MADNESS


 “YOU NEED A LITTLE MADNESS IN YOUR LIFE.”       ZORBA THE GREEK

November 10, 2017

Is it my aging, the world struggling, the politics punishing, the climate destroying, or is it because all of the above feels personal. Every day is a recovery from the disasters, deaths and destruction of the previous day. I can’t decide if my thinking process is changing or the world really is bubbling over the edge of horror. Today the fires in Sonoma hit a personal note; I went to Sonoma State University and lived two years wandering the hills, rivers, towns, farms, and vineyards. I have to remember all the places I lived in:   a dorm in Cotati, then Rio Nido along side the Russian River, it was too far to hitch to Sonoma so I moved to Petaluma, then I spent a few months in a hippie house in Glen Ellen and then… I dropped out of college and moved to Mill Valley.  Northern California shocked the Beverly Hills plushness off my shoulder and I smothered myself in the outdoors. I used to walk or bike everywhere, I don’t know how I managed without a car. Did you?

My heart and mind turn to the images on the TV news: twenty two fires burning, five hundred unaccounted for and now forty dead.

My family home burnt down in the Bel Air fire on November 5,1961. It rearranged my life as suddenly as it happened, and I discovered growing up wasn’t so bad.

 

I need a movie to watch that resonates life’s invasive  tragedy and triumph; Zorba the Greek.  As a young girl that movie moved me in a way so unfamiliar. The writer and Zorba the teacher, the French debutante unzipped, and the widow, whose life was taken because of unreturned passion. Last night, Zorba came to me and said, “You need a little madness in your life.”  I listened, and found myself at El Farol on the dance floor.  Tuesday Blues Jam used to be a weekly routine. It’s been two years since I went on my own. Dance is always alive in me, moving really fast to great music.

I sat down at the newly restored bar, and looked around, a few familiar faces, and then I looked at the man next to me. He smiled informally, the way someone does when they recognize you. I hadn’t seen Dancing Dennis in years.

” Hi,” he said in a sort of chuckle.

” Do I know you?” I asked.

” Dennis.”

” Oh Dennis!  I didn’t recognize you. You’ve lost weight or something, you look so different.” He chuckled and let me talk.

“How are you? How funny to run into you, I  haven’t been here in years.” Dennis and I met on the dance floor at El Farol, and I asked him to marry me! I guess that’s why he just listens to me, he knows I’m a grab bag of surprises.  I thanked him for reading my book and writing a beautiful review and then he said,

” I liked your hair short but I like this too. “I don’t recall what I said, but I remember feeling at ease sitting next to him, and trying to recall who he reminded me of, I thought it was Michael Caine, but today I remember, its Oscar Werner, when he played the Captain in Ship of Fools.  When the band started I jumped, without even asking Dennis, and darted for the dance floor before it got crowed. I took off like a wild bird and let my Zorba dance.  I knew Dennis and I would dance later but I needed to let my madness out.

When I returned to my seat, he looked left out, and so we talked about the past times we danced, and moments later, without any discussion of our personal lives, we danced, and danced and danced. I asked the band to play “Honky Tonk Woman,” and the floor regaled with dancers. Every time I looked at Dennis he was smiling or laughing.

November 15,2017

Today I am in a religious mood, not in the sense of Jewish or Catholic, just feeling like  I am waiting for God to stop the tragedy.

 

 

 

A MEMOIR HAS TO END book 2


The sunlight shatters the curtain-less bedroom window and burns into my eyes at daybreak. From this unsheltered spot I rise to see a pot of blue sky over the rooftops, and the expectant afternoon showers building up in the clouds. The sky is filled with crows, eagles, and magpies lingering overhead weightless and free-falling, beyond all of us caught behind electronics. The days  filled with desert showers that drench the soil and turn the arid dry land green and lush. For this I am thankful.  At the end of the day, I am inclined to sit in the courtyard and watch the sky manifest colors unmatched by any Dunn Edwards collection. By the time dinner is topical, I have substituted preparing food, to just snacking, This August underscores the need to sit down, to sort of bob my head to Nancy Wilson music, and do very little. I’m self publishing Cradle of Crime- My Father, Me, and the Mob.  images


