“And, when I crossed the wild, I chanced to see, at break of day, The solitary child.”
Lucy Gray, or Solitude
By: Gabriela Yareliz
I was reading through my Winter anthology, edited by Melissa Harrison. This morning, my eyes fell on a passage (quoted above). As I was reading, I knew the words felt so familiar.
The passage/excerpt didn’t end for a couple of pages and the author is always on the last page, so I hadn’t seen who penned it. I continued to read, and there was an incredible feeling attached to what I was reading. Nostalgia, perhaps. When I reached the page where the author’s name was, I saw it– William Wordsworth, 1799. I was obsessed with him and his writing in high school (along with John Keats). I would check out books with all of their works compiled, from the library. When I saw the name, I smiled.
I still find it amazing how you can recognize someone depending on how they string words together. A person can create a sort of signature; their very own gait across the page.
Whose writing have you spotted and felt that rush of nostalgia for?
It’s storming outside. I can hear the sleet. I can’t sleep.
In my insomnia (if it’s before midnight, does it still count as insomnia?)– all I can think about is our story.
We sometimes feel pressure all around us to be more, to be different, to fit into boxes we don’t fit into. But then, someone comes along and loves us in our simplicity. You can roll on the floor laughing; you’re best friends; everything just clicks.
This one goes out to my very own Jim Halpert. I love that I get to be your Pam. Thank you for being the one who understood the glances and “camera-like” stares; for all the flowers, treats and for the evenings in your car or our long walks where you just listened to me talk. I know I am understood, loved and seen. All I’ll say is that when I started watching The Office in 2020, I couldn’t help but feel like someone had been watching us and based Jim and Pam on us (except our story is even cooler). I can’t wait to marry you.
In Cómo Hacer que te Pasen Cosas Buenas (How to Make Good Things Happen to You), the wise Marian Rojas Estapé points out that the body and mind don’t distinguish what is real from what is not real. What becomes real for us lies in our choice. In other words, if we panic or create terrible circumstances in our minds, our body reacts as if this is real, even if it isn’t.
I found this to be a profound reminder of how much power our mind really has. We see this everywhere– just look around. People these days have a tendency to panic about things that really don’t merit the cortisol. You could argue that bar will be different for everyone– and based on personality, some people like to panic more than others (or due to other external factors, some people should be more worried than others maybe due to circumstance or choice/consequence). But my general point is simply that if our default as humans is to cause stress on our minds and bodies with worries over things that aren’t real (or aren’t real yet, or aren’t as imagined), imagine what would happen if we could convince our minds of good (or the good that isn’t real yet).
Our stress and cortisol cause imbalances that help feed illness and inflammation. Imagine if we took a pause and made the decision to have healing thoughts, even in the midst of dark circumstances. When I was reading the Bonhoeffer book, I found interesting that Bonhoeffer wrote in his letters from prison about the birds singing around and other notable positive things around him. His attention to the right details and his dwelling on them strengthened him in his last days. It sounds simple, but it’s a profound act and choice.
As we enter this new season, what things do you want to feed your mind, and by extension, your body? What are the thoughts or reactions you want to trade out? What reality will you choose to focus on? The mind and body can’t make the distinction by default, so the choice is yours.
Even while being a minister playing games to escape the attention of the Nazi government while at the same time provoking them, Bonhoeffer kept a journal. This is how we know so much about his thoughts as he traveled, escaped trouble, landed in trouble, was imprisoned, met people and studied Scripture. This was a time where you would put your ear to the door and look both ways before having a conversation with someone. It was risky to be writing things down in his journal, but he did it anyway. I am so grateful he was fearless even in that. He was a bold journaler.
The Beijing 2022 Olympics begin in February. World governments have taken weak stances on China, a power that has no problem killing its own people, en masse. As we play around with diplomatic incompetence, there is a continual genocide being perpetrated against religious minorities, which includes the Uyghurs “who are a Turkic ethnic minority that live in the province which is located in the Northwestern part of the People’s Republic of China.” (Source) The Chinese Communist Party has tried to use the justification of “national security,” but it’s clearly a cheap excuse. Nothing can excuse this. Right now, there are people in camps being forced into mass detention, medical experiments, mass rape, torture, forced labor, sterilization, organ harvesting, abortions, and death.
