A stable kind of guy
My pal Russ Sheffrin and I almost have a lot in common.
I know the word “almost” doesn’t fit with the term “having things in common.” It’s a black and white issue — either you do or you don’t, right?
Bear with me on this one, willya?
Russ and I are both locals. But I’m a 100% townie, born and bred within the village limits. Russ, on the other hand, was born in Joisey and was raised a princeling in the feudal estate of the Ray Brook State Hospital.
We both went to the Petrova School, graduating in 1964 … though he at the top of the heap as valedictorian, and me in magnificent mediocrity as 37th out of 75.
After college, each of us went in the Navy. As might be expected, he was an officer and a gentleman, complete with sword, attitude and the ability to resign his commission at the drop of his gold-trimmed hat. I was a humble enlisted man, stuck with four years of indentured servitude, whether I liked it or not.
After the Navy, we each taught at Paul Smith’s College. He lasted one summer session before going on to bigger and better things. In contrast, for 40 years I huddled in the trenches of academe, trying to stem the onslaught.
But our differences aside, there’s one thing we do have in common — we’re both inveterate shmoozers.
I was like that since childhood; as a kid, Russ was reserved to the point of aloofness. But no more. Now, plunk him down in a room full of strangers and he’ll immediately start chatting like a magpie.
Like me, he loves to find out the details of others’ lives. Then again, because he’s a headshrinker (of the Rogerian, not Jivaro, ilk), he may be doing it to keep his billable skills sharp, though I’d like to think not.
From the horse’s butt…
Last week Russ was in town and we met at Nori’s for coffee and convo, and he told me of his dinner the previous night. His focus wasn’t the food, but the server. Or more exactly, his conversation with the server. He couldn’t wait to share the details and launched into them as soon as we sat down.
“I had dinner at the Downhill Grill last night,” he said.
“How was it?” I said.
“Real good, as always,” he said. “But the best part wasn’t the food.”
“Oh?” I said, rising to my new-found status as second banana. “What was the best part?”
“Talking with the waitress,” he said.
“What’d you talk about?” I said.
“Mostly Paul Smith’s, since she’s a student there.”
“You told her you taught there?” I asked.
A slight scowl crossed his face, as if deigning to answer such an obvious question was far beneath his dignity.
“Of course I did,” he said. “But not so blatantly.”
“All right,” I said. “In what subtle way did you tell her?”
“I said I taught there before her parents were born.”
Ah, yes, subtlety personified.
“And that’s when it started to get interesting,” he said.
“She asked me when I taught there, and I told her. Then she rattled off a bunch of people’s names, asking if I’d known them.”
“Ah, out of the mouths of babes,” I said. “Anyone who worked there then is now either a full-time resident of Wrinkle City or Forest Lawn.”
“You and I know that,” he said, “but I’m not sure young people do. Anyway, it gets better.”
I sure hope so, I thought.
“Then, of course, I asked if she knew you,” he said.
“Which I’m sure she didn’t, since I retired long before she arrived there.”
“Ah-ha!” he said.
“Ah-ha?” I said.
“You’d be surprised,” he said.
“So surprise me,” I said.
A smug smile covered his face.
“Well, after I mentioned your name, she said, ‘Is he one of the draft horses?'”
Then he burst into laughter, but no louder than 150 decibels or so.
Finally, he regained his breath and some degree of propriety and went on.
“Bob Seidenstein, the draft horse,” he said. “Isn’t that hilarious?”
“A regular laugh riot,” I said.
And it might have been, except for one thing: As happens too often with our age group, I knew he hadn’t heard it right. A draft horse named Bob — Seidenstein or otherwise? Get real. Goliath, Big Red, Brutus, Duke, Champ or Atlas — for sure. But Bob? Fergit it.
…to the horse’s mouth
Of course, the only way to settle the issue was to go directly to the horse’s mouth, as it were, and talk with the waitress. Which I did the next night.
After I walked in the Downhill Grill and exchanged greetings with co-owner Ken Lawless, I asked which of his waitresses went to Paul Smith’s.
“Hannah,” he said, pointing her out.
She was done with her shift and was decompressing at a table, when I went over and introduced myself.
After the usual pleasantries, I got down to business and asked her if she’d remembered her conversation with Russell the night before. Which she had.
“So when he asked you if you knew me, did you say I was a draft horse?”
“A draft horse?” she said, obviously confused. “Why would I have said that?”
“I can’t imagine you did,” I said. “I just wanted to find out what you said.”
“Well, I only caught the first name,” she said. “And the only Bob I knew there was Bob Brehl, the guy who was in charge of the draft horses.”
Then she added, “Which is what I told him.”
And which, of course, was not what he heard.
And what this means is there isn’t one funny story here, but two. The first is Russ’s version, of Bob Seidenstein the draft horse, making me the butt of the joke. The second is Russ not hearing it right, making him the butt of the joke.
So am I going to get on the horn and tell Russ the real story?
Of course not.
I mean, what kind of friend would I be if I ruined his story and spoiled all his fun?