Posts Tagged ‘Bodegas


New York Lesson No. 332: Boss

The way strangers address each other in New York, if at all, follows a high degree of variation, depending on the situation — from the carnival-barker lurings of Italian restauranteurs along Mulberry Street to the colorful and often violent invitations from one fender-bent cabbie to another, the nod of a mail carrier to the blank stare of a neighbor.

What passes for polite forms of address in this town varies from community to community. But one constant I have heard among men time and again is the odd honorific “boss.”

It is at once colloquial and coarsely formal. As a term of address it suggests respect, as one stranger respects another, but it is not as stuffy as “sir.” I feel ridiculous and self-conscious when someone my age or older refers to me as sir.

“Boss” is in another class altogether, at least a full step up from “dude,” and not as juvenile as “mister.” It is friendly, like a light jab on the shoulder. It feels comfortable. The odd thing is, unlike “sir,” being addressed as boss does not carry any indication of social superiority.

From the convenience store clerk: “Do you want a straw with that, boss?”

From the guy at the pizza shop: “Eh, boss. What can I do for you?”

From the friendly-looking old man slowly walking across the street, one hand on his cane, the other raised in a shaking fist, while I was searching for a parking spot last night: “Hey, boss! Lights! Put on your fucking lights!”


Advice from a Grown-Up

In order to fight falling asleep at my desk after lunch today, I walked to the corner store (Do we call them delis in New York? Bodegas?) to get a caffeinated beverage and a bit of chocolate. The scorched coffee from the kitchen downstairs doesn’t do anything for me but make me sweaty and fidgety. These days, I’m on to Coke Zero, which is discernably better, in my opinion, than Diet Coke.

On the way to the store, I walked behind a little boy, maybe 9 or 10 years old, walking home from school, accompanied by a man and a woman. He was dressed nicely in a red sweatshirt and clean but trendy blue jeans. And he had some kind of funky (probably basketball) shoes on, like every kid in this pocket of the Lower East Side. What caught my attention was the way he walked. He rose up on the balls of his feet before lifting them every time he took a step. And his heels were turned inward just slightly. It was a distinctive gait, and it struck me as somewhat cocky. I wondered if he’d grow up to be a bruiser or a softie.

He was telling a story about something relatively dramatic that happened at school that day. Some trouble he found himself in. Or some sort of conflict with another kid in his class. I couldn’t make it out.

The woman responded by saying, “Stop that kind of talk. That only gets you locked up and in a lot of touble over nothing.” She had a remarkably hoarse voice. I laughed to myself that this woman should remind me of Harvey Fierstein. She would not appreciate my saying so, I’m sure.

I was instantly curious about what he had done. Had the kid talked back to a teacher and gotten reprimanded? It was good of her to guide him, but I was sort of alarmed at the early-childhood notion of being locked up.

I supposed she was an aunt or a friend of his parents. I couldn’t imagine (or maybe I did not want to imagine) that she was his mother.

The boy said something about another kid kicking him in the back. The woman interrupted and rasped, “So then you turn around and kick him back. That’s what you do!”

Act, don’t talk, basically. And take care of it yourself. It’s different from what I was told in similar situations at that age. I had a git reaction against what she said, and immediately judged her to be a bad influence. I imagined him ruined by his mid-teens. Fighting all the time. In trouble at school. But is it really such bad advice? It might be appropriate for this neighborhood. And who could prepare him for the world any better than this woman, who has evidently seen some of the underbelly of life?


New York Lesson No. 326: Straws

Delis will also give you a straw with every canned or bottled beverage you buy. Water, soda, juice … Sometimes they ask if you want a bag. (No. Why get a little bag for one little item?) But always there is a straw. Always. I have a drawer full of unused straws in my office. I keep them with all the extra packets of soy sauce I’ve collected.


New York Lesson No. 325: Coffee

When getting coffee from a deli, bear the following in mind:

“Coffee” is two sugars and milk. You have to ask for cream if you want half & half instead of milk. You have to ask for “regular coffee” if you want it black, but regular coffee still comes with sugar. You have to specify “one sugar” if you want less or “no sugar” if you want none. So, what I think of as just coffee is actually “regular coffee, no sugar.”

I used to get a coffee and a muffin on the way to work every morning at the bakery/pizzeria on the corner where I enter the No. 7 train. The first time I did it, I watched the guy behind the counter slosh two heaping spoonfuls into the cup before pouring on the coffee. It was more like coffee-flavored candy. So, started the next day, I became more specific. Then I tried taking no sugar at all, which is now my habit — and not a bad habit, come to think of it

I stopped going to that bakery for two reasons. 1.) They changed muffin suppliers, and the crusty raisin bran muffins I love were replaced by soft, oily shadows of raisin bran muffins. 2.) I just drink a cup of coffee at home in the morning while I’m making lunches.

the untallied hours