The Atria Roundtable

by Ira Rubin

The atmosphere in the dining room at the Atria Senior Residence in Forest Hills is usually calm and relaxed as the residents engage in quiet conversations unless they’re loudly complaining about the speed of the service and/or the quality of the food.

For years, this tranquility was disrupted by raucous talk from a table in the middle of the room occupied by two men (Alan and me) and two women (Joan and Cheryl). The whole room could hear us debating vociferously about current events and less portentous issues, such as whether Sara Lee or Entenmann’s make the best pastries. When a topic petered out, we paused to eat our food and mutually insulted each other until we found another topic to debate. This pattern continued until all the other tables had long since emptied and the dining room manager demanded we leave.

Our apparent conflicts with each other fooled no one. Everyone knew it was a conscious game we played to strengthen our bond as a “family”. Each debate was an improvisation in which the actors played the role that best fit them: Cheryl was the “provocateur”, Alan the “true believer”, Joan the “exasperated conciliator”, and I the “buffoonish commentator”.
It was rare for any of us to miss a meal, and when one did the other three would demand that the staff immediately ascertain if the missing person needed assistance. We sometimes went on walks together in the neighborhood.

Even so, we were unlikely partners.

Joan had a serious demeanor and would frown and shake her head at our ceaseless arguments.
Cheryl was a Southerner from Little Rock, Arkansas, with a mischievous attitude who believed she was an expert on healthcare and constantly advocated for using amino acids as a cure-all. Cheryl would entrance us with stories about her quirky family, particularly the eponymous Lottie Dottie, a name Cheryl swore was her real one.

I was the target of ridicule for my intentionally absurd comments on every topic. When the other three scorned me I would laugh it off by saying “and proud of it” or “and so much more.” Eventually they ignored me altogether and I turned to trading insults with my best friend, Alan.
Alan Hevesi was a former Comptroller of New York City and then New York State who had many accomplishments. Unfortunately, he is most remembered for serving time in prison after confessing to improper use of State funds for private purposes: specifically, using a government airplane to transport his terminally ill wife. According to Alan and witnesses, he was coerced into signing the confession by the then-Governor, who feared Alan was a threat to his re-election chances.

Alan delighted in telling hilarious stories about his life in politics. I once asked him in private whether he would share more serious details about his experiences. Alan’s face seemed to get darker, then with a tight smile he said, “No”, and made it clear that was the end of the discussion.

I would love to share some of Alan’s stories which he repeated to me so many times that I was able to complete his thoughts when increasing dementia impaired his memory. Sadly, my memory is fading, too. The only joke I remember was about a man who ended his will with, “Finally, to my cousin Bernie who always swore I would not remember him in my will, let me say, ‘Hello, Bernie’.”

Two months ago, our table disbanded. First, Cheryl moved closer to her family in Vermont. Soon after, Alan’s family transferred him to a memory care facility and has since withheld any information about him. I was never given an explanation, but suspect they believed it might be too disruptive and confusing for him to stay in contact with us as his memory declined. Joan and I stayed at the dining table briefly, but the magic was gone, and we moved to different tables.

The dining table is currently empty, a continuing reminder of my lost Atria family. I wish you well, Joan, Cheryl, and Alan. I miss you more than I can say.

Ira Rubin: Ira Rubin still resides at Atria and continues seven years of active participation in LP².


by Ira Rubin

The hostess, nationally syndicated Hollywood reporter, Myra Klotchman, welcomed the audience to her weekly television show, “Do You Want To Hear A Secret?,” in which ordinary people reveal startling secrets about their lives in return for a weekday meal at a local Chinese take-out. The first guest was Amanda Lamar – not her true name – a 22-year-old woman studying to be a professional beauty consultant, vulgarly called a hairdresser, from Hackensack, New Jersey.

After exchanging small talk with Amanda, Myra cut to the chase.

Myra: Tell us, dear, what secret could a sweet young woman like you possibly have?

Amanda: Oh it’s horrible, Myra. I may never recover from the embarrassment.

