I was hungover. I was dehydrated.
The only thing that would make me feel better was a deli sandwich. Though my head was foggy and my body was angry with me for the decisions I’d made the night before, I mustered every ounce of energy and dragged myself out of bed, down the stairs and into the deli across the street.
With one look at me, Mr. Sheen, the owner of the deli, knew what I wanted. And he looked amused. He had been working the night before when I bought a six-pack of Magic Hat, and when I bought a bag of chips at three o’clock in the morning, and now, slightly before noon, we encountered each other again.
I grumbled a raspy “thank you” when he handed me a freshly prepared turkey and Swiss sandwich. “No candy today?” he asked, mockingly. He knew that I couldn’t eat chocolate when I was hungover, even though it was my biggest indulgence otherwise. He looked at the Reese’s cups and Hershey’s bars and jeered at me as my stomach turned. “Just the sandwich,” I murmured and forked over some loose random bills in my purse. Before I left, Mr.
Sheen snuck a Hershey’s bar into the bag with my sandwich and winked at me. “For later,” he said, smiling.
Mr. Sheen was an integral part of my life when I lived in the apartment across the street from his deli. He ran the shop with his wife, Mrs. Sheen. It wasn’t the nicest deli in the world, nor the largest. Actually, it was kind of overpriced and disorganized. But it was convenient and familiar, and when you’re hungover, sick or in a rush, that trumps almost everything else.
What I didn’t expect was for Mr. Sheen to know so much about me as a result of those frequent encounters. He knew that I drank IPA on Fridays, bought the newspaper on Saturdays and went running on Sundays. He knew that I bought Poland Spring water in bulk, and one day he recommended that I buy a Brita. These strangely intimate moments were the reason why I loved the deli. It felt like I was visiting family, rather than dropping by a store.
But with every blessing comes a curse.
It’s impossible to walk into the deli and buy a box of soup, tissues, Emergen-C and cigarettes without feeling slightly ashamed.
Yeah, Mr. Sheen knew what sandwich I wanted when I walked into his tiny shop, but he also knew the vices that were incorporated into my routine. I would buy Bamboo rolling papers and would walk out of the deli feeling slightly judged. It wasn’t Mr. Sheen’s fault, really; I’m sure he has witnessed more shameful purchases than my cigarette papers. But it’s impossible to walk into the deli and buy a box of soup, tissues, Emergen-C and cigarettes without feeling slightly ashamed.
Eventually, I started going to the deli two blocks away for my vice purchases. It seemed a genius plan at first. When I wanted to buy food, newspapers or cleaning supplies, I would go to Sheen’s Deli. When I had to buy beer, condoms or two pints of Haagen-Dazs, I went to the deli down the street. I felt a little guilty for not supporting the Sheens with all of these purchases, but my new peace of mind was invaluable.
At first my plan worked. No one asked, “Having another party?” when I bought party cups, napkins and booze at my vice deli. No one lectured me on the negative effects of drinking coffee and suggested tea instead. I felt liberated, free to buy as much junk food and overpriced beer as my heart desired. But this didn’t last long.
Soon enough, I started feeling judged at my vice deli as well. The problem was, they only saw my embarrassing or unhealthy purchases. They didn’t have my sandwich addiction to balance my frequent cigarette purchases. Each time I’d walk into my vice deli, the man would instinctively reach for a lighter or matches. It was the same telepathy that I’d developed with Mr. Sheen, but not in as cute of a way. The man at the vice deli would roll his eyes when I walked in. Maybe Mr. Sheen judged me just a tiny bit, but at least he smiled when I showed up.
So, when I got strep throat in November, it was Mr. Sheen to whom I went. His wife made me a wellness-potion: One root of ginger, boiled until it becomes a strong tea, mixed with honey and lemon. Drink while hot. I felt better within the hour, and went downstairs to thank her. “You look normal again,” she exclaimed.
I stopped going to the vice deli. It just didn’t make sense—two blocks away is pretty far to walk for every embarrassing purchase. I sucked it up and went to Sheen’s, knowing that I might get teased or scolded depending on what I bought, and in some way appreciating the familial reminder that I probably should be a healthier person.