Wednesday, April 9, 2014

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS

This yarn discusses one of the hoodlums who made money and heradlines during Prohibition, a man with whom my father had some business dealings. In it, I hypothesize what might have occurred, had this gent lived long enough to carry out a murderous plot.

TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Once upon a time, there was a thing called Prohibition and many people could not get enough of it. They made it last about ten years during which time many American citizens drank to excess and in the process, spawned an industry known as bootlegging which made scads of money for racketeers. My father got a piece of the action, as he ran what was known as a speakeasy, a gin mill where only certain members of an elite society could come and drink alcohol, illegally. He set high standards. He only served patrons who could pay the tab.        
In truth, most of his clientele were working stiffs, primarily railroad and dock workers. His place of business, known familiarly as “The Hole,” was located at the foot of Hoboken near the train station, the ferry building and the big waterfront piers, in the basement of a tenement building one block away from City Hall and the Police Department, staunch supporters of places like my dad’s.
   Some of his hooch came through a distribution channel controlled by a well-respected man born with the name of Arthur Flegenheimer, a product of German-Jewish parents. After spending a year in jail at age 17, he returned to society demanding to be known thereafter by the moniker, Dutch Schultz, the nickname of a notorious gangster from the 1880’s. He got his wish.
   His name surfaced recently when my sister, Helen, went to Newark, New Jersey, touring that city’s landmarks with a group of senior citizens. The tour guide pointed out the place where syndicate mobsters gunned down Dutch Schultz in 1935. Helen thought this helped personalize the tour, knowing of our dad’s business dealings with this hoodlum.
   Many people do not realize what role his death played in the political world. You see, Thomas Dewey, the famed New York Attorney General, had twice helped bring Shultz to the court house. The first trial was held in Syracuse where the defense readily admitted Schultz made all his money illegally. Since the charge was tax evasion, they claimed such earnings were not subject to the tax law, and the jury decision came out “hung,” seven to five.
The next trial was moved to Malone, a small burg in upstate New York. Dutch arrived a month ahead of time, and then spent money lavishly entertaining every possible resident and potential jurist he could find. The jury acquitted him, stunning both the judge and Dewey.
   Winning these legal tiffs did not soften Dutch’s attitude toward lawyers. He hated his tormentor and began casing Dewey’s residence, intent on “doing Dewey in,” you might say. When Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, top bosses of the fledgling Mafia syndicate, got wind of Schultz’ plan, they got nervous. They thought it would be bad for business. Their solution: Kill Schultz and lots of his pals. And they followed through.
   Think of the ramifications had Dutch bumped Dewey off before Murder, Inc., removed him from the business. What other candidate might the Republicans have nominated to oppose Truman in 1948?  Not MacArthur, as he was busy running Japan at the time. Not Ike, as he was still undecided about politics. George Marshall?  George Patton?  Robert Taft?   
   I deliberated this issue while consuming very expensive legal alcohol (you cannot get good old-fashioned home brew anymore), when the name, Joe McCarthy, hit me. Yes!  Consider his credentials:  War hero, no mustache, looks good on film. I dreamed of his landslide victory, after which the United States would have annihilated Russia and China, taken over the Middle East oil regimes, driven the Mexicans back to Panama, and ensured peace and prosperity to our world for generations.
   Dutch, you blew your chance to change history. I’ll drink to that.
  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

IT DON'T MEAN A THING

This is my last post on this blogsite. My work here is done.

IT DON’T MEAN A THING
This concludes my autobiography, a collection of vignettes pasted together forming an album of verbal snapshots I took while traveling through my life thus far. My yarns describe the life of a lucky Hoboken Irishman who remained tied to his hometown and family by emotional and nostalgic strings.
            Readers who shared my life may notice some inaccuracies. Others may fell slighted because I did not give them much ink. Some may wish I said less about them.  To one and all, I ask their indulgence.
            I dedicate this autobiography to my wife, Angie. I love her.
                                    Joseph James Finnerty
           

AN OLD BEGINNING . . . A NEW ENDING

The original version of this essay appeared in a Florida senior's newspaper some years ago. It marked the first time some organization paid for my prose. This edited version, half the original's length, was printed in our local paper in 2010. It sums up my views about retirement life activities.

