Menachem's Writings

We Were an Such Evil Bunch
the real criminals emerge from the woodwork

It's funny, or a normal perhaps human reaction, that when I write about some childhood crime or misdeed, my readers start to own up to their own illegal activities and misdemeanors.

Morrie wrote:

Today I read about your friend Peter. You brought TEARS to my eyes as I was having a good laugh. I am not going to tell you of the few outings I had as you will spill the beans once again

Well Mo, you don't need to tell me. I will spill some of your beans right here. You see, one of the characteristics of a criminal is the desire to tell others of the crime. For example, it took Joe, the Rabbi and me thirty seven years to tell the story. It was almost the perfect crime . . . and we did get away with it. Mark still isn't sure he wants to be part of the revelation. I respect his privacy . . . but just for a little while longer.

Well Morrie didn't just shoplift a torch. Morrie's favorite haunt was the big Coles Store up the road from his house in Double Bay. (These were the days before Coles became a supermarket chain. Coles and Woolworths each sold almost identical cheap stock.) Mo visited Coles often, maybe even daily on the way home from school, and "took" all kinds of stuff. I don't know how he managed to never get caught. Our school, Randwick Boys' High, was after all a hotbed of criminal activity, but I think Mo acted alone. Cars were the school speciality, but they did it in small groups -- and six guys did end up being sent up the river.

Once I was walking through the Coles store and I see Mo slip an object into his pocket. I said to myself, "Quick let's get out of here". I was petrified. We going up the river! But Mo just nonchalantly kept walking down the aisle. He was looking for more game. I can't tell you how relieved I was to get out of there a free man (lad).

I don't know if Mo had a psychological problem (kleptomania perhaps), or it was a thing of youth (that's an excuse?) I hope he has grown out of it, but I never went "shopping" with him again.

My (former) Australian lawyer buddie, when I asked if there is still any possible legal actions that can be taken against us, wrote:

I'm saying, I believe the statute of limitations, probably six years in New South Wales, would bar any complaint from being actioned by the authorities.

I hope that's good news for us crooks and felons. I don't relish fifty feds waiting for me at Kingsford Smith airport next time I visit my mother. I'm quite happy to ride in a taxi thanks.

Ezy writes:

Remember flick phones? Now I have no problem with the many, many times we all (and I don't believe there was anyone in the [youth] movements who didn't use a flick phone) went to the phones near the post office at Bondi Beach. But I have to admit to a twinge of conscience at the number of times some of us called Melbourne from the Bnei Akiva Maon [in Sydney]. Bugger of a thing to do quietly as well, coz flicking those buttons made a hell of a noise. Part of my standing order to Bnei Akiva today is earmarked "Flick phone remuneration".

This is an interesting story, especially for those of you growing up in the age of VOIP (Voice Over IP or Internet) systems like Skpye, JaJa and even FaceBook and MySpace social connecting web sites, or even ICQ and other chats. Before I tell you what a Flick Phone operation was, a short introduction to the technology of the sixties and seventies. When we were kids, if you wanted to dial outside of the metropolitan area, you had to ring the operator and asked to be connected. This was called a trunk call. Americans called this a "long distance call". Why trunck -- it comes from the fact that a tree's branches all connect to the truck. So to connect to a distant subscriber (a different branch), you had to connect via the trunk. Very logical. Way before the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell (or his Russian nemesis) the British had already built a trunk road in India and a trunck railway in Canada. So the concept was widespread.

Some time in the early sixties they introduced subscriber trunk dialing (STD). You dialed an area code followed the subscriber's local number. You were connected immediately without operator intervention (or if the unions still had them at work and they made the connection so fast you didn't notice). Exchanges were still not electronic, but electromagnetic. And the phone were still, literally, dialed by analogue means.

Before I continue with the techical information, I note an interesting sociological phenomenon. I am certain this is the opening for a number of PhD theses. Whenever a group of Sydney kids travelled to Melbourne for summer camp, they craved to stay in contact with their new friends. As Ezy points out, this tradition cut across all of the Zionist youth movements, and I would guess, non-Jewish groups as well (for example following Boy Scout or Girl Guide jamborees). The interesting sociological actuality is that it seems to be that this desire for connectivity was much from the Sydney side. While there was occasional contact initiated from the southern city, it was in the minority. Now it is possible that the reason may have technical.

So what was the flick technology? There were variations as the Post Master General's office (the government department that operated the telephone system in Australia) tried to close loopholes. Basically you approached a public phone, picked up the receiver, gave the hook on which the receiver hung, a quick flick. Then you dialed, very quickly. Speed very was important. Calling numbers with lots of twos and threes rather than eights and nines gave you a higher probability of success. The phone would start to ring at the Victorian end. You still didn't know if you have succeeded. They answered . . . so far so good. But it was only when you knew that they could hear you, that could you be sure. The success rate? One in three or four.

Another interesting property of flicking was that not every phone could be used. The early devices were fairly primitive. They were improved and made more secure, but the method (sometimes) still worked. There was an underground information network relating to which phones worked and using which modified variation of the method. (Ironically today this would make for a great web site -- think of the potential advertising revenue from Google ads.) Sydney's Central Railway Station had maybe 100 public phones. In its heyday, more than a quarter of the phones had been successfully "cracked". "Yes, try the left hand one on the right side of platform six," the advice would circulate. The following week, "Forget platform six, the middle phone opposite platform two, near the tobacconist works nearly first time, every time".

And it wasn't just kids. Married men ring their mothers, grandmothers ring their grandchildren. The full spectrum. A night out on the town and ring everyone you know down there in Melbourne. Or better still arrange for all your friends to be in one house, and talk to everyone, one at time (we didn't have speaker phones until Dick Smith Electronics started selling an external attachment in the late seventies. Oh we were still in the caveman generation back then.

The Bnei Akiva phone . . . Ezy, naughty, very very naughty. I ended up paying some of those bills out of my pocket. I knew it wasn't movement business, nor my private calls. I put a dial lock on the phone, but obviously to no avail. So how did they dial from a locked, regular phone set. They used a variation on the flick method. You "dial" by hitting the hang up button quickly, with a space between each digit. 0 was formed by ten successive hits; three by three hits. If a "hit" was held down for too long, you (accidentally) hung up the phone . . . if the gap between two digits was too long, you were short changed on the number. This method often produced "wrong numbers". Flicking a public phone was easier and quicker.

Another method used, for local calls, was to dial the requested number without inserting any coins, and then yelling into the earpiece. The other party could very, very faintly hear you . . . and you heard them very clearly.

Thank God for today's technology and greatly reduced communications prices . . . and especially for the Internet.

Please feel free to and don't forget to stop by my site to look at my latest (and classic) photographs.


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