Santa Fe today

Santa Fe today, Friday the 13th. Listening to soundtrack of Man & a Woman, my lyrics, my movie. The end is what I imagine mine. The day was blowing cottonwood  and white wisteria  in a blow glow of dance.  There is a certainty about my movements, different than yesterday. I declare this day of summer, sandals,pedicure, trying on my bathing suit, making a palette change, and putting on the ritz. The gloss and bronze, and maybe even going outdoors.  Shopping and going to the Lowriders Day in Santa Fe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOU’LL FEEL BETTER IF YOU TALK ABOUT IT


The throw of the dice this week lands on Adventures in Livingness.  The last time I wrote a column about life beyond the book was the Malibu series.  I’m still tainted by the U-Turn out of Malibu, but as Dad always said, ‘If you fall off the horse you get back on!’  That’s what this book is all about;  just how impressionable we are as children.

 My pals who have commented after reading this material in six different memoirs are immensely important to this writer. Word press followers, you are recognized with every comment!  Pals, Baron, Blair, and Stone who took my hand into the offices of agents and editors thank you for believing in my dice!

Santa Fe. NM 3/26/2016

A photographic day for capturing the stillness of light on the rose  20160311_112156[1]buds. Winter was a lot of writing, editing, and films. I must have seen a hundred this winter. All easy paved paths to escape.  The one I’d recommend is Divided We Fall; a Polish film set during the occupation of Poland. The Director managed to weave suffering and horror with extraordinary hope and brotherhood. If you like mystery-crime dramas,  Nine Queens, an Argentinian film that rattles the roots of a cheaters.

A FEW DAYS LATER

Today is sprayed gray and white cloud cover, and tiny drops of wet snow. I call the climate of Santa Fe, a woman with PMS.  I’m listening to Nat King Cole and withering under a  hang-over after a sensational evening with Brother Marc, (the son I wanted) White Zen, his Mother, and Rudy. I’ve watched Marc grow up. Over the last seven years he’s transformed from a shy, confused young adult, into a man of the mountain; wilderness is his passion.  He drives those big snow plow machines and grooms the mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He works at night and when he takes a break he  looks at the stars.  Six-foot thin muscle, shoulder  brown curls, and eyes  shaped like two row boats filled with blue water.  He’s not only handsome, his instincts, original expression, and amusing bellowing deep voice tie this lad up in someone you love. He’s an original. You never get the question or answer you expect;  he pulls wisdom from his head and heart as easily as folding a napkin. One two three–a brand of thinking shoots out and I just look at him bewildered. Marc is a twenty-nine year old frontiersman and  has been since he was knee high on a San Francisco skateboard. The Revenant!

Easter brings people together and I’ve sensed a developing  surge to be in a group. Distanced friends come closer, family is the bread and butter of vacation, I see so many of them at La Posada, and couples are cooperating.  No one needs to hug a pillow when they go to sleep  is my motto.

My rise above familiar surroundings and comfort began the day Brussels was terror stricken and  all Belgians  became one. I checked on Twitter that day, and was touched so deeply when I read the dozens of tweets offering shelter, food, and clothes for those in need. If I were a lifestyle journalist I’d go there and write about the emotional and physical patterns that will change over time. Imagine the consciousness’ of those personally affected after experiencing a bomb exploding beside them. I’ve asked a few people how they feel about terrorism. Some are inflamed and others refuse to discuss the matter as it elicits political commentary.   Terrorism has infiltrated the shuffle of disappointment and raised the inner riot in my head to world events. The importance of conversation so we don’t feel alone is vibrating. I don’t mean in text and twitter. It is too instant to embrace.   What happened to,

         ‘You’ll feel better if you talk about it’ psychology?

 After a few weeks of submitting the book and reading rejection emails,  I realized I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.  Not taking rejections personally is like a handshake after you’ve been swindled.  I moused over to JK Rowlings and read a few rejection letters she posted after submitting a manuscript under the name of Richard Galbraith. One of the letters suggested she join a writers workshop!   Anonymous writers like actors, musicians, artists, and photographers  are caught in the storm of celebritism.  If you are unrecognized the  brick and mortar you have to break  through is an Olympian challenge.

