My First Job after returning to New York

In 1961, I returned to New York after attempting to start a trucking business delivering fruit with my brother Al and brother in law, Dominic Guerriero, which failed due to crop failures in California. I was able to find a job at a low end retail store( a story about this time is in the works) and worked at it till my wife, being tired of California, left suddenly for New York with my two sons, unbeknownst to me. So, once there, I found a job working for a company called First American Natural Fern Co. They had heard about my abilities from their artificial flower wholesale customers in California, and how I had built a small business into a large volume customer of theirs. So First American hired me at $100.00/week, and had me do the same at Bloomingdale’s in Brooklyn, that is, making flower arrangements in it’s Gift Department for their customers who would either bring in their special containers, or buy those available that I made for sale. It was so busy all the time that one day I actually keeled over from exhaustion, and wound up in a hospital. When hired at First American, I was promised by it’s owner, an increase in salary after three months from $100.00/week to $200/week, so when the time came and upon receiving my pay check, and just after my incident at Bloomingdale’s, I asked for that raise. The owner of First American said “Oh no, not yet, but after another 3 months he would give me the raise”. Naturally, being Italian, I blew up as he had broke his promise to me. I told him to get someone else for Bloomingdale’s, cause: ” I quit”. I said it so loud, that he actually flinched and was very frightened, as I walked out.
I went directly to his competitor, Zunino Altman, another Artificial Flower company, larger and owned by Revlon Cosmetics. (Note: After a few days, the son of the owner of First American, called me and asked me to come back at $200.00/week. I said “No thank you, as I’m now working for ZA, and by the way, watch out at Bloomingdale’s.” Since I knew the buyer there and he knew it was me that made his business grow, eventually, ZA became the company now selling Bloomingdale’s.)
When I arrived at Zunino Altman’s showroom, there was two salesmen talking and laughing, so I excused myself and asked to see the owner, as I was looking for a job. Laughingly, they said that there was no jobs available, but just then, a man entered the showroom. He looked at us and said to me: “Aren’t you the young man who works at Bloomingdale’s?” I said yes, and he then asked me into his private office. He then explained that he went to Bloomingdale’s because he had heard of a young man doing outstanding business working there with a new approach at selling arrangements, He asked why I was in his showroom and I explained it all about the owner of First American and his broken promise. He immediately said “Well, you’re hired here and at $200.00/week, and after 3 months I’ll increase your salary, again”.
Zunino Altman (“ZA” as it was called then) and this man, Josh Rothstein, who had faith in me, gave me the opportunity to be who I became. From the first day I started till the day years later when he contracted Alzheimer and completely lost his memory, we became close friends. He allowed me to spread my wings to create a New Flower arrangement division that became very successful, as well as set up a team of designers to teach Flower arranging to all it’s customers. Every day we traveled together in his car to our homes in Scarsdale, New York. “ZA” was actually owned by Revlon who had owned many smaller companies, and each one had to report at an annual meeting to Charles Revson, it’s CEO and owner at his  building famously called “666 FIFTH AVE”.

One year, Josh asked me to go to this meeting with him and when we arrived it was filled with the President, Charles Revson, and the Presidents and Vice Presidents of all his companies as well as many of those other executives from Revlon. As the meeting went on, both Josh and I realized that he was being ridiculed about how the company profits were not up to par. Actually, Revson was in the process of selling Zunino Altman  to a competitor called J. Markovits Inc. and was playing with Josh, trying to intimidate him into quitting. He actually picked one of the Flower samples we had brought and told Josh to name it. It was a daffodil and Josh said so, but Revson said to all present “OH no it wasn’t, but it was a rose”. He then asked all present in the room to tell him what it was and all yelled “A Rose”. He said to Josh how could you run a flower company if you don’t know the name of a flower. I then stood up and yelled “It is a daffodil and I should know as I’m the designer who creates them”. Everyone in the room was shocked, but I stood my ground and then Josh stood up and said “Sal lets leave this bunch of losers. Naturally he didn’t last a week. After a few very uncomfortable months under a new President assigned by Revson, I got a call from Josh and he asked me to come to work for him at a company he just had bought, called Goldfarb Novelty. Happily I said yes and went directly to the new president told him I was leaving after giving two weeks notice. His name was Irving Bottner, and he was there to distroy the company under orders from Revson, as they wished to write off “ZA” as a big tax loss. He couldn’t believe I would leave and neither did the two salesmen, Ira Klienberg and Bernie Rosenburg, who I had met originally. They too would eventually have to look for jobs at other flower companies. They later worked for my biggest competitors, after I formed my own company, White Knight Adventures. I was able to bring with me The F.W. Woolworth Co’s business, as they knew too I made Artificial Flowers successful at their stores. This set the direction of my eventually starting my own company, White Knight Adventures.

