The roaring twenties were a time filled with excitement; the Charleston, big band, rumble seats, and all night parties. Prohibition was present throughout most of the decade but not many people noticed they were too drunk. Prohibition was a statement made by the Federal government that simply said. “We don’t want your money any- more, give it to the mob,” Alcohol sales were the main source of income for the city tyrants. This money was used to stimulate important local businesses like pasta houses, gun shops, and prostitutes. In other words, things that are vital towards promoting a thriving economy.
The racketeers that controlled the alcohol and gambling were indeed the most infamous. However, other mobs existed on a smaller scale. Mobs like “The Pop Thugs” who confiscated millions of empty soda bottles from legitimate businesses only to return them to collect the deposit. “The Cracker Jack Kids.” known for bullying small children out of drug store candy and trinkets, terrorized neighborhoods: for years before finally getting hair cuts and jobs. But the mob that was perhaps the most intriguing was “The Sauce Bunch.”
The gang began it’s life of debauchery at an early age. The members first met at St. Bruno’s Catholic High School in Philadelphia. (That was the first strike smart-aleck hoodlum named Tommy “The Gator” Nelson. Gator was derived from the word instigator which was his reputation among the clergy faculty. Tommy dealt in scheming, practical jokes, and the planting of disruptive ideas into the impressionable minds of fellow naïve students. Lester The Milk man” Duncan would often carry out the dirty work of Tommy. Many times during lunch Lester would make his colleagues laugh so hard that milk would ooze out of their noses. He was a class clown who spent the same amount of time “goofing off” as he did staying after school. Sid “The Worm” Levine. notorious for not returning library books, was the brains of the pack He could make mini explosives mostly out of stolen ingredients from Brother Beeker’s chemistry class-that were often times ignited by Duncan or McDuff in the holy lavatories of the school. Tubby McDuff, the enforcer, was as dumb as a chocolate chip cookie, which he would all too often snack on. However, he was vital to the group because he had the muscle to instill fear into his classmates while stealing their lunch bags.
During their final year at St. Bruno’s the wild pack of boys were expelled for cheating on their bible exam. Tossed our into the city they were forced to make a living. The four cronies soon gained employment at a local spaghetti sauce fac tory. Their hours. were long-some times fourteen hour days. It wasn’t unusual for the boys to arrive home drenched in sweat and tomato paste. (Incidentally, those were the two secret ingredients in the sauce.)
One day a man dressed in a nice pin-stripped suit and a fedora approached Tommy Nelson as he was leaving the sauce factory. “Hey kid,” said the stranger, “Come ‘ere. I wanna talk to you’re” Tommy, in his knickers and cap, walked over to the man and responded, “Whatta ya want?” “You’re work in dat sauce house?” asked the stranger. “What’s it to ya?” replied the young boy, “I got a little proposition for you’re. Let’s take a ride down the street and I’ll tell you’re about it,” Tommy jumped in the back of the mans Ford and they drove away.
Later that evening, Tommy assembled his childhood pals in the old abandoned ammunition ware house which had been vacant since the end of World War I. “Guys, I’m tired of working day and night for pennies, I’m tired of coming home and stinking like a meatball, How ’bout you’se slugs? The Gator” asked, “Yea, it’s nuttin’ but horse hockey.” bellowed “The Milk man. “I ain’t even making enough dough to eat…dough.” cried Tubby “What about you’re, Sid? inquired Tommy “The Worm” looked up from his book and replied, “What else are we going to do? We don’t have diplomas Ali, we don’t need dem. Dar’s for squirrels, anyway. I gotta way to make sonnet real cabbage. Are you se all in? Everyone looked around and nodded except Tubby He was tray busy looking for a lollipop he had hid in his coat pocket earlier. The Sauce Bunch made a vow to be the leading supplier of spaghetti sauce to the city. This was known as The Tomato Paste Pact.
For the next six months. The Sauce Bunch would sneak into the factory late at night and heist cases of spaghetti sauce to give to Joey Lin- quini. Joey was the stranger who had originally propositioned Tommy the Gator. He was also Mr. Provalone’s main man. Mr. Provalone was the big cheese in Philadelphia whose gang of thugs ruled the city. The sauce was forcibly sold at ungodly prices to Italian restaurants like Rome Sweet Rome, Your Momma’s, Toe Knees. Parmesan Palace, and Mob Bees Munch Shack, to name a few.
