Monday, June 25, 2018

The Mick

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 rivals 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 shooters 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 Micks 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 stooges 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: lets say Rigolletto cuz I know theres 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.

Pops 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.

Yeah, GG?

Pop eager and ready, panting and scratching his remaining ear. And GG dispatches him to the same Rondellis where the stench of The Enforcers blood and shit were still clinging to the red velvet wall paper; Pops attendance, but not his opinion, was now mandatory-

And, Mike, sez GG with a finger erect as a gun barrel, dont 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 Pops balls choke in his throat and Im not even a blush yet in my Mothers cheek.

At the kitchen door stood another button man, Tommy Whatsit: Mikey- glad you could make it- we stood for Tony Seda in Jillys 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 Tommys 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. Thats when the wisdom of GGs edict kicked in. Accept nothing but a pat on the ass from these gorillas. Theres 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 Micks 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 hed 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. Hed 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 dont 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

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Brain Eaters
When Pop came a courtin', Mom was the switchboard operator at the Pasadena Playhouse, a legendary theater school that spawned an impressive number of famous actors after the War. Pop was a student and then a teacher's assistant in the set construction end of things, though he did take parts in the student shows, especially if historic dress up was required.
"I was born in the wrong century," he was fond of saying, my guess being he would have done a lot better as a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, given that he knew the entire corpus by heart.
Mom moved up to bookkeeper in time and Mr. Charm eventually lured her away from a very respectable family in San Marino, which legend had it was the second most expensive city from a property value perspective in the world; Vatican City being the very distant pace car.
She didn't talk much about those days but for some reason one day I wanted to know what she remembered of the Playhouse.
"Did you know any famous people?"
"Raymond Burr used to be in a lot of the productions," she told me, not all that enthused about remembering her "insane" first husband and those times.
"I heard he was gay," I said, still surprised by that information Pop once provided. Back then I had a hard time resolving that with the fact that Perry Mason was a darling of said Vatican and had gotten the Pope's blessings to make a hagiographic biopic of John XXIII. Of course, in the fullness of time, we now know better.
"Oh, everybody knew that," Mom said. 
They did? She didn't even know what "Fuck meant and she sussed out that Perry Mason was a twee? I could see that now; all the young dudes who came out to Hollywood, if not themselves or their family, could crowd that closet and an older Daddy would have a field day mentoring young ambition in such an environment. Of course the Church would have to condemn such predation, if anyone outside the family had known, but the Hollywood press was long ago brought into the studio fold and if one's business did not conflict with another's, "Te salut".
"I liked Charles Bronson," she said. "He was Chuck Buchinsky then and had a unibrow. His hair came way down his forehead. They had to do electrolysis to raise his hairline. He was spooky looking."
"Sounds like a werewolf halfway through his transformation," I said, taking mental notes. There's a book in this I was thinking.
"Yeah, we'll one day I had to get in the elevator and this big hand reaches in to keep the doors from closing and its Chuck. I was shivering until he leaned in and in a baby soft voice said he was afraid of Mrs. Davenport, my boss. This big scary guy, can you believe it?"
"They're always acting," I said. "They have no clue who they really are."
"Yes, your father was an actor. Probably still is."
I paid the bill as Pop ran his finger over the theater show times page. I can't recall any of what we decided on that day title wise but the timing was right and he saw everything so I just hoped it wouldn't be an all British cast, but being that it was an American production, it was all British save for a piece of stateside strudel with a barely disguised Bronx honk and knockers not found in nature, mangling an accent heard only in a desperate sound mixer's worst nightmare. I would lay odds she was probably in the first trimester of the producer's third bastard child, which would help explain the gravity defying cleavage.

