2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


SMILEY’S DICE   Adventures in Livingness

Adventures in beginnings, starting over, and rewriting a story you’ve lived many years is the same as re-writing a story. It takes the same blind courage.

Behavior change (James)About half between forty and fifty years old, you hear people say, “It’s too late to start over,”  It’s not true. I hope it never feels like that when I wake up. Just thinking about it makes me run in circles. Behavioral change is essential to living a full life. In the middle of the night I woke up as if it was morning.  When I looked out the window, the moon was white as a  laundered tablecloth, staring back at me. It said get up and write.

I retreated to my corner of the world, a tiny room bathed a blush pink and gold, and wrote from beneath the goose down comforter. The moon watched.   Now that the lights and decorations are placed in the cartons, the wrapping and ribbon tossed away, a landfill of disturbing, distressing, and terrifying global news is dumped on us.  I do not understand the external world of political and international power, wealth, and motivation.

I fled that world a long time ago when I learned that men who controlled the paths of others were dangerously self-serving.  I recall my father sitting on that green velvet sofa, holding the remote in one hand and watching a news program. He turned it off and said to me, “Luellen, everything that goes on is fixed; you cannot hide your head in the sand and think otherwise.” I nodded my head in understanding, while internally I thought my father was suffering from his usual psychosis.  Eventually I crossed over, and forfeited my interest in politics. The forces of evil have shattered that glass of indemnity.

This year is not about vapid resolutions catering to our comfort, it is about survival. It’s about transforming behavior and habits, excesses and denial. Doing it in a group, makes us feel less traumatized. Imagine, all the thousands of people paddling the same current; forcing back the mortgage lender, relinquishing precious possessions, driving a car with a shattered windshield, wearing coats without any down feathers left, and wondering when the pink slip will arrive. Alienation and neurosis are at the root of people’s aggression and discontent. It can lead to unexpected violence, and then to massacre and war. It is a collection neurosis that grows worse every year.

The inner world, where each of us faces a truth no one else knows, is ruptured. All I can think of is bringing a little bit of light to someone you know is in darkness.





“Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.”

 Anais Nin.  1931

Expecting snow, expecting pleasure… we are all in some range of expectation. Where you may be hunched under an umbrella waiting for the light to turn green, so you can find shelter inside a café, a shop, where someone else waits for the arrival of a friend, the death of a loved one, the offer in writing, the publication, the house to sell, the decision to resonate, the pain and suffering to subside.

I think of something my father used to say, “You made your bed, now you lie in it.”  And another one, “It’s your lot in life.”  I began writing Smiley’s Dice in 2002 from a desk in a Solana beach rental.  Maybe in two years I’ll have a column in a newspaper or magazine, and maybe I won’t.  It’s my lot: to not give up.

Santa Fe is blistery cold, the street dry and the sidewalks baking sheets of white snow.  Out my window is a metallic sky that hints of more snow.  This sky slows the rhythms of the body and mind; it invades the hurried motions of pedestrians, vendors and hotel staff. There is an absence of light that intercepts outward vision, so we turn inwards.  I do anyway.  And because I gorge myself on the emotionalism, and interior life, I have not slid into home base.

That is why it has taken me longer to launch my writing for worldly consumption. Some of us are not in a rush to wave the “I made it” flag.  Some favor holding back, until the other elements of our character life are lived; our destructiveness, fear, pettiness, falsity, greed, so many steps to climb.

You and I have to trust in the pattern of our lives, the invisible thread that taunts us, teases us, and even torments us. My lot, postponed progress, maturity, development.

I was an A cup until college, without direction, a major in English, Art, and Psychology, before dropping out.  My major interest was the countryside beyond Sonoma State campus walls, the roaming cows, and flock of geese over the swamps, the crooked paths winding through eucalyptus woods, the poetry pasted on bulletin boards in the coffee house, the farmers in the pasture.

“When are you going to start taking your life seriously?” My father asked this question every few years, and every few years, I lied.

I was adulterated when I was first employed at the old Gibraltar Savings & Loan on Wilshire Boulevard. I was serious about how they measured my performance, and was vicariously unconcerned with personal gratification. How excited could I be about trust deeds? I cannot even recall what I was doing; just the name of the department, the Beneficiary Demand department.

All that restrictive training, in punctuality, production, and prudence, exploded late in life. I did not discover my passionate interest in writing until I was forty.I didn’t own a home until I was forty-seven, did not stop biting my nails until I was fifty-four, did not learn to love and trust until last year.

I developed friendships late in life, now I honor a treasure chest of sterling gems that glitter from near and far. Friends that abandon tasks to listen to me talk about moving the furniture again, and consent to my absence because the victor of writing has kidnapped me.

It is a day later, the sky is unchanged; still the cloud cover is nailed to the sky. In random conversations I have heard of people’s hardships, of sacrifice and compromise during this holiday season.  No more travel talk about Paris, and the Orient. No more extended vacations or extravagances.   We have to give ourselves a holiday from lament, from error, and from exasperation.  I tell myself not to be combative, not this year, and don’t polish the guilt and remorse, just let it fade away. Don’t open those links to real estate values, retirement funds and investments; open the link to History. Remember what the greatest generation was handed; remember soup lines, suicides, and World War II.

