I was calling my brother Jacob in New York. I hadnt
spoken to him in three years. I got his voice mail. This is Jacob
Schacter. Im not here right now. Leave a message. You can always send
money. This was typical of my brother. He fancied himself a comedian.
Why was I calling Jake after three years? It all had to do with
my friend here at our California retirement community, Paul Lerner, whos
a writer, and so an odd duck. Somehow, after seeing the Swedish actor Max Von
Sydow in a movie which he told me was about atonement he said this was meant to
remind him to call his cousin and apologize for some misdeed in the past. This
in turn reminded me about my fight with my brother. I wasnt calling to
apologize exactly but more to make up. None of us was getting any younger. Paul
had said that the rupture between him and his cousin was disturbing the harmony
of the universe. I didnt think the rupture between me and Jake had
anything to do with the universe but I decided to call anyway.
Id left a message for Jake to call me. As always happens
in my experience when youre waiting for a call your phone rings all day.
Every time I picked up I expected it to be Jake but it was always someone else,
usually a computer voice, wanting to sell me something or donate to something.
My wife and I were in our living room watching television at night when, at a
crucial moment in the show, the phone rang. Needless to say, it was Jake. Just
like him to pick the worst possible time to call.
I told my wife I had to take this call and went into the
bedroom. My brothers first words were, Its been a bad year. I
cant lend you any money.
I dont need any money, I said.
Oh, then how come you called me?
Its been three years, I said. Since we
had that argument. I dont even remember what it was about. I thought we
could let bygones be bygones.
I remember, Jake said. It was about Hetty, may
she rest in peace. Hetty was Jakes late wife. You called her
You told me yourself she was a kvetch.
Okay, she was. But it was disrespectful of you to say
I meant no disrespect.
She was a lovely woman, may she rest in peace. Aside from
being a kvetch
Yes, she was.
How are you doing?
How should I be doing? My bones are aching. I cant
take these New York winters any more. How are things in sunny California?
Too sunny. We have a drought. Soon theyll ration
water. So how are you otherwise?
I had the flu. I coughed like a maniac. Im still
coughing. Im full of aches and pains. Otherwise, fit as a fiddle.
I had a hip replacement last year. Im still
recovering. Otherwise, ready to go.
Ready to go to the handball courts. Hey, we were pretty
good when we were kids, huh?
Not bad. All that handball; thats probably why I
needed a new hip.
Yeah, I remember how you twisted around when you served,
like a corkscrew. So you want let bygones be bygones.
Thats why I called.
Sure. Were not getting any younger, right? Foolish
for brothers not to talk.
So were good. I was ready to hang up and go
back to the TV show. I hoped my wife Amy had put it on pause.
Sure. Hows Amy?
Talk about being a kvetch.
Well, if anybodys a kvetch thats her.
Dont you insult my wife.
If its true how is it an insult?
Thats enough. Good-bye.
I banged down the phone and went back to the living room.
Did you pause the show? I asked.
No, I didnt know when you were coming back.
So how did it end?
The terrorists bomb went off. We wont know who
was killed and who wasnt until next week. Who were you talking to?
My brother Jake.
"Oh. Well, did you hang up the phone. You know you have a habit
of leaving it off the hook.
I hung it up.
While youre standing, put your coffee cup away. I
dont like to have things standing around.
I said, I have to make another call.
Dont forget to hang up the phone.
I went back into the bedroom and called Jake.
Whos this? he said.
Youre right; she is a kvetch.
But otherwise a lovely woman.
Agreed. Silly for us to fight over that.
Yes. After all, were brothers.
Hey, why dont you come out here for a week or so,
when you get over the flu, get away from the snow and get some sun.
Is that an invite?
Yes, it is.
Okay, Ill think about it. Good talking to you.
Good talking to you. The harmony of the universe is
Never mind. Good-bye.
I went back into the living room. My brother Jake may be
coming out for a visit, I said to Amy.
What? she said, half raising from her chair. But
thats another story.