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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9 thoughts on “We’re All Here at the Deli

  1. Nice… Although I’m glad I bypassed that particular deli yesterday. I had a hankering for one last corn beef sandwich, but I shudder to think what you would have made of my early spring, fish belly legs.

    What did you order?

    There are mansions in heaven? I always assumed it was co-ops….

  2. Terry, you don’t miss much. And then, to write it all down, you have to remember everything you saw. You have a photographic memory enhanced by brilliant color. I’m sure you were there – at the deli – but I also know you could have imagined it. ,.And the writing would be just as true.

    1. Joan I never make stuff up. I was at that deli but not yesterday. Your penpal Brian here knows that once a week I adapt that week’s column and use it as a post, just to give myself a little day off. He can always tell which ones started life as columns because he says they feel more ‘curated’. (He is very observant, that one!)
      I sat in that deli for two hours to get all that. 🙂

  3. Most enjoyable, Terry. I am a people watcher, too. This week it was a man turning 90 soon who is looking for pocket shirts (a fb friend found them in Taunton and sent me the address) – he walks very erect and proud of his good health, sharing stories of his life with “Gussie” his wife now deceased. The delivery from the market arrives and the women I was told about came swarming in with big shopping bags leaving behind very little. A pretty blonde walking her little dog before she heads to work; a man recovering from a heart attack soaking up the sun and looking for a job in the paper; a woman who tells me of seeing a man peering in my window and tapping on it. My mother sat in front of a big window watching the birds and daydreaming….lunch was disappointing – potato skins, nice and crispy filled with cheese and “old” probably previously frozen lobster but good iced tea with lemon. Back at home, my free blueberry scones that didn’t get taken by the cotton tops with the shopping bags tasted good steam heated in the microwave, lightly buttered and with honey drizzled on it made a satisfying supper for me. My Turkey HIll iced tea was free because I had a coupon that was doubled on Tues. I saved $28 between coupon doubling and sales items. Saw many former coworkers and the bank manager who used to approve my loans and refinancing. It was a busy, happy day. Terry – BP med is working, down to 118/58!!!

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