Forget the Sopranos, Here's the Pianos!

How two Jews from Jersey grew up in North Miami and found their inner Billy Joel in the bowels of an 88

Later the show-biz world came calling again. In 1983 the brothers got a desperate request from the Sunrise Musical Theatre in Broward County to help them out with a pain-in-the-ass musician who had very specific requirements for his instrument of choice. It was Marvin Gaye. "He was particular," Rick asserts. "He'd only play on a white baby-grand piano. Me and Bruce make a joke because the first night he came in, he passed out from exhaustion. So we say because we made that piano so white and bright, he passed out. Unless it was the lacquer fumes!" (That or the bright, white coke Gaye was also playing with at the time, which led to his death.)

Repo Mom & The War Colonel

One of the worst days in the Rutsky brothers' lives was the day they lost their dad. The man was an inspiration to them and only 47 years old when he passed. At first they worried about their mother, Elaine. But Elaine was a feisty old girl, they found out. She got a job repossessing cars for Barnett Bank and later did debt collections for Burdines, a funny career for a petite five-foot-tall woman in her forties to take up (but of course, she'd birthed the Pianos). One case they remember vividly was when she was trying for weeks to repossess a Mercedes from a black drag queen on the Beach. "It drove her crazy, 'cause they never knew where he was and if they were looking for a man or woman that day," Rick laughs, but "finally she got him."

Most days it's oatmeal and bananas, but a week before heart surgery, Bruce decides what the heck, let's go for the eggs and pancakes
Steve Satterwhite
Most days it's oatmeal and bananas, but a week before heart surgery, Bruce decides what the heck, let's go for the eggs and pancakes
Most days it's oatmeal and bananas, but a week before heart surgery, Bruce decides what the heck, let's go for the eggs and pancakes
Steve Satterwhite
Most days it's oatmeal and bananas, but a week before heart surgery, Bruce decides what the heck, let's go for the eggs and pancakes

"I'm not a happy fella these days, though," Rick laments, changing the subject to another woman who causes him heartache. "My wife's off the deep end." He explains that her mother was, in his opinion, a little unbalanced for years. "She finally started becoming sane in her fifties," he kvetches. "Then she went in the hospital [complications from diabetes] and they did one of those shunts on her arm? She got an infection and wound up with a 108-degree fever and died." He shakes his head. It just figures. "If my wife knew I was here with a woman today, you don't know what I'd have," Rick moans. "I can't even talk on account of that. . ." Bruce interrupts: "He can't even watch TV, like if there's a bathing suit edition on?" "And being her age, she's 42, you'd think she'd be more mature than that!" Rick grouses.

"She's a War Colonel!" Bruce pronounces, drawing out the words, like Waahh Kerrnal. "He always calls her the War Colonel," Rick admits. "And I call his wife the Football Player, because she has these tremendous shoulders." Bruce elaborates. "She works at Bagel Time and runs through that restaurant just like a football player," he says, with a mixture of pride and awe.

Bruce calls his brother's wife the War Colonel because she's always fighting with Rick. "In fact we're fighting this weekend," Rick reveals. "I made a silly comment. We went in this restaurant." Bruce shoots him a warning look. "I'm not gonna say what restaurant," Rick assures him. "Okay, so the woman [who owns the place] had her breasts enlarged, but ridiculously. She's this thin [he makes a circle with thumb and forefinger] and she's got these big bumpers on the front." Rick pauses because everyone knows what's coming next. "And I said to my wife: I don't know what's wrong with that girl. I can understand having them increased a little bit, but to have them made that big?'" Rick switches to a high and screechy woman's voice. "Oh here you are! You're looking at that girl; you're screwing around! Aaahhh!" He sounds like a turkey buzzard setting down on a dead rat.

Rick continues. "So just a stupid comment like that and it's like I'm Richard Gere in American Gigolo, or whatever. Like I'm everybody's dream. She doesn't understand ..." Bruce finishes his brother's thought. "You're just a little fat Jewish guy," he offers helpfully. "And the only person that wants you is some guy who left your number in the bathroom." "Yeah, his name is Bubba, I know," Rick says, like he's delivering the punch line to an old and tired joke. "You're such a nice guy." He rolls his eyes heavenward.

"[But] she drives me nuts," he says sorrowfully. "Sometimes you just want to pack it in. But then, you been with somebody so long ..." he trails off with a shrug.

A Star Is Nearly Born

Still, 25 years of marriage has been good for something, producing Rick's four kids -- three daughters and a son. The three youngest still live at home in Lake Forest, a subdivision just southeast of Miramar. Rick can only dream of one day reclaiming the den and the fridge. His eldest girl lives down the street with her three-year-old daughter. "She's doing okay now," Rick says. "She lost her job working at lowestfare.com, a bargain airline-ticket company, after September 11. Came in one day and they were practically cleaning the office out." She found another job working at a health insurer's office. But Rick wishes she'd get something on an airline, remembering the cheap vacations he used to get when she worked for Delta. "I used to travel all over for nothing," he sighs. "I'd like to go to Vegas again -- without the War Colonel!" He barks out a laugh.

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