On weekdays I alight from the subway, the new day still in darkness and join the throng to ascend the stairs and listen to the female cry of 5 peso jellies for breakfast.

Through the turnstiles and then I turn left, still groggy from too little sleep and pass churros being sugared, fruits high-powered liquefied, head cheese tortas rolling off the production line in their hundreds.

But before all this, day after day, I hear the same voice drifting through the darkened mazes of early morning commerce. The pitch, sales and voice, does not vary…..ever.

Plumas a tres pesos. Peines a dos pesos.

Plumas a tres pesos. Peines a dos pesos.

Ad infinitum.

(That’s) Pens for three pesos. Combs for two pesos.

Pens for three pesos. Combs for two pesos.

As I said, ad infinitum.

August – pens and combs.

October – pens and combs.

January – plumas y peines.

I pass the wooden table of the small time entrepreneur, fiftyish, well-groomed, as you’d expect, drinking paper cup coffee, reading the left-wing Mexico City newspaper La Jornada and robotically repeating those same words.

And daily I peer down and inspect the offerings on his table; Actually I see no pens but combs, yes, in any colour you like but also; nail clippers, little mirrors, scissors, chewing gum, lozenges and a few other things that I can’t think of right now in this game of memory, as I said I’m groggy at the time.

And often I wonder, with all those other knicks and knacks that lie their on his table, why is it that it is just pens and combs that are granted voice?
No chicles a 1 peso, cortauñas a 5 pesos o tal vez 10 (¿qué sé yo?)
I don’t know the price of his gum, his nail clippers, his mirrors.

One morning I stop. I think to ask, why don’t you promote your other products? But who am I to ask such a thing? Call into question this indefatigable salesman of the inky Mexican morning. All that comes out is, “¿tienes plumas?” (Do you have pens?) and of course I know he does. He pulls out a plastic bag full, ¿están a tres pesos? (three pesos), I ask full of feigned innocence and ignorance and of course they are and we make the exchange and I continue on into the rubbish strewn exterior of the station and immeasurable stench of dawn.

Later, I pull out my three peso pen, and I kid you not, I write fifty words or less and the damn, over-promoted thing falls apart in front of my eyes, damaged beyond repair.

I think of lodging my justified complaint but in the afternoon commute I take a different route into the station and so do not know if the pens and combs routine continues in the afternoon too but I imagine it does and am sure too that he must mutter it all night in his sleep, his wife shaking him out of his mechanical trauma.

I could call him to account the next morning, return the faulty item, demand a refund, put it instead towards a head cheese torta which has never let me down but how could he remember me, a lone customer in the murky morn and who I am to break his monotonous rhythm? Pens and combs. Maybe he can’t complete the crossword in his morning paper but his hair sure does look good.

Peter W Davies


    1. I know I can’t really complain. A few more words would have been nice though.I agree, the inspiration for the post is more than just value. What really intrigues me though is why he only verbally promotes the pens and combs. Maybe there is a strategy behind it and I just haven’t identified it. Thanks for the comment.

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