Saturday, September 03, 2005

Bagman

Who uses it: Gangsters
What it means: The guy who picks up and delivers payoffs in an organized crime ring.
How you can use it: To describe anyone who’s soliciting contributions for a questionable cause.

This term may seem a little obvious to some regular readers of the blog. Despite my passion for crime fiction, though, I'd never heard the term until about ten years ago. A colleague described a political aide we knew as "Congressman X's bagman," and I had to ask her what she meant by that. A native of Chicago, she rolled her eyes and explained.

The term and the story seem relevant this morning because of last night's Shamus Awards Dinner, at a place called Tommy Gun's Garage on Chicago's Southside. Tommy Gun's Garage is a recreated speakeasy, with a cabaret show about life in Prohibition-era Chicago. Years ago, when the association I worked for was planning a board meeting in Chicago, we were supposed to have a dinner at this very place; but the same colleague who explained the definition of "bagman" protested. She said it was wrong to romanticize Chicago's bloody history, pointing out that no one would ever want to go to a Los Angeles restaurant that recreated the Watts riots, or an Irish restaurant that offered a cabaret about the Potato Famine.

But romanticizing crime -- in the classic sense of that word, turning crime into stories that have beginnings, middles, and ends, with characters motivated by strong emotion -- is what the Private Eye Writers of America is all about. Last night's dinner was great fun, and became even more fun when Ed Wright won the Best Novel award for his second John Ray Horn mystery, While I Disappear. Ed and his wife, Cathy, let me tag along with them to the dinner, and I have to say that any skepticism one might have about artistic awards goes right out the window when you're sitting with the winner. While I Disappear is just out in paperback, so everyone should read it, if they haven't already.

Sara Paretsky won the group's lifetime achievement award. It was an honor just to hear her speak; she's graceful and gorgeous, in addition to being a titan among crime writers, and it felt like being in the presence of a superhero.

3 comments:

Jack said...

Great description of the Shamus Speakeash bash.

Jack Bludis

Andrea said...

Tommy Gun's Garage doesn't glorigy the bloodshed that was Chicago's past. Rather, it depicts the culture that existed at the same time. Tommy Gun's is all about dance numbers, like the Charleston, and Abbot and Castello numbers. The 20s, even though it was a violent time in Chicago, is what established Chicago as one of America's great cities with its comedy and music. Every city has its crime, but it's important that we show the good side of a bad time in history.

Andrea said...

P.S. I was bussing tables the night your group was there. The woman who won the lifetime achievment award blew me away with her speech.