Meanwhile, Kruger’s mother got sick. He came home one day and found her on the floor in a pool of blood. He tried to pick her up; he couldn’t move her. He arranged the chairs in their house into a kind of line so he could slide her out the front door to his car and drive her to the ER.
She was diagnosed with liver disease. Kruger moved into the hospital with her and slept in the intensive-care waiting room. “Ninety-two days later, my mother was dead, and with that, a piece of me too,” he said. Kruger was in the hospital so long that when it came time to pay the bill for parking his car in the garage, the fee was more than his ’68 Olds was worth.
Back home, Kruger did not clean out his mother’s room. He left it as if she were alive, the possessions of an old lady—books, slippers, robes—frozen in time. He installed a bench by her grave at Beth David Cemetery in Long Island, a perch for sitting and pondering during his lengthy Sunday visits.
“I was not only her caregiver,” he said. “She was my friend.”
Her death left him alone with Marlene, who was suffering. “My sister was so drunk and so pilled out that she didn’t even know where she was or what she was doing,” he said. “At one point, she had like thirteen seizures in one day that basically cooked her brain. I knew something had to be done so she wouldn’t kill herself. She was doing all kinds of shit to get whatever she needed.” Kruger did what he could: rehab, meetings. “I was her tormentor. I was her jailer … This was Carl’s new mission in life: to rehabilitate my sister,” he said, speaking of himself in the third person.
The mission to live for others did not stop with Marlene. “I don’t touch the lives of somebody,” he said. “I become part of their lives, part of their very being. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad.”
For a man like Carl Kruger to meet a woman like Dottie Turano was unavoidable. “She was president of every parent association at the schools,” Kruger said. She could have run for office. She had the gift he didn’t have. “When she came into a room, there was laughter. Like now that there’s tears, then there was laughter,” Kruger said.
Her energy was an asset. At the time, Kruger was working for the local community board, and he helped Dottie get a job there as youth coordinator. She also came to meetings at the T, to hobnob with Kruger and the big shots there. Around election time, Dottie brought her two sons, Michael and Gerard, to help with campaigning. With a mother as PTA president, the Turano boys perhaps had no choice but to become overachievers. At South Shore High School, Michael Turano, class of ’79, was chairman of the executive council. Two years behind him was Gerard, the class president.
Kruger got close to the Turano family. Dottie was working at the board with Marlene, whom Kruger had also helped get hired. “Dottie became like Marlene’s surrogate mother,” Kruger said. “It was wonderful.”
Outside the community board, the Krugers would run into the Turanos at the diner on Saturday nights. “And life just gels together,” Kruger said.
And splits apart. The marriage between Dottie and her husband was starting to fracture. He didn’t like that she was spending so much of her time with Kruger and at the T. Eventually they filed for divorce. Later, the ex-husband thought Kruger was making a move for his family. Dottie and Kruger claimed that her ex wanted to leave her and her boys. And like he’d done so many times before, Kruger saw an opportunity where he could be of help. He stepped in.
He micromanaged their careers. He helped them get scholarships and into medical school. He encouraged them to specialize in gynecology. When Michael graduated from medical school, he threw a party so big it made the local paper, the Canarsie Courier. Once the Turanos opened offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Kruger treated the joint practice as if it were a Jefferson Club political campaign. He targeted potential clients as if they were undecided voters. He sent out direct mail to 150,000 women.
In his way, Kruger was the ultimate doting parent, just like his mother. When the Feds were watching him, they noticed that Kruger brought the Turanos breakfast nearly every morning. When they went on trips, he bought them travel-size snacks. When Michael was working late, Kruger picked him up at the hospital to give him rides home.