Monday, June 7, 2010


Boy, yesterday was the wrong day to stain my deck. The heat was brutal at 9:00AM. Towards the end of my five-hour the words of Matthew Broderick from the 1988 movie, "BILOXI BLUES," it was; Africa hot.

Don't forget, I lived in Las Vegas for 5 years so I know what 116 degrees feels like...but I never labored in it. Laboring in yesterday's 90 was awful...but once, a long time ago, I toiled in worse conditions.

In the late 70's, my friend GRAMPS got hooked into a great part-time job by his "connected," Italian immigrant neighbor Gaetano, (Gae). Working side-by-side with Gae, Gramps was paid top-dollar at an off-brand soda distributorship in Manhattan. It was a cherry job for Gae because he used to get kick-backs from other immigrants to be replacements when his crew was short. When none of Gae's people were available, he'd let Gramps use his friends. Under those circumstances, I worked with them three times, (without paying a kick-back). The first time was the most memorable.

Right on schedule, with Gramps riding shot-gun, Gae's dark purple Buick Regal pulled up in front of my parent's house at 4:30AM. Like a zombie, I shuffled through the stifling, thick, hot and humid summer night. They were wide awake and laughing. I had never met Gae, so I rubbed the sand out of my eyes, gave him a hearty handshake and expressed my appreciation.. After a colossal yawn, I went into "just shoot me mode," and I curled up in the back seat.

In a heavy accent Gae said, "If any one's gonna sleep in my car, it gonna be me." I sat up. A few blocks later, at a strip mall near the entrance to the Belt Parkway,we pulled into Mister Donut. Gramps said, "The first benefit of working with me is, get anything you want." Gramps turned to Gae and said, "Another benefit of working with me is, I'm not a cheap bastard. Trust me, when I drive and its this f**king hot, I turn on the AC."

Outside Canarsie's only 24-hour eatery, (and paradise for vagrants), I downed my first chocolate French cruller. The heat was so intense that before getting back in the car, I regretted getting coffee. At the same time, Gramps kept-up the verbal abuse until Gae, cursing in a combination of Italian and English broke-down and turned on the air-conditioner.

It was still dark as we flew on the empty highway. My hands were a sticky mess from melted chocolate. I was licking my fingers clean as we got to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, (in ten minutes...if I hadn't experienced this world record, I would never have believed it)..

In the city, Gae timed every light.  We were on West End Avenue in no time. By the docks, under the West Side Highway at Twenty-Eighth Street, Gae honked his horn at three prostitutes. They all waved and the bleach blond wearing a skimpy tennis outfit picked up the front of her skirt...thus proving she wasn't a natural blond.

I was still grinning from the side-show as Gae turned right onto a street of identical, Civil War-era, white-washed, three-story warehouses. Halfway up the street on the left, two seedy looking guys were loitering in front of E and R Beverage Wholesalers. Gramps rolled down the window and handed a key to the taller man. In broken English the big guy cried, "We shouldn't work today, it's hotter than a steam room in Palermo." As Gae ranted at him in Italian, Gramps roared, "Shut-up and open the gate."

The man entered through the office door and disappeared. Gramps proclaimed, "Open sesame." Seconds later, the stillness was broken by the loud, chain-driven steel barrier rising. This metallic clackity clack stirred a greasy rat the size of a cat.  In an impulse of uncertainty, the behemoth rodent ran back in forth before scampering to the freedom beneath our car.  The start of the new work seemed to be signaled as it disappeared into a blackened alley. The entertainment at E and R seemed to never end.

The warehouse was a never ending series of piled soda cases. Gae was the leader and got to work immediately.  He lustily loaded full pallets with a fork-lift and drove them to a staging area up front. At a much slower pace, six other men followed his example and processed orders for hot dog vendors, bodegas, vending machine moguls etc.

Under Gramps' tutelage, I continuously carried and loaded individual cases onto pallets. He positioned me in front of an oscillating industrial fan. But it had little effect. The heat was so staggering that I was soon covered in sweat.

