As an introduction, my brother David wrote a book on the 1950’s New York teenage gangs, and in the process, had many fascinating conversations with people from those gangs. He would often share little gems with me during the research and writing of the book. There was one man – Anthony – who had particularly delightful descriptions of his neighbourhood in Brooklyn. One such description – of gang boys stealing fruit from a local fruit peddler – really captured me. I decided to make a miniature version of it for fun. As David sent Anthony pictures of the fruit cart being built, more and more stories emerged, some of which affected the building process. The finished cart is much more weathered than at the beginning, and the fruit is much riper (with little flies!). Another man – Joe – also gave some background for the scene. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did!
January 25, 2017
Joe to David: I got paid $1.25 a day working 10 hours carrying fruits and veggies up tenement. Hoping for a tip which many times was a dime. Horse stable was nearby and had to be at the market by 5am. Those were the days.
David to Joe: A tip of a dime would be 8% of your entire wages for the day. If you could string a few of those together that would make up a nice addition to your wage.
Joe to David: Guess I had it made, never thought about it that way. Did get bumped up to $1.75 eventually. Tony cock eye was my boss, cheap bastard. Us guys all had a different boss and so we got together and rented our own horse and wagon and they gave us a horse blind in one who wouldn’t make left turns. We got the message really fast.
Anthony to David: Sarah’s fruit stand is alive and clean with colour and a picture story of today’s horn of plenty. Sal’s is black and white with some pretty big flies around some over ripened fruit. The kind that has to be eaten right away. Same theme different time. HAH. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the fruit and the slightly dusty horse waging his tail to chase those pesky flies. I can even see me asking Sydney if I can touch the horse and will he bite? Syd being the nice old man that he was would say “Get away from him or I will make him bite you” He didn’t like us around him that much because we used to steal fruit from him and he was always on the alert with us. Ahh, the good old days.
Sarah to David: Now I’m thinking I should paint some of those bananas a little too ripe, and see how hard it would be to make some wee little flies on some of the fruit 😀
January 2, 2018
Anthony to Sarah: Sal bought his cart during WW2. The war to end all wars. Sal bought his cart from a peddler’s daughter who lived in Coney Island where Sal worked as a waiter after he jumped ship from Italy. He often told the story of how it smelled of the fish that the previous owner used to bring to Carolina’s Restaurant. When Sal moved to Brooklyn and couldn’t find any work he remembered the girl’s father with the push cart had passed away and it was just sitting in his yard drawing flies and stray cats from the fish smell. And him having a language problem and no other trade then working all ends of the restaurant he went and bought it from her.
Sal himself used the push cart to support his family. He opened a small meatball and spaghetti joint as they was called. A few tables and an old stove was all they had. The trade was Navy Yard workers and Sailors. He finally made enough money to buy an old beat up truck and retired the push cart until Mike and Eddie were strong enough to become part time peddlers after school (sometimes during school depending on the cash flow). He was quite a character. You could write a book on him alone.
PS – I would show the picture and have David show how many lives and memories that went along with the beginning of making the cart to the final ending. Just like my neighborhood. The cart went in the fires that consumed a once beautiful neighborhood and ended an era.
January 3, 2018
Anthony to David: If Sydney had a push cart like that (new & beautiful) he would’ve been the envy of every Jewish peddler in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Sydney had an old beat up four wheel horse drawn wagon. The fruit was placed on an angle starting low in the front side – say about 3′ high – gradually going up to maybe 6′ feet high in the very back. It would be about three aisles of various fruits.
For Sydney to get something from the back he would climb up in many different ways or angles to get at what he needed. The good small fruit was kept close to the curb side (lowest). It was placed that way for two reasons. One was so the Jew (we all called him that) could keep an eye on them so no (Sand Street) Angel could swipe them, and second, he always pulled up with the low part at the curb so customers could stand on the side walk without fear of being run over while they browsed his fruits. They would hang around, talking in Italian about what they all heard on the Italian hour on their well-waxed Emerson or Philco AM radio. And of course sometimes gossip about the first one to leave. HAH.
