When destiny called, she pressed 1 for more options.
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With the name, Robyn Fortune, shouldn’t the streets be paved with gold? Or at least paved? Not so for this Park Slope make-up artist/aspiring comic. Ever since her divorce, life has taken her down a rocky road, with no signs pointing to fame or fortune. And she’s not laughing.
Her ex’s gambling debts left her teetering on bankruptcy. Her bi-polar boss at “Daybreak” is about to can her. And over at Hotel Marriage, Robyn wonders if she’ll ever check-in again, while her sexually bored mother, Sheila Holtz, is threatening to check out.
Back in Jersey, Harvey Holtz, an amateur cartographer, prefers mapmaking over lovemaking. He’s a lost soul who can’t find his way back to his wife’s heart. So it’s up to Robyn and her brother, Phillip, to get their parents to reconcile. Well, just Robyn. Phil would like to help. Really. But he’s swamped with work and family obligations.
Go figure a family bar mitzvah is where fate steps in, making it a date with destiny for them all. Robyn is offered money to go on a blind date with Ken Danziger, a man who has had even more misfortune than her.
Expecting love at first sight? Sorry, it’s a table for one at their self-pity parties. Until Robyn sees a photograph in his apartment she took fifteen years earlier, and discovers their paths have been crossing since birth.
What follows is a series of hilarious and often heartbreaking encounters that unlock their secret pasts, and the roles of their meddling mamas.
Fate & Ms. Fortune is about rebuilding a life after the marital foundation has cracked and about finding love when it’s not on the map. But mostly it’s about realizing that when fate knocks, you’d better answer, for good fortune could be at the door.
“Something is wrong with mom and dad,” Phillip whispered.
“What?” I had to holler over the blaring music and the din of a hundred kids running wild at their friend Brandon’s bar mitzvah.
“Shhh.” My older brother pointed to our parents who were seated across the table, but were obscured by a massive center piece. “I’m saying they’re acting a little strange.”
“I’ve been saying that for thirty years.”
“Don’t joke, Robyn. They haven’t said two words to each other since we got here.”
I peered around the foam board cutout of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, and sure enough, they had turned their chairs to literally face the music. Better than facing the other guests at table ninety-nine. And each other.
“Mom, how’s your salad?” I yelled. “Raspberry vinaigrette’s your favorite.”
Turn the beat around. Love to hear the percussion. Turn it upside down...
“Daddy, how about those Mets?” I yelled louder. “Could be our year.”
With the syncopated rhythm with the rat, tat, tat, tat on the drums...
“You guys want anything from the bar?” our server asked. “It’s free.”
“What?” I cupped my ear.
“The drinks are free. What can I get you?”
Free drinks? Really? Because we are having such an amazing time at Brandon’s Hockey Hall of Fame, we thought we were at Madison Square Garden, not a $50,000 party for a thirteen-year old who learned to read from the Torah. “Diet Coke, please.”
“I’ll take a Dewars,” my brother leaned back without making eye contact with our white-gloved waiter who knew as much about french service as Paris Hilton. “And bring my wife another cosmo, extra triple sec. Thanks buddy.”
Phillip leaned in. “I’m just saying I think something’s up with them. They’re not right.”
“No, they always act strange at big parties. The music is too loud, the room is too cold, the food is too salty... Oh wait. Host alert. Put on your I’m-having-so-much-fun face.”
Phillip fake laughed. “Yesterday I call over there to remind them that before they wrote a big check for Brandon, they should remember how Rhonda and Barry cheaped-out for Marissa’s bat mitzvah. I think they gave us seventy-five a plate, or some ridiculous number. Like they didn’t know what a Saturday night black tie goes for on Long Island... Anyway, mom says speak to your father about that, so I said fine, where is he? And she says, why don’t you ask him.?”
“Ten bucks says he was in the basement studying a map of the former Czech Republic.”
“He never called me back.”
“Oh, so that’s where it comes from? You never call me back either.”
“Funny. Then this morning at the Temple I said to dad, why didn’t you call me back yesterday and he doesn’t answer. So I said, Mom told you I called, right? No answer.”
“That’s what you’re so worked up about? They’re just busy doing their own thing. It’s what’s retirees do so they don’t kill each other by Tuesday.”
