Sunday, April 27, 2014

Steve the Junkman

A few doors down from my house on Somers Street in Brooklyn lived Steve the Junkman. That's what everyone called him; his profession became part of his identity. In a time when people still actually fixed things instead of throwing them away, Steve collected junk and gave it new life. He was good with his hands and sold his second-hand creations at bargain prices. He would have a field day if he lived today. I see the perfectly good things that people throw away and think of Steve.

In the summer, Steve put the junk business on hold and moved into the more exotic fruit business. His horse-drawn wagon (after a good cleaning I hope) became a travelling fruit store, and he meandered around the neighborhood announcing his presence by ringing a cowbell. Steve bought his fruit from the local stores probably a day before it became inedible, and tried peddling it before it imploded. His skin was wrinkled and mahogany colored from hours of sitting in the sun making his rounds, I'm almost certain Steve had a wife, but in all the years we lived near him, I can't recall ever seeing her. Maybe he kept her in the cellar like Mrs. Bates.

Steve was a wild-looking guy with a shock of white hair and very crabby, so mostly us kids steered clear of him. He or his horse (depending on how good your aim was) were often targets of a winter snowball... maybe that's why he was nasty to us. Anyhow, as he motioned me toward him one day, you can understand my reluctance to obey. He gave me a smile (I could tell because his tooth was showing) and I slowly approached as my boyish caution turned to curiosity. He reached down and picked up a handful of oats that had spilled from his horse's feedbag. Handing them to me, he instructed me to plant them in my back yard, water them, and watch what happened.

Normally, I probably would have just taken and thrown them away when Steve wasn't looking. This day must have been an awfully slow day for be because I actually planted the oats in our back yard. Maybe I could grow a horse! Imagine my delight when a couple of weeks passed and the planted oats produced beautiful green grass. No agricultural college graduate ever felt closer to the land than I did that day. The next day I thanked Steve for my lesson in Farming 101. He gave me a wink and a toothless grin.

Steve had a married daughter living with him whose husband was away serving in Korea. On another slow day in the neighborhood, we were going through people's garbage pails. (Talk about a new low...going through a junk man's trash.) One of my friends came across a packet of love letters written to Steve's daughter by her soldier-boy husband. He must have been extremely horny over there because these letters contained the most intimate and lurid details about their love life. I realize today what a terrible thing we did, but back then, to a bunch of pre-teen boys, this was like finding gold. 

Steve's daughter was a rather plain-looking girl who would not get a second look walking down the street. After those letters made the rounds though, she never lacked for an all-too-willing kid to carry her groceries home. Wherever you are Steve's daughter, I apologize for this unbelievable intrusion into your personal life.

(Originally published 9/24/08)


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