Friday, February 13, 2004

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.

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