MY FATHER, THE GENTLE GANGSTER


This is an excerpt from the memoir I’ve been working on many years. The first manuscript was 800 pages; about three of them were worth reading. The book mutated about 2000 times.

“What’s it like knowing your father is a gangster? Did you know when you were a teenager? Did your father kill anyone? Did you ever meet Bugsy? Aren’t you afraid of his friends? You know they kill people.”     

            I was thirteen years old when my best friend told me my father was a gangster. She didn’t mean any harm. We told each other everything.  We were standing in the Brentwood Pharmacy one day in 1966, and we turned the book rack around until we found ”The Green Felt Jungle.”

“That’s the book, let me look first and see what it says.” She whispered. I waited while she flipped trough the pages.

“Oh my God, there he is,” she said grasping my shoulders.  We hunched over the book and read the description of my father beneath his photograph.

“Allen Smiley was the only witness to the murder of Bugsy Siegel.”

“What does that mean, who is Bugsy Siegel?” I asked.

“Shush, not so loud, I’m afraid to tell you this Luellen, it’s awful. I don’t believe it. “

“What is it? Tell me.”

“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster, he killed people. Your father was his friend.”

I don’t think I should read this, “I said replacing the book on the rack.

“Don’t tell your father I told you,” she warned.

“Why not?”

“My mother told me not to tell you, swear to me you won’t tell your father.”

“I swear, come on let’s go.”

My father called himself Allen Smiley. The FBI tagged him “armed and dangerous.” The Department of Justice referred to him as the “Russian Jew.” I called him Daddy.   e had salty sea blue eyes blurred by all the storms he’d seen.  When I said something funny, his eyes crystallized and flattened like glass, smoothing out the bad memories.  He was always a different color, dressed in perfectly matched shades of pink, silver and blue. My small child eyes rested cheerfully on his silk ties, a collage of jewel tones. The feel of his fabric was soft like blankets.  He was very interesting to look at when I was a child and open to all this detail.

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One thought on “MY FATHER, THE GENTLE GANGSTER

  1. Many years ago, when I was still living with my parents, I was reading a copy of the Los Angeles Times. In the paper there was an article about the early days of Las Vegas. Whenever you mention the early days of Las Vegas you must mention the Mafia. Whenever you mention Vegas and the Mafia the article must also include Bugsy Segal.Any article on Bugsy would invariably include that famous last known photo of Bugsy taken in the living room of his house in Beverly Hills. The photo in the LA Times identifies Bugsy and the woman, but makes no comment regarding the third person in the photo. I complained to my father about the failure of the paper to properly identify everyone in the photo. My father got up from his chair, walked across the room, leaned over my shoulder, looked at the paper and very easily said, ” thats Alan Smiley”.

    I asked my father how do you know thats Alan Smiley? His answer was simple and straight forward, “I went to school with him”.

    My father, Sam Bereskin, was born in Winnipeg in 1907 and lived for many years in Elmwood, a section of the city on the Eastside of the Red river.

    My father had a first cousin named Sue (Bereskin) Marcus. Sue’s mother’s name was Molcha. Molcha was your father’s aunt. Sue and your father were first cousins. Sue lived in Hollywood from the mid 40s thru 1980s.

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