As I have seen the rest of the world’s failure to call out the Chinese Communist Party for its current genocide, I was reminded of the Berlin Games in 1936. The world participated in the games that helped fund and bolster Nazi Germany, which proceeded to murder 2/3s of Europe’s Jewish population. The German position for its actions and discrimination (which was already occuring during the Berlin Games) was of “national” interest as well. We often talk about what a mistake it was to participate in the Berlin Games, but if we felt that way, then wouldn’t we be behaving differently with China?
The world pours money, attention and support for countries that, to begin with, should not be hosting these games. They should be stripped of that privilege due to current political climate and wrongs against their own citizens. Our argument for participation continues to be, “there are athletes who train their whole lives for these games.” Look a genocide victim in the eye before they are killed and tell them that. It would be absurd, right?
It’s time the international community grow a backbone. It’s time to decide what matters more, and spoiler alert, it’s people. People matter more. Always.
I am disappointed in the United State’s participation in these games. It should pull out. Every self-respecting country that believes in the most basic human rights should pull out. NBC shouldn’t be broadcasting this pageantry. Instead, NBC would do well to actually report on what is actually happening inside of China’s borders. People are dying. Towns have been locked down and people are starving. There are clear human rights violations. We would do well to keep perpetrators accountable. Maybe that would make us reflect on the ways we are treating our own, as well. It seems that the world, instead of being horrified, is taking notes to follow. #boycott
If you missed Part I and Part II, click on the links. I’m taking you through NYC to listen to the hopes and dreams of NYC deli friends.
We are taking the pulse of the city.
This deli was emptier than the others I had seen. By the time I got here, I was getting tired. My bag was full of snacks from the other delis. I was craving the Ritz Bits I had picked up earlier.
I stop and talk to my dad on text in a little aisle that had some canned dolmas that were about to expire. Before I head out, I wish the man with the beanie on behind the counter a happy new year.
He was really kind and stood up and wished me the same. I ask him if he has any hopes for the new year. He shared with me that he is from India and that he worked in the film industry over there. (You longtime readers know and remember I am a HUGE Bollywood fan). He shares with me his very legit IMDb page. He tells me he went to film school, and he will be submitting two films to some festivals in the upcoming year. I ask him what they are about and whether they are funny. “They are serious,” he tells me. It’s clear to me he is very courageous and passionate about what he does.
He asks me if I am in media, as I shared with him that I had been a cricket reporter in college and that is how I know some of the Indian actors he tells me about. I tell him I work as an attorney for a nonprofit, and we share some jokes about the fact that I am a poor attorney, not the big bucks kind. We return to the topic of passion being the driving force for what one does.
On the back of a receipt, I write down my blog page and wish him all the best with his film submissions. If you are reading this, new friend, I wish you all the luck in the world with your projects! Keep striving.
I come to a deli where four men are having a powwow in the entrance. “You gonna place an order?” one asks me. “Just looking,” I say as I grab a kombucha from the fridge. I scan it for a price. I walk over to the register. A kid, no older than 18, rings me up.
“Happy new year,” I tell him.
“Thanks, you too,” he tells me.
“Any hopes and dreams for the new year?” I ask him.
He counts my change and hands it to me. “I want to be in shape,” he tells me. I notice the two men next to us have quieted down and are invested in our conversation.
“Health is important,” I say lifting the kombucha bottle and smiling. I chuck it into my bag. I hear the Ritz Bits pack. Damn, I crushed the crackers, I think.
“Happy new year,” every single man in the entrance tells me as I walk out.
“Happy and healthy new year to all of you,” I tell them as I put my sunglasses back on.
I walk into this deli. Two guys from Honda are there on break. One lady with blonde frizzy curls asks for a tuna melt. “Not too much tuna,” she says very seriously to the very pretty woman behind the counter who nods solemnly.
“Happy new year,” I announce to all. I feel like Santa Claus or something, at this point. Everyone turns and wishes me a happy new year. I ask them what they hope for the new year.
