..Why did I get into the Junk business? What was the appeal for me? Why was trash and my personality such a nice fit?
There are multiple answers, so, I’m going to start with what happened to me during my nine years of working in Corporate America… and see where it takes me
Every boss told me that I didn’t fit in and that I needed to move on. They were right of course but I am a stubborn, tenacious, stupid motherfucker. So, if you tell me I have to do something because I don’t fit in, I am going nowhere. “Hey, how ya doing? I’m here to stay in your face.”
I told all four or five bosses this,”I do my job well, I don’t like to make mistakes because I don’t want to do it over again. I want to do it fast because I love my downtime to listen to my records and I have writing to do.”
Not what they wanted to hear
I worked in a pre-press shop that had moved into the Corporate World. So, you had Blue Collar workers with white collar bosses. And blue collar guys thinking they could make good in the White Collar ladder. I wrongly let people know that I didn’t think they could move up that ladder. I mean I was mostly right about people not moving up the ladder, it was just wrong of me to say or assume
The shop I worked in, was involved with the four color seperation of photos and layout work for a bunch of major magazines. Once the magazines were done, you could sleep, or hang out and watch television
I pushed the sensibilities of management and they were right; I was listening to 45 records on a portable record player, with a cigar in my mouth and sitting at the typewriter, writing terrible stuff,(I was only 23 when I started.) They said I didn’t fit in, and I was in my own thing too much to understand that they were right.
They were totally right. I mean when the fourth or fifth boss told me, “You are not what we are looking for in this environment. We are looking for career people.
I said,”You are the fourth or fifth boss to tell me this and so you’ll be gone before me. So, as long as I don’t make any mistakes and do what I am told, what the fuck are you talking about.”
I didn’t get my raise that year and I didn’t give a fuck… but I did.
I left the Corporate World when they closed the department. I should not have stayed it affected me in ways, I still can’t explain…
That Corporate experience taught me something about people… and what I’m about to say might surprise you. It’s not the typical answer, It’s not that people suck or that Corporations suck or anything like that, not at all. It’s: Don’t shit on my dreams and I won’t shit on yours.
I was making people feel uncomfortable and I was shitting on how other people thought the world should be lived and they were just returning the favor… On one hand, I did have every right to be there, but on another level, my kind of thinking of the world should be in a different community. I was in the wrong environment and I was ready for something else.
When the Corporate experience finished, I still wasn’t a good enough writer to get a job and I wasn’t interested in a Journalist job. I was after something else anyway. I wasn’t interested in learning to write on the job as a writer. I needed a metaphor and I already was into it and pursuing it. I was into old stuff and the Junk business
I mean to say, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I just was doing it. I felt really comfortable going to my mentors in the Junk Business, either Manny or Sonny and talking to them about this kind of street business that I was finding myself getting into.
Manny’s storefront was a shithole of a 300 square foot mess. He had no electricity, he lived in a loft above the junk… I swear to you that he might have been really living on top of the junk and there was no loft… but there was a loft, but if you removed the loft, the bed would have remained in place.
Every day at Manny’s there was something going on. There was always action of stuff coming in. Always. There was a buzz of excitement of all different kinds of people. There were antique dealers, there were flea market dealers, there were drug dealers, there were thieves and there were fences… there were hookers and Cops into pottery. It was an amazing crossroads of all of society.
Manny was sixty when I met him in 1983 and fifteen years later, he made me move a refrigerator with him in the snow for ten blocks… There was absolutely no reason for moving this piece of shit. He was testing me. He tested me in all sorts of ways. He was like my karate Master and I was his student having to hold water cans on each side of his body. He wanted to see me do what he said without answering back.
He gave me a task that didn’t make sense and I was willing to do it. That is something that when I was in Corporate America I did not stand for… Nobody in Corporate America ever asked me to move a heavy old refrigerator in the snow that could have killed me, and there I was gladly sweating and watched my breath turn into icicles.
I heard many stories about the Depression about street culture. The lessons are too innumerable to explain in a moment, and right here on the spot but what the key element to understand what Manny was trying to teach me, and he was my Yoda, (though it was never discussed) was that what people say and think is true, but the opposite of what they think and say is true as well.
I’ll give you an example. He mostly gave away anything he had that was outside the store. He might charge you pocket money and ask twenty dollars for a styling 1950’s couch with the big arms that double as a resting place for your cocktails, but he would give away a ton of stuff. Why? What good does giving everything away do?
It was an illusion. He had the good stuff inside the store that only a few people ever got to see… I was one. He would sell me things that Richie liked but not sell me the things that I actually wanted. Then Richie would get what I wanted and so on and so on…
He gave the furniture away because than other people in the neighborhood would get him clean out jobs and not expect any money for it. After-all he gave it all away.
Well, if there was something good in an apartment, he called the dealer into the place and so, many good things in his possession never made it to the store. All the items that weren’t taken out by dealers and that came to the store was already deemed garbage.
Genius. He made money and looked like a Saint to the neighborhood. Every woman in that neighborhood made him food. Everyone helped to find him clean-out jobs. Landlords all paid him to remove the stuff because they also thought he gave it all away.
Other junkmen who dropped off stuff, had to pay him as well, because as far as they could tell he was giving it all away…
This kind of reverse logic where you look like a victim but you actually know what you are doing appealed to me. I have always been fascinated with Con Men and Scoundrels.
I had found my own Underground Corporation where I could be accepted and they could accept me. There was something about that street smart life that appealed to me. It might be related to my Historic background of being a second generation Holocaust survivor. I was underground and would survive anything, anything.
I remember my first wife saying,” You hang out by Manny’s too much, you are becoming one of these street urchins.”
And I thought she meant that I was doing something good. I really didn’t see the downside to hustling to make a buck. I knew I could survive a Nuclear Holocaust. I wasn’t afraid of what sharks there were in the waters of life on the street. I knew how to avoid the teeth of violence for the most part.
For the most part.