It was the kind of bodega that you expected to get robbed. You walked in there and you could just smell it. It had the low key lighting, the expired condoms behind the counter, and the two Koreans working for their health. The onion rings and 25 cent ice cream bars were in the back, forcing all the kids to walk through the winding aisle of instant noodles and liquor bottles. I will never forget the first day I entered this particular bodega. Coined the "ghetto 7-11" by my friend Lucas, we went here during our first day of seventh grade. You see, we had just gotten the right to go out for lunch, the privilege to leave school grounds. A possibility that was not allowed to the sixth graders. After laughing and pointing at the little six graders sitting in the cafeteria, Lucas and I embraced the cold Harlem air. Lucas, a chubby and stereotypical Puerto Rican kid that I met in the 4th grade, looked around. "Maybe we could hit up a pizza place?" he asked. "I don't know, are there any places that sell things cheap? I only have two dollars" I responded feeling a bit embarrassed. Hey, it wasn't my fault my family had a low income, but I couldn't help but feel responsible in a way. As we neared the corner of the block, we were about to turn around when we saw a few of the upper class men enter the "ghetto 7-11." We stared watching as they exited with all sorts of chips and sodas, handfuls of mini bags. "Hey, was the soda expensive?" I asked. The upper class men looked at me and laughed. I admit, it was a stupid question. "It wasn't no hundred dollars if that's what you're askin" replied a girl. I turned to Lucas but he was already making his way inside. Homeboy was sold on the mini bags of chips. I entered inside, and after a few seconds of calling his name, I found Lucas at the back. He was beaming as he threw fruit snacks, potato chips, and small pies into my face. "Look at all of this!" he cried. "Their only 25 cents each" I almost did a double take. Really? Were they really that cheap? I could not understand it. How could it be that I lived in this neighborhood my whole life and have not been inside one of these? I decided to buy some mini donuts, a bag of chips, and a can of soda. Lucas wanted to buy the whole store but settled on a few ice cream sandwiches and a bag of popcorn. Making our way to the counter, we saw a few upper class men come back into the store. Our eyes followed them into the back, and we saw them take the goodies and stuff them into their pockets. Lucas dropped an ice cream sandwich. We were shocked. Not by the stealing, but by the fact that we didn't come up with the idea ourselves. Lucas and I ran back to the snack section and shoved it all into our backpacks. We walked out the store and just as we made it past the exit, a large black man with a crew cut called after us. "Excuse me, did you guys pay for that?" Lucas and I kept on walking, not bothering to stop. He chased after us, and as we made it to the corner we decided to run and hide under a truck, something I saw on TV once. We saw the man's feet (his bright red shoes helped us spot him) as he ran down the block and we waited under the truck for another twenty minutes. We prayed that the truck didn't begin to drive off, crushing us underneath. After twenty minutes we made sure the coast was clear and we made it out from underneath. This resulted in a detention for Lucas and I, as we ended up coming late to class. But I couldn't complain, at least we weren't caught and tried for by the man with the red shoes. Lucas and I did end up staying in for lunch from then on, and although we were laughed at by our own grade, we wanted to stay on the safe side. And I guess we learned a valuable lesson on that day: if something looks like it is easy to steal from, it is probably a lot more guarded. And so next time you want some crispy fries, it would probably be better if you just bought them.
Bow Day Guh
March 27, 2010