CHE: A slugger. A muscle guy. Somebody who breaks kneecaps for a living. How do think the Chicago American survived as long as it did? Not to mention the Chicago Sun, forerunner of the Chicago Sun-Times, which was owned by Marshall Field III, the same guy who owned PM. The same paper that blamed the Chicago Fire on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Not to mention the Chicago Tribune! They had real newspaper wars in those days.
UNCLE JOE: Sparky Rubenstein was a shtarker from Chicago, too.
UNCLE JOE: The guy who killed the guy who killed Kennedy. You know, the “community organizer” for the Capone mob?
CHE: “Union organizer.”
UNCLE JOE: Same thing. Until he moved to Dallas to run that strip club and play with his dogs. You know what I mean, “play”?
ME: You mean Jack Ruby?
UNCLE JOE: What are you, stupid? Yeah, Jack Ruby. Another crook from Chicago, just like Moe. Who, by the way, was Capone’s honored guest at the 1929 Atlantic City crime conference. Along with Moe, I mean. And Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik and a bunch of other goombahs.
ME: Uncle Joe, we don’t use that word –
UNCLE JOE: Anyway, Moe’s money came from the illegal racing wire he ran with Madden. On federal land in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Bill Clinton’s hometown. Where Clinton’s mother, the late, sainted Virginia Kelley, was one of Madden’s nurses. I’m talking about the Daily Racing Form, founded in Chicago in 1894, which was sold in 1922 to Triangle Publications. Which was owned by…
ME: Moses Annenberg?
CHE: How did you guess?
UNCLE JOE: Who parlayed that, you should pardon the expression, into the Philadelphia Inquirer. And a fortune. Until, in 1939, when Moe and his son, Mr. Ambassador to the Court of St. James, and couple of other goombahs got indicted for tax evasion in the largest case in history up to that time. More than a million bucks. One point two plus, in fact.
ME: The Philadelphia Inquirer. That’s a mainstream, Main Line, respectable newspaper, right?
CHE: Depending on your meaning of the word, “respectable.” In 1966, when Milt Shapp, ne Shapiro, was running for Governor of Pennsylvania, an Inquirer reporter asked Shapp if he had ever been a patient in a mental hospital. What did you expect him to say? The next day, a banner headline screamed: “Shapp Denies Mental Institution Stay.” Shapp lost. Can you say: Have you stopped beating your wife?
ME: I guess Annenberg knew which side of the bread Nixon’s butter was on! Reagan’s too!
CHE: Anyway, Moe got three years, and paid nearly $9 mil in interest and penalties, on the condition that his boy Walter skated. And then he died in 1942, his lips sealed. What a mensch!
UNCLE JOE: You never wanted to get on the wrong side of FDR. Just ask Andrew Mellon. Or Lepke Buchalter. Whom Franklin fried in Old Sparky at Sing Sing in 1944… even though the Outfit went to bat for him against Al Smith at the Chicago convention of 1932.
ME: But Walter was clean, right?
CHE: Well, he got the empire. And married Harry Cohn’s niece… second wife, of course. Thank God for Columbia Pictures!
UNCLE JOE: And for Harry Cohn’s twitching rear end! Say, did I ever tell you about Joe Jacobson? The Chez Paree? You know, goold old Joe, Bill Clinton’s rabbi Owney Madden’s best friend in Chicago…?
ME: How about a swim?
I dropped my robe and got ready to dive into the pool. Dad and Uncle Joe looked at each other uneasily. And then I knew –
ME: O.K., which one of you’s got the nipple ring?
There was an awkward pause. Then, they both shouted at once:
CHE, UNCLE JOE: The New York Times!
— Thanks to Griffin Mill, “David Kahane” is a late parrot. You can still write to him, however, at [email protected], if only to encourage him to keep on breathing. Letters from Chicago are especially welcome.