We’re All Here at the Deli

It’s lunch-time at the deli and the sidewalks have sent in just about every variety in the vast chocolate-box of humanity.

Here comes a young woman in a peach dress who swishes past, sighing impatiently and rummaging in a purse the size of a cigarette pack. At a neighboring table, another young woman yawns and stands. She wears the briefest of tops, a sort of cross between a slingshot and a training bra. As she stands, she stretches, revealing every fern-frond rib in her delicate midriff.

Here, a young man about 20 sits, in a sweat-soaked T-shirt, hands and arms sooty as a chimney-sweep’s. He has an alert and hungry look in his eyes, which keep losing focus as he wolfs his sandwich in six quick and enormous bites.

Two pyramids of apples balance on the counter, encircled by a kind of pop-bead necklace made of oranges. Brightly-colored as a box of brand-new crayons, they twinkle in the sunlight pouring through the cafe’s plate-glass window.

An old man in big roomy shorts toils toward the counter with a walking stick, his calves gone bald with decades of friction from his trousers.

 A young man behind him stands in hairy calves and the standard chin-fringe, one hip jutting like Michelangelo’s David.

 Here now is an older lady with a facelift so tight it must have straightened her hair.  Here beside her, a friend with a gently-curving back. Three hundred years after Bach’s death, jazzed-up techno versions of his compositions plunk clinking electronic notes down around them like tiddlywinks.

Two male teens approach in tattered denim, with flannel lumberjack shirts tied around their loins. Engirdled thus, they look like Elizabeth the First and a royal companion, taking their voluminous skirts out for a morning stroll.

Now a woman maybe 50 with huge brown eyes sits down beside me. More than half of her long chestnut bob is now given over to graying roots. She wears backless orange pumps and talks rapidly to herself in a high tiny voice.

Chattering away to herself, she fans the pages of a fat paperback. “Alice in Wonderland” the cover announces in bright Disney colors. But I am close enough to see that it’s really a tattered version of the Bible.

 A nurse jangles keys as numerous as those to Heaven’s many mansions. She wears the standard garb of her profession, and, in the delicate wing of one nostril, a small and flashing diamond. In leisurely fashion she makes her way out, her sandwich in its brown-paper bag tucked under one arm.

 Come winter, when we open doors to go out, we duck our heads in dread and make a quick dash into the cold; but on summer days like this one I am remembering we almost swim as we exit, and with the wiggle of a tail-fin, join the warm surging tide on the sidewalk.

Now, abruptly, the woman with the white roots stands, cries in her tiny doll’s voice, “Isn’t it rather foggy in here?!” and makes for the door.

God bless her, I think watching her go.  And God bless a world that gives us the seasons, and crayon-bright tumbles of fruit. God bless the young, and the no-longer-young, and those living in single rooms.

When the time comes for me to leave this place, foggy as it surely is, let me not duck my head and jump, fearing cold. Let this easy summer day be my guide. Let me open that door and sense warmth beyond it, and lightly join the others.

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