Learning To Be A Doctor: A Medical Rite and Wrong Of Passage

This story and its characters are fictional.

For as long as anyone wearing white pants or skirts and white coats could remember ,the  Margaret Janson  Conference room, located on  the  third  floor  of  the  Magnuson Building, was where medical residents and students presented patients’ case histories to the senior attending  physician.  We called these sessions morning  report. They were a  baptism  by  fire.  It was a medical rite(and wrong) of passage ;  medical  education’s answer to war games but no one died, except the patients.  While most people learned in this arena some fell into a trap set by the master or as he would remind us, a trap of our own intellectual  and  ethical limitations.      I knew the place with my eyes closed.  There was the smell of coffee, sweat, and fatigue–fatigue laced with a not so subtle touch of fear –fear of death, failure, and humiliation.  We experienced humiliation for not knowing a crucial fact or laboratory value or for falling asleep. We became accustomed to the humiliation along with a litany of unimaginable but easily palpable horrors.  Ultimately we felt neither humiliated nor horrified, just numb.

We met  in a room named for Margaret Janson was the wife of the hospital’s first chief of medicine. Margaret died of leukemia in her thirties, six months after the birth of their  third child. Her room seemed designed to elicit fear. One entered and immediately became uncomfortable.. She was just a tough room in every way.   Her door was never locked, in fact it was usually wide open unless someone was catching a few moments of illicit sleep on one of the–designed to be uncomfortable–vinyl couches that had been donated by the 1964 senior residents.  The black mahogany conference table gleamed.   At the proper angle the faces of those assembled from morning reports of year’s past seemed to float  from  the glass into thin air.   The master never arrived before the initiates.   The place was our own little shop of horrors, yet I loved learning in this environment.  We were served the kind of  stick-to-your-ribs  knowledge  that would later save lives and our own asses.

We were all very young, especially if you count in medical years.  They’re like dog years.  Remember?  Every year for a person is seven for a dog.  Dogs die younger than people but people hate to think of anything dying before the correct, proper, acceptable number of years so we multiply by seven and get a more comfortable number. The dog’s still dead in about ten to fifteen years or so.  Doctor years or medical years have their own correction factor.  You don’t start counting until the person is completely finished with all of the doctor training.  That would have made us minus six or so.  We were third year medical students.  That meant one more year of medical school and three to five or more years of training until we were born…medically speaking.

Those minus years were very tough.  There was little smooth sailing.  We experienced moments of feeling brilliant and secure, alternating with numbing insecurity and self doubt.  I think I hated the lack of perspective more than anything else.  It was outer-space, without a spaceship or ground control.  We were just out there moving around: one moment feeling like a guided missile the next like a hot air balloon in a wind storm.

One of the people in my third year rotation behaved like a guided missile all of the time.  Jerry drove me nuts.  He drove most of us nuts, but only a few acknowledged living in rank insecurity. I gave up pretending after about three weeks.  I just didn’t have energy for both selfdeception and sex. I couldn’t wait for the Missile to take his turn in the chamber of horrors.  I felt confidant the master would not let me down.  I  prayed for a carnage of comeuppance.

“So, Jerry, big day tomorrow.”  I tried, with difficulty, not to smirk.

“Drop dead, Jenner.”

“Hey, why the hostility?”  I knew why.  I knew why.  “Ha ha ha, ha ha ha!!” I did not actually say this but did sing them to myself.  Infantile, isn’t it? But damn it, no one who looked as good as Jerry Markinson had a right to be equally smart and self confident. He was good.  Markinson was masterful and I wanted him to fail.  I wanted to watch him writhe in his downfall.  I was pathetic. We all were, even  Markinson, who, even in failure, would never writhe.

“You’re not as virtuous as you think you are, Jenner.”  At the time, I wondered how he knew.

“Have you finished yet?”

“Almost.”  No one was ever finished–not until the master had finished.

“Tough case?”

