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

This is the daughter -- Sheri -- who was going be the big Hollywood producer some day. In her teens and early twenties, she hung around with musicians and actors, such as Donnie Wahlberg, from the late-Eighties boy band New Kids on the Block. "Her girlfriend dated his bodyguard," Rick explains, adding, "My youngest daughter met Luke Perry once." One time, while on a trip to California, she also got to meet Steven Spielberg. "If she met Steven Seagal, I'd be impressed," Bruce quips, dismissing his brother's daughters as "professional groupies."

"Then she met some guy and that screwed [the show-biz thing] up," Rick grumbles. "I wound up being a grandpa, and he ended up living in Miami and marrying some other girl because Sheri and him had a fight. The only thing that's good about it is the grandbaby. My children, hey, I can do with or without them. They could move to California." Bruce interrupts, "In other words, we like the grandbaby better than the kids." Bruce says he has a seventeen-year-old stepson with his second wife, Tina, plus three dogs and a small gaggle of geese.

Bruce was married to Gay, his first wife, for seventeen years. A nice lady, the brothers say. So why the divorce? "Oh boy, here it comes," Rick mutters. Bruce shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "I was 40 years old. It was kind of a midlife crisis," he hedges. "What happened was a psychic told me I was going to meet someone new in Sawgrass Mills and we would have a baby. And I did meet someone new." Rick rolls his eyes: "Yeah, so he divorces [Gay] and messes up his life even more." "No I didn't," Bruce complains. Rick keeps his mouth shut this time, but his eyes are rolling again.

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

Then there's twenty-year-old Michael, Rick's youngest, who works with Bruce and Rick at the piano company. He's the one who's taken the brothers to the next level of hawking pianos, buying and selling them over the Internet. He's really good at it. "He's like me," Rick says. "He likes the kill." The only thing the brothers see holding Michael back is that he never earned his high school equivalency diploma, which is required if he's going to take the college business courses they think he needs. "Michael didn't graduate from high school, but he's got a mind like Trump," Bruce brags. "He only cares about making money and his car [a 1999 Cougar]."

The main trouble with Michael, as far as his father and uncle are concerned, is his shyness around women. "He has no interest in girls, which is NOT my genes," Rick assures. "I said to Michael, “Michael, I'm getting older. I want a grandson.' He doesn't have no interest." They even offered a bribe. "I said, “Look, we'll buy you a car, just give him a grandson!'" Bruce pleads.

Part of this longing, naturally, is the desire to see the Rutsky legend carry on, one of the reasons for Bruce's dissatisfaction with his first, childless marriage. But part of it is the brothers' natural goofiness, which only they and little children can fully appreciate. The Rutskys say their wives are sort of jealous of their close relationship. "Bruce lives around the corner from me, and we work together," Rick says. "They feel we are up each other's backsides all the time." "Hey, we just enjoy each other's company," Bruce argues.

Here's an example of why the wives might get a little exasperated: One day years ago the brothers got the bright idea of going to a farm in Davie and buying a calf. Rick brought it home to his very pregnant wife in the suburbs. "I come home with it and my wife says, “I don't want no more dawgs!' I says to her: “But look!' And here's this cute little calf, touching its tongue to its big ears." "We called her Cow Patty," Bruce adds, remembering what it was like to walk her. "Here I am holding onto this cow on a leash and it's like I'm a piece of paper floating through the air. She could run." Cow Patty stayed in Rick's back yard for about a year, until her mooing became a nuisance. So they sold her for breeding. "The wives never understood," Rick grouses. He exchanges pained looks with Bruce.

Billy the Kid Meets Billy Joel

The headquarters of the Rutsky piano empire looks about like they do: pleasantly disheveled and full of memories. Rick leads the way into the cramped office. Outdated manifests and many holidays' worth of photos are plastered to the walls. The plastic eyes and tail of a black cat clock tick rhythmically next to last year's calendar. A stained old roll-top desk is stuffed with paperwork Rick hasn't bothered to file. He settles back mournfully, arms folded like old friends over his belly. "One of these days, I gotta do all the bookkeeping," he grieves. Before she died three years ago, their mother used to take care of it.

The boys are more concerned with growing the business. They want to move to a place where they can have a showroom of finished pianos to entice new customers, although they say a lot of them kind of like poking around the dusty workshop crammed with recuperating keyboards. "We aren't one of these BIG companies that just sell pianos," Bruce intones. "We care about every piano and the customer." Rick and Michael do the stripping, sanding, and gluing. Bruce does the fine finish work, mixing the colors and applying the lacquer.

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