From the Zola System


New York, New York, USA
January 30
I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, in the Zola System, my father’s philosophy of life. He taught my brothers and me the basic life skills: how to run a street hustle, perpetrate a con or recognize when you were being hustled or conned; information we needed so we could feed our families if another Hitler came to power. My father Aron Zola was a Romanian Jew, a holocaust survivor, a black marketeer, a gun runner, a successful entrepreneur, a true citizen of Detroit. When I was 18, I rebelled against the Zola System and moved to New York City. I was fascinated with cultural heroes – Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson and the aesthetic bohemian artist lifestyle that, in my naivete, I thought they lived. Now I see they were working their own hustles on the public, just like the Old Man. Even the Manhattan dating scene runs on the Zola System. To paraphrase Mark Twain, now that the Old Man is dead, I’m shocked how much he learned. I wrote reviews for SPIN, an unpublished brunch guide for New York City, covered the death penalty, reviewed books for the New York Law Journal and profiled sports stars for the Jewish Forward. I have two crime novels and a bartenders guide to New York City that I am trying to sell. After dabbling in so many genres, I finally realized I’d been running from my subject: my father and the Zola System. The Old Man is gone now and I am his eldest son carrying on as he wanted me to do. This was not supposed to happen.


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SEPTEMBER 26, 2008 10:42PM

The Art of Copping

Rate: 3 Flag

In May of 2007, I made the mistake of Googling my first love Amanda, now an attorney working for a firm in Midtown. I was in the midst of negotiating the final stages of the break-up with my latest girlfriend as well as other major life changes. Well, it turns out that Amanda had gone off and gotten herself married back in 2005. It was a really nasty knock, the kind that leaves you winded with your stomach in knots wondering if therapy might be in order. I tried to be rational. We hadn't talked in 14 years or seen each other in 10. Why should I be upset? But I was. I felt like a car that had been blown into a mobile home by a tornado that came out of nowhere. I soldiered on, figuring the whole thing would blow over in a few days.

Amanda had that Princess look, olive skin, no make-up, long dark hair, brown eyes; just like those that I was too shy to ask to dance at the neighborhood bar mitzvah's lest they see me fall to a pile of jelly. She looked like a Persian Princess.

We dated for over a year eventually living together, although not quite in sin as we lived next door to each other and could sleep in our own beds. Amanda had over taken my mind so much that I was willing to over look her close relationship with her old college boyfriend.

Three days after the traumatic Google, I was in my local bar when lo and behold, in walks Bob Miller. Back when Amanda and I were together, I took her to Wilson's, a Chelsea bar near our West Village apartment. Miller would rob the spot every Monday, duct taping the bartender in the bathroom. On Thursday, he'd come back and spend the exact same amount he'd stolen plus a hundred or so dollars more and he'd leave the bartender a $100 tip.

The summer of 1992, when Bob was playing robber, was a rough one. Amanda and I began the break up cycle in early May when the old college boyfriend moved to New York for a summer internship at a law firm. She told me she wanted the summer with him to see if they could work it out. All the tulips and bad poems I left for her hadn't changed her mind. She wanted to be with him, not me. Amanda gave me my severance lay a day before he arrived and I was left to my own devices for three and a half months.

I spent most of that time at Wilson's with Pat, a semi gigolo and local sociopath and Jack O'Brien, a college educated Westie wanna-be. Pat and Jack couldn't stand each other. They spent most of their time badmouthing the other and trying to pull me further into their individual orbits: cocaine use with Pat and heroin use with Jack. It seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. I was desperately trying to be the wounded, gilted romantic, just like the men that had brought me to New York : Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac et al. And I was succeeding too. I managed three hang up phone calls to Amanda's answering machine one booze and smack fueled night, a record that I think still stands.

Jack lived by the just turned out Hooker stroll at 29th Street and 10th Ave. Pat and I were walking up to Jack's on a Thursday after Bob Miller had gotten us drunk. We were dressed too preppy to try and cop anything on the Lower East Side so we were going to a Hell's Kitchen bar on the water front in the "40's". It would take me an hour to get us some H, as the bartender was the dealer and we had to sit there and listen to his problems for at least an hour. Waiting for the man wasn't quite like it used to be.

At 25th Street , one of the prostitutes grabbed my crotch and started squeezing, telling me all the things she wanted to do to me for free. After a few more dirty words and a hard squeeze of my balls, she tried to pick my pocket. I had been through this before and took my money right out of her hand. She walked away mumbling something about how she was a girl just trying to get paid. Pat, however, thought he was really going to get a free blow job and ended up losing the $200 we were going to cop with.

He screamed and screamed at this hooker, attracting the attention of her gray fur suited pimp. I ran the four blocks and five sets of stairs up to Jack O'Brien's. We ran back to find Pat in a brutal argument with the pimp and three of his ladies. I was expecting to see Pat knifed at any moment. Jack stepped up to the pimp and wagged his crooked right forefinger at him.

"Do you know who the fuck I am?"

The pimp looked at the Jack and me and sized up the situation. He asked Pat how much the hooker had taken.

"$200," he said.

The pimp pulled out $175, threw it on the sidewalk and told us to get lost. When Pat started to get angry about the perceived slight of losing $25, Jack reminded him there was a street tax involved for stupidity involved in the accounting.

We walked back to Jack's dingy two bedroom apartment just as the pimp stated to beat the hooker who took Pat's money in the middle of 10th Avenue . I shook my head and decried a man beating a woman.

"It's the rules of the street, she got caught stealing and her pimp lost face. Therefore, she takes a beating." Jack said.

Pat stood there cheering the pimp on.

In that moment I began to rethink the whole wounded romantic concept.

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You let a woman get beaten and did nothing?