Mystery Tree Man Revealed!
Plus! Vince the UPS Driver!! Items of Interest!!! Weird Trash Calendar 2023!!!!
Welcome to Issue #53 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Huge news: I am proud to announce that—just in time the holidays—CAFÉ ANNE is now offering official branded swag in the form of a 2023 WEIRD TRASH CALENDAR!!!
Yes, this 4x8-inch 2023 desk calendar includes twelve of the very best weird trash photos submitted by CAFÉ ANNE readers from around the world. It’s the perfect gift for any CAFÉ ANNE fan, especially yourself!!
To order, please Venmo $15 to @annekadet and include your address in the message. You can also send a cash or a check in the mail to CAFÉ ANNE, 100 Remsen Street Apt. 6D, Brooklyn, NY 11201. If you prefer to pay with Zelle or Paypal, please email me at email@example.com and I’ll reply with instructions.
Also, scroll down to the bottom for a special TRASH CALENDAR SUBSCRIPTION OFFER!
Meanwhile, I am very excited about this week’s issue. First, we’ve got a great excerpt from a profile of UPS driver Vincent Nanni by fellow Substack writer Neal Bascomb. Second, an account of my meetup with David Quarishi, the man behind the Queens Mystery Tree! Spoiler: he was briefly the tour manager for the world’s tallest man!! Please enjoy.
PS: Super-sparkling, diamond-encrusted CRONUT SHOUTOUTS to new paid subscribers Jillian H, Rob A., Justin D. Kat C., and Eric J.! Your very kind support means CAFÉ ANNE lives on for everyone!
ALSO ON SUBSTACK
The Prince of Delancey Street
Probably the best reported and most thoughtful human interest newsletter on Substack is Philadelphia journalist Neal Bascomb’s . Neal profiles everyday people around the country with a focus on their jobs: plumbers, artists, long-distance truckers, morticians, barbers, high-rise window washers, dog breeders, chocolatiers, nurses, soldiers, priests, stonemasons, etc. It’s like CAFÉ ANNE, but for grownups!
My recent favorite was his profile of his neighborhood UPS driver, 65-year-old Vince Nanni, AKA “The Prince of Delancey Street.” It’s a great read for the holiday season, when the delivery peeps are working overtime so we can sit home surfing Etsy. Below, with Neal’s kind permission, please enjoy a few excerpts. You can read the whole thing here.
Let’s get straight into the burning question. Everybody in the neighborhood says, “I love Vince.” What is it about you that you’re having this effect on people?
I think it’s my personality and upbringing. My Dad always said to me that kindness goes a long way. Everyone loved my dad. My wife used to tease me that I was like Raymond in Everybody Loves Raymond. He wanted everybody to love him. And that’s what I want. I’d like to be remembered as a great guy, a nice guy always. A kid in the neighborhood the other day said, ‘Thank you for being who you are.’ That’s amazing. Yeah, I want to be loved.
When did you start at UPS?
In 1991. I heard it was a great company to work for. Like most people, I started part-time, loading trucks for five hours a night. During the day, I worked at a Slim Jim factory. I was the ‘Spice Guy.’ I’d take naps in my car in between.
How long until you started driving for UPS?
After five years of loading trucks, I became a full-time driver in 1996. I went from $8.50 an hour to $17, and that was good money back then. Every six months you get a progression, a raise. After a year and a half, I was up to $23. I tell the younger guys now: ‘The money’s here. Make it and sock it away. Don't be like me, 65 years old, working as I do. Make it in your 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. Use your 401K, take your stock and pension.’
I don’t have to work six days a week. I do because I like money. Italians love cash, they say. So I work Saturdays. I’m not turning down time and a half. Right? I struggled my whole life. This is making gravy. Driving, you can make $80,000 a year. With overtime, maybe $100,000. That’s amazing. I thank God every day…. [Vince stops and wells up with emotion.]
Was it a challenge learning to drive that big truck in the city?
I hit a lot of things in the beginning. Even my first day. Mostly mirrors, dings, and scrapes. Judging the size of the truck was hard, and I was always in a rush. Now I just focus and drive slower, and I know every tree branch and turn on my route. I’m 17 years accident-free. When I was younger, I’d try to go down small streets or thread between parked cars. Now I just ‘walk it off’. That’s a saying where you park the truck, grab the package, and carry it to the address, even if it’s far away. ‘Walk it off…Walk it off.”
Walk me through a day in the life of Vince at UPS.
I wake up at seven. I always shower the night before and shave. Back when I started there were no tattoos or beards allowed. Now it’s a little looser. I eat Cheerios for breakfast. I try to eat good and healthy. I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never smoked or drank alcohol either. I don’t even curse. Before I leave, I do a hundred pushups. My commute to UPS is about 25 minutes. My Dad always said, ‘You should never be late for work. There’s no excuse.’ So, I’m always early. I head out in the truck by 9:15. It's already loaded with packages by then. I always tip my loaders. It’s important.
First, you must get off the Next Day Airs. Commercial by 10:30. Residential by noon.
I have lunch around noon. They give you an hour. I take thirty minutes. For fifteen of that, I go to the gym and do some weights. For the other fifteen, I have a sandwich. I switch between PB&J, chicken salad, and egg salad that I make at home. If I need to go to the bathroom, there are places along my route that I can use.
Then it’s back in the truck. I arrange my shelves, marking packages along my route with my pen. Low to high, like I was taught. Old school. And go boom…. boom…boom. You have to expect the unexpected. Sometimes a street is closed or it’s the weather. But I’ll usually punch out around 7:30 p.m.
Most days, I work 10-11 hours. I’ll walk over 25,000 steps and deliver somewhere between 250-400 packages a day. The weight limit used to be 75 pounds. Now it’s 150. They want you to call for help if you need it. But I’m old school and do it myself with the hand truck.
When I finally get home, I’ll do some more push-ups. Also, pull-ups and leg raises. Sometimes, I also work out on my heavy bag. By 10:30 p.m. I’m in bed.
Click here for the rest of Neal’s delightful profile!
Mystery Tree Man Revealed!
Last week, I met a Queens guy from Pakistan who once served as the tour manager for both the world’s tallest man and world’s shortest man. All because I got curious about a tree!
To recap for readers who are new to this ongoing saga: earlier this fall, my little brother, who lives in Sunnyside, Queens, sent me a photo of a street tree he spotted in the neighborhood. “This little tree gets more interesting every time I walk by,” he wrote.
I had to wonder, of course, who was behind the odd arboreal display. Was it worth an investigation? In Issue #49, I wrote about the curbside installation and ran a little poll: should CAFÉ ANNE find out who is behind the Mystery Tree? 37% of respondents said this was likely best left to the imagination. But 63% urged me to investigate.
Emboldened by the encouragement, I spent an hour one evening several weeks ago staking out the tree and grilling passersby—an experience I recounted in Issue #52. I even interviewed the manager of the nearby Walgreen’s. But nobody knew anything. Figuring it was hopeless, I left a little note on the tree with my phone number.
You can imagine how delighted I was when I received the following text a few days later…
I replied and we agreed to meet at Mr. Quraishi’s favorite neighborhood hangout, 1 Buen Sabor Bakery. I was super excited! Several readers, meanwhile, expressed concern. “Don't go meet the person who texted you about the tree,” Nick E. wrote in the comments. “What if he is a Jeffrey Dahmer type? Bring your brother with you…And a can of pepper spray!”
Gentle reader, I am still alive, as evidenced by the fact that I am penning this account. Unless CAFÉ ANNE has been commandeered by Mr. Quraishi?
When Mr. Quraishi arrived at the café last Monday night, he sat right down and started talking.
As a journalist, I’ve found there are three kinds of interview subjects. Some are super tight-lipped. These people are the worst. Some happily answer your questions, adding the interesting occasional aside. This is the best case scenario. And then there are the people who forge ahead and talk about whatever they want to talk about! All you can do is relax and enjoy. Mr. Quraishi fell into this last category.
Over the course of an hour, I learned about the parking rates in Sunnyside, the health benefits of turmeric, his views on COVID, his medication routine, his late night TV habits and his very large family here in the U.S.—107 strong if you count all his nieces and nephews! Originally from Pakistan, their numbers include a dozen doctors and a lawyer. “A couple of my nephews, they’re millionaires!” he said. “They went into real estate!”
