Profile of James, the Super
posted: March 8, 2007
James, the super, was the easiest interview I've ever done. It took no prodding or prying, no steering to the next topic, no nudging – no nothing. I asked him one question: how he got into the supering game, and he just took off!
"I had a real rough childhood. My family was a hustler family. My great-grandfather was a number runner. My father was a cabdriver-slash-dealer-slash-Pappa Was a Rolling Stone. My mother died when I was six and we went to go live with my father's Money Girl, Pearl. She was just really mean whenever he wasn't around. Her idea of punishment was very severe: she put my hand on the stove because I burnt down the garage by accident. And she had a bullwhip, but I stole it from her after she beat me with it. Yeah, it was like that. Then she gave me a whole bunch of mental issues because she wouldn't help me because she wouldn't go with me to sign up at LaGuardia Aeronautics Program in high school. I should've been an airline pilot. I should've been in the space program or something because I've always been incredibly smart. I had a chance but she wouldn't sign me up. So I started working with some crazy gypsies, and got into construction, when I was 17.
"You know you see the tarot readers? Well, their men go out and hustle during the day! That's why the ladies just sit there, because that's their hustle and the men go out and hustle on a daily basis – all different hustles: it could be clothes, it could be socks, it could be anything. At this time, when I hooked up with them, they was spreading roof coating on roofs and all they'd do is fix the crack wherever the leak was, and then just spray coat the rest of the roof with basically paint, and charge like 3000 bucks. We used to do everything with just our hands; they didn't give us no tools. They said it's just better you do it this way, so we smeared the tar with our hands, just rubbing it into the cracks, and we swept up the dirt with our hands, and then used gasoline to clean our hands.
"After roofing with the gypsies for a while, I saw an ad in the paper for construction work. That's when I met John, who was like my second father. He was a gambler, and the way he taught me the construction business is he said, "Okay, you put this stuff over here and I want you to do it like this, and if you got any problems, gimme a call," and he'd go off to gamble and leave me on my own to figure it out. Sometimes I'd do it right and sometimes I'd do it wrong, and that's how I just got the knack of things: from waterproofing the outside of a building, riding scaffold, to digging out basements, to tearing buildings down... I mean I've done just about every part of construction.
"I've worked in all different shops, too. One time I was working up in the Bronx and the office girl would come to work dressed like Goodness Gracious, and one day I said, "Damn, girl, what have you got on?"
And she said, "I'm going to tell my boyfriend," and a couple of days later this guy was sitting in a car waiting for me in front of the shop. But I just told him the truth.
I said, "What time do you leave in the morning?"
And he said, "I leave really early and what's that got to do with you disrespecting my woman?"
I said, "Because do you know what she wore at work?"
He said, "No, because she's in bed when I leave."
"Well," I said, "she had on this, that, and the other thing, and how would you feel if you were a man and you come in and she's sitting up on a table like this? What would you say?"
And he said, "Maria, come here!", and POW! Right in the kisser! Because he knew I was telling the truth.
But then the boss found out about the whole scenario and he said, "You know what, James? Here's a pink slip because your services will no longer be needed."
You know, he was probably sleeping with her, himself.
"But I was always gung-ho as far as working; to me it's a hobby like cooking. And I was always interested in anything that's interesting. So I like having a lot of different things to do, being a super."