Mostly don’t reprimand your partner for unrealized expectations; They are most fragile to your voice and touch. The adventure in livingness is to look at your lot; and ride it with amusement and wonder.


A LITERARY AGENT I know emphasized the importance of rounding up readers. That’s not so easy when you’re exposing your own guarded family secret.

My mother married my father two years after Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was murdered. Sitting beside Ben the night of the murder provoked an immediate response from my father; it was time to get the hell out. He promised to reform, and she agreed to marry him.  One of her compromises was her religious faith. She was Irish Catholic. She stopped going to church, and she didn’t convert. It was a bitter irritation between them. My father raised us Jewish, we attended Hebrew School and went to Synagogue every Saturday morning. The complexity of being half Jewish and half Catholic surfaced, when some classmate told me I wasn’t really Jewish. I told this to my father. I still remember his answer coming at me like a round of bullets.

” That’s an idiot! It doesn’t matter if you’re half Jewish or a quarter, you’re a Jew! Don’t you ever forget it, and don’t let anyone tell you different. DO YOU HEAR ME?”  To this day when people remind me that I’m not really Jewish I say,” For my father, God made an exception.”

Friends are different for men in the Mafia, and for their wives. Real friends have to be connected. You cannot trust anyone else.  My mother had three friends.  Marianne was married to Gus Alex a powerful political fixer in the Chicago syndicate. She had been a model like my mother.  She was the stunning Grace Kelly sort of beauty with coolness much like my mother. She and my mother whispered when I was in the room.

More than any other person, Aunt Bess was beholden to my mother. She wasn’t really an aunt. Bess was Benjamin Siegel’s little sister. The one he favored over the others.  I suppose Bess met my mother way before I was born, when Benjamin was alive. She had the same bedroom eyes of her brother, big hound dog eyes that swept sentiment in every glance.  She had a heart too big for the turmoil in her life, and she cried about everything. She squeezed my face, and forever referred to me as her gorgeous baby. Bess was as content crying as she was laughing. There wasn’t any in between.  She dressed in high heels, tailored suits and  carried a hand bag with lots of tissue.  She and my Nana, my mother’s mother were very close friends. Bess, her husband, and daughter lived in a house on Doheny Drive that Ben Siegel bought for her. Bess’s husband Solly never uttered a word, and worked for Ben doing odd jobs.

In later years I would live across the street from them, but by then my father had distanced Bess’s family for reasons never revealed.

How I loved to watch Miriam; a saucy brassy Italian from Brooklyn. She propped up her bosom like two statues, waved a long red lacquered nail, and smoked one cigarette after another without ever taking a breath. She shopped everyday, charged everything, and when we were in the room she did not change her act, she let us see what it was really like to be a gangsters wife.  Beneath all the enamel and cosmetics she loved my mother unconditionally.  Although their characters were strikingly different, they shared that bond. Miriam was married to Doc Stacher, who rose in the ranks to become enforcer for Abner “Longy” Zwillman, the boss of New Jersey. Doc walked with his hands clasped behind, a cigar stub lived on his lip, and he was bald and heavy lidded. He lived in short pants and little white sneakers. Beneath his somewhat harsh and metallic skin was a wreath of worship for Joanne.  He didn’t restrict her humor, appetite, or spirit.  The more outrageous her behavior the more he approved.

Mafia men make the most outrageously entertaining hosts; nothing is ever out of the question. All they have to do is pick up the phone, and someone in the network will make it happen.

Mafia men don’t get up and go to work. Not one day in his life did my father ever report to an office. When I wasn’t in school, he took me with him in the powder blue Cadillac and we drove the streets of Hollywood visiting friends in delicatessens. We sat in big leather booths while my father and the owners talked. I didn’t know what work was all about.  No doubt the conversation was the rackets, the races, or Vegas. I was a very good decoy. What kind of a man takes his daughter to mob meetings? The kind that doesn’t want to look like a mob guy.  My father didn’t think I was listening, but I heard a lot.

Rory Calhoun was one of the characters that stood out. He was a western movie star; the Clint Eastwood of his day. Rory was also in the same reformatory as my father as a teen.  The Calhoun family and ours spent a lot of time together. They had two daughters and lived in an exotic Spanish villa on a corner of Sunset Boulevard.  Inside it was like a movie set, with animal rugs, oil paintings of Spanish Troubadours and Moorish decorations.  Rita, Rory’s wife, wore tiny stacked high heels and she clicked across the Spanish tiles like a flamenco dancer.  The whole family was blessed with dreamy looks. I remember looking at my reflection in the mirror as Rita combed my hair, and discovering I was not at all pretty.  I didn’t realize that I was surrounded with extraordinary beauty; everyone had these exceptional vogue looks. The importance placed on that kind of beauty was just as distorted.

