Comedian Danny Lobell explores Greenpoint’s street scrap business
I’ve lived in Greenpoint for almost seven years now. In that time I have tried my best to ingrain myself into this great community. But, as any New Yorker knows, community can be hard to define.
Who makes up my community? Midwestern transplants ready to take NY by storm. They get an office job, a scarf and a small dog and within five years head home to make a life in a more “stable” environment, or at the very least, to Park Slope. Then there are the people that have been planted here since the dawn of time: the elderly Poles and Italians who see me as I see the people from Idaho.
There are the folks that have lived here and weathered the storm for ten or twenty years. They tend to be single, often pot smoking shut-ins working on a script or a self made graphic design sensations.
Lastly we have the people you often don’t notice. The underworld that keeps the planet moving when you’re asleep. You may know them as the old lady who collects cans and sells plants out of her shopping cart, the guy who feeds the feral cats on the block and has a collection of carrier pigeons, the mysterious man with a van, or the 80-year-old guy who starts getting drunk alone on the corner at the crack of dawn. He’s always ready with a new quote when you walk by: “How are you today?” you ask. “Right train, wrong track bub,” he replies. Makes sense.
Recently I met someone who has been in the system for a while but remained undetected by me.
I had decided to take my dog out for a late night walk. As I left the house, a young man walked by me, pushing a shopping cart full of scrap metal. On top of the cart, I noticed a frame of what I recognized to have been at one point a glass top, wrought iron table.
“Nice frame,” I said.
“Thanks,” he replied. “I found it a few blocks away.”
“Just out of curiosity, what does a piece of metal like that fetch you at the scrap yard?”
“This one ought to get me seven or eight dollars.”
“That’s a shame.”
“If there was a piece of glass on that thing I bet it would fetch close to $100.”
“There was a piece of glass on it when I found it. It was in great condition too, so I carefully removed it and placed it on the ground in case anyone wanted it.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“Ok,” I said. “I’ll make you a deal. If you go back there with me, and the glass is still there in good condition, and you throw it in the cart and help me bring it back, I’ll give you $10 for the whole thing. It would save you pushing this frame around all night and free up room in your cart.”
“Deal,” he exclaimed.
As we walked he started teaching me the ins and outs of the scrap metal world. He told me a tale of his friend Phantom who used to make the rounds with him until he chopped a few of his fingers off with an axe by accident. Phantom was trying to remove the metal frame from a wood futon.
Magneto also taught me the scams like slipping a brick between the metal items before putting them on the scale.
Every so often he would see a piece of metal attached to something and he’d take out the axe and chop it off. I asked him if I could try once. It wasn’t as easy as he made it look. I started hacking at it and hacking at it as he stood there laughing at me. “Break off you stupid piece of crap,” I yelled with each swing.
People shouted out of their own windows for me to shut the hell up. I didn’t care though; I was having fun and I felt like a kid again. We finally located the glass and there it was on the street, as he promised. We lifted it into the cart and brought it back to my apartment, where I gave him the agreed upon $10.
The adventure was over and I hated to see it end. “Will I see you again Metal Man, I don’t even know your name,” I said. “ Not to worry my friend Wherever metal is discarded, left alone, not tightly secured to whatever its on or thrown away I’ll be there” – well no, that’s not really how it went. Actually, he proposed a partnership. He told me he can’t get access to a car and because of some stuff that may or may not have happened in the joint, he couldn’t rent a truck. But if I could, we could team up and get way more metal together and split the money. It may have just been the thrill of the night but I agreed right away.
The prospect of it all excited me, I immediately imagined myself as Magnito, driving down the neighborhood blocks and sucking in all the metal around me. I was gonna be the best in town, who knows maybe I’d get so much metal I’d need to employ a fleet of people to work under me. Maybe I’d even take chemistry classes and start producing metal at home to bring to the scrap yard, my own little version of breaking bad.
“So should I give you my number,” I said.
“No, I don’t have a phone,” he replied.
“So how do we go forward?”
“Well, meet me out in front of your building one week from now, same time, and I will take you around with me again. You still have much to learn young warrior.”
“Ok, I’ll see you then.”
With that he pushed his cart away into the night. One week passed and I waited, really just to keep my word. But he never came and I never joined the heavy metal scene after all. As for the table, my girlfriend listed it on craigslist and we sold it for $80! And so a new craigslist business was born.
See you next time with more Greenpoint adventures.
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