Myra: About something you did?

Amanda: No, it was my fiancé, Jerome. How could he do this to me?

Myra: Oh my God; don’t tell us you found him with another woman?

Amanda: No, Myra, he didn’t cheat on me with a woman.

Myra: (gasping): You mean it was with a man?

Amanda: No he didn’t cheat on me with anyone. It would have been less humiliating if he had. I walked in unexpectedly on him last week and I couldn’t believe what I saw: he was admiring himself in the mirror dressed in my new wedding gown.

Myra: That bastard; how shocking that must have been for you.

Amanda:  Absolutely; I hadn’t even tried it on yet, and now I just can’t.

Myra: Because you’re too embarrassed?

Amanda: No, because it’s stretched out of shape. And that’s not the worst part.  I can live with his cross-dressing. What I can’t accept is he looked better in the gown than I did.

Myra:  Poor dear; that truly is a problem. How will you cope?

Amanda:  What choice do I have? It’s too late to find a new gown.  Tomorrow I’m going to shop for a tuxedo I can wear at the wedding.

Myra:  How inspiring! Audience, give this courageous woman a hand for facing up to and overcoming her potentially crushing secret. And now a word from our sponsor, Fantasy Vacations, the perfect place to design your ideal getaway or honeymoon. 

Ira Rubin has been a member of LP2 for the past four years during which he was a continuing participant in the writing class study group which provided valuable feedback on a draft of this piece.



The Book of Leonard

by Ira Rubin

The other day I read with interest an article in the New York Times about a newly discovered biblical scroll, dubbed by scholars as the Book of Leonard.

The book tells of Leonard, a shepherd overwhelmed by misfortune: his camel was flatulent, his wife wanted to move to Babylon, and he was starting to lose his hair. In despair, he cried out to the Lord, “Most Holy, please come to my aid.” There was a thunderous crack, lightning flashed, and a cone of swirling winds appeared.

Hesitantly, Leonard began to speak, “Lord, the one true God, King of the Universe.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” interrupted a powerful voice from within the whirlwind. “What do you want?”

Leonard sobbed, “Lord, who hath all power, have pity on me.” He followed with his list of problems, adding for good measure his unhappiness about not being selected for the main role in the village’s annual Purim play, and begged the Lord for relief. 

The Lord answered, “What’s in it for me?”

Leonard responded by offering to sacrifice three sheep to the Lord on the following Sabbath. [According to the Times article, some scholars believe Leonard missed a critical opportunity here. In their view, the Lord was not asking for a sacrifice, but for a part in the Purim play. As proof, they note the Lord’s penchant for casting Himself in a starring role in most Biblical stories.]  

“Here’s the thing, Leo,” the Lord replied, “a lot of people have been sacrificing animals to me lately, and I’m starting to get a bit flabby. Instead of slaughtering the few healthy sheep you have left, I’d like you to do something else. All your people talk with a lisp. For example, the word is “has”, not “hath”. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, Len, but some of your neighbors are saying the lisp is a sign you’re the kind of men who like to have sex with other men. Personally, I couldn’t care less, but it makes it harder for Me to get converts, especially when you call yourselves My Chosen People.”

Leonard wasn’t sure how to respond. What’s a lisp, he thought, and why would men want to have sex with other men when there were plenty of sheep around?  Even so, he was desperate and agreed to the terms of the deal.

The same afternoon, Leonard gathered his family together to tell them his plan. He would wander the world in search of someone who knew what a lisp was and how to correct it. The family members listened calmly until told they would have to cancel their annual trip to the bazaar. At that point, they had a gerstenboomer (roughly translated as a hissy fit). His children refused to talk to him and his wife served him only yogurt at meals, which was not only monotonous, but gave him stomach cramps because he was lactose intolerant (or milkshugenah, as it was then called).

Leonard traveled far and wide before he came upon a people in the southern most part of the land whose speech included a sibilant ‘s’. At first, everyone scorned him for his lisp, but he kept up his pursuit until one woman agreed to teach him to speak as her people did in return for an expense-paid vacation at the Desert Sea Spa.

