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Who hasn't dreamed of walking away from his or her day job to try something completely different? Trading a white-collar throne to see the real impact of his labour inspired Paul Newman's forays into steak sauce and salad dressing, and enticed Francis Ford Coppola away from directing blockbusters into the less rarefied world of hotel management.

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Even Antonio Banderas, a. So why don't the rest of us try it? For an object lesson in sticking to what you know, read the latest memoir from the under set, My Korean Deli , in which preppy literary editor Ben Ryder Howe relates what happens when he trades sipping cocktails with George Plimpton at the lofty Paris Review for selling Slim Jims and lottery tickets at a convenience store he's just bought with his Korean American wife in Brooklyn.

Well, that's one way to find out all the things you don't know. In Howe's case, that trough includes a vocabulary not inculcated by his New England family's operating manual, Strunk and White's The Element's of Style. You're just supposed to have them," said Howe's grandmother, whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. Juxtapose that historical emphasis on understatement and self-control with the communal mayhem of Howe's in-laws' Korean household on Staten Island - into whose basement Howe has just moved with his lawyer wife, Gab - and you have a comic send-up of everything privileged North Americans take for granted: privacy, individualism and a smug aversion to talking about money.

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store

Whereas Wasps, with a long tradition of wealth and class, are risk- and flavour-averse, according to Howe, Korean Americans are a rising group of immigrants with moxie and forward motion. I need a place to store all my children's diplomas,' " he writes. Such are the little gems of self-awareness that stud this reverse immigrant narrative. Meanwhile, the daily grind of running the corner store that Howe and Gab buy for Gab's mother as a way of repaying her sacrifice to the family nearly strips Howe of his self-respect.

When a glowering guy enters the deli and announces that he's just been sprung from jail and wants to see a certain Lucy, Howe tells himself to "play it cool" and tells the ex-con that "Lucy's not here, man. It's a loose cigarette.

It's not the first time Howe's university education is eclipsed by the street smarts of the endearing, fast-talking Dwayne my favourite of the book's cast, which is as large and varied as Sesame Street 's. When another customer sidles up to the hated lottery machine, jiggling loose change she seems to have scraped from the inside of her couch, our hapless hero confesses he doesn't know a daily double from a split. The sophisticate who becomes the rube when suddenly plonked into a new environment is always good for a laugh, but this book is not just a gloss on the Prince and the Pauper theme, a hipster update of Eddie Albert in Green Acres , or Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places.

Behind the self-deprecation is a serious theme.


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The anglo-Asian cultural gap, brought to the surface by the meritocracy, highlights the communal and filial obligations customary to immigrant Asian families that can be easier for many of us to dream about - as this delightful year of living dangerously tells us - than to fulfill.

Susan Pinker is a Globe and Mail columnist and author of the The Sexual Paradox, who still has the penny-candy jar from the corner store her immigrant grandmother owned on the corner of Coloniale and Villeneuve in Montreal. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way.

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Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter. Read our community guidelines here. Customer help. On days like those there is definite appeal to selling doughnut holes. They want to be transformed. Just the opposite, in fact. It turned me into more of what I was. What was your proudest moment at the deli?

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe

I did not come to the job with the greatest attitude in the world toward customer service. And you can imagine my horror on August 14, , the day of the Great Northeast Blackout as Wikipedia calls it , when all those thousands of scared, sweaty, and thirsty people exiting Lower Manhattan came funneling across the Brooklyn Bridge, down that desolate stretch of Boerum Place and Atlantic Avenue, and the first convenience store they got to after walking all those miles was ours.

It was like running the only concession stand serving beer at the Meadowlands during a Giants game. I was shell-shocked the next day. But as we all know, it turned out to be a friendly mob, a benevolent mob, a mob that leaves you feeling slightly better about the world, which is sort of what running a deli does. For all of your Brooklyn love, you still live on Staten Island.

Do you feel like a Staten Islander?

BRUNCH at 7-ELEVEN in Seoul South Korea

Should we look to the great borough of Richmond for the next literary wave? Staten Island has inspired a number of writers, the one I always think of being the Reverend Pat Robertson, who lived here in the nineteen-fifties and wrote in his memoir that it was such a soul-killingly awful time of his life that he was inspired to become a Christian and ultimately found The Club. I like Staten Island.

For whatever reason, people tend to come here and stay. In fact, they rarely leave. People grow up here, go to school here, work here, and then grow old here. They stay for generations. As for delis on Staten Island, we did look at some, but the convenience stores here are different. You have a beautiful passage about the transcendent feeling of driving on the B. I do love driving on the B.