Thursday, August 24, 2006

My Life of Crime

Since I'm on a roll with memories of the old neighborhood, here's another one along with a plug for a good cause.

"My Life of Crime" was first published last year in the anthology Guys Write for Guys Read. The book was edited by my old friend Jon Scieszka and all proceeds go to support his admirable project to encourage boys' literacy, Guys Read. Check out the Guys Read website and buy a copy of the book.

When I was ten years old I was involved in organized crime. Not the Mafia. Nothing like that. We didn’t kill anyone or break any legs. It was a shoplifting ring.

It was a local operation, in my neighborhood, in Brooklyn, New York. I lived in a solidly middle-class neighborhood–not a high-crime neighborhood at all. The residents were mostly Jewish and Catholic (Irish and Italian), but back then, in the mid-sixties, the Jews and the Catholics in my neighborhood didn’t mix too much, so I hung out with a mostly Jewish crowd.

Many of us had already been shoplifting from the local candy stores and supermarkets, and at one point a bunch of us decided to band together, to combine forces, figuring there was strength, and efficiency, in numbers. Some of the kids felt we needed a ringleader, but others, myself included, felt that it should be one for all and all for one. The majority were in the ringleader camp, but when it came time for a vote nobody could agree on a leader. So it was decided that a ringleader would be recruited from outside the group, and that the candidate must have particularly strong credentials.

To many of the kids that meant only one person–the notorious Butch Goldstein, Jewish thug. Butch was fourteen and his résumé was impressive: he had beaten up numerous kids, talked back to grownups for years, killed the pets of several of his enemies, and stolen more than the rest of us put together. I neither liked nor trusted Butch and I felt that to make him ringleader would be a dangerous move, but apparently most of the others believed there was indeed honor among thieves.

Well, Butch certainly got us organized. No longer would there be haphazard shoplifting; now we'd have teams, and shifts. Butch called the shots. He told us what to steal, and how much of it. He gave us pointers on technique. Two or three kids would go into Janoff's candy store, or Fred and Rudy's, and while one kid acted as a decoy, ordering a malted or an egg cream to occupy the attention of the man behind the counter, the others would carefully slide packs of gum, boxes of Jujubes and Dots and Junior Mints into their pockets. We had several large cartons to store the candy in, hidden in the basement of the apartment building I lived in. The idea, so Butch told us, was that we'd collect the stuff for a month or two, and then it would be doled out equally. That way, he said, it would be really special when we finally split up the booty–we could have a big party. It sounded like a good idea, but several days before the candy was to be divvied up, a couple of the kids went to the basement to deposit their take for the day and discovered that the cartons were missing. They called a meeting, rank and file, without Butch. We all agreed that Butch and only Butch could be responsible for such a dastardly deed, but when we confronted him he played dumb. He said the candy must have been stolen by some Catholic kids who had gotten wind of our shoplifting ring.

This betrayal cured most of us of our criminal inclinations, and the shoplifting ring broke up. I think most of us have gone on to lead pretty honest, law-abiding lives.

As for Butch, the last I heard he was arrested somewhere in Texas for passing bad checks. I must confess that I have changed his name here because I'm still afraid of him, nearly forty years later.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was this Butchie Cohen? A few years after your story took place, c. 1970, I witnessed a guy invite him to enter into an altercation, and Butchie backed out, saying, "I don't fight".

Anyway, “Butchie“, if you got a problem wit dat, or with Pete, I’m in the da Brooklyn phone book.

Bill Smith :)

7:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

I ain't talkin'.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

ouffff. i googled "fred and rudy's candy store brooklyn" and came to your blog. i grew up on ave. h between ocean pkway and east 7th street. i also went to ps 217, but for kindergarten only. then st. rose on parkville. summer nights still remind me of going with chucky ciccarelli for chocolate chip mint ice cream cones. sigh. but let me ask...did the butch you refer to live on east 7th st and his brother met a bad end in vietnam? he really really terrified me. i spent, truly, an entire winter inside when i wasn't in school. some pains you just never forget.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

No, my "Butch" grew up on Avenue H and his brother was too young for Vietnam. Nice to hear from another Fred & Rudy's customer! I don't know if F & R are still alive, but I do know that Fred retired to Florida some years ago. I remember their malteds fondly.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an Avenue H alum myself, and let me update you- Butchy has passed away, so it's safe to come out. Oh, by the way, Zouk says hello. (he's still there)

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember our larcenous gang very well. I also remember the boxes of filled with pez, sugar daddy's and
bazooka gum...Never did find out what happened to all that loot.

I was too young to go to Nam (thankfully)and yes Butchy (Aaron) did go to Texas for a while. Though he talked a mean streak, in the end the only he ever hurt was himself.

By the way, I still have some of the old films we made together.

Maybe we can watch them sometime. I remember you and I filming people's behinds for days and days.



9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn..Ave H memories. Pete, you turned me on to Miles Davis. Thanks for that. Fred & Rudy's ruled and Butchie tried to kill me at least three different ways. I'm still in touch with my of the old crew. Got to get togther.


9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..and I consider my larenous youth a precursor to a fine life helping others be safe...Yes, those were amazing times..After all, I became somewhat adept at prying my way thru my backyard into the Kent movie theater...Peter, some gems here...we will attempt to add fodder & not dilute its' importance.... of East 10th St.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember a different confrontation that led to the loss of our booty…sitting on the ground in the alley with a box containing an eclectic collection of stolen candies (maybe several boxes, as it was months’ worth of hard work) and “the older guys”: Wayne _____, Butchie and maybe a third coming up out of nowhere –standing over us and forcing us to hand over the goods. It was made very clear that the consequences of not handing it over would have made a round of "asses-up” seem like a back tickle. Remember the small disk like/circular candies wrapped in cellophane? We had a bunch of those. Needless to say, we did heed their warning.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Iris said...

Butch... with the sun reflector? Big hair? strange, strange. As a kid I thought he was soo wierd. wonder where he ended up? i used to feel sorry for him, i would hang around and talk to him from time to time.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous iris said...

just spoke with someone from the old neighborhood,
It was Arthur Zuck I was thinking of not Butch.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I grew up in 900 Avenue H from 1979-1992 and I remember Arthur Zuch, I always felt bad for him, i remember him walking back and forth across the street from me. I never knew his back story.

-Adam Grossman

Family: Michael & Joyce Grossman, Jack & Hilda Karnes

4:28 PM  
Blogger Mund said...

Zouk is standing on the corner with his sun visor working his tan!
I met Fred from Fred and Rudy’s in the 70’s in Ellenville

9:45 PM  
Blogger Mund said...

Zouk is standing on the corner with his sun visor working his tan!
I met Fred from Fred and Rudy’s in the 70’s in Ellenville

9:45 PM  
Blogger Mund said...

Let me throw a few names from the neighborhood-Cary and Randy Binder, Harvey Slovis, Joey Fishman Leslee Hohauser Jesse Cohen , had dinner the other day with Steve Greenberg

9:49 PM  
Blogger Mund said...

Butchie for some reason liked me so I was safe

9:50 PM  
Blogger Mund said...


9:53 PM  

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