The phone regularly rang with people looking for the jail.

When I was a kid, our telephone number was 656-3060; the jail’s was different by just one digit. Weekends — and during the full moon — the phone regularly rang with people looking for the lockup. I’d tell ’em the correct number, but some dazed drunks just kept calling. If my parents weren’t around, I’d goof with the people on the line. One woman called like six or seven times asking “Has bail been set yet for Timothy McGillicuddy?” So I says, “Wait,” and then I rustled the pages of the phone book to make it sound like I’m looking through a file or something. Then I announced in as gruff a voice as I could manage at age 12, “He got the chair.” At the other end there was a scream. I hung up. She didn’t call back.

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The case of the meandering nightstick

nightstick

Are any of these stories like for real? Nah, course not, I jus’ make ’em all up.
BTW, the abraded area at the business end was from where the serial number disappeared.

Back in the anything-but-boring ’70s, there was a motorcycle cop who was like runnin’ an independent investigation. This line of inquiry necessitated his visiting for two hours or so every afternoon a certain pretty Miss who resided on Reservoir Ave. A small band of young teens (all permanently AWOL from high school) picked up on the pattern and noticed that he was in the habit of leaving his nightstick out on the bike. Unbeknownst to the Harley policeman he was provoking the little hooligans just as sure as if he was flapping a red flag in front of a bull.

So’s after some weeks of double and triple dares and I-will-if-you-will, one day, on the nonchalant, the schemers saunter by and the wooden blunt object walks away with them. Being a bunch of clever rascals, they walk over to Webster, over to Prospect, over to Lienau and back down Reservoir to lodge themselves in one of their houses, right across the street from where the motorcycle was parked. Then’s they get down on the floor and peep up behind the curtains and just over the window sill. After a bit of a wait, that day’s interview apparently concluded, the officer exits the house and proceeds to the bike. As soon as he sees the machine, with a look on his face as good as any silent film star, he obviously realizes that the nightstick is gone. Hoping against hope, he returns to the young lady’s place. As of course it’s not there, back out he walks. Now the equal of any Yale Drama student (even though the audience consists of nothing but a pack of snickering Heights urchins), the officer emotes anger, bargaining, depression and at last acceptance; he gets on the radio and reports the weapon missing.

The street fills with cops. They start looking under cars, behind bushes and in garbage cans, without any luck needless to say. All the while a red-in-the face higher-up seems to be one minute yelling at and the next demanding answers from the motorcycle cop. The kids couldn’t hear inside what was being said, but they could tell that some malarkey was being peddled by the one and the other — out of diapers some dozens of years, not hours — wasn’t buying it.

A couple of days later, after the commotion subsided, the absconders just gave the nightstick to a local wastrel. As these items have a serial number carved in, sorta like a gun, that ID had to be made to disappear.


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The Tunnel Bar sometimes found itself suddenly paradigm shift from front row center to an up on the stage performance participant in law enforcement dramas.

Like the audience at a New Theatre production, the Tunnel Bar sometimes found itself suddenly paradigm shift from front row center to an up on the stage performance participant in law enforcement dramas.

The first was Russell. Back in ’77, only some month or so after my getting the keys to the tavern, with a great quantum leap he just appeared and all at once seemed to know and be working with every street thief in Hoboken and Union City. Around 5′ 8″, he had the unusual mannerism — for anyone raised in Hudson County at least — of holding his hands out in front of his shoulders and waving them about as he spoke. Especially since he tended to shift his weight from one foot to the other and to step from side to side at the same time, his gestures didn’t give me the impression of anything ethnic; I thought instead of a middle-weight boxer sizing up an opponent in the opening round. For a goof, I would mirror his movements, a brief chat soon turning into a Noh Play of a prize fight. One representative conversational sample involved stolen goods:
“You know those car radios I had last week?”
(He’d shown me a cardboard box with six or so ripped radios, clipped wires trailing like the tentacles of an octopus on ice.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I sold ’em all.”

“Good for you.”

“I still got customers lookin’ for more.”

