Cover image for Sinatraland
Kashner, Sam.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
192 pages ; 22 cm
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This darkly brilliant first novel portrays the inner life of a demented, obsessive Sinatra fan - 'Finkie' Finkelstein, a down-on-his-luck New Jersey salesman. To Finkie, Frank is the model of a man: elegant, sophisticated, talented, with charm to spare. Finkie models his life on his idol: seen all of the movies, bought all of the records, even formed his own Rat pack. By turns riotous and poignant, the novel lays bare the most twisted corners of the male mind, introducing a remarkable character - and a talented new writer. 'a sparkling literary talent' - Publishers Weekly

Author Notes

Sam Kashner and his wife Nancy Schoenberger are creative writing teachers at William and Mary College.

They have written entertainment industry biographies, including Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant and Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady and the Death of Superman, which explores the death of George Reeves. Kashner has also written three books of poetry on his own.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kashner's (Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant) hilarious debut novel reviews the life of a down-on-his-luck Hoboken, N.J., window-shade salesman through a series of heart-wrenching letters he writes to his idol, Frank Sinatra. Like the Chairman of the Board, "Finkie" Finklestein grows up in a poor ethnic Hoboken neighborhood and prospers during the postwar American boom. He buys a house in Fort Lee once owned by Buddy Hackett and names his daughter Nancy Ava, after Frank's first two wives. Finkie mimics the swinging sophistication of the Rat Pack, who, he vainly hopes, will one day draft him into active service, yet his Sinatraesque ideal contrasts pathetically with his strictly square real life as a divorced salesman with few relationships beyond his morose brother and his bullwhipping uncle. With rapid-fire wit, Kashner demonstrates his detailed knowledge of pop culture as Finkie follows Sinatra's movies and marriages, his story climaxing at the 1971 farewell concert where Finkie tries to see Ol' Blue Eyes backstage‘with disastrous results. When Finkie finally encounters the man behind the Voice, the novel strikes deeper than satire, to probe the flaky foundation of celebrity worship, a hollow value system Hollywood engenders and Sinatra exemplifies. Kashner manages to dissect a fan's obsession with poignant comedy, and he captures a New Jersey accent with a sure ear. Incorporating humor, pathos, timing and research in his narrative, Kashner does it his way, revealing in the process a sparkling literary talent. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



    "Strange to be one's name no longer." --John Berryman From "Sonnets to Chris" Chapter One Dear Frank,     I bet you never thought you'd hear from your old pal Finkie. That's right, Francis. It's me. I've been trying to think of what to say to you after all this time, ever since I heard you were laid up in the hospital with gall bladder troubles. Alas, the Hoboken Finkelsteins are no more. Scattered to the four winds. And my brother Morris, "the creep" I think you used to call him, is dead. Not really dead, but my parents--you remember Miriam and Seymour Finkelstein?--they don't refer to Morris anymore ever since he ran off with a shiksa named Roberta. Can you believe it, Frank? I mean Morris still had strap lines on his arm from the tfillin. I'm sure you've heard of it, Frank. It's like in The Man with the Golden Arm , remember, when you tied a belt or was it a tie around your arm? Well, the Jews do it on both arms and keep a little leather box on their forehead when they pray. Otto Preminger is a Jew. Did you know that, Frank? Personally, I think it's disgusting his playing a Nazi like that. But what can you do? That's show business, am I right, Francis, or am I right?     Speaking of show business, our paths did cross one night in 1958. You would have considered it a close call. But I thought I'd tell you what exactly transpired so you wouldn't get the wrong idea or hear it from some other unreliable source and misconstrue my drift.     