Dec 18, 2006

The strip

It's against the law and you know it's against the law, she says, you know it's against the law and you just stand there. And I know because I work for a credit card company.

They just stand there. Six of them behind the counter. There are only two registers in the Saturday night liquor store but there are six clerks, each with their own space of counter to stand behind. They're spread out, like for a family photo where no one will say cheese, where no one is close enough to give a peace sign like alien antennas behind their cousin's head. They have a family resemblance but it may only be a racial one. Korean liquor store in the black neighborhood.

I could report you. I could report you tomorrow. I could call Visa, she says. I can't believe you get away with this and everybody goes along with this and you just rip us off every day. I have a girl friend who works at a credit card company and I could call her tomorrow and you would get in trouble. You know you'd get in trouble. That's against the law. You can't do that.

One of the Koreans says No. No one else says anything and it's not clear what he means.

The convenience store at the end of the strip has bullet proof glass dividing the clerk from the customer. The customer's pantomime what they want, holding up one finger, two, holding fingers up in the air and pretending to roll joints for papers or pointing at the boxes of cigarillos. The customers lean down to talk through the slot where the two kids are counting out nickels into the metal tray. Cherry cigarillos, he says. He says it in a cartoon-Cosby voice, but it may only be the sweater. This, says the man, pointing out an orange soda he has. And zig zags, he says, rolling imaginary papers between his fingers in the air. Between the clerk and the customer is a bullet proof window and maybe it's sound proof, you don't know, and there's a paper pasted on the inside of the window that says No Loitering, order of the P.D.

In the laundry mat there's no counter. There's a counter but it's just an L in the corner as a display case for Clorox and no one stands there. There's a guy who's always there so maybe he works there or maybe he loiters and makes change. He stands in the middle of the floor with his arms folded over his floral shirt and he watches soccer. The Ivory Coast is playing a So. American team and a little girl shows him her alphabet paper. She says ah ah ah ah ah A. He has space between his front teeth and he looks down at her without unfolding his arms from his belly and he laughs. He laughs like: ha ha ha ha ha, eh?

There's a sign between the bars and the laundry window that says No Loitering, order of the P.D. but who's to know who's loitering and who's waiting for a load to turn dry?

Who's to know where loitering's allowed? Or how it's measured?

I could report you. I could shut you down. You're a bunch of chink jews, scamming our money, she says. It's not right she says. We could boycott this place. You know it's not right. We oughta own this place and we're going to take it away from you by any way we have to. Go home to where you came from chink jew. Get your own neighborhood. Scam your yellow friends or something but leave us the goddamn alone. Molding bread and rotten fruit and rip offs. It's not right. I know, my friends has a sister who works for a credit card company.

At the pizza place they don't pretend the plastic put up between the customers and the ovens is bullet proof. It doesn't go up to the ceiling and the the customers lean down to talk through the pizza-box hole, but the employees stand back and talk over the top, raising their heads and their voices a little to talk over the top of the window. On the inside of the window they have coupons posted and specials with expiration dates everyone ignores. There's no place to sit. No tables to eat at but there's one with a tumbler full of pink slips and a sign saying Win a Trip for Two to the the Bahama Beaches. One man writes his name in a slip and slips the paper into the tumbler. Another man rolls a cigarillo between his fingers, putting it in his mouth and taking it out again.

There's a wings place that looks pretty small and a dry cleaners that's closed. A shoe repair shop that may be open but isn't open on Saturday night and salon that specializes in braids. At the end there's a liquor store. The woman stands there yelling, not raising her voice but threatening, and who ever she's with has faded out to hide between the racks of wine bottles. When the door opens a bell rings and the aunt behind the counter says Hello and maybe that's her whole job because that's all she says the whole time. When someone leaves the bell rings and the man next to her says Good bye.

The other customers are waiting for her to stop waving her arms. She's not from here, but that could just be the makeup. The other customers move around to the register on the left of her and she doesn't say anything to them, doesn't say Join me, stop this thievery, and they don't look at her. The liquor's bagged in black plastic. There are bags for six packs. Bags for fifths. Bags for 40s and bags for half gallons. There's a dollar charge for any sale under twenty. The bell rings and the aunt says Hello and the woman says You can't be robbing us and just expect nothing to happen. I should report you. I should burn this place down. And outside someone gets shot.

It could just be a backfire, but it sounds like a gun. Everyone turns toward it and then there's nothing but it sounded like someone getting shot. A guy out front is wearing a hat with fur ear flaps and a fifth-sized bag and he laughs and Another one dead he says. There's a sign on the door under the bell that says No Loitering, order of the P.D., but where else is there to go?