(A few of the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed and the weirded out. If they are dead, which is most of these people, I kept their real name)
My first wife would complain that I hung out by my mentor’s thrift hole too much and that ” I was going to become one of them.”
She was totally right. I wanted to become one of them. Early on I knew I was going to become a Junkman.
What was the appeal to a recent College Graduate?
I graduated in 1983. Reagan was President and I would read the New York Times and sweat. The ink of the paper would sweat onto my hands and I would constantly nervously wipe my hands on my face. Didn’t we have a Nuclear War in 1983? I think we did… and we were in a recession, not unlike the one we are in now.
I would go for job interviews fresh, read the paper, and look like a coal miner by the time I got to the interview. I was also not a good interview. Sometimes, I asked more questions of the interviewer, then the interviewer got to ask me. I’d say,”How about we just go to the park and get a hot dog, and talk out there.”
Hey, somehow I survived Corporate America for eight years. They would tell me that I didn’t belong there and I took that as a challenge to stay. If my department didn’t close, I would still be there today. Of course, I didn’t belong at Time Inc. That was not my people. My people was back at Manny’s thrift hole.
By the way, the reason that Managers would tell me that I didn’t belong in the Corporate World was because I wasn’t a team player. By the time the fifth Manager told me this I explained to him that he would follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and be out of the Company before me. He turned beet red, did not give me the raise, but I didn’t worry about that. I knew he would be gone and the next guy would give me the raise… and that did come to pass sooner than later.
In the end, I worked full time in the Production department of Time Inc. Pre-press Center. The full time gig was 3 shifts of 12 hour days. The remaining 4 days a week, I was a Junkman in training and I worked real hard at it. I mean that was my pleasure and joy. Every day that I worked as a Junkman in training, I was as happy as could be.
What does it mean to work at training to be a Junkman?
I would wake up as early as I could and walk the four blocks from my Seneca Avenue apartment to Cypress Avenue. I would buy Manny a coffee and find out what we were doing that day. If it were nice outside we would sit outside and wait for the whole crew to show up. Cadillac Joe, Mitchie The Cop, Joe Fish, Johnnie Juice, Little Joey, Special Ed, Polish Ed, Spanish Ed, Bald headed Richie, Johnny Frem, Chucky and his dad, “Old Man John”.
The list was much longer, much much longer:Long Island John, Ernie, Anthony, Iggy, Kevin, Leggy, Bam! Crazy Lenny…and what about all the girls that would hang around the shop. Manny might have been in his sixties when I met him but he was surrounded by a dozen crack whores who loved him. Sure they wanted all his money and he would give it to them, but he also loved his women and his women loved him.
I hung out with these people everyday I wasn’t in the Corporate world.
Most of these guys got into the business because they were criminals and when they got out of prison all they knew was removing stuff from people’s homes, so when they found out that there was actually a service in which they could get paid to remove possessions from people’s home without being chased, they were all for it.
I once asked Chucky why he didn’t break into people’s homes, he had done every other imaginable crime. He had so many convictions and criminal charges against him that whenever he got picked up by the cops, they used to not want to print out his criminal history because they were afraid of using up all the ink of the printer.
Any way when I asked Chucky why he didn’t break into other people’s apartments he said,”Cause my Dad could be sleeping in that apartment and I don’t want to disturb him.
There’s something that I have to explain that is really important about becoming a Junkman. I was lucky enough to just happen to fall into a Graduate Program for becoming a Junkman by moving into a neighborhood that had Manny’s Junk Hole.
A real Junkman is not busting his balls all day long. A percentage of his day is hanging out and exchanging stories with other Junkmen. And that is the education; listening to other people’s life experience as to how they got into the business as well as how they conduct business and how they live life. And actually it goes further than that. It gets translated into talking to all people and getting to know how they are operating and thinking. Becoming a Junkman is becoming an Everyman. Why? It’s not that we are all philosophers. We need to learn what shit to save and what shit to throw away.
I was taught by some of the best Junkmen out there. My two main mentors;Manny and Sonny were very shred, and foxy. They taught me to walk into a a place and say,”Hey, that box of gold is really heavy. It’s going to take two of us to carry it out of here. But I tell you what, just give us a couple of bucks, we’ll give you a hand, we see your tight for cash.”
In the end, my first wife was right, I became one of them. Still, I’m a pretty happy guy, if it wasn’t that I felt like a caveman in a dinosaur business. But I guess that’s another chapter