“I hope so.”


“Hell, if I’m going to go down, it might as well be over a tough case.”  He was right, of course.

The hours between conferences were a blur of frenzy.  Our short white coats floated through the halls of the university hospital like ghosts.  We were a platoon of ghosts ever- present in the war against sickness, but the real battles were more within and between ourselves.

The smell of coffee drifted across the hall from the chief resident’s office into the conference room and awakened me from that night’s sleep–forty seven minutes total .  I could not remember not being on call. Life was divided into BC, before call, and  AC, after  call.   A month of fitful sleep and insomnia made the preceding years of unencumbered slumber seem like a perverse joke.  I was too exhausted and dirty to even consider why I would have allowed myself to be placed into such a situation, let alone acknowledge that I had done so voluntarily.

“Hey, get up before the chief finds you sleeping in here.”  I tried to move but my back was plastered to the vinyl by oil and sweat.  Something smelled foul and was making me sick.  It was my own body odor. “Jenner, move your slimy ass out of here and take a shower, you stink and students’ report starts in a half hour.”  Markinson stood over me oozing  energy.  He seemed to thrive on sleep deprivation.  As a budding psychiatrist, I wondered  what  disorder and/or drug fueled this machine.

Cold water and caffeine kept us going.  The large metal urn in the chief resident’s office was always on…as were we. I usually forced myself into a cold shower after a night on-call but today I luxuriated in warmth while trying to convince myself that I would still be able to stay awake during the Jerry Markinson show.  As I finished shaving, I began thinking  if the face  in  the mirror belonged to this body, I should have looked a hell of a lot worse. A knock on the shower  door jarred  me from  my thoughts.

“Jenner is that you? You’ve been in there over fifteen minutes.”  Brenda Muldoon’s voice always hit me directly in the crotch.   “Com’on, I want to rinse off before report.” I  opened the door.  “Did you hear the case Markinson’s picked for  report today?” she said.

“He’s dead.” Brenda began unbuttoning her blouse. She moved into the shower area as I moved out. I  stared.

“Naughty, naughty.  You  shrinks  should  learn to check  your  libidos in the admitting  office.”

“You’re mean, Brenda.”

“But what a set, right Jenner.”  She smirked, winked pulled the door and vanished into the still steamy warmth. I stood trembling, barefoot on the cold ceramic flooring.

For me Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was the  music of students’ morning report.  The sound reverberated in  my  mind only.  I first imagined the famous four notes on the morning of my student presentation.  But today was Markinson’s moment to perform.

Robert Elliot Thompson was the director of the medical housestaff program for over  twenty years.  His  entrance to the student’s report was  always the same.   Students were already seated around the coffin-our nickname for the conference table.  Residents, interns, fellows  crammed  into   every other square inch of space available. Dr. Thompson entered in shirtsleeves, coffee cup in  his  right  hand and “the folder,”  in his left.  One could see that he was walking, but for those assembled his feet never touched the ground. His first word was almost always the same.

“Well.” He laughed this word.  “Who’s going to begin?”  Markinson raised his hand  decisively.  “Dr. Markinson.” Dr.  Thompson stood and began pacing.  “I  read your note  Dr. Markinson.  It was  very good.”   Markinson was dead and he knew it.  “Did  you discuss this patient with Dr. Jenner?” I felt the sudden rush, then  nausea.  The  music definitely stopped.

“No, Doctor…”

“Jenner  you plan to enter  psychiatry after you  finish here?”

“Yes…” I cannot remember whether any sound escaped my lips.

“You should use all  of your resources, Dr. Markinson.  I  know   your team  has concluded that your patient has a classic case of sarcoidosis. But maybe she’s just a crock?    I  mean  Jenner  might have been  able to help you  there. Could  it all be psychiatric problem? Maybe Mrs.  Tipton needs a tranquilizer along with the prednisone you’ve given her? But go ahead, go right  ahead, you can  begin  now.” Dr. Thompson returned to his seat. “I think you should all know that Dr. Markinson  wrote  a  terrific  note. You’re at the top of this class aren’t  you, Markinson? What is it number two or is it three? You’re  going to be a  heart surgeon, isn’t that right, Jerry?”  Markinson nodded.   “That is excellent. Go ahead.   Please begin.”