It was 1958 like I just said and you were sitting in a booth at the Imperial Gardens having dinner with who else but Lauren Bacall. I know, Frank, how good you were to Betty (if I may call her that) after Bogie's untimely demise from lung cancer. How as Bogie's pal you didn't want Betty to mourn in loneliness. Well, anyhoo, you were sitting at the Imperial Gardens, Mrs. Bogart in attendance like I said and who do you think should be in the neighborhood but yours truly? I was on a business trip for the window shade company Weiss & Rifkind which I represent, and there was a trade show that week in the Cow Palace, and so I decided to drive up the coast to movieland and take in the sights. Well, it just so happens that an old pal of mine--we sold peanuts together one summer at the Polo Grounds--his firm had done some work for the owner of the Imperial Gardens, and as a favor to this fellow, the owner gave him free dinners for himself and a guest. But when Sy came for me at my hotel, Frank, I was sick as a dog perhaps due to the change in the water or what have you so I just begged off. But imagine my surprise when the next day I read in Louella's column that she had actually been at the Imperial Gardens having dinner when she overheard you proposing to Betty and I figured out it must've been just over a year since Bogie's death. You are one fast worker, Francis. I think, Frank, you are a lot like me. We both have romantic bents. Once at a party at my sister-in-law's house--just a private get together she threw before leaving for the Fountainbleu in Miami--I actually got up to sing and dedicated the number to the woman who would become my future ex-girlfriend.     I guess things didn't work out for you and Betty. I figured as much when I heard she'd gone to a Dean Martin opening at the Cocoanut Grove and she chose not to attend your triumphant opening at the Sands. There's a story there too but that'll have to wait. This is a lot of heavy lifting for a guy who just got out of the hospital. So I'll call a halt to things for a while. Although, you might be interested to know that I just purchased the largest home in Fort Lee. The real estate agent told me it briefly belonged to Buddy Hackett. Just thought you might want to know. Give 'em hell, Francis, and say hello to those cute little nurses for me. Glad to be back in touch with a pal, Finkie Dear Frank,     I'm glad you liked the flowers despite your allergies. How's a pal to know a thing like that? But when I heard you were laid up I got a terrible case of the guilt germs. I knew I had to help out someway. That's when I offered to send up some of Weiss & Rifkind's room darkeners. Frank, they're stupendous shades and are becoming a huge seller for us. I thought it would do a helluva job keeping the sunlight out of your room. So you wouldn't have to think about what you might be missing on the outside.     I even went over to Jilly's on 58th St. to ask Milton, the maitre d', about your condition. (Those gallstones must be worth a fortune, no?) I sat at the bar and waited. Frank, the place looks like a shrine. Our Lady of the perpetual party, according to Jilly. But I think you're working too hard, Francis, I can't keep up with you. Some Came Running, Kings Go Forth, A Hole in the Head . You've got to pace yourself. You can't be in two places with one tuchus, my grandmother used to say. So anyhoo, back to Jilly's. I'm sitting at the bar waiting for Mr. Rizzo to walk in. I'm certain Jilly's going to remember the nude body reading we used to do together. Did he ever tell you about that, Frank?     Whenever we'd meet a Miss America but couldn't decide how to divide the spoils, we'd just have some fun with the lovely lady instead of falling out over a dish. I would introduce Jilly as a world renowned body reader, someone who could tell a dish's future just from "reading" the shape of her curves. Like that thing they used to do a hundred years ago with the bumps in the head. Only this is on a doll's shape. Frank, you wouldn't believe how successful this was for yours truly and your faithful companion Mr. Rizzo. Once, on the 20th Century Limited, going to Chicago, we "body read" no fewer than nine babes in arms. There they would stand in our compartment on the train, swaying a little back and forth as the train headed for Chi--nothing shy about these babies, as me or Jilly read their future. The only time I really felt like a heel, Frank, was when Jilly told this one chickadee that she was going to have six kids and marry a polo player named Rubirosa. It turns out that the future Mrs. Rubi had a scar running up her entire back. A wicked looking scar that you could've stuck your thumb into. Her future didn't look too good to me, Frank, I'll tell you that.     Needless to say, Jilly never showed up at Jilly's. So I ordered the leg of lamb and devoured it at the bar. A very delectable little fly sat down next to me and the next thing I know we're talking about you, Frank.     