1. A Guy for All Seasons

1. A Guy for All Seasons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Matters


A Guy for All Seasons

To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself:
First, what could I do? Second, what could I read?
And third, who could I ask?

~John Rohn

If you’ve got a problem, my father’s got just the guy for you. After representing alleged organized crime members in court for most of his career, my father likes to think he’s connected. When he can’t be the “go-to guy” himself, he will settle as the “go-to-go-to guy.” Among his army of consultants, there’s his Doctor Guy, his Directions Guy, his Business Guy, his Fireworks Guy, and his Upper East Side Restaurant Guy. He’s a Guy-necologist.

His Interior Decorator Guy is a large Italian man named Val. Before meeting Val, my father’s decorating style could be described as “post-modern bachelor.” He was content to cover his walls with sports memorabilia and paintings of clowns. Now, his apartment is furnished with gaudy Italian furniture and esoteric framed artwork. These include black-and-white photos of ornate vases, and prints of ink drawings of horse sculptures and Corinthian Greek columns.

When his stepson, Sean, was kicked out of college for academic deficiency, my father contacted his Admissions Guy at a local community college not known for its academic integrity. I think its motto is “We Take Discover Card.” The guy came through, and Sean was quickly matriculated. Anytime I ask about Sean, my father says, “Did I tell you how I got him into college?”

The first time I called one of my father’s Guys, I was fifteen years old and looking for a summer job. I had a vision of working at the local park, passing out basketballs and scheduling tennis court reservations. A city job like that, my father told me, required some kind of inside connection. “I think I may have a guy for that,” he said.

The next day, my father called me, beginning the conversation with “Write down this number.” These four words always signaled that my father had found his connection. “Ask for Lou. He knows about summer jobs.”

I called the number, and then nearly hung up when I heard the greeting. “Chicken and Ribs. This is Lou. How can I help you?” Chicken and Ribs was a fast food restaurant located a few blocks from my home that displayed a permanent “Help Wanted” sign in the window, since most teenagers have enough acne problems without subjecting their pores to gaseous chicken grease.

“Hi. I’m Bernie Rubinstein’s son. He mentioned that you may have some information about job opportunities at the town park.”

“I don’t know nothing about the park, but we have a part-time opening here if you want.”

This was the first of many disappointments with my father’s Guys. Most were not experts at all.

When I have a relapse of my hypochondria, my father insists that I call his Doctor Guy, my Uncle Dennis. Uncle Dennis is a talented, but minimalist physician. He rarely prescribes antibiotics because everything sounds to him like nothing. When his wife, Aunt Emily, was having trouble breathing, he wasn’t alarmed. A few weeks later, she nearly died of pneumonia. Knowing my uncle’s history of conservative diagnoses, I’d sometimes upset my father by challenging the ability of one of his Guys.

“Your Uncle Dennis is a brilliant doctor,” he’d argue. “He read Hawaii in one night.”

At college, I got an urgent call from my father. “My friend David’s daughter has a problem,” he said. “She has to write an essay or something for freshman English. I told her that you’re a writer, and I gave her your number.” If my Bar Mitzvah made me a man, this phone call had made me a Guy.

A few hours later, David’s daughter called. “Your dad said I should call you. I have to write an essay on how I could use an ordinary object in an unordinary way.” Only able to think of vulgar ideas, I told her I wasn’t very creative with that kind of assignment. If she wrote it, however, I’d be happy to check her spelling.

Eventually, I was my father’s Theater Guy, Movie Guy, Writing Guy, and French Dessert Guy. Half the time that people called me for advice on my supposed specialty, I had no idea what they were talking about.

Sometimes, my father’s Guys could have been, just as easily, my Guys. In these cases, my father still insisted on acting as the Guy liaison. A few years ago, I wanted to take a date to my cousin Mark’s wedding. I asked my father what he thought, and he said that he’d take care of it. My cousin became his Wedding Invite Guy. “I got you an extra invite to the wedding,” my father proudly reported.

When I was ten, my parents divorced, and my mother started seeing Jerry, one of the stars of her theater group. Jerry quickly became my father’s understudy when he took over his role as man of our household. He acted as my unofficial stepfather for almost ten years. In many ways, he was as much of an influence on me as my father was. It was Jerry who taught me about movies, theater, and writing—three of the things for which I eventually became my father’s Guy.

My father resented that Jerry lived in our house, in direct opposition with the alimony agreement. I was somewhat shocked, therefore, when my father called our house once and asked to speak with Jerry. He had a job for him.

Using his theatrical directing abilities, Jerry worked with my father’s clients to help them act more innocent on the stand. Jerry had made the transformation from Homewrecking Guy to Acting Coach Guy. By getting divorced, my father didn’t lose a wife; he gained a Guy.

~Gary Rubinstein

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