The Kosher Butcher in Monticello wiped his wet blood on his dry bloody apron and shook hands with the two women who had just allowed the Butcher the privilege of becoming a “Matchmaker.”
Both women became my Grandmothers. Yes, they allowed the Butcher to use his meaty flanken head and come up with an idea of his own that my little Holocaust Mom, and my incredibly angry Mob connected father would make a great match.
That match was placed in a gas tank, soon after I was born. My parents did not last together for my first birthday. They fought. My mother’s mom swore to me that my Dad tried to run her over with a car.My Dad’s Mom called my Mom and “her family” primitives. Violence, and screaming and yelling is not what I remember. Fortunately, I remember nothing and only have memories of two bitter families, reminding me of how everybody hated each other.
Of course, I am indebted to that meat carving dandy. Without him, I would not become a Junkman. I don’t know what I would be, but it probably would be a silly Doctor or mean spirited Lawyer.
So, what exactly was the butcher thinking? I don’t even know if Fiddler On The Roof was on Broadway yet. Maybe he knew the old story by Sholom Aleichem…
Anyway, he sees my Dad who wants to be a Drummer and a Race Car Driver and instead gets taught the piano and to become a member of his Interstate Trucking Family’s business.
And The Butcher sees my mother, a one of a kind kid who survived the Holocaust in hiding, who missed Hitler’s butcher blade and decides the sky’s the “limited” for these two characters.
Without even going into any more of my background, I think we can all see some hints as to why I would be attracted to listening to old mobsters who collected stuff.
Maybe not. Maybe you need more. There’s lots more.
I was ping-ponged between my parents after the divorce. My Dad would pick me up on Friday after school and drive me to his mom in Monticello.
Monticello was the base of their Interstate Trucking business. You had to be connected to be a part of an Interstate Trucking business. That’s how the world worked back then. How much Mob was involved, I couldn’t tell you. Jews do not talk about their mob associations. They are somewhat embarrassed and they are also not stupid people who want to be arrested.
My father would drive the two hour ride from the Bronx to Monticello in one hour. He sat like Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt; he ripped through the streets and the highways as if he were running away from something or chasing something. He barely spoke to me. I remember no conversations with my Dad when he drove.
One day, he threw the nickle or dime into the bucket of the toll booth. There used to be a wood board that rose after the nickle registered. The coin did not register and my Dad decided to go through the barrier. Cops chased us for a while but my Dad was able to get away.
I loved my Dad’s parents. They loved me. I wish they would have been able to love my Dad. When my Dad was a teenager, he came home and announced that he wasn’t going to school anymore because of his acne. My Grandmother, put him to work on the Truck, and my Dad stuck with the trucks.
He was a tough guy. He came home to his Mom one day covered in blood. I was with her eating a tuna fish sandwich. She started screaming at him,”I just bought you that shirt!”
He screamed back,”But Ma, It’s not my blood!” That was the end of the fight… My Grandmother ran the trucking business after my Grandfather got sick, after he died and after she disowned her only son.
My mother’s side of the family had a different kind of toughness. When the Germans came to town and said “The kids were going one way, and the adults were going another way,” my Grandfather said,”Fuck You!”
He packed up his wife and kids. I don’t know exactly how many kids. Three kids survived. One of them was my mother.
My Grandfather survived because he came from a large Lithuanian family of Hillbillies. You best believe I come from hill people. His people knew how to climb trees, shoot guns, kill little animals and people who got in their way and whatever else they needed to do to survive, even before Hitler came around.
My grandfather packed up his family, rode to an old farmhouse, and not unlike the beginning scene of Tarrantino’s film, “Inglorious Bastards” , dug a hole in a barnyard, (essentially a grave and threw his family in there for twenty months.)
He went out at night and stole food, because he couldn’t trust the family who he paid an enormous amount of gold to, to feed them and hid them. Pressure by The Germans to give up Jews was high. He told theCatholic Lithuanian family that his brother was part of the Jewish Underground knew where he was, and his brother would come back and kill them, if something happened to his family. His brother was part of the Underground but did not know where they were. He survived with his family in a bluff.
They hid twenty months in that grave, never seeing light. They crawled out into the middle of a battlefield between the Germans and The Russians. Bullets flew from both directions. They crawled to the Russian side and were greeted as ghosts by the worn torn Russian soldiers who found them. They were half dead;both my family and The Russians.
After the war, my Grandfather moved his family to The States and to Monticello where he opened up a summer resort bungalow Colony .
