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Friday, November 22, 2013

THE FLAMBOYANT JAMOOK

I gotta' tell you, this David Friendland was a real jamook, an empty suit with a very big motor mouth. He could sell life insurance to your dead grandmother, he never shuts up. He's  flamboyant. He's a lawyer for Johnny Dee, that’s Johnny Digilo over in Jersey.   Now, the Genovese have been running the north Jersey unions since forever, and they make Johnny Dee Treasurer of the Longshoreman’s Local 1588 in Bayonne. Johnny is a little crazy sometimes, but he's a big earner, and between the pension skim and the protection, not to mention the loansharking, its a cash cow for the Genovese.  This Friendland is brought in by his old man when the kid graduates law school, back in 1961. Father and son are both Teamster suitcases, so it seems like the perfect deal, one hand watches the other - you know? But Friedland, first he's oobatz – he's crazy – and then he decides to become a politician. VORRE! Ucciderlo ma non voglio il problema
See, in 1966 Johnny Dee approves a one 'G' loan to this car wash goomba named Pereria. The vig is fifty small a week, until Pereria pays the principal. Of course he never pays the principal. And then a year later he borrows another 'G', same terms. Well, when the hundred a week reaches seven “G's', Pereria decides he's paid enough. Hearing this, Johnny Dee calls Pereria and says to pay up or he'll come down there and chop his fucking head off. This goomba Pereria panics and calls the cops. Now he's really in trouble. And when four of Johnny Dee's associates visit the Du-Rite Car wash, Pereria won't come out of the toilet. So the boys leave him a few messages. Pereria must have got them because, he suddenly develops amnesia in court. Case closed, right? Wrong.
The local D.A. has a hard on for Johnny Dee, and calls the goomba in front of a Grand Jury. Safe behind closed doors the goomba remembers again, and Johnny Dee gets indicted for racketeering. This is a problem. And that's where this jamook Freidland comes in. Its 1968 by now, and Friedland is still a suitcase for the Teamsters, but now he's also a state representative from Hudson County and the “quintessential New Jersey politician”. Flamboyant.  He approaches the goomba's suit and tells him, if Pereria doesn't take a $6,500 cash gift from Johnny Dee and drop the whole thing, then Johnny Dee is going to sue him, Pereria, for slander or liable or false arrest or something. Well, the problem is not that Pereria can't be intimidated. He signs the deal. The problem is, he has a record of not staying intimidated. So Friedland shows the cash to Pereria but then he puts it in his desk. He holds onto it until the goomba suffers another memory lapse in front of the new jury, and the charges against Johnny Dee are dropped.
Of course Friedland takes a fee for holding the cash. And the goomba's lawyer takes his cut. By the time the cash gets to Pereria, there's only like $2,500 left. You gotta love suits. What Johnny Dee did was extortion. What Friedland did was an out-of-court settlement. Anyway, the D.A. is so pissed, he brings ethics charges against Fried land and the Jersey Supreme Court suspends Friendland's law license for six months. He doesn't lose his seat in the Jersey House, of course. In Jersey, “Il diavolo protegge idioti e politici”. But Friedland is now on the Fed's radar.
All this is ancient history, before RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, named after some ancient movie gangster. Anyway, After RICO, in 1971,  the feds start prosecuting the family bosses. And knocking them off.   By 1979 they are down to smaller fish, indicting Friedland and his old man for taking a 360 “G” kickback for setting up a $4 million loan from their Teamster's local 701 pension fund. On Wall Street they call that a “finders fee”, business as usual. Across the river in Jersey, that's a RICO violation. In 1980 Friedland and his papa are convicted and the jamook has to resign his Senate Seat. Did I mention that he won a State Senate seat in 1978? Always, a Democrat, of course. This is New Jersey, after all.
Well, this jamook Friedland doesn't want to go to prison. So in 1982 he turns CW, a cooperating witness. He wears a wire. Now this could be a problem, a connected suit with a hard-on wearing a wire? Except everybody knows Friedland is a jamook, and he's facing serious jail time. Nobody is going to talk to him;. What strunz prosecutor signed that deal? So Friedland tells the feds a long and colorful story that leads pretty much no where, while disappearing into witness protection. And they ship him off to Miami, new name, new girl friend, new job. Now he's working for a mortgage company. Like nothing illegal ever happened in that business. Except six months later the same jamook sets up another loan with local 701 Pension fund, back in Jersey. Like he thinks the feds aren't going to be watching it anymore. Two years later he gets indicted again. And in 1986 he gets convicted again. And this time the feds are not interested in a deal. Friedland is going to have to do something really flamboyant to get out of this one.
