Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
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On Man's Ingratitude to Man, With 20% Off
Sammy is 46 years old, a newsboy, a coffee-addicted graduate of Judge Clifton's drunk court, and -- by his own admission -- nobody's angel.
For 30 of his years he's been hustling sheets on Broadway.
He grew up on city street corners -- an environment conducive to many things, not all of them good.
From it, he fashioned his personal, peculiar code of ethics.
Ask him, and he'll tell you, "If you're going to beat a guy put of something, beat a guy who's got something."
If it's meant as a self-appraisal, it's not a fair one. I've heard people complain about Sammy's affection for four-letter words, and, before Judge Clifton frightened him off Devil Drink, about his ability to stay out of Lincoln Heights -- but I've never heard anybody say that he was a slow man with the change for a dollar.
Sammy bent over backward not to be.
He specialized in protecting, helping the underdog. Maybe, because he considered himself in that category. A temporarily unemployed reporter who had used up all his friends could always turn to Sammy for the price of another drink. So could any of the rest of his customers, and a lot of them -- at some point in their lives -- hit bottom once or twice.
That's what Sammy was most famous as: an easy touch.
And that's how this matter last summer came about. Sammy had retired as a newsie. He sold his corner and became what you might call a street-salesman. Costume jewelry. Sport shirts.
But he kept in touch with old friends.
And one old friend was an attorney, with nice offices downtown. Once Sammy had helped him out with a $300 loan and the attorney was prompt in repaying him.
It was on a warm evening last June that the barrister found Sammy sipping coffee in a downtown cafe. There were the usual greetings and the lawyer sat down.
"Sammy," he said, "I've got a land deal going. I need $5,000 cash to put it over and all I've got is $3,500."
The conversation progressed and the newsie admitted that he had some acorns in the bank.
"Since I been off drink, I been saving," he said. "I got just about exactly $1,500. But it's my last money."
The lawyer assured him that he'd have it back in no time. Three months or less. There was no risk involved. The deal was solid.
So, a couple of days later Sammy withdrew his savings and took them up to the lawyer's office. The lawyer gave him a promissory note -- payment on demand. He wrote it out for $1,800. Three hundred extra for you, Sammy," he said. "I'm going to make money on this deal. I'd like to see you make some."
Three months went by and Sammy didn't hear a word. He checked with the attorney and was told that the deal was slowed down by paperwork. But he'd get his money.
More days passed and Sammy's nervousness increased. He'd spotted his attorney friend at the tables in Gardena. Sammy pressed him and the attorney slipped him a few small bills. That's the way it went for the next few months. Whenever Sammy looked him up, he got $25, $50 an, occasional $100.
As of a couple of months ago, there remained $975 outstanding on the note. Then the payments stopped. Sammy was told that he was making a pest of himself.
The Way the Geetus Falls
Another attorney -- an old customer of Sammy's -- heard about the newsie's troubles. He volunteered his aid and telephoned attorney No. 1.
"I'd like to oblige," the borrower said, "but I just don't have the money to pay him back. That's all."
So Sammy's old customer took the next logical step. He filed an action in court demanding payment.
Attorney No.1 filed his answer the other day. He borrowed the $1,500, he admitted. And he still owed a good chunk of it. But the extra $300, he said, Sammy certainly wasn't entitled to that. That was usury.
If you live in the city long enough you hear everything.
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