I was writing a lengthy portrayal of Ben Siegel one day and it occurred to me that he had become a major character in my life.  He played a role that someone else should have; a noted author, or journalist, or poet.  Ben Siegel changed my history because I had to learn to love him.  Learning to love him meant erasing everything I had read or heard. It is said he was a ruthless killer, a savage, violent, and that he loved to kill. I turned to look at a photograph of my mother.  I was told that she loved Ben too. Where once I believed my mother was naïve and uninformed, I know this wasn’t the case. She knew from the beginning. Mom fit into this strangely singular and controversial group of people. I see her in the full frame of who she was. (she is on the right in MGM Ziegfeld Follies 1946)get-attachment.aspx  I like her this way because it raised my self esteem; my rebelliousness came from both parents.

While writing about Dad I questioned my prolonged interest in his choices, behavior, and his secrecy. I asked Uncle Myron who shared the same history.   Myron reaffirmed that my father was a true to the code gangster. No one ever got him to talk about what he knew or had seen.

Children feel the repression of truth as clearly as they do the pain of bruise.  The more you hide or bandage the more they seek and peek. At my root is the inclination to question the world around me, and to mend the breaks in life that molded my identity.

Along the way of the first chapter, I discovered that people like to know how it works; how we write in a state of solitude and selfishness.  A story or any work of art lives in the artist and God. Miracles do happen!

EXCERPT FROM CRADLE OF CRIME BOOK


 

Submerged in film and gangster history, assembling  photographs of my father’s movie star friends,  his gangsters’ friends, photographs of the nightclubs he frequented, I pasted these into a collage and posted it above my desk. I played Tommy Dorsey and all the big band leaders of the thirties records imagining these props would provoke memories and a sense of identity to my parents.

 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.  Dad’.s compulsorily privacy was in my hands now and so was voice. He was inside my head reading his lines. “Stay out of my room–out of my affairs–out of my life!”   

      “I have to break into your life to break my silence.  I want to understand you and Mommy.”

     “Don’t expect any help from me! Put your nose in another book, the Allen Smiley story isn’t for sale.”    

 No matter what I uncovered I knew it would be ambiguous and controversial. I was certain there would be no record of murder, dope peddling, or prostitution.  Even so, I could never understand the similarities we shared, unless I knew them as people.   The ethereal staging did more than provoke memories; a sense of belonging rooted me to the golden years of Hollywood.

I was completely uneducated in the craft of research. My first phone call was to the Beverly Hills Police Department. They were not very helpful after I told them who my father was. 

‘The Bugsy Siegel case is still open. We cannot release any files on your father. Call the Criminal District Office; they’ll have records of him there.’ The case was open? Sounded a bit squishy to me.  

On a stormy day when the queen palms whipped though torrential rain, flooded streets and metallic clouds hanging low like a net over the sky I was on my way to the Criminal District Office in the Hall of Justice on Spring Street. Unfamiliar to me, but somehow as I walked up the prolonged steps it was recognizable from films and television. The Courthouse, the County Jail, all that authority in an unmarked white stucco building. Not a blade of grass out of place. When I arrived at the entrance my heart was racing.  My father’s voice did not interfere with my direction but I felt his disapproval. The first person I confronted was an imposing woman with a sternness that studied me.

      “May I help you?”

      “I hope so. I apologize for the intrusion. I don’t have an appointment.”

      “What are you asking?”

      “I am looking for whatever files you have on my father.”         

     She reached for the desk drawer and passed me a form. She asked me to step aside and fill it out. 

      “My father died twelve years ago. I don’t have any other family to explain things to me.”

       “I’m not at liberty to give you any information.”

       “I know that. Can you tell me if you have files on Benjamin Siegel?”

        “You mean Bugsy?”

         “Yes.”

        “Was your father Bugsy?”

        “No, he was … his friend.” 

        “What was his name?”

        “Allen Smiley.”  She turned to her computer and entered something. She read from the screen and then removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. 

      “Your father is in the system.”

     I gave her the form with his FBI number and started to leave.

     “Here, come back. I found the criminal case numbers. The numbers are 19778, 19926, and she read out nine different cases. As I watched her write these down I thought they know things about my father that I don’t.

     “Bring these to the National Archives in Laguna Nigel.” She said.  

