Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a math teacher. Math and teaching are two of my life passions and they are two things that I have some talent for. I would say that I’m a ‘very good’ teacher but merely a ‘good’ mathematician.
I’m also a writer. I’ve written 7 books (4 math books, 2 books on teaching, and co-authored 1 children’s book), about 20 published articles in various magazines and journals, and, of course, hundreds of blog posts. Writing is another passion of mine and, in my opinion, the thing that I do best. I never wanted to go through what it takes to make a living as a writer. I’m not someone who can really force my writing so I don’t think I would like the pressure of needing to write to eat.
So over the past thirty years, I’ve gotten the urge, from time to time, to work on my collection of personal essays about my life. I started writing these when I was about 21 and, over the years, would write an essay when I’d see a call out for the ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ series of books or just when I’d get the urge to write. Even though I’ve been a prolific blogger, these essays are much more difficult to write. There are only about 25 of them written in the past thirty years.
Though you might know me as a serious writer who writes about education and charter schools and who makes scatter plots about value-added data, the type of writing that I do is ‘humor.’ Comedy is something that I’ve been drawn to since I was a child. When I was about 11 years old my mother gave me a record of Woody Allen doing his stand-up from the 1960s and I listened to it all the time.
You never know if you are really funny until you try to perform stand-up in a New York City comedy club and, as a hobby over the past 15 years, I have done that from time to time and have always done well. Here’s a montage of some shows over the past 15 years.
About 8 years ago I published a Kindle e-book of essays I had collected over the years. This included essays about my family and about my neuroses and also some older writings from when I wrote a humor column in college. I even included my college application essay. So I put it out there and after a few weeks it had been downloaded a bunch of times. Unfortunately some of those downloads were by my family. And some of those family members are more sensitive than I had anticipated. So I had to un-publish the book. It was sad for me to do this since this was the net result, even though it was only about 150 pages, of a lifetime of the thing that I think I was born to do.
The past four years with Trump in office has been rough for many people. For me, it caused me a lot of stress and I spent hours every day watching MSNBC as a way, I felt, to keep my sanity. So when Biden won I felt a great cloud lifted and decided I was going to enjoy my life and my hobbies more without needing to spend so much time obsessing about Trump. And I took another look at my e-book. And I decided it wasn’t so bad. I changed a few sentences to hopefully make some of my family members less embarrassed and I put it out there again. I’m 51 years old now and I’m really proud of my essays so I’m re-publishing. I’ll deal with the fall out if there is any.
My Unusual Life has 22 essays and costs 99 cents. So that’s less than 5 cents an essay. As I wrote in the Amazon blurb. “If you love the writing of David Sedaris, you’ll like the writing of Gary Rubinstein.” Here is a free sample:
A Guy For All Seasons
If you 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 of Corinthian Greek columns.
When his friend’s son was applying to college, my father contacted his Admissions Guy at Farmingdale Community College. FCC is not known for its academic integrity. I think its motto is “We take Discover Card”. The guy came through, and he was quickly matriculated. Anytime I ask about it, my father says, “Did I tell you how I got him into Farmingdale?”
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 Ron Rubinstein’s son. He mentioned that you may have some information about job opportunities at Merrick Town Park.”
“I don’t know nothing about Town 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 Jerry. Uncle Jerry is a talented, but minimalist, physician. He rarely prescribed antibiotics because everything sounded to him like nothing. When his wife, my aunt Sandy, 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 Jerry is a brilliant doctor,” he’d argue, “He read ‘Hawaii’ in one night.”
When one of my father’s guys lived up to their reputation, it was all the more thrilling. When Billy Joel was playing at Nassau Coliseum, I asked my father if he had any connections for my sister and me. He got back to me the next day and instructed us to meet his guy, Aury, behind the arena an hour before the concert. Aury was part of the union, it seemed, that did the catering for the roadies and the performers. We arrived at the meeting place and waited for about a half hour. We were getting ready to give when Aury showed up with a thick stack of tickets in his hand. “How many do you need?” he asked. He gave us our two tickets and said, “Say hi to your father for me.”
When we showed up at the entrance gate, we were partly expecting them to send us away with our fake tickets. Instead, the usher looked down at our tickets and then gave a double take. The tickets were in the front row. I spent the next three hours standing with my elbows resting on the stage. At one point Billy Joel came to the front of the stage and put his hand down and gave me and the others in the front row an opportunity to slap hands with him. When it was my turn I got a bit too excited and grabbed onto his hand for what, at least for Billy Joel, was a few seconds too long. I knew I held on for too long when I felt him tug away from me. It was one of the most memorable evenings of my life. Sing us a song you’re the piano guy.
At college, I got an urgent call from my father. “My friend Feigy’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, Feigy’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. When I was about twenty-five, I wanted to bring a date to my cousin David’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 Ed Dennehy, one of the stars of her theater group (though less well known than his very famous brother Brian). Ed 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. It was Ed 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 Ed 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 Ed. He had a job for him.
Using his theatrical directing abilities, Ed worked with my father’s clients to help them act more innocent on the stand. Ed had made the transformation from his Home wrecking Guy to his Acting Coach Guy. By getting divorced my father didn’t lose a wife, he gained a guy.
After my mother and Ed had split up, I’d still go to his plays, occasionally, where backstage he’d introduce me to the other actors as his son. My father also became a fan of his consultant’s talent. Once, he called me raving about ‘Barrymore’, Ed’s one-man-show. When I told my father I’d like to see it, he said, “I’ll call Ed and see if I can get you some tickets.”