I can tell that a day has passed in Good Nature Market (formerly Gourmet Heaven, tentatively Natty-G’s, forever GHeav) in the following ways: more than 400 purchases have been made, 115 eggs have been cooked and 75 avocados have been sliced. Also the radio has played One Direction 11 times.
I cannot tell by the light.
That’s because the light in GHeav is exactly the same at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. When you’re drunk and ask for a bacon-egg-cheese, and when you avoid eye contact and ask for tampons.
I hadn’t reflected on this much. I delighted in the convenience of GHeav, which I understood was open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, no holidays. Until, that is, I decided to live a full day at GHeav, and spent 24 consecutive hours, from 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night to 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, inside the walls of 15 Broadway.
At the end, when I finally staggered outside, I did not revel in the fresh air, but in the darkness.
I tell Joshua, the cashier, and Victor, who’s working the deli, about my plan. They’re nice enough, but think it’s a strange, pointless project. (Weird, right?)
Tonight, Joshua’s working overtime, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. I ask what he’ll do for his 12-hour shift. Stay at the register?
“That, and watch television.” He gestures behind me, to a flat-screen equipped with several different security camera angles. I mention that it seems pretty intense, and Joshua explains that while there’s not a lot of in-store crime, thieves often go for the outside goods.
He and Victor tell me about the criminals I like to call “flower bandits.” Apparently, a mysterious group — Victor actually suspects many groups — enjoys stealing the flowers outside. Or, not really stealing them. Taking them, throwing them all over the street and running away.
“If someone like you were to come and steal a flower, I don’t know, whatever,” Victor says. But the flower bandits are a nuisance. And if you’ve never seen a mess of flowers and produce around 15 Broadway, that’s because the workers always clean it up.
The employees have had to grapple with far more troubling criminal activity: Namely, the massive wage theft crisis that preceded Gourmet Heaven’s closing.
Last January, Gourmet Heaven owner Chung Cho was charged with wage theft totaling more than $100,000 and 20 counts of defrauding an immigrant worker. This followed months of protests, during which participants alleged that Cho forced employees to work 72-hour weeks, sometimes paying them less than half of the Connecticut minimum wage. Additionally, it was reported that six employees were housed in a small room in Cho’s basement, where they paid $50 per week in rent. While the New Haven Superior Court granted Cho probation, he could have received a sentence of 145 years.
Three weeks ago, Gourmet Heaven officially closed, and University Properties replaced it with Good Nature Market, owned by Sun Yup Kim. The judge declared that Cho owes his workers $120,000 in overtime and minimum wage. According to members of the New Haven social justice organization Unidad Latina en Accion, Cho has not yet paid this sum.
I take my first bathroom break. I see the letters “SACE” graffitied onto the back of the door. Not quite, but almost, “safe.”
When I get back to the Penthouse — what I now call the upstairs level — I check Urban Dictionary. “SACE,” it turns out, means “[ball] sack in face” or, alternatively, “a woman of the most exquisite appeal.”
Note to self: Remember, you are a SACE. (The second type, obviously.)
I meet Saul Ali, who has been camped out in the Penthouse for a couple of hours now. For him, this place only exists at night — even though he’s here three or four times per week, and typically stays for several hours, he’s never been during the daytime.
“Mostly I come here for a change of scenery,” he says, “I can only be in a library for so long, and most places close late at night. I guess the other option is Mamoun’s, but they only take cash.”
Ali values the opportunities for serendipity at GHeav. Once, as he was leaving Blue State, he noticed a girl. They started walking, talking and both decided — since GHeav was the only open venue — to continue hanging out in the Penthouse for a few hours.
There’s a certain romance in a 24-hour deli.
You would be surprised, actually, by the number of dates at GHeav. (Alternatively, you wouldn’t be surprised at all, because you go on more dates than I do.) Between 8:30 and 9:15, I noticed two couples come upstairs.
Someone carrying a dry-cleaned blue-and-white-striped blazer comes in and buys a single pink rose. I am comforted that someone besides the flower bandits is taking advantage of the flowers.
In 17.5 hours, tomorrow afternoon, I will find myself sitting alone in the Penthouse with a teenage couple. They will make out. I will sigh, and type aggressively on my keyboard. They will not notice.
But, for now, I am enjoying thoughts of pink roses and couples sharing tin foil trays, eating with plastic silverware.
It’s almost 3 a.m. on a Monday and the store has yet to be totally quiet. It seems like someone is always buying a Gatorade or a yogurt. A couple of people are studying in the Penthouse. I have this persistent, inexplicable feeling that someone in the building is sleeping. (Maybe that’s just because I want to be sleeping.)
Steam continues to rise from the buffet. I wonder if the food will ever be taken away. I decide maybe it just runs out and replenishes on its own — like some alternate-universe, deep-frying spring.
It’s official, if you ever wondered: They throw out the hot food at 3 a.m. While I’m grateful that they don’t leave it out indefinitely, it does seem a little wasteful, watching Luis fill a garbage bag with neon globs of macaroni and cheese.
