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  • Who knew that after stepping down out of the piles of melting snow past the tinkly bell on the door into the tiny food shop in Brooklyn, you will find yourself in a place and a moment beyond.

    That behind the nose-high counter stuffed as though the whole world needs nothing but sausage and salmon, a young woman with enormous round glasses will be placing slices of ham on the scale as though they are precious papers. Or that next to her an elegant man in a fisherman's cap will slice with slow measured delicacy a rosy smoked salmon.

    It is for the young man in front of you in line. The young man is a character from your imagination. You are dreaming him because you are in that misty state of having no idea if you are ever going to find what you need for the party you are hosting in a neighborhood you do not know in a city that is not yours.

  • Running down the back of the young man's expensive wool coat is the most beautiful braid you have ever seen, Rapunzel-like in length and thickness, refined in each silky plait.

    In a voice as long and smooth as his hair and coat, he is telling the man cutting his fish -- you have walked in halfway into the conversation as one does -- about how he too must be precise in his work.

    "Oh yeah? What work do you do?" asks the man behind the counter.

    "I design and make ballet shoes." Of course he does. What else would he do?

    "The little boxes for the toes can not have any extra space at all. No, none at all." He says this with a lovely tiny gesture of his elegant hand.

    You look more closely. Everything about him is beautiful. He stands with the contained posture of a dancer about to leap out onto the stage and you look around to make sure you haven't wandered into a theater. His hands are smooth, his fingertips tapering down to pearly nails; his eyes are subtly ringed with liner and you think he is wearing eye shadow but you know nothing about make-up so you're probably making it up.

    And you marvel that you are actually standing in line behind a young man who makes satin shoes, one by one, for the dancers of the city.

  • And because this could be a dream -- it should be a dream -- you jump into the conversation, something you almost never do, to say what turns out to be the most obvious dumb thing in the world:

    "You must have seen your fair share of damaged feet."

    He half-turns and takes your measure then says, politely, kindly, patiently: "Not as many as you might think."

    And you're not even sure how many you might think, but you nod.

    "With a career so short, you have to care for yourself in ways almost unimaginable."

    You try to imagine those unimaginable ways and all that comes to mind are tin bathtubs in the middle of small kitchens.

    Now he takes the package of salmon, neatly wrapped and tied, that the slicer is holding out to him, as though it is a precious gift. And who knows, perhaps it is, perhaps the slicer and he are friends or lovers. Perhaps he is delivering the salmon to one of the great dancers of the time or to his cat, a great dancer too and elegant, of course.

    Before he walks off and leaves you to voice your order, he smiles at the tops of everyone's heads as though you all have missed out on something both secret and extraordinary. You watch him go -- how can you not, that braid and that way he moves.

    In his wake you cannot, you absolutely cannot order sausage and so you hem and haw and ask questions of the salmon slicer you don't need answered about all the things your gaze lights upon in the case -- this paté, that salami, this foie gras. People are shuffling about behind you.

    Finally you place your order and wait and wait and wait for it silently. The salmon slicer doesn't ask you any questions about what you do for a living. You find yourself smoothing out your rough hair, adjusting your skewed scarf.

    He hands you your package. You take it as though it were a gift. And as you try to walk with poise and presence across the creaky wooden floor to the cashier, you wonder what everyone waiting at the party for sausage will say when you show up with salmon, sliced just so.

    This is what happens when you are sent out on your own to buy sausage.

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