AN OLD BEGINNING . . . A NEW ENDING

I retired in 1989 at age 62. Yes, I was retired, but how would I pass my remaining days? It was not an idle question. I had no plans of any specific nature. Happily, I found much to do. Here is a recap of my journey, to date.        
I began to write stories of my childhood while conducting a class called, 'Reminiscence Writing.'  This led me to pursue genealogy. My family tree now contains over 750 entries. My ‘living’ autobiography now contains hundreds of vignettes and has grown to 80,000 words. I keep adding to it.  
My wife and I took our maiden trip to Europe in 1989. Much to my surprise and delight, I mastered the use of a camcorder. I became proficient enough to tape weddings and various social events. A regular Hitchcock, I became!     
I joined a chorus and took two years of class piano lessons to help me read music. Later, I joined a larger and more prestigious choral group in order to tour Australia with them. Who knew that I had a bass voice deep enough to go all the way ‘down under?’  Currently, I perform with two different choruses that entertain residents at local assisted living facilities.           
   I also joined a "Readers Theater" group which led to my authoring a number of skits performed by "Seniors on Stage," and to help conduct a class called, “Act Your Age.”    
I volunteer for Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic. Almost every Friday morning, I read and digitally record portions of upper-level school textbooks for print disabled students. I have witnessed first hand how these audio versions of textbooks have changed the lives of such students, allowing them to reach their scholastic goals.
I welcome today’s technology. I consider my cell phone a close friend. My PC is replete with the latest versions of finance and genealogy programs, and communication devices including Skype and Webcam. I listen on my MP-3 to a wide array of downloaded audible books, as well as music I transferred from cassettes. I converted all my video tapes and home movies to CD digital format and enjoy watching them utilizing a DVD. I have scanned and posted numerous old photographs on our family website. I use a digital camera to take movies and pictures, especially of my three great grandchildren.
I welcome change and enjoy the challenge of trying to keep pace. I am dead certain that my fingers will never text message, but I will stay in touch with my family by other means. I send them e-mail messages almost daily.
Okay, I am bragging, but you get the idea. Life is full of surprises, just waiting to be savored. Staying abreast of change is both exhilarating and uplifting. While I am deeply nostalgic, and have done all I could to record my past, I still live in the present and look forward to the future.

CASINO GAMBLING

Do you like to gamble at casinos? Not me. Here's an essay I wrote some years ago after visiting Laughlin's casinos with a number of senior citizens.
CASINO GAMBLING
In 1995, my wife and I spent a few days in Laughlin, Nevada. The civic fathers of this gambling Mecca promoted an event that attracted thousands of senior citizens. The festivities included parades, dances, exhibitions, and numerous seminars on a variety of subjects. The planners offered side trips to Oatman and Lake Havasu, ever-popular tourist destinations. I enjoyed these side trips, not the casinos.
Angie warily eyes one of Oatman's wild donkeys.
Gambling holds no charm for me. I am not thrilled or dazzled by their glitzy neon décor. I hate listening to the din that emanates from slot machines. It amazes me that so many others (like my wife) enjoy themselves at these venues, happily betting their money, knowing that the odds favor the house. The players, taken collectively, always lose. Individuals may have a run of luck that allows them to win, but rarely do they take their profits and head for the exit.
Why do so many seniors play slot machines or make Keno bets rather than trying their luck on Blackjack or Craps? It’s because they didn’t know how to play these fast paced games and tend to become confused by the action.
I sympathize. The game of Craps requires a good bit of mental effort and stamina to play since you cannot sit down while gambling. There are so many betting opportunities that a novice can easily lose track of what is happening to his money. Each roll of the dice offers a new chance to place a bet. When a game attracts a number of players, they sprinkle their chips around the table like raindrops. It’s confusing.
On the bus coming home from this particular jaunt, I tried my best to explain Craps to a few others. It made their eyes roll. Here’s what I said:
“There are 36 possible outcomes when you roll the dice, and this determines the odds. As an example, if you make a bet to win, and roll a 2, 3, or 12, you lose but retain the right to roll the dice again. If a 7 or 11 should appear on your first roll, you win. Now, there are four ways to roll a 2, 3, or 12, compared to eight ways to roll a 7 or 11. Thus, on your first roll, you have twice as good a chance to win as to lose.”
Unfortunately, the game is not that simple. I continued:
“Should you roll a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10 on your initial toss, the bet is not settled. Now you are required to roll the dice, hoping that one of those six numbers (known as your ‘point’) appears before rolling a 7. If it does, you win your bet. If you toss a 7 first, you have ‘crapped out,’ losing your bet and the right to continue rolling the dice.
I went on:
“Since there are six ways to roll a 7, in contrast to five ways to roll a 6 or 8, four ways to roll a 5 or 9, or three ways to roll a 4 or 10, the house has you at its probability mercy while you strive to make your point. If you are lucky enough to win the bet, the house only pays you even money, not the amount dictated by true odds. As an example, if you won by making the point, 4, you should have been paid twice as much as you bet since you beat the odds (three ways to make a 4, six ways to make a 7). You won, but the house keeps the difference between what you should have received (true odds) and even money. You won, but the casino pockets some of your winnings for itself.
The lecture continued:
“To make it more fair, most casinos allow you to ‘back up’ your original bet once you have rolled a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10. This means you can place a second bet, equal to the amount of your initial one. In this example, should you bet $10 and have 4 as your point, you can place a second bet of $10 ‘backing up’ your first bet before continuing to roll the dice. If you should roll a 4 before the dreaded 7, the casino pays even money on your first bet ($10), but $20 for the second bet, at the true odds of 2 to 1.”
I emphasized:
“Knowing the odds does not increase the chances of winning. It may help you lose your gambling money more slowly. However, if you play long enough, you will lose it all to the inexorable grind of the odds, which in the case of Craps favors the house by about 1.6%. This percentage advantage is small, but it adds up. Lucky Luciano, one of the more notorious racketeers who controlled Las Vegas gambling operations early on once said, ‘Why should we bother to steal when Nevada offers us an opportunity to take people's money legally, and we get paid before we do anything.’”
Rome was not built in a day, but if the Tribunes had used casino savvy, they could have built it more quickly and lavishly. Throwing Christians to the Lions would have been just another diversion at the Forum. The real action would have taken place under the grandstands at the Craps table.
Cleopatra might have said, "Veni, Vidi, Visa. I came, I saw, I shopped. Now I am gambling. C'mon VII. C'mon XI. Baby needs a new barge."

