Adventures In Handing Out Pasta Sauce Packets At The Children’s Leukemia Jazz Street Festival

When I first moved to New York, I enjoyed, and did not enjoy, a multitude of side jobs. A side job is a gig that supports your primary job. It should remain on the side, as noted by it’s straightforward title. Catering, Bartending, Promo Modeling, Filing, Mannying – You name it. I’ve done it. All in support of my primary career, as a theatre maker and filmmaker.

The promo jobs are usually the most eccentric. I say, you haven’t lived life fully until you’ve stood on a hot, muggy corner in Herald Square for 9 hours next to the hysterically screaming Black Israelites, handing out little toy dogs with oversized anuses that poop out chocolate flavored jelly beans. Or dressed up as a Viking at 4 am and posed for photos with celebrities that end up in the Second Look section of People Magazine.

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No, I wasn’t kidding.

Now I am a relatively mild mannered guy. But sometimes, a side job comes along that is so strange, and so eccentric, that it leaves the periphery of your life and instead consumes any and all sides, cracks and corners it can get it’s greasy little hands on. Then manners get spicy fast. Most of these jobs involve A) The Hamptons, or B) The Upper East Side, two magical lands where money has no price, and apparently, neither dignity nor good taste. Easy targets, I know. But this particular adventure was written 5 years ago, during much snarkier (and long-winded) times. It is set in Times Square, around a U-HAUL truck filled with one very special product…

I think I found Unnamed Marketing Company on Craigslist when I first moved to New York. I had good experience as a brand ambassador and promotional model, or “live model” as I like to say, because it can only infer that all other types of modeling involve dead people. I heard from Unnamed Marketing Company a couple times, but no opportunities arose. Then one day, I was suddenly asked to participate in an Unnamed Pasta Sauce Promotion. We were to give away free plastic bags of pasta sauce on 53rd Street in Midtown at the Children’s Leukemia Jazz Street Festival. (Because the thing jazz loving kids with Leukemia crave the most is a plastic bag of Vodka Sauce.) I was only available for one of the two dates, so I thought no dice. Then, a few days prior to the second date, I got an e-mail from the marketing company simply stating, “Call Me”. (Simply placing a call to me directly would clearly have been too difficult.)

They still needed someone for the second date of the promotion, Sunday, July 26th. The dead of Summer. In fact, they needed a manager. And I needed money. So I said yes, without hesitation. I learned that my managerial duties would include picking up the product and bringing it to site, and then supervising my very own “live models”. Sounded great for the resume. I was so game.

I had a catering gig scheduled the night before the promotion, so I told the Unnamed Marketing Company that I would pick up the vehicle and the product on Friday. I had never driven a U-HAUL in New York City before. Oh yea, that’s right, I had never DRIVEN in New York City before. That’s OK. I’m a good driver, and we should all do one thing every day that scares us, right? So I picked up the vehicle in Chelsea, 45 minutes after convincing U-HAUL that I wouldn’t offer my personal credit card information, and that they could charge the company’s corporate account instead, and then went on my merry way.

The storage unit with the pasta sauce was located at the beginning of Spring Street, that small one-way street right next to the Holland Tunnel. It was 4 pm on a Friday, and New Jersey was apparently the hottest destination in town. I was not offered specific driving instructions from the company. So I used Map Quest instead, that website that doesn’t care what city you’re in or what traffic conditions are like, you’ll still make it down a few blocks in 8 minutes or less. So I headed down the West Side Highway – my first time driving in New York City. And. Skip to 90 minutes later, after 6 near death experiences and one scraped Lexus convertible on MacDougal. (I am SO sorry, sir.)

I met up with my manager, Sam, and loaded about 550 boxes of pasta sauce into the van. Each box contained 6 packets, which equaled about 3,300 packets of sauce. For once in my life, I could be underestimating a figure. I headed home to the Upper West Side, where I could park the vehicle for the next two nights. After leaving a plum parking spot on the street directly in front of my apartment (because Sam feared someone might steal all of the product – HE FEARED SOMEONE MIGHT STEAL 3,300 PACKETS OF PASTA SAUCE), I convinced a parking garage nearby to take the van. They were hesitant, but as I soon learned, you can always barter any non-Italians with pre-made pasta sauce.

