Tuesday, January 7, 2020

"The Boy at the Window" - Richard Wilbur (1952)

This is another of my favorite poems. The stark imagery of the outdoors; as endured by the Snowman; juxtaposed against the warmth and love which the boy experiences indoors; breaks my heart each time I read it.

And the sympathy of the snowman as he melts is truly amazing. Being born to die he has no fears at all, while the boy remains trapped, fearing the loss of the things which he thinks possesses; but which in reality possess him. (Photo of Sue and her snowman in 2017.)

"The Boy at the Window" - Richard Wilbur

Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.

His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a godforsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

The man of snow is, nonetheless, content
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to
see the youngster cry.

Though water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love,
and so much fear.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Mafia Christmas - 1946

December 10, 1946. J. Edgar Hoover and Walter Winchell meet in NYC for the funeral of mutual friend Damon Runyan, who has just died of cancer. Hoover, who still doesn't believe in the existence of organized crime, outlines plans for the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund.

Meantime, thousands of miles away, a man hands a piece of paper with the words " "December-Hotel Nacional" to Lucky Luciano in Naples. Having recently been forced out of Rome, he is making plans to get back to the Western Hemisphere.

Luciano had been told that if he was able to protect East Coast ports from sabotage, he would be pardoned at the end of the war and deported to Italy as a free man. Luciano agreed to the proposal and helped win the war.

But, after the war ended, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey would only agree to Luciano's pardon on the condition that he never be allowed back into the U.S. The Fed's agreed and in February 1946 Luciano had been deported.

By November 1946, with 2 false passports, Luciano made his way to South America, and then to Cuba. The Christmas Summit began on December 22nd with the arrival of all of the heads of the various families.

Frank Sinatra arrived on the same plane as the NY families and the conference began that night. By the night of the 24th, Christmas Eve, the topics has become very serious. The future of narcotics distribution worldwide was the vision of Lucky Luciano. Previously the Mob had steered clear of two specific crimes which would involve them with the Feds; drug trafficking and hi-jacking of Interstate trucking.

Prior to the conference, Meyer Lansky suggested that Luciano purchase a $150,000 interest in the Hotel Nacional, the casino owned by Lansky and his silent partner, Cuban President Fulgencio Batista. This was supposed to insulate him from being deported should the US learn he was in Cuba and pressure Batista to deport him, possibly back to Italy, or worse, to the United States.

Another heated topic arose on the night of the 25th. The  Flamingo Hotel opening had been a complete bust. These men at the table had $6 million tied up in what appeared to be a total loss.

This was also the night when it was revealed that Virginia Hill, girlfriend to Bugsy Siegel, mastermind of the Las Vegas venture, had been squirrelling away about $2 million of that money in a Swiss account. Although his fate was not decided that night, plans for Siegel's future were being laid. Shortly after; he would be killed.

But, all was not guns and roses between the two biggest heads; Luciano and Genovese. By the end of the  Conference the tension between the two had reached a breaking point.

Meeting with Luciano in his room at the Nacional, Genovese told him that the U.S. government knew that Luciano was in Cuba and was now pressuring the Cuban Government to expel him. Since Luciano was going to have to return to Italy, Genovese suggested that he should turn over leadership of the Luciano Family to him and retire.

Knowing full well that it was Genovese who had tipped off the US of his being in Cuba, Luciano snapped. He  beat Genovese badly, using a chair leg to break three of his ribs. 

When Genovese felt better, Luciano and Anastasia put him on a plane to the States. Luciano also promised he would kill Genovese if he ever mentioned this incident to anyone.

By February 1947, the New York City papers became aware that Luciano was in Cuba. Bureau of Narcotics agent Harry Anslinger (always referred to as "Asslinger" by Luciano) demanded that Cuba deport him back to Italy. He correctly believed that Luciano was behind the recent surge of heroin into the United States.

When Cuba refused to comply, Anslinger took his case to President Harry S. Truman. The U.S. government then halted all shipments of medical supplies to Cuba while Luciano was still on the island, and the Cubans gave in to the demand.

That is the story of "Peace on Earth" and the Havana Christmas Conference. It would be 12 more years before J. Edgar Hoover conceded that there might be a Mafia, and 17 years until he reluctantly acknowledged it.

Note: Photo from Getty Stock. Luciano back in Sicily 1948.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas with Fruitcake Lady

Forgot all about these precious nuggets of wisdom from the feisty elder stateswoman..... it's a bit of Holiday Cheer for the big day coming.......

Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Friend Edgar.

One of the best things about talking with your grown children is finding outt what they were thinking back when they, and we, were both younger.

This photo is of My daughter, Sarah, at Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore, around 1997. We used to stop there on the way to Ft McHenry, where we spent alot of time, flying kites, or just horsing around.  This is her view of those visits to Poe's grave. It was written 10 years ago.

"Me at the burial site of Edgar Allan Poe, Westminster Hall, in Baltimore, MD. My dad used to take me there on weekend afternoons. This was my favorite of all the old graveyards we visited. I would run around and look at the cool and interesting graves with him.