She saw you at Chez Paree in Chicago. So we compared notes. Seems like she can't decide if she likes you or Glenn Ford better in the movies. I offered to show her some of your other haunts in the city. Maybe Danny's Hideaway would have a booth with our name on it, open and waiting. But I didn't want to risk being told to wait for a table with a skirt in tow. So I got her work number and beat a hasty retreat. On the way home the cabbie was listening to the Pelvis. The entire trip back to the apartment, Francis, can you believe it? I agree with you, Frank, 110 percent about that hillbilly. Didn't you call rock-n-roll "the most vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear"? I can't blame you, Frank, he's nothing but a hillbilly. He's an embarrassment to show business. Could you imagine him at Sy Devore's trying on a suit? The three way mirrors would look the other way. I saw where Perry Como, speaking of pretenders to the throne, is ranked 22nd on the all-time sales list and you, mine General, are 34th. Como's a cadaver. He should be disqualified on account of his not having a pulse. You will always be the pope, the general, el dago to me, pal.     Yours until Elvis Pretzel scuffs his blue suede shoes. The Fink Dear Frank,     I'm thinking a lot about Tami Mauriello and about how quickly a guy forgets. I remember when you had an interest in Tami. Ten thousand smackers I think it was. I sent a hundred bucks care of the Gotham Health Club to buy a piece of Tami myself. For a hundred bucks I guess I must've owned one of Tami's armpits or at least a couple of eyelashes. Someone at the Gotham once told me that you used to go there even after Tami got drafted and that you wore one of Tami's dogtags around your neck like a crucifix. You were the only guy I know who could kid Rocky Marciano or even Dempsey about their voices--high-pitched like a couple of schoolgirls. You'd tease them. You'd tell them they must've been hit in the crotch too many times. But all that aside, Frank, tonight I'm a little blue thinking about Tami Mauriello. I remember when Tami fought in the Garden (I think you even skipped out on a concert date to be there for him) but it didn't help Tami much. When he got out of the Army he seemed like a different kid. He always seemed to be thumbing worry beads in his head. I know he was the best bodyguard you could have. But somehow I thought Tami wanted something else out of life other than keeping little teenage girls from crowding you. I once offered Tami a job with Weiss & Rifkind. I offered to show him the ropes, thought he'd make a helluva good salesman. "Wow, you're Tami Mauriello. I saw you fight in the crusades, back in the old Polo Ground days. I'll take 1500 scalloped fringe shades from now till the Messiah comes!" But then the roof caved in on Weiss & Rifkind and we were all SOL (shit out of luck). Well that's the thing about the shade business Frank, it has its ups and downs. (I thought I would try to cheer us both up with a little shade humor. Something tells me it's a little late in the day for that.)     When I said the roof caved in on Weiss & Rifkind, Frank, I wasn't kidding. It really did. A couple of years ago the top floor of the Weiss & Rifkind building on Grand Street suddenly collapsed. That was the floor where all the sewing machines and cutters worked. The fire department would later say that the weight of all those sewing machines going night and day, you could hear them vibrating through the whole building, would prove too much for the old wooden floor. This was just a couple of days before Ike's election. He had come to town for a motorcade that passed our building. I always said it wouldn't have happened if Stevenson had been in the car. I know you were a Stevenson man yourself, weren't you Frank, or was that Betty's influence? I know she was ga-ga for the man with the hole in his shoe. Now Kennedy's got him over at the U.N. I feel sorry for the Commie ambassador and his interpreter; they've got to listen to Adlai whether they like it or not.      It's a crazy world, Francis, is it not? I'm sure you're wondering what happened to all the gang over at Weiss & Co. Well it just so happened that it was the lunch hour and every one of those folks on the third floor had gone on their lunch break. The sewing machines just stood there alone when the whole floor opened up and it rained sewing machines all along Grand Street. The bottom two floors were not quite as empty. One man had a sewing machine needle stuck in his leg but except for shrapnel like that, thank God no one was hurt. But the business, Frank, never recovered. That's when I wrote you that note asking for the loan. You were the official pal for life when that beautiful check floated my way. Frank, I swear, it fluttered out of that Sands Hotel envelope as pretty as a butterfly and into my ever appreciative mitt. Joe D. would've been proud of the way I caught that thing. Though I never understood why it was a Sands Hotel check signed by a Mr. Jack Entratter. No note or anything. But you were probably thinking about the mitzvah of an anonymous gift. Frank, I never realized how deep you were until I received that check drawn on the Sands Hotel. In fact it's partly the reason I got married at the Sands. But that seems like a long time ago. And that's another story, one for the road as you would say. So I'll save it and try to forward my next dispatch from the front, Ernie Pyle style, when you're at the Fountainbleu. You're still the only guy I know who has to sing for his supper. Catch a mermaid for me, pal.     