Markinson began and for ten minutes Dr. Thompson sat silently but not passively.  “This really is an excellent note. You’ve got great  handwriting.  Catholic school?”

“Yes, Dr. Thompson.”

“Well it is excellent. Um, I believe you’ve just finished with the family history?  I noticed you asked about tuberculosis.”

Everyone knew that tuberculosis was one of Dr. Thompson’s favorite diagnoses, so everyone asked every patient.

“Yes, I asked  her if  there was any family history of tuberculosis.”

“I saw  that in  your note.  It was superb of you to have specifically asked and  written about that  because we sure would hate to give prednisone to a lady with  tuberculosis, wouldn’t we  Dr. Muldoon?  I mean what might happen if we did that?”

“The prednisone would further suppress  her immunologic response and the  TB would spread. It  could  kill her.”

“It could  kill her.”  Dr. Thompson whispered these words. He stood.  “Kill  her,  Markinson. Good thing you asked about that  family history of TB. That’s important isn’t it,  Brenda. I mean, my God…” Dr. Thompson began laughing. It was frightening sound. He only used students first  names, when he  felt something  particularly terrible had happened. He wanted to make our work as personal as possible. “This family history is important.  Dr.  Muldoon said prednisone could kill a person with tuberculosis.”  Dr.  Thompson,  moved back to his seat at the table and put his coffee cup  on  this folder.  “Common, lets go  talk to Mrs.  Tipton.  We  began  looking at each other. “All of the students.  She knows we’re coming.  She really liked  you, Dr.Markinson.” Markinson’s sickened  smile  hid  nothing.   The dagger was in and now Dr. Thompson would begin the evisceration. Out with the bad, in with the good.

“Your note gets an A Markinson  and  your handwriting  is even better. I  also suggest  all of  you students  read Dr. Markinson’s review of the literature on sarcoidosis.  It was wonderful the way you listed the references.  But, Jerry,  I think you may have failed  Mrs. Tipton.  She really likes you, Jerry. After I finished looking down you’re reference list, and adding a few of your references to  my  files, I had only one reference I thought you  might  want to see.  I mean it is a fairly  old  one.”  Dr.Thompson stood and began  handing a copy of his reference to each student. “I think there  might be few  left  for the  housestaff.”  The title “M. tuberculosis in lymph  node biopsies of patients being treated for sarcoidosis,”  from the June 1958 issue of Annals of Pathology..  We marched in  ones  and twos to the patient’s room.  Although the coffin was  left  behind, this was the funeral procession for Jerry Markinson’s presentation.

“Good morning Mrs. Tipton.”  The elegant sixty three year old woman from Snida,  Missouri thrust her hand toward Dr. Thompson.


“We just thought we’d spend a few  minutes with you this  morning.”

“Take as long  as want, doctor,  I ain’t got  nothin’ but time these days.”

“Mrs. Tipton, as you  can  see, I brought a few of the  medical students  with  me  today.”  Mrs. Tipton reached behind  her and pulled out a box of chocolate covered  cherries.

“Any you kids like a chocolate?  Dr. Markinson  over there had himself three whilst he was  talkin’ to  me the  other  day.  Tell  ya  Dr. Thompson, Dr.  Markinson  one  good  talker.”  Mrs.  Tipton was enjoying the attention.

“You’re  not too bad  in  that  department yourself,  Mrs. Tipton.”  Dr. Thompson sat  on  Mrs. Tipton’s bed as she had  arranged herself in the  recliner chair next to  the bed.

“Guess did bout chew your ear off  yesterday.”  She smiled while holding the chocolates out toward the students.

