Old and new – scenes from a seasoned deli.

I sit here in a deli, though that word is foreign to some of its youngest denizens. The youngest would much rather be in a cafe or a sandwich shop – or a hip coffee shop that sells food. Only their parents or grandparents eat in delis after all, they would tell their friends if seen there.

Surrounded by tables full of a half dozen decades worth of age and experience, I revel in its dichotomy. A cacophony of voices surrounds me, but the table behind catches my attention. Amongst the chorus, I hear a few men short of a dozen talking. Their loud voices and tones are unmistakable – there is power, perhaps even political power there.

As I listen, I note without looking on the cast of characters. On the one, there are the wise – the old guard, having visited here for the better part of their longer lives. They speak of experiences their less experienced neighbors can hardly relate to nor understand. On the other are the upstarts – hungry for the respect and authority of the elders. All speak in the measured speech that is both careful and confidant.

Laughter echos off of the walls now at a crass joke from within their ranks. Suddenly the demeanor of the table changes. A single of them raises a chastising voice to its younger teller for offending sensibilities. The teller has made a juvenile mistake. But the accuser is neigh offended – this is about power and demanded respect. The joke was not appropriate for he of a lesser statute, and the elder has called the younger to task.

A quiet, semi-contemplative period follows where eyes quietly poll each member of the party. This silent roll call vote will never be truly known, but its importance wanes. A half apology is made in the form of an explanation – no one at the table is a novice at this give and take, and the youth has gained some lost ground. Conversation turns to less serious matters as the lesser attempts to assert his technological prowess. The older shrugs off this attempted parry as unimportant, but I hear the reticence in his voice. The elder statesman realizes he has been bested. That paradigm will one day shift.

As they rise to leave, there is back slapping, many handshakes and cheery loud machinations with the promise for more lunches together. These are men exuding power, demanding respect by their words and body language, tone and piercing looks.

The men rise to part, except the act of rising is difficult for some due to aged atrophy. The young, first to rise, offer practiced assistance to the elder, further raising their stature to the group. I wonder, unable to turn around and look, if the youth stand taller as they offer assistance – a reminder that time strolls through their ranks unabated by power.

The dichotomy stays unbroken. Some habits are hard to break.

Then I look over my shoulder as the tables are pulled apart. They seem to still radiate from the men that occupied them. Oh, if those tables could talk…

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