During the off season, my Grandfather took me to the woods and taught me how to shoot and kill little animals in the woods which he made me clean and eat. He taught me how to climb trees and always screamed up to me,”Go higher!”
As a kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in The Bronx, I was in a bit of a war zone myself. People were sick. Unfortunately, unlike today where they have guns to kill each other, in The Bronx, sadistic behavior dominated.
Kids took a dummy of a kid and brought it to the roof of an apartment building. When Tommy’s mom came home, they pointed to the roof and said,”Hey, isn’t that your son on the roof.” Then they threw the dummy down. Tommy’s mom had to be taken away in a hospital. When I struck out in the ninth inning with the bases loaded, they took my Mickey Mantle bat and set it on fire, then they chased me home as if I were Frankenstein’s monster. Both the bat and I survived, a little torched.
The stories of The Bronx go on and on. I had a baby sitter who went to answer the door. He never came back. I opened the door to see a trail of blood going down the stairs. The babysitter was never mentioned to me again. I had fights all the time. By fights, I mean the Italian and Polish kids picked on me for being Jewish.
I did know how to fight from my Dad. One day I came home with a bloody nose, and my Dad wouldn’t let me into the house till I knocked on the door of the kid who busted me up and I had to punch him in the nose.
Fighting, and more importantly, knowing how to take a beating without crying became second nature for me. I never ran away from a fight. The fights were vicious. Violence and being around it, was just part of life back then in the Bronx. When my mother moved us to Flushing Queens in the seventies and no one picked a fight with me, I had no idea where I was.
I mention this background so that when you think about why would a College Kid not be freaked out by being surrounded by Manny, and other former mobsters and criminals, you kind of get it. Manny and the idea of violence was like being home for me. I was at home around the stories of violence…
A couple more things about my background that will make you understand why I wanted to get involved with old things and collectibles.
My Cousin and I would hide in the attic in Monticello. In the attic were old things in old trunks. Old letters with stamps, old newspapers, old pots and pans. Old things that survived the war.
After the war my Grandfather went back to the old house in Lithuania but he couldn’t remember where he buried the rest of his gold. Maybe I have been looking for that treasure. Maybe.
Back home in The Bronx, I stole my mother’s silver Dollars and bought baseball cards and Comics with it. I was punished. Ironically, the cards and Comics I was buying would be worth more than the Silver Dollars I was spending to buy the cards and comics, had they not been thrown out.
One of my biggest scores in the collectible world happened when I was nine years old… In 1969 my Cousin Stanley came up to the bungalow colony with his motorcycle gang and picked me up and threw me on the back of his motorcycle and took me to Woodstock. It was after the rains, and no band was playing, but it was quite a scene for a kid to see. I liked the Hippie community and atmosphere…
Going to Woodstock made me do this:
I worked as a Bingo Recaller and made about a 100 bucks in tips that summer of 69. A Bingo Recaller is the person who calls back the numbers after someone says “Bingo!”Every time, I recalled a winner and brought them their winning prize of fifty cents or a dollar, people would tip me a dime or a quarter.
Right before Labor Day, I went with my teenage 13 year old buddy, Scotty Foreman to the Head shop and I bought out 100 Woodstock posters for twenty five cents each! Why I bought out this head shop of a hundred posters at a quarter a piece is anybody’s guess. I like to think that I was like Danny Partridge and that I knew these posters were going to be worth as much as 700 bucks at today’s eBay market.
Unfortunately, these posters were thrown out, with all my comics, baseball cards, and stamp collection when my mother decided to move to Israel after she was held up at gunpoint in a Beauty Parlor in Flushing.
She did not tell me we were moving to Israel till we were already on the plane. I was in shock, “What about my Mickey Mantle Cards, what about my Mad Magazine collection?…What about my 100 Woodstock Posters!”
Collecting was in my blood, that was for sure. Even as a kid collecting was therapy for me. It got me away from the violence of The Bronx and the horrible realities of my family’s tortured past. I sat there watching old movies like Little Rascals, The Bowery Boys, silent comics like Keaton and Chaplin, old Warner Brother Cartoons, The Three Stooges, Star Trek, Outer Limits, Thunderbirds Are Go, and old Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as I sorted what I thought would be valuable one day.
As a nine year old, I was already a great picker. I still am blown away that a nine year old kid would buy a hundred of anything, let alone a poster for a rock concert that came and went. I really knew what I was doing. Those posters would be worth 70 grand today!