Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dutchman Redux

You might notice that I have precisely three followers on this blog.  One of them is a dear and faithful friend from college, the kind of guy who'd come halfway across the world to eat barbecue with you, just because something told him you needed to see him.  Another may be a minor celebrity/newspaper columnist from Western New York, but it's at least as likely that it's somebody pretending to be a minor celebrity/newspaper columnist from Western New York.  Either way, it's rather weird, yet quite wonderful that you're here, kind traveler!

The third is my mother.  Yes, I know: when your three followers are a supportive buddy, one complete stranger, and your mom, you're either every garage band that ever lived or the uncharismatic head of the least successful cult in history.  We've had over one hundred visitors, nearly all of whom, I'm convinced, wandered in here looking for gladiators fighting space aliens, or goats to send to Botswanan villages (Top o' the mornin', Mr. Clinton!), or, given our recently discovered and completely unintentional naming similarity to one website supporting a vineyard in Napa Valley and another seeking to identify every victim of a rare disease called Lebers Congential Amaurosis (LCS), either genetic testing or a nice domestic Syrah.  Sorry for the inconvenience, philanthropists, geneticists, sci-fi nerds and oenophiles! I accept the hard reality that I'm mostly writing to myself.

Which is fine.  The way this is working out has surprised me.  Every day I sit at the keyboard, and I start typing.  There isn't a whole lot of planning, and except for making corrections in grammar and spelling, almost no revising of what's written (in the interest of full disclosure, I did remove a line in the first Dutch Schultz entry,  about my mother coming home from a trip to visit my brothers in Tokyo and Seoul wearing a "Hello, Kitty!" backpack and a Sailor Moon tunic, but only because on re-reading it wasn't honest, wasn't funny, and detracted from the rest of the paragraph.)  I cannot express how happy I feel to be writing, after a very long time of not doing it much at all.  That no one reads it doesn't diminish my joy.

My mother and I talked on the phone yesterday, an infrequent occurrence.  I asked her if she remembered telling me that Dutch Schultz wanted to marry Grandma.  She sighed one of those tiny, half-impatient, half-indulgent sighs that mothers give to precocious small children who ask impertinent questions, and said, "Oh, I never said he wanted to marry her.  I said he wanted her.  You know, to take her away with him.  As his Secret Girlfriend..."

The human mind was not designed to handle thoughts of Grandma, the tiny sharp tongued lady who kept a bedroom separate from her husband's and hung a crucifix at least as big as she was over the head of her ashtray and crossword puzzle magazine-strewn bed, as the object of a sociopath's lust.  When I wrote that young Mary "would have given the Dutchman all he could handle," I meant it in the toting a burp gun and grinding grapefruit halves into troublesome dame's faces and getting my cut of the dough way, not in the, um, carnal sense.

"Mom, this makes a mildly interesting story completely horrifying."

"Your grandmother was very beautiful.  Plus, she was the one who bottled the beer down in Litwin's cellar.  How could he have not wanted her?  And he was a big shot.  A girl can get her head turned.

"Your great-grandfather put a stop to it.  If he hadn't, Grandma probably would have gone to New York City with the Schultz gang."

Here's a photo of Peter Litwin, with some fellas I can only assume were Valued Customers (Peter is the stone faced guy on the lower left, the one enigmatically clutching a baseball):

Barber.  Barkeep.  Pater familias and keeper of the Family Honor.  I'll have more on Peter tomorrow.

Did this really happen?  I don't know.  It might have been one of those ridiculous things a parent says to a little one, partly out of boredom and perversity of spirit, partly out of conviction that kids don't remember things, like the time I told our five year old that my high school nickname was The Hawk, and that when I walked out onto the basketball court, everyone would drop to one knee, and shout, "THE HAWK HAS LANDED!"  which was a hugely entertaining thing to tell a five year old, until the night I entered a Church league basketball game as an end of the bench, desperation substitution, and play was interrupted by a very earnest little boy running onto the court, dropping to one knee, and shouting, "THE HAWK HAS LANDED!"  and I learned a lesson about The Trust of A Child.

It may have been one of those "Telephone Game" situations, where young Mary, doing her Laverne and Shirley schtick down in Litwin's basement, made eye contact with some beer crate hauling young turk, a guy who worked for a guy who worked for a guy who once had dinner in one of Dutch Schultz's restaurants downstate, and over the years it's grown into something more romantic and scandalous.

And it may be completely true, every Dutchman with a gleam in his eye word of it.

There are all sorts of myths to sort through.  Was Grand-pa really a staple on the vaudeville circuit, where his act involved dressing in a tuxedo and singing "Sonny Boy" to a middle aged man wearing a Baby Huey bonnet and enormous diapers, sucking on a nippled-affixed bottle of Jack Daniel's? ("Climb upon my knee, Sonny Boy...You're only  thirty-three, Sonny boy...")  Did my dad really strike out future National League MVP Ken Boyer on three pitches with the bases loaded in the last inning of a central Florida instructional league game?  Is it true that he routinely beat future Baltimore Orioles 20 game winner Pat Dobson in Buffalo Municipal League pitching duels?  Grandpa sang and danced, I know that, and Dad played ball, I know that, and Tony was hilarious and Jerry was a terrific athlete, and that's all I know.

Dad owned this guy.

Tomorrow, Piotr becomes Peter.

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