND IS OUR PAPAYA DRINK? That nobody could answer these questions, or had even considered them, came as no particular surprise; one characteristic of the New York personality I had noticed right away was an ability to overlook prevailing conditions, such as high taxes and sidewalk bridges. Papayas seemed to be just another prevailing condition.

'I did what I could to get answers. I put questions to countermen at various papaya outposts and got strangely specific but unsubstantiated reactions, among them "Eighty-five percent of all the people in the world love papaya" (the bun man at Papaya Kingdom) and "The relationship between the hot dog and the papaya is very good" (the juice man at Gray's). I also talked to Peter Poulos, the owner of Papaya King, which, I learned, was the original papaya store in New York. He said that his father had traveled to Florida decades earlier and had come back fired up with the idea of introducing New Yorkers to the tropical delights of papaya juice. The outbreak of other papaya stores, he said, was an attempt to copy Papaya King's success. The romantic paens to the papaya were his father's own words and cadence, and the other stores duplicated them. The other stores' references to royalty were meant to fool customers into thinking all the papaya stores were affiliated, like some tropical fruit juice House of Hapsburg.'

--Susan Orlean, "Royalty," in My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere, 2004

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