THE ROME EXPRESS

there is a 24 hour bodega on the corner of myrtle and forest road. they carry zywiec beer, $2.25 for a tall bottle. that's a good polish beer. i used to go there all the time and purchase these late at night, two of them. i'd take them back to my apartment and drink them while quietly watching british sketch comedies from the 90's on the internet, trying to drown out the sound of my 41 year old roommate having sex with her boyfriend.

going to the 24 hour bodega was only pleasant 50% of the time. it depended on which clerk was working. the nice clerk or the unfriendly clerk. the nice clerk said things to me that were not entirely pertinent to our transaction. he replied when i asked him how he was doing. you could just tell he was a good guy. he watched sports during his shifts and guys from the neighborhood would hang around and watch with him. the unfriendly clerk uniformly frowned at me like i was all the bad news he'd ever heard. he always seemed to be listening to katy perry songs and i don't think he enjoyed them.

i bought beer from the unfriendly clerk moments after finding out osama bin laden had been killed. he was the very first person i told. i walked in there, it was almost eleven o'clock at night, feeling some form of surreal patriotic disbelief. i am pretty sure i was one of the first 700,000 people to hear the news, so i was excited to let them know at the 24 hour bodega. i thought this could mark a shift in our strained relationship.

did you hear the news?

he looked up at me forlornly as if to say, the only news i'm hearing is the bad news of your presence.

they got bin laden! a special group of soldiers. they had a helicopter. isn't that amazing?

he shrugged and took my five, bagged my zywiecs and handed me my change. maybe he thought i was tricking him or else innocent in my insanity. i went home feeling like maybe i was wrong about bin laden being killed. maybe i misunderstood the news and would have to apologize to the unfriendly clerk next time i saw him.

during the day, the 24 hour bodega was another place entirely. the bamboo plants and flowers outside sparkled in the myrtle sun and there was a lady clerk who was never there at nights. she presided over the sun kingdom, not the moon kingdom. it was weird to be in the same place and be somewhere different. it was like a friend who lived in an apartment where you used to only like half the tenants.

i would order a fantastic sandwich from her called the rome express. she would turn around and say to the shadowy man in the sandwich area, "one rome express on a roll" and then i would look around, admire the new chef boyardee logo and read the headlines on the newspapers. i would marvel at the lesser known / more exotic flavors of top ramen and scoff at the price of tostitos cheese dip. then my sandwich would be ready and she would smile at me, "rome express." it was like buying a train ticket.