A pile of plantains is keeping the New York Post in order.
El Diario has a net bag of onions on top of the latest.
Flaco, que pasa?
Nada, soy cansado.
These guys have called me slim since moving on from flacito (little slim) when I was a kid. Nothing is up, I am tired, I tell them. It is always like this lately—I am tired, nothing is up because I am working all the time, deriving neither pleasure nor money from the hamster wheel of the city.
Puma is playing Tigres on the little tv. The picture is scratchy, they have some funky reception that gets Univsion with a wire coat hanger and tinfoil antenna that brings in live Mexican soccer just above the aspirins lined up for late night wanderers like me. Tylenol, Advil, Bufferin, all in their single foil pouches. Rolls of instant lottery tickets, nail clippers, Phillies Blunts, fly paper. Standard NYC bodega stock. They are open late for El Pico, Coco Lopez and little cans of friskies cat food, bright orange chicharones in plastic bags, decks of cards. Takis and hot Cheetos. Small aisles packed from top to bottom, these places are amazing for breadth, for convenience. Who knew you could get 8 oz Styrofoam cups with lids, a sleeve of 25 for 99 cents?
How do they make money off this stuff?
Mr. Salas is perched on top of two plastic milk crates zip tied together.
He is a Pumas fan.
Line of refrigerators humming away with malt liquor, pink guava juice, tonic water, along one wall, opposite the hard goods I never see anyone buy Mops, plastic buckets, religious candles, moth balls, fly swatters all colors gathering dust with a sticky film push pinned above the Heimlich maneuver poster, and dusty paper wrapped rolls of off brand toilet tissue.
At the far end of the narrow store is a back door with a deadbolt. The door has a window, but this is covered in packing tape to keep the broken glass from shifting and that window is sheathed in a thick wire mesh, like tight diamonds, but all dusty diamonds, not shiny diamonds. Between the dust and the tape you can’t see through the window anyway. Tonight the deadbolt is open and the door is ajar.
Mr. Salas sees me look at the door and raises his chin slightly.
Nods at the door.
Pushing the door gently, there is a small set of steps into a mud room with another door, a single light bulb surrounded by chipped plaster walls. A paper exit sign is taped at the back, just above the bilingual Heimlich maneuver poster.
Beyond that door is a small village.
Lights are strung in the trees, and a few hammocks stretch from tree to tree. This courtyard keeps going and there are small clusters of men playing dominoes, drinking pineapple juice and Malibu. A woman I have seen in the neighborhood sits by one of the trees and plays the accordion.
I stay until it gets light and everyone folds up their chairs.
We go back out through the door at the top of the stairs, past the mops, past the goya and the Bounty.
Mr. Salas is reading his paper.
Outside it is the same as when I first came in.