I have notebooks full of gangster lore that I collected when I researched Daughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age novel. (I keep calling it that, but it’s so much more — a murder mystery, a treasure hunt, a romp through the middle of the United States with a young woman and a busload of irrepressible octogenarian rogues. “Snow White and the Seven Old Farts” as one of the villains called them.) As usual, I am digressing. Someday, perhaps, I will learn that just because I use parenthesis, it doesn’t give me the right to meander off topic. Or maybe it does.
Anyway, the point is, I was able to use only an iota of my notes. So many real-life characters never even got to be reborn in the person of one of my “elders.” (There’s a topic for discussion — what does one call a busload of aged men and women? I despise the term “senior citizens,” I have no fondness for “old folks” — the term, that is — and “golden- agers” is too nauseating. So I settled for “elders” with its nuance of wisdom.)
One such character I never used for my book was Jake “The Barber” Factor, who stole millions from people through stock market swindles and investment fraud. He worked as a bootblack when he was a boy, shining shoes outside of a barbershop. The price of a shine was two cents, but he’d tell unwary customers that he’d give them a “steamboat shine” for one cent. If the customer agreed, he’d polish one shoe until it gleamed, then he’d say, “There’s your steamboat shine, Mister. For a dime, I’ll shine the other shoe.”
Oscar Wilde once said, ” The Americans are certainly great hero worshippers, and always take heros from the criminal classes.” Well, perhaps not always, but most of us bear a grudging admiration for con men and women, mostly because they seem so much smarter than the rest of us. Or maybe they just have fewer scruples.
Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing in the middle of October.