|Publisher:||Fig Tree Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A year later, in Boston, I met The Guy on the Radio. I was just out of the army, back from West Germany. There was a blurb in the Herald Traveler that he was going to be a guest on a radio show in the city; he was promoting a book. I figured that if I could meet him, I could ask him some questions, the usual stuff, how to break in, could he point me in the right direction, that kind of thing. I waited for the show to be over at 10:00 p.m. and approached him as he was leaving the lobby. I remember I didn’t rush up to him, tell him my name, say I was a fan. I knew that wouldn’t get so much as a glance and that he’d never break stride.Instead, as soon as I saw him, I took a kazoo out of my pocket and went into a rendition of his theme song, “The Bear Missed the Train.” So many times I heard him play that, it’s the phonetic English for “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön,” what Uncle Jake used to sing on our car rides. “The bear missed the train, the bear missed the train, the bear missed the train, and now he’s walking.”“I’m going to the Copley Square Hotel,” he said, not addressing me directly, “so you can be my guide to make sure I don’t get lost.” In a few minutes, we were at the bar. Here I was, at the literal elbow of someone who’d been successful, famous, for what I was thinking I wanted to do, I wouldn’t have this opportunity again, so I launched into a monologue of what happened to me in 1952, telling him about my brushes with betrayal, disease, gambling, death, bribery, persecution, kidnapping, war, politics, escape, loyalty, forgery, unconditional love, depression, marines, theft, girls, and a dog.I could tell that he’d been engrossed, but not wanting to push it, I stood up and said good night. He shook my hand and said, “Hey, kid, someday you, Steven, Noodge Mauer, Myandrew, and Frankie are gonna be as well-known as the gang in my stories.” He then added, “As important as it is that you remember your Mother, Dad, Papa, Uncle Jake, Auntie Rose, Old Uncle A, and all the other people who were central to you when you were growing up, you should embrace them more as an adult, especially as you get older and the distance between you and them becomes less significant.”I hesitated, then asked, “Are all of your characters real? Are your stories based on stuff that happened to you when you grew up?”“Does it matter? Would you decide, one way or the other, to listen or to tune in somewhere else if you found out if I made it all up? Or most of it?”“No,” I answered quickly, “it actually wouldn’t make a difference.”“If it’s just reporting on the events of the day it can be entertaining for a while, especially if there’s a lively way of retelling, but it’d get tiresome, and truth be told, I’d never have enough good material for a show that goes on most nights if I had to give a verbatim account of interactions I’d had with friends, family members, and others I’ve met. “Fictional characters have lives as well,” he went on, “they inhabit our spaces and we interact with them; it’s still a give-and-take, just not in the same sense as what’s going on here, in our conversation tonight. But never forget that a made-up person can speak to us just as well as someone who’s here in the flesh. There’s no difference whether you hear something from the point of view of first person actual or third person fictional if it interests you, moves you, or gets you to think about things from another perspective. “Look, kid, I don’t have a clue whether the things you told me are true or not. What’s important to me is that you’ve painted pieces of art that need to be displayed, and you know what? I don’t care if they’re fakes. “For me, life’s usually better as fiction. Yeah, you heard me right, because that way, no one can disagree with, challenge, or sue you. Now there’s no harm starting with a kernel of truth, but make sure when you cook it up it turns into something that can’t be traced back to its original form, you know, so think in terms of omelets, they begin as chicken eggs, but tell me, would anyone looking at an omelet who’d never seen a chicken’s egg be able to tell you its origin?“Let your characters speak to you, think of yourself as a translator, there’s a million ways to say the same thing, that’s why we have synonyms, after all.“So don’t be afraid of going off on tangents or making distortions, and blind alleys are okay too, because no one but you knows what the outcome will be and you can always make an elision to something else to get you back to where you want to be.“And by the way, kid,” he added as he was winding down, heading toward the elevator, “everyone is going to want to know who’s who, especially relatives and those with whom you’ve interacted; they’ll spend hours trying to determine if a character is all or partly based on them in disguise. Don’t give in to the temptation to discuss this with them. That’s all about their ego, pride, and neediness, and all that’s gonna do is drain you dry.”He shook my hand, said good night, and disappeared.He never knew my name, and I never asked him anything about how to get into radio. But this I’ll say for sure: what he told me is the advice I followed for all these years.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The yin and yang of my life, 1
