BY NORBERT RUG
I am sure most of us have taken on a few “side hustles” to make a bit of extra money beyond their regular job. I have had several of them from running my own handyman business for 35 years to helping Donna, my wife, run her bath products business that sold her lotions, potions and soaps internationally. But the most unusual side job ever I had involved working in place in New Jersey. I am not really sure what to call it because it wasn’t a factory, retail establishment or plant. I’ll leave what to call it up to you. I have changed the names to protect the innocent (me) but all relevant facts are true.
The adventure started in 1974. We had just recently found out my wife was pregnant with our third child and I was sitting on my couch with my family watching television when my phone rang. When I answered I heard this Marlon Brando, Godfather sounding voice on the other end.
“Hello, this is Tony Colombo” the voice said. “I hear you are pretty good at building acetators. I have three German made machines that I bought three years ago. They are all disassembled and sitting in my building on pallets and I can’t find anyone to assemble these. Do you think you can do it?’
First off, I was flattered that my reputation had proceeded me. I told Tony that I had no idea but if he was willing to pay me a generous wage and pay all my expenses I was willing to fly down and take a look. I love a good challenge.
The following weekend I flew to Newark airport where he had one of “nephews”, Nico, pick me up and drive me to his place of business. It was a typical slummy building in a slummy part of town. Steel doors no windows etc.
We parked in an alley and Nico let me in to the dark, dingy, musty smelling building. When he flipped on the lights it didn’t look much better. He took me down a short flight of stairs and showed me a pile of pieces that reminded me of a bowl full of elbow macaroni.
The only documentation they had was a German language, operator’s manual. Fortunately it had good illustrations because the only German I knew was the swear words my father would say when he was mad. None of these words were in the manual.
As I was assessing what I had gotten myself into Tony arrived with his driver, Mattia. Mattia came in first and did a quick sweep of the area before Tony came in. Tony shook my hand and asked me if I thought I could help him. I told him I wasn’t sure but if he was willing to give me a chance, I would try.
In our discussions, Nico told me that just because Tony socialized with organized crime figures, that didn’t mean he was a member of these families.
Thus began a nine month undertaking to build these machines. Every Sunday, I would go to Buffalo International Airport for an early flight to Newark. I went so often that my daughters told everyone that I worked at the airport on the weekends.
I flew so often that I got to know all the flight attendants and would have my first cup of coffee before we even took off. I felt like a rock star. There were a few times when I was the only passenger on the Boeing DC-9 aircraft. One time, as they were serving me my morning Danish, I asked what they did with the leftovers. The stewardess answered they threw them out. I handed her my carryon bag and told her to fill it up.
Every Sunday, Nico would pick me up at the airport and take me to the plant. He was my chauffeur and my helper. He was also my cook. He would take some football shaped rolls and cut them in half and rip the soft center out. Nico would then fry up some eggs with peppers and onions to stuff inside. Good lunch.
One day we were working on the second floor, setting up some tanks, when I looked out the window into the next building. The buildings were so close together that I could have closed their windows. There was a hooker there plying her trade. Nico said it happens all the time. Yeah it was that kind of neighborhood. I would call it a slum but that would be an insult to all the other slums in the world.
We worked hard assembling these machines and at the end of the day I would retrieve my pay and money for the next week’s airfare from a file cabinet. Cash, always cash. There were also other things in this cabinet. I discovered that there were three businesses listed as running from this site. There was a concrete and masonry supply company, and a restaurant equipment supply company. I don’t know where all the goods were stored for these companies because there was none of this where I was at.
I also discovered a copy of his annual net worth and it showed that he owned a home in Palm Springs Florida. The furnishings in this home were worth more than everything I owned. I also found out he was a board member of several banks. Yeah I am a snoop. Man, was this guy rich.