Sunday morning: The day of the promotion. A lovely morning – birds chirping, sun glistening. I pay the garage $160 total for parking. (The marketing company didn’t offer me any petty cash, but promised they would later reimburse me. Never heard that one before…) I head downtown, but wait. Broadway is closed off. (Thanks for letting us know about the Triathlon, NYPD!) I head two avenues East, and Columbus is closed off as well. Some busses collided. Or something. So I head four avenues West to Riverside Drive, which is also closed. Streets are marked off with yellow tape and police officers can be seen running in and out of a brownstone. So I stop and ask a police officer how I can possibly get downtown.

“Well, the West Side Highway is closed off for the Triathlon, ya know?”

“Yes, I learned this just two minutes ago. Thanks for assuming I knew, go on.”

“Your best bet is to cross over to the East Side at 86th Street and head down.”

“10-4.”

Sure enough. 86th Street was also closed. The next police officer I stop tells me 96th Street will work. You guessed it. Closed. The final police officer I stop simply looks at me and says, “I have no idea.” While I appreciate his honesty, I must offer apologies to my dearly departed grandfather, a noble New York City Police Officer himself, when I say, Why don’t these guys know what the fuck is going on?!

So I drive all the way up to Harlem, above the park, cross over to the East Side, and head down to midtown. Sam assures me that I will find street parking. Aw Sam, ever the optimist. 30 minutes go by, and no such luck. I text my two female live model assistants to be on the look out, but they say they’re going to stay put in the air conditioned Hilton Hotel lobby, so as to avoid any mix-ups. I pull over outside the hotel, rendezvous with the two ladies (one a last minute replacement, both of whom turn out to be great sports), and load up a few bags of pasta sauce so that they can start the promotion as I continue to look for parking. (Random Side Note: One of the girls finishes EVERY sentence with “Cool Beans”. Every Sentence. EVERY SENTENCE.)

Another 40 minutes pass, and I soon realize, how can I possibly parallel park a U-HAUL by myself in the Times Square area, especially on a day when half of the city seems blocked off? I start looking for parking garages, and of course, none of them accept trucks or commercial vehicles. I return to the Hilton Hotel, and remembering my incredible pasta sauce bartering skills, convince the guys to keep the U-HAUL near the entrance for a few hours while I engage in Operation: Get All The Fucking Pasta Sauce Out Of The Fucking Truck As Quickly As Possible.

Now this is when the fun starts. Unloading the pasta sauce takes a lot of work. You have to open every cardboard box with scissors, and then remove the pasta sauce packets from another smaller box within each box. Both boxes then need to be compacted and put in to a trash bag. I was given two trash bags, which were able to hold about 2% of the total cardboard. (In exchange for 6 more sauce packets, the garage attendants give me a few more garbage bags. God Bless the Polish. Every one.) Next, the sauce packets have to go into the trash bags, which are to be carried to the site. Pasta sauce is not light, and the trash bags all tear open en route.

Giving away the pasta sauce itself is a tricky endeavor as well. Street Fair in Midtown = Tourists. Tourists have very little use for a plastic bag of pasta sauce that can easily puncture and can’t travel home with them. I call Sam up and express my concern having only two promo models getting rid of all the pasta sauce, as I continue to stay with the U-HAUL, opening and compacting the boxes.

Sam tells me, “I only care that you get a few good pictures of families with the product to show the client. Just figure out a way to get rid of all the sauce.”

“Get rid of all the sauce?” I say. “I have an already extended 4 pm deadline to return the U-HAUL, and only 2 hours left to get rid of a truck load of pasta sauce. I just don’t think this is possible. With eight assistants spread out around town, maybe, but with two, and with THIS much product?”

“Why don’t you just drive down to Union Square and give it all away? There’s always big crowds in Union Square.”

Never mind that there is no parking in Union Square. Never mind the time constraints. Never mind that it would be impossible to unload all the product there, another tourist dense locale.

“As long as you get a few good pictures, I don’t care how you get rid of the sauce. Just get rid. of. The Sauce.”

Click.

I now have 90 minutes left before the U-HAUL is due. I try calling them to extend our deadline once again, but U-HAUL seems to only let you talk to their out of state headquarters, and the operator I got was NOT in a good mood.

Only about 20% of the product has been given away at this point. It’s hot and it’s humid and I’m dressed in all black. I haven’t eaten, and my bladder feels fuller than a bag of fucking pasta sauce.