Mr. Quraisihi, who is 75 and retired, also grew up in Pakistan and spent time in Germany before moving to New York City in 1966. He opened a print shop in Manhattan specializing in books, magazines, brochures and flyers. Then he sold it and went into the carpet business. “I import rugs from India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Iran,” he said. “I used to do the trade shows. I used to go to Chicago—all over the country.”
In the 1980s, he got into the leather business, selling jackets and chaps to the motorcycle crowd. “And I also used to represent the tallest man in the world, Alam Channa,” he added, in an offhand way.
“The tallest man in the world!” I repeated. I was not sure if I’d heard right.
“The tallest man in the world,” said Mr. Quraishi. “He was in the Guinness Book of World Records. And also the shortest man, he was from Santo Domingo. His name was Nelson de la Rosa. God made him real small. He was 25 years old, but only 26 inches. So he got everything small. Small hands, small everything!”
How did this come about? Alam Channa, the world’s tallest man, also grew up in Pakistan. A mutual friend suggested that Mr. Quraishi might be a suitable manager for the giant’s exhibition tour in the U.S. “They told him, you want to do something in America, contact with me,” said Mr. Quraishi. “I had the exclusive rights!”
For a brief period in the mid-80s, Mr. Quraishi escorted Mr. Channa and Mr. de la Rosa around the country, making appearances and granting interviews for publications like the National Enquirer. Mr. Channa also stayed in New York for a month, living in a Jackson Heights home that Mr. Quraishi rented for him. Sometimes Mr. Channa would carry Mr. de la Rosa around in a little bag. Mr. Channa had a huge appetite, and Mr. Quraishi spent a lot of money buying him fruit platters.
“Alam Channa was eight foot, three inches,” said Mr. Quraishi. “He was like a monster. They had the Pakistan Day parade. I took Alam Channa as a guest and [NYC] Mayor Koch was there. I introduced him. Mayor Koch was a big guy. With his shoes and everything, maybe six-seven. Now he was looking so short!”
The trio’s highlight was a trip to Japan for a convention that included a man with an 11-inch tongue and a lady with 25-inch nails.
“And the lady with the biggest breasts—she was from Canada,” recalled Mr. Quraishi. “We put her biggest breasts on a scale. They bring a scale. The Japanese are crazy! She put her breast on the one scale and Nelson de la Rosa on the other, and the scale goes down. Her boob was bigger than the guy! Yes, it was a monster-size boob. Like two watermelons. You don’t know what to do! So damn big.”
The lady offered Mr. Quraishi a feel to prove they were real, which he declined. “I told her, ‘No, I take your word,’” he recalled. “My wife, she would go berserk!”
It was about then that we both noticed a lovely lady making the rounds of the café, chatting everybody up.
“That’s my wife!” said Mr. Quraishi. “She knows the whole world!”
As his wife Samia got coffee and buns, Mr. Quraishi gave me the back story. They met in a Manhattan club when he asked her to dance. They will celebrate 44 years of marriage later this month. “Time goes so fast when you’re in love,” he said.
Ms. Quraishi is from Lebanon. “She came from a good family, too. Her uncle was the mayor of Beirut!” he said proudly. “And her cousin—her aunt’s son—he was the mayor of Syracuse, Upstate!”
Ms. Quraishi, meanwhile, worked her entire career as a housekeeper in Manhattan hotels, including the Waldorf Astoria.
When she returned with the coffee, Ms. Quraishi announced that she was tired, and asked if we were finished talking.
“Oh no!” I assured her. ‘We were waiting for you to talk about the tree.”
“Oh, I got to tell you the whole story about the tree!” said Mr. Quraishi, as if this was an afterthought.
He first noticed the tree last year after it was damaged in a big storm, he said. The city came by and lopped off the top, leaving what amounted to a skinny, five-foot trunk.
“The tree was cut very cruelly,” he said. “Very no mercy, you know? They should have cut the tree nicely.”
He thought it might survive. Even though it was winter, he dug a furrow around the tree and applied fertilizer. Soon after, a tiny branch sprouted near the top of the trunk. “So I took off my scarf and wrapped my scarf all around,” said Mr. Quraishi.
