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NYC Encounters: What My Bodega Guy Taught Me About Love

By Tess Mangiardi

There is a bodega that just popped up on the corner of Bedford Ave and Putnam in Bedstuy. What was once, for so long, a cardboard storefront with a dusty “for sale” sign duct taped to the window is now the typical Brooklyn corner bodega.

“Open” is written in LED lights above the door, the colorful red letters dance from corner to corner of the sign as if a bad game of snake. The windows are plastered with name brand items the store most likely doesn’t sell, and “Deli” is written in bold blue letters in case passerby’s hadn’t yet gotten the point. The inside is also typical, pictures of over processed foods gleaming down at you from the deli menu, the smell of bacon drifting through the crack of the door. The bodega cat, an orange tabby with curious eyes, sleeps next to a shelf stacked with Tide.

The corner bodega is a pinnacle for Brooklyn living, and this one doesn’t look any different than the one across the street; however, as every native New Yorker knows, no NYC bodega is actually the same. This one, especially, has its own particular set of charms because it’s in this bodega that I learned a little something about love.

Bodega is the Spanish word for “warehouse” and in the early 20th Century began to pop up in the Spanish neighborhoods of NYC, selling newspapers, hot sandwiches, milk, flowers and eggs. As the 20th Century shifted to the 21st, though, bodegas began to move from selective neighborhoods to almost everywhere in New York and became known for selling cheap beer and $2-$3 breakfast sandwiches.

The bodega on Bedford and Putnam is not only home to the best egg sandwich in all of Bedstuy (at least in my opinion), but also, a philosophical cashier we’ll call Jay. Jay, standing at 5’9” and always sporting a black beanie, isn’t just your run-of-the mill NYC bodega guy. He’s always got something to say and his caramel brown eyes are warm and welcome.

I first met Jay a few weeks after the store opened. I wandered into the bodega after probably one of the worst dates of my life. I had an annoyed look on my face, my head still burning from the amount of times the guy had mentioned Nietzsche as if he was a close personal friend. I’d been on a string of bad dates lately, dead-end after dead-end, and I just wanted a cheap bodega burger to cure my annoyance..

“What’s wrong, honey? Bad night?” Jay said after I ordered my burger.

“Bad boy,”

“Boy? Your boyfriend?”

“No, not a boyfriend. Just another bad first date.”

I wasn’t sure why I was telling him this, though I think it might have been his strangely inquisitive eyes.

“Let me tell you a little something about New York,” he began, “I’ve lived here for fifteen years and seen many nice, pretty girls like you with the same look on their face and guess what?” He took a sip of his soda and continued before he could catch his breath, “Love comes unexpectedly. Like this burger you’re going to have. It’s going to be damn good, better than you expect. Love is like that too. You’re not always going to love every burger you eat but some burgers, they stick with you and you want them over and over again. You don’t say you’re not going to eat another burger again any time you have a bad burger, am I right?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Right. Because you’re a smart girl. And smart girls like you deserve damn good burgers and even better love. You’ll find them soon enough, or money back guarantee.”

The cook handed Jay my burger, and he put it in a plastic bag. I gave him $4 and he smiled.
I thanked him and walked out the door, unsure what to say. I was in disbelief that I had not only found a burger at my corner bodega, but advice about love, too.

I got home, opened the styrofoam container and took a bite. And you know what? it was pretty damn good.

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