The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Keith G. Laufenberg

                                                                                                  — 1 —

Who is it that can tell me who I am?
—Shakespeare, King Lear. Act i, sc. 4, 1. 250

      My little brother, Rudy, is dead; he died on September 11, in the attack on the World Trade Center. He was a fireman, like me. I’m five years older than Rudy and I knew him better than anybody else because I spent a lot of time babysitting him when we were both kids. I remember how he was when he was just a baby and how his personality was shaped. He was always a good kid but he always had a mischievous streak in him too; like when he was four and we wouldn’t let him play baseball with us in the big field across from our house, in Howard Beach—out in Queens. A couple of days later, when we went out to play a game the bases were all about ten feet away from where they should have been. At first, we didn’t notice but after the first hit, which would have been a double, if second base had been where it belonged, we knew somebody had moved them and when we saw Rudy laughing by the sidelines we knew it was him, so we let him play with us after that, figuring it was better not to tempt him again.
      I still remember when he got his nickname, Rudy the Bang. Our father played the drums in a local jazz band; nothing special, he was a fireman but played on the weekends at a few local pubs. Rudy loved banging on the drums and it was our uncle, our mom’s brother, Jeremy O’Leary, who gave him the name; when he came over to our house and saw Rudy banging away on our Dad’s bass drum, in our house, as well as in the club, later that night. Jeremy played the sax and he was in the five-piece band my father played in. He was a fireman too, as were all the others in the band. As a matter of fact, they were all members of the same firehouse, all in Ladder Seven, and they lived so close together, and worked such long shifts, that many of them knew more about each other than even their families sometimes did. Anyway, I remember that night, my Dad let me and Rudy go with them, to the pub where they were playing, and when Rudy, who was six at the time, kept banging on the bass drum every time they had a break, Uncle J, as we all called him, laid the name on him, and, as Rudy continued playing the drums throughout his life and even began carrying a pair of drumsticks around with him, the name stuck. Everybody began calling him Rudy the Bang by the time he began grade school and I can tell you this, as it is the God’s own truth, everybody, everybody that ever met him, loved Rudy the Bang, and he always loved them back, too.

                                                                                                  — 2 —
                                                                       THE JOB

Every man’s work shall be made manifest.
New Testament: I Corinthians, iii, 13.

Light is the task when many share the toil.
—Homer, Iliad Bk. xii, 1. 413. (Bryant, tr.)

We were always at our dad’s firehouse, I mean, being as he was there working so much. Our mom took us all the time and we knew all the firemen at Ladder Seven. I never knew I’d end up as a fireman but Rudy sure did. My baby brother said he was gonna be a fireman almost from the time he could speak. Whenever anybody asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, the answer was always the same, a fireman, like my Daddy. Our dad was really proud of him for that too. I mean, even when all the band instructors told our mom and dad that Rudy had a gift and was so good that he could easily get into the Julliard School of Music, he nixed it, simply restating his proclamation that he was going to be a fireman.
       Rudy was the best drummer I ever knew, he could do things with those drums I think even Buddy Rich would have applauded. He was the first chair drummer in eveiy band class he ever took, and he took them all, right up to advanced band in high school. Of course, by then he was playing in his own jazz band, following, so to speak, in our father’s footsteps. The guys he played with were all schoolmates and pals from around our neighborhood and, as a matter of fact, of the four of them, all but Joey O’Connell, who played a mean trumpet, became firemen. They even started a trio, which then became a quartet when John ‘Lips’ O’Halloran joined them.
       Me, I tried working in construction, which I didn’t like and then going to college, which I didn’t like any better, so I joined the Marines. I spent eight years in the Corps and got out when I didn’t make staff sergeant, E-6.
       I was twenty-six when I got discharged and Rudy was already a fireman, in my dad and uncle’s firehouse and, after a few weeks of cajoling, I got a job there myself. The training phase was tough but I had just come out of two hitches in the Marines and got through pretty easily, being among the top ten in my class. I was going to brag about it until I found out that Rudy had finished at the top of his class, number one. And, boy, let me tell you, Rudy loved his life, that’s right, his life, because his job was his life.
       I’ll never forget when he first met Joy, Joy Marconi, from Levittown. She was the same age as he was and her father was also a fireman, but not in our firehouse. She was half Italian and half Irish and had a head of curly, flaming red-hair. All the guys were after her, let me tell you, including me, but she only had eyes for Rudy, especially after she heard him play the drums; she had played them herself in high school and had heard of Rudy and his quartet, The Four Firemen. She asked him to tutor her a bit on the drums and, walla, they were married three months later and were a perfect match; Joy could tease people mercilessly, second only to Rudy, and whenever they were around anybody was fair game; everybody loved them.

