A gangster daughter is ripped from comfort and innocence into confronting her father’s nefarious gangster life as Ben Siegel’s friend and partner. Ten years after her father took his own life; Lily discovers she must break the code of silence, to free herself from shame and distrust. When that trust is tested against her father, who controls her mentally, Lily is faced with standing up to him.
MY HOODLUM SAINT
WHERE TO BEGIN THIS STORY OF A FATHER THAT I ONLY CAME TO UNDERSTAND BY READING HIS FBI FILES, BOOKS ABOUT MOB HISTORY WRITTEN BY LAW ENFORCEMENT AND COLLEGE PROFESSORS, AND DOCUMENTARIES PRODUCED BY FOES OF MY FATHER.
My last year with Dad was 1981. Naive, and unconcerned with where I was headed, or how I’d get there if I figured it out, I was spinning around in an executive chair; waiting for the big hand on the black and white office clock to set me free. Time didn’t pass; I hauled it over my head, in my bland windowless office, under florescent glare. I was trouble shooting for an ambitious group of USC guys as they gobbled up all of Los Angeles real estate. Without any real sense of survival or independence, my life was in the hands of my father.
“Meyer’s coming to see me; haven’t seen the little guy in twenty-five years.” Dad said during a commercial break.
“Meyer Lansky?” I asked as casually as he’d spoken.
“Why did you two wait so long?”
“It’s no concern of yours; he’s my friend, not yours.” I was twenty-nine years old and still verbally handcuffed.
The three of us went out to dinner, and while the two of them spoke in clipped short wave syndicate code, I
noticed that neither one of them looked at all happy. It was rare to catch my father in public with a friend, without raucous laughter, and storytelling. My attempt to revive the dinner conversation with my own humor,returned two sets of silent eyeball commands to resist speaking.
Several months later I received a call from Dad asking me to come over to his apartment, he had collapsed on the bathroom floor. When I arrived, he pleaded for me to stay close by. “I’ll be all right in a few minutes; I just need to catch my breath. ” I sat outside the bathroom door biting my nails, and waited, like our dog Spice, for my orders. For the first time in my life, he was weaker than I, and my turmoil centered on that unfamiliar reversal of roles.
The throw of the dice this week lands on redefining one kind of relationship for another. It’s also called the breakup. The words are familiar to most of us. How we get there is unfamiliar. The exact path each of us takes towards intimacy, and then away from it, is custom-made.
What brings two strangers together at 25 years old is attic material at 55. The physical appearance and satisfaction meanders over the dips and dives. All the quarrels, hardships, and difficult compromises are either dropped, or repeated without sustained anger and outrage. The arguments begin and end within 24 hours. There is a journey between a couple and neither one knows the final destination. For some it is an 8 week affair, others an eternal matrimony, and then there are couples who must battle the journey all the way. For some unknown reason, two people love unevenly. With every other aspect of life in perfect order, the scenery, replenishment of necessities, even absence of tragic disorder, this couple will never find peace. They are unmatched where it counts the most. They are staring at opposite corners, refreshed by different tastes, and feel almost nothing that the other person feels, with the exception of the feeling they have of comfort and trust. After 25 years, you know where the rumbles and ridges are, and you know how to handle them.
You even get accustomed to the battles, and what defenses you can use. The drama though draining has a certain appeal, in that it is familiar. When the truth rises above the camouflage, you cannot mop it off. It interferes with the loveliness of a yellowed summer moon, or a morning so beautiful that you want to hold it in your hand. It is like walking with lead in your shoes, and you freeze the lightness in your heart. With this burden, you cannot balance all the other misadventures in life.
When I was 29, my wings had just been released. I was alone, without any family around me, and I took the least familiar flight, and moved from my home in Los Angeles to Del Mar. It is beyond the mist of golden memories, it truly was the most unforgettable 6 months of my life. I had to rebuild everything from scratch, and in the process, I was building myself, step by step. That kind of work is irreplaceable, even the most adventurous of travel does not compare to rebuilding your life.