 Outside the clouds converged over the San Bernadino Mountains. The strain to see through reminded me of my own predicament; how to see through the fog of secrecy and ambiguity.  The following day I drove to the National Archives. I didn’t know such a place existed. A polite man took my case numbers and when he returned he was wheeling a shopping cart of files. His name was Bill Doty. 

   “So your Dad was Allen Smiley?”

    “Yes. You’ve heard of him?”

“There’s a lot written about him in Johnny Roselli’s files. I know he was very close to Johnny. We have ten-thousand pages on him.”

I looked at the brown manila files he stacked on a desk for me.

     “I’ll be here all day.”

     “We close at four o’ clock. Do you want to see the Roselli files?”

     “Not just yet–I have to read these first.” The files took me on a criss-cross chase of a man I didn’t know. The case files included testimonies, court transcripts, appeals, and newspaper articles.  

     “How’s it going?” Bill appeared.

     “This is a novel. Like reading about some one else.”    

     “Do you recognize any of the names?”

     “Oh yea.”

Even now twenty-two years later I can conjure up the exact image of that sterile polished reading room, my stomach churning, the sound of the doors opening and closing, and Bill’s footsteps on the waxed tile floor. Crunched over the stack of documents I read my father’s answers to Examining Officers questions, from an Immigration and Naturalization Agency (INS) hearing in 1962.

“ Were you closely associated with Benjamin Siegel for the three years prior to his murder?”

“The only way I could explain it, was a friendly association.”

“Friendly business association or friendly social association?” 

“Just the same type of friendly association that I have with people in every occupation of life. By the same token, I have had the occasion to have the President of Notre Dame in my home, Father Cavanaugh, Doctors, Lawyers, people of every description. I go by the golden rule. I treat people the way I like to be treated.”  

The faded black type on his three page arrest record elevated my distress; assault, bookmaking, operating without a liquor license, robbery, extortion, contempt of court, suspicion of robbery, suspicion of murder, the words blurred. Suspicion of murder? Maybe Jack was right; Dad had more involvement than a friendly association.  Every few hours I went outdoors and sat on a bench to breathe. My stomach was stiff as those fastened files. It was a feeling I’d never experienced in my life. 

 Bill circled around me as I slumped further into the past, the florescent lights blinding me. When I closed the files, and told him I’d be back in a week, Bill insisted I see the Johnny Roselli archives. There were eight shelves on either side of the aisle, and while I gazed at this galactic inventory the face of Johnny erupted. Seated in a red leather booth at La Dolca Vita, sipping red wine, his eyes

MWSnap1978 ROSELLI DEATH watery pools filled with the density of his life.

     “Have you read Ed Becker’s book, All American Mafioso?” Bill asked. He randomly pulled a file from the rack. 

     “No.”

     “You should; your Dad is in it.  Look at this history so few people know about. The government hired Roselli to assassinate Castro! You have to read these files.”

 

 

EXCERPT FROM SMILEY’S DICE- DAD’S MERRYMAKING


The day I was born, May 11, 1953 the headlines of the The Los Angeles Time read:

GANGSTERS INVADE SOUTHLAND CITIES.
Among gangsters and their hangers-on named were Abe (Longy) Zwillman, Frankie Carbo, Meyer Lansky, Allen Smiley, whose true name is Aaron Smehoff, Gerald Catena and William Bischoff.
When I met Daddy he had salty sea blue eyes and when my actions were worthy of laughter, his eyes retracted into a blur of skin. Dressed in perfectly matched shades of pink, silver and blue my 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.
I clung to his neck in the back seat of his baby blue Cadillac. He sang songs and his hand fluttered about, catching me by surprise behind my head, and his laughter echoed in my ears. Sometimes we drove through the Paramount Studio Gates, and I was chauffeured in a cart to the Western Stage where we watched cowboys and musical dancers. I was too young to understand this was just a film; thus began my insatiable yearning to be a dancer.

Rory Calhoun was one of the stars Dad was close pals with.  Just this week I dug into research about Rory Calhoun. I learned he died in 1999, and that he’d also been a ward in Preston Reformatory where Dad was sent at eighteen years old. Rory came a few years later.

