by Adam Popescu
Characters abound at Graby’s mini-mart on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Westcott Street in Syracuse, NY.
This hole in the wall, walk-up basement mini-mart has been here for over 50 years. Only a few hundred square feet, Graby’s purveys hot coffee, snacks, tobacco, drinks and frozen fare to on the go students and nocturnal party people.
A diminutive sized man works behind the counter. He wears glasses and gloves that cover three fingers on each hand.
He moves from behind the register down the counter to check on his computer, depending on the flow of customers. At the computer, the familiar sound of “yahoo” is heard every few minutes as he receives new message on yahoo chat. He’s talking to his wife, the man says.
“Yeah, I’m married. Married with children.”
He goes by the name Mac, unwilling to reveal his identity further. “It’s Mac, short for Mac Daddy,” he says with a straight face. “No name. I’m a man without a face. That’s it. My grandma was hip. M-a-c Daddy.”
Although not shy, Mac wants to protect his privacy and identity. Working at a convenience store can be dangerous work, although in the two years he’s worked here, he says it has been largely without incident, except for occasional shoplifters.
“We don’t have that much problems.”
If he does catches someone stealing, he will “pat you down, take my product and charge you for it.”
And if they don’t have any money?
“You take something from me, I gotta take something from you. I’ve taken a cell phone from somebody until he got me my money.”
Did he come back and give you the money?
Five days a week, from 4:30-12 a.m. on weekdays, and until 1 a.m. on weekends, Mac is behind the counter at Graby’s. Music is often playing in the background, with the soundtrack of the film Scarface seemingly on repeat.
“Those are love songs.”
Mac’s cousin Mo handles the day shift. Mac’s little brother Hanny helps behind the counter and re-stocks, providing support.
“Take care of the customers, stock up, that’s the life at Graby’s. That’s how you win a battle, always restock.”
At the age of 26, Mac joined the U.S. army, spending six years of active duty with a tour in Iraq and a tour in Afghanistan. After his discharge in 2004, he decided to stay in Syracuse, after coming here to live at Fort Drum with his unit.
“I’m a hermit, he said. “I wanted the slow life. Quiet.”
Mac used the GI Bill and college fund to pay his way through school, earning an accounting degree. “It’s good to join. Gives you Discipline. Appreciate life afterward.”
When asked of the difficulty of training, Mac called it “Cheesy. Not as hardcore as you guys think.”
In between dialogue, Mac tended to the customers that come in and out of the store, greeting many by first name and a handshake.
An Asian man with short black hair and a bounce in his step walks into the store and heads right for the microwave in the corner of the store. Mac feigns hurt feelings that the man fails to say hello to him.
“Where’s my free egg roll, Chen?”
“Free egg roll?” a laughing Chen repeats, shaking his head.
Chen leaves smiling. Mac smiles, too. It seems they’ve been at this impasse before.
A woman brings a case of beer to the counter.
A few minutes later, three college-aged students, dressed in Halloween costumes, walk up to the counter holding multiple 40-ounces of Olde English 800 in each hand. Dressed like the three dwarfs from Cinderella, with fake beards, over-sized bellies, glasses and beanies.
“What up munchkins?” Mac chides as he ID’s them.
“Uh…dwarfs,” one of them retorts.
Soon after, a pair of young men walk in, eyes red, each dressed stranger than the other, seemingly buzzing on something. The first with a blond beard and hair, wears Daisy Duke shorts, Timberlands, a white wife-beater undershirt and a cut-off plaid shirt. His companion, in a black and blue hoody and Birkenstocks with socks.
“Yo, yo, yo.”
“These guys are funny,” Mac says under his breath.
The two argue over what to buy, each ultimately approaching the register with an assortment of items. The man in the Daisy Dukes holds bottles of Miller High Life beer in each hand, one bottle tucked away in his fanny pack.
“What are you supposed to be for Halloween,” Mac asks.
“GiGi Owens, the most foul human being,” he responds.
Mac checks his ID, then rings him up.
“Enjoy your night,” Mac says.
“Oh, I will.”
GiGi’s companion struggles to place his basket on the counter. It’s full of beer, sweets and three packs of condoms. “Better than Wegman’s, here. It’s two aisles, and they’re never clean,” the young man jokes.
Mac smiles, rings him up, and hands him back the change. The two men leave as another rush of customers come in. Just another night at Graby’s.