“Maybe you could tell these students that story about your cousin  Mavis?”

“Glad to. Actually, she wasn’t really no cousin, felt like one but there wasn’t no blood. Miss. Mavis lived in an old shack  behind our cabin in  the mountains. Mavis was one good cook and fixed  meals for me and my brothers and sisters for as long as I could remember…that is ’til she  took sick. Didn’t do  much cookin’  after that.”

“What happened to Miss. Mavis?” Dr. Thompson asked.

“She come down with worse case of consumption that ever lived and died.  Doctors said she’d a goner sooner if not for my attention. Spent the better part of her last year  right there by her side. Spect I slept there most nights toward the end. Hell of a cough. Done good  didn’t I Doctor Thompson.”

“You did an excellent job Mrs. Tipton. Any questions,  Dr. Markinson?”

“Mrs.  Tipton, do you remember when I asked you about your  family  history of tuberculosis?”

“Spect I do, but Mavis ain’t no blood relation.  She’s what you  meant wasn’t it, Doctor Markinson?”

“Of course.” Markinson looked as sheepish as his heart surgeon soul permitted.

“Thanks so much Mrs. Tipton.”

“You children come back any  time.”

No one spoke on the way back to the conference room but no one ever spoke after one of Dr. Thompson’s visits to a patient’s room.  Going to a patient’s room was a bad sign.   We told ourselves that Dr. Thompson could afford to find out everything because he was  a one patient a day man, but this didn’t work  since we were  one patient a  week  people.  Markinson could take some solace in the  fact that student’s applying  for surgical residencies were  not required to  get  a  reference from  Dr. Thompson but, in  the  end, Markinson asked him for one anyway.

“I’m betting that most places will know all about Thompson  and will be happier with my handwriting and  literature reviews than the  fact that I totally blew Mrs. Tipton’s TB exposure history.”

Markinson was right and so was Dr.  Thompson.  Our next stop after  Mrs  Tiptons room was a detour to the pathology lab.

“Jerry, they have a few slides set up for you.” Dr. Thompson poked  around the pathology  lab while Markinson bore witness  to his entire  team’s  misadventure.  “Anyone want to guess what Dr. Markinson is looking at, Dr. Muldoon?”

“A lymph node biopsy?”

“Was that  a question,  Brenda?”

“No, sir. I think you asked the pathologists to recut Mrs. Tiptons lymph  node and  stain  it for TB.?”

“You’re a fast reader.”  Brenda was neither number  one or two  in our medical class.  She was number five o r six but, unlike numbers  one through  four, Brenda  not  only had an  amazing  body, she also had a social life and  could read faster and  remember more than anyone I have ever met. “I recut the node myself and after  four hours  finally found the cut that   contained the offending agent.”

“I’ve  got   it, Dr.  Thompson.”   Markinson  stood up from the  microscope. “Why  don’t the rest  of you take a  look.” Markinson grabbed the phone  to call his resident.

“I stopped the prednisone yesterday,  Jerry. She’s been started on three  antitubercolosis drugs.”

“You’re smelling a lot better.” Brenda moved closer while we waited our turn at the microscope.

“Who made you such a smart ass, Muldoon.”

“Yeah, and it’s not even my most endearing quality, is it Jenner?”

Dr. Thompson  wrote Markinson an excellent letter.    Jerry Markinson became the chief resident in  cardiovascular surgery at New  York’s leading heart hospital.  Mrs. Tipton left  her life savings to Sarcoidosis  Society. “I’m hopin’ they’ll realize  most of their customers has got  TB  like me.”

I became a  psychiatrist  and married Brenda Muldoon, a noted pathologist. Despite years in my own  analysis, the smell of  the  Margaret Janson  conference  room still jolts  me   from  sleep.

“Hearing Dr. Thompson again, honey?” Brenda was the best medicine  for  my chronically troubled  psyche.

“You always know.”

