In the late 70s, Barney’s — the candy store on the corner of Summit and Zabriskie — was the place for the unemployed and the ill-employed of the Jersey City Heights to hangout. Kevin, the son of Barney the owner, tended the store all day on Saturday and Sunday and afternoons during the week, after he got home from Dickinson High School. Barney himself, who worked nights at a trucking outfit, held court during the day.
For the early riser, bouncing into Barney’s meant a free cup of coffee and an egg sandwich. As Barney didn’t stock much besides newspapers, cigarettes, soda, and girly magazines, nobody ever wound up overextending on impulse purchases. Behind the counter sat a couple of toys wrapped in saran wrap covered in greasy dust.
And then there was the show. As you sipped your coffee, Barney dramatically related the neighborhood’s current events. The regulars — Rocky, Russ, Kevin Fitz, J.R., Scottie who worked on the Turnpike, the cop PeeWee from across the street, and Barney’s brother Carmine — streamed in and out the door, sometimes part of the audience, sometimes actors in Barney’s production of the day.
Later in the afternoon, Big Phil parked his custom van on the corner. Then those tired of standing around all day were able to relax in the van on the couch-like seats. Plus, the van’s stereo was as good or better than what anyone had at home.
Little Jimmy was at Barney’s almost everyday, too. Jimmy, a skinny kid, was only thirteen or fourteen, a lot younger than most everybody else hanging out at Barney’s. Jimmy was diabetic. From taking too much or too little insulin, every so often he’d become sick and unable to leave the house for a couple of days at a stretch.
Jimmy was always talking about his uncle. What a tough guy his uncle was. The important people his uncle knew, people in New York. How much money his uncle had. I never said anything, but I thought that Jimmy made up these stories to compensate for his own poor health.
One day, it occurred to me that Jimmy hadn’t been in the store all week.
“Hey Barney, Jimmy ain’t been aroun’. Did he take sick again?”
“Nah, it’s jus’ wit’ his uncle dyin’ an’ the funeral an’ all.”
“You mean he really had an uncle?”
Big Phil gave me a funny look.
“You mean you don’t know who his uncle was?”
“No. I figgered he was makin’ up all the stories jus’ ’cause he was like a puny kid or somethin’.”
“His uncle was Sally the Bug.”
Salvatore (Sally the Bug) Briguglio, lieutenant to Teamster Union Local 560 Boss Anthony Provenzano, was one of the top suspects in the disappearance (and presumed murder) of Jimmy Hoffa. Salvatore Briguglio was gunned down in New York City’s Little Italy.
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