Wednesday, June 09, 2010

thank you

i stopped in the corner bodega on the way home tonight for my usual naked protein shake. now there's something i couldn't have said not even 5 years ago.

actually, there's one one either side of the street. and up the street. and down the street. they're peppered all over the neighborhood and they've gotten pretty swanky, with their inlaid wood walls and shelving, those gourmet organic potato chips and toblerone bars and all the other specialty items that many would think have no business being sold in the ghetto. those well-chilled imported belgian beers are a far cry from st. ides or colt 45, if you know what i mean. but that's the thing. we've been snacking on such treats all along -- it's just that we always had to go below 96th street to get whatever we wanted. now that white people are here, everything is shifting to accommodate them. and it's really aggravating.

why couldn't they accommodate me? i like toblerone bars.

there's the usual suspects in this narrow space -- dominican old men, loud kids messing around and buying candy, crackheads, buppies, arabs chatting back and forth with the guy at the cash register and reading the paper out loud and the like. oh, and white hipsters. always, the white hipsters.

everyone is talking all at once. there's arabic music playing underneath it all, and every so often the cashier sings along absentmindedly. he's on and off the phone, he's laughing and talking to his pals, he's yelling things to the back grill, he's popping gum. it's a real sonic blast. as i move to the back and then the front of the store, all of it comes at me in waves. most of it is indecipherable but i 'm listening to the arabic for a change. i think it sounds pretty.

after i pay for my things, i say thank you in arabic. moroccan arabic, to be exact. this stops the cashier in his tracks. for a moment, he's like a deer in the headlights. his pleased expression is one of genuine disbelief and some bewilderment. he mumbles you're welcome in arabic and bows to me slightly. and he smiles slightly, still staring. as i leave i see his friends looking at me with the same expression.

nothing bridges the gap quite like polite behavior.

i remember when i lived in a building on the upper west side that was filled with eastern europeans and gnarled old jews. they treated me like i was an alien. i still remember the way they would point at me and stare, dumbfounded. one day, i started to say hello and goodbye to everyone in their own language. there were quite a few languages, believe me. it wasn't easy -- but after awhile, it became a game and we were all in on it. the next thing you know, i was getting hamentashen every year at purim. i remember coming home late one afternoon and having a group of them invite me to sit with them, to watch the sunset. it was beautiful, to be accepted for myself -- but it was wierd, to be inside that circle and watch them exclude others.

more on exclusionary tactics later. i know that eventually, that cashier and i will have a nice long chat. for now, i'm practicing my arabic -- one phrase at a time. learning to say thank you is a pretty good start.

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