art by Arthur Davis Broughton

Joan Brown

You'd think with a name like Ira Yakub Rabbinowitz he'd be possessed with good rabbinical wisdom, but no. Despite all the opportunity Ira was unholy. The pictures of Ira in his prime were of dark eyes intent and clear, a well groomed, well dressed small man; full size glossies of him with rock and roll stars. He was the man from the big record company. The man with the juice. Ira was sporting his wife laughing and romancing when he and Sol first met in Denver, backstage at a superstar concert. Sol came from a big radio, big money family. Those were full and fat years.

But then, through no fault of his own, Ira's career was terminated. And there was nothing available. He had to cash in his retirement. But he still had his family and their home full of tchockis. Stunning memorabilia. But then the money ran out and his wife got weird, said he was an unfit parent and husband. She took their daughter and shifted to another man. After that Ira stayed home day after day playing his guitar and sometimes talking long distance on the phone to Sol. And then there was the fire.

The fire took everything Ira had left, except Isabelle. The story is that in the middle of the night flames licked up seven floors to get him, and Ira in his skivvies and slippers (thank God, I guess, they were tough soled) climbed down the outside of the old building on an ever hotter iron ladder. The collection of an era in the music industry, mementos of his wife and child, his whole life, his remaining cash, used-up credit cards and IRS notices - forsaken. It was Isabelle, the Christian Witch, banging and whining on his puny Jew back that Ira saved.

I met Sol in Salt Lake City. I had the biggest crush on him, but after about three years he moved to Florida.

A few years after that Sol and I met in San Francisco for the weekend and after we checked in at the hotel we went to meet Ira, who had a studio apartment around Franklin Street. On the ground floor were a foreign market and on the other side of the stairwell a fortune teller, Madam Lucia. She watched us go up the stairs. Sol and I buzzed Ira's number. The elevator was ancient and small with a pulley and a scissor gate, and when we got off on the fourth floor Ira was there leaning against the wall and grinning. He was a slight man - more so than in the pictures, and his hair was long and in his eyes. His studio apartment had some Beatles magnets and cards, a few gold records, life size rubber Beavis and Butt Head masks, a large purple tie-dye sheet, a refrigerator with pictures of food, a view to other buildings and rooftops, and rent control.

"The dot comers have ruined the economy," Ira said.

"You're stuck here." Sol said. "You can't move."

Ira cursed.

Sol picked up Ira's guitar and said to me. "This is Isabelle."

"Christian slut," Ira said. Then real quick he turned to me, "Nothing personal. I'm a member of Jews for Jesus."

He and Sol laughed.

"I forgive you," I said, "knowing that only this morning you stepped from the house of bondage."

"The house of bondage!" Ira yelled. "Whip me beat me, make me shiver in ecstasy."

He and Sol laughed and laughed.

"Are you going to see that girl in Los Angeles?" Sol asked Ira.

"No, once was enough. She's insane, I told her to stop calling me. So she called me about an hour later, about midnight, gave me some flight reservations, expected me to pick her up at the airport. When I told her no she threatened to kill herself."

"Why do women do that?" Sol asked. He and Ira turned to me.


Ira and Sol played guitar for awhile, then we went to lunch.

It was spring time and sunny, and we went to some dark cavernous café with long bench tables and an Italian menu. It was early so the place was pretty empty. The hostess had on a short, black mini-skirt that hung up on her fish netted thighs, a red thing tied around her waist to hold stuff, and a low cut orange sherbet and white striped spandex top. Ira smiled. She grabbed menus and sneered, "My name is Angel, follow me."

"I'd follow you anywhere," Ira said.

She started walking, "I m sure you would."

"Aren't you going to ask me how I like it?" Ira said.

Angel stopped, turned, looked him over, then stepped up close. "I'd break you in half." She turned ahead and lead us to the far corner to a huge plank table with bench seats, and said to Ira, "This table seats twelve and you." She threw down the menus, turned on her white patent leather go-go boots, rammed Ira with her shoulder and started to walk away. "Natalie will be your server."

"I want you to serve me," Ira said.

Angel flipped him off and kept walking.

