We had two grocery stores up on the avenue. Associated was located between 16th street and Windsor Place. Key Food was between Prospect Avenue and Windsor Place. We lived between the two. To tell the truth, I have no idea which one was better, mom sent me to both. I do know that Associated had the “Tab” where you grabbed your groceries first and paid later.
One warm, sunny day in June I walked into Key Food and asked for a job. Mom was breaking my balls about hanging around all day being a bum.
“Go out and get a job, all you do is sleep all day.”
I was sixteen.
Max, who was the owner was standing behind the counter. The store was empty.
“Do you need anyone to deliver?”
Sure enough they were looking for a delivery boy. I was actually hoping he’d say no because it was the start of the summer and I had no intention of working.
Max’s first question was about my school hours. I hesitated before I informed him I wasn’t in school.
“Good, you’re hired!”
At least I didn’t have to go over to New York to work. (Do you recall the old-timers using “New York” when describing the city?)
Didn’t have to fill out an application.
No background check, no references required.
No working papers, no Social Security card…it was all off the books baby. Pay day was a good day. All cash.
The small grocery store was located about fifty yards from our apartment. Max could care less if I attended school or not, as long as the customers received their groceries on time, the shelves were stocked and the floors were swept.
Key Food had a delivery bike with a basket in the front where I would place the groceries. My hours were eleven in the morning until seven at night. It must be noted that I was often late and Max would walk down the street, knock on my door to wake me up.
“Steve, you coming to work today or not?”
If I wasn’t delivering groceries, Max had me rotate the fresh milk, stock the shelves and sweep up. I hated Thursdays because that was the day the truck pulled up in front of the store and made the big delivery. We had to unload all the goods and send them down to the basement. It was hard work. At times Max would hire someone right off the street, on the spot, BOOM, you’re hired! Pay the man and he was on his way. Max ran the register too; he didn’t trust anyone else with the money.
The deliveries were all in the neighborhood; the farthest I had to go was tenth street, the block I was born on. Most of the deliveries were short rides but I would always make sure to stop off in the schoolyard to get a few shots up. On Saturday’s I couldn’t do that, there were just too many deliveries which meant more tips for me. Usually you’d get anywhere between a dollar to five with each delivery. Some cheap bastards wouldn’t give me anything. I’d pull up in front of the house, park the bike, lift the groceries, ring the bell and walk the groceries up the stairs. Set them down and be on my way.
My friend Donato Barrucco was the delivery boy for United Meat. Seems like he worked their for many years. We thought he’d own the joint some day. United was located a few doors down from us. Every now and then Donato and I would see each other out on the street and compare tips. He always made out way more than I did. Dude always had cash on him too. Drove a nice car, got all the chicks, carried a huge boom box around and spent a ton of dough on the batteries for the radio. I think that bad-boy took ten ‘D’s’.
One night while we were getting ready to close up shop I was sweeping up by the front counter. Max was pulling the cash from the register. I noticed two guys walk in the front door. All of a sudden I heard them screaming for us to get down on the ground. I was like, “SHIT!” It’s a stick up. I had seen this kind of scenario in the movies but now I was part of it.
Fuck! Where’s Adam-12 or the dude Dan-O from Hawaii Five-O when you need them?
I’d even take Starsky and Hutch, or even Baretta to come crashing through the doors. But this wasn’t Hollywood, this was the real deal.
I put my broom down gently and dove on the floor like I was going for a loose ball in basketball. I had thoughts of whacking one guy but then his partner probably would have splattered my guts all over the walls. Without looking up I could hear them talking in Spanish. They were behind the counter cleaning out the register. Just when I thought they were done, one guy comes over to me, bends down and looks me in the eye.
“DON’T GET UP UNTIL WE ARE GONE, WHITE-BOY!”
His breathe reeked of booze. I was now face-to-face with the guy and out of the corner of my eye I saw his gun. It actually looked fake, sorta like the shiny steel colored ones kids play cops and robbers with. All kinds of shit raced though my head. Was he going to blast my head off and watch it roll down the aisle. Was he going to shoot me in the leg, the ass?
I never wanted to see officer Doyle from the 7-2 but right about now I was praying he would walk in.
Nope, the fuck with the gun spared my life but winds up snatching a gold chain off my neck that my girlfriend Maureen had bought me for my birthday.
After what seemed like an hour, I finally got off the ground when I heard Max calling the police. I walked to the front door to take a peek out onto the avenue.
“STEVEN, STAY INSIDE!” Max screamed at me while I looked out the window.
Deep down I wanted to chase the scumbag and get my chain back.
But Max was right, so I stayed inside.