I remember the mob. Or at least I remember having memories about the mob, which have mixed with other memories that may or may not be about the mob. I remember a smooth feminine voice calling out for the king of the mobsters. The days were hot back then, hotter than they get today. Come August, the Las Vegas Country Club was not for the faint of heart. But there I was, breathless on a parched tennis court. She spoke slowly, reverently, as if to be certain that I would understand the weight of her words:
Moe Dalitz. Please dial the operator. Moe Dalitz.
The loudspeaker fell silent. I did not answer the call. Partly because I am not Moe Dalitz, and partly because I was 10, and in those days we only paged each other under the names I.P. Freely and Ben Dover. At that moment, or maybe it was a different moment, my friend and I had completely lost our laser-like tennis focus and begun waging World War III against a vast army of red ants. I am still ashamed of that war. I grew up to be a fellow who catches household spiders in a cup and puts them outside.
Years later, my sister learned about Moe Dalitz in some sociology class in college. She came home for Thanksgiving and told us all, “Moe Dalitz! I used to hear him paged at the Country Club.” So maybe the whole thing is my sister’s memory, not mine. Except for the ants. Probably The Paging of Moe wouldn’t be so memorable to either one of us if that sociology professor hadn’t assigned value to a name we’d always taken for granted. Though we are both grateful to Moe for Sunrise Hospital. And there has to be something said for a guy who had a Hebrew school named for him. I don’t think Moe slaughtered ants, which puts him one up on savage little me. That’s our Moe.
I never met Moe, but another mobster once offered to let my brother use his fancy car for senior prom. Our parents nixed that idea, because mobsters’ cars had a way of blowing up at inconvenient times. I remember the name of Tony Spilotro, partly because I heard about him on the news, and partly because when I went over to my friend Tom’s house we played with Tom’s neighbor, who happened to go by the same name. Toss a rock in Vegas in those days and you’d hit a Spilotro. Though I wouldn’t recommend it. I remember the name of Lefty Rosenthal because I played soccer with his son. The name Lefty Rosenthal never meant a thing to me. His son’s name meant something, because I played soccer with him. It was soccer, wasn’t it?
My mother played tennis with the Sharon Stone character in Casino. Or maybe it was some other Casino spouse. When the movie came out, Mom seemed certain of the identity of her erstwhile tennis partner. Now she says she’s not sure. In any case, it was one of those women who lived her life a single degree of separation from Martin Scorsese. This puts me within, like, three degrees. I have never had an eyeball squeezed out. Things have gone well that way. I did not play tennis with Sharon Stone. Not because I was afraid of Joe Pesci, but because I was 8. I would have kicked her ass, though. And then Joe would have squeezed my eyeball out. I am glad I never played tennis with Sharon Stone.
When I was a kid, I used to think I could see the Strip from my backyard basketball slab. I spent most of my sunsets out there with my dog, and when the sky went purple and the clouds went pink I imagined I could see the lights of the city. I still remember it that way, though it would have been a complete impossibility, since there was an 8-foot wall and I was only 4-feet-6-inches tall. Also, our backyard was facing the wrong direction. But I remember the lights. Somewhere out there Lefty was skimming and Tony was squeezing and Moe was supporting some noble philanthropic cause. I’ve got my memories, and they’re not to be trusted. Perhaps we should build a museum.