                                                                                                  — 3 —
                                                               THE DRUM-ROLL

For the love of laughter, hinder not the humour of his design.
—Shakespeare, All’s Well that Ends Well. Act iii, sc. 6, 1. 44.

Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.
—Will Rogers, The Illiterate Digest, p. 131.

       I’ll never forget the drum-roll, and neither will anybody else that knew Rudy the Bang, my brother. The first time he saw it, why, he went and took it for his very own. He was just seven at the time and we were at a local pub where my Dad’s band played regularly, when a man in the audience stood up and drunkenly yelled that he had something to say. Everybody shut up and you could have literally heard a pin drop, as everybody stared at the man, who was now tettering and tottering around trying to regain his balance. When he finally straightened up and opened his mouth to talk, Daddy did a drum-roll on his snare drum. Everybody laughed so loud, the guy veritably collapsed into his seat and, if I remember correctly, never did say anything. Well, Rudy began copying the drum-roll, his first acappella, I guess you could say. The whole audience, remembering my Dad’s drum-roll acappella, all applauded, and laughed at the drunk, who was now fast asleep at his table, his momentous announcement, long forgotten.
      Anyway, Rudy began carrying a pair of drumsticks around with him by the time he was ten and when he was in the sixth grade, I guess he was about twelve, his teacher told the class that she had an important announcement to make. She opened her mouth to make it and Rudy, his drumsticks in hand, did a drum-roll on his desk. His teacher knew it was Rudy and she let him know of her displeasure, almost immediately. ‘How rude, banging on your desk like that.’
      All his classmates began calling him ‘Rude the Bang,’ instead of Rudy the Bang, as he was already known, and it almost stuck to him, as even Daddy, when he heard the story, began calling him Rude the Bang, for awhile.
      Anyway, Rudy kept a set of drums in the firehouse and practiced all the time and it was well-known that anybody and I mean anybody was fair game when Rudy the Bang was around.
      One time, when the fire commissioner himself came to our stationhouse, just as he was about to make the important announcement that he had come there to make, that’s right, you guessed it, Rudy the Bang, my baby brother, three years a fireman at that time, did a drum-roll.
      Well, it was a good thing that the commissioner had a sense of humor; of course it didn’t hurt any that every fireman there, including our chief, broke out in gales of laughter and guffaws. I mean, what could the commissioner have done if he didn’t laugh too hell he’d have to admit that he didn’t have any sense of humor, even though, as I remember it, he didn’t exactly laugh very loudly. But, that was Rudy, mischievous and an inveterate joker; and, like I said, loved by all.

                                                                                                  — 4 —
                                                                 SEPTEMBER 11

O God! that one might read the book of fate!
—Shakespeare, II Henry IV. Act iii, sc. 1, 1. 45

The rising morn cannot assure
That we shall end the day
For Death stands ready at the door
To take our lives away
—Unknown. From an old sampler

       It wasn’t a work-day for Rudy but he was in the station on that fateful day, as his wife of 9 years, Joy, was working, and he had his two kids with him, Rudy Junior, who was six, and Danny, who was four. Nobody realized how dangerous that fateful thy would become, but everyone quickly realized that something extraordinary had occurred and I can still remember how determined Rudy was about going along. Well, Lieutenant McAdams, known affectionately as Big Mac to us all, all six feet six inches and two-hundred-eighty pounds of him, let Rudy go but made sure that Joy stayed behind with their two boys; Rudy taking her place, as it were, a not unusual occurrence at our station-house.
       We were one of the first trucks to arrive at the scene and Rudy and I were two of the first to go up but we got separated from each other on the way down; I was escorting two middle-aged executives and I remember that Rudy was helping an elderly woman who had suffered severe leg damage. The last picture I have in my memory-bank of Rudy was him bending down and picking this woman up, as he headed for the stairway, eighty-one floors above the ground-floor.
       We barely made it to the street-level when the building collapsed and all hell broke loose, people running every which way. Somehow we made it out of there, just as cement, steel and glass came crashing down, all around us. The streets were so full of debris that it seemed as if we were running on top of it as it was actually being made, falling and sliding in front of our feet, as we ran for all we were worth. One of the businessmen suffered a heart attack but, luckily, an ambulance was within easy reach and we quickly loaded him inside it.
       Joy insisted on going with us, that evening, to search for any sign of Rudy, or his corpse, but there was no trace of him; not, that is, until nearly six months later, in March, when a volunteer ironworker found Rudy’s corpse; the corpse of an elderly woman was found just underneath him, as if he had been shielding her, which everyone, who ever knew Rudy, knows was probably exactly what he was doing, for Rudy the Bang, my baby brother, was absolutely selfless and as brave as any fireman ever was, when it came to sacrificing his life, for that of another fellow human being, be that fellow human being an infant child, or a sixty-three year old secretary, as the other corpse was later identified as.

