Credit Cards and Subway Keys 

Copyright © 2008 by Tiki Kritzer Seger.  All rights reserved.


When I was fourteen years old, my best friend Vic and I were inseparable; we did everything together - except have sex.  Vic would have welcomed a more intimate relationship (he was in love with me from the very beginning) but for me, he was like a brother and to be honest, he just wasn’t my type – I liked tall, dark, dangerous looking men.  With his dark red hair, Jewish nose and skinny body, he even looked a little like me; I had dyed red-blond hair and a delicate version of the Jewish nose, but no one would ever call my sexily curved body skinny.  We used to trip on LSD together, eat pints of ice cream sitting on the icy steps of churches in the middle of Winter (Vic would warm his frozen fingers in my armpits – I never used to feel the cold), fantasize about everything under the sun, sleep in the same bed, and of course, we were partners in crime.  In fact, the only time that we spent apart, was if one of us (usually me) was having sex with someone else.


Vic spent his first 10 years or so in Russia; his mother was a successful teacher under communist rule, and his childhood was comparatively comfortable.  One day, Vic’s mother decided to escape to the States; as they were Jews, she applied for permission to make a pilgrimage to Israel.  She was then forced to quit her job and live on her savings while waiting for an answer; always in her thoughts was the knowledge that if she was refused permission to make the journey, she would be stripped of all privileges and sent to a work camp for rehabilitation.  After waiting for several months, the authorization was given and Vic and his mother left Russia; on the way to Jerusalem, they changed direction and defected to the USA.  Vic’s mother worked extremely hard to survive; she kept a clean, comfortable home for her husband (not Vic’s father) and Vic and she was always really nice to me.  I remember eating wonderful Russian meals at their apartment in Brooklyn, with dishes such as homemade caviar, exotic salads and lots of creamy sauces.


Vic was a criminal genius; he used to come up with tons of great ideas about how to rip off large companies and department stores without getting caught.  Together with another friend, Wagner (that was his last name, but no one except his parents used his given name), we were partners in crime and we thought that it was all a great, big joke.  We were brilliant, carefree and invincible in the way that is only possible to be when very young.


Vic and Wagner came up with this great scheme to rip off credit cards in a way that would make it almost impossible for us to get caught.  They would check people’s mailboxes (tampering with the mail is a federal offence, but we were all young and we knew that the penalties for us would not be as severe as those for adults) until they found a credit card statement; then they would gather (from other mail) as much information about the person as possible.  Once they had enough data, they would call the credit card company, pretend to be the card owner, and report that the card was stolen; the company would then cancel the old card and send a new one within seven days.  Vic or Wagner would check the mailbox every day right after the post came until the new card arrived; then, if it was a man’s name, one of them would sign it and if it was a woman’s name, it belonged to me.  Then we would go shopping for jewelry, expensive clothes, toys (I bought some wonderful, silver coke spoons shaped like dragons with ruby eyes once), and any other items that caught our fancy.  If the salespeople in a store suspected that the card was stolen, they would call the credit card company; then we would be given the phone and someone would ask us questions such as “What was your mother’s maiden name?” or “What is your Social Security number?” which we naturally couldn’t answer; the person on the phone would then tell us to leave the store immediately without the credit card because the police would be there within ten minutes.  Because they couldn’t be sure that we were not actually who we said we were, and they didn’t want to lose customers, they never actually got us arrested.  We, naturally, would act offended and leave as quickly as possible.  Then we would laugh until our sides hurt.


Since we were all poor, we never had any cash, only the credit cards.  We used to walk everywhere or take the trains, but we usually didn’t have any money for subway tokens.  Subway workers have a master key to enter the stations through the back gates; these keys open all of the train stations in New York.  I don’t know who gave it to him, but Vic had a master key; after he got it, we always used it to avoid having to pay train fares.

