Back in the ’80s when I was running the Tunnel Bar (just outside of the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City), one of our regulars was a young guy named Sammy who lived in the projects. God only knows how, considering that Sammy was around 5′ 8″, 140 lbs and a boozer, he somehow made it into and through the Police Academy, but only lasted a few days before getting caught drunk on duty.
One summer day, Sammy bounces in and asks if I’m interested in buying a lot of corn meal. (I was raising cage birds at the time and cooked up all sorts of concoctions for them.) I told Sammy that corn meal only went for like $7 for a 50 lb. bag. I also asked him where and how he got hold of corn meal. He told me not to worry about that and wanted to know if I’d take a look at it. I told him sure. Only a minute or so later, Sammy returns, wrestling in the door a small cardboard drum. This I found curious, as corn meal is packed in paper sacks. Sammy takes the lid off and I take a little finger dab of a bright yellow powder. I suddenly realize that it’s Chinese mustard. I yell at Sammy telling him that he must have stolen this from the nearby Chinese wholesale grocery. As if on cue, the street outside fills up with a crowd of truck drivers and warehousemen shouting in Chinese. Then, I was half upset and half glad to see a motorcycle cop driving right up on the sidewalk towards the door. He gets off the bike and enters the bar, wanting to know (in no uncertain terms) what the hell is going on here. I tell him that this gentleman was walking his dog and found the stuff in the weeds and was asking me if I knew what it was. The cop directed one of the workers to take the mustard and then told them all to get lost, being lucky as it were to have regained possession of the stolen goods.