The lights have become menacing, and I’m way too conscious of my own body to sleep. I try draping my coat over myself , using the hood to cover my face. But then I think, “Oh God, is this loitering?” A friend once told me she saw a homeless man get kicked out of GHeav when he fell asleep at a table upstairs. Would Joshua, Victor or Luis do that to me? I peek over the balcony.
Luis has put on his coat, and carries a broom outside, returning moments later. I wonder if he was beating away flower bandits.
I’m staring at the wall of cereals, straight into the dead eyes of Sam the Toucan. He haunts me from his box of Fruit Loops.
3.5 hours … to halfway.
GHeav really is SACE. (I am determined to make SACE “happen.”) It is almost, but not quite, safe. Earlier, it seemed like an institution “of the most exquisite appeal,” with every imaginable amenity. Now, though, I’m deteriorating under the stinging lights, and it feels like I’m getting hit in the face. By, well, you know the definition.
I fall asleep. For 12 minutes.
Luis mops the floor of the Penthouse.
“Did you sleepy?” he asks me.
“Not really,” I respond. “When do you get to go to sleep?”
He smiles. “No.”
“No, I mean — do you sleep when you go home, after this?”
He keeps smiling, keeps mopping.
Luis, Victor and Joshua have all gone home. The new shift is here. I feel a little abandoned.
I’m surprised by the lack of breakfast customers. Business has been slow. The hot bar is replenished in increments: fruit at 8:28, lettuce at 9:24, hot food at 10.
Sun Yup Kim, Good Nature Market’s owner, has arrived. His dress shoes click against the floor. He’s meeting with developers, holding up measuring tape and discussing potential changes to the store’s set-up. Renovations will start in a couple of weeks.
Kim plans to change the store’s layout, and says that Good Nature Market will institute its own sandwich and hot bar menu. But for now, the distinctions between Gourmet Heaven and Good Nature Market, at least in set-up and in merchandise, are essentially indiscernible.
Even the employees are basically the same. While Luis and Joshua, for instance, were hired after the transition, Lauren Zucker, Yale’s associate vice president for the Office of New Haven Affairs and University Properties, wrote in an email that Kim has retained 80 percent of Gourmet Heaven employees.
Though she and Kim are careful to distinguish Natty-G from GHeav, the niche — a 24-hour grocery/deli — hasn’t changed.
In other words: You can still get bacon-egg-cheeses at 3 a.m. and tampons at 3 p.m.
“Love Me Like You Do” and Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” are now head-and-head for most-played song on KC 101.3, surging ahead of “Uptown Funk.” Current score: 12–12.
I start doing some reading, pulling out Jean-Paul Sartre’s “La Nausée” for my French Novel class. It explores “Nausea,” an existential crisis and ultimate detachment from reality.
“Objects should not touch because they are not alive. You use them, put them back in place, you live among them: they are useful, nothing more. But they touch me, it is unbearable,” I read. “I am afraid of being in contact with them as though they were living beasts.”
19 hours in, I think I’m experiencing Nausea.
The bags of Skinny Pop on the wall have become so much more real, so much more lasting, than the 300 customers I’ve seen drift in and out. I swear, the pirates on the Pirate’s Booty shelf, they’re reaching towards me.
I think I should stop reading.
Visiting friends have started to suggest that I shower before heading to bed tonight.
As this most recent round leaves, I take advantage of a quick lull to talk to the man behind the deli counter.
“Have you noticed how long I’ve been here?” I ask him, slurring a little.
He nods. I explain my project. He doesn’t understand. At 22 hours, neither do I.
He tells me he’s been working here for seven years. I ask him if he likes it, and if he prefers Good Nature Market to Gourmet Heaven.
“Sure, it’s good. It was good before, too. It’s all good.”
I’m thirsting for a story. Anything. “Does anything — I dunno — weird — ever happen?”
“I mean, do you ever see strange people in here?”
A moment of silence. My knees buckle a little just as Ed Sheeran breaks in — “When my legs don’t work like they used to before…”
“Oh! Did you hear that?” I ask. “That’s another one for Ed! He’s tied it up again!”
The deli worker looks at me, eyes full of worry.
It is finished.
I glance behind me, at the Monday night workers. (Sadly, they’re not the same as the Sunday night crew, and so there is no one, really, to acknowledge my victory.)
The breeze! The sky! The infinite supply of air! It’s exhilarating, like diving into a cold pool in the summer, and I glide home, guided by some invisible force.
When I fall into bed, I pull the comforter all the way over my face, trying to kill any sliver of light that might peek into my room.
I think, in fear and in admiration, that I have been conquered. My day was one of 365 this year, one of thousands that have come before and thousands that will follow. GHeav, or Natty-G, or whatever the monster wants to be called, is still, at this very moment, glowing. Right now, steam rises from its buffet, eggs crack on the grill. It will still be glowing when I wake up.
It is like the solar system, the Word, or its own stock of kale chips — it never dies; it never changes.