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In 1963 I took my first hit of LSD, which in a way saved my life, since it stirred in me a desire for adventure that forced me to move out of the nest and away from the Bronx. The Bronx I left is now virtually gone, save for the few ghosts that remained out of fear. Most of my old Bronx ghetto friends from the dope dealer days are now either burnt out zombies, in prison, or dead.
One of the more fucked-up ways that I fulfilled my acid-head lust for adventure was by rippin' off various drug dealers during part of the early 60s. All was not flowers and love in those days. There were a lot of cats like Spanish Freddy, the legendary Amphetamine Bandit who along with his honchos seemed to be the nightmare of the “A” (Amphetamine) head scene on the Lower East Side. Freddy and his pal Carlos could suddenly appear at a window that had no fire escape, or unhinge your door and enter while you watched in horror and disbelief. Freddy and his bandits never thought twice about rolling up on an “A”-holder as he was coming home and pushing a pistol or a spearfishing gun in his belly.
View From the Top
There were also guys like the late, great Jimmy Smith, who could charm and con many precious substances from the masses. Jimmy Smith was a tall, dark (sort of 3/4 butch Jean Cocteau), handsome lad with a gift for aggressive charm and social grace. These gifts were the tools Jimmy used to score his hits on dealers and on anybody. Jimmy was an “A”-head who never bought or sold Amphetamine—he simply stole “A” and gave it away to his “A”-head associates-gratis. He was a charming, altruistic guy toward his friends in the dope dealer days. Toward his victims he was simply a thieving son-of-a-bitch. He was found dead in a courtyard on the Lower East Side in '68. If you listened to a burglar pal of Jimmy’s, he'd tell you Jimmy slipped from an axle-greased window ledge. Jimmy's enemies liked telling people he had been thrown off a roof by his victims.
Robbing dealers can prove fatal, and it’s one of the few things in my life that I would pass up if I had it all to do over again. Many young guys like Pepe, a really nice cat, and Reno, are now dead—fingered and publicly shot in Bronx saloons. Really young kids like Alleyboy, 16, and Huck Finn, 14, took trips to Boston, Connecticut and Jersey to surprise dealers with handcuffs and pistols, but the few young stickup kids I knew are now dead—they were shot out of town.
Power of the Flower
What happened during the 60s that made bumps so lucrative was the appearance of the hippies. With Flower Power came a much larger traffic of pot than New York had ever seen. People from all over the US flooded New York with hashish and pot (mostly Mexican, and later Colombian and Vietnamese). There was more than enough good, clean acid available for anyone who desired it, too. But along with Marijuana imports came violent dealers. Frustration with the growing drug culture manifested itself in police brutality and further hippie violence.
In the old Bronx where I originated, the way you robbed a dope dealer was by showing up with a gun and making like Cagney’s Cody Jarret, the psychotic character in the 1949 classic stickup movie, White Heat. Drugs like DMT were also sometimes employed to help us perform our dirty work. DMT was the most powerful hallucinogenic I’d ever had. The high only lasted a short while, but it went long enough for a trusting soul to come out of it and find his ankles chained to steam pipes, and his cash and goodies gone.
My partners and I were good at what we did in those dope dealer days. I will run down a few of our old scams, in the hope that it will save you from being fucked-over by some confused kid looking for adventure.
Crying at the Discoteque
In 1967 there was a wave of new youthful money being spent in clubs and discotheques like Ondine (across from the 59th Street Bridge), Downtown, and the original Cheetah club. The Cheetah was the first entertainment complex I’d ever seen designed specifically for the new youth. No booze in this place. Cheetah had a huge dance area, surrounded by a wrap-around leopard print naugahyde sofa. Downstairs they had a big lounge with color TVs and swings and upstairs you could lie back and watch some interesting underground films. Top-notch acid rock bands played the place.
I worked clubs like the Cheetah and Ondine, along with my first partner, Groucho, and a pretty little girl called Nancy. I’ve worked with guys who were skilled at quick violence, but none had as much style, class and flair for the business of liberating set-ups as Groucho. This guy could talk the very laces off your shoes—he was a silver-tongued swindler. Nancy was into doing a lot of speed and never wore panties or bra under her inevitable mini-skirt.
Our objective at the clubs was to come on like dope dealers and turn on the people. Groucho, Nancy and I would walk into a club together, then we’d separate and circulate with smiles, peace signs and the finest bush with which to bait our set-ups. After Groucho and Nancy had built up momentum in buying and selling they would put in an order for as many kilos as their set-ups could gather. Then we would liberate the bush and/or cash needed for our own purchases. Groucho and Nancy would usually make it seem as if they were being bumped right along with the set-ups. I played the dark surprise in our little drama. I was usually introduced in the last act.
