Short Story Sunday: Illegal spice exchange

Oryan Levi
3 min readApr 19, 2020

I have no lesson for you today, or any interesting food for thought. It’s been a long week, full of little interactions that made me sad and made me happy. So, I’m deeming it a “short story Sunday”, and choosing to share one of these moments that made me smile.

I live on a street with six churches. There’s the “cool” one, the one that just can’t seem to settle on a logo, the Mormon one. My favorite is the one that recently put up a sign that says “Take care of yourselves”, which seems like a confusing message to announce to your parishioners in a time of crisis. “You guys got this? Because we can’t help”.

Before the lockdown, I’d take little walks around the block on Sunday mornings to follow the parade of dressed up families heading to their church of choice. Lots of kids in sweater vests being actively bribed with a Nintendo Switch or Nature Valley bar. If I went early enough, I’d see the band unloading their instruments while an old, majestically bearded gentleman smokes a cigar and watches. That’s at the “cool” one. I can only assume that man has so much church clout that he can both get out of carrying any gear and smoke before breakfast on the holiest of days.

This past Thursday, I went to pick up a jar of spices from a neighbor, and walked right alongside all six churches. Pinterest convinced me that I need to try some crafts using colorful spices, so I immediately took to NextDoor to crowdsource some materials. If you’re not familiar with NextDoor, its essentially a social network only for people in your neighborhood, where they can do things like complain about their mailman and wonder if anyone else has seen the “suspicious looking man walking his dog at 10pm”. If you’re not pruning your fruit tree properly or if your kid makes an ugly chalk drawing in a shared driveway, you get a loving shoutout from a neighbor. Sometimes its good for other things like borrowing a cup of sugar or finding a babysitter, but mostly, it’s a forum for the unarmed militia of yelp reviewing moms to call each other out in the name of neighborhood pride. A great way to get back at Karen for upstaging you at the summer block party.

Since the feeds are already overrun with petty, unfiltered nonsense, I’ve always been more of a passive reader than an avid poster. So I was pretty excited to have a reason to call on my neighbors’ generosity this week. Thirty minutes after asking for anyone around to kindly donate their colorful food scraps and spices to me, I got carefully crafted message offering up a big ole’ jar of Sumac. Awesome.

We arranged for the purveyor of the goods to leave the jar under her mailbox within the hour. I wore a black beanie to the exchange, partially because it was cold, but mostly because this felt like the most ridiculous, illegal quarantine spice trade of the week and I wanted to feel like a real sneaky sneak.

What I found under the mailbox was a “Bubbie’s” pickle jar (the taste is in the brine!), with a half-scratched off line of masking tape that used to read “Brisket Spice”, that now contained half a pound of Sumac for my use. Amidst the highest concentration of organized Christianity in town, I managed to pick up the most Jewish jar ever.

I wasn’t expecting such a large container, but I managed to fit it’s entire length in my coat pocket and walk the long way home, through all the church parking lots and gardens. There was a full-on baby photoshoot going on in one of the rose gardens. Their baby wasn’t cute so taking advantage of the magic hour lighting was absolutely a good call for them.

Today is Sunday and I miss the man with the cigar. I hope he’s doing well.

neighborly love