It was pitch black, reeked of garbage and I had just banged my head on something that very much felt like metal.
It took a moment to orient myself. I used my hands to explore. It didn't take long; it smelled like garbage because it was garbage. I braced myself and forced my legs to push upwards. The metal door swung up and back exposing a mostly blue sky.
Son of a bitch… I was in a dumpster. Touching my head revealed a lump the size of an ostrich egg. Hurt like hell. For a moment I had trouble focusing.
After taking a deep breath, I scrambled out of the dumpster. I had to think. Where was I and how in the name of God did I get here.
It was an alley with a row of dumpsters behind one very long building. Hotel, I bet.
With some difficulty I managed to walk very slowly to the end of the alley. I looked left and then right. Shit! New York City… Ninety miles from home. On 7th Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets.
My pockets… Nothing! No money, no phone and no ID.
I suppose I could call someone… Screw that. I walked back down the alley, the way I had come. Reached into the dumpster and pulled out one of those blue and white waxed paper cups that are so ubiquitous in Manhattan.
Shook out whatever coffee remained.
Walked around the corner to Penn Station, sat crossed legged on the pavement and stuck out my arm with the nearly dry coffee cup.
Believe it or not, it didn't take long. Not with the way that I looked and smelled. At the moment, I was doing a pretty good impersonation of a homeless person.
Within thirty seconds I had made my first quarter. Twelve minutes later, there was a buck seventy-five in change and a single dollar bill. That was plenty and I decided to quit while I was ahead. Didn't want to get rousted by the cops.
Stood up, made my way to the corner. Put the change into the New York Times vending machine and extracted twenty something copies of the paper.
Walked back to the front of Penn Station. With the stack of newspapers under one arm, I removed one, folded it in half and held it up over my head. In a reasonably loud voice I said, "New York Times, one dollar, just one buck! Get your New York Times here!"
You'd be surprised how easy it is to sell something below market value. In less than twenty minutes I had sold out and netted twenty-three dollars plus the original dollar some kind lady had contributed to my coffee cup. This gave me a grand total of twenty-four greenbacks, plenty of seed money for what I had to do next.
Did I mention that it was Saturday?
Time to go to work…
It was a beautiful spring day and was quickly approaching 60 degrees. I stopped to glance at my watch before I realized that I no longer had one. Glanced up at a clock on a building and saw that it was just a little past 9:00am. In terms of doing business, at least for me, it was getting late. Hoofed it down 7th Avenue and ducked into a little coffee shop.
Ordered a cup of coffee and a donut, forgot to tell the Middle Eastern guy behind the counter to make it black. In NY they always add cream unless you tell them otherwise.
Back outside, wolfing down the donut and sipping the coffee, about a half a block up, I came across one of those street dealers that you will only find in Manhattan.
Sitting on the ground with his wares spread out on a blanket, looking and smelling almost as bad as I did. There was an assortment of odds and ends, most of it junk. There was, however, a stack of books that looked as if they may have some age to them. I squatted down and began to go through them.
The most interesting one was "Modern Magic, A Practical Treatise on The Art of Conjuring" by Professor Hoffmann, a cloth bound, turn of the century American edition. Not terribly valuable as things went, but if memory served correctly it should retail around the sixty-five to seventy-five dollar range. Depending on condition, of course.
Without getting up, I looked the guy right in the eye, smiled and said "Good morning".
He responded with a smile and a "Hi".
Without touching the books I asked, "How much do you have on your books?"
He was a young guy that looked as if life had beaten him up just a little too much. Nonetheless, he possessed a twinkle in his eye and a pleasant smile. Apparently he was only down but not yet defeated.
His response was "Five bucks".
Jokingly I came back with, "For all?"
"Each", he said, still smiling.
I thought that a little rich for a guy on a blanket without any overhead, but on the other hand, everyone is entitled to a profit. Knowing that what goes around comes around, I pulled out ten dollars, picked up the magic book and told him to keep the change.
He shoved the money into his grimy pocket, smiled and said thanks. In that brief moment he had the realization that the book was underpriced and for reasons unbeknownst to him, a complete stranger was attempting to play fair.
I stood up with this small treasure, thanked him and told him that it was a pleasure doing business with him.
The day had just begun and I was already in profit. You see, in my business, you make money by buying things. If an item is bought right then it is already sold.
Fortunately, I was only a couple of blocks from Tannen's Magic Shop. If I remembered correctly, it was somewhere on West 34th. Tannen's is one of the oldest magic stores in the country. It had been years since I been there and I no longer knew anyone that worked there. Didn't matter.
It was a couple of minutes past ten when I stepped into the building. The sign on the wall said that the shop was on the sixth floor. Took the elevator up and stepped out into a land of mystery and fantasy. Every wall had shelves with colorful magic paraphernalia. Glass counters ran around the room filled with an assortment of magic playing cards, silk handkerchiefs and a variety of close-up magic tricks.
As I approached the counter, a young man probably somewhere in his twenties with dark hair, a round face and pink complexion wondered how he could assist me.
I asked him who I could speak to about selling a collectible magic book. He turned and hollered "Tony" into the back room. A mature gentleman with white hair, shirt and tie came out.
Apparently this was Tony. He seemed a little puzzled by my appearance and perhaps my odor and politely inquired how he could help.
"I have an early edition of Hoffman's "Modern Magic". I reached out and handed it to him.
Tony gently but thoroughly examined the book inside and out. When he was satisfied, he looked up and asked, "How much?"
He came back with "Thirty-five."
My turn. "Forty dollars, cash and a stripper deck".
"Deal!" No hesitation. Tony hit the keys on the register, pulled out two twenties, reached into the glass case and pulled out a deck of cards. He reached over the counter handing me the money and the magic deck. A quick smile and "Thanks for bringing it in."
"No, thank you," turned and headed straight for the elevator.
I'm up fifty-four dollars plus one trick deck of cards. Not an auspicious start, but a start nonetheless.
Next stop, the flea market.
So far, I have been lucky. Well, except for being knocked on the noggin and tossed in a dumpster. Everything thus far has been within walking distance. It was a bright, sunny morning in Manhattan. New York City has some of the coolest flea markets in the world. One of the best was right around the corner.
Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market is located on West 39th Street between 9th amp; 10th Avenues every Saturday and Sunday throughout the year, weather permitting.
I get there and business is in full swing. Slowly, very slowly, I start to wander around the market. The absolute best to way unearth antiques in a setting such as this is to take your time and to feel. Your job as a picker, someone who finds antiques for retail dealers, is to tune out everything around you and let the antiques talk to you. Actually, it's more of a whisper. With just a little bit of knowledge and an affinity for the old, it is astounding what treasures can be uncovered from a sea of dross.