WHO WAS MY FATHER?


I began my research WITH WHAT I HAD; one of my father’s books; “The Mark Hellinger Story.” I leafed through the index and there was my father’s name along with Ben Siegel’s. According to the biographer, my father visited Mark at his home the night before he died. Mark had stood up in court for my father and Ben at one of their hearings. He was fond of Ben, like so many people were, that aren’t here to tell their story.
After reading the book I rented, The Roaring Twenties, written by Mark, and from there the connections, relationships, and characters began to leap out from all directions. I
submerged myself in history and photocopied pictures of my father’s movie star friends, George Raft, Eddie Cantor, Clark Gable, and his gangsters friends. I found photographs of the nightclubs he frequented, the Copacabana, El Morocco, and Ciro’s and nightclubs that he referred to in his mysterious conversations. I made a collage of the pictures and posted them above my desk. I played Tommy Dorsey records while I wrote. This microcosm of life that was created, allowed me to listen to the whispers and discover the secrets.
I dug into my father’s history without knowing how deep I had to go, or what shattering evidence would cross my path. In my heart I felt this was crossing a spiritual bridge to my parents. The flip side was a gripping torment, tied to my
prying mind. I needed to break into the files in order to break my silence, and discover my parents, not glamorized stereotypes that fit into the category of Copa dancer and gangster. No matter what I uncovered, I always knew it would be ambiguous, and controversial. I did not expect to find a record of murder, dope peddling, and prostitution. I believed that his crimes were around the race track and in gambling partnerships. Even so, I could never understand the similarities we shared, unless I knew them as people. Though I have not rebelled against authority as my father did, I‘m not a team player, I resist authority, and I don’t like waiting in lines.
I had to reinvent my mother through the subconscious. I skated over thin ice trying to set her truth apart, from what I
had invented, dreamed, or had been told. I listened to Judy Garland’s recordings, and premonitions surfaced, of how my mother loved Judy, how it must have felt to be under the spot lights of MGM, and dancing in ginger bread musicals while her own life was draped with film noir drama.
I studied my mother’s face in all her films, rewinding and stopping the tape, as if she might suddenly return my glance. She had dancing and background shots in the musicals produced by Arthur Freed. I remembered dad talking about Arthur, and how prestigious it was to be in his department.
When I discovered the Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, I went down and filled out a slip of paper with my mother’s name on it and waited for my number to be called. I felt something like a mother discovering her child’s first triumph. They handed me a large perfectly stainless manila envelope, and a pair of latex gloves to handle the file. I had to look through it in front of a clerk.
“That’s my mother,” I proclaimed. He blinked and returned his attention to a memo pad. Inside the envelope were black and while glossy studio photographs, press releases, and studio biographies of my mother. The woman who pressed my clothes, washed my hair, and made my tuna sandwiches. There she was in front of the train, for Meet Me in St. Louis, and a promotional photograph in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, dated 1947. That was the year Ben was shot. I looked further to find more clues. I needed to know where she was the night Ben was murdered. Maybe she was on location when it happened. Maybe she was in New York at the opening of the film. I could not place her on June 20, the day Ben was murdered. I imagined my father called her and told her the news. The marriage plans were postponed, their engagement suspended. My father had to get out of town.
I spent everyday picking through the myths I’d heard and read. I heard a clear chord of scorn, for exposing family secrets, “It’s nobody’s business what goes on in our family, don’t discuss our family with anyone, Do You Hear Me!” I must have heard that a thousand times.
I began to dig with an iron shovel. I asked every question I wasn’t supposed to ask, and preyed into every sector of their life. I wanted to know about his childhood, where he grew up, and why he left home when he was thirteen years old. Who were my grandparents, and why didn’t he talk about them. How did he meet Ben Siegel and Johnny Roselli, and when did he cross over into the rackets?
I contacted historians, archivists, judges, attorneys, Police Chiefs, FBI agents, authors and reporters across the United States. He always said, “Reporters can destroy your life overnight.” And here I was, uncovering what he had sheltered all his life.

I wrote to the INS in WDC and asked for their assistance. Six months later I received a letter from the INS in Los Angeles. They acknowledged his file, it was classified and they could not locate it. The progress was tediously slow, and the waiting oppressive.
While I waited for the files, I read Damon Runyon, and Raymond Chandler stories and attempted to identify which character personified which gangster. The stories were about the people that came to my birthday parties, Swifty Morgan, Nick the Greek, Frank Costello and Abner Zwillman,(the Boss of the New Jersey syndicate.) The dialect of Runyon and Winchell mimicked the same anecdotes my father used over and over! By understanding Runyon’s characters I began to know my father. At night I watched old gangster movies and that opened another door of familiarity.

I read almost every book in print about the Mafia and ordered out of print books from all over the country. They began to topple on my head from the shelf above the desk. Allen Smiley was in dozens of them. Every author portrayed him differently, he was a Russian Jew, a criminal, Bugsy’s right hand man, a dope peddler, a race track tout, and sometimes the words bled on my arm. To me, he was a benevolent father, a wise counselor and a man who worshipedscan0002 me.
The INS claimed my father was one of the most dangerous criminals in the United States. They said he was Benjamin Siegel’s assistant. They said he was taking over now that Ben was gone.
That day I put the file away, and looked into the window of truth. How much could I bear to hear more?

Mom and Dad second from Left. I don’t know the other people.

