Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I live in New York City, a steaming cauldron of hope and change and overpriced corner stores. Here, we call them bodegas, which is a Spanish word meaning, "You honestly expect me to pay that price?" Our bodegas are our anchors in a sea of uncertainty and constant motion. They are vast foundries of Coca-Cola and Pringles, providing sustenance and relief and connection with our Midwestern roots. A good bodega, in fact, always comes through in the clutch: If you need Scotch tape at 4 a.m. on a Tuesday, your bodega provides. It may cost $14.99, but it is there for you, man, on the same rack behind the counter where it's been hanging since 1968.
Of course, I live in Brooklyn now, which means many bodegas do the unthinkable: They actually close at night. (Brooklyn: The City That Used to Never Sleep, But Is Now Well Into Its Thirties, and Therefore Requires Brief Cat-Naps.) For the first few months I lived here, this seemed very strange and suburban; it was an affront to my freedom. What if I require a bunch of green grapes and some pickle relish in the middle of the night, I asked my girlfriend? (She did not answer.) But there is one bodega in my neighborhood that seems somehow trapped in the netherworld between the city that never sleeps and the city that steals forty winks when its sane residents are swimming in an Ambien haze: This place, ____ Green, specializes in fresh fruit, all of which is posted outside, in stands on the sidewalk. Therefore, according to my repeated observations, ____ Green apparently requires one of its employees to stand outside, on the sidewalk, all night long, every day of the year, so as to keep watch over the fruit.
This seems like a torturous avocation: Every time I walk by the man on fruit duty, I lapse into Costanza-esque guilt. Should I bring him a rocking chair? Should I offer to keep watch while he takes a bathroom break, or is he waiting for a man named Godot? And what if I asked to buy something? Could he lift the tarp off the slumbering masses of Driscoll's strawberries and pass them along at a discount? Is he armed? What kind of gun does a man commissioned to protect fruit need to carry?
Obviously, this whole thing seems crazy to me. It seems as if this bodega, this clutch player on the New York scene--and it is a very good bodega, a Hall of Fame bodega, the kind of place where they only gouge you slightly and actually seem to check the shelves for fossilized Oreos every so often--cannot decide whether it prefers to go all-out or pull back. Why not just stay open all night if you require labor, anyway? Or why not build an impenetrable structure for your fruit and just close for real, and leave the situation in peace? It is this kind of indecision that drives us all insane. It is this kind of indecision that ruins the legacy of a good bodega.
Anyway, I passed by the man on fruit duty last night, and I thought: This is exactly how I feel about Brett Favre.