“That’s great.”

“If you know anybody with radios, I’ll buy ’em.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

I’m the world’s worst judge of character, but it was real clear to me that Russell’s picture belonged on a $3 bill. Even with that being so, I did have to rub my eyes and read a second time the Hudson Dispatch article about a series of raids “coordinated by FBI Special Agent Russell Silverton.” Feds weren’t necessarily from Kansas anymore.

# # #

A gent who made a regular market in goods “with no birth certificate” by his own description stopped at the Tunnel Bar for a few drinks every so often. Following the example of Don Corleone, I wasn’t one to criticize how a man earned his living. Still, I wasn’t myself interested in any bargains. This was particularly so for his offer of cases of top shelf scotch at a give away price. As liquor is the “A” in ATF, the deal was not too good to resist. The next day, the Tunnel Bar got a visit from two stereotypical fedoraed Feds who wanted to know when the trader was expected back.

Soon after there were daily visits from a little troop of trust fund junkies. Heroin addicts in the neighborhood were nothing unusual, but this new crew was. The general local smack user was a tough guy; he had to be — if not to practice his criminal career — to survive the occasional Trenton or Rahway vacation. Also, their habit was hand to vein; they managed to steal enough every day to get high, but not obliteration of health. The novelties, having the money to do a fill ‘er up on a needle, tended to the skeletal frail. They also were shadows of sophistication with talk of European travel. These fans of the opiate would often be zonked enough to have difficulty finding their pant pocket to take out a couple of dollars to pay. The purchase was always just a beer or two to go and the only purpose for it seemed so as to be able to access the restroom.

The ringleader of the group was very different from the rest. Short and solid, he certainly wasn’t on drugs. He wore jeans and an army jacket, but these were new and clean, in contrast to the tattered and dirty of the others. After this circus had passed through every day for at least a week, one time I was at the cash register and my back was turned. When I looked around, I saw the clear-headed guy in khaki behind the bar inspecting the cases stacked underneath. In a loud voice, I said, “Can I help you?”

In two fast skips, he got back to the customer area, smiled and said, “I dropped a quarter and it rolled back there.”

“Whens I sweeps tonight, if I finds it, I’ll give it t’ya tomorrow.”

Still smiling, “That’s OK. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”

I never saw any of them again.

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Back in the ’80s, two gung-ho cops started snagging junkies as they rode back to NJ through the Holland Tunnel after Lower East Side re-up jaunts.

Back in the ’80s, two gung-ho cops started snagging junkies as they rode back to NJ through the Holland Tunnel after Lower East Side re-up jaunts. It’s not like it was hard to spot the returning shoppers: five people stuffed into a decrepit little car (with not a cent to spare, gas guzzlers never were used), attired in salvaged clothes, and often one or more already on the nod. (Why travel in a sure to garner attention little flock? Economy yet again ruled. The owner of the car made a few dollars by the rest kicking in for gas and tolls, which cost less than the individual train and subway fares.) As the police had their quarry pull over at the corner of 15th and Henderson — just across the street from the Tunnel Bar — tavern patrons enjoyed many hours of true crime diversion. The travelers were ordered spread-eagled to the sidewalk and there nearly strip searched and the vehicle ransacked. (I never saw any of the arrest reports, but I presume that the paperwork would show that I’d hallucinated and the contraband actually was immediately and clearly in plain view on the dashboard or the seat of the vehicle.) If the sifting operation failed to find anything, the rag tag crew might literally receive a shoe to the behind and be told to get moving.

One of these little dramas was underway a bright and sunny day. Something unusual was a hobo sitting on the step outside of the bar. As the homeless generally avoided police scrutiny, this struck me as strange. I even thought to myself, “Does he want to be next?” This intercept was a ball four for the cops. Some hours later, I again happened to be standing by the open door. The car that had been previously detained returned and stopped. The driver and a passenger jumped out and ran over to the adjacent yard where the bar’s garbage cans stood. A furious rummaging around ensued that lasted for only a few minutes. Empty handed and visibly frustrated, they hopped back into the car and left. I guess that the tramp had seen or sensed the hidden treasure and in a quiet moment proceeded to make it his own.