It was like an old western stand off. Everybody waiting for the first one to make a move before Sydney grabbed the reins of the horse and gave his little kissing sound that the horse knew it was time to head down the block to the next gathering or stop of the next crowd (he hoped) of shoppers. And he would start the same thing over that he just left.
When the weather allowed, I would walk with my Mother (when she could walk) and kind of head him off at the pass (get closer to the direction he was coming from), HAH, so we could pick the better fruit quicker. If enough of the other women on the block saw too many making the move, there would be some words passed. Of course with a smile on their face. Ahh, I am back on Gold Street around 1945. Are you sorry now that you asked me a simple question?
Short answer: The cart that Sarah made would be more like the push cart that Sal would have, only newer. One of his sons (Mike or Edward) and one other kid (mostly me), for a few bucks would go along outside the Subway station on paydays and peddle fruit. That was some trip back to High Street where he stored the cart until next week. Unless he got a good buy at the fruit market. Then we would make an extra trip. Like in the summer, we would go down to Bedford and Steinway streets – the coloured neighborhood. For that long trip, Sal the peddler would put the push cart on his truck, drive it there, and pick us up at night to take us back home. I love talking about the old neighborhood. I think sometimes that this is what heaven will look like. Of course without the tears.
PS – Those scenes of Mulberry street in the Godfather showed the old push carts pretty good. But they didn’t have any horse and wagons if I remember right? Sarah’s cart was 100% better. I guess at one time when they was new they would look a litter better. 🙂
January 4, 2018
Anthony to David: Sal the fruit peddler in no way had any money. In fact, the most money he ever had was when he had too much wine one day at Sally Curcio’s bar. He fell down, broke his leg, and the wise guys made him sue (for a cut). But that was not how he got the money – he was always just a hard working old man from Italy. Or like the cops would say another fkng Guinea.
It was when he was in the hospital that they put a too-hot cast on his leg and messed him up big time. Burned him down to the bone. He had 21 skin graphs and stayed in the hospital for 6 months. He was left with a gimp that he played to the hilt after the pain was gone. After that, he must have gained 50 pounds. Especially when they gave him a cane and almost $50 grand. YABBA DOO! He was on his way to being the big shot in the neighborhood (in his mind).
Now he could really laugh at some of the book makers who were lucky if they had lint in their pockets. The book makers were always trying to get him to run numbers because he was always going all over Brooklyn selling fruit. Now some of the wanna-be’s would come to him for a loan. Yes, he did get some of his dream by charging them VIG (heavy interest). I guess now in his mind, that was pay back for all the times they teased him.
I can still see him now sitting in his favorite chair with bread crumbs on his belly and a glass of wine in front of him. And don’t forget the provolone – he loved that and could sit at the kitchen table for hours upon hours. We used to all wonder how does he sit so long and never go to the bathroom? His answer was always the same: “Once you go, your belly likes it and wants to go more.” (Don’t ask on that one! HA!) The Italian head of the Family always sits at the head of the table. He would just point either with the cane or his finger, and with a very heavy accent say ” Getta me dat”, or “Getta me dis.” He got real lazy. Harmless though. You had to love that man. He was a riot but didn’t know it.
Mike and Edward were his sons. Lee, Deeda and Nancy were his daughters. I went in partners with him (a bookie drop). We bought one of the local book making bar & bookie fronts with his money. Called it “Papa Sal’s”. God did he love that. It was run by his son Eddie. I was there in name only. I had a regular job trying to raise a family and adjusting myself to all those big changes I came home to. It was very hard to expect too much from a tough wild kid who went away and came back a quiet married man, disappointed in everything going on around me. I had a deep feeling of comaraderie in the service, like I did in my gang or club or whatever you want to call it (Sand Street Angels). Now that was all gone in a big way. Drugs? Projects? Blacks? Spanish? Traffic? Doo Woop? Too much to handle for now. What a whirl wind.
February 9, 2018
Anthony to David: Right after a nice cool summer rain you could see the steam rising from the cobblestones – almost like a ground fog in some movie. All we needed was a few actors to show up like Sydney and his horse with that familiar sound of the horses hooves, clippity clop on the cobble stones. Almost romantic, the love we had for our neighborhood.
Approx. 9”w x 7”d base.