                                                  RUDY THE BANG’S DRUM-ROLL

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still.
—William Penn, Fruits of Solitude.

       I remember it just like it was yesterday; we were all sitting around shooting the breeze in the firehouse. It was just after dinner and some of the guys were ladling up some ice cream for dessert. Rudy was already behind his drums, pattering lightly with his brushes, practicing so as not to bother anyone. I don’t remember who it was that brought the subject up; I think it was Joe Hanrahan, a ladder-man from Rockaway, in Queens. A friend of his had just been shot and killed in a robbery downtown and he had been asked to give the eulogy; he had had a hard time of it and wanted to let everyone know that when he died everyone should remember what a splendid guy he was, and just so they didn’t forget he was expostulating on that subject when somebody joked that he should write it down and give everybody a photocopy, otherwise we’d probably remember him for stealing desserts out of the communal refrigerator. It brought a laugh but also drew a discussion, as to how we all wanted to be remembered and everyone chimed in on their best qualities. I remember Rudy was pattering on his snare drum with the brushes when Big Mac asked him how he wanted to be eulogized. He smiled at Big Mac. “Only trouble there Big, is, see, I ain’t nevah gonna die, heh-heh.”
       After several guffaws, Big Mac pressed him on it and I can still remember Rudy showing, for him, a slight bit of irritation. “Man, Big, what’s the dif’ how we get eulogized, what a we know about what others think about us man; I mean what they really think about us?”
       There was a moment of silence before everyone guffawed loudly and Big Mac nodded shrewdly at Rudy and nodded towards him. “So, how youse wanna be remembered, Rudy Dah Bang,” he said, in his usual dry, sarcastic voice. Rudy grabbed his wooden drumsticks and smiled, then did a drum-roll. “Don’t really mattah tah me Big, jus’ remembah my drum-roll, okay?”
       Everybody laughed, just as the clanging of bells sounded and we remembered what we were all doing in a firehouse, at eight p.m. on a Sunday night and, as we clamored around the stationhouse, getting our gear ready, I can still remember some of the looks on the faces that evening; we all knew how close we lived with death, she was always lurking, just around the corner.

                                                                                                       * * *

       I was suppossed to do the eulogy but I asked Big Mac to do it; he had lived with Rudy for a decade and had seen him go from a shy, introverted kid to one of the best firemen New York City ever had.
       I was coming out of the men’s room, which was located in the rear of the church, when I noticed them; sitting between an organ and a large bouquet of flowers. I knew immediately what I had to do, I knew it was what Rudy would have wanted me to do and so I walked the distance quickly and slid onto the small seat.
       I knew Big Mac pretty good myself, having served with him for a half-dozen years already, and so I timed it just about perfectly, and just as he was about to open his mouth to praise my little brother, I did as good a drum-roll as I ever have; Rudy had shown me how when we were both kids and I had it down pretty good, although I couldn’t play anything else and didn’t have Rudy’s ear for music.
       For a split-second, Big Mac’s face froze, he couldn’t see me from the podium but told me later that he guessed it was me, and then he guffawed loudly and was soon joined by all the firemen in attendance, and many others as well, when he bellowed: “And that was for Rudy the Bang, and let me tell youse all a story now. We wuz all up in the station house this one time, oh, I’d say this was in ninety-four or five, and here comes Rudy dressed in civvies and boy was it cold, was in December, musta been around twenty degrees see, so me and Lips were layin’ in wait ‘cause—”

Keith G. Laufenberg has been writing poems and stories for over 30 years, and has had over a hundred of them published in numerous literary journals and magazines. He's also written two novels, “Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die,” both published in 2007. His story "Childhood," has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

COMMENT        HOME       BLOG


New Fiction

by Greg November

by Ashley Inguanta

by Brooke Kwikkel

by Tegan Webb

by Ruth Webb

by Edward Wells

by Tantra Bensko

by Keith Laufenbarg

by Robert Sachs

An Introduction
to Deltiology

By accessing this site, you accept these Terms and Conditions.
Copyright © 2010-2012 ™ — All rights reserved