The sun was barely up as the place became a beehive of activity.  Customers came to pick-up their orders as we never stopped gathered and setting-up others. After three hours the owners showed up. In their early forties, the bachelor Cozzafava brothers looked like twins. They were both sloppy fat and had their thinning black hair slicked straight back.  The bosses each wore white tee-shirts with an over-sized Italian horn charm dangling from the neck, (one of their shirts had the large letters F-B-I on it, but I couldn't read the caption. The other brother had an Italian flag on his).

Even though these men were named Ed and Ron, Gae and Gramps called them Nunzio and Guido Vaselino behind their back.

At ten, I was on the verge of heat prostration when Gramps came by. I was flipping my tee-shirt over my head to mop my brow as he said, "We're getting drinks from across the street." I was dying of thirst but couldn't decide what I wanted. I said, "What are you getting?" Gramps said, "A Sprite." I said, "With all this soda laying around..." He stopped me and said, "These geniuses don't have ice." I said, "Oh." And ordered a chocolate milk.

Later, Gae was having an argument in Italian with one of the workers. The brother in the FBI shirt, (I now saw it read; Full Blooded Italian), angrily rushed out of the office and yelled at them, "Jesus f**king Christ!  You're in f**king America now!  Speak f**king English!" Within his own tapestry of profanity Gae responded, "This mook's been here eight months, and just loaded ten cases of diet ginger ale for Malzone." The brother went off on the worker and ended with, "Whatsa matta Enzo, you don't know your ass from a hole in the ground? I don't need to hear my smallest goddamned account complain ...capisce? Try thinking every now and then...that old fart only orders regular!" Gae started laughing. The brother snarled, "Don't laugh, you f**king peasant, two years ago the only English you knew was; square or round?" Gae was still smirking when he added, "You mullion, you're so f**king stupid, you don't even know that your name means fag in English."

The other brother came out of the office.  He was putting a hideous, fluorescent lime-green, short-sleeve dress shirt over his flag shirt. He handed a plain light blue one to his brother and winked at Gae, "Mind the store, we're going for a long business lunch."

It wasn't even eleven and the Blimpo brothers were gone. A minute after they left, everyone stopped what they were doing when Gae screamed out, "Chinese fire drill!" Gae ran to the phone as the other workers, as if their lives depended on it, started furiously loading soda cases onto dollies. They had a hundred cases curbside in five minutes. I said to Gramps, "Whats going on?" He smiled, "Those pigs clear sixty grand each and don't have a care in the world. They're such schmucks, they're clueless and have no idea of their own inventory. Well, we know other guys who are willing to take our extra shit off our hands...and here they are."

A dented late-model, beige station wagon with the fake wooden sides screeched to a stop out front. The driver came in and secretly handed Gae a wad of cash. All our workers hurriedly loaded the whole shebang in two minutes. Gramps smiled, "Keep this quiet and I'll buy you lunch."

I said, "Wow, that's crazy." Gramps said, "They'll never miss it. We do it a couple of times a month when they have a two-hour business lunch. Which means, they eat and drink for an hour and fifty minutes and do whatever they do with hookers, for the other ten minutes."

We had our lunch at noon. After, we loaded a beat-up, un-air-conditioned, unmarked, white Ford Econo-Van. Gae, Gramps and I were going to make deliveries. On that model truck, the middle seat was on top of the motor. Being the lowest on the E and R totem pole, I got to sit on the hot-seat. I was on the verge of fainting when we passed a bank on Ninth Avenue. It's digital clock said 1:PM, 104 degrees...I thought I was going to die.

Our first delivery was on a tiny, one way, cobblestone street. At the far end of the narrow block, I saw a hot dog wagon hitched to a twelve year-old Rambler Ambassador. We got out and loaded the cases onto hand trucks. I was peeling my pants off my butt as Gae banged on a seemingly vacant storefront's door. The windows were covered by yellowed newspapers and the door was disguised to look like it was boarded up. The rusty mailbox had a small plastic label that read: B. MALZONE.

