Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Red Scarf Excerpt on Omnimystery News

Are you a mystery fan? The Red Scarf was featured on Omnimystery News today. 

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2013

An Excerpt from The Red Scarf by Babette Hughes

Omnimystery News: An Excerpt courtesy of Babette Hughes
The Red Scarf by Babette Hughes
We are delighted to welcome novelistBabette Hughes to Omnimystery News today.

Babette's second suspense novel to feature Kate Brady is The Red Scarf(Lamplight Press; August 2013 hardcover, trade paperback and ebook formats), and we are pleased to introduce the book to you with an excerpt.
— ♦ —
The Red Scarf by Babette Hughes
September 6, 1933

IT IS THE FIRST DAY OF MY CRIMINAL justice class at Cleveland College. Waiting with the other students for the professor to arrive, I try to look innocent. I have taken the precaution of sitting in the back row between a boy with acne and a chubby girl with a pretty face and too much makeup. I wish I were like them. I wish acne and weight were all I have to worry about. I wish I could shake the plump girl until her teeth rattle. I want her green life.
 The room smells of paper and the cologne on the girl sitting next to me. Someone has carved initials in the wood of my desk. Does "H. R." belong to the wood carver? Or to the wood-carver's spouse? But that's silly — most eighteen-year-olds aren't married. As I was. To my regret. And surely to my former husband's, who is now safely buried with the other dead Jews in Mayfield Cemetery.
 The door opens and the dean arrives with a man so handsome there is a collective intake of breath from the girls in the room. Who is he? I knew Dean Conway from his boring speech to the freshman assembled last week in the auditorium. But the other? I would have remembered if I had seen him before. You don't forget a face like that.
 "Good morning, students," Dean Conway says, with a pasted-on smile. "I have a swell surprise for you. The instructor for this class will be a real-life F.B.I. agent. This," he says, gesturing to him grandly, "is Adam Fairchild. "Before joining the Bureau, he taught law and criminal justice at Ohio State University. How about those credentials? How lucky can you get?" Someone starts to clap, the dean joins in and then the rest of the class.
 Fairfield is standing a bit to the side, his hands in his pockets, looking like Tyrone Power or maybe Douglas Fairbanks without the mustache.
 I slide my eyes over to the door. Too far away.
 "I leave you now in the capable hands of Special Agent Fairfield," Dean Conway says, pausing and lifting his chin as if posing for a photograph.
 "Thank you, Dean. I only hope I don't disappoint after that introduction," he says, grinning as if he knows better.
 He takes a sheet of paper from the desk. "Please stand as I read your name so I can get a look at you." As he reads the names, each student stands, saying, "Here." As I wait for him to call my name, I start to sweat. When he does, I rise, manage a mumbled "Here," and slide back down into my chair. His eyes linger on me. Or am I imagining it? No. I am not imagining it. He knows who I am. I thought I could disappear among hundreds of college students. I thought by using my maiden name I could erase the time when I was Mrs. Ben Gold. I was wrong. I should have packed up and gone as far from Cleveland as I could get — California. Oregon. Anywhere but here. Well, it isn't too late — this is my first day in Mr. F.B.I's class. It's a big country.
 I see that he's dressed for the part of charming professor in one of those tweed jackets with leather on the elbows, a blue shirt and neatly knotted brown tie. Even though his hair is cropped short, I can see the grey starting. Still, it's hard to tell his age — 30's? 40's?
 After the roll call, he looks at me again. I make myself return his stare as if that will make him drop his. It does not. I drop mine.
 He looks at his watch. "There's still time for me to tell you a bit about the F.B.I," he says, sitting down on the edge of the desk. "Before J. Edgar Hoover became Director it was just the Bureau of Investigation. But Hoover got it federalized so we could cross state lines to chase the bad guys. How many of you have heard of Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde and Machine Gun Kelly?"
 A bunch of hands shoot up.
 "Okay, I can tell you that we know Nelson's in San Francisco, a source has Machine Gun Kelly in Chicago, and we've spotted Bonnie and Clyde in Des Moines. Believe me, their days of robbing banks and killing people are numbered." There is a sudden gravity about him with that grim look you see on the faces of F.B.I. agents in the newsreels.
 The boy with acne raises his hand.
 "Mr. Arlington," Fairfield says, nodding.
 "So how does a person get in?" the boy asks.
 "You want to be an F.B.I. agent?"
 "Yes, sir."
 "Well, son, you've got some years to go — you have to be twenty-five. And before that, you have to have gone to law school. You have to be a lawyer. And come from a good family."
 Good family. That lets me out.
 The boy sits down.
 A skinny girl in a navy blue dress raises her hand.
 "Miss Sawyer," Fairfield says. But he is looking at me again.
 I feel my face heat up and look down at my white schoolgirls' blouse to check on buttons.
 "Does the F.B.I. take women?" she asks.
 "Not any I know of," he says. "Although there were a few. Emma Jentzer back some twenty years or so. Also, Alaska Davidson and Lenore Houston in the old bureau." He stops, as if searching his memory. "And oh, yes, Jessie Duckson." He lets go of his charming smile. "Maybe by the time you're twenty-five Hoover will let women in. So go to law school, just in case. That way, if you can't be an agent, you'll have a back up. You can be a lawyer."
 "I don't know any women lawyers, do you?" There was a nice edge to her voice. I liked her.
 "Well, no. A great injustice. But perhaps you'll change that and be the first woman agent in modern times."
 The girl looks doubtful.
 Another hand is raised.
 "Mr. Linsky," Fairfield says.
 I am impressed with his memory of names after only one hearing. More to worry about.
 "So how come Mr. Hoover can't catch Dillinger?"
 "Well, Mr. Linsky, we have it on good authority he's in Dayton, Ohio. As we speak. He moves around a lot but we'll get him. Sooner or later we'll get him." He narrows his eyes. You can imagine him wearing sun glasses, a fedora, and that serious expression, moving silent as a cat, stalking Dillinger, ready; you can imagine him shooting. No questions asked. Just the Springfield Armory Model M 14 machine gun with 20 round USGI — like the gun that laid under my husband's side of the bed. Or the Smith & Wesson 22, with a clip that holds 12 rounds. Small enough to fit in a pocket or hide in a hat. Small enough to fit in a woman's hand. I feel a small thrill.
 The boy sits down.
 Fairfield looks at his watch again, opens a notebook, and recites the course agenda: Intro to Criminal Justice; Criminal Law; Criminal Investigation; Intro to Forensic Chemistry; Human Relations. I dutifully write the list in my notebook with a shaking hand, now convinced that he knows who I am.
 "Class, please read chapters one through four in your textbook, ‘Intro to Forensic Chemistry' by the next class," he's saying. My classmates begin noisily scraping chairs, murmuring, moving toward the door. A couple of girls almost trip as they turn for one more look at Fairfield.
 I close my notebook and gather up my books.
 I am almost at the door when he calls from the front of the room, "Miss Brady."
 Pretending not to hear him, I put my head down and keep on walking.
 "Miss Brady!" he calls. "My office, please! Room 321."
— ♦ —
Babette Hughes
Photo provided courtesy of
Babette Hughes
In addition to her novels, Babette Hughes is a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post. She has also been published in the Saturday Review; been contributing editor of Cleveland Magazine; a twice-weekly columnist for theCleveland Press; and has published articles and book reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Sunday Magazine. She has also written, produced and appeared in television documentaries and news and feature stories for Cleveland television stations WKYC-NBC and WNBK-UHF.

