So here I am, as per Sarah Silverman’s request, sitting in Hallandale, Florida, at the Kahane family estate, with my dad, “Che” Kahane, and his older brother, my “Uncle Joe” Kahane. The unedited transcript of our conversation follows.
ME: So, did you see that story about the “Great Schlep” in the New York Times the other day?
CHE KAHANE: You mean the one by Jayson Blair?
UNCLE JOE KAHANE: Damien Cave.
UNCLE JOE: With reporting by “Carmen Gentile.” Talk about a “nom de guerre.” As we used to say at PM.
ME: So who’s the “darkly tanned older man with a nipple ring?” Anybody we know? I got a buddy back in L.A. with a hundred bucks says he doesn’t exist.
UNCLE JOE: Smart guy, your buddy.
CHE: According to the story, “A large percentage of nipple-ring people are in Obama’s camp.” I didn’t know that. But it must be true. I read it in the New York Times.
UNCLE JOE: Feh! What does the Times know? I bet they don’t even know what people used to call Hallandale.
ME: So, what was that, Uncle Joe?
UNCLE JOE: “Lanskyland!” Because this is where Meyer Lansky lived! This was the home of one of the greatest figures in organized crime, ever. Makes you proud…
CHE: Not as proud as I am of the Annenbergs.
ME: I’m glad you brought that up, Dad –
CHE: I thought I raised you to call me “Che.”
ME: But your name’s Morris.
ME: As you know, Barack Hussein Obama the Second –
UNCLE JOE: What is he already, some kind of hereditary monarch? The Second what?
ME: O.K., Barry Soetero the First. Whatever. The point is, a lot of nasty, right-wing, Weimar Republicans –
CHE: You stole that from Frank Rich, didn’t you? The drama critic? But it must be true, because I read it in the New York Times.
UNCLE JOE: I remember the Weimar Republic… Streseman, Bruening, von Papen, von Schleicher… Schickelgruber…
ME. Whatever. My point is, that money that Barry Junior gave away to his ACORN buddies alongside that distinguished professor of education/mad bomber who just so happened to live in his neighborhood, Bill Ayers, when they were at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge –
UNCLE JOE: Chicago, now there’s a corrupt town, thank God. Do you know David Axelrod?
ME: David Axelrod’s not from Chicago, Uncle Joe. That’s “guilt by association,” as Bobby Kennedy’s pal, Joe McCarthy, famously said. Axelrod’s from Stuyvesant Town, near the Lower East Side, went to P.S. 40. His mother worked at the old lefty PM newspaper in the forties –
UNCLE JOE: Not lefty — “idealistic.” Progressive, even.
CHE: But he went to the University of Chicago!
ME: So did Ed Asner, Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, Robert Bork, David Broder, David Brooks, Ramsey Clark, Jon Corzine, Roger Ebert, Milton Friedman, Phil Glass, Kay Graham, Father Greeley, Sy Hersh, Jesse Jackson –
CHE: “Hymietown” Jackson? “Zionist influence” Jackson?
UNCLE JOE: The Chicago Theological Seminary. Close enough for government work. But he dropped out.
CHE: Honorary degree…
UNCLE JOE: Feh!
ME: And Philip Roth and Susan Sontag and Thomas Sowell and Paul Wolfowitz. The point is –
UNCLE JOE: The point is, get to the point already. I know where you’re going with this. You’re going to say that this Barry Junior the Second, Obama Soetero Obama al-Punahou, al-Harvard, al-Whatever, was doling out the money of some right-wing Weimar-Reagan Republican organization like pretzels at a White Sox game, so how could he possibly –
ME: No offense, Uncle Joe, but my point had to do with Lanskyland…
UNCLE JOE: Meyer Suchowljansky. I knew him well. The old neighborhood, Havana, Miami, Batista, I could tell you stories…
CHE: Wasn’t Lansky partners with that Irisher, Owney Madden?
UNCLE JOE: And those dagoes, Frank Costello and Charlie Lucky –
ME: Guys, we don’t use words like that any more. It’s not politically correct. How would you like it if –
UNCLE JOE: Speaking of dagoes, how about that Capone? Now there was a Chicago boy…
CHE: He was from New York.
UNCLE JOE: Like David Axelrod!
ME: Brooklyn. O.K., Naples, if you want to go all the way back. But whatever. We were talking about the Annenbergs.
UNCLE JOE: Moe. I knew him when.
ME: No, I mean Walter –
CHE: No, you mean Moses. The dad. Where do you think Mr. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s money came from?
ME: Um… TV Guide?
UNCLE JOE: Which just sold yesterday for one dollar! Which was sold to Murdoch for $3 billion in 1988. Some business! Some businessman!!
CHE: One of the greats, Moses. Started his career as a newspaper shtarker — you know what a shartker is, don’t you?
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.