Dr. M is a whiz at completing the crossword puzzles in the newspaper. She sits quietly until they’re done, working defiantly in pen.
Once in a while, Dr. M solicits my help, invariably with sports-related concerns beyond her knowledge, interest and experience. At these moments, she breaks a twenty-minute silence, calling out,
“Red Wings Hall of Famer, 'Terrible' Ted…."
"Seventies Yankees closer, 'Sparky'…"
I hit the mark almost every time, though I am less successful with bowling. These emproudening triumphs harkened me back to when I was unbeatable at completing the TV Guide crossword puzzle. For me, it was easy.
“Married comedy duo Ozzie and…blank.”
“The Dick Van…blank…Show”
“Perennial Saturday morning western The…blank…Ranger.”
I tore through those puzzles like a Mensa candidate. It was fun to feeling really smart. All In The…blank? Come on. Give me a hard one. (I know. They’re for imbeciles. But still.)
For those of you scoring at home, here’s where today’s story originated.
Last weekend, working the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, Dr. M found herself stymied by a biblical question, and she turned to me for assistance, because I went to Hebrew School fifty-seven years ago, and got Alephs (“A’s”) in everything.
“Who led the Israelites after Moses? Was it Aaron?”
“No, it was Joshua.”
Which I believe is the right answer. At least it filled the available number of boxes.
Because my mind works in a circuitous manner – which delights me if not the population in general – that biblical crossword question got me wondering about the man the answer to that question wasn’t.
By which I mean Aaron, Moses’s comparatively also-ran older brother.
How exactly did Aaron feel about not leading the Israelites after Moses?
And what were his thoughts about brother Moses in general?
These wonderings reminded me of a sketch I had written (and performed) on the radio years ago back in Canada. That sketch also featured a less celebrated other sibling. (Note: I myself was a less celebrated other sibling at the time. Where do my ideas come from? Something exactly like that.)
The lead character in my sketch was an aspiring but struggling thespian of yesteryear named…
Edward B. Robinson.
Edward B. Robinson’s brother was movie icon Edward G. Robinson. Though both of them were actors, Edward G. Robinson’s career had skyrocketed, while Edward B. Robinson languished in obscurity. An eventuality baffling in the extreme to the perplexed Edward B.
“What’s the difference between us?” he’d complain. “Nothing. Some people think I am actually better looking. Meaning, I suppose, that I look less like a Semitic frog.”
The only distinction he could ascertain between them was that Edward G. Robinson had this signature sound he spat out when delivering his lines. Playing gangsters and hardcases, he’d bark threateningly, “Now listen here, mnyah!”
“I can do that,” proclaimed Edward B. And he’d plant his feet and, in an incongruously high-pitched voice go, “‘Now listen here, mnah.”
“You see? It’s exactly the same thing.”
Distraught by the inexplicable disparity in their success levels, Edward B. Robinson was determined to take action. Availing himself of his connections, he formed an organization comprised of the less recognized brothers and sisters of the biggest names in show business. Together they would create the “S.O.S Club”, “S.O.S” standing for “Siblings of the Stars.”
The response was overwhelming. Harboring similar grievances, the overlooked relatives could not wait to join up.
There was pop singer Hank Sinatra. Hoofer Ned Astaire. Jazz great Stella Fitzgerald. Sexy Carolyn Monroe. Bing Crosby’s less celebrated brother Bob – Bob Crosby, that’s one of my better ones – Wait! He actually existed.
From the animal contingent, there was Ron Tin Tin, Rin’s brother, who had been banished from the set for angrily pacing behind the cameras mumbling, “I taught him that!”, throwing the canine performer off his game. RIN: “I can’t work this way!”
Another charter member – composer Henry’s brother Richie Mancini whose lilting “Moon Lagoon” was close but not exactly what they were looking for.
The “S.O.S-ers” got together and devised a strategy. They would band together and put on a show, demonstrating that they were just as talented as their highly regarded brothers and sisters.
Eschewing half measures, they booked the hallowed Hollywood Bowl for their massive extravaganza, the great Phil Toscanini conducting the orchestra.
With a packed house in front of them, the Siblings of the Stars went out and performed for over four solid hours.
And they were terrible.
Biblical Postscript: Old Testament scholars tell of an earlier episode in which Aaron spotted a burning bush. Being the “Good Boy” he was, rather than an inspired messianic firebrand, Aaron picked up a watering can and put it out.
The preceding was dedicated to Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, Mamie Schumer and Frank Stallone. And only one of those is made up.
And Ronald Trump. Sorry, I had one left. And where else was I going to use it?