Tommy and the boys would deliver the cases to Joey who, in return, would supply The Sauce Bunch with a fat kickback for their troubles. Sid juggled the books at the factory to ensure that the tomato trail couldn’t be traced. For a while, the high school drop outs were raking in the Italian bread. But, it wasn’t enough.
Tommy began to solicit other factories. He offered monetary incentive to disloyal employees who gladly handed over cases of their finest product. Their operation acquired stewed tomatoes, peas, soup. coffee, peaches, and yes. even Spam. In no time, the gang had complete control over the canned goods market in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, greed had encompassed The Sauce Bunch and would inevitably lead to their demise.
One hot summer’s day. Tommy gathered the troops to propose a risky new venture. “Whatta you’se boys tink about expanding out of canned goods?” Sid dropped his book and exclaimed, “You don’t mean…. “Dat’s right, I’m talking about jar items.” Tommy shot back. “What about da Peanut Butter Boys?” Tubby asked as he licked his ice cream cone. “Yea, dey ain’t gonna like us cuttin in on deir jar business,” Duncan stated. “Screw dem jar thugs. Deir small peanuts to The Sauce Bunch. Anyways, deir stuff spoils in half da time our stuff does.” Everyone nodded and laughed except for McDuff. he was occupied unwrapping a candy bar.
The Peanut Butter Boys had been harangued in Atlanta for the inability to supply a crunchier product. In 1918, after a skirmish with the Ku Klux Klan, they arrived in Philadelphia where their knowledge enabled them to corner the peanut spreading market. Soon after that they acquired the jellies & preservatives, cherries, olives, mustards, and the pickle line which they relished in. They ran a lucrative racket that supplied most of the underworld up and down the east coast.
Trouble began on a Fall Saturday night. The Sauce Bunch had coerced a local mustard factory employee to cease ties with The Peanut Butter Boys and, in essence, start suppling them with cartons of the yellow jars. Soon, The Peanut Butter Boys received wind of the takeover and plotted revenge.
Their first act involved poor Tubby McDuff. Tubby was found in an ally covered in blood and mustard-with a doughnut clinched in his, hand. A note attached to his forehead read. “Stay out of the jar business ’cause you’re can’t handle da mustard!” This infuriated The Sauce Bunch and sent them on a vengeful spree. of raiding the Peanut Butter Boy’s warehouses and smashing open scores of jars. The rival gang retaliated by taking hammers to their predator’s stockpile of cans. They even went so far as to rip the labels off The Sauce Bunch found themselves with an abundance of dented merchandise that was unsellable even to Goodwill.
One late evening, Lester Duncan was walking home from a shipment drop when a car pulled up next to him. Four hoodlums leaped out and began to beat “The Milkman” over the head with cans of stewed tomatoes, Lester pleaded, but the tomatoes were too. much. He collapsed on the sidewalk where he was found being licked by neighborhood cats. The Sauce Bunch was quickly being dismantled.
Following the ordeal, Tommy set up a meeting with Sid at a nickel book store. Not to arouse attention, “The Gator” arrived in a full body cucumber disguise. The two met in the Recipe aisle. “It’s over, Tommy. We’re through.” Sid stated. “Lis ten here you worm, I ain’t going down without a fight,” Tommy sternly exclaimed. “Come on Tommy, we had a good run. Let’s leave it.” replied Sid. “Why you gutless four-eyed pansy. Ya probably been stealing dough from da kitty. Haven’t ya!” Tommy insanely bellowed. Sid shook as he spoke, “Whatta you talking about, ya crazy cucumber?” Tommy grabbed him, “I’ll show ya what I’m talking about!” Tommy reached up on the shelf and picked up “The Home Cooking Guide and began to beat Sid over the head with it until he had made a vegetable out of him.
Later that night, Tommy snuck out of Philadelphia on a train: Knowing he was a marked man, he dressed up as a radish to avoid suspicion, “The Gator” found him self in Chicago where he lay low for ten years working at a cardboard box factory. In 1962, Tommy “The Gator” Nel son died. Ironically, he choked on a meatball.
Jeff Charlebois is a wheelchair comedian billed as “a sit-down comic who’s always on a roll.” Jeff tours the country performing shows at colleges, clubs, hospitals, fund raisers, etc. He has recently completed writing a humor book entitled “Medical Secrets Revealed.”