I stand in line at a Rite Aid on 7th Avenue, two three-packs of Orbit gum in hand but not with the Soy Crisps I came in here for. In my experience, Soy Crisps only exist in between 14th Street and Broome. The woman in front of me has a wide ass stretching the pockets of her denim cut-offs and short red hair, black at the roots. She talks about EBT, which I recently learned is like a debit card for food stamps or something like that. She is young and doesn’t look what I had always naively assumed a “food stamp user” would look like. The image engrained in my mind is closer to an American version of a Frank McCourt character, not a young chick closer in comparison to Courtney Love pre-everything.
Someone in line asks a question about one of the buildings around the neighborhood and if it is the Chelsea Projects. There is a man, about fifty something, with leathery skin and a tank top. He apparently knows about projects, saying that the building isn’t the Chelsea projects, then goes on a riff about another building, a project building, that you have to be sixty-five years old to enter. I think to myself that it would be a most depressing life, ending your days in what is essentially a low-income housing retirement home.
The young woman calls this older man “Honey” which throws me off because he could practically be her father. She orders a pack of Marlboro Reds to match her red hair and turn her lungs black, also thematically in keeping with her hairstyle. The man at the register apologizes again for not having nickels – it’s the same conversation he had two minutes ago with the woman before her. The redhead, slightly masking irritated impatience, says she doesn’t care about the nickels and proceeds to bang the pack of cigarettes against her wrist, moving all of the tobacco to the filter or the other way around, I can’t remember. She tears off the wrapper, flicks it on the counter, and pulls out a row of five cigarettes, flipping them around and placing them back in the carton.
She leaves and I am forced to wonder if her circumstances created her strange ticks and behavior or the other way around. Why a person who needs food stamps spends $10 on a pack of New York City cigarettes, why they’ll fork out (presumably) hundreds of dollars on tattoos instead of a handful of units at a community college. I’ve never been there, so it’s unfair for me to judge. But I can’t help but think about what would happen if she changed whatever patterns she had become oddly adjusted to.