An irate deli owner attacked a woman in a dispute over small change in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, authorities said. Farouk Alshubi, 24, who owns the Woodruff Deli, on Flatbush Avenue near Clarkson Avenue, allegedly threw the change in the customer’s face after she purchased loose cigarettes at about 8:50 a.m. Thursday and questioned his math skills. She retaliated by flinging a candy bar at him and knocking a candy display off the counter, cops said. So Alshubi hurled a welfare card-scanning keypad at the woman’s face, breaking one of her teeth, the cops added. The woman also required 15 stitches to close a gash suffered during the fight. Alshubi was charged with assault, menacing, possession of a weapon, and harassment.
One can hope this is an isolated incident, though in all honestly the Q sees near-fisticuffs take place all the time over simple cash interactions. I can't help but be reminded of the tense days of yore (actually, late 1980's early 1990's) when relations between Korean/Chinese store owners and African-Americans was a big deal. As a hayseed outsider, I would often note the disrespectful attitudes on both sides of the counter and try to figure out what brought it all on. By the time of the Crown Heights Riot in '91, I was fearful that the City would soon be engulfed in some sort of all-out race war. And the L.A. riots proved how close we really were to the brink. Sometimes I wonder if I imagined those days - the crack vials, the anger, the murder rate, the general feeling of decay and lawlessness - but all I need to do is look at the crime stats, or speak to an old-timer who's been there seen that, to know it was very real indeed. I was 25ish then, playing the rock music, carousing, working by day at the Brooklyn Museum (the guards made up the most truly diverse group of folks I've ever gotten to know), thinking that Brooklyn itself could only ever serve as a cheaper-than-the-east-village place to lay one's head during a requisite 3-5 year stay in NYC, the only city on earth cool enough to nurture Afrika Bambaataa AND Talking Heads AND Boogaloo AND the Ramones and still have cool enough left over to actively celebrate people living in warehouses and former edifices of industrial depravity, and I obliged by moving into a giant space on 3rd Stret near the Gowanus canal with a bunch of work-averse boys. I was already late to the party of course, but then again you never really know you're part of a scene while it's happening, and the early part of the decade was actually an enormously fertile time for "out" music, dance-music hybrids, Americana, freaky jazz, indie and hip-hop...even if rock relocated to the Northwest coast for a time. (New York's "grunge" was way more interesting anyway, farcically fruited up by Big Apple weirdness. In Seattle they took it SOOOO seriously - too much rain and caffeine I guess). Who would have thought that a mere 20 years on and the world's college grads are beating down Brooklyn's door like so many Muslims on the Haj to Mecca? A-ha! There IS a tie-in here. Muslims. Bodegas. Can you even call it a bodega when it's not run by Spanish speakers? That reminds me I must ask a local deli guy what's Arabic for bodega.
Is there a lesson in the madness of one encounter over the deli counter? Probably not. But the disrespect and cultural distrust and misunderstanding are eerily familiar to this not-so-newcomer. Now, those of us outsiders who stayed here through and past our extended adolescences are, for better or worse, an integral part of the cultural fabric of Brooklyn; no longer do I imagine a future living in some exotic locale, and no longer can I honorably feign ironic distance from the proceedings. Like the immigrants before me I came to Brooklyn looking for a new life. Granted I had all the advantages that membership in the dominant American culture afforded me, though I'm proud to say I came to town with just $1,000 and a Mazda GLC and have been making it work ever since. (That Mazda was stolen within the year, in case you were wondering. My first true life lesson, though I wish that 12-string guitar hadn't been in the trunk. Oh the feelings I could've expressed!)
A fascinating story or study must exist out there that documents the rise of Arab-run delis, the decline of the Spanish-speaking bodegas, the influence of Duane Reades and corporate chains on local business. And always on my mind is this question: how many of the workers at local mom-and-pops live in the neighborhood? And perhaps most continually explosive, why is it that so many years on it's still recent immigrants who are running the shops of black neighborhoods?
And, like, how long ago was it now that a Mr. Hooper lookalike could have been seen manning the counter? OR, is the whole new bourgeois mom-and-pop phenomenon of Brownstone Brooklyn the result of Mr. Hooper's lasting influence in the urban imagination? May he and Fred Rogers rest in peace...their legacies live on at Larder, Provisions and those goofy cherry-lime-rickey soda fountain joints popping up all over town. "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" indeed.