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Swap Meet: Another Smith Place Story (Part 2)

Swap Meet: Another Smith Place Story (Part 2)

Roberta allowed Roy his pout. While other kids from Smith Place could join Roy on his errands and even be part of his swap meet team, I paid my own type of penance. I would watch Roy and the kids ride off and I was left to hang on Smith Place with kids I did not really like. The solitude gave me time to think, and I started coming up with ideas to make money like Roy was making at the swap meet.

As I was cleaning up the left-over Los Angeles Herald Examiner papers that we did not sell my Mom told me not to put them in the garbage can because there would be no room for real garbage. The left-over papers, sometimes ten full papers, were a problem to get rid of. The man who owned the corner liquor store caught me throwing them in his dumpster and made me jump in and take them out. Don’t bring your trash here boy. The janitor at the Long Beach City College campus warned me once. If I catch you dumping your extras in my garbage can, I’ll see the campus cops don’t let you on campus. That was a real threat, because I usually made a dollar selling papers to the professors on campus who liked helping a waif with a dime purchase.

I started just dumping the extras in the garage. And the other paper boys also started dumping their papers there too. So, there I am on a Saturday, while other kids are at the swam meet, trying to bring some order to a paper tornado mess.

Payton, our next-door neighbor, came out, saw the papers, and said, you are going to set the neighborhood on fire. You better figure out what you are going to do but you need to get that fire hazard under control.

As always happened with Payton, he did not just complain. He always offered a solution. You know we can sell paper down by the ship docks. No one used the term recycling then. But poor folk knew that you could sell newspaper and cardboard and make some change. I had sold bottles back to the store, but I did not know we could sell newspapers.

There was a kid in our neighborhood who was smart as a whip. He was Mexican like me but unlike me, he could do everything well: music, art, school. Teachers loved him, so he lived a life I envied but I trusted him, and I told him my idea about selling the newspaper.

The kid’s name is Spanish was Canuto. But few of the kids could pronounce it. He was also one of Roy’s reliable swap meet kids. Roy could not pronounce his name either, so he decided Roy started calling him Three. Roy explained that the kid’s name had three syllables, but Roy could never get them right. I never knew a kid could be called by a number and as I look back on it, it was probably demeaning in some way, but the kid came calling any time anyone yelled out Three.

When I told Three the plan to sell newspapers, I could see the wheels in his head start spinning because he looked away into the sky and seemed to be talking to an angel who told him, yes, this can be done. But we needed way more newspapers than what the corner of the garage currently held.

Three told the other kids that we would take their extras for a penny a newspaper. Kids started selling us their extras and the garage soon started to fill and seeing this Payton spoke to our parents about the even greater fire hazard. My parents told Three and me that we had created the problem and it was our problem to solve.

This fire hazard ultimatum got me scared but it did not scare Three. Three then told me that he would talk to Roy and see about his helping us by using his truck to take the newspapers to the dock. I told Three that he had to talk to Roy, because if Roy thought it was my idea, he’d likely give me a book of matches and tell me to set the papers on fire.

Three then laid out his plan. We will pay Roy to take the stuff and we will tell him we will pay for the gas and share our gains with him. As Three had it figured out, a garage filled with newspapers ought to bring at least a hundred dollars. A hundred dollars! We were going to be rich.

What Three had not counted on was Roy’s complete lack of desire to load a truck with a garage load of newspapers. Roy wanted no part of it. Overhearing the conversation, Roberta was impressed with Three’s well-thought-out plan and told Roy that he should encourage Three’s business sense and help him. After a heated discussion and a promise of a fried chicken, fried catfish, and peach cobbler lunch, Roy relented and agreed to the enterprise. But he would load no newspapers onto the truck. That chore belonged to us.

Three came running out of the house and told me he had sealed the deal (well, he did not use those words. He simply yelled: Roberta made him do it!) Once again Roberta had come to the rescue. Though when I heard about the lunch, that’s the deal I wanted a part of.

School let out for summer. We had a garage full of paper and Payton scared of fire and Roy with a stomach full and Roberta happy she was encouraging Three’s business career. What I did not know was that Three had also in his mind how the newspapers would get from the garage to the truck.

Since I did the negotiations, I should not have to do the work, said Three. Your contribution will be to put all the newspapers on the truck. He sounded so sure of himself and I did know that Roy would never had listened to me and that Roberta could use Three’s excellence to persuade Roy. But still I felt like the kids that Tom Sawyer got to whitewash the fence.

My mom could not understand why Three was not helping as she saw me grabbing papers and loading them on to the back of Roy’s truck. Roy had put up the two-by-four siding on either side of the truck so I could load the paper up to eight feet high. As the neighborhood kids saw me carrying newspapers to the truck, some of the papers being carried off by wind, they laughed at me and just told them to stay out of my way because I had to do my work.

What is it about kids that when they are ignored that they want to be a part of whatever the person who is ignoring them is doing? Without me asking them to the other kids started carrying newspapers from the garage to the truck. Next thing I know, we have started a chain. One kid at the garage passing newspapers to the other kids in line until they threw them up to me to place them on the truck.

Payton and the other parents on Smith Place saw us and started bringing us sodas and water. One parent even brought us sliced up oranges. Seems that parents like to see their children work. I guess it makes the parents feel like they’ve done something right.

We developed a real working sweat. And the newspaper ink ran across our hands, arms, and our streaked faces. Every so often we would go to my front yard and hose off the dirt and dry ourselves only to return to start the dirty streaks again.

It took us kids about three hours to fill the truck. After we were done, parents slapped our backs and told us we were hard workers. We were just tired. Roy then threw a couple of tarps over the truck and strapped them down except for the back part of the truck which seemed strange to us, but Roy could be mysterious sometimes.

The next morning Roy told us that we would take off for the docks at about ten o’clock and we should bring out lunch because sometimes the line to sell scarp and other stuff at the docks could be long. My mom made a few burritos and Three mother packed him a lunch and Roberta filled Roy’s lunch pail as she always did.

I reached for the passenger door after Three had gotten in the truck because I wanted the window and did not want to sit next to Roy. But Roy had other ideas. Get down from there boy. Roy then escorted me to the back of the truck and told me to climb in with the newspapers and I understood why he had not closed off the back.

I could have cried to Roberta. I could have cried to my mom. Instead, I jumped up onto the truck bed and gave the look I always gave adults when they tried to put me in my place. The look simply said, is that all you got.

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