One day, Vic and I decided that it would be fun to take a vacation in Florida.  From his home in Brooklyn, we contacted a travel agency in Manhattan and, using a credit card, booked a flight to Miami along with several nights in a 5 star hotel; we agreed that we would pick up the tickets along with our hotel reservations within 24 hours.  As usual, we had no cash; not even the $1.20 for the two subway fares to Manhattan.  We did have 60 cents, and we should have had me pay to take the train since I was carrying 4 credit cards in different names, but we didn’t think of it; we used the master key to enter the station through the back, but we forgot to close the gates behind us.  I had a really bad feeling, and I kept telling Vic that someone was watching us, but he laughed at me.  He said that the only people around were a couple of harmless bums.  After we got to the train platform, one of those bums came up to us, showed us his police badge and informed us that we were under arrest; he said that he was really busting us because we had left the gates open and that young girls often got raped when entering subway stations through the back.  The undercover cop called some others in uniform for backup and then they searched us; naturally, they found the stolen credit cards in my backpack.  We swore that we had found the cards on the street, but they didn’t believe us and they led us out of the train station in handcuffs.  It was just around 3 o’clock and all of the school kids were on their way home; they pointed, laughed and generally made fun of us.  They kept saying that I must be a hooker (I was dressed all in black – long shirt, stockings, high heeled boots with my usual collection of silver bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces) and that Vic was probably my customer (he was much more conservative in gray slacks and a good quality, warm winter jacket).  I just wanted to shrivel up and crawl into a hole in the ground.


When we got to the police station, I lied and told them that I was seventeen and that I lived alone because I didn’t want to get my mother involved (they believed me easily because I looked much older then I was).  I gave them my home number, and they called but only got the answering machine; instead of leaving a message, they just said “Hello, hello…” and then hung up; so my mother never knew who was speaking and naturally, didn’t know what it was about and couldn’t call back.  They took my picture and fingerprinted me (it took me 2 days to get the ink off), but were basically friendly and flirtatious during the whole booking process; I actually enjoyed myself to some extent and I didn’t take it all very seriously.  Vic told me later that he was treated very differently; they interrogated him for a very long time and there was an official from the post office who kept telling him that he knew all about his criminal activities and that he was going to get him. 


We were both put into holding cells until we could be arraigned in court; unfortunately, it was Saturday and the courts were closed until Monday.  I was in a tiny cell with a bunch of prostitutes and a toilet; the women would enter the jail with their hands between their legs and say how tired they were and how much it hurt from being used by so many men.  They smelled terrible - like old sweat, dirt and sex.  One really tough, black, bitch lay down on the floor and I kept stepping on her accidentally until she told me that if I did it again she would pulp my head against the bars; after that I made myself small in a corner of the cell.  Some of the other women told me that I was really cute and that if I wanted, they would introduce me to their pimps; I thanked them and declined.  I was terrified the whole time, but I tried not to show it and to act as tough as the rest of them did.  We were fed bologna sandwiches, sodas and coffee all weekend; it wasn’t haute cuisine, but it was edible.  The worst part was going to the bathroom; the toilet was visible to everyone in the cell and to the guards walking by, and although I managed to empty my bursting bladder eventually, my bowels cramped up – it was impossible to take a shit with an audience.


On Monday morning, we were brought to court; I saw Vic again for the first time since we had been booked.  He looked terrible; beat up and wrecked – his jacket was gone and in its’ place was a filthy, old suit coat.  The judge advised us that the file with our booking record couldn’t be found and that it is the law that if the file can not be found within 3 days of the arrest, the offender(s) must be released.  I nearly passed out with relief; the thought of a long jail term scared me half to death.  After we left, Vic told me that he had called his mother, and that she paid someone from the courthouse to lift our file.


We jumped the turnstiles at the train station because we still didn’t have any money.  In the train, Vic’s new coat smelled so bad that we had half of the car to ourselves.  Vic told me that there had been a huge, black guy in the cell with him and that the guy had told him to hand over his watch; Vic said “no” and the guy slammed him into the bars, then he told him to look around and see if the other men in the cell were his friends or Vic’s – it was obvious that Vic didn’t have any friends there.  The second time that he was told to give up his watch, Vic did so without any protest; the same with his jacket.  He laughed when he described how the guy gave him his coat in trade with the comment that it was too cold outside to walk around without a coat.  When we got back to Brooklyn, Vic’s mother was really quiet but she didn’t say anything about what we had done; we thanked her for coming to our rescue, then we dumped our clothes in the wash, showered, and fell into bed. 


We slept for almost 30 hours.