Rita exhumed a stern feminine demeanor, extremely seductive but not without a battle. I learned my first lessons about temptation just by watching her. She fanned the room with perfume and laughter, and men just succumbed like drugged animals. I felt my first tingle of sexuality in the arms of Rory. He was a treasure of natural emotion, conversation, and jokes.  They both gambled, borrowed money from the other, and bet on everything.


My mother was raised in East Orange, New Jersey, before the neighborhood changed. My grandmother always said that East Orange used to be a very nice place to live. There is a photograph of my mother at age seven or eight posing in the garden with her German Shepard. She is holding a ruffled parasol, and dressed like a doll. Her face is a bud of innocence, but with a hint of pained modesty. She didn’t flaunt her beauty; it was more of an embarrassment. When her father died suddenly, she elected to help her family financially, and entered her photograph in a Redbook magazine contest. At seventeen years old she won a modeling contract with John Robert Powers in New York City. My mother ascended to an identity that suited her in some ways and restricted her in others. The Powers girls were invited to grand openings of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. She appeared on stage at New York’s Copacabana Night Club in 1943. On one of those nights my father was in the audience, and that was where the Smiley Casey bridge from East Orange to Hollywood began.



Déjà vu made a sounding explosion when I was seated in the Del Mar Turf Club with my friend Rudy. I wore the best outfit I had, which was Victorian compared to other dolls at the track. After observing the fans for a few minutes, I noticed one table of serious bettors that looked authentic. That’s when the memory of me and Dad at Santa Anita came rising up, and the expression he wore the entire time we sat through six races. He never took off his tinted shades, and he did not speak to me at all, not once, except to hand me a twenty-dollar bill and say, “Play the Trifecta,” and named the horses. I ran off assured I’d be a winner, and returned to my seat anxiously. Dad gave me his binoculars when my race came up, and within two-minutes, I’d gone from winner to loser. I looked at him and he said in a neutralized manner, “Now you know nothing is a sure thing; even with your old dad.”

The horse races were the one secret he couldn’t keep. He talked about the races, the jockey’s, and his handicapping because he couldn’t repress that part of his life. It was like asking a woman not to talk about her ex-boyfriend or husband. Rudy was not inflamed with the fury of the races, but he stayed there, and gave me money to pick the winners. When the Shoe entered the Winner’s Circle, I said to Rudy, “My Dad was close to Willie, one of his trainers used to be around us a lot.

“Go over and introduce yourself.”

“Not now.  Maybe afterward if I see him.”

“Come on, let’s go stand by the exit so you can get close.”

“I don’t want to. I’m not sure what their relationship was.”

“What could it be?  Your Dad played the track.”

I followed Rudy and when Willie rode by waving at the people, I waved back.

“No, it’s not right to approach him now.”

“Your wrong; but it’s your decision.”

I didn’t go looking for Willy because he was Dad’s friend, not mine.  We didn’t socialize like I did with Johnny Roselli or his other pals. My dad did tell me that “Meyer had a great saying: You don’t inherit friends,’” and I felt that was the situation. The rest of the day; while the scenery liquefied into a nostalgia of the nineteen forties, my eyes were unblinking at all the activity.

I’d read enough about the tracks to know that it was the club to join back then, and if you were on the inside, the parties lasted all night. And so did the gambling and practical jokes, and staged busts. I understood what drew my Dad, because the same thrills were touching me, and I liked it a lot. I took notes on what I’d experienced that day, because it was a new culture I’d just discovered.

I wasn’t interested in winning really, I just adored the characters behind the scenes; the speaker calling out the race, the girls leaping out of their seats and kissing their betting boyfriends, the waiters in tuxedos serving salads, and champagne, the oldies music, horses, costumes, and the Jockey’s, those little guys who control a two thousand pound animal going thirty-five miles an hour and more.

The next day I took the notes out and wrote a few pages about the track. It wasn’t researched or reported, just the ad-lib observation of a gal with a gangster past. It came so easy, it was like writing about a familiar subject. Rudy read it and said to send it to the local newspaper. I fought him a few rounds, and then finally succumbed to the idea of publishing my writing.

A few days later the editor called and asked me to submit more pieces… and he’d pay me twenty-five dollars a column. He mentioned I’d have a press pass to go to the track galas, and write about the track. I got off the phone feeling empowered and drove to Office Depot to buy a tape recorder. I’d just finished reading the Damon Runyon stories, and so I thought, here’s my chance. I started taking morning runs around the track when the horses are warming-up. It is one of the most exhilarating sensations, to see that polished hide bursting through the entrance to the track, nostrils flared, lips crunching the bite, and those burning brown eyes pointed to the track. In the afternoon I walked around the track with my press pass and knocked on barn doors. The reception was immediate, yes, they would love to be interviewed. So I spent one whole summer writing about the Del Mar Race Track, and didn’t bet a dime.  I did begin more research into the horse-racing industry and was eager to see a movie about this spectacular sport.  Seabiscuit was a treat because I attended the Premier in Saratoga Spring’s, NY and  met the trainer’s grand-daughter. Now I am looking forward to LUCK, premiering this month on HBO.


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