DEAR PRESIDENT CLINTON

After reading a columnist who used some really big words in his essay, I wrote this "Letter to the Editor" in which I assimilate his vocabulary. It drew a lot of favorable comments.
DEAR PRESIDENT CLINTON
I regret that I must spurn your offer to assist your speech writing team for the upcoming presidential campaign. The C.I.A. has employed me to decipher William J. Buckley’s most recent essay whose meaning is at present unfathomable. This assignment will occupy all my time and energy for the foreseeable future. I commend you for thinking of me. With insouciance do I join the chorus of other encomiasts who admire your preciosity. I found you not the least bit disingenuous when you said you lacked an omniscient knowledge of simple English words. You must not be disheartened by this manqué; nor should you be naif enough to think your language skills will ever rise to the level exhibited daily by Mr. Buckley, whose vertiginous prose will forever keep us in a whirl. Your spinning may be a gene thing. Have them check for a lacuna the next time you get a CAT scan.
However, there I go again, in my fissiparous way, splitting participles, infinitives and hairs. As Judge Ito remarked, obiter dicta, he is worried that American lawyers changed the meaning of the word, guilty, into innocent.
Strangely, cis-Atlantic, I worry about the King's English, whereas in Britain, they worry about the King's Irish. Despite the panegyrics that Prime Minister Major hears in Parliament regarding his government's policy toward Northern Ireland, irredentism is still close to the heart of every Dubliner. It is a bit of a ‘bete curiens.’
So is trying to understand lovable Bill.
                           Sincerely,
                           Joe Finnerty

P.S. Here is a Top Secret translation of my message:
Insouciance: lighthearted unconcern; nonchalance.
Encomiasts: those who praise; to eulogize, give high or glowing praise (an encomium).
Preciosity: fastidious refinement.
Disingenuous: lacking in candor; giving a false impression of simple frankness.
Omniscient: having infinite awareness, understanding and insight.
Manqué: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of ones aspirations or talents.
Naïf: naive.
Vertiginous: (vertigo) giddy, inconstant; dizzy; rotary motion.
Lacuna: gap or missing part, cavity, pit or discontinuity in anatomical structure.
Fissiparous: tendency to split apart (Yugoslavia).
Obiter dicta: incidental opinion of a judge; casually interjected remark, not to be considered in any legal sense.
Cis-Atlantic: cis means this side of --- whatever is added on.
Panegyrics: public assembly; encomia or laudatory.
Irredentism: desire of political factions to retain control over geographic areas that have been split off (Northern Ireland).
Bete curiense: bugbear, or strange beast.
WARNING! DO NOT LET THESE WORDS FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING.

WHO'S SORRY NOW?

