Grandpa owned a print shop
just off Bleeker, near Canal.
Four antique, (even back then!)
vertical letter presses
in a space the size of my current living room!
After he walked across the border
between Canada and America,
to finish his journey
from Odessa to New York City,
“I’m an ice-back!”
he used to call himself,
he’d worked just like most immigrants.
Somehow he scrounged well
and married well,
Rose Schneider from Poland,
a nice Jewish girl,
her parents, well off.
He created Bonson Press,
carved a special niche
in Manhattans business world
printing perforated payment books
and selling them to local banks.
My Father worked for him,
an aggravating, but necessary concession
for an newly married, WW2-Navy Vet,
swallowing 28 years of estrangement,
choking down every mornings
train- ride to work.
I remember, when I was eight,
taking the IRT with him
from the Bronx into Lower Manhattan
to watch them work.
The presses printing sheet after sheet
of those payment books,
KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK! KA-CHUNK!
all day long…
Watching the cutter slicing them
into glued and bound booklets,
stacking, wrapping, packing them,
hefting them onto the handcarts,
rolling box after box onto the sidewalk
to be picked up by local truckers
for delivery to The Chase Manhattan Bank
in Mid-Town Manhattan
and the Lincoln Savings and Loan
across the Bridge to Brooklyn.
I was proud of them,
my Grandpa and father,
and of Gus, the Negro pressman
and of their “Girl-Friday”, Mary
who, I learned much later on,
was, maybe, probably, Grandpa’s girl friend,
book-keeper, chief cook and bottle washer,
the one who ordered the ink, the reams of paper,
took care of all the stuff of business.
And there was a guy,
fedora and gray wool over-coat
a suit, blue shirt starched to cardboard,
black shoes, always polished,
Windsor knotted silk tie,
who just showed up,
Monday, Wednesday and especially Friday afternoons,
usually around 4PM,
“To collect what is owed to him”,
as Grandpa explained, quietly to me
on my first visit to the shop.
“Do you owe him?”
I whispered to Dad.
“No. Our doorway is his office.
Pop won’t let him inside.
And he gets that.”
Years back, Mr. Cappelli and Grandpa
made an arrangement.
He would use our covered, sheltered doorway
well, Grandpa would let him.
When the coffee and doughnut guy
would come around,
Mr. Cappelli would get his
and Grandpa would get his
and for Mary, Dad and Gus
and a doughnut for me whenever I was there.
And Mr. Cappelli offered,
told him, “No Thanks”.
Nothing ever passed between them.
Not even a handshake.
From my metal folding chair
in the corner that was the office,
just a desk, a phone,
a window onto the street,
Mary sitting at the desk,
ordering on the phone,
as workers from the loading docks,
the truckers parked around the office buildings,
mostly blue-collar guys,
sometimes, though, men in suits,
come by to give Mr. Cappalli,
Mr. Cappalli, always a gentleman…
a hand on the shoulder,
a pat on the back,
envelopes slipped into his inside suit pocket…
Dad told me that when I was born,
Mr. Cappalli had given Dad an envelope for me
and when I turned five,
Dad gave me a ten dollar bill
and told me I would meet my benefactor
when I came downtown.
Dad told me the man’s name
and that the man would say,
“Just call me Vincent.”
But I should call him only Mr. Cappalli
and only when he greeted me first.
But I should thank him for the ten-spot.
But only once.
And refuse any other offer.
So I did.
there was a problem.
Mary was crying.
Gus was shaking his head.
Dad was angry.
Grandpa was cursing in Russian.
One of our bank customers
didn’t pay up on a big order that
we delivered to them,
“Right on time, God Damn It!”
Mary had called over and over
but Dad said the bank was going under
and we were getting stiffed.
I watched as Grandpa
stood by the doorway, smoking,
mumbling in Russian.
Mr. Cappalli asked what was up.
Grandpa wouldn’t tell him.
Neither would Dad.
But Mary, angry enough and tearful , did.
He said to Dad,
“Look’a, ya let me run my business here.
I can’t afford you should have to close up shop.
Let me see what I can do.”
Mary said, “Yes. Please.”
That was Friday afternoon.
Monday morning, as they say,
“The check was in the mail.”
Mr. Cappalli said,
“Look, Mr. Green,
consider it accumulated rent.”
I learned early in life.
I learned there’s business