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Youthful Adventures

Gene Bluestein

— And when I graduated from high school I was a gangster. I was a Brooklyn Gangster. We had a cellar club — do you know about the history of the cellar clubs? Kids got together and bought these basements, turned them into social/athletic clubs, mostly social. My very closest friend was an artist and he made us a card that we'd give to girls. It said "Club Tempo! It jumps and humps." We had a wonderful time. We did everything you could do without guns. We stole stuff. It was a great place to make out. We had a back room and a red light in the front. If the red light was on, somebody was getting laid in the back room. So it was very much an exciting time. The furniture and the drapes we stole from all of these local apartment houses. We used to just walk in and walk out with a couch. One summer when I was seventeen the guys decided to buy guns and my good friend and I decided that you could get killed that way so we left.

Herb Dorfman

— My teenage years, I was in Brighton Beach. My mother and I came from Brooklyn Heights where we'd had a nice one-bedroom apartment, but my mother decided she wanted something a little bit more homey so we moved to Brighton Beach to a room in someone else's apartment. I was too young at the time to think that this was not a good idea. And in fact, a friend of hers moved in with us so there were two of them and me in the same room. Well, you know, it turned out to be very possibly the most happiest consolidated time of my life. And this little room in this apartment turned out to be the place where all my friends came. We had parties. And every five minutes a train would come by, an elevated subway train. If you lived in the front you had to stop talking every five minutes and wait ‘til the train came in, loaded up and went on. But I was in the back. I didn't hear the subway trains.

Geri Stevens

— You know, as a child it's hard. I mean, yeah, I was aware that there was a tremendous tension at home. I was always told, you know, anything you hear us talk about at home don't go and talk in school. Don't tell anybody what we talk about at home. You had to be kind of careful 'cause we lived in Vichy France, essentially. But, you know, I was ten, eleven years old and basically what I cared about was playing with friends. I was aware of the fact that there were hardships. My mother had to get up, like, three, four o'clock in the morning sometimes, to stand on a bread line, but that was the war. Other people did too. It was a country at war. And my father, about a year before we fled to come to the US, my father actually was sent away. In this one town that we were in there were maybe twelve refugee families and all the Jewish men were sent away to something called Residence Francais in an assigned place. It was like house arrest. Not house arrest, village arrest. They were sent to a particular little remote village — each one to a different little, remote village. I think that that was a prelude to eventually being sent to an internment camp. This was the Vichy government's doing. They wanted to separate the men from their families. So my father was not with us. My mother actually had to do all the visa work and everything else to come to the US. She had to do that on her own. She was only able to visit him maybe twice because you needed a safe conduct pass. My mother, who was the quintessential Jewish mother, very, very protective of her children, once actually sent me —she had some papers she needed to get to him, and she couldn't get a safe conduct pass anymore. So she sent me, I was, like, eleven, on a bus — you know, in a country at war — to his village. That I remember very clearly because I know she was a nervous wreck. And I thought it was a great adventure. The only time he was able to leave that village was when it was demonstrated that we had papers to leave the country, so he was able to get a safe conduct pass out of that village. I think he could not even spend a night where we were. I think he had to go directly from there to the ship that took us out.

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Al Lasher

— My father would get sick from time to time. Sometimes he would have to go away to a place where he could rest, where they would treat him. We'd move in with my grandparents, or they'd move in with us, and we'd move to a different place. So I made seven different school changes when I was in grade school. And some of the schools I went to twice. You know? You'd come back, recycle back. I don't know if there was any particularly negative effect on me. I think on my younger brother, because he was smaller, I think it was a little more difficult for him.

Myron Kandel

— Like most kids growing up in Brooklyn in those days, I was very sports oriented. I mean, we lived a dozen blocks away from Ebbets Field and were big Dodger fans. We would play basketball after school in the schoolyard. I remember, after one snowstorm, literally with my friends taking shovels along to the schoolyard to shovel off the snow so we could play basketball. And also I was an omnivorous reader. I remember as a kid we could take four books out of the library at a time, and sometimes I'd go back twice in the same week. The Brooklyn Museum was great, and riding the subway, of course, without any concern for safety.

Herb Dorfman

— I was invited to a party one day. One of the guys in our group had his eye on this little Italian girl, very pretty I must admit, but I would have suspected she was with somebody. Well, she turned out to be with the leader of the Italian gang and they got very upset. So gradually they moved us all out to the porch, and it was clear from this little conversation that there was going to be trouble. I thought well, what the hell. What can happen? No such thing as a gun or a knife or a stick or a rock in those days. You used fists. But what really impressed me, as we stood there, sort of facing off against each other — in those days you went to a party you wore a suit, shirt and tie so, I mean, it was a very formal looking fight — all the Italian guys suddenly, as though on cue, took off their watches. They took off their watches and they put them in their pockets. I remember thinking to myself, very effective, very theatrical. You know. Really. It works very well. My guys didn't know what to do. Should they take their watches off?