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Washington, United States
loves: you win if you guessed "pets" and "museums". Also books, art history, travel, British punk, Korean kimchi, bindis, martinis, and other things TBD. I will always make it very clear if a post is sponsored in any way. Drop me a line at thepetmuseum AT gmail.com !

Thursday, August 27, 2009

thug life, with cats

I often mention here my great fondness for Jorge Luis Borges (Argentinean writer, d. 1986). To this day I am constantly finding something of his I haven't read yet. A couple of days ago it was his A Universal History of Iniquity. (Translated by Andrew Hurley for Penguin Books, 2001.)
An elegant collection of evildoers across the world and the centuries, this collection includes the essay "Monk Eastman, Purveyor of Iniquities." Apparently the rough crew in the gangs of turn of the 20th century New York included this gent, of whom Borges notes that he started a pet shop at age 19 with his father's backing, and later in life another as a front (for more nefarious business) full of hundreds of pigeons and cats.
"He loved every one of the creatures," Borges wrote, "and would often stroll through the streets of the neighborhood with one purring cat on his arm and others trailing ambitiously in his wake."

Seriously? Perhaps this was another of Borges' creations? (My favorite of which was the Zahir.)

No, as it happens, there sure as shooting was a Monk Eastman, he was a premier thug in the Gangs of New York, and he did love his birds and cats something fierce. For the primary scholarship on that see this page of Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York (you should get page 256, via Google Books).

And for a special opportunity, if you'd like to read an academic essay on this Borges essay including a reference to Monk Eastman, try this. (It's published through the Borges Center at the University of Pittsburgh.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In spite of everything, we feel that as long as he was good to cats, he couldn't be all bad...