In addition to her writing career she has been been National Director of Women's Political Action for Hubert Humphrey in his 1972 Presidential campaign, as well as founder and President of Discover Yourself, Inc., a motivation and self realization program for women. She has also been Director of Public Relations for Revco D.S., Inc. in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Account Executive with Frazier Associates, in Washington, DC. She and her husband live in Austin, Texas, and are the parents and step-parents of eight children.

Learn more about the author and her work on her websiteBabetteHughes.com.
— ♦ —
The Red Scarf by Babette Hughes
The Red Scarf
Babette Hughes
A Kate Brady Novel
The Red Scarf opens with Kate Brady, aka, Mrs. Ben Gold trying to find a normal life as the widow of the Godfather of the Jewish mafia, Ben Gold. Ben Gold is dead and the file is closed as far as law enforcement is concerned. The angry remaining Sarsini brother is the killer, or at least that's what the FBI believes. Good riddance is what they and everyone who knew Ben Gold think, and Kate agrees wholeheartedly. Ben had treated her badly, was not a good man, and frankly deserved exactly what he got.

And, so, as The Red Scarf picks up her story she is attending college, living on the millions of dollars of ill-gotten gain that Ben had left her, and trying to put the life of a moll behind her. But once again, even from beyond the grave, Ben Gold drags her back into the dangerous world of gangster and guns.

When handsome FBI agent Adam Fairfield is introduced as a guest lecturer, she feels immediately drawn to him, and he to her. A torrid love affair ensues and soon, she is risking her life by revealing her darkest secret to him, trusting that he won't put her away for life, or worse.

For Kate, this story is about more than the thrill of bringing down another bad man who is intimidating her community and abusing his wife. This is about redemption. It's about getting on with her life and leaving behind as best she can the lengthy laundry list of mistakes she had made as a young and impressionable woman.

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Boardwalk Empire Season 4: Acres of Diamonds

I know this is going to shock a lot of Boardwalk Empire fans, but I actually felt a pang of sympathy for Gillian Darmody last night. I thought my brief compassion for Gillian might stem from the fact that she is one of the only vulnerable female characters on the show this season, but that can’t be so. We have Harrow’s sister, Emma—pregnant, recently widowed, with very few prospects –and we have Sally—a savvy booze slinging roadhouse owner who is pushed around by Tampa con-artist, August Tucker. Boardwalk Empire has many male characters to empathize with as well, so why Gillian Darmody? Why this week?

Gillian is telling the hardscrabble life of my mother. To my recollection, my mother didn’t resort to prostitution or heroin, but she did marry a bootlegger at 18—a man who could show her the comforts of life that she wouldn't dare to dream of as a child raised in a Jewish Orphan Asylum with no prospects of a higher education or pulling herself up by her bootstraps.

Just like Gillian lost her son, Jimmy, to Prohibition related crime, my mother lost her husband, my father, to the mafia during a bootlegging turf war in 1924. When my father died, my mother was no longer the attentive housewife and mother. She embraced the 1920s culture of debauchery—drinking, staying out late with her ‘boyfriends’, and neglecting her children.  

By the end of the episode I was routing for Gillian to win Roy’s heart. Maybe it will give her the chance to repair her life and “call herself to account” as Emma suggests to Richard during their good-byes. I can’t help but hope that Gillian becomes the exemplary mother and has a wholesome life with her grandson, but maybe this is a wish from my past and only the writers of Boardwalk Empire can make it so.

Read More by Babette Hughes


For a recap of Acres of Diamonds

Monday, September 16, 2013

Boardwalk Empire Season 4: Resignation

My father, Luis Rosen, was a bootlegger during the Prohibition. He was murdered in a turf war by the Jewish mob in November 1924. In last week’s episode, when the screen flashed, February 1924, I couldn’t help but remember the newspaper articles recounting the cold-blooded murder of my father and uncle. What are these mad men willing to do for power? Apparently the Boardwalk Empire characters are eager to pay the price for a piece of the pie.


In the beginning of Sunday night’s episode, Detective Van Alden, a.k.a. Mueller, is willing to crack some skulls to buy his wife a new davenport—a far cry from where he was in Season One. He is O’Bannon’s muscle during the day and Capone’s “political pressure” during the evenings. How quickly Van Alden has gone from praying and preaching the gospel of sobriety to defending a group of booze swilling sociopaths. At the democratic rally, we watch Van Alden embrace his new power when letting out a roar of strength before he bats another Democrat over the head at Capone’s request—making sure these citizens spread the word “…voting Democrat is bad for your health.”

Our next shocker for a plunge at power is Eddie. Last season he took a bullet in the leg to protect his beloved boss, Nucky, and he is ready for his promotion. Eddie has proved to be Nucky’s right-hand man in business and hygiene, and he “resigned” in order to get Nucky’s attention. Fortunately for Eddie, Nucky didn’t call his bluff. Will Eddie be successful in his new powers or will he finally fail Nucky?

