I’m dealing when the phone rings. “It’s my boy,” he tells us, bubbling over, motioning “Shush.” We, of course, get louder. The game, you know, must go on.

Moments later it’s different. Grimacing, tortured, he’s talking to his ex. We hear shrying through the phone so we quiet.

Our pal hangs up, returns to the table. “I’m $800 behind in alimony,” he announces. “Let’s raise the stakes!” We laugh again. All of us.

It is “The Odd Couple,” the first scene, and the audience sees me on stage: Murray The Cop, laughing at Oscar. (They should only know I’m not acting—just remembering. They should only know I used to be that Oscar).

It was our first rehearsal, weeks ago: Introducing the troupe, the director declares “Bruce doesn’t have much talent. I call him when he can play himself.” The company roared. Me? I was thinking. The guy’s cast me as young Mel Brooks (“Laughter On The 23rd Floor”), Harry MacAfee (“Bye Bye Birdie”) and now Murray. Does he really think I’m just a neurotic, frantic card player?

I’m in the green room… nightly…for weeks. Six men, two women. We run lines, play euchre, share, and, in time…bond. The cast is, by my standards, young. (They don’t know). A few perhaps may remember JFK. Every once in a while I say something—something truly ordinary. They gaze at me (especially the 30 year-old with the C-cup) as if I’m Yoda. (They should only know I’m not brilliant—just sixty).

It was the night before opening: “final dress.” We were in a Willoughby watering hole a block from the theater. I usually don’t join in, but after a long week of tech, the director wanted his team to unwind. Notes, he advised, would be over beers. I sat politely with my club soda/lime. “Bruce, he said to us all, “I’ve never enjoyed watching you more. You seem to be relaxing, really enjoying yourself.” It felt like a compliment…at least I thought so……time zone’s being what they were,. though, I called Stacy from the car to confirm.

We’re at the card game again and the phone rings. It’s his ex again, play halts, we listen.

He’s calm, maybe warm—she’s not calling for money. They talk a bit…about the kids. He’s not in pain this time, just neutered. It is “The Odd Couple,” the last scene and the audience is still laughing. Not AT him now, but WITH him. The crowd sees me, Murray, smiling on stage at my friend Oscar. (They should only know I’m not acting—just remembering. They should only know what I’m really thinking each night—the bittersweet: that I grew up later than necessary, like Oscar Madison….and that I too wound up holding a winning hand).

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