DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 20: Peace!

By Ray Schultz

Americans awoke on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918 to the sound of church bells and gunfire. Germany had surrendered and people ran into the streets, drunk on “100 percent-proof, government-bonded patriotism.” And where were our junk mail pioneers? Buckley was in Chicago, as pleased as he could be. Peace meant the paper quotas would be lifted.

Edward Proctor was at his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. But he had little time to celebrate. His client, the John C. Winston Co., had summoned him to Philadelphia, and now he had to get to the train station past mobs in the streets.

But he was happy to go, for Winston, the country’s largest Bible publisher, was the kind of client he wanted. Of course, Winston also sold a book titled, “Sexual Knowledge: What every young man and every young woman should know,” that it sent in a plain brown wrapper. But now it had hired an historian and a military analyst to write a book titled, “History of the World War.” Proctor had to help sell—by mail—a book that was not yet written. He went home that night with an order for several million names.

Meanwhile, the balance in the Guild office had shifted. Mr. Guild was spending more time at his home in Maine. He hunted and enjoyed his breakfasts of steak and fried potatoes. Proctor ran the place, although Guild’s wife Addie was listed as president.

Louis Victor Eytinge heard about the war’s end in his prison cell, where he was quietly hoping that outsiders would spring him. Private detective William J. Pinkerton argued that Eytinge was innocent of murder (“his criminal bent was not in that direction”). And a former warden said he had reformed.

“To my personal knowledge Eytinge’s money has paid for milk and eggs for men who were too sick to eat prison fare. Eytinge’s money has paid for sending paroled prisoners home to die. He has given men going out of prison money to start life on. He has paid transportation to employment, even across a Continent. In doing for others Eytinge has found himself.”

Eytinge wrote that “I am reasonably certain of coming east some time during the winter.” But he didn’t make it out that winter, nor the following summer. Instead, he ended up back in the “lunger’s yard” at the Arizona Penitentiary at Florence.

“YES—I’ve been sick,” he wrote. “That’s one of the reasons I gave up the editorial end of the old POSTAGE..I want and need WORK to keep me upspirited, to keep me grinning and growing. I’ve time schedules that will permit me to take THREE MORE CLIENTS—And no more.”

It was harder to stay upspirited as the years dragged on. But Gov. T.E. Campbell finally heeded the call of the advertising industry, and on the morning of Dec. 30, 1922, Eytinge, age 43, walked through the gate of Florence. He wasn’t exonerated—he apparently was paroled. But he was free. And he had a $6,000-a-year job waiting for him with John Service Inc., a producer of personalized mail campaigns, in New York.

“There’s a moral in the tale of Louis Victor Eytinge,” a man wrote to Postage. “It’s this: if a man in jail, suffering with a supposedly incurable disease and existing amidst surroundings that sap all initiative and inspiration, can win his freedom, win his health and win a place in the sun—what heights are not possible to you and me and the other man, out here in the open?” He concluded with an even more pertinent comment: “It vindicates your claim that ‘Anything that can be sold, can be sold by mail.’”

Chapter 21: The Inertia Plan

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 33: Rub The Buddha For Money

By Ray Schultz

The real threat in the list business was a device that took up an entire room, with wires and tubes sticking out of it, that needed to be constantly cooled. In his novel, The End Of The Battle, Evelyn Waugh, satirically described an early version of this machine being used in World War II. “It’s been flown in from America,” Mr. Oates, a bureaucrat explains to Captain Guy Crouchback, an officer desperately seeking a war assignment. “It took 560 man-hours to install. The mechanics came from America, too. There isn’t another like in the country.”

“But what is it?”
 “An Electronic Personnel Selector.”
Mr. Oates demonstrated it. “Now here—“ he picked up a chit from his tray—“is a genuine enquiry. I’ve been asked to find an officer for special employment; under forty, with a university degree, who has lived in Italy and has Commando training—one, two, three, four, five—“ Whirr, click, click, click, click, click. “’Here we are. Now that is a remarkable coincidence.’”

“The card he held bore the name A/TY. Captain Crouchback, G, R.C.H., att H.O.O. HQ.”

This wasn’t as much of a joke as it seemed. In 1945, the New York Times revealed one of “the war’s top secrets,” a system that applied “electronic speeds for the first time to mathematical tasks hitherto too difficult and cumbersome for solution.”

That was the computer. At first, it was mostly used by the military. Only a few companies owned one—others had to rent timeshares, and work through the night at the mercy of unbathed technicians. But when used with a printer and mailing lists stored on tapes, the computer could spit out junk mail letters by the thousands.

John Stevenson bought one for $700,000 in 1958. “The computer didn’t create great growth or even save us a lot of money,” he said. “You had to go from low-paid help to more expensive help.” He admitted, though, that “If it wasn’t for the computer, I would have run the risk of being in jail. There were so many mistakes.”

But many hard-headed people didn’t get it. The DMMA, the brainchild of the convicted killer Victor Louis Eytinge, held a seminar on the computer in 1965, but “It wasn’t very well attended,” admitted Robert Delay, the wavy-haired Midwesterner who led the association from 1959 to 1984. “We ran it about three times, then we couldn’t afford to run it any longer, we didn’t have enough participants. The cost began to be picked up by computer manufacturers.”

Around this time, the Post Office introduced the Zip Code, the postal coding system that helped postmen sort mail and would allow businesses to hone their geographic targeting to a very fine level. It was a gift. But once again, junk mailers opposed it.

“The ZIP code was terribly important. we wouldn’t have had mail delivered otherwise,” DeLay said. “We had a series of meetings around the country to explain it. We lost a lot of members. Pete Hoke (son of the Nazi fighter Henry Hoke)) used to editorialize against it every week. It would kill all the vendors, it was too costly. And it meant that lettershops had to change to computerization. A few said they would never change, and of course they aren’t in business.”

Fueled by constant media coverage, the public was growing ever-more tired of junk mail. So in 1971, Delay and his part-time Washington person James Daly, formulated a brilliant PR stunt called the Mail Preference Service. Consumers could send their name in to opt out of receiving all direct mail. DMMA members had to subscribe to the service, which provided them with frequent updates. Later, this was extended to telemarketing with the Telephone Preference Service.

It took awhile to take off. DeLay was called to testify before Congress. Then-Congressman Ed Koch said, ‘Mr. DeLay, I understand that the biggest member of your association doesn’t use the Mail Preference Service.’ DeLay recalled, “I was gonna have to admit that was true, then a guy by the name of Gertz from Donnelley stood up and said, ‘Sir, if you don’t mind, I can answer that question. We decided at a board meeting last week that we were going to adhere to the Mail Preference Service.’

***

Ed Proctor, the veteran list broker whose father had started in 1899, labored on into his 90s, serving a few loyal clients from his office in Haworth, New Jersey, and enjoying lunches at his nearby club. But he was ousted shortly before he died in 2000, and by this time, new players had taken over, like Robert Castle, a man who wrote software and could discuss De Kooning as easily as he could lists. In 1974, Castle used the Freedom of Information Act to buy bought a list of 1.9 million people who had purchased Carson City silver dollars. It cost him only $515. Even better, “a truck pulled up with boxes that contained the magic words: ‘master tape,’” Castle said. “I had the only copy.”

Castle scored another coup in landing the list brokerage account of National Liberty, a mail order insurance company run by Arthur De Moss and staffed largely by religious missionaries. Castle helped sell many programs, including veteran’s insurance to policies for non-drinkers.

How would you verify that they didn’t drink?

“It was phony,” Castle laughed. “You couldn’t prove it.

Another upstart was Marty Lerner, an aeronautical engineer who had run a school called the Institute of Computer Technology. He found that colleges were desperate for names of high school students to whom they could send junk mail. So he started a company called American Student List, and made some money renting lists to them. He also did some commendable, pro bono work, using his database to locate missing children.

But a certain hubris crept in. The Educational Testing Service Inc., which tested college hopefuls, and the Student Union refused to rent him their own lists of names. Lerner sued in 1979, claiming anti-trust issues, and probably regretted it, for his deposition shed light on the tactics he used to create lists.”When you started your company, did you have any training at that time in computers?” the opposing lawyer asked in a deposition.

“No.”

“Or the direct mail business?”

“No.”

“Or marketing of any sort?”

“No.”

Lerner’s credentials having been established, the lawyer moved on to the delicate subject of where he got the names of college-bound high school seniors.

“The largest source is the motor vehicle bureaus throughout the country,” Lerner said..

“Are there any other sources?”

“Schools,   school   directories   and   lists   that   guidance counselors may have.”

He refused to be more specific, and the lawyer said, “Let the record show that he is refusing to give the names of sources.”

Lerner then conceded that he also obtained names from school ring companies, and from students themselves.