1. A couple of drunks clinging to each other for support, 7
2. And that’s how I met Rose Mischal, 16
3. He was the first adult we didn’t have to address as Mister, 28
4. Mother and Dad were not immune to the hysteria, 33
5. That bat would’ve been involved in two deaths, ten years apart, 38
6. These were the things I knew, for sure, in Boston in 1952, 41
7. What if Lot’s wife hadn’t turned around? 45
8. Hey, gimme my cut, chief, 55
9. Serendipity is an instrument that we can never learn to play, 65
10. He looked like Moses did, that’s all, so don’t never cross him, 78
11. It came out the same way The Guy on the Radio would’ve said it, 82
12. The bird princess of Africa, 91
13. What Do I Tell You A Thousand Times? 115
13. Did ya know, Solly, that they spend more on tea than
a workin’ man spends on rent? 124
15. The kisses were more akin to a detonator rigged to my
16. Can we count on you fellars? 141
17. Dad cooked the books for Papa and his pals, 154
18. I sure could use some dental floss and some extra bullets, 159
19. I was feeling the same kind of oats that old Hooch must’ve felt, 166
20. He said it the exact same way that Mother said “we’ll see,” which meant no, 171
21. Remember when Papa said something about the Holy Grail? 176
22. I wouldn’t be the one to tell any of this to Papa, 185
23. Kristallnacht, they said, they all knew about Kristallnacht, 194
24. Everyone was saying that the fix was in, 209
25. No one here’s going to tell us, that’s for sure, 214
26. Grown men danced together doing reels and jigs, 226
27. He was a hero, a real hero, and undoubtedly saved all of our lives, 229
28. Mother started referring to me as “young man,” 241
29. This was supposed to have been settled by the “war to end all wars,” 245
30. A foul ball on July Fourth off of Frankie’s bat, 257
31. The understanding that I could put things together on my own, 269
32. Uncle Jake had a premonition, 273
33. We were meant to focus on Kristallnacht, the Nuremberg Laws, and mischlinge, 286
34. You mean Little Alfredo wasn’t a hero? 291
35. And that’s how I met your grandmother, 296
36. No record of citizen Jacob Goldblum, 300
37. Everyone is going to want to know who’s who, 309
38. You’re going to tell Auntie Rose, aren’t you? 314
39. Timmy was a time, the way historians name epochs, 324
40. I Miss You Already And You’ll Always Be My Baby Boy, 331
41. The man my grandchildren call Old Uncle M, 339
42. The prism that refracted our societal attitudes, values, and policies, 343
43. I’ll ask him what he meant, 347
Glossary , 351
Reading Group Guide
- How does the opening line “When you’re a kid, they don’t always tell you the truth” manifest itself throughout the book?
- Do you relate to the opening line and if so, how?
- The author drops tells like breadcrumbs to presage later events. The very first one is the word “smirk” on page 2. Can you identify others?
- Hirshberg has said that he purposefully used a symmetrical construction for the architecture of the book. Can you pinpoint examples of this and discuss what was his purpose in setting up the book this way?
- While the origins of Joel and Steven’s names are noted, why are their parents’ names never mentioned? Is it a coincidence that four men are named Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Solomon or are they simply representative of Jewish American names from the late 19th and early 20th centuries?
- In 1952, Joel and Steven biked all over Boston. What does that tell you about the cultural changes that have taken place in the last 60 plus years?
- Does the use of foreign words, such as Schickalsfrage, enhance or impede your reading?
- Was the dilemma that Dr. Daniel Burgas faced in Korea similar to what Dr. Jacob Goldblum faced in Germany? What does that say about the choices we face?
- Other than the narrator Joel, who is the most important character in the book and why do you feel this way?
- Since Joel is a radio raconteur, is it possible that he made up all the stories? If so, why would he have done this?
- What does the author mean when he writes, “…solitude in moderation can be an ally if you get along famously with your conscience”?
- Do you agree that, “There’s no difference whether you hear something from the point of view of first person actual or third person fictional if it interests you, moves you, or gets you to think about things from another perspective”?
- There are three distinct generations in the book, examples of which include: Papa and his pals; the boys’ parents and aunt and uncle; and the boys’ friends. Are the generational distinctions presented in the book a thing of the past or do they exist today, and if so, how have they changed?
- What is your reaction to what the author says about the events of 1952: that they were “…the prism that refracted our societal attitudes, values, and policies toward war, disease, politics, sports, business, and immigration”?
- Does setting the book in an earlier time allow you to have a conversation about current headlines without wrapping them in today’s ‘talking heads’ political climate?