I heard several dead-bolt being unlocked before the door swung open to reveal Malzone. The curmudgeon ushered us in with a flurry of Italian obscenities. Apparently the heat was getting to Gae too. In the unlit room, surrounded by soda cans, boxes of frankfurter buns, napkins and industrial-sized condiment jars, he got in the cranky old-timers face with a salvo of his own.

In marginal English Malzone said, "Okay, okay. But hurry up.  And keep your dirty Sicilian fingers off my stuff.  Then get outta here!" Gae said, "Batty, why are you always such an ass-hole. You never say please or thanks. We come when it's freezing...or like a furnace...and you just piss on us. All the other hot dogs guys give us a little something at Christmas or offer us a drink on a hot day..." "Hey," Malzone interrupted, "I told you a million times, my name is Batista or Mr. Malzone. And if you wanna drink?" He picked a stray can of orange soda off the gravelly floor and said, "Have any can of your own piss-water...just lay off my Coke and Seven-Up."

Gae told him, "Shove it up your ass, Batty" He cursed him in Italian and slammed the door as we left. Malzone stuck his head out and got the last word, "I'm the customer, you're a worker...that means you're justa piece of shit. I'll tell Cozzafava and he'll fire your sorry asses."

We finished our deliveries and dropped the van off. On the way home, Gae blasted his air-conditioner but continued to dwell on being insulted by Malzone. At Varrick Street he made a sudden left. Gramps said, "Where are you going?"  Gae said, "Shut-up."  Halofway to the next corner Gramps yelled, "I get it! There's Malzone." Gae pulled up at a fire hydrant. He pulled out a twenty dollar bill and said, "Follow my lead."

Malzone was weary of us. Gae waved the money in his face and said, "Mr. Malzone, we had a hard day, it's hotter than hell and I think we should apologize. Let me have two with the works and a Coke." Malzone lightened-up, served him and said, "Next." Gramps said, "Two with mustard and sauerkraut, and a Seven-Up." He turned to me and said, "How about you kid?" I wasn't hungry. Two hours earlier, I had a roast beef sandwich and fries for lunch.  But I followed along and said, "One with mustard, stewed onions and a Coke."

The miserly fossil grinned while muttering figures as he totaled our bill. Finally he said, "To show I like all you pisans, I'll give you a little discount..." Gae cut him off, put the twenty back in his pocket and said, "Keep your f**king discount and f**k you!"

Malzone knew he was getting stiffed before we got back in the car.  Still he wove a tapestry of Italian profanity before whining, "You scumbags had to take my Coke and 7-Up too."

What a great day. Even though it was a scorcher, I'm glad I wasn't too young to appreciate the concept of, "standing up to the man."

Staining my deck in death-defying heat was another story. Here it is two days later and my back is still killing me. My sunburn still smarts and my hands are so swollen, cramped, blistered and crippled-up that typing this column is tough...and there's nothing funny or memorable about that.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories. My greatest moment at E&R was the bi-centenial weekemd. We delivered 2500 cases of soda to one guy. And the Blimpo brothers gave all of us $60.00 - GRAMPS

Anonymous said...

This blog was HYSTERICAL.

I made liquor store deliveries. I once brought a bottle of scotch up the Sanitation Union head and got a $50.00 tip.

Dirty water hot dogs were good. But I used to live on "dirty water" sausages. That may explain my brain damage. - TICKLEMEERIC

Also tell your rwaders that Sabrette sells their onion sauce in Shop-Rite for $4.99.

Anonymous said...

"Dirty water dogs...the best there ever was. And those onions were great too. Nothing in Chicago comes close!" - RUB33

Anonymous said...

Well Steve, you were always a great entertainer and funny guy when we were growing up but WHO KNEW you would become one of our great story tellers.

Good stuff and nice acknowledgement of Mr. John Wooden, the ultimate coach and teacher - SKIP