Friday, August 28, 2009

John Buntin's "L.A. Noir"

John Buntin writes about crime and urban affairs for Governing Magazine.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City, and reported the following:
Page 99 of L.A. Noir takes us deep into the mind of one of the book's two main figures, the mobster Mickey Cohen. The year is 1943. Mickey has been working as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel's muscle for nearly six years, helping Siegel slowly take control of the L.A. underworld. For the most part, it's been easy, pistol-whipping deadbeats with gaming debts, extorting money from cowering businessmen, and facing down local toughs. But Mickey's more recent work has made the diminutive hoodlum (who stood 5' 5" — in lifts) uncharacteristically nervous. Siegel's been "beefing" with the boys in Chicago, and even a headstrong young punk like Cohen knows how dangerous the Outfit can be. So Mickey decides to bail out — by joining the Army:

Mickey wasn't exactly a model candidate (though there was no denying his efficiency as a killer). So he decided to grease the skids. It just so happened that his old "Big brother," fight referee Abe Roth, was a former Army officer with considerable pull in high places. Cohen asked the silver-tongued Siegel (who, somewhat surprisingly, supported Mickey's decision to enlist) to give Roth, as Mickey put it, "all that anti-Nazi shit and stuff." Roth was amenable to Mickey's request. Even better, he had a connection who could ensure the Mickey's criminal background didn't raise any alarms. Mickey was delighted. Assured that "the fix was in," he headed to Boyle Heights to report to the neighborhood draft board.

"Lookit," he told the ladies manning the draft desk. "I want to get in the Army."

"What's your draft status?" he was was asked in reply.

"I ain't been home for some time," Mickey replied evasively. (In fact, he had recently been on the lam.) "What's the big fuss about?" he continued, still confident in his fix. "I want to get in the Army. I'm ready to get in right now. What do I gotta do?"

The woman behind the desk asked for his name and then vanished into a back office. She emerged with a file—"kind of laughing and smiling."

"You can't get into the Army." The woman was holding his file. She showed it to him and then explained what it contained. The draft board had designated him a 4-F — not qualified for service in the armed forces—on grounds of mental instability. This was embarrassing, to say the least. Rather than confess, he called his wife and informed her that he'd been made a general. Then he rushed out and purchased a $150 raincoat ("beautiful... tailored real good")— with epaulettes. He arrived home to find his spouse on the phone, calling everyone she knew and telling everyone, "He's in the Army! He's going away again."

It was, Mickey thought, a helluva good joke.

Meanwhile, Cohen's nemesis, William H. Parker, the man who would later create the Dragnet-era LAPD (and later still become a subject of great controversy for the role he played in the Watts riots), is shipping off to Sardinia, there to commence a military career that would eventually take him to the beaches of Normandy and beyond.
Read more about L.A. Noir at John Buntin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue