Mike Marino of Kingston strides around Kingston’s streets from morning ‘till night, seven days a week, cheerfully waving at everyone he knows, collecting bottles and buying everyone a cup of coffee. Marino beams with unsullied pride when talking about how he made the local news in 2015 as a do-gooder when he found a wallet with $2,200 cash while he was doing his bottle route and promptly handed it over to the police. Marino’s Italian Bronx-heavy charming manner of speech includes such classics like, “knucklehead,” “be-boppin’” and “fuhggetaboutit,” interspersed with wisdom from his mother.
Where are you from?
I’m from the Bronx. I got a job in the city as a maintenance man with my best friend — we were in a group together. Four of my friends and I had a group together starting at seven years old, it was a doo-wop group. When we were kids we were the 5 Tear Drops because Raymond used to cry all the time. Then we changed it. Early Creations. We sang for 14 years and then started separating; everyone started drinking, doing drugs, marijuana, LSD … I didn’t do any of that. They always said I would be the first to go, they made money bets, but I was the last. My dear best friend called me and said he got AIDS from a big needle. I cried like a baby. He died at age 31. He liked Elvis and we used to imitate him a lot.
I grew up old-fashioned Italian — in the ’60s, ’70s. Respecting people, understanding people, always helping people, being honest. My mother always said to take care of people and they will take care of you back. I hated sports, except the Yankees, but lately, oh boy. The music was fantastic. This music today sucks, especially this rap stuff. Being Italian meant we were close with family; my mother was my second angel, my first angel was my son, of course.
When my mother got mugged I decided to learn how to box. I almost made Golden Gloves until I got knocked out! Now I box with the cats.
Did you know other doo-wop singers?
Dion DiMucci (from the Belmonts) used to come for dinner. I knew the Shangri-las, the Coasters, the Drifters and more.
How did you wind up in Kingston?
I came up here with a girl, but it didn’t work out. I was with her six and a half years. Once we separated, I did great.
Michael Marino Jr.; he lives in Brooklyn.
South Bronx. I was very active. My parents were very poor and so I decided to do music lessons. We did drums with upside-down garbage cans and sticks. We did good. I did Street Corner Doo-Wop in the South Bronx.
Did you perform out?
Concerts, plays, parties, get-togethers. We did really well. We did a capella and then we did music.
Where do you live now?
Kingston. Three years. It was tragic in the beginning. I was homeless for three days, then I got my money and got a motel. So someone gave me my landlord’s number, and everything worked out.
How did you get into bottle collecting?
I decided to walk around a couple of times because I am never home. I see everyone collecting bottles. I wonder, why everyone is doing that? But I smoke cigarettes and want to support my habit. So every day I would go around and collect bottles and support my own habits. I never asked nobody for nothing since I am here. My business got bigger and bigger. And now I come home at 5-6 p.m. with a ton of bottles — in one day I made $112. It took six trips. You gotta hustle when you got muscle, right?
How much money do you make a week doing it?
Depends, how much I cash in, I save the rest. Last week I made $27 one day, $68 in one day and started buying people bagels and coffee and hot dogs and started treating people, buying people cigarettes; everyone knows what I am doing. They are so proud of me because I work so hard.
How do you get your bottles?
People call me and ask me to pick them up. They have them ready. Bars, stores, restaurants, the works. From here [Uptown] to the Strand. They call me “Famous Marino.”
What’s the secret to getting a good recyclables cache?
You gotta know where to go, when to pick them up, when they will be ready.
Does the weather ever slow you down?
No, the weather don’t bother me. I was in the snow. They call me “stupid” but I tell them, “Don’t call me that, I am working.” I walk away. My mother always said sticks and stones always break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
How far do you walk every day?
I walk from Uptown to Downtown all the time. I am up at 4 a.m., I make a pot of coffee. I used to watch the news but since they took away my cable I put on the radio. I leave the house at 5:45 a.m. I stop in the store for breakfast sometimes. I come home 12 or 1 p.m. I make a pot of coffee in the afternoon. Then I go out again. Staying home alone is no good for you. On the weekends on Saturday I do blast doo-wop and then Elvis on Sundays. It’s a habit.
Do you ever find anything interesting?
I find jewelry, a baby’s gold chain (and I gave it back to the little girl and gave it back to her and she gave me a hug). I found a laptop in the grass and it belonged to an executive and he was very happy when I went to his office and returned it. I found a gold detective’s badge in the sewer and got a hug from the detective. I found 12 wallets and I turned every one in; the ninth wallet I turned it in and he bought me almost $100 worth of food. My first wallet had $2,240 in it. I see him all the time; he gives me bottles. I find this stuff walking around the city streets; too many careless people. But if I find a $10 bill and I don’t know whose it is, I am keeping it!
Tell me about the time you won the lottery.
I had a dream of the number. I played it three days in a row, and the third day it won. I gave most of it out — $10,000. I bought a lot of people doughnuts, coffees, cookies, stuff for the house. I won and bought 11 boxes of toys. It felt good. I bought toys from the mall, Walmart, toy store. People thought I was stupid, I didn’t care. I brought all the toys around the offices around with Toys for Tots boxes in Kingston, and gave them away. Every girl at the registers in Hannaford’s supermarket got toys for their kids. It felt good. My mother always told me to give.
Music and bottles. Today [Monday] is recycle for me; everyone has them out today.
Sam from the pawn shop is a good lady. Bree was a former neighbor and works at a day care, she is very good with everything. And my son, Michael Jr.