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April 16, 2013

An Excerpt from Augie’s Secrets by Neal Karlen

Filed under: Authors, Book Excerpt, Event — Alison Aten @ 2:30 pm

Augie\'s Secrets by Neal Karlen Neal Karlen, photo by Sarah Buckley

Here’s an excerpt from Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip by Neal Karlen. Meet Neal this Thursday at 7 pm at Mill City Museum to hear more of Augie’s secrets. Click on the book title, above, for more information and events.


There were two words too powerful, too terrible, too ugly for my grandmother to pronounce fully aloud. She approached the first one in a normal timbre, then at the last second dropped her tone to sotto voce and whispered, in the heavy accent of her native Odessa, “kan-suh.”

The effect was mighty and dramatic. She would be sitting at the dining room table, with her almost-perfect son, my father, hiding behind the newspaper box scores and wax fruit, and she would say loudly, to no one in particular, in a full Merman-esque voice, “Mr. Anderson, I heard he has a throat full of”—then she’d whisper—”kan-suh.”

She said the offending word barely audibly, like she wanted no one in the room to hear it but my father, as if she expected him personally to cure malignancy forever: kan-suh.

The second ghastly word was what she deemed the vocation of her misbegotten younger brother, Augie, who to my father’s mind was the only interesting person in the entire family. She would say, as a prelude to damning her damnable brother, that “Augie is a no-goodnik” or “My brother is a scandal to the family!” which he sort of was, to a few, because of that place he ran, Augie’s Theatre Lounge, or maybe that speakeasy for drunken shikkers he had earlier, the White Swan.

She would conclude her sermon of fire and damnation, just saying his name, “Augie”—then dropping her voice an octave and—shhh!—say it: “geng-steh.”

“Geng-steh,” she’d whisper again, saying the word twice in overstated understatement, evoking images of gangland slayers like John Dillinger, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, Ma Barker and her boys, and Pretty Boy Floyd, whose name she’d translate from the newspaper, her English primer, as “Handsome Fegel”—and the later ones, Davie “the Jew” Berman and Isadore “Kid Cann” Blumenfeld. Amazingly, my father became aware over time, Augie knew all of them and liked almost all of them—and they all knew and liked Augie.

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