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The Kebab Man of 42nd and Eighth

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At 5:30, Errand Guy returns. For reasons unknown, he has come bearing the gift of a glossy ad for Veet, a depilatory cream, and a $2-off coupon for same—but no mustard bottle. He hands the Veet materials to Elnagar, who politely accepts the gifts. “For nothing I go all over Manhattan! I found a bottle, but it’s clear!” Errand Guy complains. He returns the $5, bums a cigarette, and disappears down the street.

Elnagar has an abiding faith in human decency, even though people don’t always treat him that well. When a young man with a Bluetooth glued to his ear reads Elnagar the riot act for mishearing “ketchup” as “Pepsi” (“I didn’t ask for no fucking Pepsi!”), Elnagar says, “Must be the lack of education.” He means it sympathetically.

It’s seven o’clock. Elnagar could make a dash for the next block, where, according to city rules, he can now do business, but he decides to call it a night. He’s sold 22 waters, 28 sodas, 30 hot dogs, 6 pretzels, and 12 kebabs. A couple of people asked for knishes, but he doesn’t stock them in warm weather. “They don’t keep,” he says. His total haul for the day is about $140, about half of which is profit. On a good day, he’ll earn $300, and pocket $150.

Elnagar begins to break down the cart. The next several days promise to be intense. A biannual headache is at hand: Elnagar’s two-year cart permit expires at the end of June. The guy he’s been renting his from has moved to California and stopped answering the phone. “Why doesn’t the city check?” Elnagar asks. “If you don’t live in New York anymore, don’t hold a New York permit!” On the bright side, the Puerto Rican Day Parade is coming up. It’s the most profitable day of the year—the cart man’s Black Friday. Or it should be, unless the cops cite “exigent circumstances” and shoo the vendors from the streets, the way they did last year.

Right now, however, Elnagar folds the Sabrett umbrellas, fires up the little motor, and heads off toward Ninth Avenue. At the garage, he’ll hose down the cart and put the uncooked kebabs in the freezer. Then he’ll take the train home to the Bronx and spend the evening watching TV with Christine, Reham, Ghada, Ahmad, and Karem. “When I don’t work,” Elnagar says, “I like to stay home. I work too many hours.”


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