The conversation turned to the fact that Motor Vehicle files have little real information on them.

“There is nothing you can get from a motor vehicle department other than the name and address,” Lerner said. ”That’s the only thing they supply us.”

“You don’t try to find out which of those students intend to go to college, and which do not?

“No, we don’t want to find out anything about them.”

“Did   you ever   at any   time consider   putting on   your advertising brochure a statement to the effect that these were not all the names of high school students?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“Or giving any indication in your circulars and brochures that many of these people were simply people of the right age?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“And the reason you refer to this as a list of high school seniors is that you feel you had leeway to puff, is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“Did you tell the Securities and Exchange commission that your list was a list of high school seniors?”

“Possibly.”

“Were you puffing them, too?”

“No, I don’t think I was puffing them.”

“Have you ever tried to ascertain whether or not   HS students have to legal capacity to consent to their use of names?

“No, I never did.”

“You never looked into that?”

“No.”

The lawyer asked if it was true that some of the Student Union’s names had ended up on Lerner’s list without permission.

“I believe we were supplied with a tape,” Lerner said. “That tape was probably taken and selected with our own file, so that the names could be merged in and de-duplicated.”

“Is it a fact that if some other (fitm) were to request a list by that category, he would get those Student Union names?”

“Ultimately, that’s what did happen.”

“Did you know that these names would become part of your

general list?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Isn’t that against the rules?”

“Well, I don’t know what you’re referring to by rules right at the present time.”

Lerner qualiied his answer by saying it was a mistake.

Despite the fact that this lawsuit went nowhere, Lerner prospered as the 1980s went on, and so did a host of other list peddlers—people who took a 20% commission as broker on list rentals and 10% as manager, and prospered as the business boomed. One of them, Jack Oldstein, expressed it perfectly on a promotional button he sent to clients in 1983: “Rub the Buddha for money.”

Chapter 34: Junk Mail Babylon

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 31: Eros

By Ray Schultz

In 1954, The New York Daily News ran the headline, “Hello, Sucker! We’re all on Mail Lists. From Cradle to Grave You Can’t Get Off.” The term “junk mail” gradually came into use, and the word “junk” was applied to food, bonds and other things.

In 1962, the junk mail business attracted the notice of Congressman Clement J. Zablocki a mustachioed Democrat from Milwaukee. What led him to it was not a genuine outrage that might have required legwork to uncover, but an episode served up by a man who was looking for trouble.

Ralph J. Ginzburg didn’t start out looking for trouble. His first brush with the mail order business came at age 10 in 1939, when he ordered the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People from an ad in Boy’s Life. “I recall riding back and forth to Manhattan from my home in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn on what used to be called the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Subway line, which then cost a nickel to ride — pouring over every syllable of that book, committing it to memory. Of course, reading the book in that way I didn’t finish it until I was 19.”

Ginzburg served in the Army, then worked as a writer and photographer. In 1962, after a varied career, he started Eros, which he described as “an intellectual magazine on love and sex.” Eros was a graphically lavish periodical designed by the revered art director Herb Leballin, hard-bound in the manner of American Heritage, and not at all prurient by later standards. The Ginzburgs launched it with a $400 mailing, and published the first issue only after they had enough subscribers to support it.

Later, Ginzburg argued, that, “America, from Benjamin Franklin’s time, enjoyed a tradition of allowing publishers to solicit prepaid subscriptions for a magazine that had not ye appeared in just this very way. The word subscribe derives from the Latin for “underwrite” and Americans were allowed to underwrite, that is, to subsidize the launching of the new magazines whose editorial purposes, as described in prospectuses they supported.”

The idea of offering a magazine that had not yet been published would not be litigated at that time. What would be litigated was the idea of Eros, which in its fourth issue featured a four-color photo spread of a nude, mixed-race couple. Ginzburg believed that this is what really got him into trouble, although he was never prosecuted for the magazine itself, but for the junk mail that supported it.

Ginzburg’s mistake was mailing a brochure for the Housewife’s Handbook on Selective Promiscuity, to doctors of all people. Their sensibilities violated, several MDs complained, and postal inspectors were sent out to track down  how the pornographer had found them. It wasn’t hard: he had rented the American Medical Association mailing list for $3.50 a name. Ginzburg probably should have let it alone, but he by now a cause celebre, and a skilled publicity seeker. When denied further access to the AMA list, he used the list anyway and sent ou a second mailing to physicians, proclaiming, “The AMA does not want you to open this envelope.”

In 1963, Ginzburg was indicted on federal obscenity charges. He showed up or the first of the big show trials of the 1960s wearing a straw boater and boutaneer. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The appeals went up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice William Brennan wrote, the “leer of the sensualist also permeates the advertising for these publications.”

In 1971, all appeals dashed, Ginzburg reported for his prison sentence at Allensburg Federal Penitentiary, where he served eight months. His wife Shoshana would later say, “It was so much fun. We had no idea in our wildest dreams that it would cause this kind of trouble.”

And now Zablocki  and several smirking  legislators passed Ginzburg’s mailing piece around and used it to butress the argument that mailing list brokers should be forced to register with the post office. Zablocki was able to come up with a charge that Boy Scout’s names had been used for pandering. BuZablocki had more on his mind than pornography,   complaining that “individuals and organizations who rent their lists often have no idea of how they ultimately will be used.”

So-called legitimate direct mailers had to pretend that Ginzburg, who rented hundreds of thousands of names a year from mainstream companies, was not a part of the “industry.” Red Dembner of Newsweek, who had himself bought millions of names of unknown origin from Herb Ozda, testified, “It is a trying problem to apprehend and convict smut peddlers and yet it is one about which all of us are deeply concerned.”

Zablocki asked Dembner if he would rent the Newsweek list to the likes of Ralph Ginzburg. Denmber weaseled his way out of it this way: “If I were to say, ‘I am going to use this list for sending out a solicitation,’ If they were to say that to me, Newsweek would not rent that list to this user.”

Zablocki’s committee, satisfied that great eveil was lurking, created something called “the pandering file”—a list of people who did not want to receive sexually oriented solicitations. All direct mailers had to match their lists against this file, and eliminate the names of the people who wanted out.

Ginzburg went on to publish a number of magazines, including a muckraking journal called Fact. Senator Barry Goldwater sued him for libel–and won–when Fact alleged he was mentally unfit. Later, it seemed that Ginzburg started magazines, offering lifetime subscriptions, only to generate mailing lists that he could rent out. In 1984, he made news again by running a full-page ad in The New York Times for a save-the-eagle charity, showing a dead eagle with its wings spread out. He said he paid for the ad himself as a “personal contribution.” He was unfairly demonized at times. Gizburg in his later years became a photographer for the NewYork Post. And in 1994, the legendary publisher entertained a meeting of junk mailers by showing slides of his gorgeous bird photos.

Chapter 33: Rub The Buddha For Money

 

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 35: The Manhattan Shuffle

By Ray Schultz

Housed in a former social services building, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, New York lacked ornamentation and anything describable as a courtroom. Still, it served for the drama that took place three days before Christmas in 1992. Lawyers gathered in a low-ceilinged room to decided who would get an asset that was depreciating in value even as the price was going up: A mailing list of 28 million American households, including intimate details on bodily functions.

Computerized Marketing Technologies had been the work of Barry Wolf, an affable man with a gravely voice. The son of an ex-prizefighter, himself the veteran of several club fights, Wolf never went higher than eighth grade in school. But he rose from a job as trucker in his home town of Los Angeles to an assistantship in the back room of an advertising agency, and finally to an executive position with Nielson, the surveying company. Then Wolf went into business for himself, building a nationwide network of penny saver newspapers and a private system that not only distributed the papers but also took on side jobs like delivering product samples for manufacturers.

Doing so,  he realized something that had eluded the geniuses on Madison Avenue: That non-smokers resent having cigarettes dropped on their doorsteps. Wolf devised the idea of putting little signs on houses the day before a big sample drop, asking them if they wanted the cigarettes.

By the early 80s, R.J. Reynolds was paying 50 cents for the name of each smoker. To find them—and dog owners—Barry relied on a home truth: that to find out the most personal details on people, you only have to ask.

In the fall of 1982, several hundred thousand housewives opened their Sunday newspapers to find a new insert packet called Select ‘N Save, filled with discount coupons. Wolf financed this with the proceeds from a real estate deal and the sale of his newspaper company. Those who rifled through the insert found a questionnaire, advising them that they could get free samples by answering a few simple questions. Roughly 20 percent of the people who got it filled out the form, and it apparently didn’t bother them that they had put on a stamp to pay for the return postage.

Soon, Wolf  had enough names to start regular direct mailings. The mailings fed the surveys that fed the list that fed the mailings.