“Hey, he never said there was anything wrong with psychiatry. Crocks need doctors too.”

“Thanks, Brenda.”



More Than A Grain

More Than A Grain…(Rice or Truth)

First call friends Salim and Pat.
Usually we just like to chat,
But lately thinking about cooking rice.
“Oh good you’re home, need your advice.”

Once during my younger days,
As the kids called it, “dad’s rice phase.”
Others followed: cookies and potato.
“Looks like he’s back to his famous rice show.”

Very funny, but this won’t be the same.
I’m calling for help to up my game.
Won’t just rely on the same old grain.
Salim and Pat, my skills will train.

Their rice is truly culinary art.
“Go to the grocery and fill your cart,
Long grained, butter, vermicelli, “what could this be.”
You’ll need a sturdy pot and soon you’ll see.

Heat the pot with medium flame,
Melt the butter the verm to tame.
Crunch up the vermicelli, just make a fist.
“It’s your first time, you’ll get the gist.”

Once you see the butter sizzle,
Time for a pasta drizzle.
Keep an eye, they’ll soon turn brown.
That golden color’s the pasta’s crown.

Half a teaspoon of salt, turn off the flame.
Two cups of water and one of grain.
Then back the fire to just a simmer.
The fragrance is the chef’s first glimmer.

She’s blooming into a fluffy joy,
And I’m again that happy boy.
Take a taste the buds all agleam.
Hats off to you Pat and Salim.

Face Value

The mirror rarely hides the truth,
Some days confess, “I feign aloof.”
As I reflect each chosen image.
Hoping to gain the needed courage.

The glass tells each and every feature.
“Your more than just a crawling creature.”
Our faces see a cherished tradition.
“Be grateful for an honorable mention.”

Too much, so I’ll just take a ride.
“Might find it on the other side.”
Meander, ponder,  no clear destination.
Too much truth, that’s the frustration.

See who’s in the rear view mirror.
Slow down and do yourself a favor.
No harm admit, “Yes I’m confused.”
Glad to say, you’ll be amused.

The truth was always in your face.
A wrinkle across the human race.
No need to check your DNA.
You’ll just wake to another day

No Laughing Matter

No Laughing Matter


He stands by the window with the Glock Nine in his mouth. The Glock is not his only gun. It is not even his only weapon. This is not the first time I have found him looking as if he is about to kill himself.
“What are you doing, Grandpa?” He starts laughing and turns to me from the window still holding the gun in his mouth. “It is not funny.” He removes the gun from his mouth still laughing. It is really more of a chuckle. It is the muddled irony of a life fueled by death.
“Of course it is not funny, Abraham. Has it ever been funny?”
He lays the gun down on the dresser and picks up the quad cane leaning on the window sill. I had never seen such a cane until it was delivered two weeks after I moved in with him but then I was still and undergraduate.
“The doctor at the rehab center told me to use it unless I wanted to break the other hip. Broke the first one using grandma’s old cane. Doctor said it was too short for me plus just had one rubber tip.”
“Quad cane’s more stable and it’s heavier. Mr. Isaacson. It’ll slow you down a bit.”
I’m not sure my mom and dad know about Grandpa’s weapons. We never talk about it. I do not think they would have ever wanted me to live with him if they knew. He keeps the Glock loaded and under his bed during the day. He moves it to his bedside table at night.
“Don’t want to fall out of bed going for it, Abraham.”
I have lived with Grandpa for all of my four undergraduate years at Columbia and now during my first year of medical school at Albert Einstein.
“We can’t afford room and board, Abraham. Plus grandpa could stand the help and, to be honest, the company.”
Grandpa lives in a two bedroom two bath third floor walk up in a rent stabilized apartment across from the mall on Junction Blvd in Jamaica, Queens. Some people call it Corona, some Forest Hills. He lived with my Nana until she died six years before I moved in.
Nana never told us about the weapons.
“She would not let me keep any of them out but when she died, out came my Glock. She keeps me company at night Abraham. Makes me feels safe.”
My grandparents met in Buchenwald. Grandpa had been there for nine months, two weeks and three days before grandma arrived.
“The days were all I counted on, Abraham. One day I would either be free or dead. So I counted.”
When the Nazi’s found out that Ruven Isaacson could repair almost any weapon, he became invaluable to them. This kept him alive long enough to see his two sisters, brother and parents killed.
“I hated helping those bastards, Abraham, but look here we are.”
Many of my talks with my grandfather are about his days in the camps. We sit at the kitchen table talking, drinking tea while I help him clean his nine guns.
“Do you have to load them, Grandpa?”
“Nazi’s never let me load, them. What, I could shoot one maybe two before, boom, I’m gone. So now, yes bubbalah, I load them but I’m the only one left to shoot”
“What?” So then he laughs. He lifts the clean and loaded weapon into the air with his right hand and shakes his finger while speaking to the gun.

