Not a thief, not a Catch Me if You Can con man, but a con none the less. Of course, this was before he married my moms.
Before he married Big Edie he was a lot of things. I was raised on the stories of a Fred before my moms, before me. That’s him, front and center with his Navy pals. He was a handsome rogue & a gypsy tea leaf reader. He read crystal balls, minds, tarot cards, handwriting & palms. He worked the carnival side shows & the burlesque halls. He rode a motorcycle & wore black leather. He was The Wild One. He was Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone rolled into one. A real buckler of swash, he had style & flash and was bigger than life to me as a kid. I was awed and I was terrified.
I fought for the privilege of saddle soaping his leather m/c jacket. It was years before I was allowed to touch the crystal ball.
He knew everything about everything and when he didn’t he sounded like he did. With facts and statistics at his fingertips, he won every argument in the house for the first fifteen years or so of my life. Until the day Big Edie questioned him, Where’d you get your facts?, she asked. He laughed like hell. He’d made it up. All of it. You could never tell if he was telling the truth or weaving a story just for the sake of a story.
I learned to be suspicious, and that while ‘smart’ matters, seeming smart is sometimes enough.
He gave me my love of the slightly shady, of all things circus & carny, strippers & burley-que queens, freaks & sideshows, werewolves & vampires. He taught me to avoid three card monte, the necessity of a shill, the difference between a long con and a short con and the art of misdirection.
I learned to hide my soft parts, and to think on my feet.
I was raised on the Wizard of Oz (a long con, in Technicolor), Damon Runyon, Yellow Kid Weil and P.T. Barnum. There’s a sucker born every minute, kid, a sucker born every minute.
I was one of those suckers. I believed he could read minds, see the future, create magic. He was make-believe and we bought it, starting with the woman who ran the gypsy tea room when he was a moviestar handsome teen with deep set eyes who looked the part.
I believed in the stories and the magic when I was a kid. They kept him untouchable, kept us all at a distance; the con kept his own soft parts safe.
Maybe all parents have to have feet of clay sooner or later. Maybe every little girl thinks her daddy is magic and sooner or later struggles with the fact that he’s only human. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, he’s not a bad man, he’s just a very bad wizard.