BE’s third swing for power is the new character Dr. Narcisse. The New York businessman strolls into the Onyx with Cora, sharing his knowledge of God’s word and his own personal beliefs—“ a thing mixed is a thing weakened”. Narcisse suspends all black entertainment acts at the Onyx to muscle Nucky and Chalky into 10% of Onyx’s income, using Cora’s testimony of Dunn “raping” her as leverage.  He also plants the beginnings of a wedge between Nucky and Chalky—pointing out that a relationship between a black and white man can only be based on the white man’s need to use the black man to gain power. I have a feeling with the build of race relations and the introduction to Dr. Narcisse, an equivalent to a black supremacist, we are going to see the two communities clash, but who will win the struggle according to history?


Speaking of history, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, has made his appearance this season. He is in Atlantic City and ready to infiltrate the northeast crime ring through the US Attorney General. It looks like Nucky is on the government’s radar yet again. Is his stronghold in DC worth being in Hoover’s  spotlight?

Read more by novelist and Huff Post blogger Babette Hughes. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Boardwalk Empire: Season 4, “New York Sour”




With Harrow home from his last tour of “business” and a mob boss truce for Nucky maybe the episode should’ve been entitled “Clean Slate” considering both men are starting over for themselves. Harrow is back home in Wisconsin after “dealing with” some home title “issues” and Nucky, now a bachelor, is seducing new actresses and has his hand back on the reins of Atlantic City after paying Masseria and Rothstein some fat cash.


Chalky’s built his new night club, Onyx, upon the ruins of Babette’s (sorry to see my namesake go!), and the club’s opening night offers the dazzling party scene of the roaring 20s—scantily clad black women shaking their tail feathers while white men and women guzzle their giggle water and use words like “primitive”.

Gillian is also trying to be the poster girl for motherhood reform during her trial to gain back custody of Jimmy’s son from Harrow’s gal, Julia. Little do the courts know, she is fully addicted to heroin and selling herself for $30 a customer to save the cat house. Will Ron Livingston from The Office save her from herself? (That woman is pure evil, and although I am not a violent person, I am hoping that her days are numbered.)

Al Capone is making a mark for himself through the newspaper, and I am sure the writer will be sure to spell Al’s name right in the future.

It may be a clean slate for most of the Boardwalk Empire characters this premiere but there is one man who has already muddied his opportunities for success. Chalky White’s right-hand man, Dunn, has stirred up some trouble for “15 minutes of jelly”. While Chalky and Dunn are in New York, scouting acts to bring to the Onyx, Dunn takes the talent agent’s wife up on a scandalously irresistible offer. In the midst of “jelly”, Dunn and the wife are caught by the talent agent, Dickey. Without giving away the story, let’s just say, somebody dies. With the birth of Onyx and Dunn’s indiscretions, I’d say BE writers are making race a major topic this season.

Here’s a recipe for a New York Sour for next Sunday. Enjoy!

Looking for more Prohibition Mayhem?

Nonagenarian author Babette Hughes has penned three books, including the forthcoming The Red Scarf, due out in July. She lives in Austin, Texas. To learn more about Babette and her work, please go to: http://babettehughes.com/author.html

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Left Breast - Chapter 2

May 20, 2013, The Huffington Post, Babette Hughes
Writer Babette Hughes shared her experience with breast cancer in a powerful blog post recently. Here is a follow up to that must-read blog.
Back home after the diagnosis, I make dinner, noting that the salmon smells fishy. I cut the ends of the string beans and wash the romaine for a salad. I hear my husband's key in the door. He comes into the kitchen, says hi and gives me a kiss. His face feels scratchy. "It's cancer," I say, smiling. (Smiling!) I feel my absurd grin, pleased to be crazy.
But over the next days my brain begins to let in a little news at a time, like a gate that opens and closes at mysterious intervals, as if it knows how much my mind can handle without imploding. The gate swings open when I'm alone and I find myself crying at a traffic light; or on the freeway (risk cheating cancer by getting killed by the pickup truck tailgating me); or standing in the shower with a tight heart. The gate closes when I run errands, have dinner with friends, sit in the radiation waiting room. As the hours and days go by the gate stays open longer and longer until I begin to get it. I get it. This thing on my breast can kill me! Reading and writing become lost to me. The now wide-open gate has me imagining the unthinkable. Imagining my own death, my absence from my own life. In a crazy, perverse way it is secretly thrilling. I have cancer! I'm still alive! I check out my will and talk to my husband about his options when he's a widower.

When you show up for your doctor's appointment you are handed a clipboard on which lies a questionnaire with a laundry list of every disease, malady and symptom known to man. You are supposed to check those that you have or had, or think you have or had. You are also asked to check whether you have it sometimes, often, never or frequently. You obediently ponder the clipboard and make your checks.
And wait. And wait. Finally a woman fetches you and your clipboard. She leads you into a small room. There is an examining table, a desk, a computer, a chair. There is an illustration of the human body on the wall with its map of organs and blood vessels and arteries, but no genitalia. It is as sexless as I have felt since I found the lump.
The assistant invites me to sit in the chair. She is young and pudgy with pretty blond hair. She is wearing a tiny diamond engagement ring. She settles in front of the computer, and looks at the clipboard. Then she says, "When was your last mammogram?"
"Didn't I fill that out? I thought I filled it out."
She looks at me. "No, you didn't."
"My last mammogram? It was a year ago, I think. Well, actually, a little over a year," I lie.
Actually it is almost two years but I'll be damned if I'll admit it to this sullen kid.
"Are your parents alive?" she asks, turning back to the screen.
"No."
"What did they die of?"
"My mother died of polycythemia --well actually it was leukemia, but the polycythemia started it," I say.
"And?" she says, waiting, fingers poised on the keyboard.
I am silent. I hear voices in one of the examining rooms.
"Your father?"
"My father."
I clear my throat. "He died young. No medical history there -- he died too young to get anything."
I look at my watch. I want to get out of this barren room with the sexless person on the wall.
She turns to me and I smell her perfume. It smells of lilac. "What did he die of?"
I am feeling a familiar rush of shame. It has rendered me speechless.
"So what did he die of?" she asks again.
I sigh. "Murder. He died of murder."
She looks at me.
"He was a bootlegger," I explain. I smile.
She turns to the computer and types something.
"It wasn't my fault, I was two years old," I want to say.
She sticks a thermometer in my mouth, puts a blood pressure sleeve on my arm and starts pumping. She doesn't make eye contact. I decide I don't like her.
She hands me a paper robe. "Take everything off above the waist. The doctor will see you shortly," she says, as she leaves the room.
I do as I am told. And wait, wishing I had brought something to read because "shortly" turns out to be a long time.
Why didn't I say "accident," to this stone-faced girl? Why didn't I say he died in an automobile accident. Or that he died in the war -- I could have said he was a war hero! Or simply repeated my mother's lie: "He died of pneumonia," she told me when I was old enough to ask.
I believed her. My father wasn't a murdered bootlegger, he died innocently in bed of pneumonia. So I don't have cancer cells multiplying mysteriously in my breast, and therefore will live to be an old, old lady with great grandchildren, no matter what the doctor says if he ever turns up.
My mother never uttered a word about my father's violent death. Even 40 years after his murder she was still unable to speak the truth. But denial was too late for me. Cancer doesn't lie. Cancer, unlike murder, doesn't kill in seconds. It's always there, on standby. And as I sat waiting for the doctor, my bare breasts covered in a paper jacket, I envied my mother's lifelong delusion.

