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Also in the hard-bitten category is “Mustang Sally,” the “teeny-tiny” psychiatrist with a thing for breast implants, cadavers and stilettos who specializes in treating “performers in tribute bands” in her dive digs in a Jersey Shore motel and serves as Eastman’s sounding board in his quest to understand what makes Chin tick.
Dezenhall modeled the character after aspects of American Enterprise Institute scholar and psychiatrist Sally Satel, author of “PC, M.D. How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine” and a close friend of Dezenhall’s.
Reached by phone at her office, Satel jokes that “Stang is kind of my inner showgirl, hard-bitten with a heart of gold. She’s seen it all and done it all. She has a keen laser-like vision into the souls of deranged criminals.” But Satel is quick to add: “I’m just an inspiration. It’s not a roman a clef.”
Like her character, the 5-foot, 1-inch Satel, who Dezenhall also calls “Stang,” frequently comes in contact with a broad range of tough characters in her nonfiction work at a Northeast Washington methadone clinic. She also admits to a fascination “with gross anatomy.” Back in graduate school at the University of Chicago, Satel remembers teaching human “dissections by day and cocktail waitressing by night.”
Satel says Dezenhall frequently bounces ideas off her for his novels, which can sometimes mean answering such sensitive questions as: “If you were going to get implants for the character what would you get?” (For the record, Satel is implant-free, though her literary alter ego settles on a pair of 34Cs.)
Finally, AEI scholar and Roll Call contributor Norm Ornstein pops up as the music industry racketeer Norm “Doo-Wop” Ornstein with eyes “warm like herbal tea” and a hankering for 1950s-era tunes. “I don’t mind at all having my name attached ... to an earthy, somewhat disreputable character,” says Ornstein, adding that he harbors a “secret desire” to be the actor Steve Buscemi, who often plays “loser figures or thugs.”
“I just glommed onto this character,” Ornstein says.
Ornstein earlier appeared as a long-suffering, though brilliant, campaign manager in comedian Al Franken’s 1999 satire of the Franken presidency, “Why Not Me?” “I’m an eclectic guy,” Ornstein laughs.
And then there’s Dezenhall himself, who readily acknowledges a few broad-brush similarities to his protagonist Eastman. Both grew up in South Jersey, attended Dartmouth and spent time in the late President Ronald Reagan’s White House. And while Dezenhall isn’t related to a prominent Atlantic City gangster, as is Eastman, he has admitted to members of his family tree having had “contacts” with unsavory characters.
“Jonah Eastman allows me to tell stories that I really can’t tell about my own life,” he says. “He gives me a veil to hide behind.”
Chin is a “composite of the megalomaniacs I run into in that world,” adds Dezenhall, whose firm has had its share of celebrity clients.
However, the general idea for the book sprung from Dezenhall’s childhood, when he was frequently mistaken for Brandon Cruz, the young star of the 1960s/1970s sitcom “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”