Yours, The world's biggest Finkie Dear Frank,     Well, Pally, as Joe E. Lewis used to say, "A friend in need is a pain in the ass." But not to me, Francis. I saw the reviews of the show at the Copa. What does Harriet Van Home (accent on the horny if you ask me) know about singing in a saloon? Who the hell is she to talk about your "attitude"--Harriet Van Horne wears socks to bed and you can quote me.     I thought perhaps my last missive might've thrown you off your game coming as it did just before your opening at the Copa. Well, maybe failure's gone to my head but I thought an apology might be in order in case my story about the Weiss & Rifkind disaster left you hanging.     It was a dark day indeed, friend of my bosom, when while driving home I hear on the news about the collapse. You hear about all sorts of terrible miseries but at the end of it you can still go home and put your head on the pillow and sleep the sleep of kings. Now don't get me wrong, pal, Finkie doesn't own a heart of stone. It's just that you rarely hear a sad story twice, but when it happens to you, you live it over and over again. The sun rises and sets on the same piece of bad news. That pillow with the goose feathers starts to look very far away, like some tropical paradise to which you've lost the map.     I thought of you then, Francis. I probably should've thought about Jill and the kid but I didn't. I thought about what it must've been like for you twelve years ago when you suffered that throat hemorrhage--terrified that you'd lose your voice--and when you were voted the least cooperative star and Sammy remembered seeing you alone on the street, wrapped in a big overcoat, the saddest man in New York. I felt that way, Francis, coming home to Jill the day Weiss & Rifkind collapsed.     There I was on the edge of an abscess. Blinking. Life is one headline after another, isn't it, pal? All of a sudden I felt like drinking again, like when I heard that ABC pulled the plug on your new show. I thought to myself, that could be me after Mr. Weiss decided to sell what was left of Weiss & Rifkind. But Jill was a saint, Frank. After months of worrying at the track about what to do, she put down her foot with a strong hand and told me in no uncertain terms what it was I should do. Get a job. An ill wind blows no good or so they say, and so I decided the Weiss & Rifkind disaster was a blessing in disguise. A deus ex machina, as the Greeks say, to get out of the shade business for a while.     As you know, Frank, I'm something of an artiste myself. I used to draw caricatures at the Palisades during the summer when I was a kid. I always wanted to be a painter but could never work up the nerve to tell the folks--this was before we were orphaned. My old man used to be afraid I'd grow up to be a painter. I think he thought that in order to be an artist you had to be a little light in the loafers. He also said they never made any money and usually went crazy. That was enough for me. But after I lost my job with the company, that's when I started to work at Mama Joe's on those caricatures. She hung them all up on the wall, all over the place. It looked like the Louvre instead of a clam bar which is what it was. Sardi's it wasn't. But I was happy as one of those proverbial clams until the health department came in and said my sketches were a health hazard. Apparently, because I did all the framing myself at the restaurant while eating the free dinner Mamma Joe offered before the place got busy, the inspector noticed some food that must've accidentally stuck to the glass in one of the frames. It's true there was a terrible odor coming from somewhere but we could never figure out what it was. We thought a rodent or a cat maybe had gotten stuck in the wall and died. Who would've thought it was my drawings that stunk the place up? So that was the beginning and the ending of my artiste career. You see you're not the only one who suffers for his art, Pal.     Your "Clyde," Finkie Dear Father Frank,     I have a confession to make. I had an unkind thought about you the day my marriage went south. I thought somehow you were responsible, indirectly of course, for Jill's leaving and taking Nancy Ava with her (Yes, Francis, we named her after your first two successful marriages). You see, it all has to do with my brother Myron and the Rat Pack dream.     