I especially enjoyed looking for cracks and holes that... would allow me to peak into the old mausoleums. Before leaving, we would always stop at Poe's grave and say farewell.

I didn't understand the significance of that place until I was much older and had read many of Poe's works. I had always thought that he was just some dude my dad used to be friends with!"

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Ian Fleming and Pearl Harbor

In August of 1941 Cdr. Ian Fleming was attached to the BSC - British Security Commission. In that capacity he brought over to the United States another British agent named Popov, a Yugoslavian by birth, but a Brit by citizenship.

Popov had earlier supplied information after the German disaster at Tarino on Sicily. In that attack, the British used carrier based aircraft to annihilate a good portion of the German fleet. The Japanese quickly sent over a team to assess the damage done, and, more importantly, try and get a better understanding of how the attack was mounted.

A month later Popov had information concerning the Japanese. They were requesting information from their local Hawaiin agents as to the strength and positioning of ships berthed at Pearl  Harbor, the progress of the channel dregding, the depth of all channels and anti aircraft capabilities.

This information, coupled with the earlier intelligence, were pretty good indications that Japan was going to attack Pearl Harbor. It was only a question of when.

This information became the property of J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI. He was not pleased with the Presidents directive that he share information with the British. He was a notorious Anglophobe, which is to say that he, like the Japanese Colonel Sato in "A Bridge Over the River Kwai", hated the British. So, this info was locked away in August of 1941, having been dismissed by the Director as "nonesense."

In reality he was disgusted with Popovs playboy lifestyle and had even told others on more than one occassion that he considered the Yugoslavian to "be a double agent, using German and American money to live like a degenerate playboy."

And thus was born that old story about how FDR knew in advance of Pearl Harbor and did nothing. J. Edgar Hoover told him it didn't matter. That was in August.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Great Donut Trial of 1986

The donut delivery guy came every evening at 7PM and the donuts were fresh. They were made at Donut Delite on the site of the present day Camden Yard Stadium in Baltimore. We were horizontal to Babe Ruth's birthplace. Nearby was where the circus train unloaded the elephants each year and I would re-arrange my whole day to go and see them walk to the Arena.

Anyway, back to the donut guy. He was paying $5 an hour for a 6 hour day which beat what I was making in 8 hours. So I got hired on and assigned to a route that took me through 3 counties. It was at this job that I learned all the back roads of the adjacent counties. I had alot of freedom and all the donuts I could eat. It was 7 days a week with no holidays off.

Donnie Laws was the boss. He owned several routes and had vans for each one. They were specially fitted with racks for the donut trays to slide in and out easily. My job was to deliver the fresh donuts and remove the "day olds." Everything was done by Invoice, so we carried no cash.

Each day at 2 PM I would load up at Donut Delite and head out for my deliveries. Donnie was the type of guy who would think nothing of sending you out in a truck with no gas and a broken gas gauge. This was a constant source of irritation. That and the fact that he constantly referred to me as "that New York Jewboy" behind my back.

At the end of each day I would return the "day old" donuts to a trash bin located outside Donut Delite and across Martin Luther King Blvd. from the "projects." The kids who lived there had drug addicted parents and didn't get much in the way of treats. So each evening when I returned there was a crowd of kids waiting to ask for some of the "day olds." I would always give some away and throw the damaged ones in the trash bin. This bin would get picked up every two days and transported to the rail yard where it was shipped out to somewhere as "hog feed." When Donnie would catch me giving donuts away he would climb up on the dumpster and piss all over everything so that the kids would not get any treats. This was yet another sore point between us.

I was paid each Friday with a personal check- I was collecting Unemployment out of New York at the time. One Friday I was forwarned by another driver that Donnie was going to lay me off the following week on Wednesday. His brother in law needed the job. Then he was going to stiff me for the 3 days pay, knowing that I couldn't file a complaint due to the Unemployment issue. He was right about that, but there are other ways to skin a cat.

Taking his check over to his bank I cashed it. Getting back in the van I thought to myself, "How can I hurt this guy?" Inspiration came in a flash as I realized that I had about $1,500 worth of fresh donuts. And I was now also one day AHEAD in pay. Driving around in the city a bit I noticed that there were a lot of people sitting out on porches after the long winter had finally broken. It was now late April.

I pulled the truck up on a street that ran adjacent to North Avenue, in one of the poorer areas of the city. Stepping out into the early spring sun I shouted out, "Donuts, free donuts, fresh and warm!"

It was like a scene out of one of those jungle movies where the natives swamp the plane with arms outstretched for food. The trays were flying out faster than I could count and people were shoving bills in my hand, although I had not asked for any money!

Within minutes the van was stripped bare of donuts and I had to jump back in and race off. The rear doors were swinging wildly to shouts of, "Jack it up- get the wheels!"

I now had about $60 and 2 trays of donuts that I had stashed up front. I took these to Keiths Cub Scout Troop which was meeting nearby at the Harborplace that day. I was a hero to the kids as I handed out the donuts. I then parked the truck outside Donnies as usual, placing the keys in his mailbox and got in my car and drove home.

