“You can tell the Bulls whatever you want about anybody you think is guilty…Nobody knows anybody’s real name anyway. ” -Old Man John
“You can get rich in this business, but if you want a guaranteed fortune, you’re better off getting yourself a cookie in a Chinese Restaurant.” – Manny my main Mentor
“Antiques are old things that you find in hundred year old garbage bags.” – Bald Headed Richie- “The Greatest Garbage picker in the world”
The names in this book have not been changed, because there is no protecting the innocent here. There is no protecting anyone, because all the characters had nicknames and who knew anybody’s real name.
Do you think Richie The Cop, Pete The Pipe, Dino, Cadillac Jack, Johnny Juice, Old Man John, John The Fag, Long Island John, Johnny Boy, Bald Headed Richie, Chucky Chuck, Polish Eddie, Spanish Eddie, or especially Special Ed, care if I write about them… Besides the fact that most of these guys are dead, they just wouldn’t care that their story is being told. I don’t know if they would like it or not. They just wouldn’t give a shit!
When I started going to Manny, and getting my education about becoming a first class Junkman, I was surrounded by a bunch of hardboiled men. I almost said hardboiled criminals, and some of them were criminals. Chucky Chuck, and Johnny Boy had long rap sheets. The joke on these guys was that whenever they were arrested and the cops started pulling up their records, the printer would die before the book was published!
And Chucky Chuck and Johnny Boy were around my age…
But though I was hanging out with guys who did hard time, and guys who were in the mob, and guys who were fencing stolen jewelry, when we sat around talking, there was an openess and confessional tone.
Unlike an A.A. meeting where there is remorse, my guys mostly talked about their crimes in open bravado. Cadillac Jacktalking about where he suspects Dino dropped the body in the 40’s and Dino gloating,”Not even close. They will find Hoffa before they find Scaro.”
What made these guys go from being criminals to being Junkmen?
Old Man John going through a box of jewelry that had gold chains in it said,” I can remember the day getting out of jail and coming to Manny’s huge warehouse and saying ‘What gives?’
Manny cuts off Old Man John and finishes the story,” I tell John, he no longer has to break into apartments to get a t.v. set or some jewelry…Just wait for the people to die, and then go to the house and charge the family money for removing the stuff that you would have stolen.”
“The man is a genius,” Old Man John says as he hands the gold to Cadillac Jack who is going to weigh the gold and rip off Old Man John, as he pays him cash.
Everybody knows that everybody here is going to get ripped off in some way or another. I am going to buy stuff from Manny and not give him enough money. On another day, I will move a refrigerator ten blocks for him in the snow, and he will make me buy him a coffee. One day, one of these idiots will break into my apartment and steal my Shaft leather jacket. It was all part of the deal
Somehow it was all much more honest than my night job at Time Inc. At the Corporation, I knew where I stood, I was on the bottom of the ladder and I wasn’t going anywhere because I wasn’t interested in it… But other people, other people in the company felt uncomfortable about talking about anything except the company business and so their unease, was contagious throughout the department.
I was dedicated to doing my job at the company well, because I hate redoing work. I loved my downtime to read, write, hangout, or sort some stuff I had gotten from Manny that day.
At Manny’s when a truck pulled up with good stuff on it, we were like vultures. We grabbed at the boxes that looked like it had antiques in it, or something that could make money. I often was left alone because my tastes were “oddball.” I went for the round television set that later hung by my kitchen sink and I would watch as I did the dishes.
The guys appreciated my hustle, but also thought I was a fool…and maybe I was…Joel the Bear, an antiques dealer was there and I was telling him a story and he said,”I don’t have time for your bullshit, I’m here to make money, not hangout with scumbags.”
I loved my “Scumbags” at Manny’s and so did Manny. Manny must have been 65 when I first met him in 83. He had lived his life, a full life. As a kid he worked with a Jewish Ragman in the lower East Side, and so Manny who was Italian spoke fluent Yiddish! He spoke to me in Yiddish on occasion. It was impressive.
As a young man he worked for the Mob in a whorehouse. He took a fall for them and went to jail. When he got out, they rewarded his silence by giving him a huge warehouse,”Manny, you are a junkman, you go to dead people’s homes and take out their crap for money. We get the money, you get the crap. On one floor, you got the bed and furniture crap, on another floor, you got the knick-knack crap, on another floor you got the Prostitutes, and on another floor you got the stolen goods.”
Manny ended up with 26 stores throughout the City. Let’s say he had a job in the Bronx, he’d clean out the house, take the “Cream” – cream is the good stuff, the gold, the silver, the jewelry and bring the rest to one of his storefronts in the Bronx. He would unload everything at this store and asked for no money… The next time he was in the Bronx, he’d come back to the store and drop more stuff and get some cash from the guy who was running the storefront for him.
Manny did not pay rent for the store, that was up to the guy who was running the store for him. He just supplied the guy with crap. By having all these stores, throughout the city, his truck was always empty, could do two three jobs a day, was eventually not giving the money to the Mob, (his ties were severed, I don’t know how) and then was making money from dropping off “the garbage” to one of his 26 stores!
That was a plan. A plan I could not duplicate. I’ll explain later why not…
I loved hearing all the old stories about New York…We sat around sorting boxes and when some “Guest” came by; either an old Mobster, Criminal mastermind, Antique dealer from “the old days,” Real Estate Broker, or even an occasional Politician, we heard some new story about Manny or Old New York. How amazing is that! There I was a newly graduated kid fresh out of College, getting quite a different kind of education. Talk about your school of “Hard Knocks.”
I was in it and totally accepted by these hardened old timers. Why? They could see my enthusiasm for stuff and their stories. They wanted to tell their stories about treasures found; about book collections bought for a nickle a piece that had a crisp five dollar bill in each book, or about the time Manny had to clean out a Tiffany warehouse and how he broke all the glass, in order to scrap the metal,”What was I going to do with all that color glass, I needed to bust it and bang it out,” Manny said defending destroying half a million dollars worth of shades.
These guys recognized that I had no negative attitudes towards them for the most part. I was excited to be a part of this business and their lives. When I went out at night I’d have a hundred packs of vintage funeral parlor matches to give out to my Punk community in the East Village.
I was an Oddball to “The Music Scene.” I was an Oddball to the Corporation. At Manny’s I was an Oddball, but that wasn’t a negative thing to be there.
I remember my first ex-wife saying,” The more you hang out with these guys, the more you are going to become like them.”
“And what’s wrong with that?,” I questioned.
And I guess that was why she became my first ex-wife.
So, after the guys got to know me, I found out that Manny was being nice to me because he had an angle on me. He said, “Kid, I got an angle for you…You are going to be an ambassador to High Cocks. We are sending you out to bust cherries of the High Cocks.”
“Busting Cherries of High Cocks?”
“Yeah, you are going to be our liaison to rich people’s homes. You are going to speak all intelligent, and get us in on some of their gold.”
And that is why the next chapter is called, “Busting Cherries of High Cocks.”