Every neighborhood in New York has one or two or three little delis that sell almost anything imaginable, but mostly a cup of non-Starbucks coffee and an egg and cheese sandwich or a corn muffin for a couple of bucks.
These joints are usually pretty grimy affairs, not given to cleanliness, more to the efficiency of getting your breakfast into a paper bag and your shekels into their cash till as quickly as possible. They usually sell all manner of things. They have a tired salad bar or a cadre of breaded chicken cutlets in a refrigerated case lined up like soldiers marching off to war.
They tend to be places that are habit forming. You go in every morning before work, usually grab the same victuals, throw your money across some worn formica, and that's the end of the story. And while these places have names, they're names no one knows. You just call them "the place on the corner," or "the joint on 49th," or more simply you say, "I'm going to the deli."
The place I go on my way to work, I call "the deli on 49th." There's nothing special about it. Maybe it's a little dirtier than most but that's ok, because the only thing I've ever bought there is a couple bottles of seltzer a day and once-in-a-while a cuppa from one of those giant cisterns the size of a good high-school football lineman.
Yesterday I picked up my usual two bottles of Schweppes black cherry seltzer and walked from the refrigerated case up to the front to pay. There was a small crowd of men waiting for their egg sandwiches. I went up to the counter to pay as the cashier was assembling a bag for one of the patrons.
He filled the bag with a large can of fake iced-tea, a foil-wrapped sandwich and a few napkins. Then the patron said, "And give me a Michael Jackson."
The counterman nodded and went to get one.
Ignorant and curious, I asked the customer, "What's a Michael Jackson?" I immediately felt like an idiot.
"It's one of them black-and-white cookies," the customer said to me.
"Of course it is," I laughed.
I walked the two blocks to work, still laughing.