Working: The Hawker
Maxwell Street: reminiscent of New York City’s lower east side and European and mid-eastern bazaars.
On any weekend, weather permitting, throngs of people from throughout the city would flock to Maxwell Street looking for a bargain, a deal, a “steal.” Anything of dubious, doubtful quality, new or used, could be bought on Maxwell Street. Hubcaps for any automobile, tires of any size, car radios and home radios; shoes, boots, socks and underwear for men, women and children; watches and jewelry made of “gold” and real gold; bookends, lamps, carpets, rugs—“Persian” and “Oriental,” and real Persian and Oriental. One might buy a record by anyone from Bing Crosby to Enrico Caruso… And when you got home and heard that that Bing’s voice had a click throughout, what the hell were you going to do? Travel all the way back to Maxwell Street to get your ten cents back? There was luggage, gloves, hats and all type of clothing, new and used… and etceteras and etceteras of all kinds, and by any description, in any of the multitude of languages spoken up and down Maxwell Street… Junk! Lots and lots of junk.
Peddlers sold from pushcarts that lined both sides of the narrow, cluttered street. But also, some of the more ambitious and/or affluent had been able to work their way off the curbs, into one or two of the small stores that were found on either side of the street, giving that person a full, seven-day-a-week business, rather than just a weekend business when the street was closed to cars and open to pedestrians and pushcarts only.
…An old record of Dick Powell singing, “I’m a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech and a hell of an engineer,” wafted over the cold, windblown street.
A bit of flying grit stinging his eye, rubbing it with the knuckle of one hand as, “Hey! Men’s clothing here!” clasped in the other hand was a pair of blue gabardine trousers that he waved above his head as if a proudly held flag. “Hey! Men’s clothing here!” the boy yelled. “Top quality! Get your new and used top quality clothes at Sollies!” Trying to be heard above the tumultuous din of the jam-packed, constantly-flowing street, the boy’s voice would meld with those of a thousand other voices and become lost a few paces beyond the pushcart that sat on the curb opposite Joey Solomon’s father’s store.
The inscription, hand painted in heavy, black lettering on the plate glass window read: SOLOMON & SONS, FINE MEN’S CLOTHING, and beneath, in smaller script: New & Used.
If someone stopped to look at the jumble of second-hand slacks in the pushcart, or hesitated on his or her way past the pushcart, taking hold of his or her elbow, the boy had but one objective: to steer the man or woman through the SOLOMON & SONS doorway that was adjacent the five-foot-wide sidewalk.
“Hey, Mister! Need a new suit?” Not waiting for an answer, “Have I got a deal for you! Look…” cupping his mouth with his hand, the boy whispered, conspiratorially, directly into the man’s hairy ear, “we’re overloaded with new suits. They came in a couple’a days ago from… well, I can’t say where they’re from, Mister. You know how it is, but I wan’a tell you they came in from: uh, someplace real good!” Giving the impression that, maybe, just maybe, the suits may be “hot,” and don’t you know everybody wants to buy good quality hot merchandise at hot merchandise prices. “Look, Mister, I can’t say where we get our stuff.” Again speaking in a conspiratorial tone, “You know how it is, but…” glancing over his shoulder to be sure no one was listening, “I can tell you that if you bought one’a these suits at Carson’s or Field’s it’d cost you forty-five, fifty bucks.”
The man attempted to pull away.
“But here…” tightening his hold on the man’s elbow, “but here at Sollies,” cocking his head over his shoulder, “they’re only…” whispering the words, “twenty-five, thirty bucks!”
Moving back a step, still holding his elbow, taking the man with him, “An’ I swear to you Mister, you ain’t never seen such ho… uh, great suits. You don’t think I’d lie to you, do you, Mister?”
The man looked at the sincere sounding, good-looking young man and, obviously a newcomer to Maxwell Street, “No,” he said shaking his head negatively. “I guess not.”
“No! Darn-tooten I wouldn’t lie to you! Come on!” Backing up another step, “Wait’ll you see ’em!” pulling the man closer to the door, bumping it open with his shoulder, “Don’t be bashful! Come on! I promise, you’ll love ’em!” With the man in tow, the two stepped over the threshold, into the overly warm, musty smelling store.
“Joey!” the boy called. “I got a gentleman here that wants to see one’a them new suits!”
Coming from behind a pipe rack bowed with the weight of fifty suits, “Mister,” Joey Solomon, the youngest of the “& sons,” said, “have I ever got a deal for you!”
Replacing Mitchell’s hand with his own, appraising the man with his well-practiced eye, “What are you, a thirty-eight regular?” Joey asked, steering him to another weight-bowed pipe rack.
Going back to his place outside, “Hey! Sollies here!” the boy yelled, waving the two-legged flag. “New and used top quality men’s clothing here! Get your best deal at Sollies! Hey, Mister! Yeah, you! Hey, have I ever got a deal for you!”