G.O.P. D.O.A. By Jay Brida Contemporary Press 181 pages, $9.00 (cheap)
former New York City police commissioner has a wife, kids, and a million-dollar Tudor in Jersey, where he spends a little too much time doing deals with guys that look too much like Paulie Walnuts and Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. When he’s not hanging with the wise guys or lounging at his pool, he’s across the river in his Battery Park love nest, banging a literary lioness and a prison guard. On different shifts. He’s discreet. His “passionate liaison pad” overlooking Ground Zero was free digs for rescue workers at the World Trade Center—until he cut his own deal with an Italian-American real estate hustler who likes cops so much he packs a .38, a .45, and a nine-milimeter. And carries a badge. Our ex-commissioner has dodged a warrant for $5,000 in back condo fees and picked up a quick $6 million on stock options without ever risking a cent. When a former mayor of New York talks a Republican president into appointing this sack of damaged goods to a cabinet post, stories start to leak and he’s in trouble. Tit in a wringer. Ass in a crack. Balls in a vice. All that. Fortunately, there are political types who clean up after guys like him and New York is full of them. Fixers who make stories go away, make police records disappear, make reporters look like mercenary jackals … Wait. That’s not G.O.P. D.O.A. That’s Bernie Kerik D.O.A — two days after George Bush named him head of the Department of Homeland Security. At least that’s how it was reported in the Times and the Post. Okay, on to G.O.P. D.O.A. A New York ward politician has a tidy row house in Bay Ridge, a wife, a kid. Okay, the kid’s dead. Smack, maybe. Wait. First full disclosure. This reviewer knows the author, who was an intern at this publication ten years ago. When the reviewer was editor. A guy who showed up here with a resume so full of contradictions it makes Bill Clinton’s grand jury testimony seem straightforward. Whatever. We didn’t pay much attention to the bloated CVs interns handed us back then. So now Jay Brida has written a novel. And his former boss who’s now a member of the board of the non-profit that runs this magazine is reviewing it. Too clubby? I never liked the guy much. And standards are changing. If Sam Tannenhaus can assign a polemical hack from The National Review to review my Tom DeLay book for the Sunday Times, I can review Jay Brida’s book here. At least you know where I’m coming from. I’m telling you. And you know where Contemporary Press is coming from. What they publish can’t be called literature. How can I say that? Easy. On page 182, right between “The End.” and “www.contemporarypress.com” it says in plain English: “Fuck Literature.” Maybe literature is overrated. Nothing actually happens in Waiting for Godot. Yet Beckett is celebrated. Cristo versus Arizona is one, single two-hundred-thirty-eight-page sentence. And we gave Cela the Nobel Prize. Brida understands action. And punctuation. At least there’s a story here. A story told in short, punchy sentences. A New York ward politician has a tidy row house in Bay Ridge, a wife, a kid. Okay, the kid’s dead. Smack, maybe. Or a bullet. G.O.P. D.O.A. is in one sense a small domestic tragedy. The wife, “the Great Missus,” makes great baked ziti, belongs to the Altar Society, and is devoted to her man, Ernie Marlucci. He loves her, too. But he struggles with fidelity. Most of the time he ends up losing. He loses big time when a pair of blood-stained satin panties belonging to a girlfriend show up in the mail. A threat? A bribe? A prelude to extortion? Stories start to leak and Marlucci’s in trouble. Tit in a wringer. Ass in a crack. Balls in a vice. All that. There are political types who clean up after guys like this and New York is full of them. Fixers who make stories go away, make police records disappear, make reporters look like mercenary jackals. If Bernie Kerik had a guy who cleaned up after him, he’d be the nation’s second Secretary of Homeland Security instead of a running joke on the Leno show. Ernie Marlucci’s fixer is a mensch. An Irish-American mensch named Flanagan. Maybe the author never gets around to a first name, but Flanagan is Brida’s most fully developed character. A New York type who drinks in seedy bars and wakes up wondering who he drank with. Or slept with. He always remembers Monica: “more than a tease …but less than a lover.” But she’s been with him off and on since they were kids in Bay Ridge. She’s another type. Edgy, sexually voracious, hot-tempered enough to toss a glass of fifteen-year-old single malt in your face. This book is all about New York types. Marlucci, the Italian-American ward heeler. Kwame Hamilton, who had been one of Marlucci’s guys in the black community but is carving out a political turf of his own. Hamilton’s operative, a Naderite Stalinist who wears you down with a clipboard full of righteous questions. A transvestite hooker. A black bartender unable to raise his voice above a crackling static after years of generic cigarettes and cheap booze. Surly cabbies. Seductive barmaids. In that way G.O.P D.O.A is like Thomas Wolf’s Bonfire of the Vanities, except it’s not nearly as long or as bad. There are even characters who play against type in Jay Brida’s novel set in Michael Bloomberg’s New York. Christians, in particular, arriving for the 2004 Republican national convention. As the story unfolds the smart reader suspects the satin panties riding to the wrecking yard in Flanagan’s towed car are a McGuffin. Maybe the real story is the Christians and Republicans. Fueling that suspicion is a tall prostitute deader than Bernie Kerik’s political future. She’s lying in bed in the hotel room of a Rush Limbaugh type in town for the convention. Flanagan is dragged into the room because the skills he’s demonstrated on the peripatetic tour of Brooklyn that opens the book are the Republicans’ only hope. He’s got his doubts about the dead woman.
“Phyllis.” The name struck me as funny. It was a middle-aged name, oddly ancient for a hooker. Trixie, as absurd as it sounded, would have been fine. LaToya, Cherie, and any number of made-up stage names would have been the norm, but I get Phyllis right up there on the arousal scale with Ethel, Eunice, and May. These were the names of great aunts or nuns, and I never met a sexy one of those either. I was surprised the woman looked as big as she did with that name, as I assumed most whores would have starved on a handle like that.”
Could Phyllis be Phil? Did the Republicans set up Flanagan because they know his boss was connected to the dead body in the hotel room? Were they jerking him around by his joint because of the jam they were in? “If word of this got out two days before the Republican Convention, the press would piss themselves in delight. It’d be G.O.P. D.O.A.…” The Republicans know that much. Flanagan’s good in a tight spot. And he’s the right man for a situation that requires a healthy dose of moral relativism. “So I lived with myself. I tried to make moral tradeoffs like that. The world still turns; the game is to stay on it.” It’s up to Flanagan to puzzle his way past the body and out of the hotel room. And maybe back into Monica’s arms. Or back between her legs. The world still turns. Here’s a book that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is: Genre fiction. Fast, gritty, and dirty. “Books for people who like to drink while they read,” says their website. To be fair as a reviewer, I drank while I read it. And continued drinking as I wrote the review. Check out their site. Order a copy. Pour a glass of Dewars. Crank up the volume on your favorite Ramones CD. And forget about literature. In fact “Fuck Literature.” The End.