“I should have shot them you little monster.”
Thursdays is family medicine clinic day for the first year medical students. Of course mostly we watch the action and are called in if there is an “interesting finding.” I never liked that expression. Interesting usually means not good for barer of said “finding.”
We usually get out of the clinic by 3PM and that has become shopping day for grandpa and me.
“Special treat for you first year folks today, we’ll have you stay until the end of clinic and then make rounds with the third year residents.” I call my grandfather.
“We’ll go over the weekend, Grandpa.”
“Don’t worry bubbalah. I’ll be safe.” I know what that means.
“Don’t take the Glock, grandpa. You could get into trouble.”
“I already got into trouble. We all got in trouble and none of us asked for trouble. Then I survived and so here I am. Don’t worry.” And he hangs up.


I was born Ruven Benyamin Isaacson, Gdansk, Poland, June 19, 1929. In America, my name is Roger Isaacson. That is, at least, what it says on my driver’s license.. Not that I drive. Anymore. Stopped driving after this Camaro totaled my new, that is previously owned but new to me, Chevy Impala. Even the police said it was not my fault.
“Kid driving the Camaro said he thought you were letting him go through first, Mr. Isaacson.” Kid was lying, of course. I just didn’t move into the intersection quickly enough for his impatient, tuchas. Tuchas, that’s ass in case you live outside a metropolitan area.
New York drivers always in such rush. Yes, it scared me. Really scared my children.
“Can’t you stop, dad? We’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
Wherever I want to go. Now that’s a proposition. Well first I want to go back and kill the bastards who murdered my family. Okay? Okay. They know damn well the driving is not about the “wherever I want to go,” it is about the driving. Not even the freedom to go anywhere I want because where I want to go no car, or bus or plane can take me. What I could use is a magic carpet. Not that Jews are big on magic carpets. The kids took me and the grandkids to see Aladdin and when we left the theater I told my daughter, Rachel, “that’s what I need darling.” She laughed. “Let’s Google magic carpets for sale and see what comes up on ebay.”
“Very funny, daddy.”
No, the driving is about not giving up driving. What it means? It means, “not giving up.” By the time you reach my age, well, you’ve probably had to give up quite a bit. I mean I know I am not alone but, for me at least, that is not very comforting. But that Camaro knocked the driving right out of me. So now I go with my grandson. He’s a first year medical student at Albert Einstein in the Bronx. We live together in my apartment in Jamaica, Queens. Abraham just called. We will not be able to do my, well our shopping today because of something in his clinic. I am so proud of him.
Hardest part of doing this shopping by myself is going to be getting down the stairs. At least that was what I thought. Abraham leaves a spare quad cane with the super on the first floor.
“Just in case, grandpa.”
It’s good for doctors to think this way. He’ll be such a good doctor.
Super’s name is Juan Rabinowitz. Juan’s what happens when a rabbi does his student internship in Puerto Rico.
“Holla Mr. Isaacson, Vus Smachstir?”
“What smells so good, Juan?”
“It’s Mexican cholent, Ruven. Arroz con pollo. Give a knock after Abraham gets back from the hospital and have a taste.”
“Thanks, Juan.”
“Where is Abraham? Isn’t this your shopping day?”
“He’s late at the hospital and I need groceries and a Yortzeit candle. It’s six years since my Sarah. “
“Hey, okay, Ruven. Be sure to knock when you get back so I can help you get up. Otherwise we’ll never hear the end of it from Abraham. I won’t tell him you came down yourself even though you’ve got my cell number.”