“Not only did we know who had a dog, we had it down to who had a Rottweiler,” bragged the late Bart Loring, the mailing list manager of CMT.

The mailing list, which soon included 20-million families, was too valuable to be wasted on Select ‘N Save mailings. Wolf decided to see if they could make a buck through the traditional list rental channels, at first assigning management to Bob Castle, then bringing it in-house, under the trade name Behaviorbank.

The pharmaceutical houses wanted to reach these consumers, too, but they needed to know more about them, so CMT started loading up the survey forms with medical questions. Soon, they had “suffer from” data on 15-million households, as in “suffer from heart disease, suffer from diabetes.” Some of the numbers were:

  • Bladder control and incontinence—1.8-million
  • Diabetes—980,000
  • High blood pressure—1.2-million…
  • High cholesterol—2.7-million
  • Heart disease—870,000
  • Alzheimer’s—165,000
  • Bronchitis—165,000

Unfortunately, the company started having cash-flow problems–lots of them. To secure a berth in a Select ‘N Save package, even the biggest clients had to pay postage in advance, but CMT apparently was not a good manager of such monies. Quaker Oats filed a lawsuit, alleging that “Quaker funds may have been converted to CMT’s own use and comingled with CMT’s own funds.”

CMT had to settle that suit for $844,000, and to give Quaker a security interest in 18-million of “the most recently added consumer names, with mailing addresses and appended demographic, psychographic and product usage data”–in essence, its mailing list.  Then CMT decided it might as well do the same thing with its printer, Webcraft, to which it owed $1.4-million: it gave the printer a copy of the database. Webcraft filed suit, seeking to turn its physical possession of the database into full legal possession. Why not? It was paying storage charges on 97 tractor-trailers filled with tons of CMT circulars.

CMT could well argue that the people on the list had volunteered their family information. But those parties couldn’t have known that their data would also be handed to Quaker and Webcraft.

But things got even worse. At one point, CMT also owed $434,000 to Campbell’s Soup; $229,360 to Coca Cola; $491,800 to General Mills; $505,079 to General Foods; $321,950 to Philip Morris; $489,266 to Pillsbury; and $558,233 to Miles Inc.

Despite having a copy of the list, Quaker sued, claiming it had never gotten the survey responses it deserved. “The loss of data (totals) at least $1.50 per each respondent,” it said. “Quaker believes one-million respondents returned surveys, therefore Quaker is damaged to the extent of at least $1.5-million plus interest.”

The only option for CMT was bankruptcy. Albert Togut, the lawyer assigned by the creditor’s committee, had to unravel it all, and there was little precedent to go on because the courts were not used to evaluating the value of “data assets.” Fortunately, the CMT leaders were willing to assist in the setting of a price. They presented as an impartial expert, Donald W. Binns, who sent a resume to the court saying that “I possess the necessary skills and expertise which have developed over the last 15 years.”

There is no question that the charming, smooth-talking Arkansan was an expert on CMT’s assets: He had, through his company Infomedia, placed millions of inserts in the Select ‘N Save packages on behalf of the mail order insurance company Colonial Penn. Binns was one the great hidden movers of Data Land. His resume stated he was responsible for “Development and construction and ownership of one of the first multi-source national consumer databases which totaled over 100-million consumers..” He worked for the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976, and through his company DataTron did direct mail work for the Democratic National Committee and gubernatorial races in Louisiana and Florida.

In addition, Binns helped the National Rifle Association build its database. And he and a partner put together the JC Penney Age File, with exact dates of birth on 45-million people. JC Penney itself made crude use of this asset, sending a birthday mailing saying, “It’s your 41st birthday.”

Thus credentialed before the court, Binns came up with a price for the CMT database $3.5-million. That price was tendered to the most likely buyer: Metromail, formerly known as O.E. McIntyre Co.

That firm had been founded in 1947 by O..E. McIntyre. And it was known for legendary direct mail feats. In one campaign, for Reader’s Digest (“If thou hast two pennies, spend one for bread, and with the other buy hyacinths for the soul”), McIntyre had to acquire 100 million pennies and insert two each into each of the mailing pieces. The sheer weight almost collapsed the floor of its Long Island plant.

In 1966, McIntyre’s sons, who were now running the company, were approached by John Kluge, the German-born founder of the Medtromeia TV network, who was trying to create a multi-media empire. They sold it to him, and he renamed it. Later, Metromail was spun off and became one of the Big Three data compilers, the others being Donnelley Marketing and R.L. Polk.  It was now eager to buy the remains of CMT at a good price. The $3.5 million deal had lucrative employment contracts thrown in for Wolf and Andrew Goldstein.

Togut objected, saying the offer was ” ridiculously low”—the creditors would take a “bath while the debtors’ principals had found the pot of gold,” he argued. By December, the Metromail offer was up to $5.6-million, and the company put up $600,000 as a down payment. It looked like a sale, and there was a holiday atmosphere in the court.

“What happened to you?” Togut asked Kelly Cornish, an attorney for Metromail.

“I lost my voice.”

“Oh, I hate that.”

But there was one party who wanted to disrupt this joyous set piece: Leslie A. Plaskon, a lawyer for Metromail’s competitor Donnelley Marketing. Hilton sensed the minute she stood up that there was a problem.

“Do we have a buyer willing to buy and a seller willing to sell?” the judge demanded.

“We sure as hell did,” Togut said.

“What more do I have to hear?”

Plaskon tried to state her case. And yet even she could not say what was on her mind.

“I would rather not go into the details of the claim,” she said. “I think the debtor would rather I did not.”

“No, no, no, I have nothing before me regard to that claim. I have no pleadings,” the judge countered. “Nobody has witnesses.”

It would not have been easy for the judge to understand. Despite competing, Metromail and Donnelley cooperated with each other and there was a steady flow of data back and forth. For example, there was the Age Consortium, an arrangement through which the companies shared the costs of gathering age data from driver’s records–each firm took certain states, and all received the data. And they were forming a Children’s Consortium.

Donnelley had been around in some firm since 1917. It 1946, it published a demographic map of Philadelphia, in which the “colored” area was shown in brown.

Donnelley, aware that the sale CMT was going to give its arch-rival Metromail a database with a dimension it now lacked, started pondering a counter-offer for an asset it didn’t want. But it now had a more serious problem, and Plaskon finally got it out.

Donnelley had found, through an employee who had worked for Don Binns, that part of its own Share Force database had ended up in CMT’s database, and it now claimed an ownership stake in the asset being sold. The deal was coming apart at the seams.

The alarmed Metromail people countered that this claim could “cost this estate a substantial amount of money from a competitor who we believe would like nothing better than to, in my best French, screw up the sale.”

“That is not a resolution,” said the judge of the Donnelley claim. “That gives Donnelley a $6.2-million stick. I am not going to give anybody that size stick.”

He added that unless it could be resolved, the matter would have to be litigated. And the earliest possible date would be the following March.

“I am planning on being in hits courthouse about another hour and a half,” the judge added. “If you have a proposed order for me within that time I will be happy to consider it; if not I am simply going to adjourn this hearing.”

With millions riding on it, the parties recessed briefly to work it out. Donnelley, still convinced that its data was misused, was aware, of course, that some of angry creditors were clients or potential clients.

For his part, Togut had said, “We want their money, you bet.” He knew that the value of the CMT database was declining by the day—it had not been updated in two years. Cornish, too, hoarsely stated that she wanted to resolve it. So they brought Andrew Goldstein to the stand when court was resumed, and he was ready with answers.

“Did you obtain a file from Infomedia?” he was asked.

“We obtained  a file containing   names and addresses of consumers of about 40 to 50 million and we were told by the president of Infomedia, Don Binns, that this was a list that was compiled from many sources, including names from Share Force by Donnelley Marketing.

“Share Force was a database?”

“Yes.”

“That database was owned by Donnelley Marketing?”

“Yes.”

“Mr. Binns was in court this morning?”

“Yes.”

“And Mr. Binns made these   representations to you this morning; correct?”

“Correct.”

“At the time you got   the 40 or 50-million names   from Infomedia it was over a period of time, wasn’t it?”

“No, we got the list basically all at one time.”

“Were there other so-called databases besides the Share Force database in those 40- to 50-million names?

“On tape.”

“Have you returned all those  copies of those computer tapes?”

“Yes.”

“What did you use the information on the computer tapes for, and make the assumption that encompassed in the information as part of the Share Force database?”

“We took that database along with several other databases and used them for verification of names and addresses. The purpose being that if a name and address appeared on more than one list it was more likely to be a correct name and address.”

“Did Mr. Binns (or Infomedia) represent to the debtor that you had the right to use the tape — i.e., the database, the 40 or 50-million names, to do a verification of the names and addresses?”

“Yes.”

“Did you use it for anything else?”

“No.”

