Drilled through the kishkes in ’44
He subsequently worked for
The old Central Electric Company
On Washington Boulevard until
Mr. Achtboim died in 1956.
Then came what Leo and Ruth Manasin
Always called the cow magnet years.
Cow magnets: bits of iron swallowed
By cows to which adhered any
Gum wrappers, bailing wire, nails,
Or what have you that a grazing cow
Might ingest, thereby creating a mass
Of sufficient bulk to travel through
The digestive system of the cow.
It was the brain child of Jim Porter,
A Wisconsin veterinarian who said,
‘I got tired of tramping barnyards
‘On cold mornings to vaccinate hogs
‘At five dollars a shot so I dreamed up
‘The cow magnet. They said I was crazy
‘But with a hundred million cows
‘In America the dairy and beef industries
‘Would pay two bucks per magnet to keep
‘A herd of cows from coming down
‘With the so-called Hardware Disease.’
Not long after Mr. Achtboim passed away,
Steve Drago introduced Jim Porter
To Leo Manasin at Nippersink Manor.
At that time a sort of black cloud seemed
To hover over Leo Manasin’s head.
Although Mr. Achtboim was no saint,
He was the pater familias that Leo Manasin
Needed in the post-war years when lingering
Effects of his wounds imbued every moment
With a vague unconscious sense of dread.
Now this man Jim Porter entered the picture.
Here was a new pater familias, possibly
An improved version of Mr. Achtboim,
Who offered Leo Manasin the position
Of cow magnet sales rep for the Wisconsin,
Illinois, and Indiana territories in which
Resided tens of thousands of cows.
But Leo Manasin hesitated. He ruminated.
He looked skeptically at a future in which
He would call on dairy farmers with
A satchel of cow magnets in his lap while
Over a blue propane flame water boiled
For instant coffee in farmhouse kitchens
Of stained linoleum and peeling wallpaper.
He was a city boy after all, a Jewish fella
Whose occasional exposure to anti-Semitism
Made him leery of many (not all) goyim.
Jim Porter seemed like an honest goy,
And now Jim Porter allayed Leo Manasin’s
Fears about the future with some simple
Truths about the cow magnet business.
As the veterinarian explained, most magnets
Were bought in bulk by feed company
Executives over lunch in the grill room of
The Cliff Dwellers Club where past members
Included Cyrus McCormick, George Armour,
And Rufus C. Dawes, and not bought by farmers
With a load of manure out in the dump truck.
This mollified Leo Manasin and he was soon
Turning heads in the cow magnet industry.
Sales of a hundred or two hundred gross
Were run of the mill for Leo Manasin
In the grill room of the Cliff Dwellers Club
And it was there that he met Chester Schultz,
The heir to a milking machine fortune.
Chester Shultz shrewdly took the measure
Of this family man named Leo Manasin,
This war veteran who sold cow magnets
For a living and -- liking what he saw --
Chester Schultz took Leo Manasin under
His wing and began making discreet
Overtures to Leo Manasin about a job.
These discreet overtures, these coy hints,
The innuendoes, the asides, the ingratiating
Small confidences, the verbal nosegays,
The divertimenti – they also had a deeper
Purpose, a much more sober intention.
The discreet overtures were the foundation
For the hiring of Leo Manasin by Chester Schultz.
It was a very nice employment package that
Chester Schultz offered with substantially
Larger revenues to Leo Manasin in exchange
For less work -- because once milking machines
Were leased out there was nothing to do
Except deposit the checks which would represent
Leo Manasin’s salary plus a generous commission.
And since milking machine leases were always
Rolled over, Leo Manasin could be set for life!
A home in Lincolnwood on a double lot,
A Buick, an Olds, or even a Cadillac convertible
In the garage; a country club membership;
And a summer house in Sauganash, Michigan;
All this was possible with Chester Schultz!
Only one small matter remained: Jim Porter
Must be told of Leo Manasin’s decision to forsake
His pater familias and cleave to this wealthier
Man named Chester Schultz, this man whom
Leo Manasin met at the very Cliff Dwellers Club
Where Jim Porter was footing the bill for
Leo Mansain’s lunches of broiled whitefish.
But then occurred one of the eerie
Turning points that we encounter in life,
One of the head-scratching moments
In which our decisions seem to be made
By some external agency and we can only
Look back on the decisions as they fade
In the rearview mirror of our years
Like a roadside restaurant where we ate
Something but what exactly did we eat?
