Chasing Sanitation

Falling in Love with New York's Strongest

:: Mongo from the Interview with Aspromonte ::

[“Mongo” is San-speak for the stuff you find in and the around the garbage that you want to take home. They can’t, though. They’re not allowed. I’m just sayin’ – there’s a name for it. Mongo. Interview Mongo, however? Not illegal! I didn’t steal anything. Everything below is on-the-record. I swear.]

Andrew’s Stats:

Age: 39

Residence: Staten Island

Years on the Job: 11

Favorite Music: “I prefer Frank Sinatra, big band music. My uncle calls me ‘Fifties,’ though I am starting to like some ’80s music that I never liked then – it accounts for the mental disturbances I have.”

Favorite Movies: “Rocky – all the Rockys. Grease, I still like Grease – I make my kids watch it. I like stuff that don’t make any sense – stupid stuff – Police Academy, the Naked Guns.”

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What do you think or talk about on the route?

Home life, I guess, wife and kids, mostly complaints, or if it’s heavy or light that day … 10-13 tons. If the first day of the week is light means the second time you come around, it’s gonna be heavy.

What you assume about people by what they throw out

Some of the dirtiest people live here … some neighborhoods – the garbage’s practically giftwrapped, like in Tottenville, Staten Island. No reason I can’t throw out my garbage right, you know? And I’m not perfect about the recycling … and I can judge people too much because the garbage at an apartment building with 3-4 families – who know who’s taking out the garbage? Doesn’t mean that the people that live there don’t care.

What do people say or think of San Men?

It’s not very nice. They don’t understand why we block the street … what I usually say – and I try not to say nothing – but before I had this job, I would just go down any street that didn’t have a truck stopped in it. That’s what I tell people.

You got a nickname?

Aspro.

And Schmekel, because my wife is Jewish and when we had our last son, the guys started calling me Schmekel. It’s Yiddish for penis.

Sometimes they call me The Cup because I’ve always got a cup of coffee in my hand.

What do you like about the DSNY?

Free workout, no gym fees, stress reliever. It’s the best job in the city, not just because I have it.
Look, nobody shoots at me, and I don’t have to go running into a burning building.

You know what a little kid told me … over there in Borough Park where there’s like a million Jews? I don’t know if they’re Sephardic or Hasidic but like a million Jews live there, you know? He said, “My daddy told me you have to go to jail to be a garbage man.” Now that father’s making it one of the worst things in the world because he wants the best for his son. My kids want to be garbage men. They want to come to work with me all the time. Drives my wife crazy because she wants them to be movie stars or doctors or lawyers or whatever. I’ve taken them to work, let them sit in the truck.

The Public thinks we’re lower than them … we’re actually … I wanna say it right… before the Department of Sanitation – whatever 75 years ago – they just used to throw the garbage in the streets and people would get sick. We take the risk, keep things sanitary for everyone else. … I love this, I really do. I had taken the test in November 1990 then there was a layoff and a hiring freeze. It took 9 years for them to call me and I took the opportunity.

What do you want to do when you retire?

Nothing. But I can’t do nothing, I’ve been working since I was 11. I’d probably go crazy but I’d like to do nothing.

Who takes out the trash at home?

Me … It’s a never-ending job [he laughs].

Who cleans up after you?

Mostly my wife. I’m not neat, but I’m not messy.

What’s your worst day on the job?

[Shrugs] … I really haven’t had a bad day.

What’s your best day on the job?

[Shrugs again] Every day’s the same … we work very hard. It’s not worth getting too happy or too unhappy.

What kind of person does it take to do this kind of work?

Dedicated … but I’ve been seeing more and more undedicated guys. It annoys me. They’re young, sure, but their work ethic is not the same. They don’t listen, and they spend too much time being wasted at home thinking about the things that are wrong on the job.

Have you been written up? Any complaints?

No, yes, but no – one or two things in the file – for nonsense – I never done anything that warranted disciplinary action.

Where’s ‘Strongest’ come from?

I guess because we lift stuff all day? Well, we do have to be up at 350 in the morning … and you’re on the the same route, everyday, and you start to care about it. You know, the older people in the neighborhood … I put their pails back on the sidewalk. We don’t have to. But I do. I don’t know.

Are you proud of your work?

For the most part.

Why do you guys talk so much?

We got a lot of things to … a lotta stuff to say [he makes a scramble gesture up beside his head] … lotta time out there, lotta thinking … lotta stuff to say when you get back in the truck, lotta info.

Who’s got your back? Who do you lean on? Who supports you?

My wife’s got my back, I know that.

I would hope that most of the guys do. I think of most of them like my family – we spend so much time together.

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There’s more Mongo here.

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