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Murray's Famous Checklist

 

In the story of the Great Mongolian Bowling League, Murray Schwartz, the protagonist Harold Kushner's best friend and roommate of 30 years, is a mechanical genius. He can fix anything and is always looking for ways to make his fortune on his next best invention that will change the world. Like many very smart people, Murray sees life from a different perspective. However, at times he has difficulty tying his own shoelaces.

 

Murray and Harold are two single men, living together for all of those years, helping each other navigate through life. Like a married couple, they take care of each other and travel through life hand-in-hand in a masculine way.

 

One of Murray's inventions is what he calls "Murray's Famous Checklist." It's a preprinted list that he developed out of a need to control his environment, and to help ensure he doesn't forget to pack anything whenever he goes away on a trip.

 

Doesn't All Fiction have its Roots in Real Life?

 

I traveled on business across the nation for over twenty-five years, so I can tell you one tale after the other when I forgot to pack something. Like the time I went to Dallas from Hartford for a very important sales meeting scheduled for the next morning. I left in the afternoon and arrived in Dallas late that evening. I packed my expensive Canali Blue Suit, pressed nice dress shirt, a tie that cost me $150… you get the picture. When I arrived in my hotel room and unpacked my suitcase, I realized I forgot to pack my dress shoes. My meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. the next morning. There was a high-end strip mall near my hotel so I called the prospect the next morning and told him I'd arrive a little late. They opened at 10 a.m., and I figured I'd go in to buy a pair of shoes, and then head to my appointment that was only fifteen minutes from the mall. Well, lo and behold, there was only one shoe store that had dress shoes — but they were very expensive. I had no choice but to choose because I was running out of time for this important meeting. I ended up purchasing Bruno Maglis, the only pair that would fit me in the shop, for almost $500. The shoes were very comfortable, but not my taste. I believe I wore those shoes twice, and years later sold them at a yard sale for $20…

 

So, where did I get the idea for "Murray's Famous Checklist?" I have a good friend named Bob (last name withheld to protect his privacy) who is a sales rep in New England.  Bob developed, "Bob's Famous Checklist." Over the years, Bob had figured out what he needed when he traveled, and listed the items on a pre-printed form. He would lay out his suitcase sometimes weeks before a trip and as he loaded up, he'd check off the box next to the item listed. Bob never forgot anything. Oh, and did I mention that Bob also has a degree in Nuclear Engineering?

 

Bob grew up poor, and has told me stories of his childhood when at times he went without. Sometimes these childhood memories get seared into our brains; Bob has never forgotten those times. I'm happy to report that Bob has become very successful and doesn't want for anything at this stage in his life, but old habits are hard to break. Bob still heads to the metal shelves at the back of the closeout store for his favorite expensive coffee that comes from a rainforest in Africa. "What a score on coffee," he always says.

 

What a Character!

 

I firmly believe that by combining a self with a character, a writer brings what feels like another person into the world, even if only for a moment. Every writer seems to leave a bit of his or her life in every character he/she creates. Harold's friend Murray in some ways parallels my good friend Bob.

 

When reading, one can wonder if the author's writing is art imitating life.

 

…And then there was the time I was traveling to Memphis. When we arrived, I got up and noticed that I forgot to put the cap on a pen, and the felt tip left a black ink circle about three inches round on the bottom of my shirt pocket. Then, I walked off the airplane and the heel of one of my shoes fell off. I should have packed an extra shirt and an extra pair of shoes. Thank God for department stores and credit cards. Boy, did I hate to pay top retail prices during those times of forgetfulness and desperation. If I had checked off "Bob's or Murray's Famous Checklist," I would have been in much better shape.

 

What items would you add to Murray's Famous Checklist? If it's not on there already, I'll be sure to add it. Leave your item in the Comments Section below so we all remember it on our next trip.

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On Harold Kushner: Fictional Character Names and Real-Life Coincidences

 

At the time when I picked the name Harold Kushner for the name of my protagonist, I didn't think of the renowned Rabbi Harold Samuel Kushner.

 

I just picked a name that came to mind and one that would work with his sidekick, Murray. I hate to admit it but I had no idea who Harold Kushner was. I'd heard about his classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People though I'm not sure I've ever read it. Boy, is that embarrassing to reveal. Like my character, I might not be the brightest bulb in the bunch, or perhaps I'm beginning in the early stages of dementia? God forbid!

 

I never outlined The Great Mongolian Bowling League of the United States of America. Rather I wrote from a stream of consciousness, week to week. Now when reading my own book, I at times go back and say to myself, "Did I write this?" (Who else has had this experience?)

 

The names of all my characters just pop into my head and, as they say, "That's the truth, Ruth!"

 

I knew that the fictitious Harold was an average Jewish man, living an average life in the small town of Land O Lakes, Florida. I wanted to write about the unlikely hero, which exists in most of us. As Harold reveals later in the book:

Not everyone is destined to be great like Genghis Khan so I justified my existence, living in a small town, socializing with small-town people working for the town I called home. I've always felt my work was as noble, as important as any other human being sharing their existence in God's universe."

