There are two liquor stores on my street. The one at the top of the hill is owned by Koreans, it is the barest liquor store I have ever seen. The products are lined up single file along dusty white metal shelves…two cans of refried black beans next to five cans of refried pintos above a couple cans of soup. There is little to no selection and no fresh anything. It’s on two barely distinct levels of concrete painted dark red floor, with a couple of steps and a ramp leading between them, the upper level has household goods, extra storage, an ancient glass fronted refrigerated unit with rows of 40s, a couple 6 and 12 packs and cases of cheap beer, a couple of Smirnoff ices. There is no juice, just tampico, and a little bit of milk. The owners sit behind bullet-proof glass. Rationally it seems as if they must be going out of business or getting into business, yet at the same time it feels quite thoroughly as though it has always been this way.
The one at the bottom of the hill is owned by Mexicans. You have to walk past a tiny botanica, a 98 cent store and some other place I haven’t figured out what exactly it is yet to get to it. It is crammed full of canned and bottled food, Mexican food, in any and all order. As you walk in you see an old and dusty glass case that probably used to be full of meat when this was also a carniceria…now it’s just full of odds and ends and broken things and the half empty bottles of milk and crema that the old man minding the shop probably used for breakfast. He lit up when he found out I spoke Spanish. There is no juice, just tampico. There is a lot of milk in all sizes (no half and half which is what I really hoped for, for my coffee), but it is stuck in the same refrigerator with the 40s of cobra and miller high life and really dusty cases of tecate and corona, on the middle shelf too, it is surrounded. There are some vegetables that were once fresh, but aren’t any longer. The cholula hot sauce costs twice as much as tapatio, is that true everywhere? There is no bullet-proof glass.
Near the bottom is my apartment, it’s quite all right now I’ve decorated and made it mine. The woman upstairs likes to play reggaeton and bachata incredibly loudly, but I prefer that to the domestic disputing next door. There are a handful of half grown cats that live out of the bin in the back, they are wild and hiss if you come near them. They look miserable and sick, and make me sad. As you walk up the street to the Korean’s or the bus, there are small and old Victorian and craftsman houses, one is abandoned, with the steps crumbled into a ramp of dirt and weeds. It is a dirty dingy white, barley visible, taken over by the massive rubber tree and the ivy curling around it. But it doesn’t look broken into, the windows look intact, so I wonder whether someone might actually live there. And who they could be. And if they’re human.
There are no gentrifiers on this block yet, though they’ve arrived on the next one. Ours is pure raza, yards full of dogs, a nice vegetable garden, bright colored paint beside others with all the paint peeling off. A beautiful little wood house right next to the Koreans also stands abandoned, intricate wood decorations, a screened porch, lovely big windows and you can tell the ceilings are high. No yard at all. No one working on it. It deserves a lot more, I’d love to be let loose on it. I love bringing order to chaos (but not too much order) and making what was once beautiful, beautiful again (but not too beautiful), I even sometimes like cleaning what is truly dirty (but not making it too clean). And then sometimes I just like chaos, ugliness, dirt.
I went to the farmers market in Chinatown today given the absence of edible veg in either store. It was smaller then it used to be, and I didn’t recognize over half of what they were selling…I knew okra, persimmons, green beans…but the plethora of strange squashes and gourds and spiky things baffled me though I enjoyed looking at them. I wasn’t so sure I’d enjoy eating them, I didn’t know how to cook them, and I’m a bit broke. So I prevented myself from buying them just to possess strange fruit with spikes, and walked to my favourite Chinese market, equally full of things that baffle me, equally enjoyable, but with enough pictures that I can fulfill my needs. And the most stupendous invented curry resulted, with thick homestyle noodles (a bit starchier than expected) and Beech mushrooms (a first) and snowpeas and red bell pepper and a bit of potato and tofu and green onion. And all cooked up with a new and incredibly hot chili oil that I was not prepared for, luckily I tasted the thing before adding peppers.
It’s a great neighborhood.