Thursday, February 19, 2004

So much to read.

I borrowed a copy of "The Gangs of New York" -- the book, not the movie. I've only had time enough to read the foreword, the introduction, and some of the first chapter, and I'm already enthralled, but maybe it's just me and my fascination with gangland culture. (Also, the descriptions of lower Manhattan and its streets and avenues are awesome. I work in the area, so it's cool to actually know where these streets are. Canal Street is so named because there was an actual river flowing down it. Fact!)

And I couldn't believe that this book was published in 1927. The Prohibition Era hadn't even ended. I'm still reading Jerome Charyn's "Gangsters & Gold Diggers," which I feel picks up on the story where Herbert Asbury left off. Because while Asbury was writing this, Owney Madden was still alive and kicking. He's mentioned near the end of "Gangs of New York," but as far as I can tell, Asbury says he disappeared from sight. I find this immensely interesting, because Charyn says otherwise. Sure, he may have dropped out of the public eye -- Madden didn't like publicity anyways -- but he was still actively operating on the underground.

Why do I focus on Owney Madden so much? I guess having read his story, he comes off as the quintessential gangster with a heart of gold. Tarnished gold, of course. In the latter part of his career, he wasn't interested in killing people anymore. He didn't find a reason for it, when a "smile and an occasional firm command by telephone" would get the job done. Mae West, who was one of his lovers, called him "so sweet yet so vicious."

Whether it's grounded in fact or fiction, historically accurate or just a perpetuation of a myth, whatever it was that this guy exuded is the stuff that just grabs my imagination and makes me wonder...

Friday, February 13, 2004

Diary of a gangster.

As I was saying in my previous post, this is what Owney Madden wrote in his diary for a newspaper reporter:

Thursday -- Went to a dance in the afternoon. Went to a dance at night and then to a cabaret. Took some girls home. Went to a restaurant and stayed there until seven o'clock Friday morning.

Friday -- Spent the day with Freda Horner. Looked at some fancy pigeons [Madden was a pigeon enthusiast]. Met some friends in a saloon early in the evening and stayed with them until five o'clock in the morning.

Saturday -- Slept all day. Went to a dance in the Bronx late in the afternoon, and to a dance on Park Avenue at night.

Sunday -- Slept until three o'clock. Went to a dance in the afternoon and to another in the same place at night. After that I went to a cabaret and stayed there almost all night.

Give this man a blog!

Dem guys and dolls.

I'm in the middle of Jerome Charyn's "Gangsters & Gold Diggers." Anybody who is even remotely interested in 1920s-30s New York should read this. It's informative and entertaining, with entertaining information, too.

Anyway, I've gotten to the part about a gangster named Owney "The Killer" Madden. He had black hair and bright blue eyes. He lived in Hell's Kitchen and had earned his nickname by age 17. In the Teens and Twenties, he became a part of New York high society and controlled everything from nightclubs, to speakeasies, to bootleggers, to taxi services. The guy was rich, liked to look good, and didn't give a fuck about cops because they couldn't touch him.

He had that kind of rep where if you got in his face, he'd smile at you and say, "I'm Madden. Who're you?" And you'd hightail it outta there.

He was a sucker for the ladies and had lots of "fiancees." He shot a guy in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, for courting one of his girls. Nobody would testify against him.

He had lots of enemeies, of course -- rival gangs. He was once confronted by 11 men who shot him to pieces. When the cops came, they let him bleed a bit before getting an ambulance. But he survived (though he would cough up blood for the rest of his life afterwards), which was unfortunate for those hitmen, because before you knew it those guys had dropped dead one by one.

I haven't finished reading about him, and I don't have the book with me right now, but I wanted to type up something that really intrigued me. At one point, Madden kept a diary for a newspaper reporter who wanted the lowdown on gangster life. It was simplistic and repetitive, but strangely and unintentionally funny.

What is it about this gangster aura? These were murderous criminals who shouldn't be lauded. Perhaps it's because the era of speakeasies and chorus girls is so far removed now, that it seems like a fairy tale. They're all just characters. But people died in their wake. Corruption in local government ran deep and rampant. To even be in the presence of these characters must have been frightening. I'm reconsidering even thinking about being a moll in a past life.

However, this hasn't curbed my infatuation with pinstripes and wingtips.

Monday, February 9, 2004

The Top 15 Mafia Valentine's Day Greetings

15> My love for you... it came and went.
So your feet are now in wet cement.

14> I'm here To fulfill your fondest wishes
Now that your husband sleeps with the fishes.

13> Lie down with me -- it's my final offa,
Or you'll be lying wit' Jimmy Hoffa.

12> I picked up this card from a slim selection
But that's all they offer here in witness protection.
Love, J. Doe

11> I've waited so long for you to be mine.
Now that Sinatra's dead, be *my* Valentine.

10> Be my Valentine, and we can do it execution-style.

9> Cinderella got her fella,
with a slipper made of glass;
So please be mine, Valentine,
or I'll have to whack your ass.

8> Violets are blue, roses are red,
I blew up your car -- So why ain't you dead?

7> The day we met, my little pet,
I knew with just one look
You'd bear a son, and now that's done,
So shut your mouth and cook!

6> Hey.

5> Youse da greatest. Youse da best.
But you're as untouchable as Elliot Ness.

4> Lust is fleeting, true love lingers.
Be mine always and you'll keep your fingers.

3> Hope da chocolates is good, but y'know,
dis ain't really what a guy's heart looks like.

2> Valentine, Dear, lend me a hand
So I won't be a self-made man.

and's Number 1 Mafia Valentine's Day Greeting...

1> When a goon makes you die,
Cuz you told him goodbye -- that's amore!