What is this about losing respect?
Do I have to talk about it?
He said he feared what I might
write about him when he was gone,
and I told him not to worry.
He worried about the “streak of morbidity” in your work.
He was a man of God, not of imagination.
And it wasn’t his fault if he got the shakes.
It was a familial tremor, not nerves.
And it first happened at a gravesite.
Near where Brigham Young did his number—“this is the place.”
He called him Friggin Young.
Well, during his bleak tenure in Greenville,
his congregants would tell nigger jokes
and he would force a smile—afraid now to rock the boat—
a mere exercise in stretching
the corners of his lips—
a fake grin he would have noted
on another face—false faces being
one of the things we loved
to laugh about when together we observed congregants’ idiosyncracies,
their ruses, their guises,
like one temple president, the son
of the “richest Jew in Salt Lake”
who, seated in the pulpit’s other red velvet wing chair,
would expose the holes in the soles of his shoes
while he batted his eyelashes to
wake himself up—
(though I owe him one: “Rosencavalier”
didn’t turn me in for copying
the wrong answers from Mary Weinstein
on our “final exam” in Sunday
school prior to confirmation.
He was ashamed for me,
He could hardly disguise
the curled lips and downcast eyes
of his contempt
for this lawless “Rabbi’s son”
whether or not my name
was Strome or Rudman,
but where teaching Judaism was concerned
his plodding methodical
reading to keep up each week
was a pathetic substitution
for Sidney’s well-wrought, impromptu riffs.
Marty was ashamed of me.
I left town.
As night was falling?
In Utah you can drive at fifteen so by age
fourteen a lot of our talk
was hard core car talk
and somehow the word
Volkswagen came up
after confirmation class
(it was no GTO but you could drive
so far on so little gas...)
and Marty’s father—a redhead like his son—
made his way up the driveway’s ice,
smoke billowing from the exhaust
of whatever sleek black foreign car he drove.
Pulling on his elegant pigskin gloves
he announced he’d “never buy a Kraut car.”
I was bewildered
(what, hold against a country now
something that happened so long ago?)
and he held my gaze
and I shivered inside the shiver I felt
from the cold I thought he would
transmogrify into a southern sheriff
and ask “what kind of Jew are you boy”
but he didn’t have to say
In other words you were ready to leave town.
I’d had it with Utah.
But you wanted to stay in the west, against your father’s wishes?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
But you did submit to psychiatrists and interviews with the heads of schools
during your sojourn in the east that summer?
Yes. I didn’t say I wasn’t ambivalent and/or confused.
Nothing more, your honor.
This was around the time, was it not, that a certain “Penny,” from Los
Angeles, a family friend of your grandfather’s, came to dinner in Salt Lake
She was a small woman, slightly hunchbacked, who spoke in a low
voice. She was one of my mother’s major confidantes. My mother had a
great respect for her because she was the buyer for I. Magnin’s. When
the subject of my father came up, as it always did, Penny, fueled by
several Scotches, seemed to retract her head into her chest and when it
reemerged she spat out this sentence about Charles: “Why he’d stick his
prick into anything!”
I blanched. My features stiffened with rage. Sensual and tormented man
that he was, whatever he was, what right did they have to tear him down
in front of me! She put her leathered multi-braceleted hand on my hand
and said, “It’s all right, dahlink.” I said, “I’ve never seen him do any-
thing like that.” And they continued. “Well he used to screw the maid,”
my mother threw in wearily.
How did they know so much about him, this shadow, this spectre?
There she was, this tiny hunchback, almost a dwarf—this was how she
conceived of loyalty to my mother. In reality, it was another patronizing
blow, as if my mother had to hear the worst in order not to feel that the
failure of the marriage might have been her failure.
And while they sat there tearing him down the phone rang and it was—
guess who. Your mother handed the phone over to Sidney who, geared for
battle, bourbon happy, quarreled with your father about the precise details
as to where you should go when you “left town.” They had come to an
impasse in the conversation when it seems your father said something like
“you can’t talk to Charles K. Rudman that way” and Sidney said—because
this you overheard—“what does the ‘K’ stand for”—and your father said—
according to Sidney—“cocksucker.”
And Sidney howled. He would rag him till the end of his days. “Is this
Charles K. Rudman?”
I didn’t call you a cocksucker, Sidney said,
but since you said it i
heard you were a cocksucker.
I didn’t say it!
"I am,” your father was rumored to have said, probably (possibly?) not
meaning it literally, but more within the vernacular of street language,
curse-words meaning “sonofabitch,” not someone who literally “sucked
I think so.
Your heart went out to your poor father at that moment, didn’t it? Sidney
had a way of miscalculating the effect of these shots on you. You knew your
father was writhing in an agony of frustration.
But Sidney was running with it, relishing Charles’ self-hatred, his masoch
-ism which erupted at that moment out of frustration...And for years he
loved to tell the story of how Charles “called himself a cocksucker,” always
underscoring the anecdote by absolving himself, by making it clear that it
wasn’t he who first used the word.
He really rubbed it in.
Can you forgive him?
Only now that he’s dead can I let myself feel
how good we were at leaving each other alone.