So, he drowns. While scuba diving, 12 miles off Grand Bahama . And his good friend, skipper Jack Wynn, tells the Coast Guard he saw the jamook take pain killers just before he disappeared beneath the waves, with half an hour of air in his tanks. Of course Wynn does not radio the Coast Guard until the next morning. Il basterd doveva restare morto. You know what I'm saying? The feds are suspicious and don't think Friedland can hold his breath for long. And sure enough, a month after his demise the flamboyant David Friedland, jamook extraordinaire, reappears healthy enough to call his lawyer from beyond his watery grave and insist he is innocent. Which nobody believes that anymore, not even the jamook.
It turns out his timing was really good. Back in Jersey in April of 1988, Friedland's old boss, Johnny Dee, beats a racketeering rap. But his people in charge of the Teamsters local 701 are convicted. Not that the management goes clean, but the Genevese people, like Friedland, are forced out, and replaced by Gambino people. This is a problem for the Genevese bosses because of the loss of income, and they blame Johnny Dee. A month later, in May, they take Johnny Dee for a ride in a Lincoln Continental, where they put five .38 rounds into the back of his head. It made such a mess they had to scrap the freaking car.
Meanwhile, the jamook has picked up a hitch hiker, a smoldering brunette named Colette Golightly, who had previously dumped her cold Indiana optometrist husband for optimistic and sunny Boca Rotan, Florida. She becomes an underwater photographer, which is how she meets David Friedland. She now followed him from Miami, to Bermuda, to Kenya, to Switzerland to France to Venice, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, with the cops half a step behind. And then for a year, the jamook and Colette disappear almost completely. Clean getaway. Almost because Friedland keeps popping up in various countries, like a whack a mole, just long enough to access bank accounts, before vanishing again. And then the feds get a phone call from a string of coral atolls out in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
The cops in the Republic of the Maldive islands had gotten curious about a flamboyant American resident named Richard Smith Harley. He was an avid scuba diver, and had even bought a half dozen local diving schools. He liked to have his picture taken with his students, feeding sharks, with fish held in his teeth. Flamboyant. He had even started a clinic on tiny Bondos Island, and everybody there called him “Pappa”. But what peaked the Maldive cops interest was that every couple of months Harley would get his American passport stamped when he flew out of the Maldives. But when he flew back a few days later, it was never stamped to show entry into any other country. It was like he was traveling into the Twight Zone. So the cops started comparing Harley's passport photo with the pictures on their alert sheets. And early in December of 1988, they found a match - David Freidland. Same jamook. A couple of days later Frieland was arrested, and at the end of December the feds brought him back to the states.
“Tanned and smiling”, the jamook tells the press, “I had a good time, but I'll tell you it's good to be back in the United States.” Apparently it was not good because he was coming home to his wife Carol, and their daughter, but because the smoldering Colette came back to be with him, if only on visiting days. Awaiting sentencing the jamook announced he had converted to Christianity, and tried to cut another deal with the feds. But nobody was impressed anymore. That's the problem with flamboyant. Over time the bilge tends to fill with water, until its not so buoyant anymore  It's just flam.
In 1989 the bars of the Correcitonal Complex in Coleman, Florida finally slammed shut behind the jamook. And they did not open again until July of 1997, when David Friedland was released from a West Palm Beach halfway house. The jamook told a reporter, “''I can't tell you the nights that I lay awake just crying, because I realize the opportunity I had to do so much good, and how I blew it.”'  He never stopped selling this stuff. He was by then about 60, and after working for a Florida advertising firm, he retired to Boca Roton, with Colette. And he finally learned to shut up.
Maybe the final word on the jamook belongs to Thomas Kean, who became the Republican governor of New Jersey, thanks in part to the deals he cut with the Democrat David Friedland. Kean described him as “He was one of the most brilliant people I ever worked with. He just was a bit crooked.” Just a bit, do you think? Another jamook.
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A ROMANTIC CHRISTMAS


I find it curious that Ernst Theodore Hoffman (above) is considered a romantic. I think of him as a manic depressive, and justified at that, considering that Napoleon spent most of Ernest’s life turning Europe into a slaughterhouse. As a young man Ernst did fall in love, but the lady was married. And when she turned up pregnant Ernest’s family shipped him off to Poland, where he labored as a petty bureaucrat. But he spent his free time composing classical music and writing vaguely creepy stories. One of his more successful tales was a sort of 19th century “Jaws”, except instead of a 25 foot Great White Shark, Ernest’s villain was a mouse bent on revenge. In it seven year old Maria receives a mechanical doll as a Christmas present, which her older brother Fritz promptly breaks. She sits up late trying to repair the toy, until an army of mice attack her doll. She saves the toy by throwing her shoe at the rodents. Now, maybe I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I think this idea has ballet written all over it. Interestingly, that idea never occurred to Ernst.