Our local paper publilshed this "Letter to the Editor" some years ago, my reaction to bombing of Hiroshima that effectively ended WW II.
WHO'S SORRY NOW?
August 6, 1945. President Harry Truman contacted me twice that day. First, he sent me a letter, which read, more or less, "Greetings: The war against Japan is still raging; we need you. I invite you to become a part of the military effort required to destroy our enemy. If it is not too inconvenient, please report for active duty one month hence." 
Later that day he let me know Hiroshima had been atomic bombed.
I hate mixed signals, and this was definitely a case of opposite messages. Did Harry really need me, now that he had authorized the use of our unimaginably destructive new weapon?  I did not think so.
The Japanese were slow learners. Not until we dropped a second atomic bomb, this time on Nagasaki, did they finally surrender. Americans went wild with happiness on VJ-day. The fact that I would soon be wearing khaki tempered my elation just a tad.
While whooping it up on the streets with thousands of others, I met three high school friends. Somehow we acquired a bottle of Four Roses rye whiskey and went to my nearby fraternity house to celebrate. Up on the mantel above a gas fireplace stood a trophy loving cup. It seemed just the jug from which to toast our glorious victory over Japan. I became wretched, and then I retched. It may have been the other way round. Talk about fallout poisoning. It marked both the high and low points of my drinking career.
Harry was as good as his word. The Army inducted me a month later, along with thousands of other young men, despite the fact the shooting had ended. The twenty months I served in the Army Air Force was a lark, in stark contrast to what it would have been had Harry not had the courage to use atomic weapons.
The 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima brought an avalanche of criticism from hand-wringing apologists that angered me. From my selfish perspective, the bombing changed the conditions under which I served in the military. I firmly believe it helped spare my life. I believe I would have been a ripe candidate to participate in the planned invasion of Japan facing a military force that seemed prepared to fight to the bitter end, using suicide tactics.
In retrospect, I wish our veterans had used the anniversary to decry Japan's war record, from its heinous crimes against China and Korea, to its insidious actions against us, beginning with Pearl Harbor. I seethed, watching Japan stage ceremonies designed to evoke sympathy from the world, when its leaders have never apologized to this country for its underhanded beginning of the Pacific war.
I am glad Harry made the decision to drop the bomb. I am glad he gave 'em Hell. On the other hand, he should never have invited me to the party after the guest of dishonor left. That really sickened me.
           

MY BROTHER

This is a tribute to my brother.
MY BROTHER
My brother died on August 23, 2003. At his gravesite, I gave the following eulogy:
“I loved my brother dearly. It is an honor to have this opportunity to share with you some of my fond recollections of him. He was the cornerstone upon which my life was built.
During his lifetime, he played many roles. He was a loving son of James and Bridget Finnerty, a brother to Helen and Joe, husband of Virginia Mooney, father of Sharon and James, and grandfather of Patricia, John and Stacie Wynne, James (JB) and Connor Finnerty, uncle, nephew, cousin, godfather, and friend to many.
Born in New York City on January 18, 1914, he grew up in Hoboken. He began his married life in Hackensack before settling down for good in Danbury. I was his best man when he married, and he was mine when I wed.
Jim was a student at Our Lady of Grace grade school and St. Peter’s Preparatory School. His academic training culminated when he graduated from St. Peter’s College in 1936.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1946, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant at the time of his honorable discharge.
After the war, he tried his hand at many jobs and occupations, but was most successful as a salesman. His smile and warm personality suited him for this endeavor.
Jim played the piano, sang in a tenor voice, and danced like Fred Astaire. He could dance on ice skates perhaps better than Fred could.
He was an avid reader and always had his nose in a book. He was philosophical by nature, questioning everything.
Jim was 13-1/2 years my senior. He decided early in life to take on the role of being my mentor, teacher and best friend. He taught me how to swim and dive, how to ride a bike, and how to box. He took me to all the major attractions in New York City, including the aquarium, the planetarium, many museums, and to see the Ringling Circus, a Wild West Rodeo, and the grand opening of Snow White at the RCA Music Hall.
He quizzed my knowledge of catechism, and persuaded my parents to send me to public high school in hopes that I might win a scholarship to attend Stevens Institute of Technology. Due to his personal effort, Stevens awarded me a partial one. He paid the difference between it and the total tuition.
We did not see each other often after I moved west in 1954, first to California, later to Arizona. Jim visited me in Scottsdale once. My visits east were rare. This never diminished my love and affection for him. He wrote many letters to me, which I treasure. I phoned him almost every week for the last ten years of his life, and relished our conversations.
   I could never thank him enough for being such a wonderful person to me. Yes, he was a curmudgeon and yes, he had frailties and many human faults that angered and frustrated me, but I always returned him to his accustomed spot in my heart. There he will remain a holy, innocent, naïve, endearing and precious man.
He played the cards of his life as best he could. He died peacefully but not without putting up a superhuman fight. God kept calling him, but Jim was negotiating for a better deal. My guess is that is at right hand of the Father, no more than two seats away, enjoying the view and relishing the words:
“Come in dear son, a life well done. Arise, dear James, my precious one.”
Good night, sweet Prince.