Now, is not much different from back in 1983, only I am not alone. I feel the same yearning for self-discovery. A breakup does not erode the love, companionship and trust of a 25-year friendship. With all those foundations in mint condition, you should be able to take on the new journey you have missed.
But! It is delayed for the reason that attachment is beyond emotional; it affects financial, social, and business survival. One by one solutions can be created. Sometime circumstances of life create them for you. Whenever I am stagnate, and unable to make a move, I have to think of my mother’s life.
I rose at 3:00 AM to turn the heat on, pick up my writing journal, and discern the week’s theme.
The house is unfamiliar at this time, as it is my first middle of the night experience here. I wonder for a moment if I should boil water for tea or coffee, and settle on decaf. Alice and Bugsy follow my footsteps, circle their feeding table, and then begin to cat play. Bugsy gallops around in circles and Alice watches. Their presence kindles the stark rooms. While the water boils, I step outside to the porch I hear the distant sound of pounding surf and sit down to listen. The moon is shaved from the fullness of the previous night, and reflects my own disposition.
The street is hollowed like a tunnel, the light of day is shining in some other distant country, and the sky is appears tinted with primer. Somewhere someone is dressing for work, breathing by the tick of the clock until he must report for work.
The draft of sleep lingers in my eyes, and my feet shuffle on the cold tiles, while I grind the beans and think through the remains of the week. There are themes to our lives. Sometimes a year, sometimes one single day launches the theme, or it may just tumble into our path unexpected and replace whatever we were holding on to dearly, and deliver something unpleasant, like sickness, or separation. The sensations leading up to my theme jilted my creativity, and the pages I wrote were jammed with contradictions, maybe they still are.
Thoughts begin to form and ruminate, what is important? The theme of my week began when I was informed a Frog’s member I knew only slightly died very suddenly. From that day on, conversations, books, and televisions shaped the theme.
I see what is in front of me, and I am dissatisfied with the surroundings. The temperature, color, textures and placement of furnishings is flawed, and I have abated good temperament, creativity, and affection. I have tried to replace my incompleteness with substitutes: new shoes, scarves, and half a dozen books. Ah Hah! I have caught the intruder, the inconsequential arrangememt of new stuff.
Several more incidents aided my awakening. One came while reading Mark Twain’s “Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World.” It is a first person narrative of his lecturing trip on a sea voyage around the world bound for Australia and New Zealand. His diary pages are as powerful as water sprung from a fire hydrant; and I flowed into the adventure with him. A few days later while I was vacillating between reading and watching television I channeled onto a movie, “Shadows Over Tuscany.” Harvey Keitel emerged as a familiar character; a writer who has stopped writing. Along with the added irony of his resplendent surroundings in a villa over Tuscany, he still could not write.
I have settled into a corner of the sofa by the light, and now Alice is purring into my robe. Writing with pen is so different from keyboard, journaling is always with pen, but columns are on the keyboard. The next incident occurred in conversation with a woman who relayed her elated experience from meditating. She asked me about my own source. I understood that to mean what tranquilizes all the peripheral complaints, mental pains and wounds that lie dormant or at least manageable. Without thinking of the tormented hours, I thought of the comforts of exhibiting my life on paper.
The shallowness of that answer makes me uncomfortable. I return to the porch for one more gulp of landscape that I share with the stars.
The street is unfamiliar, a temporary scene like a bus stop, and I am merely waiting to move on. The neighbors are strangers, and stories do not blossom here. My desk is sealed into a corner of the bedroom, and too small to stack all my photographs, books, notepads, and dice mementos.
It is not the act of writing with pen and paper moving along at a steady rhythm; it’s the activation of the heart and mind, collaborating to unravel the relevant from the irrelevant. To reach this state of matrimony a writer needs not a Tuscan Villa, or a Moorish Castle, but experiences that flake off the skin, or recall of the experience that gives it relevance. A story is flickering at my source, asking to be written and I’m avoiding the introduction. Fear is shining like a spotlight on one end, and insecurity is the temperature that stifles my pen. It is not the cold tiled floor, and cramped desk.