That one word settled it. Donnelley realized it had allowed its own data out the door—and it soon stopped doing so.

“Your honor,  in consideration  of the   receipt of   this testimony Donnelley Marketing Inc. hereby on behalf of Donnelley Marketing hereby relinquishes any and all claims against the assets being sold and withdraws its objections to the sale of assets so the assets maybe be sold free and clear of any and all claims,” the Donnelley lawyer stated.

That nailed it. Everyone thanked the court.

A data business insider referred to such shenanigans as “the Manhattan shufle,” although none of this took place in Manhattan. Binns continued in the trade: A few years later during a trade convention, an acquaintance commented, “He’s not down here on the floor, but I bet he’s in a room somewhere in this hotel, doing business.”

Metromail ran into trouble when a client named Aristotle Industries sued it for illegally using the voter registration lists Aristotle had hired Metromail to enhance.. As exposed by the Wall Street Journal, the company had incorporated voter information into its database from states that prohibited commercial use. And it lied to consumers during telephone calls, saying it was conducting a survey on ice cream preferences. There was no survey—this was strictly a way of confirming names and addresses. John Aristotle Phillips, the owner of Aristotle Industries, owned a few shares in Metromail and started showing up at shareholder meetings and hectoring the firm about its privacy violations. For instance, he teamed up with the father of the murdered child Polly Klass, and Mr. Klass  claimed that lists such as Metromail’s helped fiends like his daughter’s killer find their victims. And Metromail utilized prison workers to call people at home, one of whom allegedly made suggestive comments to a female consumer. Metromail, its dirty underbelly exposed, was gobbled up by another company. But all that was a few years in the future.

As for CMT, the formal closing of the bankruptcy sale took place on Dec. 30, 1992 at Metromail’s offices outside of Chicago. Some $5.6-mllion was wire-transferred into a special interest-bearing account. On Jan. 26, 1993, several hundred magnetic tapes—the entire CMT database—were shipped to Metromail’s data facility in Lincoln, Nebraska. Later, they threw in CMT’s office furniture for $26,000.

Chapter 35:  The Godfather Of Spam

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 18: Selling in America

By Ray Schultz

By day, Eytinge ran the gang that cleaned the prison yard. At night, he wrote articles and edited copy. His editor’s photo in Postage showed him in a suit with tie and vest, seated next to a desk. And trapped inside, he imagined scenes that he could not have seen.

“Secretary W.H. Loomis Jr., of the Southwestern Blau-Gas Company, Kansas City, shook his head. He felt the pressure of the rising tide of electric lighting systems designed for farm use, although he had nothing to fear from the natural gas, acetylene or gasoline systems.”

And there was no way Eytinge had witnessed this (at least not recently):

“He was standing on the platform of a trolley, with some half dozen other smokers, when he noticed a newcomer step forward and deliver a sounding whack on the back of one of the men in the group. Accompanying the slap went a hearty ‘Bill, you old rascal, how’s things?’”

Eytinge also imagined women’s clothing, comparing it to direct mail design: “She dresses with variety because the changes make her more attractive, more alluring, more certain of ‘landing her prospect’—the winning of a mate,” he wrote. “And she dresses according to program and purpose, never wearing a décolleté gown riding after hounds.”

As often happened with Eytinge, this success didn’t last.

“For several months the issues of this magazine have been mailed from two weeks to a month behind schedule,” Publisher Lewis Hovey wrote when the September issue of Postage failed to appear. “Every month these ‘intentions’ to get it out ‘on time’ were the best, but one thing and another has interfered and it has been impossible to ‘catch up.’

In December, Hovey announced that Eytinge was stepping down. “It is needless for me to say that Postage has not been a success financially,” he wrote.

But people then took up Eytinge’s other idea: To “unite in hearty harmony and for paramount permanency.” Homer J. Buckley, who owned a direct mail print house, founded the Direct Mail Advertising Association (now the Direct Marketing Association). Those who joined automatically got a subscription to Postage.

***

Eytinge wasn’t the only tortured wordsmith to enter the junk mail business. Another was Sherwood Anderson, Ohio’s Roof-Fix Man. A one-time Chicago copywriter who turned to selling paint and fix-it items by mail, Anderson thought that “most people who buy house paint are, like the people who are sold anything else, at bottom probably yaps,” and he showed it in its copy, which was filled with stock advertising phrases like “guaranteed,” “We will send you absolutely free” and “Write for it today,” according to “Sherwood Anderson: An American Career,” by John E. Bassett. “Let me tell you, Free, how to cure your roof troubles for keeps,” he wrote in one direct mail circular, Bassett reports.

Anderson’s own printer accused him of cynicism. “The truth is, that, as you wrote, you were thinking of someone else,” he said one night as they walked around Elyria, Ohio, Anderson recalled. “I know how it was. You imagined some man getting the paint circular in the mail. He is a man you never saw and never will see. Now you tell me this. At bottom you are not so proud of this business you are in.”

Anderson agreed that his writing talent could be put to better use. “Already for several years I had been doing what I was doing when I wrote the circular,” he remembered. “I had been using the words of our human speech, really to deceive men.

“It was quite true that in writing anything…for example a paint circular…the object sought was some sort of entrance into the confidence of the other man and so, even in such a crude approach to the art of writing, you thought, not of the thing about which you were presumed to be talking, but of the man addressed. ‘Now how can I win his confidence’ you thought and this led inevitably to the secret of watching men.”

Facing an existential crisis, Anderson disappeared in 1912, turning up days later in a Cleveland drug store, his “clothes bedraggled and his appearance unkempt.” He left his family and returned to a job as an ad copywriter in Chicago. And when he returned to his “shabby little hole” every night, he did what he had started doing in Ohio: He wrote fiction.

His first novel, Windy McPherson’s Son, about “a sort of minor captain of industry,” was published in 1916 with the help of Theodore Dreiser. His second, Marching Men, appeared a year later. But neither was a success.

One night, desperate, Anderson wrote a story titled Hands. “Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down,” it started. He finished it in one sitting, then wept. It was the first of several stories about “the defeated figures of an old American individualistic small town life.”

In April 1919, four years after starting this sequence, Anderson entered his room with the result: a yellow-cloth book titled, “Winesburg, Ohio”–an American classic, and an instant sensation. He soon was friends with Gertrude Stein and his book was said to influence Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos.

But he needed money, so he asked his publisher: “Do I have to go back to advertising? I’ll have go back there, begin again to write of tooth paste, of kidney pills, of how to keep your hair from falling out.”

He didn’t, and that’s just as well, for he had a sour view of his old trade. “In America no one buys anything,” he concluded. “In America everything, even art, is sold to people.”

Chapter 19: The Great War

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 17: The Hard-Luck Writer

By Ray Schultz

Slightly hung over from drinking their way to Chicago, ad men filed into the hall for the opening of the first Direct Mail Advertising Conference in 1915. The keynote speech snapped them out of their torpor.

“We must emit and vomit out the nauseous masses that have been swallowed in our swift growth,” said the copywriter Louis Victor Eytinge. “There are too many specious shysters amongst us, who while they may be within the law are yet foul with filth in the morality of their business methods and we must remove this reek ourselves!”

Well said, but Eytinge didn’t deliver the remarks himself. He was serving a life sentence for murder, and had to speak from “behind the walls that encompass my body.”

It was a sad comentary that the beleaguered direct mail business. had to rely on a felon to speak for it.

Eytinge was a “wastrel” from a family of actors and musicians. Convicted twice of forgery, he drew a five-year sentence in the second case and emerged from that term in 1907 with tuberculosis. Hoping to cure him (and get him out of their sight), his family sent him to Arizona with an allowance of $100 per month.

But he got into trouble there, too. The body of his roommate, a tubercular barber named John Leicht, was found near a ranch after the pair had gone for a buggy ride one Sunday. There was no proof that Leicht was murdered, let alone that Eytinge had done it, but Eytinge fled after passing several bad checks, and that was enough to convince a jury that he had poisoned the barber. Convicted of first degree murder, Eytinge was sentenced to life imprisonment, the court deciding that there was no need to hang a man who was about to die of TB.

Near collapse, the 120-pound Eytinge was dumped in the outdoor ward at Yuma Prison. He hemorrhaged daily, and was too weak even to swat flies. There must have been times when he wished he had been put out of his misery. But as his parents hoped when they sent him west, the desert air did him good and he eventually regained his strength.

Then, as legend has it, he wrote to two Western curio dealers to offer the horsehair souvenirs made by inmates. And he got orders from both. So he wrote more, and the prison lifted its restriction of two letters per month, the belief then being that even killers could be rehabilitated by work.

