Almost Made it on Seinfeld!

Ok friends, I’ll admit that I love attention, especially positive attention. I’ve been getting a lot of it lately which fuels my passion to “keep on going”. Thanks to all of you for encouraging me to write more often….it is a calling that I had forgotten about many years ago, but it is back now and I’m lovin’ it! By the way, very few of you know me well enough to know that, before I was accepted at West Point I was heading either to Albion College or Michigan State University and I had intended on majoring in Journalism.I wrote for the local town paper in high school, covering high school sports.

I received an award from the National Quill and Scroll Society for my writing and recognition from the Detroit News and was fortunate enough to obtain live, one-on-one interviews with Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, and his son, Mark who is also now in the NHL Hall of Fame. That’s another story for another day.

Thank you Detroit!

Today we are going to revisit my paper delivering years with The New York Times and the Newark Star Ledger newspapers. Those were very challenging years for me, but one silver lining (yup, here I go again with those silver linings again) associated with delivering newspapers is that you have easy access to a spare one every now and then (like every day).

The following story was submitted to the producers of “Seinfeld” for consideration back in 1995.  It is one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” stories that also has an element of “No good deed goes unpunished” in it. This story required some time and effort, but I’ve had plenty of time, so here we go.

Back on August 17, 1995, my wife and father-in-law took a trip to the County Offices of Essex County, NJ to apply for a business permit.  She was starting her own small business and had to register. Her experience was not a good one.  As a matter of fact, she was so upset that she wrote a letter to the publisher of the Newark Star Ledger complaining about her experience. The editors decided to publish her story on Sunday, September 17, 1995.  After some digging, I found the article in the online archives and am including it here for your reading enjoyment. Article follows:

I need to bring a situation to the attention of Essex residents that would be amusing if it were featured as an episode on “Seinfeld” but is patently pathetic as an illustration of how business is conducted in Newark.

On Aug. 17, I went to the Hall of Records to obtain a business license. After entering the building and submitting to the security checkpoint, I went upstairs to Room 240 to fill out the necessary paperwork. I was handed four identical long forms to complete. Wouldn’t it have been smarter to insert carbon between the copies to expedite this procedure? No, that would make too much sense. After the paperwork was completed, I was told that my signature would have to be witnessed by a notary public. Fine. Where may I find a notary public? Without hesitation and devoid of any humor, a county employee instructed me to look for the hot dog truck parked outside of the building to obtain a notary seal. I repeat, in the Essex County Hall of Records, where deeds, divorce decrees, passports, business permits and marriage certificates are filed daily, one must go outside of the building to a hot dog cart to obtain the services of a notary public.

Once I realized the clerk wasn’t kidding, I went downstairs, out into the heat and waited in a long line behind people ordering chili dogs, souvlaki and sandwiches to get my permit notarized. The man with the notary seal was quite adept at (simultaneously) mincing onions and witnessing signatures, and the papers were taken care of with nary a dab of mustard to besmirch them.

Now, up the stairs, through the security rigamarole again and up to Room 240 to finish the job. There was a $33 fee to be paid. Put away your checkbook – cash only, please. A simple 15-minute task had taken close to an hour to complete. My companion and I were washed out, grimy and thoroughly disgusted with Essex government.

Maureen Sanders,West Orange”

The article only covered a part of her frustration for the day.  What she didn’t say is that she had to walk several blocks, in the hot August heat to find an ATM machine to get cash to pay for her permit.  The whole day cost her and her dad a whole day of frustration. The night of August 17, 1995 was not a good one in the Sanders household!

But, life goes on and newspapers must get delivered, so back to the real world we all went.

Two weeks later, on Sunday, October 1, 1995 I remember coming home after delivering both the Sunday Star Ledger and New York times, ready to relax. Sundays were a real bear for newspaper delivery as they were filled with advertisement sections and NY Times Magazine sections, Metro sections, comics, yada, yada, yada.

Then, while walking into the kitchen, my 10-year-old daughter screeched, “DAD, I think this article is about mom!” She was reading the New York Times Sunday edition (QUESTION: What 10-year olds read the New York Times other than the comic section? ANSWER: Those that go on to business school and become successful in the business world).

My daughter showed me an article in the NY Times, which I have found online and have printed for your enjoyment below:

JERSEY;Signed and Sealed. And Hold the Mustard.

By Joe Sharkey

  • Oct. 1, 1995

CURBSIDE in front of the Essex County Hall of Records in Newark, two customers waited idly under the striped canvas awning at the hot dog truck. Besides hot dogs, the menu offered coffee, soda, cigarettes, meatball and sausage sandwiches, western omelets, egg with Taylor Pork Roll and, in big letters, NOTARY PUBLIC .