Nor did it occur to Alexander Dumas (above), the vulgar and prolific son of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave woman. See, Alex liked the Parisian good life a lot more than he liked writing. He had at least 40 mistresses, but he made enough to afford his profligate lifestyle by out doing Andy Warhol at marketing his art. Alex kept a warehouse full of writers who ground out stories under his direction, such as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers”, and its sequels. And one of his minor best sellers was a direct steal of Ernst's hallucination, which Dumas changed just enough to avoid a lawsuit – like changing Maria's name to Clara.
Then, seventy years after Ernst died of syphilis (the ultimate romance disease), and 12 years after Alex died of a stroke in 1870, the ballet idea finally did occur to Marius Petpa (above), celebrated head of the Bolshoi Ballet Company in Russia. In 1882 the Imperial Theaters hired Marius and Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky to create the “Sleeping Beauty” ballet. This was such a critical success that it established the Bolshoi as the world's premier ballet company, and Marius as a world class genius. And then like a modern Hollywood producer looking for a project to fit the marquee talent, in 1890, the theatre brought the pair together again. But this time, having inflated these two monumental egos, the management merely suggested a sort of theatrical sandwich – one night for both a serious opera and a light ballet.
The one act opera was clearly intended to be the meat in this theatrical happy meal, and being the foremost Russian composer of the day, Pyotr (above) got first choice of subject matter. He decided on a Danish story of a blind princess named Iolanta.. But then, early in February of 1891, in Saint Petersburg, Marius handed Pyotr a detailed synopsis and bar-by-musical bar outline for a two act classical ballet based the story Dumas had filched. Pyotr was appalled. He though it childish and unworthy of serious application. But, if it meant he got paid to write another opera, he would somehow make the silly ballet work. After struggling for a month he tried to remain optimistic. He wrote to one of this brothers, “I am working with all my strength and reconciling myself to the subject of the ballet.” But he also admitted “I am experiencing a kind of crisis.” This was good, since Pyotr had a lot of experience with those.
See, Pyotr had a secret that held the potential to turn every problem in his life into a crises. He was approaching fifty, and had reached an uneasy equilibrium with his homosexuality. He had tried to go straight but his marriage to Antonina Ivanova (above) had blown up after little more than a month. This raised again the threat of exposure by envious and bigoted court and church officials, who at any moment could end his career. Each contract, including this one, could be his last. What little stability existed in his life was supplied by his younger sister Aleksandra and her seven children with Lev Davydov. Pyotr wrote many of his 11 operas, six symphonies and three ballets on their Ukrainian estate near Kamenka. And now, in March, while on his way to a concert tour of America, and still trying to come up with something presentable for Marius's ballet, he learned of Aleksanda's death.
He had just seen Aleksandra (above) over the Christmas holidays, so he must have known how ill she was. Still, Pyotr was hysterical. And then, pausing in Rouen, France, he managed his agony by putting it to work. His genius was always his ability to combine the Russian musical themes with Western ones, and to subjugate his true identity into the restraints of his art. And in the “grand pas de deux” for the lead dance character of Clara, he weaved in threads from the Russian Orthodox funeral service The musical themes of the entire ballet became darker and more nuanced. As one critic has put it, “In Clara, he found a parallel for his sister.” A ballet about wealthy Victorian children, became, with the talent of Pyotr's genius, a work for people of all ages and for all time.
When Pyotr returned from his wildly successful 25 day American tour (he inaugurated Carnegie Hall in Manhattan) he delivered his musical score to Marius in St. Petersburg, to be animated. But as the opportunity approached, the world renown genius, Marius, suffered his own crises of self confidence. The primary symptom of this understandable panic was an attack of Pemphigus vulgaris, a debilitating skin disease, usually afflicting Ashkebazi Jews – of which Marius was one. Scratching his itching skin produced open sours, which made it impossible for Marius to concentrate on the ballet. So his assistant, Lev Ivanov, took over.
