remnants: an ode to the bodega that used to be at 13th St. & 4th Ave

why is it so hard to get a bacon egg and cheese

remnants: an ode to the bodega that used to be at 13th St. & 4th Ave

Hi there, I could use a small break this week so here is an untethered note that was going to be part of an essay about the things I missed about NYC. It was written sometime in the early 2010s.

i asked WALL-E to generate a cartoon image of a new york city bodega

I am used to things disappearing from New York City: clubs, record stores, restaurants, buildings. I chart them, I note them, I lament bitterly as I walk, I catalogue silently: the Fillmore was there, Kiev was there, Christina’s was over there, the Second Avenue Deli, even places I never liked and didn’t go to, when a long time neighborhood establishment vanishes I still mark it. It was here. This block used to be different.

It is a losing game to play this in the Village but I still do it from time to time, to make sure I don’t forget and make sure I remember, I walk up second avenue and point it all out.

With NYU devouring the Village and no block being left untouched any more, I was surprised to see that the deli on the southeast corner of 13th St. and 4th Avenue was still there, relatively unimproved and untouched since it was The Only Thing Open Between The Ritz And The Train Home. It used to stack Coke cans and empty Tropicana cartons in the front window and the register used to be on the left side (instead of the right as it is when you entered it more recently) and I don’t remember much else about it except for that. It wasn’t en route to anything except home after shows. Remember that 14th Street was deserted at night, a ghost town in the 80s, Union Square subway station the kind of place where you huddled around the bottom or top of the stairs with the other stragglers waiting for the train.

I hate the Union Square L platform like few other things, so when I used to work at 7th and Broadway I would get off at 3rd Avenue (or 1st Avenue when it was warm) and walk, instead of going to Union Square and ostensibly transferring to the BMT one stop to 8th Street (which also just didn’t make any sense, the walk to transfer was almost equal to just walking down from 14th Street.) I could breathe, get a coffee, not have to fight clueless zombies unable to walk with any alacrity or aware of anyone around them because of their headphones. So I would come down 13th Street and turn the corner onto 4th Avenue and it would be there, and there would be flashes in my brain of that one night after Graham Parker or Jim Carroll Band or the Speedies or the Specials or when I dragged the girls OUT of the building when the PiL riot started (I swear to this day we knew one of the guys who picked up one of the garbage cans, that he went to school with us). It would be this tiny blip of memory, and I would get on with my day.

I went in there once or twice, tried to get a bacon egg and cheese on a roll (so few places do this any more) or a roast beef sandwich, you know, just a sandwich, meat and lettuce and tomato and mayo on a roll, not a panini or artisanal anything, just a fucking sandwich. But the help was surly and the selection of items lacking, even though there are a lot of apartments in that area. And I know Whole Foods is there and Trader Joe’s is there, sometimes you just need milk or some cookies or a loaf of bread or a can of soup or some toilet paper.

And then the day came that I turned the corner and it was some ludicrous chain, Pie Shop or whatever, and they took NYU Campus Cash and it was like the deli never existed. I am not sure that whoever lives in the area needs this place more than they need the bodega but they could afford the rent (or the owner of the bodega decided he was done, it’s a one-story building, hopefully he owned it) and he retired and moved to Puerto Rico or Florida or something, and there’s some kind of happy ending here.

But in my mind, an eraser descends from the heavens and removes one more corner of my memories.