I remember another car that was (at first) missed by the vigilant JCPD duo. It was parked a block away on Provost St. A few minutes later, a door opened and someone fell out onto the asphalt. Then, another person jumped out of the car and ran to the Merit gas station and made an emergency call from one of the pay phones. The police car and an ambulance soon arrived. A search failed to turn up anything. Those still in the car were questioned and by their gestures seemed to be vehemently denying all knowledge of heroin purchases or use. After the ambulance took off with the one who’d ODed, the rest were allowed to leave. It seems impossible to believe, but nearly exactly twenty-four hours later the very same car parked in the very same spot on Provost St. As luck would have it, after only a few minutes, the patrol car was headed up Henderson St before it lurched to a sudden halt. There was a brief pause of seeming hesitation (maybe the officers at first couldn’t believe their own eyes, thinking the sight some sort of imagined deja vu?) before the police turned and quickly floored off in pursuit. Their car screeched to a stop, blocking any escape for the foolish. This time narcotics possession was obvious; arrests quickly followed.

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A case of misplaced economy

After my computer repair shop got the heaveho from Hoboken Ave over by Jersey ’cause of the construction of the Light Rail, I moved lock, stock and old van over to Grand Street by the Turnpike exit. In this new neighborhood, I made the acquaintance of someone well-known in Jersey City politics. One summer evening, I was headed over to the Pathmark shopping center when I noticed the individual in question’s vehicle pulling up to the curb over by the liquor store. I began to walk over like to say hello, when’s I spots a local street hostess popping out of the passenger side and running into the store. Not wanting to intrude on anyone else’s ideas of recreation, I u-turned to the supermarket. I only needed a few things and real fast got in line at the cash register. Who soon follows behind, but the very same young lady previously observed. (Impossible for any mistake to be made as she was attired in — and this is no lie — a turquoise bikini and a fishnet (one inch squares) jumpsuit. I hope those so declined will forgive me, but I neglected to take the glance down required to discover what she had on in the way of footwear.) She’s holding a half-gallon of orange juice. It strikes me then that the ringleader of this little two-part harmony of a circus told her to buy the vodka over at the liquor store and then sent her to the Pathmark for the OJ, where it might be more cheaply obtained. After I gets my 39 cents or whatever change, I turns and says, “Tell — that Anthony said ‘Hello.'” She smiled and replied, “I sure will.”

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The Lone Drinker at the Candlelight Lounge

I guess it was back in ’77. I bounced into the Candlelight Lounge on the corner of Congress and Summit one morning. As I was walking in, I noticed that empty space had replaced what previously had been a window. I asked Mike (the son of the owner) how the glass got broken. He answered that it hadn’t. I then inquired if like the wind coming through the wall didn’t contradict that. Mike told me to take a look outside underneath the window frame. There, in peaceful repose against the side of the building, was the pane in all its pristine entirety. In close proximity on the sidewalk were some strips of metal that had held the glass in place. I asked Mike the reason for the de-install. He explained that when he got there that AM the window was taken apart. Inside, a bottle of liquor and a drinking glass were on the bar. Nothing had been taken.

A few days later the mystery was partially solved and neither UFOs nor the Bermuda Triangle were involved. The son of a high-ranking police officer had effected the unusual entry. Cops riding by discovered the state of affairs. Instead of generating a lot of paperwork that would have placed a needless burden on the back of the tax paying public, the civic-minded patrolmen handled the incident more efficiently simply by giving the after hours imbiber a lift to dad’s house.

I never found out why the particular individual had taken to drinking alone in this strange manner. I don’t know if he was without the funds to obtain liquor with less effort. Another speculation is that he happened to rise before the bars opened and just was not inclined to wait.