Lev (above) had been with the Bolshoi since he was eight, and had a natural talent as a musician, as well as being an excellent dancer. But where Marius was a classical ballet master, Lev was, like poor Ernest, a romantic. He followed Marius's general guidelines. He had to, the music had already been composed. But Lev also arranged his dancers like an impressionist painter, throwing patterns of sugar plumb fairies and swirling lines of snowflakes on point, about the stage. It was the shape and flow of the dance that interested Lev, and somehow the combination of all these hearts and souls, the romantic Ernst and the hedonist Alexander, the classicist Marius and the dark Pyotr, and now that other romantic Lev, they all gave birth, on January 15, 1890, to the premier of “The Nutcracker” ballet at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The audiences seem to have been enthusiastic, giving five curtain calls to the Sugar Plum Fairy. The next morning Pyotr wrote to his brother, “The opera in particular was to everyone’s liking ... The productions of both...were superb” But it was a very long evening, with the Nutcracker not ending until well after midnight. 
The weary critics took it out on the dancers, calling the lead ballerina (above) corpulent and pudgy. The battle scene between the mice and the nutcracker confused them: “Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish.” The Grand Pas de Deux, so inspiring to the composer, was labeled ponderous and “completely insipid”. A week later Pyotr wrote to another brother, “Once again I am not embittered by such criticism. Nevertheless, I have been in a loathsome spirit, as I usually am...in such circumstances.” After 11 performances the double bill was closed.
Less than a year later, in October 1893 Pyotr would die during a cholera outbreak, his secret still secure. Although many have suggested he committed suicide, he did not. Lev Ivanov followed nine years later. Finances forced him to work until his death “in harness”, in December of 1901. About the same time the Bolshoi brought in the upstart Alexander Gorsky to replace the aging Marius (above) as director. While watching his intended replacement rehearsing on his stage, Marius was heard to shout, “Will someone tell that young man that I am not yet dead?!.” Within a year it did not matter; Marius was quietly retired. He did die in 1910, at the age of 92.
A year after its premier the opera Iolanta would be preformed in Hamburg, Germany. But although still performed occasionally, it is now largely forgotten. The Nutcracker, on the other hand, had to wait almost 20 years before it would be performed again, staged this time by the Bolshoi's new director Alexander Gorsky, in Moscow. He saved it. Alexander savaged Marius choices, paring away minor roles, replacing the children cast as Clara and the prince, with adults, thus adding a romantic story line for them. Standing alone, the ballet was now far better received. And after the Second World War, it became the classical Christmas production for every ballet company in the world, responsible for up to 40% of their income.
It just goes to show you – those silly romantics may be naive simpletons, but their ideas grow stronger with time because they are positive and simple, and keep being reinvented. When in doubt, we are always inspired by the romantics among us.
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

ET TU Part Seven END GAME



I would like to have attended the Lupercalia, in 44 B.C.. It was the beginning of the Roman holiday season, and the city probably never looked (or smelled) better than it did every Ides (15th) of February. In part this ancient festival of cleansing and renewal celebrated Fanus, the Roman incarnation of the Greek god Pan. Young children ran naked around the Palintine Hill, striking married women lightly with palm branches. This was supposed to increase fertility, or, if you were already pregnant, to induce an easy birth. Women lined the hill and offered up their bottoms to be spanked. This was the beginning of our Valentines Day.
But the festival was named for Lupe, the mythical she-wolf, and that was the major thrust of the official celebrations. Two children were given the honor each year of entering the temple cave on the Palatine Hill where Lupe had supposedly suckled the abandoned human twins Romules and Remes. There the honored boys witnessed the sacrifice of two goats (representing Pan) and a dog (representing Lupe), and their faces were smeared with the animals still warm blood. It was a joyous day, reminding the citizens of their heritage. After killing his brother, Romules had gone on to found the city of Rome. But it also reminded citizens that change was a challenge that made you great, and not something to be feared.
There were several city fathers who feared the future, at this year's Lupercalia. Standing outside the temple, Julius Ceasar (above), newly elected dictator for life, was offered a crown three times by his lieutenant Mark Anthony. It was a piece of political theatre. The crowds cheered every time Ceasar rejected the crown, but to a dictator for life any crown would have been a meaningless ornament. Still the few remaining aristocrats in the Senate thought they saw the fifty-three year old Ceasar hesitate a little longer each time the laurel crown was offered, as if hoping the crowds would call for him to accept the title of king.
