At 16, my dream job was working behind the deli counter at Daitch Shopwell. As a stock boy this would be a coup. Watching Milton or Marty cut thin slices of rare roast beef and Jarlsberg Swiss, I cried with pain. Pain that some son of a bitch was going to eat that tasty mound of meat and cheese and it wouldn't be me. One Saturday in 1970, Milton got sick and Marty asked if I wanted to help him out for the ladies afternoon cold cut rush?
Did I want to see Emma Peel nude?
Did I want free Ranger tickets on the glass?
Stupid questions, of course I wanted to be in the deli. And there I was, helping Marty make orders and sneaking bits of delicious cold cuts left and right into my mouth. I gained five pounds that day.
The following month, Milton was scheduled to be off for two Saturdays in a row, and Marty talked Harry Cohen, #16 store manager, into letting me cover. "Harry, you'll save money using the kid!" Harry looked like Mr. Dithers from the Blondie comic strip. He pulled his starched collar, wiggled his neck and said, "OK."
I brought my LaSalle Academy schoolbag in. It was well used and had holes in its four corners from me throwing it around the subway platform while waiting for the #6 local at Bleecker Street. I needed the bag. I had no control this close to the goods. I talked Marty into letting me cover up the salads so he could leave early. This left me alone with the roast beef and Jarlsburg. I finely cut 3/4 of a pound each on the slicer, wrapped them like a spastic, and shoved the wax paper lumps into my bag. Making sure Pete the Assistant Manager saw how good a job I did cleaning the sawdust off the deli floor, I gathered my bag and said good night to all and went around the registers towards the exit.»
Photo by Oliver Lavery
Two steps from the automatic door, I heard, "Pryor!" I turned towards the voice. The Assistant Manager was looking down. I followed his eyes and saw a long trail of blood leading from Pete’s feet to my dripping LaSalle bag. “Drip, drip, drip,” I listened to the faint sound of my thieving deli days being cut off.
Thomas Pryor's work has appeared in The New York Times, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, A Prairie Home Companion, New York Press, Underground Voices Magazine, Opium Magazine Online, Our Town, The West Side Spirit and Ducts. His short stories are published in Thomas Beller's, "Lost and Found: Stories from New York," Larry Canale's, "Mickey Mantle - Memories and Memorabilia," and Three Rooms Press, “Have A NYC 2.”