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Sammy’s Chinese corn meal

Back in the ’80s when I was running the Tunnel Bar (just outside of the Holland Tunnel in Jersey City), one of our regulars was a young guy named Sammy who lived in the projects. God only knows how, considering that Sammy was around 5′ 8″, 140 lbs and a boozer, he somehow made it into and through the Police Academy, but only lasted a few days before getting caught drunk on duty.

One summer day, Sammy bounces in and asks if I’m interested in buying a lot of corn meal. (I was raising cage birds at the time and cooked up all sorts of concoctions for them.) I told Sammy that corn meal only went for like $7 for a 50 lb. bag. I also asked him where and how he got hold of corn meal. He told me not to worry about that and wanted to know if I’d take a look at it. I told him sure. Only a minute or so later, Sammy returns, wrestling in the door a small cardboard drum. This I found curious, as corn meal is packed in paper sacks. Sammy takes the lid off and I take a little finger dab of a bright yellow powder. I suddenly realize that it’s Chinese mustard. I yell at Sammy telling him that he must have stolen this from the nearby Chinese wholesale grocery. As if on cue, the street outside fills up with a crowd of truck drivers and warehousemen shouting in Chinese. Then, I was half upset and half glad to see a motorcycle cop driving right up on the sidewalk towards the door. He gets off the bike and enters the bar, wanting to know (in no uncertain terms) what the hell is going on here. I tell him that this gentleman was walking his dog and found the stuff in the weeds and was asking me if I knew what it was. The cop directed one of the workers to take the mustard and then told them all to get lost, being lucky as it were to have regained possession of the stolen goods.

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The crew at Hudson Refrigeration warehouse thought of theft as like a divinely derived job benefit.

Back in the late-70s, the crew at Hudson Refrigeration warehouse (on Henderson Street, down by the exit of the Holland Tunnel) thought of theft as like a divinely derived job benefit. Mostly, this was the sneaking out of the gate of some relatively small, but high-priced item — Alaskan king crab legs, for instance — by just hiding it under a coat. One particularly ingenious and industrious individual (who hailed from the Heights and had done hard time (along with accomplices) years previous for assaulting a police officer, and who later went on to homelessness and panhandling at the corner of Central and Manhattan) came up with a plan that was both novel and ambitious. On the second floor of the 15th Street side of the building there was a door to wide open air, for what practical purpose I do not have a clue. Our clever character opens that very door one cold day and starts tossing out cases of hams. Unbeknownst to the hero, inside the Tunnel Bar, across the street on Henderson, a straight job driver from the trucking outfit a block away on Provost Street has the falling boxes under a eagle-eye watchful gaze. He counts, one case, two cases, three cases, four cases. No need to be greedy. He starts up the truck and drives over to the scene, gets out, and loads the by now six crates into the back of the truck. The indignant schemer up above is yelling his lungs out, “Hey you! Stop! STOP!” but is duly ignored.

And it gets better.

After 5pm, the party of the first part, from whose fingers the possession of the hams had so recently and reluctantly slipped, goes down to the trucking outfit and demands to speak with the boss, “I’m from Hudson Refrigeration. One of your drivers stole SIX cases of hams from me today and I wants ’em back!”

Boss of the trucking outfit (going through paperwork): “But, we haven’t had anything at Hudson Refrigeration all week . . . ”

Warehouse worker: “I didn’t come here for a story. I came here for my hams and I wants ’em back RIGHT NOW! I ain’t leavin’ witout ’em!”

Boss of the trucking outfit: “But without papers, how did my driver get into your yard?”

Warehouse worker: “He didn’t have ta. I was pushin’ the boxes out the side door when –”

A this point, the boss of the trucking outfit cut the little speech short and asked the visitor to leave, and was not very polite doing so.