“They took two cars here.”
“They did not.”
“I’m telling you they did. Both of their cars are in the lot.”
“Are you sure? It’s not like Honda only made one silver Accord in 2002.”
“I know their plates, okay? I’m telling you they both drove here.”
“But Mommy doesn’t do parkways since her accident.”
Phillip’s wife, Patti the Whip, slid into her chair reeking of nicotine, certain her spearmint gum would baffle even us “CSI” fans. Like we’d never have guessed that she’d just spent the last ten minutes outside with her sisters in smoke.
“Did you order me another, hun?” She downed her drink. “Where are the kids?”
Phillip glanced at his watch.“ Em found a friend from camp and Max is hanging out with a kid who’s leaving for Aspen tomorrow who asked him where our family winters.”
“That’s what nine year-old boys do now?” I laughed. “Compare vacation destinations? In my day they hid in the mens room and lit the guest napkins on fire.”
Patti ignored me as always. “Where’s Marissa?”
“Funny you should ask. She just called from table five to say that Evan is picking her up at nine, and I said like hell you’re leaving early. This is family. We’re here to the bitter end.”
“I thought her cell died.”
“Apparently it’s been reborn, but that didn’t stop her from bitching she needs a new one.”
“I’ll take her after school on Monday.” Patti adjusted her bra strap.
“It is a new one, remember? She left the Nokia at the mall and you went right out and replaced it without even asking me.”
“Fine. I’ll bring it back and see if they can fix it.”
“It’s not broken, Patti. She never gets off long enough to charge it.”
“She’s fifteen. What do you want her to do? Climb trees and play house?”
It so sickened me to listen to yet another installment of the Holtz Family Checkbook that I welcomed the wet kiss intermission from good old Aunt Lil and Uncle Sol. How was I doing since my divorce, and what a shame that David left me in debt, and didn’t I know he was a compulsive gambler, and what happened to my beautiful, long hair? “We almost didn’t recognize you, honey. It’s so short now, like that nice lesbian on TV. What’s her name?”
“Ellen DeGeneres?” I sighed.
“Yeah, I wasn’t going to say anything,” Phillip interrupted. “But what the hell were you thinking? It’s really...”
“Short.” Patti studied it from every angle. “But you still have hormones. It’ll grow fast.”
“Well, I love it,” I fluffed it up. “It’s so much easier for me in the morning.”
“Aunt Lil is right.” Phillip gulped his drink. “You look like a dyke.”
Lillinsol, as I used to call them, took their cue. “We’ll go over and say hello to your folks now. Good luck with everything. Let us know if there is anything we can do help.”
Care to open your Gucci-covered checkbook? “Thanks. Take care. You both look great. Boca agrees with you.” It would agree with me too if I spent every day playing golf, bridge and my favorite game, Where Should We Eat Today?
“Talk fast.” I said to Phillip. “The DJ is introducing me after the main course is served.”
“Comics do bar mitzvahs now,” Patti stated for the record as she smoothed her lemon-colored hair, which matched her sour puss. “It’s not a party anymore. It’s a circus.”
“True, but at least fire-breathing jugglers are out,” I nudged her elbow. “Give Rhonda and Barry credit for being cutting edge.”
“No, for being cheap,” Phillip laughed.
Freeze. Everybody clap your hands....slide to the left... take it back now ya...
“You get what you pay for,” Patti coughed. “No offense, but aren’t you still in training?”
‘Yeah, but comics are like hookers. Even the new ones get paid for their time.”
Right foot lets stomp... left foot lets stomp... cha cha now ya!
“Would you two stop?” Phillip cracked his knuckles.
“I thought you were bringing a date tonight,” Patti leaned over.
“I never said that.”
“Yes you did. You said you invited that radiologist from Lenox Hill.”
“He was a cardiologist from NYU, and we didn’t hit it off.”
“How come?” I sighed.
You know the rule about never having sex on the first date? I broke it. I know. You thought I was better than that. But I really dug the guy and when he took me back to his bedroom, he had these shelves full of stuffed animals. What girl could resist such a sweet, sensitive man? So afterwards I’m feeling pretty good about where this relationship is going and he says,“Thanks Robyn. You can pick something off the bottom shelf.”
