OUR UNDERWORLD CHUMS*
It’s always interesting when you see people you know in the local news. But it’s not always positive. I was reminded of this recently when one of our acquaintances, Marilyn Frye, began dominating daily headlines in the local newspaper. We originally met Marilyn because she owns Ozzie, Mike and Duffy’s younger sheepdog brother. We’ve gotten together with Marilyn a couple of times for sheepdog birthday parties, and she’s taken the dogs for a ride in her yellow convertible. She’s always struck me as a friendly, outgoing person with a good sense of humor. Marilyn is the founder and president of a local organization of several hundred public employees. For the most part, she seems to have done an excellent job as her organization’s president. But it also turns out that she is charged with having absconded over $700,000 in member dues. With her trial coming up soon, Marilyn faces the prospect of twenty years in prison. We wonder if we should offer to adopt Ozzie. It’s hard to reconcile someone being an Old English Sheepdog lover with also being an alleged embezzler.
It would be a stretch to say that Katja and I are members of the world of organized crime. However, this is hardly our first such experience. I’d have to say that Katja seems to have been particularly drawn over the years to lawbreakers and their victims. One of her close grad school friends was Annalisa Gettler, the wife of a local Ob-Gyn. Katja found the husband a quite charming fellow, but, when Annalisa started showing up with bruises on her face, her classmates began to wonder. Annalisa did eventually leave her abusive spouse, but soon afterward he murdered their child. Sent to prison, he then got murdered himself after a year or two. Nobody felt that sad.
Betsy Feldstein was another of Katja’s good grad school friends, Betsy was married to local pornography king, Stanford Marstein. Stan was Cincinnati’s predecessor to Larry Flynt. He introduced porn to our prudish city through his downtown adult bookstore, violated numerous local laws and regulations, made millions of dollars in profits, and was constantly in and out of jail. A jolly, extroverted man, Stan would show us his cache of gold bullion bars which he kept in his wall safe at home rather than putting money in the bank. Katja and Betsy went on a European vacation together but they didn’t get along well because Betsy’s porn-inspired sexual attitudes were at odds with Katja’s mainline Philadelphia moral standards.
The University, of course, is a huge place and consequently is home to myriad law-breakers. I haven’t kept track of all the students I’ve had over the years who have showed up in the newspaper crime reports, but it’s run in the dozens. Drug dealing, domestic violence, assault, shoplifting, and negligent manslaughter are just some of the instances that come to mind. One of my memorable teaching experiences occurred when federal authorities showed up in my Social Psychology classroom to handcuff and take away a junior Business major who was convicted of buying assault rifles in Ohio and transporting them across state lines for sale to gang members in the Bronx.
One would hope the faculty to be more law-abiding than the students, but that’s not necessarily so. One of my friends and tennis partners, Rick Patterson, was appointed to a high-level administrative position. He recruited me for various committee assignments, but that came to an end when the university fired Rick for having sex with a doctoral student in his walnut-paneled office. Shortly afterward, one of Rick’s key aides, a likeable fellow with whom I’d worked for years, was fired for embezzling funds from the student affairs program, treating himself and his wife to trips around the world. Two years later one of Katja’s favorite professors, considered on the fast track to a full professorship in his early thirties because of his fantastically productive publication record, was fired when it was discovered that he had simply made up the titles of nearly all of the 75 purported journal articles which he listed on his vita.
Sex gets a lot of people in trouble. Katja and her friend Amy were thrilled when we hired new Ph.D. Andy Sampson because he described to them how he loved to stay up till dawn discussing philosophy and literature with his wife. Whether true or not, it turned out that dawn did enjoy staying up till dawn with various coeds in the department. When several of his romantic liaisons found out about one another, they paraded en masse to the department head’s house in the middle of the night and demanded that Andy be fired. He was. Another of my acquaintances, fellow dissertation committee member Ronny Barker, was arrested one night in Cincinnati’s tough Over-the-Rhine section for soliciting a prostitute for a hand-job. The student newspaper made it a front-page new story, suggesting that a hand-job was a stupid way to ruin one’s career when you could simply do it yourself for free.
We made lots of friends in the tennis world when our son J was a tennis star in high school. I hung around at most of the H.S. matches with a genial fellow named Harry Whitrock whose son also played for the team. Harry was a local businessman who I later learned had defrauded the federal government of millions of dollars through a sham urban development enterprise that he had created. He offered J a recruiting job at a good salary, but J sensibly turned it down. Harry was gunned down one midnight in a public telephone booth at the city tennis courts. His killers were never found. I thought maybe some secret government agency had rubbed him out, but I recently read some Internet gossip that implied that things went wrong in a drug deal designed to cover Harry’s gambling debts.
Maybe the fact that we have all these criminal connections has to do with our family history. I don’t remember any gangsters on my side, but Katja seems to have enjoyed some sort of family link to the mob in Philadelphia. The main episode involved her uncle Louie (actually her mother’s uncle rather than her own). Uncle Louie was in the fish business, but he also was mixed up in some shady dealings. One day he was found bound and gagged in the trunk of a limousine, dead as a doornail. They never found the murderers, though the execution had a professional feel about it. Katja had another uncle in Chicago who her aunt Dorothy had married. Joe was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur in the food-processing business. When he was recuperating in Florida from a stroke, Dorothy came home from shopping one day and found a note that said, “We’ve got your husband; don’t tell nobody,” and asked for a large sum of money. Dorothy, never one to keep things to herself, immediately called the police. The detectives discovered that Joe had been kidnapped by his Cuban male nurse who was also a drug addict. As they closed in on him, the male nurse pushed Joe’s wheelchair (with Joe in it) into the swimming pool. The FBI fished Joe out, captured the nurse, and the story had a happy ending.
We, of course, also have some other friends who aren’t criminals. The interesting thing is it’s hard to see any difference between our criminal friends and our noncriminal friends. They all tend to be cleancut, intelligent, reasonably well-adjusted middle-class people who are pleasant to be around. It may be that our noncriminal friends have just never been caught. Or perhaps our criminal friends happened to find themselves in situations offering opportunities they couldn’t resist. You can’t embezzle hundreds of thousands of dollars unless you’re in a position where you have access to it. Whatever the case, Katja and I have remained mostly on the straight and narrow over these many years. With all this free time from retirement, though, you never know for sure what’s going to happen next.
*Pseudonyms used in this story.
-Vicki L (8-5): Dear David,
What fantastical stories - I had no idea your lives were so adventurous. Try not to pepper your retirement with crime. I know you miss your brothers - but after all, Steven for example, only stole headstones from their manufacturer. Along with a few beer and stop signs. God knows what Peter did. But clearly, neither of them embezzled or murdered anyone. My main criminal activity involves stealing wooden stirring sticks and sugar packets from coffee shops. We must endeavor to keep our baser instincts in check. Love, Sis
-Mary B (8-3): A delight to read. I couldn't resist looking up laws in your state that you now have time to break. Have fun!
- Play croquet or pitch horseshoes within a mile of an orator on Decoration day (be forewarned -- you could be fined $25).
- Tell K to flash her patent leather shoes (according to the law, they're prohibited in public).
- Refuse to honk your horn when passing another car and you're breaking a law.
- Challenge someone to a duel -- they're prohibited, and add a lot of excitement to life (you can choose you own weapon, so there's flexibility there).
-Jennifer M (8-2): I'm glad you wrote this one up. There's someone missing, but that's okay because I already knew about him. ;-)
-Donna D (8-2): Sorry David I just think this blog is risky and a bit "je ne sais pas". Maybe if you revealed that you and Katja had done your own criminal stuff I'd think differently. Sorry