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Tommy’s pharmaceutical festivities

The party lasted a long time at Tommy’s North Bergen cliffside retreat. Here and there, there were — as is to be expected for a dealer in rare powders — low points. A La Cosa Nostra associate showing up one night in ’77 to kidnap — and subsequently kill — his partner (a nephew of the Mayor of Hoboken) certainly was games without fun. But after a weekend of R&R at a Grateful Dead concert in Englishtown, Tommy soon was again presiding over pharmaceutical festivities, now with his new bud, Peter the Bulgarian. There also was enough zero gravity cash to go partners with one Charlie in a seafood business. Alas this alliance was brief; there was a falling out and Charlie et al. caught Tommy unawares and struck him on the head with a tire iron. Tommy confounded medical professionals by surviving, albeit with a furrow in his skull that you could fit your thumb in — if you were so declined for that sort of thing. A several year hiatus at a NJ State correctional facility helped his health, but was a career setback, ratcheting down business by many notches. In the late-80s, Tommy was meandering about North Hudson Park, his shop now in a backpack.

Some killjoys (State Troopers or something similar) finally crashed the party and pulled the plug. Not too long after that, every morning Tommy was at a bus stop on Summit and Hutton. His mother lived close by on Summit near Bowers. I didn’t give it much thought, but sorta figgered that he’d gotten probation and so had to work at a real job now. After quite a while, a court officer spotted Tommy standing on the corner and stopped for a chat. Seems he’d jumped bail and had been tried in absentia with a sentence of ten years. Tommy ran but, with the North Precinct only blocks a way, could not hide for long.

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Back in the late ’70s, the Candlelight Lounge — on the corner of Congress and Summit — was a jumping joint.

Back in the late ’70s, the Candlelight Lounge — on the corner of Congress and Summit — was a jumping joint. Peter the Bulgarian — then most recently formerly partners with Tommy (a North Bergen cliffside dealer in rare powders) and who, as the story went, less recently had escaped from a Soviet prison ship — was running a little operation breaking into parked trailers with Al and some of the other guys in the bar.

Another notable notable of the Candlelight was one Michelle. Michelle was young and pretty and a hooker and a heroin addict. She hailed from wayoff Secaucus and had a safe and steady clientele of older gents. Michelle had taken up with Al.

One day Al was asking one after another for a cigarette and was getting turned down solid by one and all as they were sick and tired of his grubbing ways. Finally, someone pointed out the obvious: Michelle (at that moment in the rest room) had just bought a pack out of the machine. Al opened her purse and there directly under the Marlboros was a cassette tape with a genuine eagle seal and this: “Property of the US Government. If found, place in a postal mailbox.” With the little crowd examining the unusual find, Michelle returns and freaks, demanding the tape. Al refuses, saying that he’s going to play it on the stereo in his apartment. Michelle goes out. With the door hardly having brushed against her derryaire, two guys in suits and fedoras walk in. One goes right up to Al and without a word decks him with a solid right. He then puts his hand in the pocket that Al had placed the cassette and takes it. Still not saying anything, they turn and leave.

Not taking the incident described above as a wake-up call, Peter the Bulgarian and Al and the rest kept up on their merry way of robbing interstate shipping. Until one day none of them shows at the Candlelight. After a while, another set of suits visits inquiring about whereabouts. Mike tries like a “I’m not sure if I recalls . . . ” One of the Feds: “Maybe this’ll help your memory.” And out of a folder pulls large glossy photos: Peter and crew breaking the lock on a trailer, Peter and crew grabbing cases out of the trailer, Peter and crew tossing the same cases into one of their cars (license plate clearly visible) and Peter and crew carrying the cases into the Candlelight Lounge.

Peter the Bulgarian got into a shootout down in the swamps and was thought to have been lucky and gotten away. Maybe a year later, a skeleton was found in the vicinity, so luck most likely had been all used up a long time befores.

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These guys would steal the hole out’v a donut.

Back in the late ’80s, I sold bird seed and supplies out of a storefront on Congress Street a couple of blocks up from Palisade Avenue in the Jersey City Heights. During the day, I did the paperwork and prepared orders to be shipped by UPS. This was in the back, maybe a hundred feet or so from the front door, which was locked. A bell there for people to ring to gain access.

One AM I was packing orders when the door bell rang. I jogged up front and through the glass I could see maybe three local individuals who were well known for always having an eye open for opportunity. I didn’t think that they’d taken up bird keeping.

