Pop had no real money his first years in the biz; he needed side jobs paid in cash to beat the taxman. Mickey Cohen, mobster to the stars, moved a lot of untaxed revenue around for the Lansky organization; “copacetic” would be the kind of five dollar word the Mick would use when explaining to my old man their mutual interests.
As it happened, some cafone splattered a rival’s brains all over the ferns at some mob pasta trough and money Laundromat in Sherman Oaks in response to some astronomical insult involving all of two C notes; the murderous runt ran off to claim sanctuary in the vestibule of Our Lady of Bounced Checks in Echo Park. Cohen, who was present at the murder, had to negotiate the palooka shooter’s surrender:
"I tell this Dago oil spill, Lo Signo: Sam, come out of there, turn yourself in. We take care of our own."
This howler was the shill Cohen gave his deathbed biographer as cancer ate his guts.
"I tell this soldier he takes the rap, they make a show in court of throwing you life in the joint and then we turn the tables and you're out in two, max, with plenty of play money- twenty five large. Oik! Twelve grand and fifty a year! This shtarker couldn't pull that kind of cush on the government's dime in... Eh, gimme that chord. The nurse says to punch this button for a thrill. Morphine. The only good thing about this gut rot, goddammit!"
"So, Mr. Cohen, what about the government?"
"Kiss off, skank! Get me a candy stripper in here to reload my juice. No more today!"
Of course The Outfit lied to the jamook who dutifully turned him self in to a life sentence, never to hear from the Lansky people again.
Just after this whack of Jack ‘The Enforcer’ Whalen, the irrigated stiff Cohen's punk took the rap for, the Mick had another stooge sent to Television City to harvest a crew for some show he was hiding gaming receipts behind. Veterans of the Mick’s previous extravaganzas were suddenly “on break”, hiding in the john, the sound stage rafters, the floors of their cars. Cohen was toxic after the double-cross of his button man, Sam Lo Cigno, and his relationship to the working stiffs, backdrop painters today/thumb breakers tomorrow, was strained. Oblivious, Pop caught the stooge’s eye while running with a wood pole across his shoulders; two bouncing buckets tied to the ends- a coolie hauling sand to shore up rail staves.
“McCloskey!” his boss yelled.
Cohen was a master of the malaprop but no one would edit his ramblings, ‘natch, and like self-anointed savants everywhere, he wanted to look fancy with his largesse, and make a few cleaned up dollars in the process. So it was to one of these scams- likely an opera: let’s say “Rigolletto” ‘cuz I know there’s an opera with that name, and so do you… No, wait; Cohen had no ear for Italian- more likely it was some popular Broadway obscenity like “A Most Happy Fella” for which my old man got roped into.
Pop’s shop steward: Introducing “Gene Gabrielson”, sounds like a name people had back then- he barks again: “McCloskey!” And Pop drops his head to lift the pole over, leaves the buckets standing in the LA sun and runs towards the echo of his name. He ran everywhere- he had ADHD, long before its discovery but already wreaking havoc on addictive personalities nationwide- in fact, Pop once got a $500 bonus from a producer for his apparent hustle.
Pop eager and ready, panting and scratching his remaining ear. And GG dispatches him to the same Rondelli’s where the stench of The Enforcer’s blood and shit were still clinging to the red velvet wall paper; Pop’s attendance, but not his opinion, was now mandatory-
“And, Mike,” sez GG with a finger erect as a gun barrel, “don’t accept ANYTHING from these people- they will NEVER let you forget-”
“Right, GG!” sez Pop and drives off the lot in his Pollack splattered overalls, pulls on to Los Feliz, past Bronson Canyon, down Ventura Blvd. and is waived around to the back lot of the restaurant by a lumpy bag of shells: Guido, then as now, in pin stripes and a Brylcreem cow lick, sun spot cuff links, his button earned best suit, the blackened palm of burning St. Peter directing Pop to park, that black hand a sign this is the real deal and Pop’s balls choke in his throat and I’m not even a blush yet in my Mother’s cheek.
At the kitchen door stood another button man, “Tommy Whatsit”: “Mikey- glad you could make it- we stood for Tony Seda in Jilly’s last year when that toothless hag Monkey Shines and his punk Skeezix tried to short our bets at Hollywood Park. Recall…?”
“Uh, sure,” Pop gulps, “Uh, Tommy?” A lucky guess; must have been another lost weekend playing thumb breaker with a fist bulging in his coat as if packing heat to back up this Tommy’s shakedown of some numbers runner drinking too much of the skim…
“Yeah, Mikey- Go on in- change in the can- and stay away from the cannoli!”
The butterflies really swarmed when Pop dropped out of his overalls and slipped into a Brooks Brothers funeral special- it fit to a T. That’s when the wisdom of GG’s edict kicked in. Accept nothing but a pat on the ass from these gorillas. There’s wisdom in their grunts if they can back it up with dismemberment. Every arm and leg they measured for this suit stayed attached at their discretion.
Around the banquet table elevated in the back of the main floor, behind half drawn curtains, the Mick held court; spinning yarns, eating with his hands, tearing off a drumstick, popping grapes in his flapping jaw like a Roman patrician; getting price quotes from various departments, spittle hurled as far as his insults for the temerity of asking market value for plywood; guffaws from the Mick’s familiars a cue to continue, Pop quick with time frames for set construction, cost in materials- no one was listing man hours and he was not going to break ranks- if he was paid it would be a fat stack of unmarked greenbacks, though if nothing but sweat and splinters came of it he’d be labeled reliable and that opened doors and jumped his name over others on call sheets. And the bottom line was it was always more expensive to dump bodies than peel off a couple of fifties and call it even. He’d get something for his troubles and for all we know, this was his seed money for the full dress press he put on my mother when he came-a-courtin’- Mickey Cohen and his dirty Hollywood gangster money greased the skids to get mom in the sack with my whack job Pop and spawn your humble narrator...
How did it happen, then, that I came to Earth in this fashion? I don’t know how telling this is but my mother asked my father at dinner one night, while they were still feeling each other out as spouse material, what this word the other girls in the front office threw around in a fit of pique:
“Fuck”… She whispered this mystery word in his good ear; what was its meaning, she asked-
Flush-faced my father tried to employ the most neutral term at hand:
“It, uh, it means: In-ter-course”, not knowing what she knew of the reproductive process though her scarlet faced embarrassment answered that question. That also ended the conversation. However, the subject had been broached…