I wrote a novel in a 99 square feet room that SC and I shared for a year and a half.
If I continue to roam around the task of writing this story, the intensity of irritation will escalate, my neck and shoulders will not loosen, my walk will be feigned, my smile forced, my heart longing for padding, my ego striving for recognition in the wrong places, and my soul roaming the hallways at 3:00 in the morning.
My spineless spirit that sends me out shopping for shoes, scarves, and earrings will finally halt. I will return to shopping for inspiration, courage and confidence that I can write the story. email@example.com
The throw of the dice this week lands on the lost dice. It was an unusual time to be writing the dice, around four in the afternoon. The sunshine drew me up to my writing desk where the rays of light teased me into believing it wasn’t cold outside. I decided to write the column.
I knew I shouldn’t write on my laptop because it is deconstructing. The ports and CD player have malfunctioned, the screen dotted and the audio goes on and off. I can’t part with this laptop until I finish the book, ( 5 pages to go). The warmth of the sun and the window that enables me to see the sky, drew me to the desk, and so I work around the errors.
I only had a few paragraphs from the afternoon, and when I returned to the column after dinner, the whole piece took another course, and I was writing not what I intended but it was like sailing on a perfect course. It was writing without the editor, meaning the inner editor that sometimes swoops down and cuts your nails off. I was writing about many things that happened. When I finished I went to the save the document and the laptop responded negatively. It vanished. I thought about trying to recapture the column, trying to reinvent the stream of consciousness that seemed to be marathoning through my soul.
There were so many voices speaking all at once. I had to figure out how to connect the moment the leaves reminded me of Saratoga Springs, and how we must place our print, on the tablet, on the screen, and dismiss the resentful reader who judges where writing takes us. Sometimes, a reader knows me from the halcyon days, when light was brighter than dark. They don’t want to remember the way I feel it, they want to burn me for my feelings. And such an email buckles my knees and drips from my eyes. I am sorry they never achieved more than hatred.
The throw of the dice this week is a continuation from last months column, which is too long a time for a continuation.
I left off, where I was about to stop by Maurice’s home. I’ve written about him several times over the years. Maurice was raised on a small modest farm in Iowa, where he used to race his horse across the open fields, when he wasn’t milking cows and picking corn. When he turned seventeen he left home, and hitchhiked to Solana Beach, where his girlfriend was working in a home in Rancho Santa Fe. Maurice worked on the ranches of Rancho Santa Fe, until he was drafted into the army. It was Christmas day, and the day after his wedding. When he returned to his wife three years later, they began a life in Solana Beach. He began living as the happiest man alive.
I had to wait a year or more before I could drive by his house in Solana Beach, knowing he wouldn’t be out in the garden, or fixing miniature furniture, or baking cinnamon rolls for all his girlfriends.
I had to wait, because the little white house with the white picket fence without Maurice was like a flower without petals, or a child without a mother.
Maurice came into my life, in an almost fictional way. I can see him now; standing amongst the hundreds of Christmas lights he strung up every year across his lawn, over the roof, winding around the trees and over the garage all the way to the street. He even had one of those talking toys that sang, ‘Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas’ when you rang the door-bell. Inside the tiny living room, he filled every shelf and empty corner with ceramic glass or tin ornaments, a dedication to his wife who passed away ten years earlier, and their wedding anniversary.
When Maurice opened his front door, he laughed out loud, when the mechanical voice, shrieked, Merry Christmas. Before he even said anything, his smile beamed as he waited for me to laugh with him. Then he led me to the sofa, in front of a coffee table covered with homemade powered sugar cookies and chocolate covered almonds and cashews, and said, “Go on, sit down and I’ll make some drinks.” But that wasn’t the first time I met Maurice. The first time I met him; I was walking down the street at dusk, just taking a walk with a moon shadow following me.
“How are you tonight?” We talked only a moment or so before he asked me inside for a drink.
“Thank You. I’m going to take a rain check; I live right down the street.” It was such an innocent invitation; I felt absolutely no fear other than that ground in nuisance fear that precedes any invitation from a man.
