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"A short but deeply researched, dark, intense biography... studded with original aperçus about the art of biography, the nature of literary influence, and the importance of place to a writer's sensibility." -- Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe
There’s a corner store in Chelsea that sells the best deli meat I’ve ever eaten. I found it when I moved to New York from Israel six years ago. My apartment was a block away, but even after I moved to the Upper West Side, I kept taking the 1 train to the store. Every time I ordered the same: turkey pastrami, thin and layered.
Maybe it wasn’t the meat as much as the people in the store. Behind the deli counter were Sugar and Armagan. Sugar was a six-foot-two black, gay man in his forties who wore his long hair in a bun underneath a net. He had me call the deli half an hour before I came so that he could cut my meat beforehand and save me the waiting time. Armagan was from Turkey and knew some Hebrew. Every time he saw me he greeted me with mah nishmah habibi (how are you, friend) and gave me seven slices of turkey on the side to eat as I waited. Then there was Saanvi, a cashier in her fifties. Years ago she commented on my deli meat as she rang it up and asked if I had ever cooked Indian food. She left her register to take me through the store and put the ingredients I needed for chicken masala. She wrote down the recipe for me. After I failed to cook it, she made it for me and brought it to the store in tupperware. I bought her macaroons in return. We exchanged Christmas gifts every year. Despite never having spoken outside the register, we were friends.
Then César started working at the deli. He was a young guy, maybe in his mid twenties, and was heavily tattooed (including one across the neck). He always smiled.read more...