Thwak! Thwak thwak thwak... I could hear Tommy Joe over on the next
aisle stamping the prices on the cans of Del Monte Fruit Cocktail. I was
on my aisle putting the finishing touches on a display of cardboard
cylinders filled with oats. Tommy, Norm, Sammy and I all landed jobs as
stock boys at the Kash N Karry. The stockmen there wore white dress
shirts, ties, and dark dress slacks. We all had Beatle haircuts, faded
jeans, surfer tee shirts and high top sneakers Somehow we nagged them ‘til
they gave us a shot.
Our boss, Mr. Mangoney, loved us because anything we did, we did at top
speed and a whole lot of it. We would come to work at 8:30 p.m. on
Saturday night and work until 8:30 a.m. Sunday. We were locked inside by
ourselves all night. Four all American boys with too much time on our
hands. We were given permission to break out the fire escape door if we
had a real emergency. Tommy and I lived for the next emergency!
We were supposed to stay in our own aisle and stock ‘til the sun came
up. We had other plans! We would swagger into the store four abreast, can
stampers riding low in our rumpled white aprons. We looked like a cross
between The Monkees and The Young Guns! We would look and see who had the
most pallets of stock to put up when we came in. As soon as the store got
ready to close, we would all meet in the middle of that aisle and go into
a full-blown stocking frenzy. Cardboard boxes would fly through the air,
shoppers would scurry around, and babies would show up at the checkout
counter with 2 for 49 cents tattooed to their little foreheads.
We devised all kinds of ways to entertain ourselves in the wee hours.
There were very few agencies protecting the environment back then. Almost
anything you sprayed from a can was propelled by gas so flammable you
could launch the Space Shuttle with it. Our flamethrower of choice was a
16 ounce can of Lysol Spray Disinfectant and a disposable lighter.
Tommy liked to lure me into one of his ambushes and weld my nostrils
shut. "Hey Gonz, take a peek through the corn flakes a minute!"
I would stick my face in between the boxes of cereal and peer into Tommy's
aisle. Poof! Yul Brenner. This would draw howling laughter from my pals. I
would plunge my smoldering head into a mop bucket while shrieking like a
banshee! I was getting pretty good at drawing eyebrows on my face by the
time school started.
One night while scouting around in the meat locker Sammy noticed a
handle on a door that said Emergency Exit, Door Will Only Lock From
Outside. Sammy pulled the lever down and our door to freedom, and early
retirement from Kash N Karry, was at hand. Right across the street from
Kash N Karry was the 27th Avenue Drive In Movie. We would blast the
pickles, paper towels, papaya nectar, and oatmeal onto the shelves and
head for our secret passage to paradise.
Before we would sneak over to the drive in, we would make ourselves up
a little snack in the deli. Maybe a half pound roast beef sandwich, a
quarter pound of potato salad, a gallon of grape Kool Aid, and five or six
Milky Ways. We were on the honor system to write down anything we ate. We
always wrote down what we ate, just not how much. We would hang out at the
drive in for a while then ease along the shadows and back through the
carefully propped open door.
One day Mr. Mangoney called us into his office and asked if we thought
we could unload the grocery trucks by ourselves. This was a tremendous
opportunity to vault up the corporate ladder towards Stock Manager! We had
been spending our Saturdays box racing down the sides of the I-95
overpasses. They were just developing I-95 through Broward County about
this time. Everywhere you looked there were giant sand mountains just
waiting to bounce us headlong into the crushed rock roadbed at the
We took big cardboard boxes and sat in them, then a buddy would shove
you over the edge and down one of the two hundred foot hills. You usually
slid about six or seven feet then pitched head first out the front of the
box and cart wheeled the rest of the way down to the boulders waiting at
the bottom. Now our Saturdays would be spent unloading tons of consumer
The driver would back the bulging trailer up to the loading dock. We
would open the door and hook together these cool little roller conveyers.
You just kept adding more pieces to them as the cargo in the truck got
further and further towards the back of the trailer. Two of us would be up
in the trailer. Two of us would be at the end of the rollers. We would set
box after box on the rollers and send them whistling down to the guys at
the other end, who would sort them onto pallets.
Sammy Morgan, "The Slide Rule" as he was known, and I were at
the bottom, sorting the cases of groceries. Crazy Norman and Tommy were in
the trailer, shooting the never-ending train of boxes to us. As they got
further into the trailer they would disappear from site. Tommy yelled down
for me and Sammy to take a break for five minutes while they attached more
sections of the steel rollers together. After about a half hour Tommy
yelled, "Gonz here they come!"
