Everyone in the neighborhood knew Sam Zherka. I respected him as a businessman who became successful at a young age. Sammy was the kind of guy who invited everyone he knew for a meal or a job, whatever he could. I used to hang out in his office playing with, ‘Butchy,’ Zherka’s Rottweiler. He was a tough dog, but once you got to know him, he was a teddy bear…kind of like Sam. A really rough exterior and kind of intimidating, but underneath he is a kind, giving, loving person.
As time passed, I went my own way for a while…Turned to be the wrong way. I went with the wrong crowd and started getting into trouble. I ran into Sam and he saw me wearing the signature beads that signified that crew. He immediately took me to the side and asked me “what was wrong with me?” I said, “nothing, Man, I’m getting my bones; getting me street cred.” He looked me in the eyes with disgust, but more disappointment, than anything.
“Papi, you doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to see you end up in a bad situation. So listen,” he said. “How about you come to the office: hang out, clean, sweep, run errands for me –coffee from the store, etc…and you’ll make a few bucks, stay away from the losers you been hanging out with.”
So after a few days thinking and hanging out till late, getting in trouble with my Mom, I was thinking maybe he was right. I decided to check it out.
I was about 19 at the time and so my journey began into the world of living a straight line and being a man who learned to stand up for what he believed in; to be a man of my word and most importantly, to be someone that when I look into the mirror every day, I am proud of what I see. Sam taught me to always be proud, whether I had $20 bucks or $20,000, as long as you made it the right way. Never take what don’t belong to you. Never bite the hand that feeds you, and most importantly, you are not for sale by any means necessary.
I always caught on quick with any job task and I was always looking for opportunities to make more money and be proud of myself for doing it…cleanly, by the sweat of my brow. Not to mention, I had a baby on the way. So I started handing out fliers for Sam’s clubs and also started doing some telemarketing calls. These were great times for me. I was 19 and working! I had so much fun. We built a great following and we were very successful. We had a dance contest that Sam hosted and I was his protégé…meanwhile, I didn’t even know it!
I worked at two nightclubs. We started doing teen parties on certain holiday evenings. I began doing the dance contest at teen parties and started to realize Sam’s effect on me. If I worked hard and learned from someone successful, I too could be something better.
Then I had a reawakening in life and decided I would become a born again Christian, because of my daughter’s mother. So I left for a number of years while I was in this transition. While most people made fun of me, Sam praised me. He never judged me or shunned me for my decision to leave. Though the relationship went sour, I decided to maintain my relationship with Christ, but not just quote on that religiously. I pray every day and do the best I can to remain faithful.
After doing some odd jobs at the Hunt’s Point market, I decided to reach out to Sam and see if he would accept me back. He did without hesitation and I began to pick up where I left off years prior.
Boy, was I relieved to know I could still provide for my daughter. Though by then, the nightclub was closing and most of the nightclub crew had disbanded, Sam found things to do for those who were left and they learned their new positions. I was learning about building maintenance and all the things to do to keep a building in check. It took all of a year to get the hang of it, but once I did, I was off and running, Sam gave me a free apartment as compensation for my time.
But just as life was looking pretty good for me, my father died unexpectedly at a young age and I became distraught with grief. It ruined me mentally, physically and emotionally and I almost lost it all. I had just become involved in a new relationship. I now had another daughter and stepson. Sam gave my girlfriend/ fiancé a job in the office as a secretary, so he was close to what was going on, even though I was trying to keep him in the dark. I didn’t want him to know I had gone down this dark path of alcoholism and self-destruction. He helped pay for the funeral and bought beautiful flowers for my dad, whom he had only met a few times, but that’s just the kind of guy Sam is. Sam knew I was suffering and not able, so my problem became his problem.
After the funeral, he asked me up to the office to speak to me. I got there and he said, “Let’s take a ride. I have things to do and I need to speak to you.” I was immediately thrust into, “What did I do to earn a spot in his busy life?” For him to take time to talk to me, I knew it must be pretty important. Sam is never the “he said –she said” type. He took me for a ride to do rent collections…started telling me funny stories and then transitioned into how his older brother and his wife died tragically in a car accident.
He told me how he suffered and how he was affected, but then, how he knew what it meant to be strong and to be there for those that needed him, most importantly for his niece and nephew, who were now orphans.
So I immediately knew that he knew I was broken and not focusing on my family. After that car ride, I was so motivated to know that he made it through something I went through, that I could do it too. So I put down the bottle and picked up the holistic health approach. I got myself healthy mentally and physically. And for years I was in a good place until I was involved in a horrible, life-threatening car accident. I had all kinds of cracked and broken bones, a punctured lung and swelling in the brain. I was a mess; a complete and total mess.
It was horrible for me. My wife and I had broken up and she relocated to Florida. I had just started my own small building management company that Sam helped me create. I was getting on my feet and then I had the rug pulled out from under my feet. I was sedated for two weeks to allow my body to heal so they could prep me for surgery.
Sam visited me time and time again and talked to me. Although I wasn’t conscious, I heard him and all of my family members that were there, pushing me to make it through. I so love them all for that! When I woke up, my room was filled with flowers and balloons from everyone and it was all Sam’s doing. He wanted to make sure I knew I woke up to a room full of love. He called me and told me not to worry about any bills…to rest up and get better and that he would take care of everything financially for me. And he kept his promise and gave me the extra boost to pull through. That’s the kind of man Sam Zherka is.
Hector Perales is a real estate investor who owns and operates residential properties in the Bronx, NY, where he grew up. He has two daughters, a stepson and a grandson. He strives, daily, to live a God-centered life.
Submitted by Hector
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