We spent a lot of time with the Calhoun family. They had two girls the same age as me. Their exotic Spanish villa on Whittier Drive and Sunset enraptured my girlish senses.  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 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 as my examination.
Rita danced 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, physically and orally.   They both gambled, borrowed money from the other, and they bet on everything.
On Sunday we went to Beverly Park, a cherished  amusement park across from where the whimsical Beverly Center shopping Mall is today. I was only two years old when Dad slung me over a big stinky pony, and insisted I ride around the ring so he could snap photographs.
Inside the Cadillac, insulated from the outside world by metal and glass, he drove without intention of destination, or so it seemed. Though I didn’t know it, he often changed directions to confuse a tailing federal agent. The places he took me became our secret. Sometimes he asked me to close my eyes and count to a hundred. It was a game; he wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I’d open my eyes and we’d be somewhere unfamiliar, a storefront, hotel room, or someone’s home.
When the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town, Dad took me every weekend and I met some of the performers. He was no less enthusiastic about the circus than I was. Now I understand as I’ve learned he traveled with Ringling Brothers for a year just after he landed in New York. He was in the wardrobe department! How suitable to his style. Everyone we knew was in some kind of act.

I remember places like Canters Deli on Fairfax. We always had the same waitress, the one with a big air-tight bee-hive.
“ What’ll it be today honey?”
“ I’ll have a hot dog.”
“ No. Last time you got sick. Honey, get her a turkey sandwich. I have to talk to some people outside–make sure she doesn’t leave. “
“Sure thing Mr. Smiley, you go ahead.”
“When are you coming back Daddy?”
“When you finish your lunch. Be a good girl.”
While I waited for the sandwich, I watched the waitresses very closely. They entertained me; their husky voices and swift mannerisms as they swooshed between tables, calling out orders, “ Matzo ball soup–chicken on the side, Russian on rye no mayonnaise.” Sometimes he left me long after the sandwich was gone. I’d turn and watch the door, to see if he’d come in, or ask the waitress.
“ Would you please tell my father I’m finished.”
“Finished already! What about dessert? How about a slice of cheesecake?” Even if I said no, she’d bring me dessert. Several times I was left so long that I got up and went outside looking for him. I noticed my father down the street talking with some other men. I ran back to the booth and waited. When he came back to the table, I asked him,
“Where were you Daddy?”
“I had to meet someone about business. You remember what I told you—Mommy doesn’t have to know about this.”
“I remember.” Why my outings with Dad remained fixated as birth marks is because they were filled with wonder, amusement, and mystery. My father mixed a little business with my pleasure, but it wasn’t obvious because no one had an office. His business associates worked out of shoe stores, cigar stands, hotels, barber shops; all sorts of fronts that camouflaged the booking of bets.

I bet too. That when I lose I  never give up on the silver lining.

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WHO IS BUGSY?


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LUCILLE CASEY SMILEY

MGM MotherAll my life people have asked me the same questions:” What’s it like knowing your father is a gangster? How old were you when you found out? Aren’t you afraid of his friends? You know they kill people.”
I live in a temporary tide-pool, a lily
floating against the current, weighted
down by a suit of armor that shields me
from the beauty, love and freedoms stirring in my bud.