Tommy Joe and Crazy Norman... what zany practical jokers they were.
They had wedged a broom handle between the rollers way up in the trailer
Next they loaded all the big institutional sized cans on top of each
other. They heaped anything that weighed around a thousand pounds onto the
pile. TJ put a big case of dinner napkins in front of his battering ram so
we couldn't see it come thundering out of the darkness. I was casually
chatting with Sammy, my hand resting on the rollers.
The first hundred cases of pumpkin pie filling sped over my fingers.
Now my fingers were wedged in between the rollers, making all kinds of
snapping and cracking noises. By the time the last case of bleach rolled
by my hand was roughly the size of a catcher’s mitt. Tommy popped his
head out of the trailer. "Pretty slick, eh Gonz?" He glanced
down at my hand, wavered for a second, and then fell face first out of the
truck and into the asphalt.
Sammy and TJ would come by my house and keep me company. They figured
since I couldn't use my hand there was no sense in me having all those
boxes of models piled up. They helped me out by building all my Christmas
presents. This saved me the frustration of doing it myself later. These
guys were princes! Mr. Mangoney stopped by and informed me that Kash N
Karry was gonna go with a little older, more mature stock people now. This
left our Saturdays open for what we loved most! Some guys were born to
run; we were born to bleed.
While I was laid up Tommy, Norm and Sammy had borrowed around fifty of
the roller sections from Kash N Karry. We hauled them up to the top of the
steepest I-95 overpass. We had to tie ourselves to the concrete columns
while we hooked them end to end. Next time you see a really steep roller
coaster, picture yourself riding it without the cars attached to the
We stuck a cardboard box onto the first section, dropped the biting and
clawing "Slide Rule" into the box, and wished him Godspeed. Sam
went around fifty feet and the bottom of the cardboard box disintegrated.
Sammy's sternum carried him another hundred feet and he teetered over the
side and fell into the rock pile. Sammy said his butt was killing him so I
towed him home.
We went with Mrs. Morgan to the Emergency Room. I pushed Sammy through
the doors in his wheelchair. Nurse Sanchez looked up at me and said,
"First time I ever saw you BEHIND the wheelchair." "I'm
getting smarter as I get older," I said, hiding the cast on my hand
behind my back. Sammy was in the room with the doctors for around an hour.
He finally came out. I had heard the term "Get Your Ass In A
Sling" a million times; this was the first time I had seen it.
Sammy's butt and my hand healed in time.
We had been working on our all-out assault on the Broward Boulevard
Overpass. TJ had removed the wheels and axles from one of our spare GTX
derby cars. The plan was to set the floor pan of the soap boxer on the
rollers, then tack a little skirt down each side of the body over the
rollers to keep the car lined up and on the track.
We all met early Saturday morning at the overpass. I told Tommy Joe
that my hand was still a little tender from the compound fracture he had
inflicted. "Ok Gonz, I'll take the first run," TJ said. I looked
down at the track gently swaying beneath us. One hundred and sixty feet of
safe, fast fun. Unfortunately the track's total length was three hundred
and sixty feet.
We had Tommy hanging like a bag of rubbish about to fall down a trash
chute. I climbed up the metal rollers, stopped next to TJ's head, and
asked if he was ready. He had a grim look on his face but said,
"Ok." I gave him the thumbs up with the stumps of what was left
of my fingers. This got exactly the reaction I had hoped for. "Hey
Tommy, pretty slick, eh?" Tommy turned a little whiter than the
aprons we wore to stock with. Sammy cut the line that Tommy's car was
tethered to. Whoosh! The world’s biggest slot car was off!
Man, Tommy just slid crazily down the rollers. He kinda reminded me of
Casey Jones. About two hundred feet out and around a hundred miles an
hour, the little skirts caught fire! Tommy looked real busy in the
cockpit. One hand holding onto the car, the other trying to pull off the
burning skirts. Tommy reached a little too low and got his fingers caught
between the floor pan and the rollers. He would ride about two hundred
feet like this. Sammy commented, "That looked pretty painful." I
flexed my one good finger and said, "You bet."
Soon, I was over at TJ's house slapping together another one of his
Thirty Three Willys models. What goes around...
More Tommy Joe can be found at Banana Land.
Fast Times, Quick Cars, Cosmic Advice