Lately, I've been having dreams about being with you and the boys--Joey Bishop introduces you and Dean as "the Italian bookends" while wheeling the breakfast bar onto the stage. "Well, here they are folks--Haig and Vague.... In a few minutes they'll start telling you about some of the good work the Mafia is doing." A few minutes later Sammy Davis appears in my dream and throws a lemon meringue pie in Joey's face, then all of a sudden Dean staggers out, picks up Sammy and hands him over to you, saying, "This is an award that just arrived for you from the NAACP." Toward the end of the show Peter Lawford-in-law and Joey Bishop stroll across the stage wearing boxer shorts and tuxedo jackets.     The place goes crazy. But Frank, here's where I go crazy in the Rat Pack dream. I'm at ringside sitting with my brother and with Jilly and his wife. Myron starts looking a little green around the gills and says he's going to go out and get some air.     I follow him outside and walk him around the block a few times. "The desert air is good for you," I keep saying. But somehow it doesn't help his breathing. His asthma keeps getting worse while the whole time I'm feeling guilty because I want to be back in the main room where I can hear you introducing me from ringside.     But I'm not in the room! I'm outside holding Myron's hand on the strip while the whole clan is calling my name, "Finkie, Finkie. Where are you, you sunuvabitch?" Then I hear you say, "This guy's a real cheech." I wanted to kill that brother of mine. Finally, when Myron's asthma attack subsided, I raced back into the Copa Room of the Sands, but it was completely empty. Except for Myron who sat on a banquette in the back of the room with a smile on his face.     He's always been my problem, Frank. Ever since our folks died I've looked after the guy. He's only two years younger than me. But he rode in the ambulance with my mother after her stroke and held her hand all the way into the hospital where she died. Myron was one good looking guy, Frank, with a great big chest like Robert Mitchum, the chest of a swimmer, which is what he was up in the Catskills as a lifeguard. The young Westchester mice really went for him--even the older, married dames liked to corner him on the dance floor and push their personal life right in front of him. He was like catnip, my brother. But he never married. I think the last time he went on a date was during the Suez crisis. Once Jill and I saw him with a woman in a restaurant on Lexington Avenue and when he saw us, Myron practically dragged his date out the front door. He didn't approve of my marrying Jill either, Frank. And for the first few years of our marriage I kept our marriage a secret. And I continued to live with Myron and "commute" to be with Jill. She knew all about it, Frank, and she put up with an awful lot. But eventually she got sick of it and told me to choose between the two of them.     I was saved from having to make a choice when Nancy Ava came along. But as the lawyers like to say, it set a bad precedent, Frank. I've called Myron up every night of my married life. Close the door to my office at home and go into a little conference with my brother. I almost feel like he's trying to involve me in a conspiracy against Jill and Nancy Ava. But that's where you come in, Francis. When I told Jill about my recurring Rat Pack dream, she said that if I would care to notice, that only Myron was in that empty room, and that that's the only person I ever really cared about. Jill said she couldn't compete with Myron and the mother-in-law she never knew.     Frank, that hit me like one of Tami Mauriello's left hooks. The next thing I knew I was picking up my mail at the Holiday Inn and meeting lawyers for lunch.... My Nancy Ava's grown up to be a pretty cute little mouse herself, wearing long white gloves to her school dance. I hope they play "Nancy (with the laughing face)." I even took a picture of her with one of those instant cameras. It was almost eerie, Frank, watching Nancy's picture showing up from nothing. It reminded me of Peter Hurkos, the guy who goes around taking pictures of ghosts, like a woman who died a hundred years ago coming down the stairs in her own house. Nancy Ava's picture looked like that for a while, until it came through and you could see her perfectly, turning her head and looking toward the window in the living room, almost, Frank, as if she was looking out toward the future, which certainly had to be better than what we were going through then. The night she left for her dance, Jill and I just stood