The next morning the phone rang and it was Donnie. He wanted to know where the donuts were. I feigned ignorance and then he let fly with what a donut stealing Jewboy I was and how he was gonna get me. I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about and not to call me anymore. I hung up, thinking that was the end of it. Sometimes you can be so wrong...

2 weeks later, on Mothers day, I was out front washing the car when a police car passed up and then down the street in front of our house. This was very unusual and should have clued me in, but it didn't.

Stepping out of the patrol car I was approached by an officer who asked me if I was "Bob" Williams. This should also have clued me in as everyone ashore called me Robert. But I answered yes and then was asked to step away from my vehicle. This guy was going to cuff me for something but I had no idea what! He explained that Donnie had filed a complaint and though the warrant was not in the officers possession he had the right to detain me while the warrant was delivered. I was able to talk him out of doing the handcuffs in front of the neighbors and kids and then got in the back of the car and was taken away. Around the corner he stopped and handcuffed me.

We arrived at the local county station house to await the warrant. I was placed in a common holding area which had 6 bunks and 7 inmates- my addition bought the total to 8. There was a phone, which I was not allowed to use, on the wall just outside of the cell. It was very strange being locked up but I knew that things would work out. It was really a question of how long I was going to be here. To make it worse, I was scheduled to start working on a horse farm in Elkridge the next morning at 8 AM. So I was a little worried about making it there on time. It was now 7 PM on Sunday.

I was the only white prisoner and thinking of the movie "Hard Times" with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. Particularly the "I'm bad" scene. Just then the biggest black guy in there comes up to me and asks, "What'd you do?" I replied that I had stolen some donuts. This produced some laughter and a scornful "We got us a creampuff motherfucker!" There were now some suggestions being tossed about concerning what could be done with a creampuff when the oldest guy in there, who had been snoozing on heroin, came to life. He explained that "The white boy ain't no fool- them donuts be worth duckies!" Then he went back to sleeep.

The dynamics immediatley changed with everyone wanting to know how the donut thing worked and could they get in on it? I explained that Donnie went to the Royal Farms store on Security Blvd and Forest Park Drive every night at 7 PM. I also added that he carried alot of cash. You can imagine my joy when 3 weeks later Donnie was beaten and robbed at that location by a "big black guy."

Now that we were all friends they showed me how to use the phone. I had been calling out "Guard, Guard" and alternating that with "Officer, Officer" to no avail. The big black guy started to laugh and said, "Man, you new to this- you gotta do this to get the phone." He took his shoe of and started beating it against the wall while shouting "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" loudly over and over. This bought several guards. My new friend told the guard that "Whitebread needs to use the phone." The receiver was passed through the bars to me and the guard dialed O for Operator, instructing me to leave the receiver dangling when I was through. Prison Etiquette 101.

I called Sue, who was very upset, and explained that I would undoubtedly be late that night so don't wait up. I would call her when I knew something.

Shortly after this call the Warrant arrived and I was transported, again in handcuffs, to a Paddy Wagon and driven down to Baltimore City and the Southwest Precint. This was a very old jail on Ostend Street which has since been razed. I was placed in a private cell next door to the only other prisoner that day- a drunk who had been urinating in public- at Harborplace on Mothers Day- in full view of everyone there. He had been arrested by a female officer and was highly intoxicated and pissed off. So it was going to be a lonely night.

Around 1 AM on Monday morning I heard the cell block gate open and someone was at the cell next to mine asking the drunk some questions. He began by introducing himself as the "Pretrial Release Officer." I could tell by his voice that he was black and educated. He began asking the other prisoner questions, like his name and contact info. For every question asked he received a scathing racist reply. For instance, to the question "What is your address?" he replied, "I ain't telling nothing to no nigger so he can go to my house and rob it." The Pretrail Release Officer went from question to question without pause and never reacted to the abuse being heaped upon him.

When he came to my cell I was on my feet at attention and answered everything with a "Yes,sir." This really surprised him and he started to leaf through my charging documents. He looked at me and asked for some contact info. I gave him Sue's number and address and told him he could also call Military Sealift Command in Bayonne, New Jersey to verify my identity. Although I was no longer an employee my security clearance was valid for 2 more years and I figured it couldn't hurt. He was impressed with my bearing as well as my response. He told me that the warrant should never have been issued as it didn't satisfy the who, what, when, where and why required by the law. He could not dismiss the Warrant but could get me out without bail if my responses were all correct and could be verified at this hour. He left promising to return shortly.

About an hour later he came back with a guard and my cell was unlocked. I was taken to the Magistrates Office where I was told that I had been unjustly confined but that I still needed to go to trial. Advising me to seek counsel I was then released at 3 AM.

I got a cab home and woke Sue up so we could pay the driver. I got a few hours sleep before getting up and beginning my new job at Mr. Perry's horse farm. I would be making $7 an hour.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Your'e My Sheina Maidel (for Sarah Ruth)

You're my Sheina Maidel,
moving faster than the dreidel;
sometimes you spin so fast
that I can't see.

My little Sheina Maidel,
I've known it from the cradle;
in your heart there's a part
that's part of me....

November 17, 2019
For Sarah Ruth