What seemed insignificant at the time was the diving board into my Dad’s history. I was watching a Bugsy Siegel documentary on my television in San Diego during 1993. It was the first one I’d seen. Three historians joined in on the violence Bugsy honored and esteemed. Half-way through the celebratory lynching of Bugsy and his pals, a reporter made the statement that ‘It’s obvious Allen Smiley was there to set Bugsy up for the hit.’ Andy Edmonds stated that Dad conveniently disappeared into the kitchen during the time of the shooting. It wasn’t until a photograph of my dad appeared on the screen; a man with thick graying hair that I noticed an expression I’d never seen, horrifying misery. I moved closer to the television to see his face up close. A kaleidoscope of emotions rose to the surface: anger, shame, curiosity, and disbelief. I was forty years old.
smiley aThe first time I’d seen those photographs of Ben Siegel slumped on that sofa; an eye bleeding down his face was a day back in 1966 at the age of thirteen. My best friend Dena lived in Brentwood with her divorced mother and siblings. We hooked in the unfamiliar and confusing imbalance of a broken home life. Dena was suffering depression after her parents divorced and I was dangling from my father’s fingertips hopelessly conflicted after my mother died. Dena wouldn’t let a day go by without calling me. ‘Are you all right?’ She didn’t like my father and her reasons were mature beyond her years, ‘Your father scares me.’ After school one afternoon we stopped in the Brentwood Pharmacy. Dena was looking at the book rack and I was following along.
“Lily, my mother told me your father is in a book, The
Green Felt Jungle. It’s about gangsters. Wanna see if they have it?” I agreed to look because Dena was interested, but it meant nothing to me. She twirled the book rack around as I stood behind her watching.
“That’s the book! Let me look first and see what it says,” she whispered. I could feel her arm tense up as I grasped it.
“Oh my God! There he is,” she said. We hunched over the book and read the description of my father, “Allen Smiley, one of Ben Siegel’s closest pals in those days, was seated at the other end of the sofa when Siegel was murdered.” Dena covered her mouth with one hand and kept reading silently.
“What does that mean? Who is Siegel?” I asked.
“Shush–not so loud. I’m afraid to tell you this. It’s awful.”
“What’s awful? Tell me.”
“Bugsy Siegel was a gangster in the Mafia. He killed people. Your father was his associate.”
“I don’t think I should see this.” I turned around abruptly to leave the drugstore. Dena followed me out.”
“Lily you can’t tell your father you saw this book. Please don’t tell him I told you.”
“Why not?”
“My mother told me not to tell you. Swear to me you won’t tell your father!”
“I won’t. Don’t you tell anyone either.”
A few days later after Dad left for the evening I opened the door to his guarded bedroom. I walked around the bed to a get a closer look at the photographs on the wall. It was the first time I could read the inscription.

DSC01871 - Copy

 

 

 

LIGHTS ON SANTA FE


 

A NATIVE AMERICAN  LIGHT SHOW.

YOU CAN BECOME WHO YOU DREAMED OF, DO WHAT YOU DREAMED OF IN SANTA FE , because Santa  Feans do not care.

I heard this slogan a lot when I first moved here seven years ago.  My understanding was vague, unrealized, and I didn’t think much about it until  this winter.   I began to  approach strangers,  walk across the street to the spa in a robe,  or  leave my pajama top under my sweater because I like the texture of it.
I’ve  given  up the diving board of scrutiny and plunge into the dreamy, stony,  outdated, simplistic extravagance, and unrealistic vibe of Santa Fe.

I keep dreaming, and preparing,  with a face blotched red by cold, that THE LIGHTS, SHADOWS,  MOON AND CHARACTERS ARE MY BROADWAY FOR NOW.   NOT FOREVER. EVERYTHING CAN BE TEMPORARY IF WE TAKE ADVENTURES IN LIVINGNESS.

WHAT WE CAN DO


 

Fans of England and France united to sing a defiant rendition of the French national anthem at Wembley four days after the Paris attacks.

Prince William and David Cameron were among 71,223 people in the stadium as La Marseillaise rang out ahead of a minute’s silence to remember the 129 people who died.

England fans held aloft a mosaic of the French flag during the anthem.

Armed police stood guard at the stadium throughout the day after three suicide bombers attacked areas outside the Stade de France during the French national team’s last game on Friday.

It is the first time armed police have patrolled an English football match.

Wembley

JOHNNY ROSELLI – MURDERED?


I met Johnny for the first time at my mother’s funeral. He told she was a saint.