around her like a couple of Spanish chaperones, I forget what they're called. The funny thing is I didn't think much about Nancy Ava or Jill that night, Frank. But I did think a lot about my old man. I thought about his coming home one day with his suit jacket messed up with blood. His nose was broken. He sold pretzels for a while dressed up in a suit like he was going to work on Wall Street or something. It was brown with white stripes. It's ironed into my brain, Frank. Some jerk started to give him a hard time, and this was during the really hard times, and he just lost it and the two men started to go at it, and this guy broke my father's nose, Frank. He always snored after that. My mother hated the way his nose looked. I liked it. He reminded me of Benny Leonard, the fighter. I had pictures of Benny Leonard in my scrapbook so his broken nose suited me fine. So for some reason, Frank, I started to think about all this the night Nancy Ava stepped out of the house in those long gloves and, I guess, took my youth away.     No more pretzel stands for the Finkelsteins, Francis. Levelor blinds (have you seen them anywhere?) is a tide that lifts all Finkelstein boats. So, no sob sister act for me. And as far as my love life--if they take Magic Fingers out of this hotel I'm a dead man.     Yours till Dean sobers up, Finkie Frankie My Friend,     What can I say? I'm so grateful that you got Frankie Jr. back in one piece. I've never known anyone personally I've admired as much as you who had someone close to them kidnapped. And it's a terrible feeling, Frank, let me tell you. The gods have not been smiling on us lately, Francis. What does the Big Boy want from us? First Kennedy and then just two weeks later Frankie is scooped up in Tahoe while eating his dinner. I heard that it was a couple of punks posing as room service that broke in and took Frank away at the point of a gun. Really, pal, it was the worst fifty-four hours of my life. I didn't know what to do for you and Nancy. I even put away all the albums, vowing never to play them until Frank Jr. was safely returned to us. Thank God he was released unharmed. (I really missed those records.) What a terrible feeling to want to do something for a pal and not know how to help. I felt like an indecisive Jack Ruby. The Jews already have one of those, Frank. It was strange wasn't it, Francis, that the kidnappers asked for only $240,000. I'm sure you would've given millions. I thought of offering myself as collateral but then I had the problem of who would console the family of Milton Fine.     You see, Frank, Milton was an old friend of mine from the Weiss & Rifkind days. He went through a divorce around the same time Jill and I split up and so we became even closer friends due to our mutual miseries. Although Milton's wife ran off with my old friend Hangars (You know Julie Chalfin, the bridal veil king?). Anyhoo, Milton and I were old friends. Milton once made me promise to look after his two kids if anything should happen to him. He wasn't sick, Francis, just the kind of guy who always owed people money. Sometimes not very nice people Milton was into--for more scratch than I care to mention. So he could never be quite sure who he was dealing with. But he loved those two kids. I can't for the life of me remember their names. They were cockamamie names like the kind they give to kids nowadays. I'm grateful, Frank, that according to the actuarial tables, we're not going to have to meet a lot of octogenarians with names like Heather and Glen. No foresight in those names, Francis! So of course I gave Milton my solemn promise to look after Fric and Frac. Even though it's a little hard as he's got one upstate at some kind of military school and the little one lives with her mother who works all day at a high class beauty parlor in Great Neck and so parks the kid with a neighbor who, it seems to me, Frank, spends all day entertaining salesmen from Fuller Brush. But I digress.     So one day Milton (as is his wont) goes to Pilgrim State Hospital to visit his cousin Frieda who's been in the booby hatch ever since the day after her wedding night. Milton is like that, Frank. He's kind of my Jilly. The Rock of Gibraltar meets the Berlin Wall, that's Milton. So he's visiting his cousin Frieda when poor Milton drops dead of a heart attack. His heart just attacked him and he fell back down in his chair right in Frieda's room. Well, Frieda being cooped up in a pyscho ward practically her whole life without any visitors likes having Milton around, even though as the days pass he's not much company. Finally, someone realizes that Milton never quite signed out of the hospital after signing in, so they go to look for him and find him in Frieda's room, a little worse for wear and dead as the Greek language.     