The cops won’t take the sauce.

“We can’t take anything with vodka in it.”

Again, REALLY NYPD?!

WACA. WACA. WACA.

The cab drivers won’t take the sauce.

“I don’t have a microwave in the car, sorry.”

Really Cab Driver? REALLY?! I’m sure your dashboard in this heat would do mighty fine just about now. I can find you a fucking straw!

The Soup Kitchens are closed, and it’s illegal to dump all this product on the side of the road. As I text my two assistants to quickly reconvene at the van to come up with Plan B, I notice them fast approaching.

“We were kicked off the street. We don’t have a permit. The other vendors are complaining and we’re not allowed to give away the pasta sauce anymore.”

With ginormous sweat beads dripping off my face, I let out a maniacal laugh and start punching babies in Times Square.

I breathe. I smile. I fill them in. Cool Beans Girl proposes, “I think if we just drive up to Harlem and open up the back doors, all the black people will come and take all the pasta sauce.”

As tempting as her ridiculously racist idea is, there isn’t enough time. So she calls one of the head supervisors at the Unnamed Marketing Company, the one who got me the job in the first place, and explains our predicament.

New Plan. We are to drive a little uptown, pick up the storage unit keys from employees working a different promotion, head to Union Square and get rid of as much product as we can, and then head back downtown to return all the remaining product to the storage unit. Fine. FIIIIIIIINE.

We grab a quick bite, take some pictures with the Parking Garage Attendants (How about THEM Family Pictures, Sam), pay for parking (which is discounted by half because the guys initially give me the keys, and the ticket, of a more recently arrived U-HAUL), head up town, pick up the storage unit keys, completely BYPASS Union Square because I have 45 minutes left and no time for such a preposterous idea, fill up the gas tank so the van is ready to return, and then head straight for the storage unit on Spring Street, the safest little nook in all of New York City barring any appearances from U-HAUL driving neophytes.

The three of us form a line and unload hundreds of boxes of pasta sauce onto 3 dollies. We head to the elevator, and the towering boxes all fall off the carts. We reassemble, head down to the basement, and again, the boxes all fall off the carts. We unload 2 carts worth into the unit. I head upstairs, and leave the last cart to them. Make way, ladies! I’ve got a sauce-free U-HAUL to return! The storage unit attendant tells me he’ll charge me $35 to leave my four trash bags with him. I tell him to go fuck himself. Which I don’t really say. I really just smile and tell him, “Thank-you so much kind, sweet sir.” I load the trash bags back on to the truck and head back to the U-HAUL Center in Chelsea.

The rental return entrance makes no sense, so I mistakenly get back on my favorite street, the West Side Highway, make a quick U-turn, because returning a vehicle has never sounded so much like nirvana and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of it, and head back to the rental return. I leave the trash bags on the corner like lonely hookers in the night and head inside. I ignore the long line and head straight to the manager and ask what else I need to do to get this God forsaken truck off my hands.

“I’m just going to need the e-mail on the account, sir, for verification and receipt.”

What E-mail. What. E-mail. I call Sam. No answer. I call Sam. No. Answer. I call Sam. He picks up. I get the e-mail.

He asks, “Cool. So I heard you put the rest of the product back in storage. Great. Ya know, I thought you might run into a couple problems today. But it seems like you guys got everything taken care of. How did you feel the day went?”

“Great, Sam. Just great…I’m tired…I’m hungry…I’m going to go home and take a nap…Thank-you so much for this opportunity…I’ll be sure to write up a little report and send it to you tonight.”

“Oh, no worries. Take the night off. You can send it to me tomorrow.”

“Oh, that’s so kind of you…Thanks…Talk soon.”

I’d love to tell you that I walked off into the sunset. I’d love to say that I got the money, Cool Bean Girl and I settled down and started a family, and everything worked out great in the end. Truth is, the day was only half over, and I looked like such a hot, sweaty mess in my all black uniform that the Orthodox Jews spoke Hebrew to me my entire subway ride home.

Life will always provide you with great challenges. My idiotic and vivacious tapestry of experiences can only muster so much wisdom. In the end, only you will be able to figure out how to navigate the ebbs and flows of your own life’s hardships. There is one thing, however, that I can so sagely impart: If you can, lay off the sauce.

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