“Hey Mikey, what’s up?”

“We’ve got six microwaves for sale.”

“Gee, sorry, but I’ve already got a microwave oven. And so does everyone else that I know.”

“We’ll give ya a good deal if ya take all six and then you can sell them.”

“Nah, this ain’t like the bar. People that come here are just lookin’ for bird stuff. And anyhows, I’ve got no way here of keepin’ them out of sight.”

And so I lock the door and hustle on to the back to try to get everything rolling for the UPS pickup. Just as I finish the sprint, the bell rings again. I reverse direction, wondering what it could be this time.

As I approach the door, I see a very obvious undercover police officer with a badge by his belt. As I turn the lock, more plainclothes police come into view — and the three entrepreneurs spread-eagled on the sidewalk.

“Do you know these guys?”

“Why, yeah. Mikey here lives next door and the others are from the area, too.”

“What were they talkin’ to you about? Don’t lie. I just saw ’em ring the bell.”

“Why, they asked me for a match and I told them that I didn’t smoke.”

“I don’t know if you’re tellin’ me the truth, but watch yourself. These guys would steal the hole out’v a donut.”

I lock the door, run to the back and finally begin to get the orders ready — for all of five minutes. The bell rings again. This time I cautiously head up front. And there are my three neighbors, not too worse for the wear and tear.

“What is it?”

“We’ll give ya a REAL good deal if you take all six right now.”

“GET OUTTA HERE! You’re hot! Go hide! But whatever you do, GET OUTTA HERE!”

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The Friendly Stranger’s Chemical Delight

Lunch hour for the night crew at White Rose Frozen Foods (just outside of the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel) was midnight to 1:10AM. Some guys’d run across the street to the diner or Arby’s, others would bring something from home. On payday, many might live it up, so to speak, by calling for pizza or a Blimpie. Not The Friendly Stranger – former bodybuilder, former mental patient and Tae Kwon Do black belt; he’d have drugs delivered.

Sometime after midnight I was on the loading dock at White Rose, finishing off some french fries. The Friendly Stranger, returning from cashing his check, half jumped, half climbed up in through the little space left between the warehouse and a backed-in truck. He walked over to the wall and leaned his shoulders and the sole of one foot against it, waiting for Chemical Delight.

At that section of the warehouse there were two phones. As luck would have it, just then, one of the bosses from the office came in to make a personal call without having it show up on the bill for his desk phone. As The Friendly Stranger’s supplier was given to dramatic entrances (better even than Henry Silva’s in A Hatful of Rain), the situation appeared to be developing complications.

The call sounded like it was going to be short and so the tension started to subside. Then, in walked Don Nagle — Karate expert and Jersey City Narcotics Officer — who had a part-time job at White Rose. Ending the phone conversation, the manager turned around. Seeing Don Nagle, the unexpected party of the first part stood there with his back to the wall as Don walked towards both him and the Friendly Stranger. Nagle stopped directly in front of the boss and started talking about some office business.

I imagined the dealer arriving hooting and hollering at any moment. Was the Friendly Stranger going to assist him against the volcano eruption of an attack from Nagle? And even if they might fend off Don Nagle right there, what good would that do them against the entire Jersey City police force in the hours to follow? And no matter what, it seemed certain that the Friendly Stranger was soon to be out of a job.

Suddenly, I was aware of a pair of Cheshire Cat eyes silently staring out of the shadows of the loading dock in the same narrow space the Friendly Stranger had used to enter. Jersey’s City’s own Mystery Tramp was on a little ledge some eight feet away from and directly behind Nagle, whose head blocked the boss’s view. The Friendly Stranger walked over and stood in front of where the dealer was in the dark, with his back to him and one arm held slightly out, the hand forming a cup. A glint of aluminum foil was held against the palm and the fingers did a venus flytrap around it. The Friendly Stranger put the little package in one pocket. With the other hand he took some money out of his pocket and held that backwards. The eyes disappeared and the Friendly Stranger went to the locker room.

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