BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW an older black woman in a stained white cook’s apron hunched over an ATM machine inside a Germantown pawn shop. Her left elbow was propped on top of the machine as she leaned in to read the blurry words on the beat-to-shit screen. In her hand she had her bank card and a scratch-off lottery ticket that said “FORTUNE COOKIE” across the top in the kind of Oriental-ish font you find on Chinese restaurant menus. The ticket was scraped clean, its symbols uncovered. The machine spat out $40 and she reached down to take it with her other hand.
She went to a window in an adjoining room that was marked “Tokens and Lottery Tickets.” She recited numbers off a piece of paper to a woman sitting behind bulletproof glass, who typed them into a machine. The piece of paper was filled with numbers, and she settled at the window like she was going to be there for a while.
The pawnshop walls were made from the kind of cheap, wood-patterned fiberboard that was popular 30 years ago. The carpet was cheap, gray, and industrial, covered in blackened splotches of spat-out gum that were ground in and then hardened. Behind the Plexiglas cases lining the walls were engagement rings, wedding rings, earrings, a wide assortment of cheap watches, men’s shaving kits and Walkmen still in their plastic casings. There were stacks of tambourines, cymbals and other percussion paraphernalia, a couple of low-end guitars in the front window. There was a separate part of the store for used cds and dvds that came in cases that were scratched and dented.
The bell over the front door jangled as it opened; the old head that walked in came straight to me for some reason. He had a salt-and-pepper beard, neatly trimmed, and thick, gold-framed dark glasses. He wore a new red football jersey that draped over an oversized set of denim shorts that came to his ankles. “Where’s the pawn window at?” he asked, like I worked there. I pointed to an arrow shaped sign hanging from the ceiling with writing inside it: “Pawn window.”
There, underneath the arrow and behind a waist-high glass case full of jewelry, sat a middle-aged black man with a bushy handlebar mustache. He wore a green Hawaiian shirt covered in palm trees. He waved lazily at the man to come over; on his way to the desk the man produced a single gold woman’s bracelet from his pocket, and handed it across the counter. The pawn shop owner appraised the bracelet with the corners of his mouth turned down and his eyes narrowed while the other man waited silently.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer who has contributed to the City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.