When his instruction was completed, Leonard returned home and called out once again to God in a strong Southern drawl. “Lawd, ah am back and speakin’ fine. Y’all c’mon down and listen to this good old boy’s sweet, sonorous, sibilant sounds.”

As before, thunder roared, lightning struck, and a whirlwind appeared. “Oh, it’s you, Leonard. What do you want?”

“I have fulfilled your request, Your Magnificence. Listen to my speech.  My lisp has disappeared, and I seek my promised reward.”

“I don’t remember, Leo.  Did we have an agreement?”

“Yes, Lord. You agreed to relieve me of some of my burdens if I corrected my lisp and taught my people to do the same.”

“Sorry, Len; I still don’t remember.  Look, I’m a little busy right now. The angels and I are debating the best way to stage the next extinction event.”

“What’s an extinction event, Lord?”

“It’s some type of disaster in which I wipe out most of the life on earth.”

“Why would you do that, Your Beneficence?”

“Same reason as always – boredom.”

“How will you extinguish us, Merciful One?”

“Good question, Lennie. We can’t decide between fire and flood. Any ideas?”

Seeing a chance to win the Lord’s favor, Leonard answered thoughtfully. “Well, fire would be quicker, but it’s harder to control and you still might need a flood to put it out. Worse, hot air rises. That may make heaven almost as hot as hell. All in all, I think a flood is the way to go.”

“Makes sense to me, Leon. Any thought about how to save some animals from drowning, so I don’t have to start all over?”

“Why not get someone to build a large boat to house a male and female of every species like you did with Noah; that worked out well, didn’t it?”

“I’m afraid the Holy Scriptures don’t tell the whole story, Len. I had to edit out some events to improve narrative flow. The carpenters picketed the building site because Noah wasn’t a dues-paying member of their guild, and the sanitary conditions aboard the ark were nauseating.”

Leonard was about to suggest that the next ark include a bunch of litter boxes in odd sizes, but the Lord spoke first. “Uh oh, time to go. I have a meeting with Papyrus Press. They want to publish a follow-up to the Bible in which I answer those people who question my actions. I’m going to call it, Because I Can.”

Leonard waited for the Lord to return, but He never did. Eventually, the forlorn shepherd gave up, went home and opened a shop selling umbrellas and rainwear.

The Times article states that scholars agree that the Book of Leonard is a parable, but are uncertain about its moral. Does the story caution about the ambiguity of God’s will, the foolishness of questioning your fate, or the harmful consequences of poor diction? Personally, I am most persuaded by Rabbi Mordechai Horowitz’s more pragmatic interpretation: “Never do work for someone else without a signed contract.”

Ira Rubin has been a member of LP2 for four years during which time he has greatly enjoyed and benefited from participating in an on-going writing study group.



A Matched Pair

by Ira Rubin

My mother can only be described in bold, upper case type. Her friends called her Diamond Lil, a reversal of her first and last names, because she resembled that flamboyant Mae West character. She was what they used to call a “bombshell,” with long legs and the voluptuous figure of a pin-up girl. Her hair was dyed a vivid red and she had a smile so overpowering it obscured the rest of her face, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland.

You always knew when my mother was in the room; she would have been offended if you didn’t. Her raucous laugh, too loud voice and gregarious personality demanded immediate attention. “Off stage” she was a different person, less concerned with how she looked and mostly interested in her women friends. As she put it, “girlfriends are forever.”

My father, Sol, had the characteristic gut of a former high school football player, but the first thing you’d probably notice was his warm smile and open face. Charming Sol was your friend the moment you met him, and just being in his company was an instant remedy for most worries or anxieties. I never saw him unhappy for more than a short time, perhaps because he made few demands on life, content as long as he had my mother and friends nearby, good food and a book or crossword puzzle.