In time, businessmen noticed that this lifer could write and started giving him freelance copywriting assignments. Granted, his “letters were sophomorically fervent” as the copywriter Henry Hoke described them. In one insinuating letter, Eytinge offered raincoats to Catholic priests:

Dear Father,

Just as I glanced at next month’s calendar my eye caught the warning, ‘Rainy Season Begins,’ and I thought of you and other faithful servants of the Church.

My mind’s eye pictured you thrashing your way thru wind and rain, to administer the Holy Oils to some dying one, going about your duty despite the dirty weather. Saw you standing beside the open grave, giving your benediction not seeming to mind the bluster that bespattered your beloved Breviary. I saw you, too, hurrying to some sadly stirred soul, with the rain soaking into your black clothes. And then, I began to really understand what is meant to take Holy Orders.

But Father, there’s little need spoiling your good black overcoat…

Not many raincoats were sold. “I made the thing too personal for a printed letter and talked more about weather than weatherproofs,” Eytinge admitted.

But he learned. By 1915, the Eytinge Service was pulling in $5,000 a year, and his ideas were taken seriously. In his Chicago speech, Eytinge called for the start of a direct mail magazine. Postage appeared six months later, and the jailbird Eytinge was soon named editor of it.

Chapter 18: Selling In America

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part X

By Ray Schultz

The war ended with a fragile ceasefire, and the sides disengaged as Henry Kissinger barnstormed the Middle East. If the war were not enough to worry about, there was tension in the U.S. Nixon’s presidency was unraveling, the Hasidim feared instability, but were wary about saying so. I had once tried to engage Albert Friedman on the subject.

“How do you look at Watergate?” I asked.

“It’s none of our business,” he said.

“Would you support Nixon again?”

“Is he running again?”

“Did you vote for him?”

“We supported him in 1972. It was between Nixon and McGovern, and we felt the choice was clear.”

The Satmar’s Rabbi Stauber had explained their position in an article on Nixon’s most recent speech in Der Yid. It stated that while Nixon “has not answered questions, still, it’s a valid point that we should look to the future now, not the past, not let things undermine his administration,” Stauber said.

On top of Watergate, there were increasing stresses in the Hasidic neighborhoods bordering on African-American and Hispanic communities. Many of the disputes were political—over resources and influence. “They want to control the area,” charged Angel Reyes, a local activist in Williamsburg. “They try to push the Spanish out, offer them money to buy their house. Sometimes they abuse them to move out.”

That was in Williamsburg. For their part, the Lubavitchers settled in Brownsville, a rough neighborhood filled with declining housing stock. They then starting moving to the better area to the West: Crown Heights. Shrage laid out the sequence. “When Hasidic Jews move into fancy Jewish neighborhoods, the fancy Jews move out. And as the fancy Jews move out, more Hasidim move in. Then the goyim move out, then the blacks move in. That’s the way it changes. When blacks began to move into Crown Heights, to tell you that the Hasidim were delighted by that—of course, they weren’t. Not for dislike of blacks, not for that, they wanted to have a Hasidic community.

“A Hasidic Jew is at least liberal in that he feels the same way about all goyim—to him, there’s no difference. He remembers what happened in Europe, and he figures he’s got to be careful with all of them. No matter what you say, I know a lot of people who believe very strongly that it could happen all over again right here in the United States. Because they’ve been through this. They don’t want to be with goyim., they want to be with their own. I don’t care, a schwartze goy, a weisse goy, Puerto Rican, same thing. At least in that way there’s a common denominator.”

Shrage explained some of the differences that lead to mistrust, as he saw it.

“A black person comes into a Jewish, Hasidic-owned store to buy a dress, and is talking to the guy in English. In comes another lady, and she begins to talk in Yiddish. The black woman will think there’s a separate price going on: ‘I’m getting screwed here, I think I’m paying for the woman’s dress, too.”

“Why are they talking in Yiddish? That’s their language. It’s an effort for this guy to talk English. He’s got to think—it’s not his mother tongue. Little things like that.”

Other issues took place at the street level. Rose Shrage’s father, who had narrowly escaped being captured by the Gestapo in France, had been stabbed in the early days in Brownsville, sustaining a16-inch cut. And there were many assaults on Hasidim, fueling the rise of the Macabees.

Shrage took a hard line. “Its our fate,” he said. “So we get beaten up every once and awhile, it happened for years, it will happen until the Messiah comes. That’s what being Jewish means, we’re always gonna suffer that way. I say, damnit, no, it will take a little while for the Messiah to come. I want to welcome him healthy–I want to be in good shape when he comes.”

Rev. Bryan Karvelis, of the Church of the Transfiguration in Williamsburg, was in the forefront of community leaders complaining about alleged Hasidic actions. “A kid was brutally beaten by a mob of Hasids,” he said. “They pulled a gun on him and beat him up—he looked Spanish. The official story was, ‘Sorry, we’ll try to control it.’ That’s what they all say. There’s no response from the police and the courts.”

Karvelis conceded that “this is a tough neighborhood. There’s a high narcotics rate, and attacks and robberies.” And it was true that the Hasidim “might be abused verbally, or have their curls pulled. A few times.” But he added that the Hasidim “have an incredible hatred of Spanish and blacks. They come with a built-in hatred for anyone who’s not Jewish. You yell ‘Gonif,’ and within minutes you have 200 Hasidic men there.” Karvelis claimed he had thrown himself on top of  a 19 year-old youth being beaten with tin cans. “I wasn’t wearing a clerical collar–it might have made them more respectful.”

Maybe so. But how could he expect Hasidim to tolerate physical abuses like having their curls pulled–or worse? And did he have an inkling about Jewish history?

In December, I visited Ben’s Dairy, a purveyor of farmer’s cheese and other delicacies on East Houston Street, run by Jonah Friedman, a tall Satmar Hasid with dark hair and a beard, usually wearing a Russian fur hat. We went into the back room , a large area with work benches and a couple of adjoining freezers, and Jonah talked with me while he was moving cheese from the freezer into the oven. His father had “learned by the Rebbe in Europe,” and his family had followed him to Brooklyn. Partially financed by community funds, Jonah had built a good business. “Today there is no reason to be poor if you are only willing to work,” he said.

“How do you like the neighborhood here?” I asked. (East Houston had not yet been gentrified in those years).

“Beautiful. I love it here.”

Before I had a chance to follow up, he held his finger up, sort of winked, reached up to a shelf and pulled down a small revolver in a holster. “If anybody should come in here, I have this,” he said.

“You would kill a man?”

“The Torah instructs you, if your life is in danger, you must kill the other person first. It’s your duty. I would shoot first.”

Later that month, the Satmar held an event at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn As the large crowd settled down, someone started going over the financial situation of the yeshiva. They read out the names of each contributor. Some sums were quite large: $5,000, $10,000 and higher. Then there were the $50 ones: Everybody knew what everybody else gave.

There were prayers, then the Rebbe himself, whom everyone was struggling to see, began speaking. He spoke at some length in his hoarse voice, going over (I later found out) the Torah passage for the week. When he left, there was a mad scramble for pieces of the challah he had touched. Abe Beame, newly elected as mayor, spoke, too. He was led up to the podium, pushed into a seat, then pulled up again and given the microphone. He mentioned his visit to the boy’s camp during the summer and told the Satmar how much he appreciated what they had done for him during the election. Again, he didn’t smile.

And now there was bad news for Shrage. Beame, who was taking over as mayor on Jan. 1, declined to reappoint him. So Shrage was out of government. And now Shrage was awaiting new commands from the Rebbe. “If the Rebbe calls me at 2 in the morning and says, ‘Sam, you’ve done your thing in New York, get your passport ready, take a plane tomorrow and go to New Zealand (family, too), and build a yeshiva, I would do it,” he said. “And the Lubavitcher Rebbe does that all the time. This week, he sent people to Australia—five young guys. 24 hours notice. Go, no question.”

To be continued early in 2020.

Moss In Love

By Ray Schultz

One evening last fall, my wife and I were enjoying some Blue Point oysters at the Oyster Bar when she turned and said, “Isn’t that your friend Yale?”

Yale Moss! I tried to duck under the counter, but it was too late. Yale was on his way over, accompanied by a very tall young woman who looked vaguely familiar.

The last I’d heard of Yale, he was trying to get into the cannabis business. He sent an offer to his dad Mo’s Proclivities database of drunkards, dope fiends, deadbeats and other such riffraff.

The list hadn’t been updated in years, and the people on it were unresponsive and presumed dead. But many now came forward to place cannabis orders.

It might have worked. But then Yale offered an imported hashish sampler and was sued by a consortium of state AGs. He must have been testing his own product because he looked a little loopy.

Yale introduced us to his friend: Danielle Hall, also called Danny. Though Yale described her as a sculptor, we recognized her at once as the scion of the Hall family, the owner of vast real estate holdings, luxury car dealerships and many other businesses, and super-wealthy in her own right.

