Chasing Sanitation

Falling in Love with New York's Strongest

:: He Doesn’t Want You to Know His Nickname ::

Throughout New York’s history, throughout municipal histories worldwide, labor movements have been tethered to the battles lost and gained by Sanitation unions. If we were to gain wide attention for the people that we Chase and come to love, we would have to win the City – and mostly, the Union.

We first met with Harry Nespoli, the president of the Local 831 Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Union back in February 2009.  Liz and I – we were naive, but excited, stoked to get up at 4 in the morning, to get in a car at 5, to make sure we get to his office in lower Manhattan at 6 sharp.  If they can do it, we have to do it.   These guys have fought more than just their morning alarm clock.

We wanted him to see what we see. Or rather, to show him a new side of something he’s been guardian of since 2000.  When he came across one closeup shot of Roy DiMaggio, he stopped.   He lingered and moved closer to the photo.

Harry Nespoli, Local 831 President, and Roy DiMaggio, Brooklyn Sanitation Worker

“Ah! My hair used to do that!”

With one shot, Roy’s thick black hair brings this robust, white-haired union leader right back to his younger days on New York’s streets.

Harry tells me,

keeps telling me,

tells me again of his talks with the City about what 20 years of picking up garage can do to the body.  No matter when you come in.  It’s his job, it’s his conviction, and it’s his shoulder reminding him to keep the City aware of what’s really happening daily on the job. Harry may never ever meet Roy, but he got his stories in his bones.


Roy’s the kind of guy that all the girls likes, and he’ll never know it.  Well, he might know it, but he’s not the kind of guy that really believes it. He’s the guy that’s always one eyebrow raised and grinning underneath it.   He’s offering to pick up the check and acting like ‘he’s all good.’ And you’ll think so, because he has a smile as wide and as young as a Christmas morning.

He hangs his head a lot, moving forward down the street, but call his name and the sparkle of a kid that can get away with anything when he needs to perks up. He flies under the radar because he’s mischievious but never causing trouble, never harmful.   He’s not a player, but he could be. But he won’t. Because he wants something different.

One thing’s for sure – there are a few chicks out there all married up now and spending quiet moments thinking about  that Roy DiMaggio as the One That Got Away.


He’s got a mop of black hair and blue eyes.  He’s about 5’9” when he walks proud.  He’s light on his feet and has a steady pace. He saves his energy, as most of them do, not rushing through the route.  Rush and you’re done earlier and have to sit around and do time until your shift is over. Rush and you might have to dump the truck in New Jersey and that’s not always the most fun thing to do.  It’s time-consuming and boring.  Rush, and you won’t last your 20 years of service.

“I’m 39, you know, some days I can’t get outta bed. But I have to and it’s raining and the rain’s the worst.”

There’s nothing inside him that wants to grow up and wear some suit and be THAT guy in the room.

He wants a couch, some food, the people he loves, a couple of sweet girls that ask him questions about his life, his bigger and louder buddies around him that take the light off him and he’ll always show up on time. He’s nervous when he doesn’t.

His grin … hard to tone down, let me tell you.    But it comes and goes as the interview continues.  Every third or fourth question, he’s interviewing me.

“Why are you doing this?  Why do you care?”

… always with the why, I tell ya.


On the day of the interview, he wears a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath the short sleeved t-shirt.   He tells me to meet him at a Starbucks in Bensonhurst.  He’s got a cup of coffee, and he’s paging through the Sunday New York Times after the Election Tuesday.  It’s a couple of weeks after we shot him working, and I expect his shy, embarrassed way. What I got was a guy that couldn’t stop being curious as to why I was so curious about him.

“So is it just questions about work or my personal life?”

I said, mainly work.

I tried to tell him that I know how weird it seemed.  I tried explaining to him that I’m an office manager during the week, and no one comes into my office and says, “Hey, how do you manage all those files and invoices every day all day?”

I know it’s weird.

And yet he still came out on a crisp fall morning to see what it was all about.  He knows what he does every day is important.  Maybe not every day, but this day, he was going to trust it.  He probably was ready for me to be full of bullshit.  Maybe he thought … well, I really don’t know what he thought.  With every interview, I’m just so grateful.  It takes a certain something inside you to meet with a stranger to talk about your life.  It takes a certain confidence or curiosity or what-the-hell.   Whatever it is, I respect it and I try to just let it breathe its own life into the interview.

I showed him shots of himself and asked him what was his favorite. As I want this book project to help the SanMen and Women see themselves differently –  it’s important to me his reaction.  To my surprise, he chose one of him in action – chucking recyclables into the back of a truck.  He liked seeing himself in motion.

Sometimes, you just don’t know what you do all day long when you’re busy flying underneath the radar.

Sometimes, getting on the other side of yourself can help you stand up a littler straighter.

Here’s hoping Roy’s walking tall somewhere out there in Brooklyn today.  For a few minutes anyway.  Roy’s not the kind of guy that will ever walk tall for too long.  It’s just not him.

He’s got two sons.  He could listen to Pearl Jam three days straight. He’s picked up a 3’ foot alligator in Sheepshead Bay.  He’s baffled that I’m interested in his life.   He’s got a great nickname, and he won’t let me tell you what it is.  Not even when I beg.

This is Roy. Roy DiMaggio.

::: ::: :::

Responses (4) to “:: He Doesn’t Want You to Know His Nickname ::”

  1. Patricia Di Maggio says:

    That’s my brother Roy – and you’ve captured his essence in this article. Roy is one of only a few people in this world that can have me laughing til tears roll down my face. He has a sense of humor that is so unexpected and so real that it touches my soul time and time again. Thank you for writing such a great story on such a great guy I am proud to call my brother. Patricia Di Maggio

  2. Steve Agorastos says:

    Awesome story on an extraordinary guy!!!!

  3. Santo says:

    He’s even smiling while throwing bags into the hopper. Roy’s a good guy, nice story.

  4. The Quist says:

    ROY!!!!!!!!!! we miss u in 12. hows it feel 2 be famous?? lol good job on the article, hes a great guy

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