Most memories of my father are not about experiences we shared – I wish more were – but about things I saw him do or heard him say. For example, once he picked me up at the airport. We hadn’t seen each other for three months, and as we were walking to the exit, he said, “You haven’t noticed how much weight I lost.” Before I could answer, a stranger behind us who must have overheard, shouted, “Hey, you look like you lost a lot of weight.” Without a second’s pause, my dad turned around and shot back, “Sure, I knew I could depend on you to notice.”

My brother and I agreed my parents were like opposite poles of a magnet, strongly attracted by their differences. My mother was insecure and needed unwavering support, my father needed to be needed. It was unimaginable that anything could break them apart, though that certainty was tested on Valentine’s Day in 1960.

My father, brother Ray and I were hanging out in my parents’ bedroom. My father was lying on the bed writing on a piece of paper as Ray and I watched television, when my mother barged through the door and made a request of my father that led to an argument.

“Sol, I need you to drive me to the beauty parlor.”

My father glanced up from his writing. “I’m sorry, Lil, I have to finish writing this.”

“What can be so important that you can’t take a few minutes to drive me?”

“What’s the big deal; it’s only a ten minute walk?”

“Everything is too much for you, Sol! Why can’t you just do it because I asked you to?”

The phone next to my father rang and he reached over to pick it up. His beaming smile told us the caller was his life-long best friend, Jack. After he hung up my father told us he had to leave immediately to give Jack a ride to New Jersey.

My mother exploded. “I don’t believe this! You can’t take a few minutes to drive me to the beauty parlor, but you’re going to take Jack to Jersey. That’s at least an hour’s trip each way. Why should I be surprised! That’s how it always is. I have to plead with you to do something for me, but let Jack ask and you jump.”

“Enough, Lil. I’m going as soon as I finish writing this”.

“That’s it,” my mom screamed. “I can’t believe I married such a selfish jerk! I’m leaving you. Lots of men will thank their lucky stars for a chance with me.”

I stared in panic as she marched to the closet, pulled out a small suitcase and started packing.

“Dad, do something,” I called out in alarm.

My father watched, a bemused expression on his face, but said nothing, while my mother slammed the suitcase shut and stormed out.

“Dad, why didn’t you try to stop her?” Ray cried.

“Relax Ray. You don’t know your mother like I do.”

My brother and I tried to convince him to go after her, but he ignored us and went back to his writing. No one spoke again for the next few minutes. The silence was oppressive. I could feel the room shrinking and had an irresistible urge to chase after my mother. Before I could get up, my mother came bursting into the room.

“You don’t how lucky you are, Sol. I just missed the bus. A minute sooner I’d be gone.”

My father winked at Ray and me.

“Well, I’m glad of that, Lil; I was really worried.”

They stared at each other in silence. Then as if on cue, they both broke out in laughter.

“Yeah, I guess that did sound a little lame,” my mother said. “What are you writing that’s so important you have no time for me?”

“It’s a Valentine’s Day card for you, Lil. I couldn’t find one that said what I wanted, so I wrote my own. Here, I’ll read it to you.”

….And if I didn’t love you–
…………Would your smile be as sweet
…………Your manner as charming
…………Your arms my retreat
…………And your lips just as warming?
….And if you didn’t love me–
…………Would I treasure each day
…………Without rhyme–without reason
…………Would each month be May
…………And spring every season?
….If we didn’t love each other–
…………It’s drunk I must be
…………Such ridiculous chatter
…………If our love wouldn’t be
…………Then what else would matter?

My mother framed the poem and hung it near the apartment’s front door, where it was the first thing you’d see on entering.

Even death could not break their bond to each other. The gravestone spanning their resting place is inscribed with the words, “If our love wouldn’t be, then what else would matter?” To which I would add, “Sparkle forever, Mom; watch over her, Dad.”

Ira Rubin is delighted to be an active member of IRP since 2017. He was trained in and taught social psychology before changing careers to work as an evaluation specialist in NYC government. He developed his writing skills in Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, and in continuing education courses at NYU and The New School.