Archive for July, 2019

MY MOTHER THE CRIMINAL

A century ago, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe produced many infamous American criminals. They included killers, such as Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (a key character in my novel in progress), Dutch Shultz and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles. Another legendary Jewish criminal was a woman. Well, not a criminal by yesterday’s standards. I give you my mother Blanche.

San Francisco recently passed a law making selling furs illegal. Criminal! Yet in New York back in the ‘50s, my mother sported a mink coat, mink stole and Persian lamb jacket with mink collar courtesy of the most honest man ever—my father Morris. So how would local progressives view my mother? Fuhgeddaboudit!

She also consorted with mobsters. Kind of. A friend’s husband brought his “business associates,” Johnny and Tommy Dio (Dioguardi) to the Queens League for Muscular Dystrophy’s annual dinner dance. My mother, active in the chapter, served as president. The Dio brothers’ contributions, like everyone else’s, went towards research. The police never cited my mother for meeting them. Ultimately, she received a certificate from the comedian Jerry Lewis, who raised millions to conquer the disease.

Big time as a mother, Blanche Perlstein was small potatoes as a “criminal.” Her nefarious activities focused on relieving airlines of blankets (remember them?) and coffee mugs. A pink floor mat in the bathroom of our apartment in Rego Park (Queens) bore the logo of Miami Beach’s Eden Roc Hotel. Fortunately, the statute of limitations has passed.

Still, when I graduated from college, my mother advised, “If you’re ever going to steal, steal big.”

Go ahead. Laugh. Done? Now, let’s get serious.

My mother wasn’t telling me to become another Meyer Lansky—the Mob’s money man and inspiration for Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II. She was letting me know that the occasional airline pillow or nightclub ashtray aside, real crime should never besmirch the family name. Before considering doing something wrong, I should ask myself, “Is it really worth it to disgrace my family? Can my integrity be bought?”

The only conceivable answer, no matter how large the score: “No.” The Perlstein name is not for sale (although my books are).

If only that message got through to the millions of Americans who sold their souls in the 2016 presidential election and are preparing to do so next year. I particularly address evangelical voters who, in the name of Jesus and morality, supported one of the most ungodly, immoral men in the nation. (Grab women by the what? Pay off a porn star for what?)

Their candidate promised to deliver on their social issues, chiefly abortion, secondarily opposition to LGBTQ rights. Many bought into now-Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion that God wanted Donald Trump to be president. (Maybe God told me otherwise.)

Thus people of supposed great faith defined hypocrisy by stealing from America’s integrity and, in doing so, greatly diminishing their own.

As I prepare to say Kaddish for my mother next Friday night—she died twenty years ago at 88—I remember her with great love. The legendary Jewish gangsters might have been disappointed that the beautiful doll Blanche Perlstein was, pardon the pun, a straight shooter. But I think they’d agree that in never letting greed erode her integrity, she set a standard even they could admire.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites. My mother would appreciate it.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

 

DETROIT AND PROGRESSIVES

How do you lose a presidential election? By harnessing Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A recent hubbub in Detroit offers Democrats an important lesson.

Several weeks ago, the promoters of Detroit’s AfroFuture Fest announced they would charge people of color an early-bird price of $10, whites $20. Discrimination? The $10 fee, said promoters, would make the festival affordable to people of color. Whites have money.

Are people of color really less well off than whites? Overall, yes. But the people color I know don’t need a discount from AfroFuture Fest any more than I and my codger friends need senior discounts at movies theaters or restaurants. Being over 60 or 65 does not automatically place someone at or near the poverty line. I’m an individual, not a stereotype.

One of the festival’s featured performers, the rap artist Tiny Jag (Jillian Graham), threatened to withdraw. She’s bi-racial. Maybe she’d be allowed in for the lower fee, but why should some of her relatives pay more? The festival backed off. Everyone would pay $10.

As to the campaign, defining people—and voters—in ethnic terms is nothing new. Donald Trump again spewed white nationalist rhetoric when he said that four Democratic Congresswomen—Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib—could go back where they came from. They came, respectively, from New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan. Trump’s ugly comments aroused pushback from people not embedded in his base. That’s good.

