For the next six months I rodemy bike to his cabin twice a week,
of their own business cards. The name itself seemed to hold a certain
to sit before his wood-burning stove and listen to him tell tales. He
mystique—a long Eastern European name, filled with unlikely con-
seemed to know every story ever told—as well as all the same jokes
sonants and scarcely a vowel, an unpronounceable word that would
my father knew—and when I told him one I'd learned, he already
put an end to a game of Scrabble. He was the one I needed to see.
knew three variations- of it.
I followed him to all his performances, amazed each time as I
watched the effect his words had on the crowd. He seemed to drink in
their affection, and mine as well. He called me his star pupil, though I
was his only one. One afternoon, when I finally told him a story he had
not heard before, he laughed a long, deep laugh, then disappeared into
his bedroom. He emerged a moment later with a large box.
I stood up from the couch in the waiting room and turned to see
the source of the deep, thickly accented voice. He stood there, one
hand holding the tape I'd sent him, the other reaching out to shake
mine. He looked the perfect picture of a mad scientist, with silver hair
and horn-rimmed glasses, slightly askew, and I liked him instantly.
"Very nice stories!" he said, holding out the tape. "I liked especial-
"I'v'e been waiting for this," he said, handing it to me.
Inside I fOund a beautiful gray fedora. It fit perfectly, and I have
ly the tales of Chelm. These, I have not heard for a very long time.
Now, let us see if we can find your voice."
since worn it at every performance I've given.
But Lenny had a dark side, a bitterness that began to creep into our
visits. It came out unexpectedly, usually triggered by something I
would tiiiIMO.Wingly do or say. Then he would turn critical, and some-
times eVe-ostile. One night he showed up late and drunk to a
performance=) was giving at the community center in downtown
Santa CruzAlie stood in the back of the room, shaking his head, and
he left early. When I saw him at his cabin the next day, he was hun-
gover, and when .I asked him what he thought of my storytelling the
I followed him into his office, which was lined with pictures of
celebrities whose voices he had saved, so many photos that it looked
like a deli. After motioning me to a stool, he read carefully over my
records, then stared down my throat for a very long tune.
He looked again at my records, then spoke.
"You wish to know if your voice will return. And if so, when.
"I see from your records that it has now be
night before, he s
"What do I think? f
kid with nothing to say.
"The storyteller has arrived!"
as right. You're no storyteller, just a
his, I'dAn't need. I turned to the door..
"Leaving? Good. Come back wh ouIve got a story worth telling
I walked out without looking back and
seen him since
As I neared the two-month mark, I beer)
return of my voice, and at Taly's suggestion, I began to see spe(*.
They used every manner of contrivance to examine in
gohe two months."
"Only fifty. . . seven days."
"Eight weeks," he said "AndAmtm
This is not a good sign."
your vocal cord.
s aking his head, then sighed. "I
am afraid the nerve
_ _ d
ritt come back to life. I am sorry.
- a ~ himk waiti
for something better. After a long time, he
his is very hard for you, I know. You are a storyteller,
perhaps it will help you to think of this as a story. What do the sages
us?" he paused, lifting his eyebrows. "'The voice is the gateway to
lights. One actually looked up my nose with a rubber h
e soul.' And before that gateway stand two guards—your vocal
expected, they all agreed with my surgeon: There was a tw
rds. To make sound they *Jul
cords—old-fashioned tongue depressors, high-tech rods
window in which my voice would either return or not, and
nothing to do but wait and see.
There was a brig=
about Talmud. But in your case, one rabbi is silent! Why? I wish I
ew.» He pause i -T ,
h F rtiv,-o
"Perhaps he knows a secret."
tr t ante'
agreed. The actually was one person who co
whether my voice would return. He was the e
Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy.
and so much respect did they have for him that
opyright © 2003 bys
name only in whispers, and preferred to write it
gonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a divni.on of Workman Publishing.
or-4 kIireptippWliz permission of
—Los Angeles Time
NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR JEWISH CULTURE