When the news broke Monday about Gov. Spitzer's calamitous date with a hooker, I could only think he clung to the peculiar logic of my dad's Uncle Jack.
My dad's Uncle Jack was a gambler from Chicago. No big thing in those days. My dad's father was a certifiable Chicago gangster in the 1920s and '30s. He and his brother Jack were in the family business you might say.
My first vivid impression of Uncle Jack came at a family gathering at my parents' home in rural Kenosha County. I was 12 or 13. The men were standing on the porch drinking VO and Canadian Club and discussing sex. Believe me, I was all ears.
Uncle Jack, then in his early 60s, was a small dapper man with a huge diamond pinky ring. Like all Chicago men of his generation, he talked out of the side of his mouth. (Think of Studs Terkel.) Uncle Jack was expounding on the pros and cons of extramarital sex. I was, in a word, transfixed.
Family lore had it that the first time that Uncle Jack was cracked for racketeering that he pled ignorance: "What, gambling is illegal? You're kidding me, your honor!" Family lore also had it that when Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security that Uncle Jack failed to get a Social Security number. Didn't want to be on the government's radar, so to speak.
Surely this was a tall tale. But still when I married in 1977 we received a sizable cashier's check from Uncle Jack. Why a cashier's check I asked my dad, who explained that his uncle didn't believe in bank accounts.
Then in his 70s, Jack was still a Chicago Wise Guy. He swept into the reception hall at a Racine hotel, immediately cornered a bus boy, handed him a wad of bills and told him to keep the drinks flowing to his table all night.
One of my wife's stolid Danish uncles in what must have been a pained effort in multicultural outreach, asked Uncle Jack, a tough Jew from Chicago, what he did for a living. "I'm in the mining business. I mind my own business," Uncle Jack replied with a wicked smile.
Anyway, there was Uncle Jack holding forth on extramarital sex as the Eisen men and their close friends gathered around him, drinks in hand absorbing his wisdom. I was leaning in, wide-eyed and trying to be inconspicuous.
Uncle Jack was saying he didn't believe in extramarital affairs. Too risky, too emotional. You didn't want to do anything that might embarrass your wife and threaten the sanctity of the family. So Uncle Jack was telling us that he only patronized "working girls." Having sex with prostitutes was much smarter, he advised. That way you protected your marriage.
Years later, his advice made more sense to me when I read an article on a rich and powerful man who had a thing for prostitutes. Here was guy who certainly didn't need to pay for sex. But as the article explained, he wasn't really paying for sex but paying for the woman to leave after the encounter and to never enter his world again.
The sex, after all, was about sex and not a relationship. I have to wonder if Eliot Spitzer thought the same.
When the news broke Monday about Gov. Spitzer's calamitous date with a hooker, I could only wonder: What was the man thinking? Okay, with his dick. But beyond that I suspect Spitzer clung to the peculiar logic of Uncle Jack.
He somehow believed he was protecting his wife and family by patronizing a high-class prostitute instead of entering into a risky affair with another woman.
But Uncle Jack's world is long gone. His thinking was a stylish but convenient male rationalization for marital betrayal. Maybe in the era of the double standard it made some sense. But only a very foolish man would think it still held true today.
That would be Eliot Spitzer.