Suddenly, into the darkness, we became a subway train. Feeble lights along the wall of the tunnel and a single headlight beam were all that was visible, shining on the two glistening tracks ahead. In a few seconds, a brightened area greeted us. This was the stop for me: Essex Street. From here, I quickly ascended the steps two at a time, grimy patterned steel treads, the same at each station. The reward was immediately ahead. Here was where I would part with that nickel.
Now the package was squeezed tightly under my left arm, and in my right hand, the nickel became moist as it slipped back and forth from the palm to the fingers. In a moment, I would exchange the coin for a welcome reward.
There it was at the corner of Essex and Delancey Streets.
There were the open-air counters with glass panes enclosing steaming vats of boiling hotdogs with sentries at each vat. Lines of people were queued in front on the sidewalk, and I took my place along with others who did not push or act impatiently as their turn would come quickly. The hotdog devotees waited and salivated. Hurray! I was to be next!
“Nu, what do you want, yingeleh?
“Please give me a hotdog with mustard, sauerkraut, hot pepper seeds. Thank you.”
From before, I knew what I was to get. Enclosed in a long roll, fitted onto white paper, was a hotdog adorned with yellow mustard smear, sauerkraut strewn the length of the roll, and the red and yellow seeds dropped flower-like on the conglomeration. I shifted the hotdog into my left hand and placed my nickel on top of the counter as the man handed me the prize, a paper cup filled with foaming cold and inviting root beer. Both for a nickel. The feast began.
I turned from the counter and took the first chomp, then the second as I savored the assorted tastes. Awkwardly, I shifted the contents of my hands so that I was able to take the first slurping swallow of the bonus, my dark umber-colored fizzing root beer. I tried to get the foam onto my upper lip as I remember seeing the real beer drinkers at the corner saloons. My tongue reached out to clear the foam into my mouth. The initiation was over. I devoured what I had quickly and headed for the weaver’s store.
Carefully, I surveyed the traffic coming off of or going onto the Williamsburg Bridge. I gingerly crossed the broad Delancey Street. The tastes, the aroma, the tingling sensations remained in my mouth.
One more street to cross, two stores from the corner, and I was standing at my destiny. There in the window sat the man I had met. His legs were crossed, and his torso bent over his work in his lap. His wife sat on a chair close by in the same submissive pose. Their noses were almost on the cloth that was stitched and secured with pins lined up like fence posts all around.
I entered the semi-darkened store, and the man looked up. He untangled himself from his perch and took the package from me.
I recited my entire instructions, “Poppa told me he wants these two garments fixed. And how much it will cost?”
The contents of the package were examined. The two pieces were placed aside. I looked up to the face over me as he said, “Tell Hymie I won’t get richer and he won’t get poorer. Come back next week about the same time and bring four dollars.” A tingling coursed through my body as I imagined my next trip carrying a king’s ransom in my own pants pocked — four dollars.
I’d also get another nickel spending money. I was grateful to the weavers of Broome Street for making such a thing happen. Each time I heard Poppa call, “Jakie, what are you doing after school today?” I knew I would have another adventure.
—jes (Nov. ’86)
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