We spent all of our deposit bottle money on fireworks, so Pecker and me had to come up with a new plan to build up our dollar pool. It was about 9AM, we were sitting on the stoop on Nelson Street when my cousin Johnny happened to walk by. Well he’s not really my aunt or uncle’s son but he’s, what we call a dishwater cousin. Which means we’re not related at all? His mother and my mother are great friends, but more like sisters. That’s why Johnny and his brothers and sisters are all my cousins.
He’s much older, like 15 going on twenty. We all looked up to him. He looked much older for his age, He is a good looking guy and the girls were all over him. He has black hair slicked back with pomade jell. Today he’s wearing a white tee shirt, black pegged paints and sneakers. I started thinking that maybe he could help us put together some cash. After all Johnny always has a scam going and he has more street smarts than all the kids I know.
As he came up to us I said “hi Johnny where you heading.” At that point he sat down on the stoop next to us. Johnny said, “No where in particular. You guys look down and out, what’s up?” I started to tell him that we burned all our money on fireworks, and that we’re sitting here trying to think of a way we could get some cash to fill our pockets again. Johnny started to laugh and said “well maybe you can hook up with me. I plan to head over to the dilapidated buildings and rip out as much lead and copper I could find. Then I’ll head over to the junk yard and they will pay me cash for the stuff. That’s where the big money is.”
All those dollar signs got the best of me. I could see Pecker face who had his eyes wide open. I then turned around and looked at Johnny and said “It sounds good to me, but my mom told me that she would kill me if I ever went into those condemned buildings, they are just too dangerous to fool with.” Pecker said “are you crazy! We can never get that kind of cash collecting 2 cents deposit bottles. We can earn 10 to 20 times more than penny pinching empty deposit bottles.”
Johnny got up and said. “Well you’re getting older and it’s time for you to take some chances.” So I said OK let’s do it. Can you show us what to do? Johnny laughed and said. “It’s a dirty job, but if you strike a good lead and copper mine it’s worth the risk. We jumped off the stoop and started on our way toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel construction site. Johnny said “attention! We have to be on the lookout for the watchman, police and gangs of kids looking for the same prize.” At that point I wanted to cut and run.
But the dollar signs were too strong and the three of us kept moving. We found two targets. Both buildings have broken windows from kids having target practice with rocks or sling shots. The doors were ripped out and there are piles of junk everywhere. We’ll be lucky if we don’t get cut from all the broken glass or fall a couple of stories from the holes in the floors.
All of a sudden it hit me. What happened to all the families who lived here? I started to remember hearing stories of U.S. Marshals pushing people who had little or nothing into the street in all kinds of weather. What happened to them? Where did they go? I got a sick feeling that the next time it could be me and my family. I snapped out of it when we got inside the building and I heard Johnny saying.“First we start looking for the bathrooms or kitchens that have not been picked clean.” He hands us a couple of rusty cast iron pipes he found. “These pipes are the tools of the trade. We can use them like hammers to crack open toilets, sinks and bath tubs.”
We found a toilet, which to our surprise, was untouched. Pecker was the first one to give it a whack with his pipe. Well, there was stuff flying every ware. After a an hour or two banging away at anything we could find all of us were covered with plaster dust, dirt and some goop that smelled like shit.
The smell of piss mixed in with the dust was so strong that I couldn’t stop chocking. My eyes were burning and snot was gushing out of my nose. Johnny wasn’t kidding when he said it’s a dirty job.
After we put aside as many lead pipes we could find, Johnny showed us how to rip out BX cables from the plaster walls and start stripping them for the copper wires inside. All in all it was a good day’s work. We put together about forty pounds of lead and twenty pounds of copper. We managed to avoid the watchman and police but we did notice a gang of young kids tearing out linoleum to make ammunition for their carpet guns. They didn’t even look at us.
Moving as fast as we can, we dragged our loot to a vacant lot where Johnny started a fire. He explained that we needed the fire to melt down the lead and burn the casing off the copper wires. We spent the whole day working our butts off. Johnny brought the lead and copper to the junk yard where he collected ninety dollars and some loose change. He came back and showed us the money. WOW! Me and Pecker were so happy until it came to splitting up the loot. Johnny kept fifty dollars for himself and gave us twenty bucks apiece.
It was not exactly a three way split. We used the loose change to buy egg cream sodas for our ratty looking crew. We went to the candy store that has a soda fountain. Why they call this soda an egg cream I’ll never know. We sat at a small counter and asked the kid behind the counter to make us three egg cream sodas.
Good thing the owner of the candy store wasn’t there he would have thrown us out because we smelled so bad. I just love to watch them make this soda that has no eggs in it. The kid loads a glass with Foxes-U-Bet chocolate syrup then puts a splash of milk on the syrup. Then comes the tricky part, he tilts the glass and shoots seltzer into the mix holding a spoon. The syrup, milk and seltzer start to foam up. There it is a chocolate soda thing of beauty called an egg cream. We finished the sodas in thirty seconds.
I was still upset about the split but then realized that we wouldn’t need Johnny to help us on the next job. We had our money. Now I have to go home and try to explain to my mother how I got all this shit on my body. I don’t think she will buy any story I tell her so I better be ready to face the pain of the wooden spoon.