Monday, July 17, 2006
Sign of the Times
John McCrea drank all my orange juice.
I didn't have that much to start with, just a half-gallon or so. And it had ice crystals in it, a result of an ongoing argument I've been having with the temperature gauge on my fridge.
I don't blame John for drinking all my orange juice. John lives in the UK, where "hot" means something different. It's insanely hot here at the moment. My little window a/c units can't really hack this weather. I don't usually use them, but having a houseguest means not forcing him to stew and swelter along with me. And surely I should buy him more juice.
I trotted over to the deli this morning, the one around the corner on Monmouth Street.
I've often jokingly referred to it as The Deli That Time Forgot. Just about everything seems to cost a dollar, or maybe a dollar-and-a-half. The shelves are lined with an assortment of items, which varies according to what someone ordered, or maybe by what the delivery truck dropped off. Sometimes there are shelves of dusty catfood boxes, cartons of sugar, fake maple syrup, Drake's Cakes, and breakfast cereals. Newspapers, cold drinks, deli meats, and sandwiches are always available. The entire block is pumped up on the deli's coffee, which tastes extraordinarily good for automatic drip mass-produced coffee.
All the old men on my block meet in front of the deli every morning, to sip coffee and swap tales of fishing, local politics, and gossip. I'm sure the mysterious typewriter that appeared on the sidewalk a few weeks ago was discussed at length, along with my 1990 Ford Taurus the day it broke down in the middle of the street (the eSwede, an educated man with a desk job and a few Master's degrees, suddenly got a lesson in how life is down here in scrappy Marie-ville, when he had to get out and push).
Larry, who lives two doors down from me, has even been known to carry his folding lawn-chair with him down to the deli. The other men lean against the fence.
Today, the shelves were bare in The Deli That Time Forgot.
"What can I help you with, hon?" The older woman behind the counter was keen to help, as she alway is.
"Do you have any orange juice?"
"No, only those small grapefruit juices in the case."
"Why aren't there any groceries? Is it summer vacation or something?"
"No, we're closing. We're moving to Newark Avenue."
I looked at her in horror. The deli was the center of the neighborhood, the center of life, gossip, and cheap supplies.
"The lease is up. The owner won't renew it. Wants to get a lot more money."
I bought two grapefruit juices and trudged home. Same story, told in gentrifying areas throughout the country. The things that make an area appealing, the neighborhood shops, the eclectic mix of diverse people, and the friendly concern, these things get forced out by higher costs, and the neighborhood loses the character that made it so appealling in the first place.
RIP, Deli That Time Forgot. Condo Contagion, Creeping Gentry, and Progress marches on. Another brick falls out of the base of a classic old-time neighborhood.
Update: The deli is now closed, and the neighborhood old men are still hanging out in front of it every day.