Monday, June 3, 2013

MOTHER


My mother fascinated my friends with how unmotherish she was; how charming, vivacious, flirtatious; how much like a girlfriend.  Back then mothers stayed home but she went to work every day in high heels and bracelets; people thought she was  my sister.
             But I wanted her to be like their apron clad moms who didn’t scare and excite and hypnotize and then slip away like ether. I longed for safer plumper arms, the smell of dinner cooking in a warm kitchen. My mother brought home cardboard cartons of Chinese food for our dinner smelling of her office and stale perfume.
            After being raised in an Dickensian orphanage in 1901, from the age of 3, widowed at 26 by my bootlegging father’s murder by the Mafia, she was too damaged for mothering and shipped me around to relatives while she lived the life of a flapper. When the Great Depression hit and she lost her money she came home to my brother and me.
            Self-educated in literature, music and art, fluent in the German and Hebrew that she learned growing up in the Jewish Orphan Home, she had nothing but scorn for the institutions the rest of the world lives by—school, organized religion, government, marriage, politics. But anyone who dared label her iconoclast, existentialist or feminist or any other “ist” would have been met with a withering look. Her independence and courage thrilled me because I always knew how alone and frightened she was.

            She could electrify a room with her brilliance and charm but she didn’t know when or how to stop; people became restless, they looked away; they would leave if they could. I was ashamed of her. I was proud of her. But I didn’t know what I had learned  from her. That is, until my divorce. Needing independence and courage, I discovered it within myself, put there by her spirit. Also, the pleasure of learning and the life of the mind. Integrity of the self.  Compassion from watching her struggle, and even, from my own unmet needs, how to mother my children.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Left Breast – Chapter 1


May 7, 2013, The Huffington Post, Babette Hughes
We sit in a circle. The husbands, too. Both facilitators are breast cancer survivors. Everyone, except the husbands, takes turns talking. The stories are heartbreaking and boring. And routine, astonishing, terrifying and exhausting. But after the husbands are taken into another room (to talk about, ahem, their breastless feelings), the stories get more interesting. There is the boyfriend who ran away after the diagnosis, the husband whose insensitivity borders on sadism ("All he said after my diagnosis was, Can we still go skiing next week?") A mother cries because she doesn't want to wear a wig to her daughter's wedding. The woman who has already outlived by a year her prognosis of imminent death talks and talks as if her unbroken chain of outpouring words are keeping her alive. Fear, like a foul smell, permeates the air. Outside, there are the familiar sounds of cars heading to the office, supermarket, dry cleaners or daycare, as if we were not sitting here in a circle of surprised despair. The air is crisp out there, and you remember other autumns when you were growing up in Cleveland. The air was fragrant then, the trees brilliant with color, and you would not have been able to imagine sitting in Texas with a group of ladies soon to be maimed -- or to die.
I sit mute, listening to each sad story, as if it weren't my story, too, as if I had wandered into the wrong movie at the multiplex. Then it is my turn to speak and all eyes turn to me, waiting. I sit there. I have nothing to say to these strangers. I have no story to tell. All I can think to say is I'm angry.
When the facilitator says I should validate my anger, I want to hit her. I hate the psychobabble, the hard plastic chairs, the snacks, the outpourings, the shared misery. I hate the word "share." I feel patronized. But also strangely relieved. I didn't know until that moment how angry I was. I suddenly remember that in last night's dream, I was standing alone somewhere, surrounded by the fury of an enraged gale. And that I woke damp with perspiration and a pounding heart.
What am I angry at? My breast? How can you be mad at your own breast? At God? Please. God doesn't do breasts. At my kind, supportive, sensitive, frightened husband? Yes, you bet, for his health and breastless body.
I -- we -- are given platitudes. About mental imaging. Meditation. Optimism. Sharing feelings. About attitude. As if cancer gives a damn about attitude. Or about validating your anger, for that matter. Although Norman Mailer once wrote that if he hadn't stabbed his wife he would have got cancer, it is obviously too late for me to stab anyone. I want to go home.
At the end of the session, everyone hugs. I smell their face powder, feel their arms around me. One lady just wants to shake hands. Her skin is as soft as a baby's. I leave the support group feeling as if I have a "C" tattooed on my forehead.
But I don't want to be defined by cancer. What I really am is a mother and stepmother. What I really am is a grandparent, a wife, a writer, a friend. What I really am is a reader of books, a watcher of movies. A listener, a walker, a weight lifter! I never go back to the support group. I don't belong there. It is a case of mistaken identity.
But I am diagnosed. I don't even have to say "with cancer," because no one ever says I've been diagnosed with the flu, or I've been diagnosed with arthritis or I've been diagnosed with shingles. "Diagnosed" is the code word for cancer. It contains all the news.
The word slides off your brain like rain because you know your doctor is mistaken. Cancer is an abstraction, a ridiculous interruption of your life. You know it is out there with the criminals and rapists and hurricanes; of course you know that. It is what happens to your grandmother, or your friend's mother-in-law, or your neighbor. But surely not to you. Laboratories make mistakes like that all the time. Ask the experts, read the statistics: If you're slender, if you don't smoke, if you eat your vegetables and exercise and get mammograms and have no cancer in your family and take an aspirin every day, a cancer tumor doesn't just grow in your right breast like a weed. Obviously, my mammogram has been substituted for someone else's, some poor, sick woman. (You'll take her your tuna and mushroom casserole; you'll drive on her car pool days; you'll do her grocery shopping; only please, please, let this thing be hers.)
But I was sent for a sonogram. The lady doctor pushed a gadget over and over the suspicious breast like some crazy old scavenger with his metal detector mining for treasure at the beach. Her tone announcing cancer is as brisk and matter-of-fact as the plumber's who came to fix your shower last week. But you still don't get it. Your brain has shut down. The word coming out of this doctor's mouth could have been "lamp" or "tree" or "allergy." Baring your breast and having cancer is too embarrassing. Your mind has skittered away; it has looked elsewhere.
As I make my way to the dressing room, I think insanely that my breast and I would have been perfectly fine if it weren't for that stupid f*cking sonogram.

