I dreamt that a building in Tulsa, begun by my grandfather Ike Ruby in the 1920s, had finally been completed as a memorial to him. How had the building survived unfinished for the 85 years since his death, I wondered. “Oh, some rain and animals got in,” my mother said, “just like a building Steve Kurens’ father owned on Berkeley Ave. in Orange.” I had an image of a squat brick building, a squat tower. At that point, I stepped back into the past, becoming a child again, and snuck into the squat building, sidestepping broken window frames in the hallways. Then the cops came, and we ran outside. A kid near a mound of dirt in the unsettled yard said, “You were in there.” “No, I wasn’t,” I said, “I was just playing around here—like you.” Back in the present, I walked around my neighborhood in Brooklyn and tried to drum up my friends Michael Kaplan, Keith Greenberg and some others to attend the opening of the Ike Ruby memorial. Stepping back into the past again, I seemed to watch myself as a teenager in a movie driving over to look for my high-school friend Steve Riegel, who supposedly had moved with his father to a town south of Maplewood, N.J., on the way to Cranford.
The next thing I knew, I was inside a big museum exhibit about the life of Ike Ruby, a Jewish oilman who died of diabetes around the age of 45. There were amazing old black and white movies of my late great-uncle George Travis, pulling up in a car as a young man with his supposed first wife, “Bobby.” Unc put on a wide-brim hat before getting out of the car. He looked a little mean. Then a crewcut guy, “Stephen,” emerged. I couldn’t figure out who he was. The exhibit became truly extraordinary when it dealt with Ike Ruby’s arrival in Tulsa on a steamboat. It turned out that Ike supposedly had an uncle there, P. Klosterman, who owned a little department store. The uncle sent someone down to meet Ike at the boat. Everything became very vivid, as it had been in the movie of Unc. I stood in front of Klosterman’s store and watched a changing sign advertising Jewish religious services in Tulsa, in the Midwest and even in such a faraway place as Queens. The revolving multicolored neon sign was mesmerizing. I stepped back into the past again, this time into another life, not my own, and these little kids led me into their house, straight into the parlor floor, which upset the adults inside. I saw a video documentary, mostly made of stills, about the failed relationship between Ike and Klosterman’s daughter. In one scene, Ike and the daughter were in tears after forgetting to invite certain people to their wedding. The wedding never occurred. Apparently, she fell off a swing and was severely injured, but had emotional problems, too. My Wall Street Journal friend Stephanie Capparell exclaimed, “You’re so lucky to have so much material about these people.” Near the end of the exhibit, there were these beautiful Chinese pots Ike had collected. “There was always a story about this incredibly valuable Chinese pot,” someone said. One of the pots, not large, a little more free-form in shape and color, was indeed ravishingly beautiful. At the very end of the exhibit, there were large black and white photos, living images, of early porn stars. It turned out Ike had dated a string of porn stars at the very end of his life. On a table near the Chinese pots was a tray of candies. I took a handful, a piggish amount, and then tried to give away some to my sister-in-law Maude Kent. I was leaving with Maude. I had a few hours before work, and very little time the next day, to publicize the memorial event.