By Mitchell Polstein Jr.
Gerald Bruskin was a cockney Englishman I met in 1979. He passed away from Covid-19 a few weeks ago at age 84. I still play tennis with his son. This is a story about “English Jerry.”
A buddy and I were walking up Lexington Avenue in New York in 1979. At East 81st Street, he wanted to stop in at a hair salon and say hello to a friend from the Central Park Tennis Courts, That’s when I first met English Jerry. We both played tennis at the same courts for years without knowing each other. We talked about London and discovered we had something rather remarkable in common.
Back in 1962, Jerry was a hairdresser in London, and involved in Jewish charities. B’nai Brith was holding a fundraiser and someone on the committee suggested they hire a group from Liverpool all the kids liked, called the Silver Beatles. John Lennon negotiated four first-class rail tickets and £400 to do the gig. Jerry met the pre-Fab Four and saw the show.
Fast forward to New York, 1979. Linda McCartney walks into Jerry’s salon by chance. While doing her hair, Jerry jokingly tells her the story about how he had given her husband Paul his start in show business. The English call that “taking the piss.” She called his bluff, and phoned Paul, who arrived shortly thereafter. A good time was had by all.
Well, not to be outdone, I had my own improbable 1960s story.. February 9, 1964. I’m walking up Broadway with my mother and sister after seeing a movie in Times Square. It’s cold. I’m 10 years old. As we pass the Ed Sullivan Theater, a horde of screaming girls engulfs us and sweep me away. I’m pressed up against the rear window of a limousine. I can’t move. I look in through the tinted window and there are four guys with the strangest haircuts I have ever seen. Somehow, I squirm out of the mob, find Mom, and we get out of there. That night, along with the rest of America, I watched the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. The four mop tops in the limo.
And if that weren’t a crazy enough coincidence, Jerry also mentioned the day we met that he had moved his young family from London to Jerusalem, where he had opened a hair salon and a laundromat in 1969. I asked Jerry the location of his laundromat. When he told me, I was gobsmacked. I had been in Jerusalem a decade later, staying at the YMCA. I had asked the front desk where the closest laundromat was. They gave me directions, but I got there too late on a Friday afternoon. They were closed for the Sabbath. I didn’t go back. That laundromat, I suddenly realized talking with English Jerry, was the same one I had tried to visit a long time ago.
I knew English Jerry for over 40 years. We had a lot of good times together. He would have found humor even in his own Covid Zoom funeral. He will be sorely missed.
Mitch Polstein Jr., a native Manhattanite, was the men’s tennis coach at Hunter College in New York City.