“Leave her alone, Patti.” Phillip said. “She’s been divorced like what? Six months?
“It’s fine. Much as I’d like, dating and colonoscopies are off my radar now. No time.”
Too busy trying to prevent every celebrity make-up artist in New York from stealing my network news anchor client. Busy staving off the dozens of creditors demanding what little money I had left thanks to my gambling-addicted ex husband. Busy selling off our wedding gifts on e-bay so I could contribute to the Help Robyn From Being Homeless Fund. Busy trying to break in to stand up comedy in the toughest city in the world. Busy trying not to eat my way back to my formerly lumpy body so that my ass would never again look like an Ikea couch cushion.
“Dear, when are you going on?” My mother turned around.
“In a few minutes... Everything okay, Mom?”
“Perfect.” She turned back around.
“See?” Phillip whispered. “When is the last time she said things were perfect?”
“The last time you turned out to be right,” Patti quipped.
“I’m just hope to God it’s not Dad’s prostate again,” he sighed.
In spite of my brother’s near perfect SAT scores and a law degree from Rutgers, most days you could hold up cue cards spelling out your thoughts, and he’d still miss the point like a rookie place kicker. But had his why-chromosomes taken a holiday? Was he on to something?
Whereas Jack and Elaine Holtz were hardly Fairlawn, New Jersey’s Party Hardy gang, they could always be counted on to engage in table conversation. And whereas my father preferred to spend his free time pondering the wildlife indigenous to within fifty miles of the equator, he would always invite my mother to dance. And whereas my mother was nothing like her busy body sister, Doreen, who picked up juicy morsels of gossip at the cocktail hour, then dropped them like mini quiche time bombs by dessert, Elaine would politely table hop so as to catch up on everyone’s news, lest they not be alive for the next family gathering.
But like the first question asked at the Passover seder, why was this April night different from all other nights? For on this night, Jack and Elaine remained glued to their chairs as if they were party favors they planned to take home.
“Please tell me you’re not doing that whole bit about how lame they are,” Phillip said.
“I don’t have a choice. The only other routines I do are R rated.”
“Then cut out all the curses,” Patti offered.
“It’s not that. I don’t think Barry and Rhonda want Brandon’s friends going home and telling their parents about my talking dildo.”
“You have a talking dildo?” Patti giggled. “Does he have any friends?”
“Okay, we have a problem here,” Phillip, the senior partner, held up his hands. “You must know other jokes, Rob. You’ve been cracking them your whole life.”
“Comics are not just joke-tellers, okay? It takes months to develop solid routines. There’s a lot of nuance and set ups and...”
“I don’t care what the hell you do up there. Leave them out of it.”
“Robyn,” my mother turned around again. “After your little performance, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you.”
“Sure.” I gulped. “What’s wrong, mom?”
“Nothing,” she sniffed into a tissue. “Nothing at all.”
“Ladies and gentlemen. Friends of Brandon. We have a very special treat for you this evening. Here to perform live after headlining at Catch A Rising Star in LA, Carolines and the Improv in New York... is our very own comic genius. You’ve seen her on Letterman, on Leno, on the Daily Show with John Stuart.... Let’s give a big round of applause for the one, the only, Robynnnnnnnnn Fortune!”
I’m walking. I’m smiling. Now what? I don’t carry around spare routines. I barely remember to bring extra tampons. I think I’m going to puke.
“Thank you and good evening. [bow] Hey, you know what? Let’s give DJ Johnny a warm round of applause, too. Isn’t he doing a fantastic job? [clap] And let’s thank our hosts Barry and Rhonda [clap] Guys, this is the greatest bar mitzvah party ever! I don’t know how you did it. Free food. Free drinks. Free music and entertainment.... okay anyone here get in for less than $500?”
Oh my God. They’re laughing. Now what? Talk about the thirteen-year old girls dripping in Tiffany and Prada? Good to know babysitting pays more than prostitution. No! They’ll hate me before I warm up... I guess I could do the lying bit.
