When she first appeared on the recording I gasped. She was the woman I had imagined when I read Dorothy Parker’s Big Blonde. When Virginia Madsen played the girlfriend then wife in Raging Bull, my mind instantly made some minor adjustments to fit the picture embedded in it.
All my life when I had seen blonde, buxomy, big framed, big teethed with even bigger smile mobster’s molls, my mind would make similiar minor adjustments. Sometimes I was even aware that I was doing this, and would wonder why for a half second or so.
My great-uncle Izzy died when I was five. Apparently I was fond of him, and would run to be picked up and deposited in his lap. I have absolutely no memory of Uncle Izzy. That is strange. He’s a blank canvas in my childhood diaroma which was filled with vivid brightly colored images.
My mother’s mother was a Communist, feminist, designer, amazing cook, candy store owner, the marrying type, and altogether fabulous. Her three daughters all embodied her various aspects. On the surface, my mother was the most conventional; she was a cute bright suburban housewife who followed her strong husband in everything, but inside she was almost as radical as her bohemian, intellectual middle sister; their youngest sister is a Jewish, Buddhist, Beatnik-hippie, new age, artist, craftsperson, conceptual artist–if it’s been in vogue over the past 50 years, my Aunt Elaine’s either been a member or participant in it, or has five friends who had been.
All three sisters married strong men who thought that staying home with kids was a pleasure and privelege. (We were all great kids, 😉 My mom’s middle sister, Belle’s husband Harry stayed home, painted, cooked and took care of the kids while she worked. Even my dad, a CPA, worked from home one or usually two days a week while my mom would go out.
My mother’s aunt managed The Marlin Hotel on West Eighth Street. When I was in high school my father took me to meet her; the meeting ended quickly as she invited me to move in. Omigod Bob Dylan had lived there; it was so tempting. As much as I delighted in finding ways to flaunt my parents’s few rules, running away from home wasn’t an option.
One of my mother’s cousins was a gay accountant who had to flee the country. I assumed that he fled because of sodomy charges, but, my mother laughed when I said that. He had embezzled money from his employer to pay a gambling debt. I always knew that some men were gay and assumed everybody else did and accepted it. I would have been surprised if nobody was gay, in my mother’s family
Gambling run in both my parents families though it seems to have bypassed almost everybody in my generation and the subsequent one. We’re perfect; no we have other bad habits and problems.
Uncle Izzy was a gambler who would go away; as in gone back upstate but not to the horses. The horses seemed to be integral to my paternal grandfather’s family. I never remember hearing “going to the track.” It was always “going to the horses.” For the four or so months a year my grandmother lived in a bungalow colony in Monticello, it was off the road and about half mile up from the horses. My paternal grandmother’s weakness was penny poker. She wouldn’t let me play, the summer, my punishment for being caught with pot in the house, was a long visit with her. I didn’t even think about defying my parents and going to stay with my aunt in The Marlin. My dad hated the horses; he was high stake poker and the stock market; he only liked things that he felt he could absolutely control.
Some of my father’s family had lived in Monticello and surrounding smaller towns forever. Though my family only went up once or twice a year for weekends, everybody knew me. If it weren’t for my grandmother, I would have felt very comfortable there. But she was determined to save me from a life of sin.
I don’t really remember the three summers my family stayed in a bungalow colony. I turned four the last summer. I only remember being surrounded by laughing people most older than me and feeling very loved. I have specific memories but they mainly involve laughing at my little sister for trying to put blueberries back on the bush.
We moved to a garden apartment complex in Northern Queens that was filled with baby boomers, and we never spent the summer in the mountains again.
Uncle Izzie died when I was five. My relatives think he was married to Sophie, the blonde I have always put into books, movies and TV shows as the perfect mobster’s moll; my sister and I had been told that they lived together. Maybe my father thought it was more romantic that way. Though my sister refuses to believe this, he had been known to change details for the sake of a good story.
Gambling was part of the fabric of the community when my dad was growing up in East Harlem and the mountains in the summer. Nobody thought it was a sin. During prohibition my dad would ocassionally go to Montauk with the bootlegger to pick up cases off the ship. I was enamored with that; and a bit jealous as a child that I wouldn’t have that opportunity. Supposedly the floor I lived in on East 63rd Street was a fancy speak easy from the time the building was first built until the end of prohibition. Don’t know if that story is true or not but I like to think it is.
Last night I began to tell my sister and family, my John Gotti story. We had stopped by an amazing looking restaurant with a psychic in the window, a beautiful deco prohibition motif, an incredible area outside in back where you don’t have to look at the traffic on the street. Yes I mentioned this restaurant yesterday. One of my newly discovered cousins is the chef/part owner; and he’s adorable.
I don’t know how the speakeasy theme was picked but I love it; it’s perfect for a member of my family. We had all been brought up to have a bit of an outlaw personality in us. I think John Gotti was horrible and would never want to romanticize him. But I was in love with the images of the mob from stories my father told or books. My sister also has a romanticized notion of that era; most people I know do. It was more glamorous, more dangerous, mostly poorer yet somehow better. People enjoyed each other then. They talked, went out and weren’t home glued to one monitor or another.
I never really got into the John Gotti story, because fave niece who will be eleven in a few weeks asked if he dressed poorly.
“No,” I said, “actually he was called ‘the dapper don,’ because he dressed so well.” I went on to describe his suits, and she looked confused. I finally understood.
“Most gangsters don’t look like Tony Soprano.”
“Oh,” she said, ‘I thought they did.”
My niece is a milenium child. Thanks to The Sopranos which she hasn’t watched yet but has heard the sountrack and read articles, my niece and her generation won’t refrence Elliot Ness, The Godfather, Goodfellas. The stories won’t be from our fathers and grandfathers who had actually been kids then but from us who knew them through the gauze that somehow filters our memories so that we remember the most mundane or the most spectacular events never the ordinary.
I don’t ever remember meeting Sophie, but I have known her all my life. She is my idealized mobster’s moll.
I needed to write something not hurricane related at all. This is very raw, and in classic pia style, all over the world, or Manhattan and the Catskills. I had a wonderful day today and hope to have another day outside tomorrow, because this weather is a gift. It’s a cliche to say we have all learned so much. I really do appreciate the people in my life much more now. I hope that lasts.