Another fine summer morning of no school and endless possibilities that Maspeth would have in store for a young boy. Correction – young man – because this summer I turn 15, and 15 has that “young man” sound.
It’s Saturday, so Mom is not working, which means I don’t have to make my own breakfast. The sky is the limit. Pancakes and bacon, poached eggs, eggs-and-bacon, whatever the man of the house wanted.

My mom was always loving and supportive. She never gave me a hassle about not having a job during the summer vacation. She knew I was a hustler, that’s the word we used back then. I don’t think the word “entrepreneur” was invented at that time. That’s what I was, and it didn’t hurt that she got $20-$30 bucks a week from me. That was big loot back then; especially from a soon to be 15-year-old man… that was Big Bank!

I can’t say that others didn’t jump on the opportunity to bust my chops about not having a real job. Not for nothin’ – they didn’t know how much I made, and my mother wasn’t about to spill the beans (even she didn’t know exactly what I made). She was an Italian gal that grew up with the rule, “Keep your mouth shut.” She knew I did odd jobs, like painting fences, mowing lawns, and cleaning out garages, so she was happy.

The biggest pain in my butt was her brother, my Uncle Frank. If a hemorrhoid had a son, it would be him. He always had something to say. If it wasn’t about my long hair or my torn faded jeans it was always, “Ya gonna get a job this summer, Paulie? Ya gonna work this summer, Paulie?” What really bothered me was that he always ended the sentence with that slight pause before my name to make his point.

Growing up in Maspeth – and in some Italian families – it was a need-to-know basis, and they didn’t need to know my big money maker. In those days trucks weren’t like they are today. In those days things ‘fell off’ trucks, like polyester women’s double knits, handbags, and fireworks. Those things and things like that always seemed to ‘fall off’ trucks. That’s what I was told by the older guys that sold the stuff to me. Some of those guys would ask me, “Where does a kid like you get the cash to buy this stuff?” and I would say, “Doing odd jobs,” which was true and a great cover. Most of my jobs came from my old paper route. I’d knock on doors and make ’em an offer they couldn’t refuse. Everybody wants a deal. That’s how I learned how to negotiate. I’m sure I was terrible, but I thought I was so cool.

The guys in Corona near Lemon Ice King and a guy in Astoria were the guys with the broken trucks. The guys from Corona were the coolest. They drove Caddys and dressed well and had the better stuff. I liked going there because of King of Corona Ices and who didn’t like those ices? Nobody – duh!

Occhiogrosso’s Bakery on Grand Ave was also great for ices. My grandfather would always buy from them. He was a mason and did work for their family and to him they were ‘paisans.’ If you visited his house and didn’t bring Occhiogrosso’s pastries, he’d let you know.

My grandfather’s house was a major factor in my growing financial empire. It was my stash house. Come to think of it, it wasn’t a very big stash. A few boxes of knits and whatever I could afford with odd job money, but it was a big deal to a young man.

My grandfather was retired, and he had a three-car garage in the back of his house on Mazeau Street which he used for his masonry truck and tools, along with a single garage attached. The single was the best place to stash. My uncle Dutch (They called him Dutch because he had blonde hair and blue eyes and when younger had a Buster Brown haircut) kept his car in there and never drove it. Uncle Dutch got married and moved to Brooklyn. That’s what you did back then.

My grandfather was first generation here. He spoke half Italian and half broken English – geez I miss him. Frank wasn’t the only one to bust my chops about getting a summer job. Grandpa also did that in Italian and broken English. “Che succeed, Che fah you gonna getta da job? You wanna da job? I get for you. You wanna da job witta Mr Maggio, da deli, I getta for you.” Thank God he was retired, or he’d have me working with him and I’m sure he’d work me to death doing hard masonry labor. Kids were objects back then.

My uncle Joe who was my mother’s brother was my favorite uncle. He had a great sense of humor. One morning I woke up and he was sitting in the kitchen having coffee with my mom and said, “There he is up bright and early – 12 noon.” Joe was, let’s say, a “smart” guy. He knew those guys in Corona with the broken trucks. I had to be careful because if he knew I was around those guys he’d cut off my business opportunities at the knees.

Uncle Joe was part of my network. He didn’t know it and like I said before, it was a need-to-know basis. He also had things that “fell off” trucks, like cigarettes from North Carolina. He also had a stash house: his brother Frank’s garage. (You remember Frank, the Hemorrhoid’s son.) I convinced him that my friend’s parents would like a deal on cigarettes but he’d have to sell them to me at his cost so I could make a few bucks. I’m still not sure that I got them at his cost, but I like to think so because I was a seasoned negotiator.
One day like any other day during my summer vacation I had a garage to clean out and a few lawns to mow and
I thought it would be a good idea to take a trip to Corona and see if maybe some fireworks had fallen off a truck. I had an old empty guitar case that was perfect for fallen fireworks. I took the B58 into Corona and stopped at the gas station that collected those fallen fireworks and sure enough my guitar case was full. I walked out of the station proud of my seasoned negotiation skills only to hear the violins, and the needle scratching along the record. There he was, UNCLE JOE giving me the look. He said, “I wanna talk to you later,” and later we did. He read me the riot act about getting into trouble with the law and what that will do to my mom. He made it very clear that those guys now knew that I was his nephew, and the fun was over. I learned a lot about how my decisions in life could hurt others and from that day on, nothing fell off trucks.

Paul DeFalco was born and raised in Maspeth.