The Art of the Endless Hustle
In my quest to be anything but a boring kid from Milwaukee, I became a fake rock star, con man and global drug smuggler. I kept going—until my hubris nearly cost me everything.
As a kid, I lived for TV shows. I loved the villains, the heroes, the struggle between good and bad and right and wrong.
When my first-grade teacher asked her students what we wanted to be when we grew up, most of my classmates said they wanted to be baseball players, doctors or teachers. When it was my turn, I told her that I wanted to be Ming. She looked blank.
My favorite shows that aired in 1955 — when I was 6 — were Soldiers of Fortune and the early Flash Gordon serials. The first was about two guys wearing safari hats and beige outfits, who would hack their way through the jungle. The second featured the titular superhero fighting the ruler of planet Mongo, bad guy Emperor Ming.
My teacher scolded me as if I had done something wrong. I thought to myself, “Who the heck wants to do those other stupid jobs when you can be Emperor of Earth?”
I sure didn’t want to be like my father, who worked six days a week, 12 hours a day at a local furniture store. Most men of the era went straight for the booze, but my dad was a pretty straight guy. His idea of wild and crazy was hiding the afikoman in a backyard flower pot during the Passover seder.
We were the only Jews living on the busiest thoroughfare in Milwaukee. Though we were not religious, my parents had filled me in on the Holocaust. I knew that the lesson was supposed to teach me how lucky I was to be able to get up and go to school every day, but I didn’t see it that way. For me, freedom meant being in control of my own life.