"Español?," the old shop owner asks me.
"Pequeño," I lie.
"Are you Russian? You look Slavic."
I shook my head no. "I'm German, I guess."
"That's it?" He cocked his head to one side, his face that of a person confused.
"I don't know really."
"You are born in California?"
He nods his head but he seems far away.
I've come for a bottle of soda water. I put it on the counter a minute or two ago, but he's busy pulling off small strips from a roll of duct tape.
He is my height, thin, and he looks frail. He seems to work long hours almost every day. If he is not behind the counter it's the very fat man who smokes pot in the back room and tries to mask the smell by burning incense.
The old man takes the bottle of water and points it at me, eyebrows raised. He's asking with his face if that's all I want to buy. I tell him with my face that it is.
"I was not born here. But I've lived here a long time."
"45 years. I came when I was a boy."
I do the math, and he seems much older. I wonder why he lets the punk-ass kids in the neighborhood take his chips and candy without paying. They bully the old man.
"The kids call me OG. I don't know why or what it means."
"It means original gangster."
He looks at me and shakes his head.
"I will tell them to stop. I am not a gangster. I am not OG. I am not gangster."
He shakes his head and seems very far away.
I put two soft one dollar bills on the counter.
He looks me in the eyes and blinks. He is thanking me with his face. He pushes a small chocolate wrapped in dark red foil toward me, then presses two dirty pennies into my palm.
"You live close to here."
"Yes, just three blocks away."
"I will see you next time, mi amor." He takes my hand in his, papery and soft. "You will come back."