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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