You can’t order black coffee in the small cafe on Avenue U in Brooklyn – cappuccino and espresso only. There are no more than five tables, and the windows and doors are propped open, flooding the streets with thick smells of caffeine and Brooklyn-Italian accents.
This is where I meet Frankie Noots for the first time.
Dressed in jeans and a black T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Marlon Brando, he sits with folded arms and a wary expression.
I pull out my recorder, eager to dive into questions about his new reality series “Scrappers,” which airs on Spike TV on August 3. But before I can verbalize my first thoughts, he interrupts and bluntly asks me to explain the angle I am taking for this story.
For Frankie, it’s all about trust – in both business and life, and Frankie’s life is a business. “Scrappers” chronicles a gang of Brooklyn-bred guys as they scour the streets to find their treasure, from old appliances to abandoned cars and discarded building materials. What most people see as just a pile of junk, these guys see as a pile of cold, hard cash.
And every day is an uphill battle as Frankie drives the streets in a beat-up blue van with “Scrappers USA” spray-painted in white.
But don’t let the rough exterior and slang-laden conversation fool you. As a third-generation scrapper, Frankie is a true businessman and believes that his back-breaking 10-hour days will one day make him a rich man.
The real, dirty recycling
“The word recycling came around in the seventies, but it was done in the thirties,” Frankie says. “Back then, recycling and reuse was big. Now it’s trendy. But scrapping is the dirty side of it. We’re the dirty end, but this is real recycling.”
In 1979, when the business was tightly controlled by the mafia, Frankie’s great-grandfather Frank Aniello wanted to open a transit station where people could sell scrap.
“I believe that he was one of the innovators of this business,” Frankie tells me as he pulls out of his pocket a pack of Newport cigarettes.
“My family got nervous and wanted me to get out when I first went into this business, largely because the mafia used to have a hand in it. But I felt that I needed to get back in and get connected to the metal and make millions.”
Frankie’s contacts ring his phone daily, tipping off local pickups. But when the phone is silent, he drives through the Brooklyn streets, picks up the metal for free, and turns it into a profit.
All types of metal are in Frankie’s vocabulary. He pointed around the narrow room to the things he would recycle – a refrigerator, the steel counter, some metal chairs.
“You just drive around and search,” Frankie explains. “You see anything like an ironing board, you make your money for the day. The longer you stay out the more you make.”
And some days, Frankie finds more than he expected – a $20,000 cathedral sconce, a Prussian solider relic and even a famous painting (which I pressed to know more about, but tight-lipped Frankie was unbreakable).
Take no prisoners, only money
Frankie is just one of the seven guys that make up three competing scrap crews on the show. There’s Greg and Sal the Barber of P&F Service and Removal, Joe Posa and Darren of Scrappers USA and Dino and Mimmo of Mad Scrappers.
“The other guys? I wouldn’t say we’re friends-friends,” he says referring to his adversaries. “You can’t let the friendship and money get in the way. Basically everyone has a good understanding: If you’re not working, you won’t have a second season. So, we have a working relationship. But it’s hard to do business with people that are crazy, and everyone works different.”
Set in what Frankie calls “true New York,” the Brooklyn boys are more proud than anything else – proud of their neighborhood, proud of their heritage, proud of their country.
“South Brooklyn is where the ships have to come in in order to get into the city,” Frankie says. “This is the birthplace of freedom, and this is where we’re from.”
“If I became a millionaire I would still be here, I wouldn’t change who I am. To me personally, why wouldn’t you work? Some Americans are taking jobs that do not require to think and create, and with the scrap, you have to be very creative on how to make money.”
In the first episode, we meet Frankie’s sidekick Darren. Their interaction is barefaced and uncensored. In his early 20s, Darren has a lot to learn, and inevitable drama unfolds between the larger-than-life characters that are inherently comical.
“The humor that comes out of is not on purpose. That’s the type of life I have. You’re not supposed to slap people in the face with education. If I yell at Darren and that’s how people learn about copper, then OK. If someone is laughing they don’t understand that they’re learning, too. Ever seen Big Fish? That’s my life. I like to tell a good story and laugh a lot,” he says with a straight face.
On Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz will present a proclamation to make August 3 the official Scrappers Day. I nod my head at the Scrappers poster with a subtitle that reads “Grab life by the junk” and ask Frankie if his neighbors are proud. This elicits the first smile I have seen on his face throughout this entire interview.
“They don’t tell you they’re proud. They’re more proud of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a character all in itself. When this is all said and done, my mom is going to make a nice macaroni dinner for everyone.”