After lunch we went to Haight and Ashbury where Sol bought some stuff, and Ira and I kept our hands in our pockets. Then we headed back to Ira's.

On our way by her door Madam Lucia beckoned. She was short and round, straight gray hair pulled back severely, eyes kohled black, lips and nails crimson. She smiled at Sol. "Your fortunes today?" Sol stepped forward, I froze, Ira stepped back. Madam Lucia said, "I will tell you the secret of happiness." Sol gave her some money. Madam Lucia said, "The secret of happiness is recognizing it when you have it."

We rode the elevator to Ira's studio. Ira and Sol played guitar and after that we watched a Fleetwood Mac video. When Sol and I left Ira threw his arms open to me. I gave him a hug. Ira said to Sol, "You haven't taught her how to hug."

Sol didn't say anything.

Ira turned back to me. "I want a hug from the bottom of your soul."

We hugged again. "Wimp," he said.

The next day Ira came to the hotel and took his place in four star comfort. He looked around and rolled his eyes.

Sol was putzing around the room. "I like it."

"You have no shame," Ira said.

"None. Why should I?"

They laughed and laughed.

Sol ordered the car and he drove quickly or cursingly through downtown San Francisco to a rundown business or industrial district where we parked and walked a few blocks to a warehouse and office building.

"I work on the fourth floor," Ira said.

We rode a bad smelling elevator, then down a funky hall, and through a door into a black naugahyde and plywood security foyer. Ira rang the bell.

"Hello," the girlie voice said.

"Mirabelle, it s Ira."

Mirabelle popped her gum.

"Are you going to let me in?"

"I don't know why I should."

"Because if you don't I m going to show you my lilly white bottom."

The gum popped real loud, the lock buzzed open.

"She's got the hots for Gavin, who's older than I am," Ira said.

"She sounds like she s 14," I said.

"With the body of a 14 year old boy," Ira said.

Sol shrugged, "Gavin's got the money."

"Not anymore. But I'm the only one who knows."

I said, "You're who she has the hots for."

"Maybe she really is a boy," Ira said.

Ira lead us through a large, low budget office cubically divided and individualized with modern art, to the back where it was more basic with stacks of magazines and recordings, and drafting tables for cutting and pasting and planning. Ira's area was round; constructed from cubicle panels. Sol and I waited there for Ira to come back from getting his pay check. The walls inside of Ira's circle were covered with postcards, pictures, bizarre music logos, off beat trinkets.

Suddenly Ira quizzed loudly, "Do you smell that?"

Sol nodded, "Is that what you were talking about?"

Ira looked at me.

"I don't know what you re talking about."

"Those fumes. Fumes from the chemicals downstairs are coming up the mail hatch. I ve been sick for months. Can't you smell them?"

"Byclon Z," I said.

"It's probably Gavin trying to sabotage me because I know too much," Ira said.

"Probably," Sol said.

Ira checked his email which was full of nasty sites and jokes from friends. He and Sol made fun on the computer, and I studied the walls and found Bullwinkle.

Sol stood away from the computer and stretched and looked at me. "Pretty warped."

After that we left the building and walked a couple of blocks to an old, dark bar called Indian with motorcycles and mannequins in lingerie hanging from the ceiling. Here, too, the walls and crannies were amazingly full.

Ira leaned back in his chair and spread his arms, hands palms up. "I am here for you, your tour guide to the more interesting dining experiences San Francisco has to offer."

Sol looked up at a mannequin in a red boa that straddled a motorcycle with a turquoise beetle shaped gas tank. Santana came on so Ira played air guitar and belted out, "You've got an open invitation."

Later, after the food came and we were fat and full, I asked Ira, "What are you going to do?"

"Do?" Sol asked oddly, inconceivably.

Ira leaned forward across the table towards me. He spoke softly, "I m going to teach you how to hug."

We drove back to Ira's and Sol pulled over in front of the stairwell. We all got out to say goodbye and Ira gave me the best hug.

Then Sol and I sped to the airport; he to go southeast, me north.

He kissed me. "We'll do this again soon."

I nodded.

But of course we haven't, and now Ira's dead. "Damnit."

Contributors Bio

Table of Contents