Today I took a trip, via Google Maps, to my hometown of Brooklyn, NY. I visit my old neighborhood often and “walk” the route I used to take to school each morning, the route to the library and the route to my aunt’s house. I try to recall the bus route to the school I went to for 1st through 3rd grades, but I guess a memory will only reach but so far. A lot has changed in 30+ years.
There used to a used car lot next to my house. I remember the guy who owned the place was pretty nasty. His car lot looked more like a junk yard. His cousin owned a small dealership across the street. He sold shiny new Lincolns, and had fancy red,white and blue tinsle strung between the light poles and fence around his lot. I doubt the cousin still owns that lot. The tinsle and Lincolns are gone, and have been replaced by a red, white and blue sign and used luxury vehicle. In place of the trashy used car lot, is a motel with very few windows next to my old house. It looks more like a warehouse than a place to stay while you visit your family in Brooklyn.
At the other end of the street is The L – the elevated train line. The street that the train line covered was dark and dirty looking, simply because sunlight was blocked by the platform and tracks. The steps leading to the platform always smelled like urine and seemed to have extra grunge around the steps. I took the train with my mother a few times when I was a little girl and hated the way the wooden platform shook and rattled as the train rolled in. I was able to look between the slats to the street below. I always afraid of falling through the splintered wood planks, and getting hit by a car before landing on the road below. Travelling by bus was much safer.
The memory that’s stuck in my mind is a trip my father and I took to the deli one afternoon. It sticks out in my mind because when our family moved to Delaware and people mentioned going to the deli to eat, it confused me. The deli I visited as a kid was a place to buy cold cuts and meat. You didn’t dine in a deli! There were no sandwiches in the deli! If you wanted a hero (a submarine sandwich), and a bag of chips with a coke, you went to the pizza shop. If you wanted sliced ham and a side of brisket, you went to the deli.
The deli that we went to was my dad’s regular place to cheese and lunch meat. The guy behind the counter knew him well and greeted him enthusiastically, “Heeeeeeey there! How ya dooin’?! What can I for ya t’day?” My dad gave him a slightly less energetic, but no less enthusiastic, “Hey, how are ya,” and proceeded to order his lunch meat and cheese. The man behind the counter noticed me standing beside my father and asked me if I would like a piece of cheese. Of course, the answer was, ‘yes!’ I loved cheese!! What six-year-old didn’t? But I had to look to my father to get the nod of approval before whispering, “Yes, please.” He sliced a thick piece of American cheese and handed it to me before slicing my father’s order. As he and my father talked, I noticed the meat in the deli case. Cow’s feet, cow tongue (which had been stamped with blue ink, letting the buyer know the government inspected it and it was safe to eat), pig’s feet, rump roast, cube steak and other cuts of meat. One of the workers came from the refrigerated area in the back. I looked through the door and saw a whole half of a cow. Beef, before it was sectioned and cut up into the pieces that the butcher would wrap in crisp brown wax paper and hand to customers to prepare for their evening meals. It was then than the odor hit me – the cold aroma of death. The combined fragrance of pork and beef blood that dripped on the floor in that back area, the smell of both types of flesh, blended with the sweet smell of cheeses and other exotic meats in the deli case. I’ve never encountered that bouquet again. It didn’t traumatize me. I think my father thought it might have, because he never took me back.
The deli counter in the supermarkets I frequent today don’t feel as real (maybe ‘qualified’ is a better word) to me as that little deli in Brooklyn. They don’t smell like death. They fry chicken and sell potato salad, and cater. They sell pita chips. Maybe, by now, deli’s in New York do all of those things, too. It’s a great way to generate additional income, but it takes away from the charm of a good, old fashioned deli.
My trips via Google Maps feel something like time travelling. It reminds me how different our worlds can be within a two hour distance, as well as how much the world has changed in 30 years.