Friday, May 10, 2013

MOTHER’S DAY BLOG, THE DUTCHESS


In the pictures I have of my mother she looks like the Duchess of Windsor. My husband, who didn’t like her, would say, Oh oh, here comes the Duchess, when he heard her car in the driveway. Raised in an orphanage, how did she come by that royal presence? How could she have been so fragile, and yet accomplish so much in her young widowhood, raising my brother and me? How can she exist so powerfully after she is dead? She seems to have left tracks in my brain like indelible markers that are more than memory, leaking into my present.
          She died while I was downstairs in the hospital coffee shop drinking a milkshake and leafing through Newsweek. I found her on the floor of the room after her last desperate moment of pride trying to get to the bathroom alone. She was crumpled on the floor at the foot of the bed, a terrifying stranger in a hospital gown. I screamed for the nurse who came running. It took the two of us to get her back in the bed where she lay, dignified once again, even in this unbelievable death.
          In life she didn’t look like anyone’s mother. She was too young-looking, too chic. Back then mothers stayed home but she went to work every day in high heels and bracelets; people thought she was my sister. She fascinated my friends with how unmotherish she was, how charming, vivacious, flirtatious; how much like a girlfriend. But I wanted her to be like their apron-clad moms who didn’t scare and excite and hypnotize and then slip away like ether. I longed for safer plumper arms, the smell of dinner cooking in a warm kitchen. My mother brought home cardboard cartons of Chinese food for our dinner, smelling of her office and stale perfume.
          She was a big talker. There didn’t seem room enough in her head and mouth for all she had to say. Her favorite subjects were politics and moral choice. Communism and capitalism Socialism. Suffrage. The New Deal. She pontificated on courage and independence and spoke about art and music as if she were raised in a palace instead of an orphanage.
          Reading everything and remembering everything she read she loved getting into political arguments with people because her head was stuffed with esoteric information just waiting to spring on some poor Republican. Who would soon find himself hopeless outmatched by her facts, her passion, her verbosity..
          In those days the sex life of single women was hidden, but I could always tell when she had a date with a new boyfriend because she’s get in such a high mood. Once she sent me to live with a relative while she went off to a hotel. To my vast relief, that one lasted only a couple of months and she came back for me. Other times I remember hearing a man’s voice from my bed at night, laughter, the clinking of ice in glasses. The next day my mother would look younger, prettier; even then I recognized the signs. The whisky glasses. The scent of a male mixed with the sort of flowery mannerliness my mother had in those days. Once there was a whole bouquet in a vase; he was a sport, my mother said. She was always alone when I got up for school the next morning and I wondered if maybe her boyfriend was married. But I pretended she didn’t let him stay overnight because of me--for her dignity and mine.
          Self-educated in literature, music and art, fluent in the German and Hebrew that she learned growing up in the Jewish Orphan Home, she had nothing but scorn for the institutions the rest of the world lives by—school, organized religion, government, marriage, politics. But anyone who dared label her iconoclast, existentialist or feminist or any other “ist” would have been meet with a withering look. Her independence and courage thrilled me because I always knew how alone and frightened she was. She was my heroine. No book or movie ever had such a star.
          But she was too alone and overwhelmed for mothering, too damaged from her orphanhood. Exhausted most of the time, often asthmatic, she shipped me around to the relatives she didn’t like. I never rebelled, not even in adolescence. My girlfriends’ complaints about their mothers amused me because when it came to mothers I was the one with plenty to criticize, and I never did. The way I saw it the only thing that stood between me and total terrifying orphanhood was my flawed and fragile mother. Who somehow always managed to be there. Sort of. More or less. Anyway, I wasn’t about to pick on my mother. I felt this kind of weird loyalty. I had to take care of her. But of course I couldn’t. I was too young for her neediness and fragility.
          So I broke away from her grasp on my life and heart into a teenage marriage. Her unhappiness at my abandonment oozed from her pores, her moist eyes, her eager misery, blackmailing me into visits I didn’t want to make, sneaking money to her from my grocery allowance. I was a dutiful daughter, attentive to her complaints and demands for attention, feeling as guilty as if her frailties were my own.
She could electrify a room with her brilliance and charm, but she didn’t know when or how to stop; people became restless; they looked away, they would leave if they could. I was ashamed of her. I was proud of her. But I didn’t know what I had learned from her. That is, until my divorce. Needing independence and courage, I discovered it within myself, put there by her spirit. Also, the pleasure of learning and the life of the mind. Integrity of the self. Compassion, from watching her struggle, and even, from my own unmet needs, how to mother my children.
I was often asked why my attractive youthful mother never remarried. But deprived from birth of parental love and widowed at twenty-eight, she seemed to demand more love than there was in the world, more than anyone could ever give her, souring every relationship of her life.
The night before her funeral I dreamed I was the only pallbearer.