Bait and Switch
We created two targets for our larceny. First there was the bush we were bumping, and second the cash we could later bump (using the ripped-off dope as bait) from the set-ups who had been scoring. If the set-ups wanted to deliver the weight to Groucho, we would rent an apartment or hotel room where I’d enter at gunpoint and then diagonally cuff wrists to ankles, everyone in the room.
In the Flower Power era there were not very many smoke dealers who carried guns. A sure way to clock if a dealer was packing a pistol was to try to sell him one (bullshit, of course). His reaction would show whether he was packing or not. The love generation provided the “lay down and give it up” attitude, as far as most dealers we bumped were concerned. Then again, our timing was always right. If I put a gun to a temple, the person whose temple it was usually cooperated. If anything unexpected came up during our act, I always had Groucho to thwart from the inside any plan the set-ups might have.
Most times when a set-up delivered I would appear in a white coverall, workman’s cap and gloves, and would intercept him at gunpoint as he tried to enter the apartment. I'd usually catch dealers way off-guard in my workman's drag, but I also carried a phony badge and never hesitated to identify myself as an officer of the law. Sometimes, too, the police bit would help keep set-ups from screaming all over the place.
Terror is usually a must in successfully controlling your set-ups. Knives can be used very effectively to terrorize after the victims are under lock and key. Set-ups must believe that if they don’t cooperate they’ll be hurt or killed. On the other hand, if you scare them too much they sometimes get all their adrenalin working and will attack you, gun and all. When one of these guys ran up against my gun I'd kick him in the shin or knee.
Kick to the Knee
I never liked using a loaded gun and never did on any of the gigs that Groucho and I were on together. I always felt the intimidation of an automatic pistol was more powerful than that of a loaded revolver. If I’d used real guns I might have shot some souped-up masochist, when a kick to the knee served my purpose just as well. Anyhow, I never could afford the noise of gunfire.
Many people who are ripped-off are fingered by their friends. A person with a loose mouth can finger a dealer without even knowing it, and that sort of information was always helpful to Groucho and me. Sometimes Groucho and I would enter an apartment and find that there wasn’t enough cash or contraband in the place to make it worthwhile. When a situation like that arose, we would have to get our captives to give up some of their dealer pals to us. Terror and interrogation are very important to any successful drug robber and we knew how to use them.
Groucho and I used the old “good cop-bad cop” scam on our captives in our dope dealer days. I would play the sadistic psycho while Groucho acted as though he could barely control me. A lot of times we would have a couple of dealers tied up and I’d boil water and tell them that if they didn’t get someone to come over with some cash and/or bush I would pour the boiling water where I felt it would do the most good. Groucho would pour the hot water in the sink to try to calm me, and that was my cue to fly into a furious rage and threaten to cut his face if he ever interfered with any of my interrogations again.
Sometimes I would pretend to go into the toilet, while Groucho explained that I was his real partner’s brother and that he only brought me on the bump to help make his real partner’s bail. Groucho would tell our set-ups that they were in the wrong business because had we been cops they would all be in jail by now getting raped by monsters and they could even be dead. All this may sound corny and melodramatic, but when our captives caught our version of “good cop-bad cop” they always cooperated. Groucho and I modeled ourselves after a couple of ripsters called Fabio and Reggie. Fabio and Reggie, however, never hesitated to immediately beat the shit out of anyone who wouldn’t cooperate with them.
After Groucho went to Amsterdam, where he was put in jail for smuggling, I found a new partner—a freckled, red-haired baby face who could open doors with a smile. Brian Clancy, my new partner, was such a clean-cut looking little guy that he was usually able to get over by just carrying an empty flower box and posing as a delivery boy. Or he could get people to go for the old telegram scam. He was very fast with his hands and mind.
Knife to His Face
Once, we had set up a deal to sell 10 kilos to three very cautious set-ups. On this deal, one guy was sent up to the hotel with Brian to make sure that the bush was there and everything was kosher. Well, there was no bush and I tied up and gagged the first guy in the toilet. Brian then had the job of going back down to the street and talking the guy with the cash into coming upstairs, even though his scout hadn’t come back with the OK sign. We asked our captive in the toilet if the cash man was carrying a gun and he said no. Even so, I put my knife to his face and told him I’d cut his ears off if we took a gun off the cash man. Then he admitted that the cash man did have a gun and would use it.
