Racist Deli

by M. Lizabeth Currain

We all make a lot of compromises in life. A lot of those have to do with our personal beliefs and where we happen to spend our money. Sometimes you don’t know, until it’s too late, and you’re already hooked. This is one of those stories.

A couple of summers back, when I was contemplating my place in life and subletting a room in a stranger’s apartment , I would go to this deli that was right at the end of the block. It was convenient, open late, cheap, and they consistently made good sandwiches. The perfect ratio of turkey, swiss, mayo…the lettuce was shredded and they always asked if you want salt and pepper on your sandwich. It was perfection.

At the end of my sublet, I ended up moving to an apartment that was about 7 blocks away. There were new delis to be had and new sandwiches to be eaten. The only one that I like is the Dominican one up the street from me, but they always close early. And they close on federal holidays, which I think is weird, because it’s New York! Things are supposed to be open ALL THE TIME. Also, the guys in that deli are cute. The other delis near me are kind of dank and one has a cat. The last time I bought something at a deli that had a cat, well, it was traumatizing. I bought a small bag of chips after a concert and I opened the bag and grabbed a chip like a normal person, however, when it got to my lip, I realized the chip was wet. ALL THE CHIPS WERE WET. It was horrifying. How do chips even get wet? I blame the cat. I don’t know how, but I just do. ahem.

So, the day after Thanksgiving, I was still hungover from all the cheap wine, and wanted a sandwich. The Dominican deli was closed. I didn’t know how good the other ones were at making sandwiches…so, I walked the 7 blocks past the 6 other delis to my young Middle Eastern friends at my old deli. I’m getting my sandwich, there is an older guy in there, that might be drunk or strung out on something because he’s stumbling and slurring his words. He’s trying to buy lotto tickets with no money and irritating the people that work there. The guy finally leaves and I go up to pay and the guy behind the counter looks at me and goes, “Black people are such animals!”  This pretty much summed up how I felt…

...Did he just say what I think he just said?

I may have sputtered something like, “uh, I don’t know, about that.” But the guy just kept saying this and I tried not to listen. I paid for my sandwich, said “thank you” (Ugh, I’m so polite!), and got the fuck out of there. It was really awkward, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t find it the tiniest bit amusing. I mean, it’s just such a crazy thing to say! And then to say it to one of your customers! Like did he expect me to jump right on the racist expressway and agree with him? I want to say, that he felt comfortable enough to say it to me because I’m white. Which is disturbing. But, as I found out later, that is not the case at all!

I ended up staying away from racist deli until January. I had just gotten back from my “vacation” and didn’t have any food in the house and was hungry. So, I walked past all the open delis to get my racist sandwich. I’m not proud of it. So, I’m waiting next to this other kid who is getting a sandwich. The same “black people are animals” guy is there, making this kid’s sandwich talking about how black people are always killing each other and wasting their lives. The kid he was talking to–definitely not white. This kid just kept saying, “well, some people have it rough”. It was very, very awkward.

What’s the point of this, you ask? I WENT BACK AGAIN! I went back there just a couple of days ago! I walked past 6 delis! To go the racist one! I mean, there is the chance that those other deli’s could be racist also. And to be fair, the Dominican one was closed. This time there was no racial talk though. At least not in English.

I mean, when it happened, a very large part of me wanted to say, “hey that’s really inappropriate to be saying”, but the other part of me was like, “don’t fucking say anything, just take your sandwich and leave”. It’s a really weird situation to be in. I don’t want them to think that I’m cool with them being racist, but I also don’t want to get into an argument at a deli.

If you think about it, tons of places that we spend money at have questionable if not definitely terrible causes that they support or unethical business practices. Domino’s Pizza Founder has donated money to Operation Rescue a Pro-Life Anti-Choice group and they make shitty pizza. Target donated money to support an anti-LGBT politician in Minnesota. Wal-Mart pays women less than it pays men. They also have crazy sweatshops all over the place. Forever21 is owned by Evangelical Christians. Urban Outfitters purchases it’s models from Eastern European sex traffickers make people look like jackasses. A person just can’t win! Everything is awful, I’m awful.  I GET IT.

That sandwich was bangin’ though. I’m not going to lie.