We got acquainted—Danny seemed gracious, if slightly bored with people at our level–and Yale offered me “a nice piece of opiated hash,” which I declined since I eschew drug use in all its forms.

Yale and I went to look at the desserts, and he let me in on his plan: “I met her online. I’m gonna marry her. In a month, my algorithms will be running the entire Hall empire. We’re on our way to Tampa to meet my folks.”

Now I wouldn’t be in a hurry to introduce a fiancé of mine to Mo and Wendy, especially one like Danny. But nobody asked my opinion, and they left the next day.

Predictably, Mo instantly saw the advantage of a match between the Moss and Hall families, and he arranged to have the couple married in his living room the very night of their arrival by a judge who had fixed some of his real estate cases.

I was relieved—the fact that we weren’t invited to the wedding meant we didn’t have to send a gift. But I didn’t get it. “What does she see in him?” I asked my wife.

“Well, he is a bit of a hunk,” she replied. (Something she never said about me). “He’s the only man who’s as tall as she is.”

I had to hand it to Yale—he had married into money, which is just as legitimate a way of getting it as any other.

Unfortunately, things did not go well in Yale’s initial interview with Danny’s father Hal Hall, a short man with a huge chest and a large round face.

Yale had set up a presentation on his technology (which had been down since May).

“Don’t bother,” Hal growled. “I’ve got the best IT department in the country, and if I needed any help, you’d be the last person I’d turn to.”

Then, as if he were talking to an employment counselor, Yale said he might like to get into real estate development.

Hal hissed, “When my daughter divorces you, I’ll see you end up on the street.”

Under that cloud, Yale and Danny embarked upon married life. Of course, they needed to find a job for Yale, and Hal came through because Danny usually gets her way. But the job reflected Yale’s standing in the business and also, sadly, in the marriage—that of a kept man.

Every morning, Yale and Danny leave her private 12-room residence in the Pierre, Yale carrying a peanut butter sandwich in a brown paper bag. He wears an outfit that looks as if it was issued by a halfway house: an ill-fitting sports jacket, corduroy pants, a shirt and a knit tie.

They enter a chauffeured SUV and are driven it to Danny’s massive sculpture studio in Long Island City. Then Yale is on his own, and has to catch the El to Woodside, and transfer to the Long Island Railroad. This he takes to Rockville Centre, Long Island, where he walks half a mile to a building in back of a used-car lot: the Sunrise Hauling & Cartage Company.

On Hal’s command, the low-level hood who runs the place hired Yale as a salesman on a commission basis—no salary. They expected him to fail—the next step was driving one of the trucks.

Yale sat around for a day or two staring into space. Then he had a brainstorm. Mo has always kept his customer list up to date—it’s far more important than the list they actually sell. So Yale started calling some of the businesses on it, asking if any of them were moving.

Some weren’t happy to hear from him, but you know how real estate is in New York. In two weeks, Yale sold four pretty hefty contracts to factories with all kinds of heavy equipment and computers, and more were coming in as he also worked his father’s bankruptcy list. Of course, he had to go out on the jobs himself, wearing a helmet.

Relieved that the business was starting to show a pulse, Yale’s boss asked him to sell the used cars in the adjoining lot, some of which were on cement blocks or contained stolen parts. Yale was so good at that—nobody who entered the lot, or even passed on the street, escaped without buying a car.

And so, Yale enjoyed some success, probably the first in his entire life. He didn’t make much money by Hall standards, and the pittance he made Danny demanded for household expenses—“I’m sure you want to pay your own way,” she said. But he did receive one token of family esteem.

Hal Hall always bestows lavish gifts on his key employees during the holidays: Cadillacs, Aston Martins, custom yachts. And while Yale was way down the list, he did get a present: a 1985 Chevvy with a badly repaired fender. How do I know? He tried to sell it to me.

Note: Any resemblance between companies and persons is strictly coincidental, etc. 

Previous Moss family misadventures:

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Your GDPR Security Blanket

I Was A Bitcoin Billionnaire

 

 

 

The Last Rebbes: Life Among The Hasidic Jews Part VIII

By Ray Schultz

I wasn’t the only one suffering from a spiritual overdose. Levi was a 26 year-old ex-Hasid, a very thin young man with long hair, a friend of David’s. His father was a Lubavitcher Hasid who came to the U.S. in 1946 after spending most of World War II in China. Levi received the standard Yeshiva education, and was considered a brilliant student, a credit to his father who taught at the same school. By his teenage years, though, he began to have doubts. For one thing, he could see the bad effects the Hasidic life had on his family. His father struggled to support multiple children on a yeshiva salary of roughly $80 a week: he was sometimes ill-tempered. And Levi gradually had a loss of faith that was aggravated by the fact that “I wasn’t allowed to read certain books and check out certain ideas.”

Meanwhile, he deplored the bullying that went on at the yeshiva, some of it practiced, he claimed, by the principal Samuel Shrage. I let him know that I had very friendly relations with Shrage, but he was adamant in his dislike of him, claiming that he beat people for minor infractions.

Even without that, Levi was bored by the constant, trancelike study of the Talmud. “You’d spend six hours on one paragraph,” he said. “I still get into those trances. There’s the commentaries, and the commentaries on the commentaries, and the contradictions between those commentaries. I think you have to lay something very heavy on a kid to get them to want to dwell on that stuff—something along the lines of a lobotomy.”

His faith slipped further, and audiences with the Rebbe failed to bring him back. “They always have one saint after another to send you to, until they finally touch a raw nerve, then they work on that until you break—they’re experts at it. But the Rebbe didn’t seem to spot where I was at that point. He was laying a lot of things on me that he should have been able to know I wouldn’t take seriously. It was very disappointing.”

In what way?

“Very unconversational, very pedantic, shallow, actually. He’s very impressive in the way he looks and the way he moves, but not in the things he says. And he didn’t seem to spot where I was at the point. You know, he was laying a lot of things on me that he should have been able to know that I wasn’t gonna take seriously, so it was a disappointment. I didn’t feel he had a personal interest. His hegemony was really threatened because I think he really sensed I was considering actually breaking away, and he was acting very stern and all that because I feel he was being threatened politically.”

Levi went to Yeshiva University, a compromise with his family, then to Columbia, which had not yet erupted in protest. “I wore the yarmulke at Columbia at first, because my father said he was gonna make periodical checks on me to make sure I still wear a yarmulke. But then I called his bluff and realized he wouldn’t dare do a thing like that.”

Then Levi started taking drugs, and school authorities saw him as “self-destructive.” He suffered two confinements in a mental hospital. The second time, he was drugged with heavy doses of Thorazine. Fearful that they would keep him for a long term, he asked his father for help, and his father went to the Rebbe. “A guy came up from Lubavitch,” he said. “He was a friend of mine I went to school with, and I cried my head off to him. He put tefillin on me. I never dreamed I would put tefillin on again. Finally, the Legal Aid got me out. My father thinks it was the Rebbe’s blessing that got me out, but I know better. Still, it’s the only time in my life I think he really came through. That’s why I remain in touch with him, because he could have said to himself, ‘I’ll let this kid go through the whole thing and he’ll come running back to Lubavitch,’ but he didn’t, he stuck up for me, and I admire him for it.”

Now Levi was living a life similar to that of David, and to me seemed even more vulnerable. He belonged to a mall mental patients’ liberation group. “The hospital is the most important thing that’s ever happened to me, and I learned a lot about so-called systems,” he said. “Like I put together and could sort of see that the outside culture, the American culture, had just as many rules and regulations and kind of taboos that Hasidic culture had, and I just wasn’t living up to them somehow. So they had to cure me from that, and I think it was a disciplinary move.”

Now, as we sat in the West End, Levi discussed his feelings about Hasidism:

RS: What’s the difference between Orthodox Judaism and Lubavitch?

Levi: There’s a real difference. You see, orthodoxy is a way of life but it’s not a real community. It has rituals and prescriptions, like you have to do this, and you have to do that, and you do this when you’re supposed to do that. But it doesn’t have that cohesive force which keeps people trapped the way Lubavitch does. Lubatich is is a commuinty, a totality, it’s got it’s center., it’s got the Rebbe, who’s really the focal point of everything.

RS: Do you admire the Rebbe?

Levi: That’s like the rough question. Just like every other movement has something to go on, otherwise it couldn’t eist, so they have their talent, he’s an extremely talented guy, an exceptional con artist, a beautiful man, he probably has a lot of psychi cpowers and stuff like that, but I think he’s an evil person because he’s, like, ontorlling people’s lives like that. It’d be oice to try to sort it out, you know, if I didn’t have any real biases against it I could dig through it all and see what in it was really good. The way I see it now, baseically it was an oppressive system, so like, he’s the leader of it, he’s gto be condemned for that. He’s an eceptionally talented guy, what’ he’s doing, but it’s very easy to see through him, just like you see through a leader of any sort.