One Honda mechanic looks at me and pushes up his blue baseball cap with his weathered brown hand, “Listen, if you ask me, we need to embrace wherever we are going. I don’t know where the hell that is, but I am embracing it, you know?” he says.
I nod. The other Honda mechanic chimes in as he approaches the counter to grab some homefries he ordered, “We have lost too many people this past year. I will be happy if I just make it to the next year. I just want to make it.”
“I am sorry for any of your personal losses,” I tell him. The blonde tuna melt lady is micromanaging the guy making her sandwich. I turn my attention to the woman behind the counter who is watching the sandwich debacle. “What about you?” I ask her as I hand her change for my roll. They are out of bagels. I give her some dimes. She gives me one back because I gave her too much.
“I accomplished a lot this past year. You know what helped me? Writing everything down. I made a ton of plans, and I made them happen,” she says to me with a proud smile.
“I love that. I do that too,” I tell her, sifting my coins into my small wallet.
“I need to sit down and write my list,” she says to me. She hands me my roll, and I thank her.
Off I go, to make my list. We are alive. We made it.
If you missed Part I, check it out here. As noted, I am on this tour to talk to local deli employees and owners about their hopes and dreams for 2022. (They are New York’s coolest). I met some really interesting people along the way.
“Everything is a story. You are a story. I am a story.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett
I walk into a fancier deli that has a coffee bar behind the counter. I order some tea after the line sort of clears out. The girl behind the counter looks tired. She has a baseball cap and a long sandy brown braid.
“Thanks for waiting,” she tells me. “No prob,” I reply. “Happy new year,” I tell her as she makes me tea and has her back turned to me.
“Yeah, happy new year!” she tells me. “You ok?” I ask her.
“I am so tired of this. I get tested like twice a day. It’s just a lot,” she tells me. “I hear you,” I tell her. “I get tested a lot, too.” She turns around and gives me a sympathetic smile.
“Is there anything you are looking forward to in the new year?” I ask her. She looks past me wistfully. She then sort of springs into action, “Honey?” she asks me. I nod.
“I know,” she says returning to my question. “I am going to dinner. I am excited about that,” she says.
I take a sip of my tea that honestly tastes like a cup of warm oatmilk. I wince a little. This is not what I wanted, but hey, this year has been rough. I dismiss the bad tea. “Well, I hope you enjoy your dinner!” I tell her with a big smile.
“Thanks,” she tells me waving.
I walk into a gourmet deli. The young man behind the counter in his fleece jacket and with his short curly black hair smiles at me.
“Do you guys have Ritz Bits crackers? With the cheese inside?” I ask him. He looks around. “No,” he says. I look around and spy them out of the corner of me eye. I bring them to the counter and look him in the eye, “You did have them. You lied to me,” I tell him joking. He laughs. “Sorry I was looking at the shelves in front,” he replies.
“You got to know what you are selling, man,” I tell him. “What do people usually get?” I ask him. “The Takis are very popular,” he answers with a laugh. “Happy new year,” I tell him. “Happy new year to you,” he tells me.
“Do you have any hopes and dreams for the new year?” I ask him.
“I want COVID to be over. I hope we can be happy, you know. I want people to find happiness.”
“Me too,” I tell him. “Wishing you a prosperous new year,” I tell him. He bows slightly and smiles. “You too,” I hear him say as the little bell on the door rings as I exit.
As I walk outside, I see the twins I had spotted earlier at the grocery mart. The ones who were pushing each other into the fruit stands. Their mom has a full grocery cart, and they are crossing the avenue. “HOLD MY HAND,” she yells at them both. The eight-year-old looking boys argue, sigh and then clutch her already full hands.
To start the new year, I thought we would start with some hopes and dreams. Some of the coolest people in NYC are deli owners and employees. They see it all. (And what is more iconic than a NYC deli and the little black bag they give you for your snacks?) I told my mom I was going out to do this because “the world needs this.” (I am so melodramatic). I think I needed it the most. It really filled my heart. My mom didn’t bat an eyelash because she knows this is my jam. (She used to warn me as a child that I needed to stop talking to strangers or I would get kidnapped… still here, thankfully.) I told my fiancé, and he just looked at me with a concerned look. (He always wants to keep me safe– and well, I talk to a lot of people on the street/train. Something he is still getting used to). I told my dad by text, and he was excited about this and deli pastrami sandwiches. “I want to share their hopes and dreams,” I texted him. They are cool people. And that was exactly my mission. I went into over 15 delis. Not everyone had something to say, but many did. I had so much fun getting to know these new friends better. (Also, I supported local businesses. Spent about $13 cash. It’s easier to talk to people if you are at the register handing them money).
