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.

 

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19 Comments


  1. Tracy Boxer Zill
    Jul 26, 2019

    Wait, you have books for sale?

    Shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

    gut shabbos,

    tracy


    • David
      Jul 26, 2019

      Well, Tracy, only a few left. That’s why we have Amazon, barnesandnobel.com, et. al. So my advice to everyone: Buy now, and buy again. My mother would agree.


  2. Nancy E Sheftel-Gomes
    Jul 26, 2019

    My grandfather and great uncle came to the US without papers and entered through New London because the rumor was that in 1903 it was easier in New London. He was an undocumented immigrant.

    They then proceeded to bring the whole mishpacha to America. Serial immigrants. Lucky for us because we are alive to tell.

    He made his way into the business world with bottles and rags and during prohibition there were questions about bottles and tax labels. My grandmother was supeonaed and rode the train from Worcester to NY federal court to say she never saw the tax labels before(no doubt in Yiddush).
    Naturally when prohibition ended Zadie and Uncle Moise Natan open Consolidated Liquor Distribution and put their sons to work. Sent a lot of kids to college.


    • Nancy E Sheftel-Gomes
      Jul 26, 2019

      and the mink jacket is hanging in my closet


      • David
        Jul 26, 2019

        Ah, such criminal activity, Nancy. Carolyn wore my mother’s mink coat once or twice, but we really don’t go anywhere it would work. After 20 years of storage (cost more than the furs did from Abe Schatzberg), we found them a home with someone who does costume get-togethers.


  3. Carolyn Power Perlstein
    Jul 26, 2019

    Your mother had us procuring for her every flight we took to NYC. She always told me what she
    needed. There was the red blanket from American, those sleek black & white plastic coffee cups and the real silver wear—actually all from American. And as a loving daughter in law, I always and willingly complied. But when The Blanche flew, her purse always clinked with those travel size liquor bottles by the time she arrived home!


    • David
      Jul 27, 2019

      Let’s be careful about using the word “procuring.” And fortunately, in those days there was no one around to listen for a clinking bag and… procure it.


  4. Hilda Isaacson
    Jul 26, 2019

    I loved it. My mother had a mink coat and a mink stole. When my brother was in the army during the Korean War, we went to see him, riding on the bus. We stashed the mink stole in a paper grocery bag and covered it with assorted nonsense. My brother was disturbed because the mink stole was not safe in the army camp. He put the unopened bag under the mattress, and I slept on it all night. In the morning, my mother wanted to air it out. We had the wrong bag – no mink stole. This bag contained shirts from a Chinese laundry, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an envelope from political party with an address south of New Orleans. To shorten the story, he was delighted to get his bag back, he hadn’t taken the other one because it wasn’t his. We later found out it went to Houston, Texas where neither my mother nor I have ever been. It arrived home in the mail before we did.


    • David
      Jul 27, 2019

      Great story, Hilda. Would my mother have returned the mink? Well… sure.


  5. David Newman
    Jul 27, 2019

    Thanks. David. My mother’s fur was otter, and she did wear it, but rarely. I loved it as a kid — much softer than mink.

    As for God wanting Trump to be president, I thought Adonai was too busy fixing football games.


    • David Newman
      Jul 27, 2019

      My mother was much more of a straight-arrow, although now that I’m cleaning out their old condo after my dad’s move, I’m finding a lot of tchotchkes of very dubious origins. Maybe it’s true that we never really know our parents.


      • David
        Jul 27, 2019

        Quite seriously, David, I’ve found that as I got older, I got to know my parents much better because I was able to see them as real human beings, understand what they thought even if they never expressed those thoughts. Whether my kids think of Carolyn and me that way, I don’t know. But they probably will.


    • David
      Jul 27, 2019

      The football fix was in “X Files.” And it was the Cigarette (Smoking) Man who, in a flashback, tells his small group of white men running the country from the shadows (deep state if you like), “Buffalo never wins the Super Bowl.” Indeed, the Buffalo Bills played in four Super Bowls in a row and lost them all.

      God refuses to tip me off on winners as a matter of principle. I don’t hold it against Him. But how much would it hurt?


      • David Newman
        Jul 27, 2019

        Cue Tevye singing “If I were a betting man…”


    • Nancy Sheftel Gomes
      Jul 27, 2019

      People who had to get on during those cold winters took their furs seriously.
      In the bay area it was more of a style thing.
      My aunt offerred me her persian lamb decades ago and I refused until I saw women wearing furs here in the summer.


      • David
        Jul 28, 2019

        Furs kept women warm, yes, but they were also symbols that a woman had arrived. Where? That’s another matter. But my mother was a very stylish woman. She impressed Carolyn enormously when they first met. The hair, the nails, the clothes! She also brought Carolyn a potato grater and a jar of schmaltz. My mother loved opera—and soap operas. Complicated? Aren’t we all? I love telling stories about her. I also loved her deeply because of the way she loved all of us and accepted our own complications. She taught me a lot.


        • Nancy Sheftel-Gomes
          Jul 28, 2019

          Your mother was very beautiful and immediately I was struck by her resemblance to Carolyn, especially the smile. None of the grands wanted the mink jacket which is why it resides in my clothing museum.


  6. Martin Weiner
    Jul 29, 2019

    Dear David,
    Loved this posting about your Mom. You are so right about the hypocrisy of the evangelicals.
    All my best,
    Marty


    • David
      Jul 29, 2019

      Thanks, Marty. As I wrote in GOD’S OTHERS, our task is to expand the concept of “neighbor” re Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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