“Thank you everyone. Okay, first thing I have to tell you is that I cannot tell a lie. Well actually I can. And I do.... A LOT....And that’s the honest truth. Yeah. Truth is overrated. Life is so much easier when you say whatever it takes to get you out of trouble...Robyn, have you been drinking?” No Dad. Good. Go to your room... Robyn, is that your picture in the paper holding up the 7- 11? No dad. Good. Go to you room.... So that’s my philosophy. Lie and no one gets hurt.
“ You know when DJ Johnny said I’d appeared on Leno and Letterman and headlined at the top comedy clubs? Never happened. I mean I’ve been to Caroline’s. I think. Is that the one down by South Street Seaport? Now see, what harm was done by telling a little lie? [spots woman at table] Oh wow, Mam. May I say how much I love your dress? It’s gorgeous. I bet you paid like what? $4000? Looks like a Carmen Marc Volvo. [turns away] Designer, my ass. She got it at Kohls. $79 less the 15% off coupon.... See how easy that was? She’s happy, I’m happy...
“Of course, you ladies all know lying is the key to survival. You buy something really expensive, go to the trunk of your car, take out the bags from Target and Marshalls, do a little switcheroo, one, two, three, dumb husband sees the bag, asks if you remembered to pick up deodorant and chips, and boom, you’re in [crowd laughs].
“Okay where’s Brandon? [looks out] Come on up here Brandon..... let’s give the bar mitzvah boy a huge round. Didn’t he do an amazing job today? No really. I’m being totally honest here. You were super. Tell everyone how long it took to learn all those prayers. A week. Right? The Evelyn Woods School of Torah Reading and there’s no lip syncing involved, ’cause I wasn’t sure. I thought I saw your mouth moving after the tape stopped....Oh, that was the Rabbi?
“Okay, well now that you’re a man, let me give you some manly advice. Do you always tell the truth? [he nods yes] Really? You always tell the truth? [nods yes] You’re gonna have it very rough in high school my friend... Brandon, is that vodka in your Poland Springs bottle? [she moves his head from side to side] Excellent. Now you’ve got it. You get good enough at this you can run for president...
“Okay, lets talk careers. You like playing hockey? [he nods yes] And I bet you think you’re pretty good. [he shrugs] Well here’s a little reality check and I’m not making this up. It’s a statistical fact. Less than one percent of all Jewish boys grow up to be professional athletes. 99% of the time they grow up and buy the team... Write that down. Grow up. Buy a team.
“Okay, go sit down. It’s all about me now. Deal with it.... Let’s give Brandon a big hand..... he’s a future owner of a hockey team!”
Holy shit. They’re really laughing. This is great, except I’m fresh out of untested bits with five minutes to go... Sorry Phillip. If I don’t do my real routine, there’s nothing left in the tank.
“I remember being thirteen. Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? You had friends, you had fun, you had money for drugs....No. Just kidding, kids.... Don’t go home and tell your parents this lady at Brandon’s Bar Mitzvah told you how she saved up an entire year’s allowance to buy these special plants that are fun to grow......
“But really. I had a great childhood. And I’m telling the God’s honest truth now because my parents are right over there. Aren’t they adorable?
My dad is a dentist whose passion is map collecting. We’re talking Mr. Excitement. Other dads used to stuff “Playboy” magazines under the bed to look at when the wife wasn’t around. My dad had maps of the thirteen British colonies.... Funny thing was, he loved maps but he couldn’t find his way from the house to the office, and the office was in the house. I’m not joking. He could tell you the exact distance between Peking and the Gobi Dessert, but when I needed him to give directions to my friends parents, he’d say, “Elaine? What’s the street after Jackson?” And she’d say, “You mean the one we live on?”
And my mom? Now there’s a fascinating woman. Imagine the thrill of growing up with a middle school librarian. My friend Susan’s mom used to work at Just Jeans, and she’d come home with the cutest things. My mom came home with books. “We got this new one about the mating rituals of hormone-deprived gnats. Why don’t you take a look, dear?”
Yeah my parents are great.... just not great with all the new technology. Bought them a cell phone a few weeks ago. Big mistake. My father tried to tune in to radio free Europe. My mother wanted to know where they put the answering machine that takes all the messages....”
Oh God! Mommy is crying. Daddy is leaving. Phillip looks like he’s going to kill me. Patti looks like she’s having way too much fun... I’m sorry. I take it all back. I am so so sorry.