A fellow slicer posted on Monday about the busy-ness of her day, and one of the entries in her post mentioned walking to the corner health food store … and I was reminded of a health food store near an old job of mine.
In the early 90s I taught at an adult education program in the South Bronx. I was already living in Brooklyn, so my commute was a long one. Sometimes I had to rush for the train before having time to throw together something to pack for lunch, and there weren’t a ton of good options for quick and inexpensive lunches near the school.
On one of those rush-out-without-lunch days, I noticed an option I hadn’t seen before. On my walk from the train to work I saw a small health food store, and decided to head back there at lunch time.
I walked in and immediately started to doubt my choice. There were hardly any products on the shelves, and the few items in view were old and sun bleached and none of them made sense for a health food store: cans of condensed milk, a box or two of corn flakes, chips, soda.
But I was undeterred. I walked toward the window at the back of the shop. There were a couple of men ahead of me, but they stepped aside and let me take their places at the window. Okay, weird, but maybe also just absurdly courteous, right? I ordered the veggie sandwich. The man behind the counter looked at me a long time, looked at the men who were waiting off to the side, looked back at me and nodded, told me it would be a minute.
The men and I stood around waiting. None of us spoke, I studied the shelves a little more — a dusty box of saltines, some canned chicken noodle soup — and wondered how serious my sandwich must be to take so much time.
Finally the man came back to the window, took my money and handed me a brown paper bag.
When I started in on my perfectly yummy sandwich, everyone wanted to know where I’d gotten it. I told them, and they all looked at me as if I’d said something outrageous.
“Stacie, that’s a drug store.” This from my co-teacher.
“No it’s a health food place. Middle of the block.”
“Stacie,” — my supervisor, ” it’s a drug store.”
“No really, it’s not.”
“Stacie,” — still my supervisor. “Did you notice that they don’t have much to sell?”
I laughed. “Sure, their stock is pretty pathetic, but this sandwich is great. It did take him an awfully long time to make it, though.”
“Because he probably went out the back to another shop and bought it for you.” This from the writing tutor.
“And I’ll bet they were surprised to see you.” My supervisor again.
“I guess they were a bit surprised.” … and the light bulb of my brain began to come on slowly, still very much on the bottom end of the dimmer switch … “Wait. when you say it’s a drug store, you mean –”
“That it’s a drug store.” (At this point, surely my supervisor was wondering how she could have hired someone so dense.) ” A place to buy drugs. Not medicine, not prescriptions. Drugs. You should never go there.”
I looked at my lunch. “But this sandwich –”
“Is an interesting outcome.”
Yeah. I kept my next thoughts to myself: how could it be a shop where you just walk in and buy drugs? That wasn’t actually possible, was it?
But that sandwich … was delicious. Pollyanna signing off now.
You can find more worldly and intelligent slices over at Two Writing Teachers.