Monday, May 6, 2013

THE FUNERAL


I have a blurred mental image of my mother coming home from my daddy’s funeral. She is wearing a veiled black hat that scares me. I am two years old and had been left at home, put to bed for my nap by a big colored lady. But I can’t sleep. The house feels too quiet. Something big is wrong. I stand up in my crib and scream. No one comes.
            Finally I am taken downstairs. Grown-ups in dark clothes are standing around whispering. There is the cloying smell of sweet pastries, the sound of china; ladies in aprons are busy in the kitchen. One of them gives me a cookie. She is crying. I have never seen a grown-up cry before and I start to wail. A man picks me up; his face feels scratchy. I scramble down and look for my mother.
            I see her sitting in a big chair and run to her. She pulls me onto her lap. I tug at the black veil knocking off her hat but, still, I cannot stop crying. “Babette, honey, shh, don’t cry, it’s all right,” she murmurs. I feel her heart pound through my dress and, weeping, hang onto her until someone wipes my runny nose and pulls me away.
           
My mother sits quietly in the big chair listening to the noises of the kitchen and the murmur of the mourners’ voices. Hearing a piercing screech she thinks it came from her own mouth. But no one turns to her and she realizes it was a screaming tea kettle. She stares at the mourners in their dark clothes and sorrowful faces as they move about the dining room table laden with platters of herring, smoked whitefish, smoked salmon, cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, bagels and Kaiser rolls. Home- made sponge cake, macaroons and fig newtons, baked by the ladies in the kitchen that morning while her husband was being buried.
            Upstairs, my daddy’s suits hang limply with their empty sleeves, neatly arranged by color and season, the dark blues and grays giving way along the rack to the summer creams and whites. Shallow drawers hold rows of jeweled cuff links, a rainbow of ties stretches along a wall, and dozens of stiff-collared silk shirts hang neatly in whites and pastels.
             Now the mourners are filling the large, proud living room after first  washing their hands from the pitcher on the front stoop. (Someone had set up the ancient Jewish funeral ritual as if this were a benign death and you could wash off the wreckage.) My mother looks around for my brother, a tow-headed blue-eyed boy of six, but he has already escaped into the  backyard our daddy had equipped with swings, jungle gyms, even a child-sized car. Peering through the window she sees him riding his car on the hard, gray snow, his correct little tie off and already a rip in the scratchy suit jacket bought especially for his father’s funeral.
            Earlier, at the burial, he had dutifully thrown a small handful of dirt into the freshly dug grave as the rabbi muttered the Kaddish. I see him there in the shimmer of a dream and imagine heat rays emanating from the open grave like the disturbed air of hell. Suddenly my mother’s knees buckle under her. The funeral director with his neat, black suit and blank eyes reaches out and steadies her with the expressionless efficiency of his profession, corpses and collapsing widows as unremarkable to him as an accountant’s pencil and adding machine. Her dizziness is actually due to the pill given her by a Dr. Magio who is said to be kept on a retainer for the time a bullet or two has to be discretely removed, and who was called when my mother was unable to stop screaming. She feels shame in her near-collapse and extravagant sorrow -- mixed as it is with a curious and confusing measure of relief that Lou Rosen’s vitality and violence are now subdued six feet under. She is only 27 after all, her flesh still young, her thighs still slender and surely not meant never to open to a man again.
            But if she imagines freedom and options with a pounding heart she learns soon enough that the dead do not leave. Even without the lingering scent of his aftershave, the damp towel across the bed, the diamond stick pin and gold cuff links on the bedside table, Lou is an ongoing gauzy presence, everywhere and nowhere, hovering over her, over all of us.
             Now, sitting in the living room, my mother watches a group of three  men as they enter her house and hang up their coats and fedoras on the racks provided by the Berkowitz Funeral Home. She knows that the big man, the one with the drooping eyelids and heavy glasses, ordered her husband’s murder--she wonders if the two men with him were the actual killers. She also knows that the hundreds of white carnations and roses covering his casket were sent by their polite murdering hands. But she is not afraid; she has been a bootlegger’s wife long enough to know that as long as they keep their silence widows and children are sacrosanct. She has been a bootlegger’s wife long enough to understand the code; no one will harm her unless, of course, she breaks it and reveals his name, which she knows to be Joe Lonardo, the Cleveland Mafia boss who is now offering his clean hand to her in solemn-faced sympathy. She shakes his hand and feels her stomach rise to her throat. She is afraid she will vomit on his wingtips.
             The rabbi in his black suit and beard and woeful expression is standing with Marvin, brother of the deceased. Marvin has thick black hair that looks windblown, or mussed from making love. Talking to the rabbi, gesturing with his hands, he is smiling as if he’s at a wake with believers of an afterlife,  even for Lou Rosen. The rabbi is eating a wedge of sponge cake. He wipes his mouth with a dinky embroidered napkin. There are crumbs in his beard. He puts his empty plate down on the grand piano, straightens his yarmulke, and crosses the room to my mother. He leans over and kisses her on the cheek; she feels his beard brush her face and has an impulse to grab hold of it. She feels like laughing and has to duck her head and hold her handkerchief to her mouth.
            “Mrs. Rosen--Are you all right?” the rabbi asks. His voice is deep, concerned.
             She nods. She even smiles. She wonders if she is going crazy.                            
 Although the rabbi is older than she by at least a decade, she thinks he is too young to have anything to say to her. She wants him to go away, to leave her alone. But he sits down in a chair at her side, looks into her eyes and speaks. What? What did he say? She is too preoccupied to hear. She wants to ask him if her husband killed anyone before he was killed; if God had punished him, an eye for an eye. She wants to ask him if a bootlegger can get into heaven. Or a bootlegger’s wife, for that matter. She wants to ask him if there is a heaven. She wants to ask him if there is a God. Foolish woman! Not a question for a rabbi. But the truth is she receives little comfort from his respectful attendance or his pieties or from the funeral service or the Kaddish her son, a child of six, had dutifully repeated in a clear child’s voice at graveside, and has no hope of heavenly intervention into the life she has already found to be absurd. Sitting there, receiving condolences, she feels that God is unaware of her small mistaken existence and that it would be dangerous to get the attention of such a capricious deity who maybe has it in for orphan girls who get mixed up with gangsters. So she says nothing as the rabbi rises to leave, lowering her eyes and retreating into the hushed respect reserved for the newly widowed.