This eerie turning point in Leo Manasin’s life
Occurred at the bar mitzvah of his son Mickey
At Temple B’nai Zion on Pratt Avenue
Where Leo Manasin had naches – that is, pride
In his child –as he made small talk with Jim Porter.
This was in the hospitality room where,
After the ceremony, cold cuts were being served.
There Leo Manasin felt an unexpected surge
Of emotion, a cresting wave of affection
For the man named Jim Porter, and all at once
It seemed unimaginable to Leo Manasin that
He could ever disassociate himself from Jim Porter.
What caused the unexpected surge of emotion?
First, it was Jim Porter attending the bar mitzvah
And also the sight of Jim Porter wearing a kippah,
A yarmulke. In fact, the sight of Jim Porter wearing
A kippah was a great honor to the Manasin family
As a whole: to Leo, Ruth, Mickey, and Melissa,
Who was also known as Missy or Lissie.
The remarkable thing was how comfortable,
How relaxed Jim Porter looked, as if he’d
Worn a kippah all his life. Whereupon
It occurred to Leo Manasin that perhaps
The veterinarian could convert to Judaism.
There could be bar mitzvah for Jim Porter
And if necessary he could be circumcised..
What a mitzvah it would be for Leo Manasin
To bring about the conversion of Jim Porter
To Judaism! The thought of Jim Porter reciting
The sh’ma almost brought tears to the eyes
Of Leo Manasin -- and Jim Porter also seemed
Sensitive to the moment. He spoke not a word
But put his hand on Leo Manasin’s shoulder
And guided Leo Manasin toward a quiet
Corner of the B’nai Zion hospitality room.
There in a voice charged with feeling,
Jim Porter said to Leo Manasin, ‘Leo,
‘I want you to know that come what may
‘In the cow magnet business, regardless of
‘What happens in the cow magnet business,
‘No matter what may or may not occur
‘In the cow magnet business, good or bad,
‘You and your family will be taken care of
‘Forever because of the hard work and
‘Loyalty you’ve given to the organization
‘Since that day at Nippersink Manor when
‘We were introduced by Steve Drago.’
Late that night, after the gala celebration
In the Hyatt at 4500 West Touhy Avenue,
After all the singing and all the dancing
And the many clever toasts, Leo Manasin
Lay awake as a voluptuous sense of relief
Washed over him, subsuming even his
Naches about Mickey Manasin’s bar mitzvah.
The phrase ‘dodged a bullet’ occurred
To this man who’d been drilled through
The kishkes in ’44. He saw that a personal
And professional catastrophe had nearly
Happened when he came so close
To deserting Jim Porter, that mensch,
By going to work for Chester Schultz.
What a mess that would have made.
What a train wreck it would have been.
It would have been like a twelve car pileup
On the interstate during the rush hour.
It shouldn’t happen to a dog, and fortunately
It didn’t happen. Willy-nilly, Leo Manasin
Had made the right decision in the end.
So the cow magnet years continued and
To his credit Chester Schultz took no
Offense at what for him was the very
Unaccustomed experience of a rejected
Job offer. Leo Manasin and Chester Schultz
Even took steam together occasionally
In the Cliff Dwellers Club steam room.
And Jim Porter’s conversion to Judaism?
Leo Manasin now saw it as a hare-brained
Scheme, heart-felt and well-intentioned,
But brought on by the emotional turmoil
In which Leo Manasin found himself that day
Amid the bar mitzvah’s hugger-mugger and
The hurly-burly of the Chester Schultz affair.
No, Leo Manasin was not leading the most
Exciting life but as long as there were
Cows there would be cow magnets
And for that he had Jim Porter to thank.
‘Leo, come what may,’ Jim Porter had said,
‘You will be taken care of -- you and Ruth
‘And Mickey and little Melissa Manasin.’
But ‘always’ is such a long time
About which to make promises --
And must not ‘always’ always end?
One day Leo Manasin arrived
At the modest downtown office
Maintained by Jim Porter and
Found two men waiting at the door.
Since Leo Manasin had come downtown
To meet a couple of buyers from the
William M. Glass Company, he asked,
‘Are you the guys from William M. Glass?’
They said, ‘No, we are the guys from
‘The Internal Revenue Service but
‘You may call it the IRS if you prefer.’
Thus concluded the cow magnet years
And thus did ‘always’ come to an end.