We parked and bought our tickets. He loved his senior discount. He made the hassle of old age pay out as much as he could squeeze it.
"Mom mentioned Leonard Nimoy was enrolled at the Playhouse and had asked about me when I was born."
Pop had to think about it.
"1958," I said.
"Yeah, I know when you were born," he said, deciding to smirk rather than fume.
"I never saw Nimoy at the Playhouse," he said, digging into his tub of popcorn. Three teeth left but he refused the limitations absent dentition would impose on mere mortals. Theater, movie, popcorn; a holistic system, each component as necessary as the others. I gave him points for forgoing the motor oil, but three stents and pulling out at the last second from a legally fatal heart attack and stroke can beat down even the most recalcitrant of lost cause warriors.
"He was in...The Brain....." He took a pull on his 7up. "Some piece of shit, can't remember."
I didn't want to fill in all the blanks; his mind needed a chance to work, even if slowed by a life that would kill most punks in their prime.
"The Brain Eaters?" I finally said, thinking that had all the earmarks of where his show biz status was around the time I was born.
"Yes, The Brain Eaters. Nice enough guy. Never saw that show, Spock, whatever it was called. But boy did that picture get talked about. We had a scene with a brain that was supposed to be a human zombie brain so we got this cow brain at a Ralph's over on Western. Ed Nelson was the lead and we put this brain on the lab table and they lit the set and he did the takes, poking around this mush, not a prop, but real meat, and between takes we carefully put ice on it to keep it fresh. A few hours later we wrap for the day. Now on a set the props stay put; they're labeled with a sticker that says 'Hot' because it's got to stay in the same place in every shot. I think they take Polaroids of everything now so they can match camera angles- ('digital camera' could not be pronounced, let alone understood, with just three teeth left, apparently...) - but back then, Jesus I think you were about three months old- anyway, someone didn't put two and two together and the next day we slide open the sound stage door and that brain had been left out all night, the ice had long since melted and the reek of rotten cow brains..."
We laughed. Fragments of mushed popcorn rained on the empty seat in front of him.
"So, of course, I'm one of the first in there and get the full effect and just start launching."
Our laughter was contagious, an old couple a few rows ahead turned back to look at us, smiling.
"Of course other crew members see me and the stench has made it outside and when you see a guy..." He had to wipe his eyes
"Yeah, I get it," I said, giggling, "everybody wants to join in."
"Exactly," he said, drawing a breath, "and here comes the director, a big guy, Bruno Ve Sota, and his crew is ralphing all over the place and he's a sitting duck and launches his breakfast and then he catches a whiff and you should see a three hundred and fifty pound man run at full gallop, trying to keep his insides inside..."
The half dozen people in the theater just shook their heads.
"We'll," I said, "he probably lost twenty pounds". 
Pop laughed all the way through the trailers before he calmed down.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Serenity Now, the halfway house down the road from Olive View hospital in the Westwood district of LA housed twenty men, including Pop, who had just been released from the psych ward after a second attempt on his own life. The drop off the ladder would have snapped his neck but the cross beam was weaker than the force of his weight on the rope, so the game continued.
He had graduated from the bin a hero, having accidentally drawn a seeming catatonic out of her stalled awareness by sketching her portrait. Passing the time with pencils, charcoal and oil sticks, Pop zeroed in on this patient, a young woman, twenty if a day, the perfect model under the circumstances, who sat motionless for hours in her corner of the rec room, staring at the floor a foot beyond the hem of her hospital gown.
Her colorless skin and the darkened ridges around her eyes made soft pencils the obvious choice; there was no hue to play with, only the cut-outs of her features against the off white of her skin.
When completed, Pop facetiously turned the pad around to show her the finished result, a courtesy he thought she was owed even though she was apparently oblivious to her surroundings. To his astonishment she looked up, her eyes powered on, the first light anyone had seen beyond the glassy shine of the fluorescent lights. She smiled at Pop and took a second, longer look at the sketch. It was lifelike enough, an academic sturdiness expected of a textbook illustrator but hardly a Louvre bound masterpiece. He had stacked her hands, upturned in her lap at the bottom to anchor the composition even though she kept her arms pulled inside the short sleeves of her gown. The hands gave the figure an air of selflessness rather than of complete victimhood. He had given her a butterfly beret to part her hair on the right as her gaze was always to the left and he wanted to break the formless jumble of her matted black hair. He was doing what he could to get the young lady to appear as more than a goth girl too bereft of life as to even try to end it.
She looked up at Pop and smiled again, this time the line of her lips stretched wide and thin. For a moment he thought she looked ravenous and might bare blood stained fangs. But her face regressed to a mid point between lust and sleep mode, what might pass for normal in a psychiatric hospital, and she crawled over to get a closer look as her fellow inmates and startled staff looked on, stunned to silence and frozen in mid step.
Pop was as perplexed as anyone but held it in; he felt like a cameo walk-on in her epic drama of resurrection, his performance scrutinized by a full house of mesmerized patrons. Not sure what to do and not wanting to break this new spell, he showed her his pencils and calmly spoke to her about the technical uses of various crosshatches and smears that graphite can provide while she caressed his arm and beamed as if the grand justice of love had been revealed personally by Zeus Himself, her illness reduced in His glory to ashes. She extended her right index finger and traced the contour of the butterfly Pop had nested in her hair.