Not good: Progressives using Trump’s horrific comments to push the Democratic party to the far left—just where Trump, on the far right, wants voters to see it. This will distance the Democratic party from many who will decide the election—white liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and moderate conservatives in swing states. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The Times’Jamelle Bouie points out (7/18) that “African-Americans are the most heavily Democratic group in the country, with a large presence in many of the most competitive states. Small increases in their participation would have an outsize effect on the electoral landscape.” Democrats could falter by catering only to whites expressing doubts about Trump. I agree—with a caveat.

Many black, brown, yellow, red and other liberals and centrists remain wary of the progressive stance on eliminating private healthcare insurance (rather than making it optional alongside government coverage), refusing to discuss limits on abortion (I’m pro-choice; some limits may be reasonable) and responding to Trump’s “we’re full” immigration policies by advocating for virtual open borders (I love immigrants—my father was one; bad idea).

Could progressive politics cost Democrats the 2020 election? New York Times columnist David Brooks (7/17) notes that “… many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.”

Detroit demonstrates that we can’t fight injustice with injustice. “I want it all and I want it right now” may represent a moral position, but it can become immoral by undermining Democrats’ White House chances.

I hope progressives will think hard about the realities of this campaign and, while maintaining the moral high ground, convert self-righteousness into humility. Then we can send Donald Trump back under one of the gold-plated rocks from which he crawled.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

OVERHAUL THE FLAG

After 243 years of American independence, I’ve discovered that it’s time to do away with deceptive symbols representing our nation’s history. The starting point? Overhaul the flag. I have that on good authority.

Ten days ago, Nike withdraw a special July 4th shoe featuring the 13-star Betsy Ross flag after Colin Kaepernick, former 49ers quarterback and current Nike marketing/cultural advisor, called the company out. It seems that white power groups have adopted the Betsy Ross flag, the stars representing the 13 original colonies, all of which permitted slavery.

That got me thinking. Giving up a classic symbol of our struggle for independence represents a small sacrifice to stand against racism (and hopefully, anti-Semitism). Still, I’m puzzled.

Who owns a symbol—or a word? Whites used the N-word do denigrate blacks. Blacks threw it back in their faces—or ears—by appropriating it. “We’ll take the sting out of it by using it ourselves.” The LGBTQ community transformed “queer” from a word expressing deviation and sin into a state of less usual but normal sexual preference. Can’t non-racist Americans take back the Betsy Ross flag?

Some people think not. And I’d hate for anyone to think me insensitive. So I propose we give our flag a makeover.

For starters, we’ll dump those 13 red and white stripes. Like the 13 stars on the Betsy Ross flag, they symbolize the original colonies, which celebrated freedom in 1776 while tolerating—and promoting—slavery. I suggest five stripes. The number’s basic, like the fingers on a hand. But we’ll replace the red—this nation has shed much blood—with green, representing our commitment to the earth. The white stripes? (If you have to ask, no need to finish reading this.) Let’s do purple for purple mountains majesty.

Now the stars. We have 50, one for each current state. But many once were slave states and others also legalized slavery. Those stars are out. Still, racism—and this isn’t just an issue for African Americans—has been endemic in all states. So let’s just display a single star.

But it can’t be five-pointed. That’s what the old stars looked like. Six points? The far right will bellow that it looks like the Star of David symbolizing hated Jews while the far left will associate six points with the flag of hated Israel. (Funny that it works for many police and sheriff’s departments). So, we’ll do a starburst. Gold? Nope. Promotes capitalism. It’ll appear in black, brown, yellow and red representing people of color. Add white? Get real.

Last, the field. Presently, it’s blue. But thinking about America’s near-quarter-millennium of existence makes any virtuous person blue. We’ll go gray. Depressing? Maybe. But gray expresses how so many Americans feel about the U.S.A.—except when our women’s soccer team wins the World Cup.

Let justice reign! Our new flag will boast five stripes—green and purple—plus a gray field with a single starburst representing the ethnicity of what soon will represent half of America’s population.

Then let’s blow up everything else associated with the nation’s history—the Statue of Liberty has to go—and obliterate every shred of its past, because micro-aggressions have no place in our present.

As to the future, damned if I know whether it’ll last another 25 years let alone 250.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.