Businesses who name themself convenient always crack me up. Like, really? That’s your best selling point? Not that you are the best, or quality, or have a specialty? Just that you are convenient.
The Convenient Deli Mart was located just outside my family’s neighborhood in NY, and for as long as we lived there they had a “We’re Hiring” sign in the window. We joked that it would take truly desperate times to make one of us answer that posting.
The summer before I shipped off to grad school was such a time. I needed a job to earn money to pay for my move to Virginia and there’s just not that much seasonal work in that area of NY. I tried several fast food chains and independent tutoring jobs, but with no luck and the summer creeping away from me, I swallowed my pride, printed off a resume, and headed to the Deli Mart.
Head high and spirits low, I walked in and asked if they were hiring. The owner (a classic Italian New Yorker, complete with a thick accent and a suit no matter the weather) came out, looked over my resume, and asked my availability. I mentioned I was only around for the summer and he let me know they (like so many other places) don’t hire seasonal help. Crestfallen and a bit hopeless, I tried to put on a brave face and exit gracefully, thanking him for his time.
Out in the car, I felt truly embarrassed and hopeless. Not as embarrassed though as when I looked up with tears on my face and saw that the owner had followed me out and could see me crying in the car. He did the two-finger come hither motion. I got out of the car and he just said, “Come inside. I’m gonna give you a job.”
The Deli Mart was basically your gas station convenience mart with out the gas station. The deli was a tiny galley kitchen with a flat grill, two fryers, and two sandwich prep stations. We served breakfast sandwiches, eggs, bacon, and sausages, as well as your full array of deli sandwiches and meats and cheeses sliced to order. We also had burgers, fries, and a few other fried foods. Of course, we did bagels. At the register at the end of the kitchen, we rang up all the grocery shopping items on a very much not digital register. We also sold lotto tickets. We restocked the walk-in refrigerator and checked-in deliveries. All the food was made to go.
It was a lot to learn, and in the few months I worked there I did it all.
The man who hired me was Big Joe the owner, not to be confused with Little Joe, or Joey, the manager. The rest of the staff were either kids my age, working to help pay their way through college or high school, or women who had worked there for years and were kind enough to let Little Joe pretend to run the place, or at least handle payroll and the schedule.
Unlike at T’s, at this job I was in the heat of the kitchen. There was no room for mistakes and very little grace if you messed up. In the heat of a lunch rush, Deb who ran the grill would let you know if you brought her a sandwich without a ticket and all you could do was weather the torrent of obscenities and bring that ticket to her as fast as possible. After the rush though, she would apologize for losing her temper while also reaffirming that you messed up and don’t you dare ever do it again.
The work was hot, hard, and frequently thankless. Customers were finnicky about how thick their bologna was sliced, how their lotto tickets were processed, and how toasty their bagels were. I came home exhausted and smelling like fryer grease.
But I also came home with a paycheck, and although it wasn’t much, it was enough to get me to Virginia. Big Joe even gave me a generous cash bonus when I left. My coworkers were kind, even if they weren’t always nice. And I learned to appreciate the delicacy (badumtss) of a sandwich made up of freshly sliced meat and cheese on a fresh Kaiser roll. I don’t miss much about living in NY, but I do miss those sandwiches and sometimes even that job.