“Susan. Susan!!”
“Where’s Mr. Isaacson?”
“Susan, you’re on in thirty.”
“Harvey, where’s the old guy. He needs to be in the shot.”
“Shot. Oh that’s very funny, Susan. Yuck, yuck but you’re on in fifteen.”
Name’s Susan Jackson. Graduated from the communications program at Syracuse University six months ago and landed this great gig at the local NBC affiliate here in New York City. Okay so it helped that my dad’s been an engineer with NBC for like twenty five years. Also, my mom’s from Jaurez, Mexico, which of course in and of itself does not help me. Ramona Marteinez, met my dad, Jacob Jackson, when he was working for CBS during the world cup in Mexico. Ask my mom about it and get ready for this huge Mount Rushmore smile and pull up a chair. It’s a story she never tires of telling and it’s good. So the upshot, for me at least, I’m one quarter Jewish including the Bat Mitzvah and I speak fluent Spanish. These are huge advantages for a reporter working the boroughs. So, I’m on call for Queens and we get a call there’s been some kind of shooting in Jamaica at Boulevard Savings.

I am walking through the patient waiting area and as I glance up at one of the TV’s I see my grandfather being interviewed by Susan Jackson the local NBC reporter. She did a story about our AIDS clinic three months ago.
“We’re live here in Corona, Queens with Mr. Ruven Isaacson…”
“In America I’m Roger Isaacson.”
He’s too much, my grandfather. He’s correcting, her. Oy. I grab our clinic attending.
“Dr. Sanchez, see the old guy being interviewed by Susan Jackson?”
“Yeah, didn’t she do a feature on our HIV clinic a few months ago?”
“Right, right so the old guy’s my grandfather. We live together and…” We’re now both listening to the interview.
“Glad to call you Roger. Ladies and gentlemen, Roger was just involved in apprehending two young men who have been involved in a series of robberies at your local savings and loan branches here on the boulevard.”
“No, it is fine. You can call me Ruven. That’s what Sarah of blessed memory called me. Ruven’s better.”
“Okay then, Ruven, why don’t you tell us what happened today.”

