May 3, 2024 Short Story


Frimps Artwork by DALL·E
If I’ve learned one thing in my long slog through this vale of tears, it’s that any nincompoop can tie a hangman’s knot.

—You don’t say.

I do say.

—I assume you have a particular nincompoop in mind?

Melville Rudich.

—The dramatist?

You’ve heard of him?

—I may live under a rock, but buzz about the author of Frimps has penetrated even to my ears.

I remind you Rudich wasn’t always the “author of Frimps.” Before he had that distinction, he was just another failed hack reduced to fashioning—with the help of an online tutorial—a serviceable noose out of a length of extension cord.

—Since he went on to become the “author of Frimps,” clearly the desperate act he was contemplating was forestalled?

In the nick of time. As he liked to tell it, he’d got up on a foot-high stack of rejection slips and was suspending the noose from a peg atop a closet door when the phone in his shirt pocket struck up the opening notes of the national anthem.

—Some might be tempted to see the hand of providence in this patriotic interruption.

Not Rudich. He didn’t think highly enough of himself to credit providence with any interference on his behalf.

“Yeah?” he snarled at the phone.

“That you, Rudich? Zalman Zipkin here. I realize it’s been years, but I thought you’d like to be the last to know I’ve finally found a backer for Frimps. If you can meet me for lunch at La Poubelle, I’ll be delighted to introduce you to Dr. Pinscher.”

—One minute on the brink of suicide, the next off to the most expensive restaurant in town!

Only in America. Unfortunately for Rudich, his lone three-piece suit was badly puke-stained, so that he’d certainly have been denied admission to the four-star eatery if Zipkin hadn’t arrived on his heels.

“Hold it right there, Georges. Don’t even think about calling security. This man may look like a derelict, but he’ll soon have his name up in lights on Broadway.”

“In that case,” the fastidious maître d’ said, with a bow to the celebrated impresario, “follow me.”

At the table to which he conducted them, Dr. Isabel Pinscher was rotating a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in a bucket of ice. Unlike Zipkin, who was a restless bundle of twitches and spasms, the urologist-cum-inventor (of, among other patented devices, the musical catheter) was as deliberate in her movements as a tortoise.

“To Frimps!” she said, after the waiter had filled their flutes with champagne. “To a smash hit in the making ... though one thing about it does give me pause.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“How is it that nowhere in the course of its four acts do you take the trouble to say what a frimp is.”

Reluctantly, Rudich explained that the term entered the language in 1951, at the corner of Westchester and Pugsley avenues in the Bronx, via the mouth of one Michael Raspberry, who disappeared from the world almost immediately afterwards, in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

“You misunderstand me,” Dr. Pinscher persisted. “What I’m curious to know is, not the history of the word, but its meaning.”

“If you have to ask,” Rudich replied, “that makes you the very definition of a frimp.”

“You dare to suggest—?”

“Not anymore. You’re an ex-frimp now, even if traces of frimphood continue to cling to you, like threads of cloud to a sequoia.”

“Spare us the dendrology,” Zipkin interjected. “I say we order some grub.”

—And about time, too. I’m eager to be vicariously acquainted with the specialties at La Poubelle. What did Rudich have?

Apart from the liverwurst-and-baloney platter, far too much to drink. As a result, he had to keep jumping up and legging it into the john, in which he noted with a germophobe’s appreciation that the urinals, the toilets, and the sinks were all foot-operated. When he returned from the fourth of these voyages of discovery, Dr. Pinscher’s professional curiosity was roused.

“Do you always pee so often?”

“I don’t pee,” Rudich confessed. “I never pee. That is, I feel like I have to—badly—but, when I step up to the mark, I’m lucky if I can shake loose a few drops. Tell me there’s something you can do for me, doc!”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“Your age. How old are you?”


She regarded him gravely.

‘You’ve peed enough.”


At La Poubelle, the floor was covered by carpeting so thick the good doctor didn’t hear the waiter pad up behind her till he set the bill down at her elbow. Without glancing at it, she pushed it over to Zipkin, who, after reviewing it through a loupe, looked up in disappointment.

“Are you positive this is right, Maurice? I expected the total to be much higher.”

“You’re forgetting you had the benefit of our senior discount and our early-bird specials,” the waiter said.

“And so much for my reputation as a big spender. Now let me see.” Zipkin turned to Rudich. “No need to quibble over who ordered what, eh? We’ll just round the total up to twenty-one hundred and divide it three ways.”

Rudich stared at him. “I don’t understand. You invited me to lunch, and now you expect me to split the tab?”

“If you don’t have enough cash on you, monsieur,” the waiter said, “we’ll take any major credit card—or any minor one, for that matter.”

Rudich, whose only credit card, from First Peculators Bank of South Dakota, had a limit of fifty dollars, couldn’t control his indignation.

“This is outrageous. I’m not paying. Never mind that I don’t have the money—it’s a matter of principle.”

“Tell you what.” Zipkin sighed and rose from his chair. “The synagogue I belong to is two steps from here. I say we submit the question to my spiritual advisor, Rabbi McNamara.”

—Surely Rudich didn’t accept this proposal?

Why wouldn’t he?

—The conflict of interest is pretty hard to miss.

Maybe so, but it didn’t bother him, because he was convinced his case was so strong even a biased third party would have no choice but to find in his favor.

—So they set out at once?

Minus Dr. Pinscher, who was detained in the restaurant as surety, in the event of their failure to return. They almost didn’t make it to the synagogue at all, though, because, as they were crossing Fifth Avenue, out of the blue Rudich was struck in the chest by a bullet.

—What do you mean—a bullet?

You don’t know what a bullet is?

—Of course I know what a bullet is.

Well, then—

—It’s just that a bullet is the last thing you’d expect to be struck by on Fifth Avenue.

Believe me, Rudich couldn’t have been more astonished to find himself flat on his ass in the crosswalk and in danger of being trampled by the pedestrians hurrying past in both directions. None of them stopped to help Zipkin get him back up on his feet either.

—He was all right?

No thanks to Trump.


With a smirk on his face, he stood looking on from the curb. Smoke was still curling around the barrel of the gun in his hand.

“You miserable frimp,” Rudich said to him, “you shot me.”

Without staying to apologize, Trump waddled away up the sidewalk, pausing only to exchange high fives with members of his Secret Service detail.

—That’s all very well, except that, if, as you say, Rudich was shot in the chest, how come he wasn’t badly hurt or—for that matter—dead?

The phone in his shirt pocket deflected the bullet.

—Providence again!

Asked his opinion of that possibility, Rabbi McNamara, though he wouldn’t rule it out, was at pains not to allow it to influence his decision in the dispute laid before him.

“On the one hand, we have the great weight attached by the sages to the obligations of hospitality,” he said at length. “On the other hand, we have a pronouncement so compelling I consider it dispositive—not least because it’s often attributed to the Rambam.”

“I’m all ears,” Zipkin said.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

—I don’t suppose Rudich was too pleased with this outcome.

To put it mildly, but all he could do, when they came back out onto the steps of the synagogue, was to offer to write Zipkin a postdated check—an offer the impresario flatly rejected.

“You didn’t really think I was going to make you pay?”

“Huh? You weren’t?”

“Not a chance.”

“Then I don’t get it. What’s with the charade? Why’d you drag me over here? ... And don’t try telling me it’s because you wanted to show me what a frimp your rabbi is.”

Zipkin glanced around to make sure no other congregants were in earshot.

“Not what a frimp—what a schmuck.”