Read more of Lost & Found by author and model, Babette Rosen Hughes
OR read her novel, The Hat, a story of a bootlegger's wife.
Sequel, The Red Scarf, to be release in July 2013

Monday, April 29, 2013

My Country 'Tis of Thee


When I was in first grade Miss Charlton (whom we called Charlie because of her mustache) marched us into the auditorium to learn “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” She sat down at the piano and led us through the song word by word, playing the piano with one hand and directing us with the other. When we came to the phrase “Land where my father died,” I couldn't figure out how they all knew. At home my father’s death was this big secret. There wasn't even a photograph of him anywhere, as if a picture could suddenly whisper the truth. Since all the other kids had fathers I reasoned it must be my father who died on the land they were singing about.
              He vanished without a trace of the ordinary clutter and details of a life, leaving not a shadow nor footprint. There were no letters or insurance papers or tax receipts to find. Not a watch or drivers’ license or birth certificate or deed to a house. No marriage license or diploma. No fading photograph that he had carried, maybe of me. Not a wedding portrait or snapshot at the beach. It was as if during the 29 years of his life on earth he was already a ghost.
             I was two years old when my bootlegging father-- and innocent uncle who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time-- were murdered, and don’t remember him. But my older brother, Kenny, told me of his charm, violent temper and generosity.  I found two pictures of him among my mother’s possessions after she died.  In one, my father is a dark-eyed child on a tricycle. The other shows a muscular youth standing with his brother, Marvin, in front of a horse and delivery wagon from the family bakery. The picture is slightly out of focus, his grin blurred, but you can see his physical strength and his readiness to use it. In the other he stands serenely in a handsome tan suit looking for all the world like a gentleman of banking or the law. His lips are thick and sensual, his brown eyes deep set. He is a beautiful young man frozen in his youth by death, silence and myth. He is a stranger and a daddy who didn't love us enough to stay alive.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Reluctant Model


After my mother pulled me out of 12th grade, we made the rounds of department stores and shops and photographers. To my surprise, I was hired by Halle’s to model in the tearoom at lunchtime; by Higbee’s and May’s for their fashion shows; photographer Harry Cole for his fashion shoots and catalogues and Quinn-Maas, an expensive specialty shop. I strutted on runways, stretched my legs and pointed my toes for the photographer, and in fashion’s convoluted calendar, posed in fur coats and rivers of sweat in July and bathing suits and goosebumps in January. I demonstrated vacuum cleaners at conventions, sprayed cologne at ladies in department stores, paced runways in my new hip-swinging stride, all the while feeling an immense sorrow. I had become my mother’s creation, her idea of me, a no-brainer not even fit to finish high school, a moving, speaking walking size 8, her windup girl-toy, an early pioneering Barbie, pushed down the road of her vicarious fantasies. With no idea of who I was or wanted to be, I went along, riveted by her will as she sat in the dark corner of the photographer’s studio, the front row of the style shows, the table in the tearoom.
           
Backstage I changed outfits in 50 seconds. Or rather the two dressers did, one of them stripping the clothes off my back while the other pulled the next change over my head. They grabbed the shoes from my feet, thrusting my toes into another pair (you hold onto the dresser’s back for balance) hung my neck with jewelry, patted down my hair and there I was, out on the runway again. 50 seconds flat. If it was a swimsuit show you were stripped naked but no one looked at you, not even the male buyers and merchandisers who were milling around backstage. They’d watch the audience through a part in the curtain or appraise the clothes hanging on racks, or ask someone why numbers 26, 14 and 43 weren't in the show.
            Every day from twelve until two I modeled in Halle’s tearoom. In the dressing room, staring at my reflection at the stranger in the mirror with the breasts and shimmering silver gown and silver sandals, I seemed to have emerged overnight willed into being by my mother.

Read more of Lost & Found by author and model, Babette Rosen Hughes
OR read her novel, The Hat, a story of a bootlegger's wife.
Sequel, The Red Scarf, to be release in July 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gun Molls


Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey relied heavily on the testimony of gun molls of the 1930’s. When arrested and interrogated, the women had to choose between jail or cooperating with the prosecutors. If they choose cooperating they were given no protection and were either murdered by their ex-lovers or forced into hiding for the rest of their lives.
            Meanwhile, she was a worker bee. Performing the housework of crime, gun molls packed the loot and ammunition—sometimes in the frantic moments of a police shootout-- purchased cars, rented apartments to be used as hideouts, opened safe deposit boxes for the loot, and acted as go-between between gang members scattered by the police.
           Billie Frechette, John Dillinger’s lover, cooked, cleaned and ran his errands. She was born Evelyn “Billie” Frechette in 1907 in Neopit, Wisconsin to a French father and a Native American mother. She lived on the Menominee Reservation and attended school there until the age of 13 when she moved to a government boarding school for Native Americans.

            When she was 26, in 1933, after struggling to make ends meet cleaning and waitressing, she met the 30-year old John Dillinger at a dance hall in Chicago, and fell in love. Unlike Bonnie Parker she never participated in Dillinger’s crimes but was arrested anyway by the Department of Investigation Special Agents on April 9, 1934 for harboring a criminal. Dillinger drove around the block several times after her arrest unable to rescue her. She served 2 years.
            Tipped off to the FBI by a girlfriend, Dillinger was shot down on July 22, 1934, as he left a movie theater in Chicago.
            Bonnie Parker, gun moll to Clyde Barrow, was born Oct. 1, 1910. She was the middle child and oldest daughter of Henry and Emma Parker. An honor student and poet she worked as a waitress at Marco’s café where she became friends with Ted Hinton (who would ironically take part in gunning her down.)
            She met Clyde Barrow in 1930. When he was arrested, she smuggled a gun into the prison, helping him escape. Then, two years after he was arrested again and released, she joined him on a crime spree of robbery and murder until gunned down by the police on May 23, 1934, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana..

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bugsy Siegel


“My friends call me Ben, strangers call me Mr. Siegel, and guys I don’t like call me Bugsy, but not to my face.”
 

Still the name Bugsy stuck—even if it was behind his back. It’s unknown whether the media—who loved writing about the violent and dangerous-- or his cohorts-- gave him the name. But whether he liked it or not, it was his during his lifetime and beyond.

            He was born Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum on February 28, 1906. Although he was a contemporary of my bootlegging father, he lived to the ripe old age of 41 while my dad was murdered in a turf war with the mafia when he was 29.

