Things The Men At The Italian Deli Said To Me This Morning
Something unexpected that accompanied our move to New York City from Berkeley back in 2019 was an immediate and across-the-board shift in gendered address, at least for me. I went from fairly consistent “sirs” and “hims” in the Bay Area to almost exclusively “ma’am’s” and “she’s” on the East Coast. I won’t speculate overlong as to why that might have been, as that road all too often leads to trans phrenology, but generally I think some things that read as male in the Bay Area, especially for someone white, don’t read the same way in New York City. Besides which, New York is quite a lot denser than Berkeley, so the number of spontaneous encounters with strangers I had in a given day quadrupled at least; it’s possible that I was just running into people who already knew me and had a sense of my whole deal more often back in California. Recently I’ve noticed more “sirs” trickling back into my daily life, which I’m enjoying very much, although the brass ring still remains getting sirred over the phone (someday!).
I live in a neighborhood with a lot of Italian men of a certain age (and have extensively documented their very charming reactions to my little dogs), which means that when they do pick up on my “guy running around” vibes, the response is magnificent and overwhelming, like Carmela Soprano listing all the cured meats currently sitting in the refrigerator when she’s both angry with her husband and hopeful of calming him down. It’s Gimli saying, “I asked for a single golden hair from her head to remember her by…She gave me three.” It’s Rebecca addressing Eliazer at the well, “And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.’”
Anyhow, this morning I went to the little Italian deli down the street because I want to make a pan bagnat for supper, tomato season being long over notwithstanding. I had to go lie down afterwards. It was a superfluity of sirs, more than I was spiritually or sexually equipped to handle, both as a trans man and a former Midwesterner. Here are but some of the things they said to me. I swear on my newly-Italian heart that I have not exaggerated for comic effect on any of them, not even the line about the ham:
“Hey there, brother! What can I get for you?”
“‘Scuse me, sir, ‘scuse me.”
“Sir — sir, watch your back — he’s bringing a ham through. Thank you, sir.” [Aside to fellow deli employee]: “He delivered the big hams to the back, right? I just saw him come through with the dolly.” “No, he didn’t have any ham with him.”
“You have a good holiday, fella? You do anything for Thanksgiving? We had everybody over, my aunt hadn’t seen anybody for two years, we had a toast and she started crying, big tears, I said Aren’t you happy? And she said she was crying because she was so happy to see everybody, I dunno.”
“Good morning, good morning sir, how ya doing? Somebody already helping you?”
“Sorry sir, me again, let me just get past you.”
“I’m gonna start slicing the wheel here, that all right, sir? Then I’ll weigh it out, bring it back to the front.”
“You have a nice day, sir!”
I don’t know what the story with the ham was — maybe there was a second delivery on the way or something — but I hope my brothers get their ham soon. Amen and amen. I have to go lie down again.