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Sam andThe Corner Store- Nassau Avenue and Diamond Street, Greenpoint

September 30, 2011

  Labor Day morning , is one of the quietest mornings of the year in this sleepy place called Greenpoint. Time seems to stands still in a warp circa 1950, post- WWII. This sense of another time is aided by a disporportionate representation of this generation still living here, the illusion, yet  further sustained by housing stock covered in vinyl siding, and added to this is the confidence that one can subsist on a steady diet of beer, kielbasa and bread and cheap Polish restuarants, where for the time being, better value for money does not exist in the modern era.

 Early in the day, of this bittersweet bookend to summer,  summer is left to breathe its last breath almost alone.  It is the last lull before the hustle and bustle return to city streets. Once still, the streets will soon stand awash with traffic and humanity; of people, tanned and sweaty, who have  returned from the obligatory, last dip in the  beach of Long Island or the Jersey Shore, or if you live in Greenpoint you will hear the high-pitched, bell-like voices of  children, (an over representation of blonde, I might add!) returning from a summer spent in Poland.

 Sleepiness suits this geographically lowlying neighborhood where summer air scarcely moves contributing (unfortunately) to the already  polluted atmosphere of Greenpoint. Anyway, the extra still day made  it especially fitting to pay a visit to the  cornerstore this Labor Day morning . The cornerstore is the mainstay of any neighborhood. The Cornerstore, is  the generic name they all  go by, yet all have names. Our store’s sign states: Polish American Deli, but there is nothing which signifies its Polishness, other than the fact that it is in Greenpoint, home to what has been for all the time I have lived here, a Polish community.

 We know we are back home, after being away, because the cornerstore provides citydwellers with the equivalent of instant gratification: goods-on-demand, like nowhere else.

This humble institution sells basic foods with few frills; seemingly insignificant, it is anything but. The cornerstore is the metaphorical and literal  life -line, the bread and butter of any neighborhood. The person who rings the register and who sells the products contained in this small space provide necessities: the  roll of toilet paper, milk for the morning cereal,  a relacement for the suddenly expired lightbulb. The rows are few, stocked with the familiar and in pitch black darkness, in a black-out, or if I close my eyes and reach out, I know where most things are: cat food, dairy products, garbage bags, crackers, selzter, beer.

The emergency items cannot be visualized , random is their category. But luckily, for my daughter, the white shoe polish was in stock for the scuffed Sunday shoes. It was behind the register with the over-the-counter meds, band-aids, duck tape, and the other uncategorized items, one early Sunday morning and a kind of saving grace of my life that morning.

  I visit the cornerstore and the one on the intersection of Nassau and Diamond streets, for its selection of cat food, especially when I run out of supplies, before large store purchases via car. Sometimes, it is all I buy, at the literal 11th hour: 4 cans of catfood to take my cats through the late night and early morning feeding;  sometimes this purchase is the last thing I do before getting into bed.

The corner store is a barometer by which to gauge activity on the streets of any neighborhood, or to confirm what is known. On a three day weekend, or holiday, I will often ask Sam, (or the other store clerk in charge), what amounts to a rhetorical question, “Has  it been quiet today?”  If there is any emergency, signaled by extra police activity or firetrucks, or a local tragedy has occurred and  if I have just driven into town or emerged from the subway,  disconnected , I make a stop to the cornerstore and I am  instantly connected.

 Has the cornerstore become one of the last repositories of actual conversation?  I have never conducted a community, daily word-count of spoken conversation per establishment, but the little add up. The words shared between customers and the  person-behind-the-counter, day and night, night and day,  provides rich opportunity for hearing the spoken word(or eavesdropping), where the old currency of speech has not yet been replaced by non-human devices. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I will put any cell phone conversation on hold, until the transaction between me and the counterperson is complete: the money/ purchase and the goodbye/thank you exchange final.

 On this Labor Day,  I went to the not -so- immediate cornerstore, a block away, on Diamond Street and Nassau Avenue, where along with its  large variety of cat food is an even larger selection of every kind of beer imaginable ( although, the plethora of beers can be matched at almost any cornerstore in Greenpoint!).The best thing about shopping here, is that the cornerstore is a place you walk to; you don’t need a car. The cornerstore is what Clara Wozowick, my 87 year-old neighbor said, was one of the things she would miss the most when she moved to Florida.

 The cornerstore  in name and purpose  is immune from pretentiousness, although it must carry better brands to keep up with the prevailing tastes of newcomers.

The cornerstore and the workers inside it, are the ones left when we are away, on trips of any length, long or short.  And when we come back, they are still here, like unsung, sentries, presiding in our absence.

 Now, here, is Sam, speaking for himself and the cornerstore:


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