The first time Junior Najor stands next to me, I stumble.
We’re standing in front of the literary journals at his newsstand on the east side of 30th Street in North Park, and he has come around from behind the counter to help me look for The Sun magazine. He emanates a kind of heat and comes toward me with eye contact so direct (though somehow gentle rather than aggressive) that I take a sideways step to the left and trip over my shoe. I try to laugh it off and end up babbling incoherently about the other magazines I’m looking for.
Five minutes later, as I flee with my reading material in a plastic bag, Najor calls out, “Hope to see you again soon.” And although I have already sworn I will never show my face here again, when he says this, I begin to ponder which still-in-print publication I might need to come back for tomorrow.
That’s the thing about Junior Najor: he’s got um…appeal…and he knows how to use it.
3911 30th Street, North Park
The next time I return to Paras Newsstand, it’s on official business (a personal reconnaissance mission disguised as an editorial feature), and I’m armed with my notebook and tape recorder. It’s a Friday evening, and because I’m approximately an hour late, I apologize as I walk in the door.
“Aw, it’s okay,” Najor tells me. “You’re worth the wait.”
I’m relieved to hear the corny come-on because it means the eye-contact thing from last time doesn’t mean we have a personal chemistry that I need to avoid; it means this is just the way he is. The comment makes his gelled hair, his beefy muscles, and his smile feel a little more… obvious.
“A crazy lady just brought me toothpicks,” he says, holding up a pack of frilly green cellophane-topped sandwich toothpicks. It’s a random detail whose significance will reveal itself at a later moment. For now, while Najor tends to a customer at the register, I lean against the counter and settle into the urban atmosphere that I traded for the suburbs two years ago and miss so much.
The Paras Newsstand sits just north of the corner of 30th and University, at the bus stop on the east side of the street. Outside, a blue, white-and-red advertisement board announces Nestle ice creams “chillin’ inside,” and overhead, the underside of the awning that stretches down the length of the sidewalk bears fluorescent lights that brighten up the block as the daylight dims.
This is my favorite corner in all of San Diego, especially on a Friday night, when it’s bustling with its urban collection of people. Other corners in, say, Little Italy, Hillcrest, or downtown, certainly chime with the sounds of festivity at this time of day — glasses clinking, forks against plates, drunken merriment — but few offer the same range of humanity as this corner. Some people teeter past in heels or ties, dressed up and holding hands on dates, looking fresh and shiny and eager for the evening’s promises. Others whiz past on skateboards or shuffle by in baggy knit caps, Elvis Costello glasses and slouchy who-cares clothes. And some rest wearily on the bus bench with grocery bags and backpacks on the ground by their feet. It’s not necessarily the best of everything, but it’s some of everything, which is, in my opinion, the best.
The perfect vantage point for taking in the neighborhood’s population is from behind the counter at the newsstand, which has stood in this spot since 1949, long before Junior Najor landed on Earth to lure the ladyfolks with his direct gaze.
“Grab a drink,” the hunky 30-year-old says, pointing me toward the large coolers in the back. “Seriously.”
At the same moment, a dignified-looking man with white hair and navy-blue slacks drops a stack of magazines on the counter. In the few moments that I stand beside the man awaiting Najor’s attentions, I note that the inside of the older man’s pants pocket (yes, it’s slightly open and I can see inside) bears a smaller-scale version of the blue-and-white gingham check of his button-down shirt.
My first thought is, That looks nice. My second thought is, Details like that cost money.
Then, when I realize that the register has beeped about once per second for the whole time I’ve been standing here looking into the man’s pockets, I think, My God, Junior has been ringing this guy up for a long time.
Indeed, the man needs two bags for his magazines, and his total comes to $193.91.
Later, after the man has left, I ask Najor if that’s normal, a sale like that. He leans down, lowering his voice conspiratorially and says, “Okay, so this guy owns businesses in Mexico. He’s very wealthy. A lot of times, I’ll walk him out because he has so many magazines, and I’m putting the bags into a Ferrari or a brand-new Corvette Stingray or an Aston Martin.”
Then he offers more details about the guy, how he’s “not one of those arrogant rich dudes,” but is “a really cool guy,” how he says this time he’s here in San Diego for a couple of weeks and that in that time, Najor will probably see him twice more, when he’ll spend “half or maybe a quarter” what he spent this time.
“And this guy buys the pre-made tuna-fish sandwiches out of the cooler, too. I’ll watch him handle a bag of Cheetos in, like, two seconds, too. He’s awesome,” Najor says. “But, anyway, I have a few of those really good customers I need to keep me in business.”
I wait again while he rings up a lady with a shopping cart and one large orthopedic shoe who purchases a copy of Elle Décor.
Part of Najor’s charm lies in the combination of his boyish language (he uses the terms “awesome” and “dude” a lot), his penchant for philosophizing (he explores both religion and extraterrestrials with me), and the trusting way in which he meets a few of my more probing questions with, “I really hope you don’t write this down, but…”