Bottle rockets and loan sharks
I moved into Flushing in late May 1981 when the neighborhood was primarily made up Jewish and Italian families. I moved out ten years later when the common phrase was ‘Will the last American out please take the flag’. Flushing had become increasingly populated by various Asian ethnicities who, ironically, voiced an opinion that other ethnicities did not really belong there. I drove through Flushing last summer and was in shock. The oriental language symbols on neon signs stacked upon each vertically like a Tetris game was claustrophobic. Roosevelt Avenue was no longer a friendly or familiar place and I was the one without the ‘green card’.
My Flushing apartment was my first true step into independent living. Other adventures of apartment life involving roommates or sublets all ended in disaster, sheriff removal for non-payment of rent, lost friendships and the usual drama. This was my own apartment. I gave my new address only to my employer and to my two sisters. I was leaving behind all previous contacts and friends. I was leaving behind a fast life (ha – or so I thought) and starting over – at age 21.
Fourth of July. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. I had some bottle rockets my sister had given me. I sat in front of my apartment building, Emily Towers off Northern Blvd, smoking cigarettes and drinking soda out of a bottle. When the bottle was empty I sat there shooting off the bottle rockets. Hot summer night, small little shorts and bottle rockets. Richie walked up to me and said ‘bottle rockets?’. I looked up at him. I didn’t know Richie and I didn’t know anyone in the building, in Flushing or in Queens. I was a Long Island girl who got into a good amount of trouble in Manhattan. “Yep, boring”, I told Richie. Richie asked me if I was new to the building and told me he was too. He invited me to his apartment for a beer and I said sure.
Richie was a really nice looking man. I was 21 and Richie was in his 40’s. Not that age was an issue but we immediately felt more like friends. Richie lived 3 floors up from me and became my only friend. We hung around together when I was home from work (9-5 legal secretary). We’d have some drinks, smoke some pot or watch a VCR tape. Richie never made a move on me. He was always a gentleman to me; once we went to a club we would do the hustle together.
One night we tried freebasing coke and my heart raced so fast I thought for sure I was going to die. Richie liked it but I was scared to death. I could see Richie had a little crazy side which was off-putting against his appearance since he was a 100% Kenny Rogers look-alike to a tee.
Within a month of meeting Richie he told me he had to go out and make a few stops and did I want to take a ride. I wasn’t doing anything. I was bored. I was 21. Who wants to watch TV when I can ride in Richie’s Caddy and listen to disco? While we were in the car Richie told me we were going to a bad neighborhood so he could pick up his ‘vig’ and explained that he was a loan shark now. He had been a truck driver for years and was originally from Wisconsin but this was his business now. Richie told me not to worry and showed me his gun in his waist. I felt safe until we got to the building, and Richie said I’d be better off coming in with him than sitting in the car. He told me not to talk when inside. When we were in the apartment Richie made small talk for a minute and then asked for the money – right out, just like that. The guy gave Richie a stack of bills. The apartment was pretty bare. Richie counted the money – and told the guy next week. We left. Next stop, a disco club. It was early before the club opened. The owner owed Richie money. I waited at the bar. Richie came down and we left. Then we went home and I went to my apartment. That was enough excitement for me.
It didn’t bother me, what Richie did for a living but I sure couldn’t understand the vig thing. How could you borrow money at such a high percentage rate? All you could ever pay back was the vig? You’d never hit the principal. AND, if you didn’t have the full vig? Damn, you got your ass kicked by Richie or one of his friends and now you owed more money plus a bigger vig. No more pickup rides for me – thanks anyway.
I knew I could count on Richie if I had a problem. I’d never want to ask but it was a safety net. His son came out to visit from Wisconsin one summer and I tutored him in Spanish. Like I said, we were friends. So it came to pass that one day Richie asked me about my childhood. I told him about the part that was on my mind at the time. My mother’s last boyfriend, Artie. My mother died in 1973. She had been living with Artie since 1970 (?), which meant my two younger sisters and I also had to live with the asshole. Artie beat my mother, he was a drunk and he tried to molest me but I didn’t let him. When I caught him trying to molest my sisters, I threw all his liquor bottles at him, I threw furniture at him, I chased him and I called the police. The detectives opened a case. Two weeks later my mother died. My mother died of cirrhosis of the liver but she had also been beaten the night before – because she didn’t iron Artie’s shirt.
I told Richie I wanted Artie punished and I knew Richie could help me do it. Richie agreed, Artie deserved to be punished. Richie said, it was no problem to have it done. I told Richie – I don’t want to kill him. I want his knees nailed to the floor. I told Richie – I don’t have any money and I don’t want to owe you (Richie) any “favors”). Richie said, it’s okay. I got it. Not a problem. He said, “you got something bigger to think about”. I just looked at him and I could see he was serious. I was serious too. He said. “I could have it done, it won’t cost you anything and that’s it BUT things happen things are never 100% and I can’t guarantee in the long run it won’t come back to you.” I sweat. I got such heart palpitations and I knew I had a big decision to make that I didn’t think about. If it came back to me I would go to prison and I would not give away my life for him. I would not do it. That’s what I told Richie. Richie thought I made the right choice. I know I made the right choice.