Here are some of the conversations from behind the counter. There will be two more installments following this one.
I am walking around in my leather jacket and new sunglasses (even though it’s dark as hell– despite it being noon). I look cooler than I am, and I know it. I’m an undercover nerd. I walk into the first deli. A young kid in a gray hoodie sits behind the counter. We’ll call him ‘O’. I ask him for matches, and he hands me some. “They are free,” he says. “Can I give you something for them?” I ask him.
“Why would you give me money for something that is free?” He asks, eyeing me. I smile and put some plantain chips on the counter and hand him cash. I ask him if he is a student, and he says he is a senior in high school. I congratulate him.
“What’s next?” I ask him. “Not going to college. Gonna open up my own business,” he tells me and smiles. “Right on,” I tell him. “What are you going to sell?” “Maybe a smoke shop,” he tells me. I nod. “You from NYC?” He asks me. “Born and raised?” I realize he is interviewing me now.
“Nope. From Florida,” I tell him. He breaks out into a full blown laugh. “What have you heard about us? Do you think we are crazy?” I ask smiling.
He continues to laugh a bit. “These delis are underrated,” I tell him. “Yeah, you don’t have these in Florida,” he says to me.
“What sells the most here?” I ask. “Coffee,” he replies gesturing to the machine. An elderly man with white hair and a leather jacket (clearly competing with me for the cool title) walks in and makes his coffee. He starts yelling into his phone.
“What’s your goal for 2022?” I ask O. “Make more money,” he says to me smiling.
“Where is the milk?” The yelling elderly man yells at him. “In the fridge, boss,” O says walking from behing the counter to show him.
“You have a lot of regulars?” I ask him. “Yeah, lots of regulars,” he says to me.
I wish him a happy new year, and I walk to the next deli.
I walk into the next deli where another young kid is behind the counter. He has his black hoodie up over his curly hair, and he is watching something on his phone. He ignores me for a bit. I ask him what most people buy. He looks up from his phone and stands, “I don’t know. I am here subbing for my dad,” he tells me. I nod and pay for an overpriced bottle of Perrier water.
I ask him what his goals are for the new year. “I don’t know. That’s hard. Every day is the same for me,” he tells me.
I wondered what he meant, as it was clear he doesn’t usually sub for his dad at the deli, but he sat and resumed his iPhone watching. I decided to leave him alone and keep walking. Sometimes, every day feels the same, but it isn’t.
As I am walking to the next deli, I see two twins outside of a grocery mart, rough playing. They look about eight. No adult in sight. One is shoving the other into a fruit stand. I shake my head, and I cross the street to a deli that promises snacks. It looks sort of new and glittering on the outside. I step inside and there are no snacks, despite what the awning promises, only smoke shop stuff. “Can I help you?” a guy with a fitted hat asks me. I had just passed him on the sidewalk. It’s his place.
“Looking for snacks,” I tell him. “Ahh, yeah we don’t have,” he tells me. “I noticed,” I reply. “Go next door,” he tells me pointing at another deli. “Hey, happy new year,” I tell him. “Happy new year,” he tells me smiling big.
I start walking away, and then pause and turn slightly. “Do you have any goals or dreams for the new year?” He looks pensive. “Anything you are excited about?” I add.
“Oh, yeah. We are moving to North Carolina and getting the hell out of here,” he tells me. “I am jealous,” I tell him smiling. “I lived in South Carolina,” I add, “It’s so great.” At this, he smiles big.
“I hope it all works out for you guys. That’s awesome. Happy new year,” I tell him. “Thanks, you too.”
I go into the deli next door and the owner is on his phone, speaking in Arabic, ignoring me completely. I do a 360 and head out.
Tune in later this week for the next installment of the deli tours.