Stein’s Market and Deli is located on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden district of New Orleans, LA. The Jewish and Italian deli offers traditional and specialty sandwiches using top quality meats and cheese and even services breakfast sandwiches on bagels shipped from New York City.Â The deli is relatively small. Every wall is packed with products for sale whether it is local Zapp voodoo potato chips, beignet box mix, horseradish or Tabasco sauce.Â There are a few tables towards the front of the deli inside and a few more outside on the sidewalk.
The place was incredibly busy on the day I visited. There were so many people standing in what little free space there might be that it was difficult to figure out where to order and where to pay.Â As an individual who struggles with a slight sensory processing disorder, I am uncomfortable but I am also hungry and anxious to try a sandwich from Steins. Pushing through and fighting my autistic tendencies (that include an intense dislike for crowds and an inability to process effectively in the presence of many sounds and even more motions), I quickly ordered my muffaletta sandwich and scrambled to an empty seat near the front of the deli.
I heard her before I saw her.
Individuals from my area of the country will know what I mean when I say her voice sounded like the stereotypical elderly, New York Jewish woman. Heavily accented, loud, whiney, a bit nasally, most definitely annoying, she stood to my right.Â Also stereotypically she was loudly commenting to her friend on the physical appearances of individuals waiting in line. I learned quickly, in the matter of minutes, that she disliked unnaturally colored hair, tattoos, piercing and fat people.Â Fairly certain I fit all the criteria; I kept my head turned away and look down at my lap.
Her friend, standing to her right seemed more pleasant and a follower of social standards as twice she told her loud friend to lower her voice and not be so critical. She tried on one occasion to stifle her friends judgments by saying something my dad used to say “to each his own”.
I lean over to my husband, seated on left, and ask if our order has been called yet. He said he did not hear it. I asked him to go check. He rolls his eyes at me (as if to say “why donâ€™t you check yourself?”).Â He was oblivious to my unease both in the environment and the woman next to me.
Hubby leaves the table to go check on our order and the two elderly women leave my right side, walk behind me and towards the opposite wall. Just as I begin to breathe a sigh of relief, I see the loud, negative one with badly penciled on eyebrows (who is judging whom now I snicker to myself), take a quick right and come around to the opposite side of my table.Â She and her friend proceed to sit down right across from me.
I am still looking away.Â I am confident eye contact will invite conversation and based on what I just overheard, I am not interested in speaking with such a negative, judgmental, harsh woman. She will surely have an opinion on me and feel free to voice it to me. I know that my nose piercing is visible. I quickly scan my clothing to see if any of my four tattoos are visible
â€œWaaa ya from?â€ I hear her say loudly.
I look up at her.
â€œAre you asking me?â€ I ask.
â€œYeah. Where are you from?â€ she says raising her voice either to my presumed idiocy or deafness.
â€œOh. Connecticut.â€ I respond.
â€Ohhhhh. I am from Brooklyn. Actually, so is she.â€ She says as she points to her friend sitting next to her. I look up at friend and she smiles at me.
â€œMy mom is from Brooklynâ€¦Prospect Parkâ€ I say. I donâ€™t want to talk to her but I donâ€™t want to be obviously rude.Â I turn to see if my husband is in sight. I see him walking towards us carrying our sandwiches.
â€œI was born in Brooklyn but I have been here in New Orleans for 56 years.Â What brings you here?â€ She asks a bit too loudly. People at the other table turn towards us.
â€œVacationâ€ I respond as my husband joins us.
â€œOh, where have you gone? How long will you be here? Where are you staying?â€ she fires off questions in rapid succession without even giving me a chance to answer.
Husband answers her and they start a bit of a conversation.Â She insists we visit the WWII museum. I offer that is something that I am interested in and I ask her where it is. Before she answers me she leans over to her friend and points out a girl in line. Girl has wild hair, lots of jewelry, denim shorts over textured tights and a large feather in her hair. She also has tattoos.
â€œLook at that one.â€ She says as she pokes her quiet friend in her left arm.
I donâ€™t turn. I saw the girl when she walked in. Her missoni tights, identical to a pair I have at home, caught my eye.
I bite into my sandwich and wince a bit at the taste of the olive spread. Not what I expected.
â€œHow long have you been here?â€ I ask, hoping to distract her attention from the girl with the great style.
â€œOh, 56 years.â€ She says dragging out that annunciation of the word â€œyearsâ€ in a way only a Brooklyn New York born Jewish lady can do.
â€œWe came down here to adopt babies.Â In the 1950â€™s, the only babies available in New York were black market.Â Down here? There were more babies available and they were legit. So we came down here and got them and decided to stayâ€ she offers.
Inside my head I hear hysterical laughter. It is my laughter.Â Only I hear it.Â I am not going to engage her. I internally commend her for not buying off the black market but my admiration ends there.
â€œOh.â€ I respond.
It follows me. No matter where I go, no matter what I do, I am an adopto-magnet.
I finish my sandwich and my husband and I get up to leave. We exchange good byes to the ladies, they offer good trip wishes to us and we leave.
Exiting the door of the deli and practically pouncing onto Magazine Street, my husband, who is walking in front of me stops, turns and reaches out with both his arms.
â€œLet me give you a hug. Jeeee-zusss. It really does follow you. Are you okay?â€ he says.
I laugh and hug him back.
Photo credit: Suz Bednarz, shot on location at Layette Cemetery, New Orleans, LA