Bad Boy from Flatbush

A shaggy dog story and how Warren Katz got to Synanon

 In a recent interview with Judi Erlich (a good girl from Beverly Hills) she told me the following story.  It begins with a friendship and a mutual love of Wheaten Terriers and traverses through the sort of coincidence that make people wonder if there is a such thing as fate.   Judi and Linda met at work and discovered they both have Wheaten Terriers, over time, both Linda and Judi lose their dogs to old age and Judi gets another one, a puppy she named Jojo.   Linda invited Judi over with her new pup so that she and her husband could get some puppy love.  Judi took some photos on her phone.

Some days later her dear friend Warren Katz comes to town and Judi shares the photos with Warren and he asks, “Who’s that guy with Jojo?”  

“Oh, that’s Kenny Feldman, he loves Wheaten terriers too.”

Warren says that he grew up with a guy named Kenny Feldman and asks, is he from New York?

“Ask him if he knows a Warren Katz?”

The next time Judi meets up with Linda and Kenny, as they stroll along the Marina near Santa Monica,

The next time Judi meets up with Linda and Kenny, as they stroll along the Marina near Santa Monica,

“Kenny,  I have a close friend named Warren Katz, do you know him?” Kenny’s response is immediate and negative. He asserts that Judi’s Warren Katz could not be the same person.  The Warren Katz he knew was most definitely dead, He was the biggest asshole, and he was into drugs and numerous nefarious activities, there is no way he made it out of Flatbush alive. 

Judi presented a possible scenario.  Is it possible you just lost track, that he went to California, to Synanon and cleaned up his act and is now a fine upstanding citizen.? 

“No way” 

“To try is to Fail” Warren A. Katz

One thousand words later.  This is the photo of Kenny Feldman’s Bar Mitzvah.  Kenny is the boy on the left with the rueful expression, the young man seated in the center as if this is his celebration is that little asshole Warren Katz. 

It is difficult to reconcile that story with the image of the man before me on the Zoom call.  It is 8:30 or rather 8:40am his time.  I had overslept and was ten minutes late to the call. I am still in my pajamas with my overly long pandemic hair hanging in disarray.  He is fully dressed, in a madras shirt with a button-down collar and is as gracious as he is meticulous in response to my apology.

“Hey no worries, Cor” 

He had already walked two miles, showered, shaved, and was working on his second cup of coffee.  He asks me to wait a minute while he  makes a donation to the Biden campaign.  When we were in Synanon he and his best friend Barry Levine (RIP) were dubbed “The Busy Brothers”.  Warren, the surviving “brother” still lives up to the appellation, as did Barry, very nearly to his death from the cancer he’d fought for 2 years.

We start the conversation talking about Synanon’s sad demise as those of us who spent a large portion of our adult lives in the organization are wont to do.  We are still sad, we will always be sad, we will always have regrets.   We are all Monday morning quarterbacks

Warren: “ I just remember sitting in those Game Lab Games, thinking this is so rotten.  This is not what I signed up for, this…”

Me: “What would you have done?”         

Warren: “I went through a scenario in my head a million times…I thought I could have been a catalyst, maybe that was just bullshit, but I thought maybe if only I had started to speak out that I had enough respect in the community that maybe some people would join in. I wish I had done it, but I didn’t, that’s my regret.”

I suggest that at that point it may have been too late. 

“Maybe so”

So back to Warren, back to Flatbush.

Warren started drinking cheap wine at thirteen and soon graduated to pills and pot. He tried  at a couple of jobs that were available near the projects where he lived but they didn’t work out and he found he preferred hanging out and getting high.

Warren’s quick lightly graveled Brooklyn accent is peppered with aphorisms of his own design, and quaint clichés.  His father left:  “From there it was downhill”.  

Despite the fact his father drove a cab, worked nights and was rarely around: 

“In my mind he was the iron fist”.   …”with my Dad gone all bets were off” . 

By the time he was sixteen the subways in New York were plastered with “Go to Synanon or Go to Hell” posters.  His mother was a member of the New York game club and she kept leaving pamphlets about the house hoping to have some influence on her wayward son. 

               He’d been arrested once for possession of heroin with the intent to sell and because of his age and the fact that it was his first offence he was let off “not even probation. Just kind of a slap on the wrist” 

               “After the bust, I’m thinking, I’ve had enough”

               His mother had had enough too. 

               Warren imagines Sidney Finkelstein, the director of the New York House giving her the standard spiel.

               “How many more lies are you going to take? How much more is he going to steal? And how many overdoses will you have to endure.   You gotta kick him outta the house. But give him an out, tell him You’ve got a plane ticket to California, you can go to Synanon. He can’t live with you any longer.”

               “And she did it”

               At this point Warren chokes up at the memory. 

               “Um…it saved my life.”

I ask him why he’s getting emotional.

               “What I put her though, a single mom, having to go to work every day, my deadbeat  dad….I found out later , she got nothing from the divorce, the only one who got any money was the lawyer.  It was like getting blood from a stone.”

               He remembers her coming to visit him a year later in Tomales Bay and her telling him as she watched the plane leave the runway,  she thought “what have I just done?! I sent my son to a place I’ve never even been to”.

               “So, you gotta think, there was a whole lotta trust there!”

               Dorothy Katz as of this writing is 91 and suffering from memory loss.  Warren talks about when “she was all there”, her pride in his achievements at the adult he had become.  In her belongings are letters of commendation from a fire chief and an ER doctor from back when he was working in the Synanon Fire and Rescue department up in Tomales.  He has the satisfaction of having made her proud.  The trajectory of his life was completely altered thanks to his mother’s brave ultimatum back in 1969 when Warren was three months shy of his eighteenth birthday.     Cory August 2020

4 replies »

  1. Well, naturally I love this story. I will never forget Kenny’s absolute refusal to believe that such a punk (as he remembered him) could (a) still be alive, and (b) could have so completely turned his life around. He finally began to believe when I pulled out my cellphone, called Warren, and put them on the phone together. I knew Warren’s story from Synanon, but to see it through the eyes of a childhood friend/brother like Kenny was a whole different take. This was absolutely the greatest “small world” story of my life…

    • Thank you Judi for sharing this story with us. I’m looking forward to posting the stories you’ve written. I’ve been reading your Synanon Diaries on the .org site. I love them!! xo Cory

  2. Love it, Cordelia! For those of us who know Warren (and Judi), I’m sure this will be a pleasure to read. More, please.

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