RS: What will happen when the Rebbe dies?

Levi: I don’t know what’s going to happen when he goes. There’s gonna be a lot of sectarian fights within it, and it may just dissipate. There are probably people who could possibly take over who have reached positions of power, but no-one has the kind of charisma that he’s got. And it it really revolves to quite an etent around him. And when he passes on, it’s gonna be really rtough on a lot of people, who won’t know where to go.

RS: Do you still see yourself primarily as a Jew? 

Levi: Probably more universal because I wasn’t really brought up as a Jew, I was brought up as a Hasid. We didn’t have a real Jewish consciousness. We didn’t even study Jewish history–very little, in fact. I know more about the Talmud than the actual hisory of my people. Very znti-Zionistic, so that didn’t even exsit. I had a Hasidic consciousness, or a religious consciousness,, so I don’t really see myself as a Jew. That’s where I’m very different from David. One of the first things he’ll note or try to find out about a person—usually, he can spot it without inquiring—is whether the person is Jewish or not. I can’t tell, and I really don’t care.”

RS: Do you believe in God?

Levi: I don’t think it’s a religious question, I think it’s a political question. It’s sort of like asking, ‘Do you think that all these things that are great are one, or are all these things part of one onsciousness?’ That’s either political or semantical—I don’t think it’s the religious question. It’s always a mistke that people first try to find out, ‘Who’s the boss hesre?’ That’s not the point, the point is to find out what’s inside yourself, what’s around you, how to look at life and really experience the likeness of it rather than know who’s boss in this world. I think that whole conept of God has evolved for political reasons. Like kings or leaders of the tribe or something wanted to have an analogy or a model –so –kings always aligned htemselves with God, they always said they were the son of God.

RS: So you don’t believe the Torah was divinely inspired? 

Levi: Well, something can be divinely inspired even if there’s no God. There’s the great spirit or something. I don’t believe in the Torah at all, in fact, I believe it’s one of the most uninspired things I’ve ever run across.

RS: Did you find contradictions in the way the Hasidim relate to sex?

Levi: No, there’s no contraction in the way they realate to it, they have it all worked out. In fact, there’s more contradictions on the outside. In the first world, there are no contradictions at all. It’s mainly a lot of repression, sublimation, it’s all explaied do you and you know exactly why you’re doing it, and when to do it, it’s all defined. I think it’s lousy, but it’s not full of contradictions, and it’s not as painful.

RS: How do people fare when they’ve left Hasidic life? 

Levi: I find with ex-Hasidic Jews, with the eception of me and David, I guess, is that they walk into the success story mentality very quickly because that’s what they feel they’ve been depirved of. So they get into this conception of making it, and I think David’s going to fall into that pretty soon. I don’t think he has the facilities or educational background for it, but he’s gonna get into that soon.

RS: David says he may actually go back to Lubavitch.

Levi: I think he may actually go back. I would never try to stop hi because he’s in a lot of pain now. 

RS: And you?

Levi: The only thing I ever did I my life that I’m proud of was to break away from Lubavitch because it took a lot of courage. But I’d never recommend it to anyone else because I couldn’t tell them where to go.

 

The Last Rebbes: Life Among The Hasidic Jews Part VII

By Ray Schultz

The next meeting on my agenda took place on a Friday afternoon leading into Shabbos. It was with 80 year-old Rabbi Jacobson. I visited him in his home, a place pervaded with a strong aroma of food. We sat in his cluttered front-room study while the Shabbos preparations were going on—there was a feeling of anticipation .

The rabbi had come to the United States from Russia in 1925. In 1929, he was instrumental in bringing over the alter Rebbe Joseph Isaac Schneerson. He gave me a pet talk on Hadar Hatrorah and made a wry comment about young people eating “that schmutzig rice.”

Now I was a quiet person—they may have seen me as a candidate, I’ll never know. But suddenly a door opened up, and I was invited to spend Shabbos in Crown Heights.

I arrived around 5 p.m. on a rainy Friday night in September, at a dormitory on the North side of Eastern Parkway, opposite 770, an was greeted by my two guides: Pinchas and Abba. They made me surrender my umbrella on arrival because you can’t carry anything on Shabbos; I also had to empty my pockets.

We went up two fights, and Pinchas gave me a drawer in a dresser. It was a large dormitory room that could have been at any college except for the mezuzahs on every doorway. Abba and Pinchas began studying, but not before Abba presented me with tefillin, two small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah that are attached to leather straps, one of which you wear high on the arm to signify the devotion of the heart and one on the hand to show the obedience of the mind, and invited me to put them on.

It was impossible to argue about it in the circumstances, so I did as told. Abba coaxed me along on the prayers—each time, you’re expected to more or else remember one more word—and over time I became reasonably good at wrapping up my left arm in these phylacteries, as they are also called.

I had made clear to everyone that I was a journalist, but that got lost as they tried to enforce Hasidic rigor on me—at one point the next day, I went into the rest room and someone barged in after me to warn that you can’t flush on Shabbos.

But it was hardly a solemn atmosphere. The men ate, told jokes and talked.. I followed Pinchas over to a table at the window, and another boy, very friendly, began reading about five words at a time on the subject of Hasidus. It was a circuitous discussion, and I don’t think Pinchas was making much of it either Finally the kid said, “What do you think of all this?”

“It’s rather…”

“Abstract!” he said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, the Hasidus is a very advanced form of study. There are secrets which it takes years to learn.”

On this note, we discussed the messiah. He said the messiah was due no later than 7,000 years after the creation, and we were in the 5,000s or 6,000s now. His arrival will be preceded by great turmoil and unhappiness. In fact, he may be alive on this earth right now.

Ever a skeptic, I probed about his physical characteristics. They sloughed off that part, telling me only that the messiah will definitely be an observant Jew. Then, without my asking, they denied he was the Guru Murahaj Ji.

It was time for the evening prayer and the welcoming of the sabbath. They pointed me to other side of room to prayer book racks. I picked one out an English-language version, and faced the Eastern wall like everybody else, and proceeded to render myself extremely uncomfortable.. Everyone was chanting to himself.

After a period of self-consciousness, I began reading and trying to digest the contents. There were psalms, ancient prayers, rhythmic words. Then it broke up. We sat down at a table with several other students and Rabbi Kohn, a youngish bearded rabbi, presided from the head of the table, speaking with a marked English accent. He had been attending an orthodox yeshiva in Britain. Then, unsatisfied, he began studying Hasidus in his room late at night, a thing he couldn’t reveal. Finally, he couldn’t hold it in anymore, and announced that he was going to Brooklyn to the Lubavitcher yeshiva. They tried to talk him out of it, then attempted to kidnap him at the airport, they said. But he escaped and caught the plane.

Now, quoting the prior Rebbe, he instructed us to emulate the Bal Shem Tov, revere the Ebeshter (the Almighty) and “be a Hasid.” He added that if a man performs a mitzvah, he gets credit for it even if it is not part of his regular character. But he should strive to do even better. Kohn wound it up by saying, “And you can all be here at 8:30 tomorrow for study,” which caused a few chuckles.

There were more prayers—a good stiff session of them. Then the supplicants loosened up slowly, and warmly greeted each other by saying “Shabbos!” Pinchas, introduced me to our host for the evening, Meir, a reserved individual with glasses and blond hair, who had done time in an ashram in India. The two other guests showed up, one boy, a talkative adolescent, and an overweight person with a florid face and burning red hair named Zvi The five us assembled on the stairs, and left for the Shabbos meal.

We walked slowly in the late Friday night rain, down Troy Ave. to Empire, and then a block south. My feet were sore from a new pair of boots, so I fell behind with the out-of-breath Zvi. He said he was from Uruguay, had attended a Yeshiva there and was now studying here; apropos of nothing, he said he was opposed to the Allende regime in Chile. He inquired about my own religious orientation. I was tired of telling people that I was a non-believer. I said I was religious to an extent, but not a full follower of the commandments. He grunted and said, “Something is better than nothing.”

We came to a large, old-fashioned Brooklyn apartment building with scalloped mantelpieces in the lobby, and began walking up six flights of stairs (you can’t ride in an elevator on Shabbos), into a darkened apartment lit only by candles. We were greeted at the door by a young woman wearing a floor-length dress. We sat down. The teenage kid smugly—and condescendingly—challenged all of us on our fervor.

First we had to wash, pouring the water from the pot over each hand three times, saying the prayer, then remained silent while our host Meir broke the bread. He held it out in front of him under a towel or cloth. We all had to hold it while he said the prayer, then he cut it, first taking a little chunk off for himself, dipping it in salt and tasting it. Then he cut larger slices, dipping them each in salt, and passed them around to the rest of us.

