marvin from elsie’s sub shop

by Penny H., 17

It’s a hot and humid summer day in Red Bank and everybody would rather be at the beach. I stroll down Monmouth Street, observing storefronts and restaurants, hoping to find somewhere that the perfect subject for my story might be, preferably somewhere with air conditioning. I am this close to calling it a day and heading back to Project Write Now before my sweat stains become a serious problem, when a small hole-in-the-wall sub shop called Elsie’s catches my eye. I’ve seen it many times before, but never thought about it much until now.

From the outside, it seems like the kind of place you’ll find Red Bank locals drinking coffee and grabbing sandwiches on their way to work. I have never been to Elsie’s before, yet it feels familiar. As a New Jersey native, I strongly believe that the corner-store deli is essential to everyday life, no matter where you are from.

I am greeted by a man at the counter who introduces himself to me as Marvin. I am hesitant to interrupt his work, but he is more than happy to talk to me after I explain the Interview Project and what I am trying to accomplish.

Marvin’s story is not one that can be confined to a single page or two. Marvin emigrated from Guatemala to the United States, specifically New Jersey, in 2005, and has lived in the Garden State ever since. He has worked at Elsie’s for the past fifteen years, and when I asked him where he imagines himself another fifteen years from now, he answered matter-of-factly, “Here.” Marvin loves Red Bank and tells me that out of all the places he has worked, this is by far the friendliest.

When Marvin moved to the United States, he had to work long hours doing various difficult jobs. He was grateful to escape the violence and instability in Guatemala, but his life did not suddenly become easy after he moved. He had to support family members that still lived in Guatemala and also find a way to support himself as he acclimated to a completely new culture. Marvin has worked for landscaping companies, nightclubs, and restaurants, but has found the most fulfillment and joy working in the food and service industry.

Marvin lives in Asbury Park with his wife and their 19-year-old son. Marvin mentions that his son is over six feet tall and I can’t help but laugh a bit as I look at Marvin, who stands eye-level with me at 5’2”. Apparently his wife is short as well, so Marvin suspects that his son’s height is due to the fact that he ate a lot of American cheese growing up. (I pause for a moment to contemplate my consumption [or lack of consumption] of American cheese and wonder if that is the reason why I am so short.)

What I find most striking about Marvin as we continue our conversation is how he exudes great pride in his work, but is also humble. The joy he gets from working at Elsie’s is because of his passion for helping others and making them happy. He doesn’t have any grand visions of the “American Dream.” He simply wants to work, spend time with his family, and enjoy his life to its fullest potential.

I believe that despite what most would think, his story reveals the core of what the “American Dream” is truly about: living one’s life in the pursuit of the utmost important value, happiness.

Little Silver, New Jersey