JOHNNY ROSELLI.jpg2
A blue Ford sedan with tinted windows pulled up in front of a bar in Biscayne Bay. The driver Tony, stared out the windshield looking beyond the boundaries made by man. Two of his men, sat in silence in the back seat. They were staring ahead, in the same mental latitude as the driver, with unblinking surgeon eyes. Tony turned off the ignition and leaned back. The only sound came from the flapping of the bar screen door.
“Move,” Tony ordered closing his eyes. Abe and Chuck exited the sedan in one long continuous motion as if they tied together. Tony waited, without changing the position of his right hand on the leather coated steering wheel. He heard the bar door squeak as it opened. He could see Abe and Chuck entering the bar. He did not need to see them physically. This was stored in his memory. The single file procession into the bar, the attachment to the target, and the guarded exit. Tony checked the time on his pocket watch. The minutes went slowly. He lost his concentration, and was tumbling in memories; he filed them in two categories, the ones that belonged to the outfit, and the ones that belonged to him. He slipped back to the sixties, in Las Vegas, when the boys sat poolside at the Desert Inn and bit into olives handed to them by freshly polished show girls in bikinis. Then he saw Johnny, lounging at the pool, his crown of white hair perfectly combed. He was surrounded by showgirls. The dames loved Johnny. He was better than any Hollywood movie star.
Then the door to the passenger side opened. Tony glanced at the blue gabardine slacks, and Gucci loafers. He could smell Johnny, even before he got in the car. His scent was recognizable, as if he’d been born wearing Boucheron.
“For crying out loud boys–I was just getting
an erection. ”
Johnny turned to Tony, the man he met twenty years ago when he was a driver for Santos Trafficante, the Mafia Don in Florida. Johnny slapped his knee and wheezed through his laugher. Tony couldn’t return the glance, or the laughter
“Tony! What’s the long face for, are we going to a funeral?” Tony shook his head from left to right. He gripped the steering wheel, afraid he might put his fist right through the windshield. Johnny nudged his rib.
“Loosen up, you’ll miss the target.” Tony reached into his breast pocket.
“Have a cigar Johnny, fresh from Castro. The same brand you tried to poison him with remember?” Tony’s forced laughter sounded hollow.
“Hell, that wasn’t my idear; you guys are still screwing up the story. That’s your problem, if you’re gonna squeal at least tell it the way it happened.”
“You shouldn’t talk bout squealing Johnny,” Chuck interrupted.
“Shut your trap,” Tony snapped. Johnny did not appear to hear the comments, or if he did chose not to recognize the remarks of the backseat thug.
Johnny took the cigar and fingered it. He twirled it around with two fingers, and then placed it under his nostrils and inhaled deeply.
“Doc says no more–not if I’m gonna live without an oxygen tank tucked into my pocket. How ‘bout that? I even gave up the cigars when I moved down here. I can’t afford them anymore.” His laughter came easy, the way it always did.
“Johnny……I,” Tony stuttered.
“Did you hear the joke about the Italian and the Jew?” Tony nodded yes, but Johnny began telling the joke anyway. Tony turned the ignition on and drove away from town, slowly like they do in a funeral procession. They left the parts of the city ruled by law and order. The white villas shaded by palms, and guarded security gates. They descended into the pit of the buried past, the old rail yards, the site of hollow industrial buildings and warehouses. From there Tony entered an abandoned parking lot inside a junkyard, piled high with tin and steel parts. At one time they were valuable, like Johnny. Those days were gone, the junk piled up, just like dead Mafia Dons.
The sky dimmed in these parts of town, the shadows from the freeway overpass blocked the late crimson sunlight. Johnny was quiet now, sitting calmly with his hands folded together in his lap. His facial muscles relaxed, the jokes were over now. His mind was elsewhere.
“The son of a bitch gave me no choice John! I’m sure dead too if I ….” Tony stammered.
“Stop your babbling, I’m not your priest. I got a few orders for you. I want you to get word to Smiley, before anyone, you hear me. Don’t call his home; he’s got a private service. I’ll give you the number when I’m finished. He’ll know what to tell my sister. He’s a born messenger of bad news. Had to do it too many times.”
“How long you known we was coming?” Tony asked solemnly.
“Just as long as I’ve been taking orders. Tony my boy, I didn’t think I’d go out like Brando in the movie. How long has it been now? …forty-five years. That’s a long life in these shoes. The whole mess is running through my head Tony, as we sit here, it’s like a movie .You want to know the best of it; I mean the one moment worth remembering. The first night I walked into the Mayflower Hotel as a guest of Capone. My first big shindig was a coming out party for Joey Lewis’s big fight. I was so impressed with Ricca back then, I tried to mimic him. Must have looked like a soiled fool. I thought I had a smart suit on until I got to the party, and took a look around. Suddenly I felt like a Pisano clown. I said to myself, I’ll never know this again; never will I feel less than the people around me. Capone treated me good in the beginning, all that money he threw around….. It impressed Rockefeller.”