He also said Kiddush over the wine, and soon we each had a glass of it, mixed with grape juice. My sprits improved when I felt a bit of alcohol enter my system. All during this, Meir gave lessons, reading from the Rebbe’s speech on Rosh Hashanah the year before, which exhorted the faithful to be even more religious during the holidays, and not to use them as an excuse to sleep and eat more. “Everybody takes it for that, but that’s not what it is,” he said. “You’re supposed to sleep and eat less and pray even more. Go to the synagogue and stay there.”

The teenager chimed in. “My mother always wanted me to feed me more,” he said.

“Yes, Meir said. “Our mothers always want us to eat more on those days. It’s not right.”

I was surprised at this outburst against mothers. The kids started singing, and the food was finally served (Meir had snapped, “Wait until I’m finished” when his wife tried to bring it out the first time). The first course was gefilte fish with horse radish, better than you could get at any deli in Manhattan, followed by salad and tomatoes. The next course was noodle pudding with breadcrumbs. Being a starch addict, I enjoyed the noodles, which went down very well with the wine, but the teenager said, “Are you a vegetarian, don’t you serve meat here?” “I had requested meat,” Meir said, “Maybe it would take too long to prepare. ”

As we ate, Meir explained that it was no sin to sin—if you wanted to come back into the fold, you only had to do so. And you would be joyously welcomed.

Nobody was particularly focused on me, so I started enjoying the experience. The Torah instructs Jews to observe the sabbath. but I could see that this is not only an obligation: it’s the highlight of the week. Given the darkness and the feeling of being away from the world, I could see why the Hasidim loved it.

The meal over, we prayed again, and walked back to the shul in the rain. This time I fell in with the teenager. He said had planned to enter a Greek monastery. But he met some Belze Hasids in Israel, and realized that Hasidism was the answer to his religious quest.

We walked across Eastern Parkway and into the dormitory. The room had one bed, and mattresses on the floor. I chose a sleeping bag on the floor next to the window, figuring that I at least might be able to get some fresh air. I listened to the rain and at length—remarkably—went to sleep.

Suddenly it was Saturday morning. Pinchas was at the door, saying, ‘It’s really late, we have to hurry.’ We rushed over to the Yeshiva at 824, where a full-fledged prayer service was beginning to rev up. Pinchas deserted me, so I found an empty spot at a table and began reading an English version of the book of Jewish laws. This service went on for an interminable period—they took the sefer Torah scroll out of the cabinet and read the weekly portion. They read—and read—and read. Some were rocking back and forth in the corners, their faces to the walls—this form of prayer was very intense and personal. There was a sort of break in it, then it began again. I was hungry and weak and had nothing like the ease I had felt the night before: I needed a cup of coffee. This was a day of rest? Pinchas asked, “Would you like to do Kiddush?” I knew what that meant. We gathered with five or six others and headed to a house on Troy, up a flight of stairs and into a narrow sunlit dining room. There was a long table filled with plates of cakes and bottles of grape juice and apple juice. The host said Kiddush—it seemed he had been married in France the week before. There were about nine of us at table. Another couple of kids came in, so the host pulled a couch out of other room, swung it around. I found it is permissible to move furniture on Sabbath. We ate—first, as usual, we started with gefilte fish and horse radish. And there was wine, for which I was grateful. At length, we finished and thanked our host and hostess.

Then we went to the Farbringen—an occasional gathering presided over by the Rebbe–in the large shul. The place was stacked with picnic-type benches and tables, and was already filled with black-clothed men. There was sort of a podium set up in front, with a long table. Other men came in, hundreds of them, it seemed. Not a woman in sight—they were upstairs in stalls, behind the windows, looking down on the scene. Pinchas and I stood on the side for awhile. He told me about Kabala and Hasidus. Jesus was accepted as a great miracle worker because he knew the secrets of the Kabala, including gematriya, Jewish numerology: every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value and you can work wonders with the combinations.. He told me Jesus went into the Temple in Jerusalem. The secrets had never been taken out, but Jesus sewed some of the documents into his leg, and sneaked them out in that fashion. “All the stuff he did was nothing new to us. We had guys doing that for hundreds of years.”

Then there was the case of Frankenstein, another goyische misrepresentation. Pinchas told me that Frankenstein was in reality a body which the rabbis had given life to by means of Kabalic secrets. In another instance, Rashi, one of the great Talmudic codifiers, rendered himself invisible when tormentors came to get him—thus, the myth of the invisible man. And the sainted Bel Shem Tov himself did things like walking on the water, and praying to remove cloud covers when they obscured the full moon (“you can’t make the prayers unless the moon is visible”).

Of course, those were the days you could do miracles. The Kabalists and rabbis could never perform them now because the world is in so unstable a condition. “If I got up and flew right now,” Pinchas said, “I would be accepted as God by the human race. That’s all you would have to do. That’s why the people who know these things don’t want to mess around with them that much.” This all sounded nonsensical to me, and hardly the right focus. But what did I know?

The main area down front was filed with the benches, but the sides and rear were taken up by bleachers. Men were standing on every level of these bleachers, swaying back and forth. It looked dangerous, given that there were no railings. By this time, the elders were all seated at long table on the podium. I was shoved into a place at one of the tables so I could see the whole thing better. But I didn’t see much. Elbows and knees were pushing into my ribs from all angles; there was no way to turn. A husky guy with blond hair began shoving people out of the aisles. One of the kids told me that during a previous Farbringen around Yom Kippur the year before, there had been a horrible fight because of the crowding. Finally, the entire mass of bodies turned in one direction—the Rebbe was coming in from the side. There was silence as he walked to the podium, looking the same as usual. He ascended and said Kiddush over the wine. Then the singing started, with bodies swaying all over the place. Bottles of Kedam kosher wine were broken out, and the little plastic cups were filled with the stuff and passed down the line of bodies at the table. When you received a cup, it was your duty to stand up and hold up your glass until the Rebbe noticed you and nodded, at which point you immediately said, “L’Chaim,” and when the Rebbe nodded his concurrence, then you sat down again. When it came my turn, I did what I was told to do, but I had barely been rewarded with the Rebbe’s nod, when I imagined that he saw right through me for the slime and hypocrite I was. Then the singing stopped and the Rebbe began speaking in Yiddish.

His voice was soft—it was definitely that of an old man. What he said, I found out later, was that every person should have his own place to pray, his own particular shul. I’m not sure of the timing of some of his comments, but they were in my notes, and I suspect that he said them on this day. If I am correct, he discussed the three stages of growth towards the sense of the “unity of God,” pointing out all the historic instances in which the number three played a role. For example, the Torah, which has three main sections, was given to the Jews, who had three main divisions (Cohens, Levites and Israelis), in Sivan, the third month of the Jewish calendar, on the same date as two other important events in Jewish history: The death of King David, and the death of the Bal Shem Tov. In addition, Moses was the third born, after Miriam and Aaron, and there were three censuses of the Jews during the Exodus in the Sinai Desert. “Blessed be the Merciful One, who gave a threefold Torah to a threefold people through a third—born on the third day in the third month,” he reportedly said. After about an hour, the Rebbe stopped, and the singing began again and more shouts of “L’Chaim!”

This cycle repeated itself about twice, then suddenly the singing stopped again, and without warning, men pushed toward the front. At this point, the Rebbe gave his Ma’amar, —in Hebrew, of course. I couldn’t hear it at all. When it was over, and the singing began again. I had lost my seat in the rush, and was forced toward the back where you could scarcely hear or see a thing.

For the rest of the affair, which went on for four hours at least, I wandered in and out. A Jews for Jesus truck pulled up in front, and was immediately surrounded by angry Hasids. I feared it would end in violence. One man said, “Do you know what we have suffered in the name of that man?”

Finally, the Farbringen was over. An afternoon prayer service followed, and Meir and Dov and I grouped up and walked to Meir’s house for the evening meal. By this time, I had a splitting headache. There was much less singing this evening than the previous one, and the teenager wasn’t there. There was, of course, gefilte fish, and a sort of barley stew, again with noddles. Meir wanted to hurry because Rabbi Kohn was going to give a translation of the Farbringen speech back at shul. So we ate fast. Meir’s wife talked for a change—she complained that where she went to pray, the women were always chatting and gossiping.

Meir said perhaps they shoud set up a woman’s prayer area at Hadar Hatorah, or some such place—his wife agreed. She cited it as reason she didn’teven bother to go to the Farbringen. Meir seemed to frown on this. But he admitted that he had never gone through a entire Farbringen himself, probably never could. He added that he hadn’t eaten first today, and after standing for all those hours, so hungry, he was feeling shaky. I knew the feeing: I felt shaky, and I had eaten.