How often as a youngster would I watch my father privately move tchotchkes from one side of our grandma’s mantelpiece to the other and say nothing. Infantile, perhaps, but he’d get such a kick out of it all, hours later when finally noticing, she’d ask “How did this get over here? Imagine.” Our dad never let on and it mattered not. He had his fun, you see—and I learned a lesson:

You don’t have to autograph every joke.

Stuart too knew this—then and now…

—So many times in our late teens (and OK, our early twenties), I’d listen on the phone as he, disguising his voice, had parents of our friends sing the Campbell’s Soup jingle over what they thought was the radio. Not once, mind you, did he “break character” before hanging up and share his identity). The fun could be had…anonymously.

—No longer on radio, Fenton’s recent games have been in the field of education.  I hate to tell you how many sharp, intelligent people have taken French-by-Phone from Stuie..oops, I mean “Monsieur Buehner”.

“Say pupitre,” he tells gullible students.
“Pupitre”, they parrot.
“No!” he shouts back, “PuPEEEEtre…”
“Pupitre,” they try again—
“No! PuPEEEEEEEEEtre….Say pupeeeeeetra!”

They never catch on. Not even when he has them sing “Frere Jacques”. Not even when, just before hanging up he offers five additional lessons at ten bucks a week.

If you’re having fun, you really don’t have to autograph jokes.

I was driving back from Painesville just Tuesday and, with time on my hands, I called Meredith.

“Hello”, said a voice, (which didn’t sound like hers).
“Who is this?”
“Aunt Helen?”
“Bruce,” roared the 99 year-old, “Bruce, what do you want?”
“I was calling Meredith, but I got you.”
“Are you in your car? You can call me later if you are in your car.”
“Aunt Helen, I think when I called Meredith you must have been calling in and the lines crossed.”

“Please!” she shried back, “You are in your car! I will call you later if you will go to the Jerusalem Deli for me.”
“OK,” I said, “But later afternoon.”

It was just past four when my cell rang. I was still in the office and the screen read “Meredith”. Thrilled…my daughter-in-law must have seen she missed my call and was phoning back…I answered with gusto:

“Meredith!” I exclaimed.
“This is your Aunt Helen.”
(As my father would have said, I didn’t know whether to shit or go blind).
“Are you able to stop at the Jerusalem Grill?”

And it hit me…right then and there. The lady from Willard Scott’s green room still droning I was checking my cellphone. “Contacts”, to be exact.

It must have been Yom Tov; it was probably my brother —but someone ….someone wickedly funny, had changed a number—Meredith’s.

Aftershock: I called Harold that night, and I told him. “Margie,” he yelled, “Get on the phone”. And he couldn’t stop laughing. Nor could she. Nor could I. Especially when I thought even further. About the time, just recently, that I called Meredith and hung up after four rings, not waiting to leave a message. I figured it’s enough that she’d see I called. And then I realized—I remembered getting a later call from my aunt. “Bruce,” she asked me, “Did you call before? I heard the phone ringing but I couldn’t get there in time.”

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