Monday, August 25, 2008

"One Day He'll Be Out On His Ass!"

I need to write this down before I forget it.

I went out to buy some breakfast close to the house. Should have traveled farther, got a really good meal, but I had a lot to do and I just wanted to get it over with.

Went to the deli. This is an old old deli, that's been around since I was an infant. In a patchwork neighborhood filled with stores that open and close every other month, and several outright abandoned storefronts, the deli is a rarity. But it looks its age -- and worse, it has shared its long history in this sad area with my own. It knows too much: remembering the generations, my family's growth and implosion, my modest string of ex-boyfriends and roommates, everything. How to make a clean break of it? Certainly not at the deli.

When I walk into this deli, I feel as if I will never leave this neighborhood, as if the same preservative formula keeping it standing will continue to glue me in place.

The guy at the counter is ill with a degenerative disease, and I feel terrible as he struggles to put my $1.50 egg sandwich, container of orange juice, and cup of coffee in the brown paper bag. I feel terrible for him but I don't want to pity him; I'll be honest, I just don't know how to act. The other guy, he says "hello how you're doing" to me in the same rote way he has done for more than a decade, without looking at me, more a statement than a question. He's ill too, but not as bad as the first guy. And then there's yet another guy there, very old -- he's ill too, with big dark spots all over his skin. There was another guy used to work there, he died.

So anyway, I'm almost done at the place, this woman comes in and asks if they carry watermelons. Obviously, I think, she is new to the neighborhood. The closest thing to fresh fruit this deli carries are pickles.

When the lady leaves, the "hello how are you doing" guy scowls and says derisively, "Ha! Do we carry watermelons?!" And then he steps out to get some change for the store.

The first guy can't control his anger, his face bent in disgust. Now, I never seen this guy look angry before, so this is a shock to me. But he's furious, shaking, muttering, "Got no respect for people -- he's like an animal! You know? No respect! No wonder one day he'll be out on his ass!"

I scrambled to pick up my brown paper bag bursting with its contents (purchased for only $3.58). The man insisted, "you need a plastic bag? I'll go get you a plastic bag!"

"No, I-I'm fine..."

The poor man was clearly in agony packing the brown bag alone. I was fine. But it wasn't even that.

"No, no, let me get you a plastic bag!"

I thought about the elevators back at the apartment, both of them, rattling and in sore need of repair. I knew the landlord would wait until somebody got hurt in them again. I just knew it.


  1. Is Karen Berger reading these? I see a limited mini-series in several languages all based upon Val's living in NYC experiences. And Amin drawing it!

    In all seriousness, these "real life" posts are great! Although I only lived in NYC for what seemes a fraction of a lifetime, I do remember all of the people, places and pizza!!! Sorry had to put that in there. Oh and a good pint of Guiness..... ok now i'm depressed.

  2. Anonymous2:05 PM

    Sounds like your breakfast came with a free side of crippling despair.

  3. Anonymous11:14 PM

    Yeah, Brooklyn rules.

  4. As sad (and well written) as that story is, it still made me miss living in a neigborhood where I could walk to a good deli. I doubt that there is a place within a two hour dirve of me that I could walk into and get an egg sandwich. Watermellon? Yeah, I can buy that on the side of the road but a good sandwich? Sad times.

  5. Geez... everyone knows you get your watermelon from the Korean grocer down the street.

    All the delis in my neighborhood (Wakefield, Bronx) are owned/run by Middle Eastern types. One is brand spanking new (used to be a Greek diner), even has a small heated buffet table. The others are your typical deli...coolers, deli case serving Boars Head meats, one side of chips from Frito Lay one side from Wise or Utz, canned food, lotto tickets, and a plethora of phone cards.

    My nieghborhood is caribbean, so we also have a few Indian stores (where I bought my DVD of Krssh), Chinese take away, roti shops, as well as the usual national brands like Subway and Duane Reade. If I get really bored, I walk across the Metro North tracks to Woodlawn, where the Irish live. If I miss suburbia, a bus ride north to Wally World in Westchester takes care of that.

    Shannon... a good sandwich? Food is usually better in small towns. Usually the diner on the highway has better food (and is usually next to a gas station/convenience store), but the gossip is better at the little sit down restaurant on Main Street. Be sure to tip your waitress nicely, she's saving up so she can attend State U in the Fall.