But Milton's troubles weren't over, Frank. In fact, they were just beginning. It seems that Milton had secretly married a black woman named Felicia, a real serious young dame who was ga-ga for the Catholic Church. She decided to have Milton buried as a Catholic, with priests and incense and Jesus on the cross looking down on Milton in his coffin. Milton's parents almost had matching aneurysms when they found out they'd have to go to church to bury their son. Old man Fine was a cantor, for crissake, up in Riverdale. So who gets the call to work things out, the week of Frankie Jr.'s abduction? Your favorite manufacturers rep.      So I went to see Felicia in her apartment near Queens Boulevard. She offered me lots of Milton's stuff--his shoes, his golf clubs, stuff like that, some of his favorite ties. Needless to say, with the exception of some of the ties I begged off. I told her to give it all to Goodwill or donate it to a retirement home--I knew of one in the Bronx, we used to call the Exacta Arms, due to all the elderly bookies and bettors who wound up living there. (They'd sneak bets out with the Puerto Rican orderlies.) It was like Santa Anita only with wheelchairs.      After much hand holding I positioned myself near the Kleenex box in order to reach out strategically for a tissue with which to help her with the waterworks which I knew would eventually come, first in a trickle or two and then watch out, Niagara Falls here we go!      I should have been Kennedy's choice at the U.N., Francis, for I talked Felicia into allowing Milton's parents to have a private service at Maimonides, and then she could do with Milt whatever the hell she wanted--she could have him declared a saint for all I cared. St. Milton of Hewlett--the patron saint of discount.      Well, Frank, here you are getting over the biggest fright of your life and I've got you thinking about Pilgrim State Hospital and the last rites. We should be cracking open a bottle of Cold Duck now that Frankie Jr.'s back. I heard about that nut who plays the piano, Oscar Levant, saying that if Frank Jr. was kidnapped it must've been done by music critics. What a sick guy. A real stinker. If I ever see that fruitcake I'll give him a piece of your mind.      I'm glad that a man's best pal is happy tonight and that Frankie Jr. gets to sleep in his own bed.     Yours, Fink Dear Frank,      You'll forgive a pal who's trying to break into the business a little late in life, but I've written a play for you, Francis. It's called "The Kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr." You might want to think about playing Frankie Jr., so I thought I'd let you warm up for the part of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront . I'm glad you told "Mumbles Brando" to call you "Mr. Sinatra" the next time you ran into him at Chasen's.      Someone without your sophistication, your élan, if you pardon my French, pal, might think this play a shameful exploitation of a near-tragedy, but I know you better than that, Francis. In fact the entire thing is told in a flashback while you are in your car driving to the designated drop-off point with the ransom money. We flash all the way back to the first time you cut Frankie Junior's hair, going up to the point when he struck out on his own to sing for his supper at Tahoe where he was abducted.     There are some very intense scenes between both Frankie and his kidnappers, and a split-screen approach to you and Nancy reacting to the news. I think you're really going to like it, Frank. In fact, you might be interested to know that I had a burst of inspiration for the ending while I was in Los Angeles for a trade show. I was driving on the San Diego Freeway when I realized that Frankie was let go somewhere along the Mulholland Drive exit. Needless to say, it sent a shiver down my spinal column to be finishing the play in a car, so close to the actual spot where so much of the action in the play takes place. When Frankie stumbles out of the bushes and on to someone's driveway, after the kidnappers have fled, he notices a newspaper lying on the front lawn dated Dec. 11, 1963--one day before your birthday, Frank.     Two days ago I received a letter from Mrs. Kennedy, thanking me for taking the time to express my sorrow over the death of President Kennedy. It wasn't a letter exactly, Francis, but a white card with a black border around it, and printed out in a kind of wedding invitation handwriting was her note to me. If that's a sample of her handwriting, Francis, she is truly a great lady. When I opened up the letter, I thought at first that Jill had remarried. It looked so much like a wedding invitation, only it was a wedding invitation to a funeral.     