Pete Mathews
My brother Larry’s a disabled vet. PTSD. Well it’s really a strange thing. He still loves his guns. We’re at the range at least twice a week. He starts getting anxious when he is not holding one of his twelve weapons, which includes a WW I British bayonet. Forget the paperwork at the VA. Took three shrinks to get him approved and then only seventy five percent service connected. I mean, how the hell do they figure that out. Some crazy government disability calculator. So was hoping for 100% because before Afghanistan, three tours, Larry worked for a tree trimming company. He’s a sweet guy but, I’ll admit, not the brightest bulb. Still, never held a gun until he enlisted.
“I’ll get the benefits, Peter. Then maybe we start own tree business.”
I’m currently unemployed, unless you count my current work as “the taller of two assailants,” in our little bank robbery business. I’m an accountant and I know banking. I have been fired from four S and L’s over the past ten years. It was pretty much the same thing each time.
“We’re sorry Mr. Mitchell, but we don’t feel you fit our corporate culture.” That’s code for speaking my mind. I’m not sure but seems as though most banks, okay at least the four that hired…and fired me, were cooking their books. Usually took me about two years to figure it out And YES I speak up. Thought I was being honest. Too honest. Until now, but, ya know, in some strange sort of perverse way, walking in and demanding their money at gunpoint seems less dishonest. Right, that’s bullshit.
So that is what I, well we, are doing when that little Jew, Roger Isaacson gets us arrested. We never hurt a soul and I never let Larry load his weapon. I check before each hit. Mr. Isaacson’s Glock 9 was loaded.
Boulevard is our fourth in just about three months. I’d been watching it for three weeks. Thursday is the quietest day and between two and four PM I had seen a total of three customers. Probably local businesses depositing cash. We put on our ski masks just before walking in. Always wear different totally forgettable clothing, ya know Costco Kaki’s I never show my weapon. Larry hold’s his on the guard and I make the withdrawal.
“Peter!” Our agreement is that I do all the talking during our robberies and then as little as possible. During robberies my name is Flim and Larry’s is Flam.
“I mean, Flim.” I turn and see Larry standing over the guard and behind and slightly to right of Larry stands this little old guy holding a cane in his left hand and a weapon in his right pointed directly at the back of Larry’s head. The sound of the little guy’s gun firing into the ceiling must have scared the crap out of everyone. Larry drops his weapon and I vomit all over my brown Payless loafers.
“My name is Roger Isaacson. This a Glock 9 semi-automatic weapon and, as you nudnicks can see and hear, I know how to use it. I survived the holocaust and I am not going to let you two steel our money.” Larry reaches for his weapon whereupon the little guy pushes his Glock firmly into the back of Larry’s head. “Mr. Security, please get up from the floor, pick up the gun and someone please call the police. I would hate to actually have to shoot one of these gentlemen but will gladly do so if they do not lie themselves down on the floor right here.” I think about pulling my weapon but could not live with myself if it gets Larry killed. I have a feeling the little guy had seen his share of killing and would not hesitate using the Glock on my brother. As we both lay down next to the guard Mr. Isaacson asks us to take off our masks and says, “Okay. Thank you.”
He then bends over so that no one else can hear what he is saying to us.
Dr. Sanchez lets me out of clinic but the subways are jammed so it takes me an hour to get to Boulevard SandL. My grandfather is still talking to Susan Jackson. The NBC truck is pulled up onto the sidewalk across from the bank on 47th Drive and, must be the camera guy loading stuff into the truck. Two police cars block the entrance to the bank and there’s one police officer standing outside the main entrance. Grandpa is smiling and laughing and so is Susan. His cane is standing by his side like an uninvited guest. If I did not know better I would say he is flirting with her or she with him.
“Oh, Susan. This is my grandson, Abraham. We live together. I’m helping him out while he goes to medical school. Albert Einstein in the Bronx.”
“You must be very proud, Ruven?”
“Of course and…”
“Grandpa, where is the gun?” He stops smiling.
“I had to give it to the police but they said I will get it back once they check on the paperwork. You know how you made me get them all checked.”
I turn to Susan and explain that several of grandpas guns came from Europe and he considered them more memorabilia but I told him I could not move in until they were properly registered.
“Good thing, Abraham. Otherwise the police said they might have had to arrest me but otherwise, I get to meet the mayor tomorrow.” Grandpa then takes Susan Jackson by the elbow. She turns from the NBC cameraman.
“Yes, Ruven?”
“Would you like to come back to our building and have some cholent.” Susan appears slightly confused and I see it.
“Grandpa did Juan make arroz con pollo?”
“Right, right.” Susan is smiling. “Yes I’m familiar with both chulint and her Mexican cousin.” She turns to her cameraman. “Is that all the video from the bank?” It was.
“I’d love to come back with you guys but first Ruven, I just reviewed the bank video. What did you whisper to Peter Mathews after you got him down on the ground?” When I see grandpa’s sheepish smile I become a bit concerned that something insulting or at least totally inappropriate is about to be revealed.
“I held my weapon in his face and asked, ‘Are either of you two Jewish? I am and so is my little friend here.’”