Going Bananas!

Well, one day when I was about 12, my Uncle Tony asked me to come with him on his next run. Naturally I was excited just knowing I was going to be a helper and so proud. Into the truck we went and he drove across town to the lower Hudson River where there were and still are piers that boats could dock to load and unload. Into the gigantically long pear we went and as we did so, it became darker and darker, so much so, he had to put on his lights, as did the fifty or so trucks already waiting in line. We stopped behind the last truck in line and he immediately jumped out and told me to do the same. Up to a desk we went and he registered there, but in doing so he knew who the men behind the desk were as he had done this run many times. With a big smile he began to talk, but in double-talk, which he was amazingly great at. All the guys around would look at him thinking him speaking in another language, but after a while, they all would begin to laugh knowing he was fooling them. He really was good and the best part was that he would speak as though he was asking a question. The men behind the desk would ask him to repeat it and again he would double-talk but maybe add even more gibberish. After a while everybody would laugh and laugh. Eventually when back in our truck, we moved along the line until our turn came and he backed the truck onto a platform where many other drucks were already loading. He said to me “Come on, lets load the truck”. Well talk about a new experience! We walked up a railed platform that led onto a mid sized ship, not a liner, or big cargo carrier, but rather one that threaded between the islands of the south to here in New York Harbor, just to deliver bananas. Onto, and into the boat I went behind my uncle, as we passed, men were carrying stalks of bananas on their shoulders laughing as they did so. Seeing me, a young kid, they laughingly yelled to my uncle, “Hey, Watch out for the big black spiders, they are much bigger this trip than the last one. “Wow”! “What” I exclaimed? Well, now I really had a problem, I had to watch out for spiders, and it was getting darker and darker as we went down and down, with only dim lights flickering, here and there. Uncle Tony turned to me and said don’t listen to those guys, they’re just fooling to make you scared. Yeh, well, they did a good job! As we went down, I notice men who were very, very dark, who spoke in a way that sounded like a song in different language, but it wasn’t, after I listened hard. They were laughing and laughing as they sang, and sweating so much so that their skin shined, even in the dark. I had seen a “colored” man only once before, and that was when my friends and I ran down Mulberry St to Houston St. because we heard loud yelling from people crowding around, cheering, as they moved down Houston St., but never so close as to be involved. When we got there, panting, we saw two guys fighting with long knives, they were very, very dark almost black, swinging their knives at each other with blood running from their bodies as they passed our street along with the loud crowd cheering them on. I say this was the first time because we lived on a street that was closed to anybody not living on it, including “The cops”. At that time they didn’t put “colored people” in books for children to see, at least not in any that I saw. So, I was not too shocked now to see these 2 guys. My uncle’s turn came and he walked up to a stalk of bananas and swung it on his shoulder as one of the Black men pulled the bow out of the knot on the cord that was holding it to the roof of the deck above us. Uncle Tony said to come follow him, and this time if you see any hands of bananas on the floor pick them up and bring them with us. Up we went and sure enough there was a hand that had fallen off, or “accidently” cut off one on the stalks that someone was carrying. I picked it up and was it heavy, with at least fifteen bananas on it, and crawling around one of them, came a spider that had to be as big as my hand with black fur on it. I didn’t hold onto that hand of bananas very long and certainly didn’t pick up another. Down to our truck we went and as we passed another desk that was directly along side of the ramp, they recorded our name so as to be able to tally and charge to Bianco Bros. When inside the truck, my uncle told me to now tie the top of the thick stem of the stalk onto the roof railing of our truck with the same rope that had been left on the stalk. So onto a box that Uncle Tony had set up for me I jumped, and tie it, I did. We continued this procedure time after time, till the truck was fully loaded with about 100 stalks hanging there. We then drove to our customer’s warehouse that was also dark and dreary; to do just the opposite, unload each stalk onto hooks on their ceiling. It took four hours from start to load. till unloading. So, back for another load, but this time Uncle Tony said that I had better pick up the hands that fell, as they were our tip, that we would then share with all my uncles, as well as the mounted policemen that hung around our office to have coffee and sandwiches. This too, is a story for another time, or you might read my story about Uncle Joey, that explains our Policeman friends.