MUST TO MOONLIGHT


 

MAXFIELD PARRISH

 

Now that you know I am leaving Santa Fe on an exploration of destination,  there you are again.  Igniting my flashbulbs for the seamless cinema-scope of Santa Fe, you are toggling behind me in the snow, as I plow, sweep and sprinkle salt, you are there when I am in the parade and choosing my characters to congregate, and make a party, and you are there when I wake up in the morning, to draw me out of the down comfort, sheets and pillows that bemoan me leaving, I want to get up and begin the day, because you are there, turning up the music, and opening the laptop to a new page, and the journal to a new entry, and my books that have punished me for not reading them. They are dusty and wrinkled from my sleepy attempts to find the water bottle and drink, and then the spills fall on them.  You are there when I am cleaning the stove and bathroom floors, a reminder to get on the floor and douse the tiles with love,  listen to music while I  vacuum, and end the day with my  shoes off and slouching in a comfy chair.   You are not dormant spirit, you are rising from the labyrinth of an imagined life and one that is moonlight.

MAXFIELD PARRISH

GET UP AND LISTEN


charlie-hebdo-cartoon2I DON’T LIKE WRITING IN THIS ROOM  any more: the window glass  smudged and dusty and I don’t feel like cleaning it, or buying a privacy screen because my front door is glass, and behind it is my living space: sleeping, dressing, eating and working room.

I can’t write in this room because the surroundings are stale to my eye, the rhythm too familiar, the noise still too noisy.   At least that is what I have convinced myself are the reasons.  If I admit I am seeking alternate locations, then my right hand slaps my left hand and cries;  moving doesn’t solve anything!

CONCURRENTLY to my attitude,   the doors opened to a new  opportunity, and closed as suddenly.  A common misunderstanding between sincerity and acting.  It took me three days to accept this disappointment.  A woman and her adorable daughter made a verbal commitment with her attorney present, that she would lease the house for six months, beginning February.   This would enable me to move to Southern California for an exploratory mission on returning home. I haven’t lived in Los Angeles since 1993. My friends rallied behind my winning streak.  The universe did not bring this tenant to me, I brought my offering to the universe by listening to friends, who encouraged me and injected the confidence to complete the mission. I’ve been known to launch rocket ship ideas and leave them wandering in space until another launcher discovers them.

THEN CAME WEDNESDAY.   I was at my desk  when the news broke.  I turned away from work, and spent two days gaping at the unfolding events in Paris.  Real time images, shot by shocked photo journalists, and narrative so ridden with horror, racing from one scene to another.   There were heroes, and the terrorists  and byline stories that will erupt over the next few months. The stories of each individual at Charlie Hebdo Headquarters, the policeman who pleaded for his life, and the French Police and Special Forces that stormed the enemy, knowing they too may be shot.

The next day the Kosher grocery store, and the printing press. Reporters here in the USA, stumbled on reporting the news, and misrepresenting the events.  I could see their chests heaving, the terror in their eyes, and it slapped me out of my cavern of comfort.  It hits all of us at different speeds and times, and although I am a firm believer in the war that we are not paying attention to, this day I was brandished in awareness.

I sought immediate camaraderie. I dressed at dusk,  half-work out half cocktail, whatever you call that and went to the Staab House at La Posada.    Cynical Steve was at the bar, to the left of me two suited gentlemen;   discussing a financial deal over a few hundred thousand.  In the salon several sipping couples, almost whispering. :

“Steve, did you hear what happened?” I asked

” You mean Paris?”

“Yes.”

“Yea… yea.” And as he moved away to retrieve glasses, and bottles, I pulled him back.

” Do you know what happened?’

” Tell me. I only heard part of it ?”

I retold the events as I remembered them, emphasizing  the courage of the French Swat teams and Police to blow the hostage situation wide open.

” Wow. ” he replied.

I looked up at the TV screen, football .. what a surprise. They don’t feature anything else unless by request of  celebrity, executive or neighbor. I am the neighbor.

” Can you turn on the news?  You’ll want to see  this.”  Cynical and a cupid of suppressed intelligence,  Steve switched channels. He then stopped his razor rapid chopping, cleaning, and servicing the bar to watch.

THE TWO MEN  seated next to me who were slicing up strategy over  a few hundred thousand dollars suddenly turned to the screen. I waited. Then they vocalized simultaneously their shock.

I turned to the one closet. ” I’ve been watching all day.” I said.

” It is just  horrible. ”  Then he shook his head.  The other suit echoed the same comment.

Then they returned to dicing up the thousands of dollars.

I took a another sip of wine and waited for another subject to interact with.

A woman showed up at the bar and sat down. She buried herself in a book about Indian Spiritualist and did not ever look up, only to answer her  I Phone.

As I was leaving the hotel through the lobby I checked for expressions.  The hostess was swaying back and forth on her heels, the concierge was   buried in catalogs and her  computer. The valet outside commented, ” Not too cold tonight.”

SOME of our media reported beyond professionalism. They showed their  feelings.   I am   awakened.

Are you?

 

 

 

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ladailymirror.wordpress.com/

Larry Harnisch Reflects on L.A. History

The Clubhouse Blogs

"Insight from the community"

myvvoice

Escaping reality or facing reality.

The 12866

Saratoga Springs, New York - Arthur Gonick, Editor

Casey Handmer's blog

Space, Travel, Technology, 3D Printing, Energy, Writing

Cristian Mihai

builds stuff

Travel

Live Your Dreams Don`t Dream Your Life

Elizabeth Blair Books

Even a bad guy can have redeeming qualities

CravenWild

Style, Books and Life with Hermione Flavia.

RIELPOLITIK

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER / IGNORANCE IS BLISS - YOU DECIDE

J. H. Graham

Author of the Avery Shepard Detective Mystery Series

The Book Review Directory

For Readers and Writers

A MAN OF ACTION

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

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