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A wise man and a wiseguy: The tale of two books

What could an unassuming middle-aged man and an unscrupulous, big-time scam artist have in common?

The answer to that question is actually about 12 years old. I discovered I have a knack for running into compelling real-life characters and their stories. I’ve also discovered many of these memorable characters could be the subject of books that entertain readers and allow me to create literature that matters. So today, the wise man and the wiseguy comprise two separate books in my growing anthology of books (10 and counting). The interesting thing is I never know where the next one is coming from.


Arthur Mercado: Ordinary Guy. Extraordinary Story

Some years ago I was diagnosed with a heart condition called atrial fibrillation. Fortunately, it can be controlled by meds and a positive life outlook. As part of my medical self-care, I decided to attend a forum of sorts with many people like myself, who had heart conditions of various kinds.

There I met a quiet, humble man named Arthur Mercado during one of the group support sessions. As others willingly talked about themselves, a bearded man with granny glasses sat stoically in the corner with his arms crossed. I wondered why the man said nothing. I started to needle and tease him into saying something.  Suddenly, he starts rattling off details of his 51 heart procedures and a stack of other medical setbacks, and the profound things it taught him about life. It was like a philosopher combined with Marlon Brando, telling you the facts of life and how he navigated the path. People were speechless. When Arthur stopped, he crossed his arms again and said, “And, that’s all I’ve got to say about that!”

There and then I knew Arthur was more than just a story. He was an instrument of inspiration. The question was how to capture his life.  When I first broached the idea, he told me to get lost. Then we shared a cup of coffee here and there. Eventually, I wore him down, and Papa Cado (his grandchildren’s nickname) was born.  Two years later we had captured — in a first-person narrative, Arthur, like a sage talking to you — the first 40 years of his life as a rough and ready character, with girls, hunting expeditions, raising his daughter as a single parent, and building a unique collection of life values. It was also during these early years he lost his brother at age 32, his father at 41, and his mother at 57.


Life Begins at 40

As if that wasn’t enough, Arthur’s life changed even more dramatically at age 40, after collapsing on a baseball field and having an emergency five-bypass.  He then used his unmistakable sense of humor, wit, and determination to endure another 50 heart procedures (including 32 stents), two out-of-body experiences, 36 cancer radiation treatments, and stage four Parkinson’s.  After that near-death experience, as well as having lost his mother, father, and brother relatively early, my book chapters outline how he applied these acquired outlooks and values in very practical terms. You will glean his unmistakable sense of wisdom and wit and determination. The book captures his personal voice, like a sage speaking right to you.

In keeping with Arthur’s knack for the incredible, just before he died, a woman appeared in his hospital room who happened to be his long lost 50-yr-old biological daughter. It turns out he had conceived a child with his high school girlfriend but his strict father would not let him keep the child, who was then orphaned, and he had lost touch for all of his life with his own blood. It was interesting to see his high school girlfriend and daughter in the room with his current wife while he was on his deathbed.  Arthur died quietly last year at age 72. As a final tribute, I took a whole bunch of previously unpublished stories and pictures and created Papa Cado, 5th Edition.


Monkey Business, More Wisdom

After he passed, I remembered all the funny things Arthur had said that contained a bit of everyday wisdom. He even found a life lesson in the fact that his mother always liked her pet monkey, Pepi, more than him. (Arthur even kept a picture of his mother holding Pepi’s hand as they walked down the street). And, so, that collection of wisdom, became a little pocket book called, Papa Cado’s Book of Wisdom. There Arthur offers, in his distinctive first-person voice, humorous and practical ways to think about death, fear, nightmares, food, gambling, and women.

I never tell anybody this, but I wrote all the letters to and from friends in Papa Cado 5th edition. The letters are based on real sentiments and events but written with artistic license by me to add color and emotion to the story. What can be more moving than a heartfelt letter from one person to another, especially in this era of emails, texts, and tweets?

One of my favorite lines, which is much more playful than sanguine, is a line he would use to pick up a woman at a bar. He would say, “You remind me of a piece of bubble gum. I’d love to chew you up!” On a more serious note, he reminded us that death is nothing to fear. He had been close so many times, it no longer held sway upon him.


From A Man of Wisdom to A Scandalous Wiseguy

My most recent book, The Salad Oil King, goes in an entirely different direction with an entirely different sort of man. This is the kind of man who fooled the world and walked away with untold millions and left others for broke.


Salad Oil King or Snake Oil King?

Like Papa Cado, the motivation behind The Salad Oil King was very personal. It involved my own mother and father in some respects, but I won’t give away the whole story just yet!

In her youth, my mother babysat a kid that she took a liking to in Manhattan. He was always a bit of hustler. The first thing he learned how to do was to put olive oil on his yo-yo, so it would move and recover faster and could get more spin than other kids’ yo-yos, even if they were older or more experienced than him. He would win yo-yo contests with this cheating method. He would always win against kids that were bigger than him. Next, his dad taught him another scam selling fish at the old markets back in the day. His father had him stuff ice inside the fish prior to weighing for a profitable increase in pay on the scales.

Eventually, he graduated to other things, and he needed money for a bigger venture. He asked one of his friends on the streets of Little Italy in New York. He asked the guy for $2000 and told him he would double his money in 90 days. 90 days later the guy showed up and gave the friend $6000.That friend was my father. Little did my dad know what a hornet’s nest he was getting involved in, which came crashing down decades later.

In my book, the protagonist is called “Fonso.” But, he is based on a real-life piece-of-work named Tino, who went from skimming and scamming small change to black market stuff with the mafia that defrauded the US government of hundreds of millions.

Along the way, there are enough twists and turns to keep you flipping the pages. The prestigious San Francisco Literary Review calls the book, “A classic American crime story spun by a master storyteller.” The book is kinda cool, if I say so myself, as the reader watches the smart little boy from humble beginnings morph into a ruthless scam artist who masterminds an epic $13 billion dollar scam that outwits the entire world’s financial apparatus and shuts down the stock market.  Speaking of beginnings, I want you to read the first three chapters of The Salad Oil King on the house, just enter your email here.

I hope you enjoyed my blog today.

DATE: Sep.18.2017 | CATEGORY: Archived