“I know where you live.”
“Oh? I’m going to come back–really I am.”
“I sure hope so. I love to have company.”
That was Christmas 1994.
The next night, I dragged Rudy with me to look at Maurice’s flickering Christmas lights. We didn’t get a chance to knock on the door, he must have seen us through the window, and he opened it.
“Are you coming in this time?”
“Yes, I mean if it’s not a bad time.”
“It’s never a bad time for friends.”
I clutched Rudy’s hand and we crossed over the reindeers seated in the flying red sleigh and magical little toys that glittered beside Santa Claus, and went inside. I was already sure that this was going to save me from a mediocre Christmas, while Rudy was still quizzically observing Maurice’s easy behavior. Maurice was seventy-nine years old, cut lean and taught like a racehorse. His long white hair was combed straight back without a part, and he was dressed in faded Levi’s, Nikes, and a pressed bottom-up shirt.
“Are you hungry?” He asked.
“Hell yes,” Rudy shouted. Maurice jetted out to the kitchen leaving us to sink into the worn cushions of his sofa, and listen to country western Christmas Carols. We stayed and laughed through an assortment of snacks, music, and Maurice dancing about as we hooted and howled like Iowan farmers.
When I stopped by a day or two later to thank him, he said.
I’m the happiest man alive.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I have so much to be thankful for, and I have such good good friends.”
“Maurice, are you happy all the time?”
“Oh yes-all the time. I get angry like everyone else, but I’m so lucky.”
Then he told me the story of the three days he squatted along the beachhead at Buna, Australia within the confines of tropical diseases, rain, mud, and without water or food. By the time the last Japanese positions had fallen, one thousand or more Americans lay dead, with thousands more wounded or sick.
“They was much stronger and more equipped than us. I made a vow with God, if he got me out alive, I would never ask for anything again and never complain about anything again. “
“You kept your word.”
“ I sure have. I watched my whole squadron die, almost all of them. They was such young boys, you just couldn’t believe it was happening.”
I went back to Maurice’s house almost every day, and asked him how he was. “I feel so good; I’ve never felt better in my life.” Sometimes he’d alternate and say, “I’m the luckiest man alive.” I never caught him complaining, or tilting forward with regret. He didn’t waste his time judging, avoiding, or renouncing change. He kept his old fashioned machinery, furnishings and style and let everyone else go crazy trying to be modern and chic. Every knick knack had some special meaning or story to go along with it. Like the corn husker he hung out in the garage, the same one he used when he was a kid. But what he loved most about that house was his orange tree. He always loaded me up with a grocery bag filled with oranges. “They make the best orange juice you ever had.”
Over the next four years, I was at Maurice’s home, at least twice a week. I watched Rodeo with him, watched him plant tomatoes and cucumbers, cut sweet peas and roses for his friends, fry chicken, fix furniture, feed Bugsy the cat when he was only a day old, and dance in the front room while singing some country tune. I recorded his whole story on tape, and then wrote a book about his life. “I don’t think I’m that interesting, but if you think so, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” I learned what it was like to grow up on a farm during the depression in middle America. His family lost the farm, and that’s when young Maurice put out his thumb on Highway 80, and hitchhiked to San Diego.
“I was so lucky! I was picked up by a woman in a Cadillac who needed someone to drive her car.”
Then, when I wasn’t paying attention, Maurice grew distant, he turned down invitations to dinner, and he stopped inviting me. I didn’t ask him why, I just accepted it, which was where I went wrong.
I even passed him in the drugstore one day, and instead of confronting him, I darted out the front door. About six months later I got a phone call from his niece.
“I’m calling because Maurice passed away.”
“Yes, he did. But he didn’t suffer, he went very quick.”
“Was he at home?”
“ Yes. Lynn found him under the orange tree.”
I drove past his house, and had to keep on going. There was nothing left of the garden, and the new owners had placed those skinny tall poles signifying, a demolition for a new two-story house. Maurice is still a part of my life. I realize I was lucky, to have met him and known his story. Any dice to throw email: firstname.lastname@example.org