The first job outside of 616 I ever had was working for my father Jimme. Off and on from September ’84 through the early part of July ’85, me and my older brother Darren schlepped our way between 616, Jimme’s place on South 10th Avenue, the 2 Subway and the Upper West and Upper East Side. We cleaned high-rise offices, high-rise condos, and high-rise co-ops in the process. The last of those jobs was twenty-five years ago this week. This was Jimme’s way of making us earn the money he’d been giving us (really me) since the end of ’82.
Whenever anyone asked me what Jimme did — which was really rare — I usually said, “Oh, my dad’s a carpet cleaner.” I didn’t see him as a simple janitor, although it was true that he cleaned stuff. But Jimme didn’t clean toilets or latrines or bathroom sinks and tubs. He cleaned the floors of office buildings — carpeted, wooden, or otherwise — thoroughly treating any surface he encountered with industrial cleaning machines. He cleaned high-rise co-ops and condos where the mortgage or rent payment per month was more than our rent at 616 for a year. It was an important job in his eyes, and I wasn’t going to diminish it because other folks couldn’t understand or wouldn’t have a clue as to the amount of labor involved in Jimme’s work.
I didn’t have much of an idea beyond seeing him mop a floor at Salesian High School until I started working for him on a Friday night or a Saturday or Sunday morning. This wasn’t an easy task. We saw Jimme almost everyday for the first three weeks of the summer of ’85, cleaning the carpets and floors of one high-rise after another on the Upper West Side, especially between 67th and 72nd near Broadway. We did mostly night work, in office buildings and in condos. We also had a couple of stints on the Upper East Side around 86th. We carted the industrial carpet cleaning and floor equipment for stripping, buffing, and waxing on the 2, 5, and 6 trains at three in the morning.
Jimme didn’t drink much during these weeks of withering toil and sweat. He was constantly irritated with us, though. “Got no reason to be tired, bo’,” he’d say. “Hurry up an’ dump out that water!,” Jimme would yell. And with a killer’s cold, strangled look, he’d say to us, “I dun told you how to do dis shit right, now I got to do it my gotdamn self!”
It was fascinating seeing Jimme work and work us as hard as he did. Darren didn’t complain much, but then again, he didn’t do much work either. It was up to me and Jimme, and with my dad in a perpetual state of irritation, I was getting pissed too.
“I feel sorry for the people who work for you during the day! I hope I never have to work for you again!,” I yelled over the roaring machines on several occasions.
“Shut up ya faggat!,” Jimme would yell back. Or he’d just mutter in anger, and look at me as if he were ready to stab me in the neck.
In some of the condos we’d clean, Jimme would help himself to whatever he thought wouldn’t be missed — sport coats, shoes and socks mostly. Sometimes we’d take breaks to go to this Jewish deli that used to be on 65th and Broadway/Columbus, across from the Lincoln Center. They made turkey, hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches stuffed with meat and loaded with every ingredient you could think of — all for five dollars. That, a bag of Doritos, their blondie desserts and a sixteen-ounce carton of Hershey’s chocolate milk made the torture of working for my dad during his brief period of sobriety more bearable. Otherwise we’d tune the radio we had with us to the Mets game while we were working, broadcast by WHN, an AM country oldies station (as in ’40s and ’50s oldies) that was obviously on its last legs.
We’d work these high-rises at night, sleep during only part of the day, with siblings Maurice, Yiscoc, Sarai, and Eri at home, after all, and catch the Subway for another night of work. Until the week after the fourth of July. Jimme decided that it was now all right to have some of his Miller Beer “pep up” while we were working. Besides the usual “I make fitty million dollas a week” and “I buy an’ sell muddafuccas,” Jimme decided that a Subway car was a good place to relieve himself at two in the morning one night.
The lack of sleep, my dad’s crankiness, and now his verbal abuse and drinking while working had all caught up with me. After that week, I quit. I told Jimme, “I’m not doing this anymore. You’ll have to find someone else to drink with.” Those were good times, good times. At least when compared to living at 616.