Alex was 9 then. Kola didn’t believe him. She noticed Alex was clutching a green bottle.
“Is that a Heineken?”
“No. It’s a Pellegrino, duh.”
Then she laughed, and Alex was in with her. “What comes out of his mouth just doesn’t match what he looks like,” she says. “It’s as if he’s been living on his own for years.” He took her to the store where he bought the gag cigarette, and she bought one, too. They strolled up Elizabeth puffing on their fake butts.
Kola worked at NikeID at the time, and she introduced him to the sneakerheads there. They can be an exclusive bunch, but Alex talked his way in. “He’s a hustler,” says Kola. “A natural-born hustler.” Before long, he was a part of the crew.
As in most of his jobs, he didn’t work for cash—child-labor laws wouldn’t allow it. He worked for the connection, which was worth far more. With steady access to NikeID, Alex turned himself into a valuable commodity, especially with the Knicks. He started supplying players and officials in the front office with shoes—a gift for sneaking him into games.
He now sits courtside, and eats dinner in the green room with the players’ families and friends. “It’s like he assumes that he’s supposed to be here, and so everyone else thinks he’s supposed to be here, too, and it’s like now he really is here,” says Adia Revell, a former college player who knows him from the Garden. Alex’s favorite Knick is center Eddy Curry. “This is my little guy right here, my second assistant,” Curry said about Alex at a recent game. “He tells me about my rebounding and positioning. He’s the funniest kid I ever met.” Nate Robinson, the team’s dunk specialist, is also a fan. He likes Alex’s shoes. “I saw the sneakers he was wearing and said, ‘Now, those are some sneakers I would want to see on my feet.’ ”
For networking purposes, Alex always carries his own business cards. He had 500 printed last year. “ALEX GOLDBERG,” it reads. “CALL FOR KICKS, TICKETS AND CLOTHES.”
The Goldbergs live on the top floor of a rent-stabilized building on Broome Street. The loft is airy and neat, with tall ceilings and skylights. Alex’s father, Richard, gut-renovated the place himself when he first moved in, in the early seventies. He now works as a wine consultant and has just uncorked a bottle of Côte du Rhône. He pours a glass for Alex’s mother, Robin, dressed in skinny jeans and a designer blouse, as they sit down to talk about their son.
Alex is “a phenomenon,” says Robin. “A self-made man.” She’s constantly surprised by how many people he knows. In California, a man recognized Alex from the salad line at Peasant. In the Hamptons, people ask, “Is that cool little kid your son?” Her trainer at the gym knows Alex; he bought shoes from him at NikeID. Occasionally, she even thinks about asking his help to get into places. “It’s cool,” she says. “He’s master of a universe that he’s created for himself.”
Richard credits Nolita for Alex’s development. “Look around,” he says. “Look at what and who Alex has at his disposal.” This is why Robin has worked to help keep the corporate intruders out of their neighborhood, at least as much as possible. Peasant will show him how to cook a goose; Starbucks won’t. “It’s hard to imagine Alex growing up the way he has anywhere else,” she says.
Robin worries, of course. She worries about “maintaining his childhood.” She worries that he’ll develop an inflated ego. And she worries that all the attention he receives for playing grown-up could lead to problems with other kids. While Alex does have friends his own age, like Julian Schnabel’s twin boys, Cy and Olmo, he can be a bit of a schoolyard bully. And earlier this year, Alex was temporarily suspended from school for calling his teacher a “dick” under his breath. His teacher needn’t have taken the comment personally. Alex curses at everyone, even his parents. “Like, he’ll be in the middle of the restaurant and say, ‘Fuck you, Dad.’ I mean, it’s crazy,” says Frank DeCarlo, the Peasant owner.
Richard and Robin try to discipline Alex about his language, but overall they’re lenient. In Miami, instead of grounding him for sneaking out, Robin let him hang out with the Delano crew all weekend. (At one point, Alex found himself chatting up three topless women on the beach. “He was literally surrounded by six grade-A Miami titties,” says Fernando Gil, a former “Page Six” reporter who met him there. “He was like a kid in a candy shop.”)