Brian went back down with a story about the scout having stayed upstairs getting his cock sucked by some speed freak frail. I told Brian to describe me to the cash man and to say I was a narc living in the hotel, and that I didn’t know Brian. When the clown with the cash got off the elevator to score, I followed him to the room. When he and Brian opened the door I said, “Police, freeze,” and they both put up their hands. When I got them inside, I yoked Mr. Cash around the neck while Brian disarmed him. As I was tying up our man, I heard him tell Brian that he was tripping on acid; I couldn’t help asking the guy if he was having an exciting trip. If that wasn’t enough, our set-ups had a third guy downstairs waiting in a cab. When Brian and I got outside we sent the guy in the cab upstairs and took the cab to split. (I tried to get Brian to destroy the pistol we took off the guy, but he had to keep the gun to flash it a couple of times at some square motherfuckers who weren’t even worth speaking to in my book. One evening when Brian was sleeping with his girl, New York’s finest kicked in his door, found the heat and carried the little bastard to jail—so long baby face, I said to myself, and get yourself a new partner.)
Impersonation is the Greatest Form of Flattering
When we didn’t have an in to a dealer’s apartment we would improvise. What we usually did if we could get the dealer’s phone number was to call the number and start speaking a foreign language enough times to establish the notion that there was trouble on the line. Then we would get a girl to call up our dealers and explain that there was trouble on the line and that a repairman was coming to locate the problem. Once the “phone repairman”–me–got in, it was only a matter of checking all the rooms to see how many people were in the apartment. Then I’d pull the gun, stick it in someone’s ribs and get the others to lie down while I let in my partner. If our target had no phone we had other uniforms we could use to get a person to let us into his apartment.
Clancy had two huge cousins who did rips, but mainly they rented their services to guys who needed muscle on some bump. These two cousins had police uniforms and sometimes helped open doors when we had trouble. I remember hearing about Clancy’s cousins trying to bump some heroin dealers and one of them getting nearly wasted by a bullet that left him crippled. The other cousin didn’t have a police record and always held a straight job, so when his brother became crippled he moved to Philly and after a few years he became an officer in the Philadelphia police department.
I had two other partners, but they were pretty crude dudes and in the long run they didn't show the kind of imagination and quickness that made rips fun. As a matter of fact, I once had to use two new guys on a rip and nearly flipped when I checked the knots with which they tied our set-ups—talk about halfass! I re-teamed up with Nancy for a while, but she only seemed to want to rob speed freaks. I’ve always stayed away from speed freaks, since they are so unpredictable and don’t care much about dying. I must give it to Nancy, though, she could be counted on to tie up any captive as snug as any champion calf- roper could.
It became more and more difficult to find decent help, or people I could trust. On one occasion I was working with a new guy and he tells me he wants to fuck some young guy he had cuffed. Well, neither I nor any of my old partners had ever raped. That was the beginning of the end of my career—this new partner had a cute young wife and baby at home, and he wanted to fuck a guy?
The thing that really killed my career was when some idiot on the Lower East Side killed a couple of hippies—Groovy Hutchison and some rich young girl from Connecticut. The off was widely reported in the press, and tipped off the Flower Children they could get killed if they didn’t watch their shit. I decided to head for the Caribbean and cool out. I was getting very paranoid and had started to look over my shoulder.
I’ve been robbed in a drug deal myself only once, but I feel like I’ve spent ten years paying for my days as a rip off artist. When young people without much interest in school watch enough TV, they are blitzed with schemes of trickery, murder and all sorts of negative shit. I was always impressed by old Hollywood flicks; in all the John Garfield, Bogart and Cagney flicks, the outlaw villains— the Rocky Sullivans, Barl Roys, Little Caesars, Cody Jarrets, Johnny Ricos and Duke Mantees—these were my heroes. But the pay-back from this way of life is a bitch any way you look at it. Good friends get iced and mangled, and with every ounce of rotten luck a man experiences he starts wondering if what's wrong is his karma.
This may be sounding like a religious pamphlet, but I don’t want to encourage anyone who is reading this into thinking that crime and youthful death is glamorous. Since I started writing this article, a woman who was very close to me has been murdered along with her husband. I have reason to believe that the murders were coke-related. Anyone contemplating a career as a ripist has to realize what he may chance in his pursuit of euphoria and/or profit. When a person is dealing in the abuse of trust and the sort of shit my old partners and I were involved in, he can only expect rotten karma. If you don’t know what karma is, I hope you don’t have to find out the hard way.