He watered the tree and kept it company. By spring, the lone branch had grown into a beautiful, leafy canopy. “Only one branch, but I keep taking care of it and now you can see, the tree is big!” said Mr. Quraishi.
“And all green!” said his wife.
He named the tree Jimmy, after his little brother. He named the larger tree next to it David, after himself. And largest nearby tree he named Chris, after his older brother.
Over time, he added the decorations, including the cuckoo clock, flag, fence, signs, framed gnome picture, thermometer, dog and plastic flowers.
“How do you decide what to put on the tree?” I asked.
“I look for things that people like, that fit the personality of the tree,” he said.
“What’s the personality of the tree?”
“He’s a baby,” said Mr. Quraishi.
He visits the tree every night, typically after midnight—he doesn’t like to draw attention to himself. During the day, he sometimes sits in his parked car nearby to watch how people respond to his creation. A group of mothers bring their children to leave bird seed for pigeons gathering under the canopy. Others talk to the tree, or pray, or take photos.
I asked several questions submitted by CAFÉ ANNE readers. Yes, others have left gifts for tree as well, said Mr. Quraishi, including a little house. And yes, he and his wife believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to care for the neighborhood rather than rely on the city. They both spend a lot of time cleaning up litter and trash. Ms. Quraishi frequently buys meals for the local homeless ladies at Wendy’s and carries a bag of snacks and candy to distribute. Mr. Quarishi feeds the local pigeons, cats and raccoons.
“What’s next for the tree?” I asked.
“Next we have to call the police!” said Ms. Quraishi.
This tale has a dark side, I’m afraid. Someone has been messing with the tree! They scrawled graffiti on the sign and stole the thermometer. They broke the dog figurine.
“I am going to write a note to the guy,” said Mr. Quraishi. “‘To whom it may concern: You keep on harming! The tree is named Jimmy, Jimmy the Tree. So why you feeling so offended? You took the rubber ducky. You took the doll from the clock. And then you took the thermometer…’”
“How do you know it’s a guy?” I asked.
“A lady won’t do that,” he said.
He continued to outline his plan: There is a camera mounted on the side of the nearby Walgreen’s. If the vandalism does not stop, they will catch the guy on camera and call the cops. “You know my son-in-law is a lieutenant!” said Mr. Quraishi.
The café was closing, so we walked two blocks to visit Jimmy the Tree, and the three of them posed for a photo.
“How tall do you think the tree will get?” I asked.
“Like his brother over there,” said Mr. Quraishi, noting Jimmy’s 20-foot sibling.
We’ve kept in touch. They’ve invited me to return to Sunnyside for a Christmas coffee after they decorate the tree for the holidays. Meanwhile, I’m curious to find out if they learn the identify of the tree vandal, aka the TREE GRINCH OF SUNNYSIDE.
Another mystery unfolds!
ITEMS OF INTEREST
The Best Werewolf Transformation Ever
Directory of American Menu Hotlines
Swapping cheetahs for Greyhounds at the racetrack
CAFÉ ANNE is published every Monday by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. If you’re enjoying the newsletter, please consider a paid subscription for $5 a month or $50 a year. I’ll send you a surprise in the mail!
The Sunnyside tree mystery was fantastic. Mr. Quraishi is a fascinating New Yorker. Loved this story, Anne!
An important thing in life is to be able to admit when we are wrong. I was wrong, voting for not exploring who the tree guy was. I come to this conclusion for a multitide of reasons. (1) I loved reading the story and the couple's humanity came through beautiful. (2) You, our professional reporter, were entirely so excited you lost your objectvity. Why do I say that? Well between the title and three VERY SHORT sentences you set what seems to be a new record for the Cafe by including ten exclamation points!!!!!!!!!! The pattern was unmistakable. One in the title, 2 in the 1st sentence, 3 in the 2nd sentence, and 4 more in the third sentence.
This enthusiasm was carried all the way through. The UPS story was golden and all of this reckless enthusiasm carried through to your commenters. You are rubbing off on all of us!!!!!!!!!!
Finally, your commenter with a NY take on junk collecting was awesome.
As an aside JRB was built to be a storyteller in a small-town bar. Every week a sub-adventure.