I didn’t buy enough ground beef for an entire lasagna, according to my lover. He sent me to Shop Rite at 9 a.m. this morning to get more. “Get another block of mozzarella too,” B, my boyfriend ordered, while handing me $20. “Why did you buy these sheets of Reynold’s Wrap? It’s not the same as what comes on a roll.”
“Don’t worry. I’m going to buy an aluminum lasagna pan that comes with a lid,” I explained, pulling out a long-sleeve Ambercrombe and Fitch cotton shirt to wear. My nipples were still sore from fantasy roll play with B last night. The olive green shirt trimmed in dandelion yellow around the cuffs makes me look like a teenager with a few gray hairs.
It was a little chilly in Union City this morning. The fifteen or so block walk I make every day to the supermarket made my legs quiver when the humidity outside rubbed against my pores. The sun had yet to make its way over the skyscrapers of New York City to the east. As I made my way in rubber Crocks over a portion of major highway that leads to the Lincoln Tunnel, the ancient ball of fire in the sky sucked every little bit of good will I had for men, straight from my soul. I hoped to make it back home before the warm sun started to strike my back. I was hung over and ready to cuss out anyone who crossed my path the wrong way. It was only 9 and already, I needed a glass of wine.
It has been years since I’ve been able to shop inside a sprawling, American-size supermarket. In Brooklyn, there are no large food stores where one can browse floral sections, where five dollar prickly cactuses tempt even the most conservative of gay men who love to play house. Up and down every aisle my rubber Crocks marched, smelling the expensive glade candles and not bothering to put plastic lids back on. The air conditioning inside the shiny store sooths my very soul. We haven’t had air conditioning all summer. It’s been one hell of an August in Union City, but I love the supermarket in Floral Park.
“Hey there, what’s up,” someone yelled in deep baritone from just beyond a refrigerated center portion of an aisle filled with every possible chicken part.
Being new to Union City caused me not to address the shout. Again, a manly voice called, “Hey there, you, what’s up?”
The voice was that of an Italian man who works at a 24 hour convenience store, just down the block from my new apartment. I go to that store only to buy American Spirit menthol cigarettes. I had a conversation with the man, at 10:50 on Friday night. As I handed him a ten for my pack of smokes, he just shook his head at me.
“I cannot help it,” I shared, “I started smoking in the Army and I cannot stop.”
The Italian man, at least twice my age, smiled and held up a can of chewing tobacco. “Have you ever tried this?” He asked.
I smiled—“Yes when I was a kid. We chewed it all the time. It does help one to stop smoking, but I never like to do anything that would ruin these pretty red lips.” Sure I was drunk, and perhaps played too much with the man as I got my pack of American Spirits, but here he was, in Shop Rite, greeting me like a neighbor.
I waved and made my way down the dairy aisle where I found mozzarella on sale for $2.99. The checkout lines were short today. I even found garlic bread on sale of $1,29.
As I made may way all around the sidewalk of the sprawling strip mall, past both Old Navy and Staples, I saw the old man again, sitting at a bus stop along the busy stretch of highway where it sometimes seems unsafe for pedestrians to be walking with yellow shopping bags.
“Where are you walking to,” he asked.
“24th Street,” I replied without really stopping with my heavy bags.
“I’ll join you,” he offered.
We crossed the dangerous highway. The crosswalk signals were out. For a moment I believed we had mistakenly assessed the changing of the traffic light, but next to the old man, who was much taller than myself, I felt blocked to threats of treacherous drivers that are so common here in this part of Jersey, where they turn corners in such an arrogant an ignorant manner, their tweeting devices and cell phones demanding all of their attention.
The Italian man talked my ear off, but I got a kick out of him ignoring the old New York superstition that claims it is unlucky to cross a light pole—meaning two people go on opposite sides of such structures. In New York, I’ve learned, such an act will cause bad luck. I’ve always hated that superstition, one that mostly black people follow. I enjoyed walking with the man who really didn’t seem to care about bad luck.
“This is old Genovese territory,” He explained, as if we have been friends for a long time, or perhaps in a pervious life. “Men who poured concrete for the city settled here in the late 1960’s. It was only after the Puerto Ricans were chased out of Hoboken to Union City changed to this. I’ve been here all my life. It’s so hard to get away from it. Money is so tight.”
“Genovese?” I asked inquisitively. “As in the crime family?”
“Crime family, my ass!” The man explained. “Back then, men like you and I ruled these streets. Yes of course, we were all apart of organized crime, but nothing like what’s going on in the world today. Things have changed so much, young man. Take for instance, our mayor, Brian Stackhouse. Now that fucker was almost put out of office, you know? It was only after Chris Christy came into office that the prosecutors eased up on him.”
“I know nothing of that life,” I explained, glancing over at him, flexing my triceps that I knew were very noticeable in my olive green Ambercrombe shirt.
“New York was so much different in the 1970’s. Do you know, I still go down to Christopher Street and hang out at the pier, “ He said. It was then I realized, the old dude was making a play at me—flirting, in an old world Italian sort of way. He wasn’t that bad looking, and probably hung to the knees I thought as he continued his story—“It’s really nice how they fixed it up, but the old bars are gone, you know? There’s not much over here in Union City—there is a bar near the PathMark supermarket. Have you checked that out yet, you and those pretty lips?”
“No I haven’t, but thanks for mentioning it. Look,” I said, “I need to run over to the dry cleaners. I’ll see you around.”
“Alright, nice tawkin’ to ya.” The man said, turning away from me quickly and rushing down the block as if he didn’t want to be spotted with me by one of the neighbors.
As I turned and headed up the hill towards home, I felt sexy in my old green shirt. If B. knew an Italian, Mafia man with salt and pepper hair was flirting with me, he would be jealous, because I make the best lasagna in Union City.