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The Littlest Hustler

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Hanging out in his room.  

Alex doesn’t always get away with things. In fact, he’s annoyed a few of the adults in his life with his antics. At the San Gennaro Festival, Vinny Peanuts got mad at him for squeezing customers for tips while selling torrone. In only a few hours, Alex had amassed more than $150 in gratuities, all in singles.

“Alex,” Vinny said. “You can’t keep asking the customers for tips. It makes them feel uncomfortable.”

“You’re just jealous,” Alex snapped back.

Vinny threatened to send him home, but Alex called his bluff. “Send me home then. You make more with me here, and you know it.”

“Some kid,” was all Vinny could say.

Alex also ran into problems at the NikeID store, especially when his juvenile sense of humor highlighted the yawning age difference between him and everyone else in the store. One day, a client with a large nose came in to design his own sneakers. As everyone sat around the computer, Alex typed in a suggestion for words that could appear on the side of the shoe: big nose. Alex cracked up. His colleagues didn’t.

Occasionally, he was sent home from NikeID. The primary force behind these banishments was “Super” D.J. Clark Kent, the hip-hop producer who famously discovered Jay-Z and can often be found hanging around the store. “All of this can’t possibly be good,” says Kent about Alex working there. “The reason Alex is bored is because people let him do whatever he wants. Someone has to be the grown-up around here and tell this kid to go home and do his homework.” One afternoon in Soho, Alex spotted Kent on the street and left his friends to rush right over. He wanted to hang. Kent didn’t. “I said to him, ‘Alex, we’re not friends. We cool. But we’re not friends. You’re 13. I’m 40.’ He’s just completely out of his mind. He thinks we’re the same age.”

Alex never told his parents about getting sent home from NikeID. “Alex would never want us to see all the humiliations he must go through,” Robin says. She’s appalled by Kent’s comments—“Who is he to tell me how to raise my son? He doesn’t really know Alex”—and suspects there’s more to his sending Alex home. “Alex is competition for D.J. Clark Kent,” Robin says. “All the attention Alex gets, that’s attention D.J. Clark Kent isn’t getting.”

The attention Alex gets also bugs his 16-year-old sister, Zoe. “It’s annoying. That’s all I can really say about it … it’s just really annoying,” Zoe says. “I’m his older sister, and when I walk around the neighborhood people know me as ‘Oh, aren’t you that cool little kid’s sister?’ That’s really who they think I am: sister of the mayor of Nolita.”

“I said to him, ‘Alex, we’re not friends. We cool. But we’re not friends. You’re 13. I’m 40.’ ”

Her frustration with Alex is partly personal. “He won’t hang out with me anymore,” she says. On weekend mornings, Zoe and Alex used to go for breakfast together, then he got too busy. “It was never that great anyway,” she says. “It’s not like we got to have bonding time. He’d leave the table and talk to everybody in the restaurant.” (It wasn’t entirely horrible: “We’d always get a cup of free coffee or pancakes on the house.”)

But his big sister also wants to protect Alex as he weaves through the world. If you can’t choose between being a kid and being an adult, Zoe explains, you can be left stranded between the two. And what happens if all the attention dries up? Who will Alex be?

For now, Alex doesn’t seem too interested in Zoe’s concerns. He’s busy building his empire of connections. One night late this summer, we drove to a concert in East Hampton. James Taylor was playing. Alex had never heard of him, but it was a chance to meet A-listers and Alex didn’t want to miss it.

He was in fine form. First, he bumped into David Blaine, the magician, who was biting quarters with his hind teeth. Alex didn’t need an introduction; they had friends in common. Blaine made a card disappear for Alex. “So, what do you think of that?” he asked. Alex shrugged, unimpressed, and the crowd cracked up.

He moved on and stumbled upon Paul McCartney. “Hey, what’s your name, young man?” McCartney said. But Alex wasn’t interested in talking to a Beatle. “Aren’t there any professional athletes here?”

He looked around. A tall man passed. Finally, a ballplayer! Alex introduced himself. “This kid is mad cool,” said C.J. Miles, shooting guard for the Utah Jazz, within minutes of making Alex’s acquaintance. “He knows some of the same people we know from around the league.”

“C.J.,” Alex asked, “do you have your own plane?”


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