Today, at the bodega, a nondescript middle-aged woman was at the register ahead of me. She let out a little whoop and then exclaimed, “I can live again.” She closed her wallet and walked to the door, and then she gave a thumbs up. “You can’t keep a good girl down.”
When she’d gone, I asked the proprietor what had happened. Had she just won a quick pick?
“No,” he explained. “She’d just gotten her food stamps. You work, right? She should have been thanking you, and me, and this guy.” He pointed to a black man waiting to buy lottery tickets. “He works for the transit authority.”
We made a sorry lot. Four people in various stages of middle-age and the lower middle-class, with our vices. The woman with the food stamps had probably been buying soda, though I can’t swear to that. I was buying tobacco to roll cigarettes for when the headache from quitting becomes untenable, and the guy running the bodega was cataloging all our vices — the small routines that bind us to this precarious here and now.