10/01/2012 10:27 am ET Updated Dec 01, 2012

My Life Begins In Earnest

Los Angeles-based Stanley K. Sheinbaum was, in his "younger years," referred to as the head of the Malibu Mafia, a self-styled group of L.A. Westside liberals active in Democratic politics which included his wife, Betty Warner Sheinbaum. He was also a key player in the original negotiations with then Palestinian President Yasser Arafat -- negotiations that eventually led to the Camp David Agreements. The following is a compilation taken from his recently published memoir, Stanley K. Sheinbaum: A 20th Century Knight's Quest for Peace, Civil Liberties and Economic Justice. In this compilation, Sheinbaum describes his early years growing up in New York City.

I didn't like Selma Klimberg very much. Although she was born in the United States and raised in New York City, she was very Galitzian -- Jewish from the old Austrio-Hungarian Empire's Polish province of Galicia. Galitzianer saw themselves as superior to Jews from other parts of Eastern Europe, and Selma Klimberg definitely thought she was superior.

I don't remember her as being particularly kind to anyone. Certainly not to me. Actually, now that I think back on it, I didn't really like Selma Klimberg at all. But I guess I should have; she was my mother.

When I was a young boy, we lived in a spacious new apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York at 111th and Broadway near Columbia University. Life was good, very good, until one day I came home from school, and my mother was even more upset than usual. "This is going to be your last night in this apartment," she said to me. She turned to my father, "Tell him. Tell him how you really screwed up this time. Tell your son." I looked at my father. He nodded. It was 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression.

It's funny, you know, but as I look back on those Depression years, my day-to-day life, my child life, was still filled with excitement and adventures. We were never actually hungry and we had warm clothes and a place to live.

As I grew older, I used to tell my mother I was going to the library to study so I could get better grades and become the doctor, the lawyer, even the dentist she wanted me to be. But then, when I reached 125th Street, I turned right toward the Apollo Theater instead of left toward the New York Public Library.

While it was not uncommon to see whites around the Apollo in those days, it was definitely Harlem and the heart of New York City's black culture. I saw Jimmie Lunceford, Duke Ellington and Chick Webb. This was before swing went mainstream, so white musicians like Tommy Dorsey also played there, and that was where I first heard Benny Goodman. Of course times were at least as hard, actually harder I'm sure, in Harlem, but people walked with more of a bounce in their step, they spoke more loosely, they acted unconcerned about how bad things were. For an uptight Jewish kid harassed by his mother, life at the Apollo appeared, on the surface at least, to be another world. And so I learned one more valuable lesson I have carried with me throughout my life: if you act relaxed and confident, people will perceive you are relaxed and confident no matter what you might be feeling inside.

After I left high school a friend got me involved in Broadway theater, in a production called Yokel Boy that starred Buddy Ebsen, Dixie Dunbar, Phil Silvers, and Judy Canova. The fourth day I'm there, my friend doesn't show up so the stage manager asks me if I want to be the assistant stage manager.

I knew my friend's father was the gangster, Waxey Gordon, who worked with Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky. I didn't want to have my legs broken. Or worse. But it turned out my friend didn't want the job anymore, so I became the guy who did everything no one else wanted to do.

One day Phil Silvers stopped me. "Hey kid," he growled, "so, you're allowed to go in and out the stage door there while the play's actually going on aren't ya'?"

"Yes, Mr. Silvers."

"Hey, call me, Phil, kid."

"Yeah, sure, Mister... I mean, Phil."

"Well there's a man sitting in the back booth of that joint across the street. Here's five bucks. Tell him Astroland to win in the sixth."

"Yeah sure, Phil.

I turned to go. "Oh and kid, here's two bits to keep for yourself." He flipped me a quarter.

That was a nice little tip during the Depression. And pretty soon I was running back and forth across the street placing bets for a lot of the guys in the cast. Some of the girls as well.

During that same time I was also hanging out with my other friends, upper-middle class types, all of whom went to Columbia and pledged Tau Epsilon Phi, the Jewish fraternity.

One afternoon Lenny and Al were talking about the novel Sister Carrie, and I think it was Lenny who made the remark that he wouldn't mind having a Sister Carrie of his own, on the side.

"But why would you want to have a nun for a girlfriend?" I blurted out.

Al said, "He's talking about the Dreiser novel, Stanley. You know, Theodore Dreiser. Sister Carrie's a... a prostitute."

I just stared at them. I was terribly embarrassed and I realized I was really falling behind, losing out, living aimlessly.

I was feeling touchy, already annoyed when I dropped by our apartment where mother was praising my little brother Gilbert's latest report card -- all A's, as usual.

"Why don't I ever get any praise?" I said as I glared at my mother.

"There isn't much to praise, Stanley."

"Thanks to you," I threw back at her. Gilbert's little jaw dropped, and he just stared at me. No one talked back to our mother like that.

My mother was enraged. She flew out of her chair and stood before me, trembling. "Get out of here," she screamed, "Get out, and I don't care if you never come back!"

"Why would I want to come back to this dump and a mother like you," I shouted at her.

I felt the sting as she slapped me across the face, and I then whipped around and stormed out the door.

Not long after that incident, I ran into Jay, another old friend who was managing the amusement park at Jones Beach out on Long Island. He told me that he was going to Galveston to open up a version of Jones Beach down there. "Galveston?" I asked, "Never heard of it."

"Texas," he said.


"I don't think so. It's an island or something, near Houston."

"Houston, Texas."

"Yeah," he said. "Texas, but not the cowboy part. Texas, the land of opportunity right now. Forget the Depression, there's jobs and money everywhere in Texas."

Texas. Stanley Sheinbaum in Texas. Now that sounded different. So, I joined him in his old green 1930 Chevy Sedan and we drove out of New York City across America toward Texas. On that day, the long journey that has become my life began in earnest.

And my life has certainly not been ordinary.

One last story about my mother. A few years after I left New York, when I was drafted into the army during World War II, my First Sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood told me I had to fill in the space for my middle name.

"I don't have a middle name," I said. "There wasn't one on my birth certificate."

"Fill it in anyway," he grumbled with typical army logic.

One doesn't argue with his sergeant, so I decided to use my mother's maiden name, Klimberg. But then I realized I didn't know how to spell it. Was it Klim, Klem, berg, burg? So I just put down the initial "K," and all the rest of my life I've been Stanley K. Sheinbaum.

So she's always been part of me. And I guess, when all is said and done, I've wanted it that way.