I know how heartbroken you were when Bobby Kennedy pulled the plug on his brother's staying with you in Palm Springs. It must've been galling for you to have the president staying at Bing's house just a few miles up the road from your house. And that, after all the trouble you went through to expand the place!     A man can never tell, Pal, what's going to happen, or not happen, under his own roof. I know you can relate to this story, Frank, especially after all you've been through with Frank Jr.     Jill and I were worried about our daughter when she began to be afraid that the roof of our house was going to fall in on her. At first, we thought it might've been some delayed reaction to what happened to the Weiss & Rifkind Building in New York and the trauma that caused around here. But eventually it got so bad that she could only sleep at her friend's house. We hardly ever saw her. We finally took Nancy to a headshrinker, a guy named Bushmiller (who I quickly re-named Bullshitter and Bill-Me-Will-Ya). He told us that as young as Nancy was, she had been picking up on all the trouble Jill and I were having. Of course, the kid was right, Frank. The roof was going to cave in. I had a hole in my head (as you would say) that everyone could see through except me.     So now I'm spending a lot of time at the Hilton on Seventh Avenue, the one across from Radio City Music Hall where I used to take Jill and Nancy to see the Christmas show. (I know what you're thinking; what are six Jew feet doing on line for the Christmas show? But Nancy loved seeing all the animals onstage, and she had a crush on one of the Three Wise Guys, the guy holding the myrrh.) So there I am holed up at the Hilton with my kid. We had to take her out of the house just so she could get some sleep.     So I'm trying to work, take care of Nancy, and dodge crabby phone calls from Jill, while sidewalk Santas start blooming up out of the cracks in the sidewalk to spread their nerve-wracking good cheer.     One night, I noticed, Nancy had taken one of our photo albums from the house. It was the first one Jill had kept after our wedding and the honeymoon at Niagara Falls. The pictures of Jill in that yellow raincoat they give you with that fisherman's hat, the whole thing straight out of Morton Salt, just broke me up. Frank, the photos still look wet. One picture of Jill standing on Peace Bridge, between New York and Canada, leaning against the viewfinder, with its big empty eyes that open up for a quarter and let you see everything so close you could drink it, that picture really tore my heart out. To think that we went over the falls together not in a barrel but with a suitcase and with so much hope in the future and now my kid's afraid to sleep in her own house and my wife looks back at me from Niagara Falls, 20,000 leagues under the sea. The scourge of marriage has come out of its cave beneath the falls, Francis. I'm listening a lot to "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" these days. My pillow's a land mine. I don't dare fall asleep. My phrasing's off tonight, Frank.     Yours, Finky Dear Frank,     I'm so sorry you lost Cal-Neva. It was a beautiful spot, Francis. Tahoe will never be the same. It was a dream come true. It was Sinatraland. I'm only sorry we were never there at the same time. (Am I right, Frank, did you or did you not give your Nancy's husband Tommy Sands a shot at the showroom?)     Our Nancy wanted us to take her up to Cal-Neva to see Tommy perform. But I believe that the Sands kid couldn't quite make it at those high altitudes, so you pulled the plug on him after the first show. I took the family up anyway, Frank. It was like old home week. I couldn't believe all the fellas you had up there, Francis. Uncle Ruby--Irwin Rubenstein of Ruby's Dunes in Palm Springs--was running the dining room, and another nafka I hadn't seen since I was knee-high to Rubirosa was friend Skinny D'Amato of the 500 Club. When I saw Skinny running the showroom, I knew I was home. And then those bastards at the gaming commission took it all away. Cal-Neva was Sinatraland writ large. (See what a little night school does to a guy?) I pointed out to Jill and Nancy Ava how the joint reflected your ideas, even your favorite colors--beige, orange and brown. I explained how every detail down to the light switches and every employee from the maitre d' to the kids parking the cars was hand picked by Frank Sinatra himself. To say that you worked hard on making Cal-Neva live up to your dreams would not begin to approximate your effort. The thing Copyright (c) 1999 Sam Kashner. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Love and Marriage
Glad to Be Unhappy
Strangers in the Night
The Second Time Around
Everything Happens to Me