Notary public?

Sam Kanan, the proprietor, pushed a pile of onions to the edge of the grill with his spatula. “Today you got to do everything to make a living,” he explained.

“People used to come up with the papers and ask, where do I get the notary?” he went on. “We always sent them down to the bank, a pretty good walk.” He tapped his temple with a finger. “Then I think, O.K., Sam, how come you’re not doing that here with the hot dogs?”

So he and his helper, John Ali, working out of an old blue Chevy panel hot dog truck with two ventilators twirling like toy tops on the roof, obtained their certifications and seals, and took on a sideline as notaries.

Do not, incidentally, ask them how business is. “Terrible!” cried Mr. Kanan, who immigrated here from Jerusalem.

He dug into a cardboard box above the freezer and pulled out a recent, but very creased, clipping — an outraged letter to the editor in The Star-Ledger. The writer was a West Orange woman, fuming that when she went to the Hall of Records recently for a business application, a clerk “instructed me to look for the hot dog truck parked outside of the building to obtain a notary seal.” There, she wrote, “the man with the notary seal was quite adept at simultaneously mincing onions and witnessing signatures, and the papers were taken care of with nary a dab of mustard to besmirch them.”

Sarcasm aside, Mr. Kanan had no problem with that part. He never gets mustard on your papers. What caused trouble was that the letter writer complained about having to wait in a “long line” behind people ordering hot dogs to get her papers notarized.

The hot dog business is extremely competitive. “Everybody sees ‘long lines for the hot dogs’!” Mr. Kanan wailed.

” ‘Long lines’ in the paper!” Mr. Ali said.

“You know what happened?” Mr. Kanan said. “The next day, a new hot dog truck, he reads ‘long lines,’ he comes in across the street!” Mr. Kanan turned to glare at the competitor’s truck. He also scowled down the block at another hot dog man who showed up with a pushcart.

“You see long lines now?” Mr. Kanan demanded.

Mr. Kanan bought the truck 10 years ago. On a good week, he said, it clears $300. (The men charge $1 to $1.25 a page to notarize documents.) Weekdays, they arrive at 6 A.M. and stay till after 4. Mr. Kanan works nights as a security guard. Some weekends, he drives a cab.

Mr. Kanan and Mr. Ali, who both live in Jersey City, arrived in America with the great wave of legal immigration that started in 1965, when a new Federal law opened the gates to millions of non-Europeans.

“First, I wash dishes six days a week,” Mr. Kanan recalled. “Twelve hours a day. The pay for a week was $85. But step by step, I saved a few bucks.”

As he got on his feet, Mr. Kanan sponsored relatives, including his cousin Mr. Ali.

“I found a job for him in a Greek diner. Hoboken,” Mr. Kanan said.

Laughing, Mr. Ali recalled, “I thought I was going to come to America, work hard and get rich in one month.”

Nobody got rich. In old urban areas that no longer have the good industrial jobs that gave previous generations of immigrants a leg up into the middle class, you were lucky just to stay off welfare. For immigrants in a post-industrial service economy, there are not many Horatio Alger stories.

“You work for enough money to pay the bills,” said Mr. Kanan.

“College someday for the kids,” added Mr. Ali.

And somewhere along the line, the American Dream acquired a tinge of irony for the working stiffs.

“One day, maybe next year, we’re going to rip out the roof of the truck, put in second floor for a lawyer’s office,” Mr. Kanan joked. “Raise the rent on a lawyer,” Mr. Ali suggested gleefully. “Maybe add an office for selling Lotto.”

Mr. Kanan had a better idea. “No! We make a motor vehicles office up there.”

But the chatter ended abruptly when a customer appeared at the window. The lunch crowd was on its way.

“Could I have a sausage, no sauce?” the young woman asked.

Mr. Kanan dashed for the grill. “Yes!” he said. “Right away! Pepsi?”” 

You really can’t make this stuff up! That poor man  had the double whammy of losing his hot dog profits to other vendors and his notary profits as the County made sure that they had adequate notaries in the County Building after my wife’s story hit the Star Ledger the month prior.

I mentioned earlier that I submitted this story to the producers of Seinfield. They did respond but said they would not be using the material as they had two years’ worth of material on hand already and that they were starting to wind down.  The last show was three years later in 1998.

Almost Made Seinfeld!

But, Seinfeld or no Seinfeld, it’s a funny story. But more importantly, underneath it all, was the opportunity given to me to bring home free newspapers which helped my children educate themselves. I would say that this is one of those silver linings turned gold, wouldn’t you?

See ya later, time to go to the beach!

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