            Siegel was known as the father of Las Vegas because of his early establishment of the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in the desert. He was the son of immigrants as were other Jewish bootleggers of the time, like Morris Kleinman, Abe Landau, Moe Dalitz and my father, Louis Rosen. Raised in the crime- ridden section of Williamsburg, Siegel met Meyer Lansky with whom he built an empire of bootlegging, gambling and murder, known as Murder, Inc. They became lifelong friends--that is, until Lansky ordered his friend’s assassination in 1947 for skimming mob money from the Flamingo Hotel.

            With an eye out for getting into the movies (Siegel was very handsome) he moved his operations to the West Coast. Maintaining an extravagant lifestyle in Beverly Hills he bought a palatial estate and established friendships with Hollywood moguls and movie stars, as well as a relationship with the infamous Virginia Hill.

            He was murdered in the house rented by her at 810 Linden Drive, Beverly Hills. She was out of town at the time--there are those who say it was highly recommended to her that she “leave town for her health.” He was buried in a $5000.00 casket in the Beth Olam section of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Only five family members showed up for the service which took place before the cemetery opened. Among his possessions were a billfold with $408 in cash, a watch, a money clip, a key chain with 6 keys (one being for a hotel room) a ring and a pair of cufflinks.
 
Here is a great documentary about Bugsy!
 
And for you Boardwalk Empire Fans...
 

 

Next: Gun Molls

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meyer Lansky


 
Whoever said that crime doesn’t pay didn’t know about Meyer Lansky, the Jewish bootlegger, gambler and all around criminal, who, in 1970, was worth $300,000,000. He hid his money in a Swiss numbered bank account, whose anonymity was assured by the 1934 Swiss Banking Act.

            Unlike most criminals, Lansky reached the ripe old age of 81, while my bootlegging father, who was Lansky’s contemporary, was killed at 29 -- and whatever money was left to my mother was lost in the Great Depression.

            Lansky was born Meyer Suchowljansky in Russia to a Jewish family who, he claimed experienced vicious anti-Semitic pograms. In 1911 he immigrated to the US with his mother and brother. He met Bugsy Siegel on the Lower East Side when they were teenagers. They became lifelong friends—Bugsy saved Lansky’s life more than once -- and became partners in the bootlegging trade along with Lucky Luciano. Lansky was instrumental in Luciano’s rise to power by organizing the 1931 murder of Mafia powerhouse Salvatore Maranzano. (Get ready for that story, Boardwalk Empire fans!)

            By 1936 he had developed a gambling empire that stretched from Saratoga, New York, to Miami, to Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Las Vegas. He was into narcotics, pornography, prostitution, labour racketeering and extortion and also got control of legitimate hotels, golf courses and a meat-packing plant

            He organized mob funding for Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. But when he kept its losing money, Lansky ordered his friend’s execution.

            Like Arnold Rothstein and Bugsy Siegle, he captured the imagination of authors, television producers and moviemakers. The character Hyman Roth in The Godfather Part 11 was based on Lansky. Max Bercovicz, the gangster played by James Woods in Once Upon A Time In America was inspired by Meyer Lansky, as well as in Havana, staring Robert Redford. Dustin Hoffman played Lansky in The Lost City

            Does that say something about our culture’s values?

            Lansky died of lung cancer on January 15, 1983, after spending a quiet respectable life in Miami. He was buried there in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony.

            He left behind a widow and three children.
 

 
Interview with Meyer Lansky, 1971
 

 

Next: Bugsy Siegel

Monday, February 25, 2013

Arnold Rothstein


When I was two years old, my bootlegging father, Louis Rosen, was murdered along with my innocent uncle in a turf war with the Mafia. They were ambushed and shot in our driveway as they arrived home from a card game at Taback’s Cigar Store. Although the killer got away, it was well known not only who he was but that he would never be identified. The impact on my family and on my life-- amid the drama of Prohibition and the Great Depression-- has animated my memoir and novels.

            My father was among a Whose Who of Jewish bootleggers, whose histories are varied, interesting and complicated. For example. Arnold Rothstein’s background made him an unlikely “kingpin of the Jewish underworld.” His brother became a rabbi and his father, who served as chairman of the board of New York’s Beth Israel Hospital, was a pious and wealthy businessman known for philanthropy and honesty,

            In Rothstein’s late 20’s he opened a gambling parlor; by 1912, when he was thirty, he was a millionaire. He captured the imagination of his time-- Damon Runyan modeled the character Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” after Rothstein. And in “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald created a Rothstein-based character, named Meyer Wolfsheim.

            In 1919 Rothstein arranged, through an intermediary, to pay the Chicago White Sox players $80,000 on the condition that they lose to Cincinnati. They did, and Rothstein made a fortune betting against Chicago. In 1921 eight players, led by first- baseman Chick Gandill, were convicted of trying to fix the Series. Rothman, who never met the players and could say that he never approved the intermediary’s scheme, was acquitted.

            He was murdered by a fellow gambler in 1928 at the age of 46 without revealing his assailant’s name. Because of his father, he received an Orthodox Jewish funeral with the renowned rabbi, Leo Jung.

            Next: Meyer Lansky

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey, Season 3 Finale


According to an interview with Julian Fellowes, creator and writer of Downton Abbey, the theme of  the series is about people confronting change whether they like it or not. The show started in 1912, just before the Great War, but in the 1920’s there was an accelerated rate of change. It was actually the end of the Second World War that was the coup de grace for Crawley type people.

Jessica Brown Findlay who played Lady Sybil, and Dan Stevens who played Mathew Crawley wanted to leave after season three, so they had to be killed off—Sybil in childbirth and Mathew in a car crash.

The back story about Robert and Cora is how she came to England as an American heiress and met Robert who married her for her money and then fell in love.

The ending of season 3 has left enough loose ends for season 4 and beyond. Mary, now a young widow, is poised for new love and maybe a comeuppance for her snobbery. Thomas’ revelation that he is gay is another interesting story line. The introduction of  “difficult” Rose, who has left her mean mother and moved in with the Crawleys, provides more potential drama. And what about Lady Edith on the threshold of finding love and becoming (gasp!) a mistress!  But all the characters in Downton Abbey are so richly drawn in their humanity, that as I write, I am in withdrawal.