Confidence Men, Feb. Jumel Terrace Books, 2005
I’ve always wanted to write a Confidence Man story for thugs and the women who love them. A Mookie Jackson story. As I once wrote in a piece on the Ghetto Harlequin phenomenon, regards founding father Daniel Defoe, “One of street literature’s great subjects has always been the highlife player, the big-dicked, bejeweled raconteur/entrepreneur, no nonsense, old s’cool of hard-knocks connoisseur of cunny, the honky-tonk man with the plan to stick it to the Man.”
That is the man on the left, sitting in my library, reading my book, Clarence “Mookie” Jackson, a prominent character in a roman-a-clef, The Life and Times of Sugarcane Handcock, by the man on the right, Playthell Benjamin. A contrivance of “ear-gasms, eye-gasms and full-blown Saturday night hoe-downs,” the unpublished manuscript lauds Mookie as fashion icon and mentor to Playthell’s indefatigable well-hung alter-uber-ego.
Mookie was among the founding Bankers of The Life as lived in Harlem, from the Madame Sinclaire/Bumpy Johnson era through the wack crack fin-de-siecle. He built a rep’ shooting fellow Banker “Red” Dillard Morrison in the abdomen with a shotgun after Red tried horning in on a successful con game he played for years with Alice, a beautiful white Tennessee redhead. They’d bilk the venial of Ohio and Southern Michigan, then disappear the bank back to into Harlem.
When Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes were just kids, Mookie was a gangster revolutionary. He was equally respected by the Genevese family, the Young Lords and the Black Panthers – to all of whom he made significant financial donations. For a while he was the money behind publishing Pride, a magazine devoted to African and American self-determination. While Mookie was a ‘Community Organizer” working with the Apollo’s MC, Ralph Cooper Sr., at the Division of Human Rights in the Harlem State Office Building, he reputedly shook Mayor Ed Koch down for city jobs for deserving minorities they knew personally.
Mookie was once a Brill Building Broadway Mr. Nightlife. As a record producer, his ’60s label ‘Clamike’ specialized in some deep dish soul and started a “fair play” committee to stop payola and protect his investments. He promoted concerts at Shea Stadium, then fights, reputedly literally running Don King out of Madison Square Garden. His name comes up in congressional testimonies regards organized crime’s involvement with labor unions in hearings presided over by Robert Kennedy, Jr. and when the FBI coerced captured Cuban Revolutionaries into testifying against him, dropping a pile of coke on the table in front of him in court, he denied it was his – it wasn’t – refuting possession and conspiracy charges.
Our paths crossed regards the film Across 110th Street (also see: Across 160th Street). The opening scenes take place in front of my house. His movie. Mookie was the uncredited co-producer the film-makers had to ‘consult‘ for his authority on shooting in Harlem. Any kind of shooting: dope, film, enemies; if you wanted to shoot shit in Harlem you needed to consult Mookie. In the movie, those are Mookie’s junkies in Mookie’s shooting galleries being paid in Mookie’s dope to be extras. The brothel brawl scene was shot in Miss Lacey’s, the pimp bar Mookie and Lloyd Price ran on 57th Street next-door to Carnegie Hall.
His wardrobe reputedly included 500 suits by Phil Kronfield and Leighton’s, then the haberdashers to the stars. His resume included every hustle in Harlem and their consequences: ” got 10 yrs in atlanta in 73..did 6..he still played a part..got busted in chinatown by dea in 89 got another 10 yrs – got out in 96…with a quadruple byppass…” one respectful pseudonym’s recounted, reminding me of the fund raiser Mookie organized when his friend, 555 Edgecombe resident Joe Louis, needed help.
Mookie loved to hang out in the bookshop and rifle through old issues of Muhammed Speaks and Ebony. He loved riding around in my black Checker Marathon, just like the get-away car in the movie. I’d pick him up from Lenox Gardens, drive him by, have a smoke and some talk. Much of it was about the court case that was his late-life passion; hanging on to his rights to James Brown’s song “This Is A Man’s World”. Co-authored by their shared paramour, Betty Jean Newsome, Mookie near stole the song’s royalties right out from under James. He came precious close to winning the court case just before he passed.
Precious Lawd, bless him. R.I.P. Mookie. He fucked ’em all. And they stayed fucked.