When he told me this story years from when it happened, he remarked at the hoary metaphor of emergence and the butterfly she was so enamored of. Because he wasn't addicted to the conspiracy candy of your messenger, I passed on offering up the possibility that he had inadvertently awakened an MKUltra sleeper agent; the urban legends of that program included the symbol of the butterfly as a trigger mechanism. Such notions were far from certain, and it was his miracle, so I left that alone, agreeing that the fates are hack writers and traffic in clichés so lame they can hide the truth in plain sight.

No way Pop would know how to demonstrate the emotional restoration his redemptive powers possessed as he was by then the most irascible of materialists, née atheists, one could hope to shun. By comparison he made the Dawkins/Hitchens set look like possessed nuns collectively bleeding the holy discharge of the virgin mother. Still, he subconsciously parlayed this miracle of the female half length to restate his mission, which, as always, was to get out, get employed and find a wife who this time would get the successful, sober spouse and show biz go-getter, not the crash and burn dipsomaniac with an ever renewable well spring of unresolved resentments- That plan being the classic demonstration of true madness: repeating the same process ad infinitum, hoping for a different result.

Origin of the Species
By the time I was born my father was missing an ear. There were several versions of how he lost it, some from the source himself, others from official documents culled from Marine Corps files; the responding MPs report has yet to turn up but one could assume that scenario would most closely approximate the truth. Every version did include alcohol and a jeep destroyed on impact. The location, even the country, is in dispute but Pop was definitely in uniform somewhere in the far east. Thats enough for me. Given his genetic imprint, I'm comfortable with any variation save an act of God. He had no truck with the dispensation offered to the religious and you cant be an atheist and believe in fate. It was his fault, whether someone ran a stop or he had blacked out behind the wheel. Hed insist that somewhere leading up to it, he could have made any number of alternate decisions had he just been alert.

I am my father's son, consequently I dont believe anything: I either know something or I list the most plausible to the least- I dont get that from my mollycoddled youth. Thats his gift, along with the blue eyes.
He was honorably discharged, likely because he did see action and was clipped by a bullet. Whose bullet well never know, but if he was impulsive he was certainly no coward and the Corps, weighing the balance of service, let the DUI slide and cashiered him with honor.
He was mustered out in San Diego, the town where he began his military career as an attention-scrambled fourteen year old knot of unregulated hormones, ecstatic for the discipline and uniformity of military school once emancipated from the backwoods idyll of his moonshine soaked Oregon upbringing. Concepts like family dysfunction were foreign to country folk. Whether you were the sire of inbred simpletons or erudite inebriates you simply made the best of the hand dealt. In those days and in that world there was nothing like consensus reality to be imposed by the state, so the certainty of Pops military fantasy was embraced with an enthusiasm that today medical authorities would classify as sociopathic. If he had any recall of his mindset, its certain hed report even his dreams followed guidelines implied by the academy handbook.
Sad then, I suppose, that he had his glorious career cut short by rolling a jeep while on leave; I might have made it out of somebodys womb regardless, but I got here through his decisions, reasoned or not, and play the hand I have with about as much foresight, probity and measured response as my father

When rich people get radical the poor get dead. Whatever salons the popinjay Irish industrialist Henry Joy McCracken attended where the praises of the French and American revolutions were sung in the late 1790s, the result was that only the smallest remnant of my clan were able to escape the feverishly ill-conceived plot known as The Wolfe-Tone Rebellion; McCraken helped design this farrago with the insane ambition to engage the greatest military force since Imperial Rome. Two of my kind survived; two cousins styled OKane, and maybe twelve years old at the most, whose families had migrated down from Derry and the stalk of Bloskey OCaine, slayer of Murtaugh O Laughlin. The surviving duo, one child almost certainly named John and the other as certain to be named William, slipped out of Antrim as it burned, hidden under corpses of Presbyterians and other disloyal subjects who had been put to the pitchfork by the militias and tossed on carts like codfish to be buried in ditches outside the walls. The Monaghan guard, desperate to show Whitehall they were on the right side of history, had flipped sides and allowed the old divisions to fuel their savagery. Hangings, gutting, pitch capping and rape attended the collapse and desertion of the rebellion.

How this slender thread found its way to Cork in the south is all conjecture. What is not in dispute is they claimed an alias, Closkey, after the legend, and their sons and daughters followed as MacCloskey and theirs, McCloskey.