Rome had not had a king for 500 years. The last, Tarquin the Proud, had been driven from the city by Lucius Junius Brutus, who had then founded the Republic. The mayor of Rome in 44 B.C., Marcus Junius Brutus, liked to claim ancestry from that ancient republican. But that seems to have been just more theatre, politics as usual in the first century B.C., which was also the last century B.C. Change was coming. And if you were a member of the top 1% of the population of Rome, like Brutus, at the peak of the money pyramid, the peak of the privilege pyramid, the peak of the power pyramid, nothing about change would have been appealing.
Immediately after the festival, Ceasar threw himself into preparations for his expedition against the Parthians. He had already sent the first legions marching from Germany toward the Parthian borders, under the command of his young nephew, Octavian. But Ceasar himself could not depart Rome until after the festival for the goddess Anna Perenna, on the Ides of March, even though it seems unlikely Ceasar was planning on participating in the Anna (year) Perrena (perennial) festivities himself.
Until Ceasar's new calendar, this had been the Roman new year's eve. Celebrants pitched tents among a peach tree grove next to the Tiber. Both sexes wore blossoms in their hair and drank and danced into the night. There was an aura of sexuality and licentiousness. But that was, again, a young man's game, and Ceasar was no longer a young man. He did not spend the night beside the Tiber. But the holiday crowds were also good cover for secret movements and meetings by the Senate aristocrats. Crasius, Brutus' brother-in-law, had decided that something had to be done before Ceasar left Rome.
What Crassius expected to be done was obvious to anyone familiar with Roman politics over the previous century and a half. A hundred forty years before this Ides of March, Tribune Tiberius Gracchus was beaten to death by the Senatorial aristocrats and his body thrown into Tiber. Ten years later Tribune Gaius Gracchus died along with three thousand of his supporters at the hands of the Senate elite. Gaius Memmius was assassinated just for standing for election as Tribune in 100 B.C. Two of his allies, Lucius Appuleius Saturninu and Gaius Servilius Glaucia, were actually elected Tribunes, but they were arrested on trumped up charges and while in jail a mob of Senate aristocrats had stoned them to death in their cell. In 91 B.C. Marcus Livius Drusus was murdered. Tribune Sulpicius Rufus lost his his head in 88 B.C. Then Counsel Marius Gratidianus was literally sacrificed by aristocrats, and thirty-two years ago Cnaeus Sicinicus had been murdered. All of these men and thousands of their supporters had been killed in the alleys and back streets of Rome, even in the Senate House itself, just to keep money and power in the hands of the rich and powerful.
And now the Senate aristocrats were faced with their greatest enemy, Gaius Julius Ceasar. They charged Ceasar with wanting to be king, the same charge they had made against Graacchus, against Memmius, against Saturninu, against Drusus, against Rufus, against Marius and against Sicunicus. The Aristocrats knew they had to act before Ceasar left Rome, because once surrounded by his loyal legionaries, there would be no chance reaching him.
The historian Nicokaus of Damascus described the conspiracy. “The conspirators...assembled a few at a time in each other's homes....Some suggested that they should make the attempt along the Sacred Way, which was one of his (Ceasar's) favorite walks. Another idea was to do it...(when) he had to cross a bridge...A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show...because...no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen. The majority opinion, however, favored killing him while he sat in the Senate. He would be there by himself, since only Senators were admitted, and the conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.” And there was an appealing irony in this plan, since the Senate House had been burned down after the murder of Tribune Publious Clodius Pulcher, the Senate was now meeting in the Pompey's Theatre.
It was a massive complex (above), a multi-use facility, like a sports complex in 21st century America, and had been funded by the late Pompey the Great. Besides a magnificent stage for public performances, it also had, behind the stage, a large walled enclosure containing several meeting halls and markets, and beyond that temples, connected by shaded walks and fountains. It was a protected island of calm and beauty, seperated by walls from what had become a violent and ugly city. The Senators saw no irony in the need for those enclosing stone walls, even though a large percentage of the criminal gangs that had become pervasive in Rome, were financed by their own members, and used to terrorize each other and the Plebians, the working class citizens of Rome. Contained within the surrounding walls were meeting rooms, ringed by a covered portico. In the largest if these rooms, just behind the stage, stage right, stood a statue of Pompey the Great. That room was called the Curia of Pompey.
Curia was an ancient term in ancient Rome, referring to a gathering of the tribes of Rome. The Curia of Pompey was thus the perfect place for the Senate to meet. The only drawback, to the Senate aristocrats, was that the room shared a common wall with what the theatre patrons at the time described as a “monumental public latrine”. And it was in this room next to a toilet, that the Senate would meet with Ceasar for the last time.
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