Posts Tagged ‘Meyer Lanky’

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.

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I BELIEVE IN AMERICA

The film begins with the screen black. A man’s voice declares, “I believe in America!” His Italian accent tells us he’s an immigrant. The camera then reveals him in closeup—mustache and suit as black as the background in which he seems suspended. A humble if successful undertaker, he pleads with someone we cannot see: His daughter has been dishonored. He seeks justice. But it will not be in the American way. Or will it?

The Godfather presents America as the land of opportunity. For many millions born on foreign shores and their first-generation American children, it has been just that. But the irony of the undertaker’s speech soon hits home. The Godfathermakes clear that in America, hard work and risk-taking offer great rewards. These values may be applied to a great many enterprises. Not all need be legal.

Those who saw opportunities by breaking the law are duly noted in downtown Las Vegas’s Mob Museum. I was there last week, since I did a small portion of the research for my next novel on their website. Moreover, I admit to a fascination with the Mob—particularly Jewish gangsters of the first half of the 20th century. They were legion. Money guys like Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky? Sure. But many more were stone-cold killers like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Abe “Kid Twist” Reles and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter. (FYI, Lansky and Siegel appear in the novel.)

The Mob Museum details the rise—and fall—of the Sicilian Mafia and its affiliates, including the Jewish gangs, which provided murder—and lots of it—for hire. (Protestant and Irish gangs terrorized New York and Boston before them). For many young immigrants lacking education and living in slum conditions, crime paid. Death often came early; success comes with a price.

Ultimately, the FBI squeezed and put away the classic Mob bosses. Vegas cleaned up its act. Other ethnic groups stepped in. Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicans, Mexicans, Chinese, Russians and Vietnamese, as well as groups native to the Heartland, carved out their own American opportunities.

This nation will always face the Mob in some form. But ordinary criminals—even the drug cartels—will not destroy our democracy. We’ll rot at the hands of corporations and the super-rich. They buy politicians and virtually write our laws to eliminate regulations protecting ordinary citizens and reduce their taxes and liabilities, society be damned. In the process, they brush crumbs to the floor. Some people lap them up.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman advises, “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor, either.” I support ambition. I succeeded financially because I risked working for myself and pushed to meet my goals—honestly and ethically.

I also support a sense of balance. The Christian Bible tells us that not money but theloveof it is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). The Mishnah offers wisdom through a Jewish lens: “Who is rich? He who appreciates what he has…” (Avot 4:1).

I believe in America. I also believe that keeping the pursuit of wealth from devouring ethics requires making wise choices. November will reveal whether greed outweighs goodness and lemming-like, this nation marches off a cliff.

For you who are celebrating Yom Kippur starting Tuesday night, may you have a meaningful holiday and be sealed for good in the New Year.

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