It was not for lack of effort on
Jim Porter’s part but understanding
The digestive system of a cow is not like
Running a business where the damn
Complexities can make your head spin.
It did not happen all at once. For weeks,
Months, almost a year the cow magnet
Business stayed more or less afloat but
What with judgments and liens and even
The possibility of a criminal case against
Jim Porter brewing, Leo Manasin saw
That the party was over once and for all.
Nights Leo Manasin lay awake kicking
Himself, asking himself why, why, why?
The image of Chester Shultz appeared
Like a ghost in the darkness, mocking him,
Making faces at him and tossing money
Into the air or feeding it to some obnoxious
Animal – a cow? – that he’d brought along.
Mornings Leo Manasin was agitated,
Irritable, he couldn’t sit still to read
The newspaper, yet at the same time
He was exhausted and often fell asleep
In front of the television set. He snapped
At people for no reason but he also wept
Uncontrollably in the laundry room
Where, pathetically, the washing machine
Drowned out his sobs. This was a far blacker
Cloud than the cloud that hovered over
Leo Manasin’s head when Mr. Achtboim died.
This cloud rapidly descended and engulfed
Leo Manasin until he became invisible
To his own family in his own home.
Meanwhile Mickey Manasin became obsessed
With motorcycles, literalizing his desire
To escape the Manasin family’s dismal
Twenty-eight hundred square foot home
In favor of the open horizons celebrated
In the Bob Seger anthem ‘Against the Wind’
Which he kept blaring in the garage all day.
Melissa Manasin was now called Mel.
Missy? Lissie? Are you kidding me?
At seventeen Mel radiated a hard,
Wised-up sexuality that scared away
The high school boys, so she blew off school
And worked downtown at the Furniture Mart
Where at least a few guys knew how to fuck.
As for Ruth Manasin, she mourned her life’s
Reduced circumstances, a life now sustained by
Social security and the savings accounts which,
Thank God, she had insisted on opening during
The cow magnet years. As Ruth mourned,
She saw too how Leo Manasin was suffering,
Was deteriorating, was no longer the same man.
Money alone could not account for his misery,
Ruth Manasin concluded. The black cloud that
Now engulfed Leo Manasin seemed like it had
Always been there and always would be there.
Cow magnets, aging, even disappointment
In the children could not begin to explain what
Ruth Manasin observed each day in Leo Manasin.
He lay on the sofa, defeated and deflated,
In boxer shorts and undershirt. By the way,
He’d lost a leg to diabetes. His snoring briefly
Seemed louder as Ruth Manasin turned off
The television set, but then came a diminuendo
In the snoring until there was only the low
Rumble of the refrigerator motor in the kitchen.
Perhaps we haven’t really gotten to know
Ruth -- but a favorite expression of hers was
‘I have news for you’ and another was
‘Let’s call a spade a spade.’ In that spirit
(Though it broke her heart) she now saw
Leo Manasin as a lovable schmuck,
A putz, a wounded veteran whose wounds
Never really had a chance to heal before he went
To work for the old Central Electric Company
And found a pater familias in Elmer Achtboim
And then another pater familias in Jim Porter.
But essentially he was a tearful little boy
Desperately looking for someone to protect him
Which caused him to make a really terrible
Business decision about Chester Schultz.
Though he had been a good provider in the
Cow magnet years, she felt that Leo Manasin
Had let his heart get in the way of his head
About Jim Porter. Then it went all belly up.
She loved Leo Manasin but she mainly felt sorry
For him like on All My Children or One Life to Live.
As Leo Manasin opened his eyes Ruth loomed
Above him, upside down from his viewpoint
But an angelic vision of a benevolent old woman.
Could this be his grandmother, whom he had
Called the Buba? Then came a cresting wave
Of emotion like that other cresting wave
At the bar mitzvah when Jim Porter had said,
‘Leo, you will always be taken care of.’
How loved he had felt then and also now,
With the TV off, the thankless children gone.
As is our destiny at the moment of death
He was changed into a great tzaddik
Who reveals himself at last, and at last
Is to himself revealed. ‘Sh’ma Yisrael…’
With his final breath he proclaimed the sh’ma!
No mitzvah is greater than this one! Thus did
Rav Shimon bar Yochai depart this life
And thus did Leo Manasin also depart it!
‘Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!’
His soul swept past the Heavenly Tribunal
And was received at once in the Upper Worlds!