Chopped Liver Brothers, Fancy Fruit Men, and Does God Really Really Exist?: Alon Preiss Reviews the Web

The internet really is dangerous. Back when I was a boy — or, anyway, a somewhat younger old man — when you rode the subway, you read your freshly printed copy of the New York Times folded that special way we used to fold it to read it on the subway; or, if it was your wife’s day to read the Times, you read a novel. If you finished your novel on the way to East 54th Street and Madison Avenue (or you didn’t enjoy your novel), you had to stand there idly with your thoughts. If, while standing idly on the subway with your thoughts, you happened to think of some obscure memory from 40-odd years ago — Remember the Chopped Liver Brothers; What a great abandoned pilot that was; I wonder if the folks who starred in it ever did anything else — well, you would probably forget about it by the time you got off the subway, and if you didn’t, it would not really be worth all the effort involved in researching it. Today, on the other hand, I can tell you that The Chopped Liver Brothers was the story of two would-be comedy performers, Tom Van Brocklin and Jay Lucklin, trapped in meaningless jobs, and, if picked up by the network, the series would have followed their mishaps as they sought stardom as headliners; filmed in an ahead-of-its-time single camera format, it aired once on May 6, 1977, it was directed by Hugh Wilson, who later directed Policy Academy and The First Wives Club and recently died, it was written by Jay Tarses (who also played Jay Lucklin), a storied TV writer who later helmed The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, and Tom Patchett (who also played Tom Van Brocklin), a storied TV writer who later wrote The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and The Great Muppet Caper (1981). You can buy a Chopped Liver Brothers publicity photo on ebay (see below, left).

You see? I’d be OK just wondering about that, not knowing it.

Nothing will bring the astoundingly beautiful and innovative Chopped Liver Brothers back for the seven-year run it should have enjoyed, and knowing all this stuff just makes me sad, and it makes me a really boring conversationalist, because I like to tell people about the boring shit that I know.

Still, I wonder sometimes what journey the brothers would have taken us on, had they been allowed. They are lost to Time, forever.

At least, in this universe.

Perhaps in another corner of the multi-verse, the Brothers were picked up by the network. I wonder what that universe is like. Probably better.

And speaking of the multi-verse: many years ago, on my way to dinner at a friend’s apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, I saw a store on 7th Avenue called Fancy Fruit. I went in, and while the fruit inside was not particularly fancy, the store was great, it seemed like something you’d find out in the country, and the guy who ran it really knew his fruit. He could tell me which melon was ripe today, and which melon would be ripe tomorrow.

His wife seemed very pleasant; she had a nice smile and she didn’t argue with him about the fruit. (I assume she was his wife; maybe she just worked there. But she seemed like his wife.)

And he was right about the fruit!

When years later I returned for dinner with the same friend, Fancy Fruit was gone, replaced by a realtor office.

The Fancy Fruit guy, however, was sitting out front on the sidewalk in a foldup chair.

Then, years after that, when I returned for dinner with the same friend, the realtor office had a picture of the Fancy Fruit guy in the window, with his date of birth and date of death, and the block had been named after him: John Cortese Way.

John Cortese was a great guy; I could tell just by hanging out a little bit in the Fancy Fruit store. So I wondered about him recently, and I thought I would look him up on the web, learn a little more about him.

Sure enough, the internet site for The Park Slope Civic Council Civic News confirms that he was an institution of the neighborhood and much beloved, a guy with an opinion about everything in the neighborhood, someone who had seen it all. The local school? It wasn’t bad, it just had a couple of punks who thought they were wise guys, you know.”

He was born in the apartment right over the Fancy Fruit store, which his mother and father ran before him. He and his wife, Rose, raised their own four children in that very apartment. He left for a while to serve in the military, but as a vet returned home to take over the store.

He was the subject of a “Talk of the Town” story in the New Yorker in 1989. He was that kind of guy.

When he finally closed the store and retired in 1996, it had been in business for 90 years; his father ran it for 45 years, and he ran it for 45 years.

OK, so far so good. Till this weird twist.

The Brooklyn Daily (whatever the Hell that is) tells the same story, with a few differences. In this version, John Cortese is still alive, and 96 years old. In this version, after his stint in the military, he also took over from his dad a Brooklyn store called Fancy Fruit, which his parents ran for many years before him. But in this version, the store is still open, but it is in a different Brooklyn neighborhood (Marine Park). In both versions, John and his store become a beloved neighborhood institution.

Somehow, none of the news stories about John Cortese #1 and Fancy Fruit #1 mention anything about John Cortese #2 and Fancy Fruit #2, and none of the news stories about John Cortese #2 and Fancy Fruit #2 mention John Cortese #1 and Fancy Fruit #1.

It’s like one of those science fiction movies or books about a man’s life in two different universes (Mr. Nobody, for example), in which the audience or reader can witness with his own eyes how things would have been different in two different scenarios: in one, John Cortese’s dad moved to Marine Park and opened his store, where John grew up; in another, he moved to Park Slope to open his store, and he raised John there. In each case, Dad trained John to work in the store and take over the family business, and John, after a taste of life in the military, obliged.

But in Park Slope, John saw real estate values rise, and so by the ‘90s he could afford to rent out the store and the other apartments and live off the rents, living a life of inactivity and perhaps boredom from a fold-up chair on the sidewalk, and ultimately passing away.

In Marine Park, on the other hand, John had no such luxury; maybe the rents in his building would not support him, and that’s why he had to continue working. He started a Facebook page for his store, and, in spite of three heart attacks, Marine Park John remains spry and alert, according to local resident Vinny Andreassi. (“Go here,” Vinny enthused, on May 3, 2018, on Facebook. “Talk to John, buy some produce, and enjoy your day.”)

At some point, the two universes collided and merged, and the two versions of John lived for a while just a few miles from each other in Brooklyn, one never knowing about the other, and the two never meeting. And both universes co-exist today, on the Internet.

There’s probably another explanation, but the Internet doesn’t say, and so I do not know what it is.

And speaking of nonsense: prominent Conservative David Klinghoffer has recently condemned Wikipedia’s “censorship.” The evidence? Wikipedia, while presenting the arguments in favor of the “Intelligent Design” pseudo-science on its website, also allows for the possibility that it may not be, exactly, um, true. Klinghoffer thus joins esteemed scientists such as Michele Bachman who point out that anyone who might disagree with right-wing religious lies is somehow “censoring” the views of right-wing religious liars.

The fact that in today’s world, in America, anyone can make this argument, worries me.

And with that, good night.

Alon Preiss is the author of A Flash of Blue Sky (2015) and In Love With Alice (2017), which are both available from Chickadee Prince Books. Photo credit, Blob, BeFunky. 

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