“Johnny it’s getting late,” Tony interrupted.
“Capone was puffed up that night, shaking hands with Walker and the boys at Tammany Hall. We were all one then, the politicians and the boys. I don’t know how the thing got so screwed up.”
The car came to an abrupt stop, and the back door opened. Chuck got out and stretched his legs. Johnny glanced at him, “See, no respect anymore. I would have diced his fingers off in the old days. Get out of the car Abe; go polish your piece or something,” Johnny ordered, and then continued his story.
“That was the night Tony, the best of everything all night and I didn’t sleep for a day afterward because I was so swollen with myself. It sounds silly now.” Just as Tony tipped his head in memory’s path, Johnny clapped his hands loudly. Tony shuddered as Johnny knew he would.
“Lemme see the equipment,” He ordered tossing the sentiment out of his voice. He turned his steely blue eyes on Tony and waited.
“They loaded me up, like I was going to a massacre. They’re still afraid of you John. Even now I have to say.” Tony rattled; he’d lost the last bit of dry eyed machismo.
“That’s a relief.” Johnny answered.
Tony got out of the car and hopped around the front to open the door for Johnny. He felt queasy in his stomach like the first time he had a hit. He watched Johnny now, knowing it would be some story to tell. First Johnny scanned his surroundings, like the eye of a camera. He could take in distant angles without moving a muscle. He could estimate the distance of things, the entrances, and exits of buildings without appearing to even look in that direction. He closed his eyes for a minute. They all watched, and waited.
“You fellas been here earlier?” Johnny shouted. The three men exchanged a mutual questioning glance. Johnny shook his head in disgust.
“How can you show up at a location without knowing every rock and puddle? Christ! Am I gonna have to shoot myself? Show me the equipment before I scare you off.”
Tony reluctantly unlocked the trunk of the car. Johnny stepped forward, pushing Abe and Chuck out of the way.
“Looks like a lot of machinery for a seventy year old veteran. Whatta they think, someone’s gonna drop down here with back up and take you boys on. What the hell are the knives for?” Abe and Chuck rocked nervously on their heels. Tony hunched over, as if drawing breath from the ground.
“Tony!” Johnny yelled.
“I‘m sick Johnny …. lemme catch my breath.”
“Yea, you do that, while Abe and Chuck sharpen the knives. Go on fellas get your pieces.”
“Johnny, we have orders,” Tony whispered
“From who? I don’t care if you skin me! I want to know who gave the order!”
“It’s not who you think Johnny, I could hardly believe it myself.” Johnny moved closer to Tony, he stroked his back, and whispered, “I promise I won’t tell pal,” he said squeezing Tony’s balls.
“The order came from the White House; they called Santos, and told him to take care of it. Johnny I can’t go through it, I can’t do it.” Then he fell to his knees and clutched Johnny’s leg, sobbing.
“It’s all right Tony, get up and give it to me the way they asked.”
“We’ll clean you out first shot,” Abe interjected. Again Johnny did not acknowledge the comment. He reached out and put his hands on Tony’s shoulders, and looked him in the eye.
“It’s bad, they got cement don’t they?”
“Oh Christ! let me take this all back. I can’t do what they ask. They want us to chop the legs, get you inside a steel drum, and in the water.” Tony suddenly heaved up, and vomited, sobbing at the same time.
“Jesus Christ Tony, you’re disgusting,” Abe shouted. He took a cigarette from his pocket. Johnny turned slowly around and glared at the bridge of his nose. He locked in on the spot, and gradually walked toward him. He reached for Abe’s pistol, a 357 magnum and holding it in Abe’s hand guided the pistol until it was pointing directly into his eyes.
“If you’re in a hurry, go ahead and shoot me now.” Abe turned sideways, regained hold of his pistol and walked away. Johnny leaned against the car, and wiped his brow.
“Let me alone for awhile; take a walk, all of you.” He ordered.
Tony pulled himself up and wiped his mouth. That was the least he could do, give the boss one last moment. He signaled for Abe and Chuck to follow and they headed towards one of the abandoned warehouses. Johnny waited until they were exactly thirty-five feet off. Then he slid into the car, and turned on the ignition. In a whirl of smoky dirt, he spun the car around three times, and flew past the boys, laughing his head off. He didn’t stop laughing until he reached the airport. He left the car, and ran all the way to the reservation desk of Air Italia. Perspiring and short of breath, he said to the pretty young clerk. “One way ticket please;to Palermo,Sicily.” Johnny was going home.
THE END.

Reference: All American Mafioso, the Johnny Roselli Story. By: Ed Becker.