by Charles Troob

My father’s friend Ben–a writer of documentaries and one hilariously bad play–was a schnorrer, a Yiddish word that means “freeloader,” or sponger. Like much of Yiddish, it comes with a smile. We admire the chutzpah of the schnorrer at the same time that we deplore it.

Ben once visited my family on a fine September day. After lunch–Ben always came before lunch and stayed for dinner–he and I went out to the back terrace. I’d just returned from a year in swinging London, and I had on a broad-brimmed cap from Carnaby Street, royal blue with large black polka dots.

Natty Ben admired the cap. Then he asked me to get him one like it. I was startled but amused. “Gee, Ben,” I said, “I’m not going there any time soon. I’ll give you the name of the shop. You can order it.”

A half hour later he solemnly took me aside. “Charles, don’t take this personally, but I have an interesting story I think you should hear. I once told a friend how much I liked his shirt, and you know what he did? He took it right off and gave it to me.”

“Ben,” I said, “that is very interesting. I’m really glad you told me.” And I was. I repeated the story for years, long after I tossed away that hideous cap.

When Dad died, Ben—now well over 90–phoned from Connecticut, where he lived with his third and wealthiest wife. After heartfelt condolences, he said that Dad had promised him his tuxedo, and would I send it on? It gave me much pleasure to pack up the tux and ship it. Ben called to thank me, and then asked about the formal shirt that went with it.

A shirt? A perfect ending for this story! But we had already taken Dad’s shirts to Housing Works.

Charles Troob wrote this for the study group on The Art of Writing. Each week the IRP prods me into flexing my writerly muscles. It’s hard work–but if we do it well, it looks easy.