I believe at some point in our lives we all ask the questions, "Did I live a good life? Did my life have meaning? Did I make a difference in the world? Was I a good person?" Well there! I just gave it away. This is what the book is all about. So if you'd like to find the answers to these questions, I'd suggest you buy and then read the book.

 

At one point, Harold recites a verse, which I found in and paraphrased from my prayer book, that reflects his values. It reads, as follows:

What do I offer to the lonely human soul? In a word I offer friendship. I can offer myself as a refuge, an island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world. In a society that segregates the old from the young, the rich from the poor, the successful from the struggling, I can open my heart and be the one place where barriers fall and we all stand equal before God."

I'd found this by randomly scrolling through one of my prayer books, Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays, published by The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City, in 2002. It's located in the Introduction on page xiii. That's where I found it.

 

The title of the paragraph was "Religion and The Lonely Soul." It reads,

What does religion offer the lonely human souls need? In a word, it offers community. Our place of worship offers us a refuge, an island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world. In a society that segregates the old from the young, the rich from the poor, the successful from the struggling, the house of worship represents one place where the barriers fall and we all stand equal before God."

—Harold Kushner

 

It was only at this point that I realized there was another Harold Kushner in the world. I was then completely blown away. Here I was writing about my fictitious protagonist, and now I—by coincidence—had found the perfect verse for my character to contemplate and it was by the real Harold Kushner! The thought popped into my head that perhaps we are born with our individual God-given talents and perhaps, just perhaps, God guides our hand along the way.

 

As you can see, I modified the verse to fit my novel. And now, as I put down my pencil, I will pick up When Good Things Happen to Bad People. Thank you, Harold Kushner.

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I Stood at the Intersection of Soul-Searching + Fiction Writing... That's How I Came About "The Great Mongolian Bowling League"

 

Many people ask me how on earth I came up with the idea of The Great Mongolian Bowling League of the United States of America. Here's the story behind the story—including why it's really a spiritual novel that "strikes" the heart with profound reflections on the meaning of life.

 

At the end of a business trip a few years ago, I called a taxi to take me to Chicago O'Hare airport. When I got into the taxi, the Asian taxi driver asked where I was headed.

 

I replied, "Home to Orlando."

 

"I'm going to Orlando next month," he offered.

 

"Are you going to Disney?"

 

"No, bowling tournament."

 

I then asked him, "Where are you from?"

 

"Mongolia, originally."

 

"I've never met a Mongolian/American before." I then asked him the logical question, "Is bowling big in Mongolia?"

 

"No, not really," he said.

 

After a brief silence, the taxi driver continued, "I found out that the AMF bowling alleys in Chicago—on Thursday evenings between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight—were offering 25-cent games, 25-cent bowling shoe rentals and 25-cent hot dogs in a promotion they called 'Quarter-mania.'"

 

He explained that many Mongolian citizens arrive in the United States as poor immigrants and he was no exception. The promotion gave him the opportunity to have a fun night out with friends. He said, "We had a ball on the cheap!"

 

He then went on to tell me that he had nine taxis, but he had received a college degree in Finance and Economics from St. Petersburg University in Russia.

 

That's when I asked him a numbers question. "How many people are going to the bowling tournament in Orlando?"

 

"Over 600!" he said.

 

Perhaps I heard wrong, because I visited the AMF bowling alley in Kissimmee, Florida, about six months after my encounter with the taxi driver. I met with the manager of the lanes who told me there had been such a tournament and she didn't believe there were more than 600 bowlers. In fact, her records showed that it was closer to 50 to 60. Still, assuming participants had attended with family members, I'm sure the numbers were quite substantial for the first Mongolian-American Bowling tournament in the United States of America!

 

And that was the germ that I meditated on for almost two years. I knew nothing about Mongolia other than its people had been ruled by a fierce leader named Genghis Khan, who at one time controlled a vast empire.

 

As I delved into my new research project, I learned that in 1990 Mongolia broke away from the Soviet Union and in a silent revolution embraced democracy at great risk. The economic transition was difficult for the Mongolian people, as they went abruptly from a broken down communist state to a modern democracy. People had to find a way to make living and many suffered in ways that the American people would find difficult to imagine.

 

Another intriguing fact was that sometime after 1990 they discovered that the Gobi Desert held a vast trove of natural resources like copper, coal and gold. This rich find had people saying that it could comprise one-third of Mongolia's GDP. Some were calling Mongolia, "Minegolia" now. In fact some of the first Mongolians to immigrate came to study at the University of Mines in Colorado. A fundamental problem Mongolia has been facing since the discovery is finding a way to build the infrastructure that could extract and refine those natural resources. The investment needed is beyond the scope of their government. They've tried to rely on foreign investments by individuals, corporations and friendly governments, but the problem hasn't been solved as of this writing.

 

Today there are a little over 20,000 Mongolian-Americans. They've settled mainly in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver and Northern Virginia.

 

With all of the talk about immigration these days, Mongolian Americans are a shining example of legal immigration in America. They are a proud people and their journey to America is an exceptional example on how American immigration can and should work. They are a hard-working, family-oriented, talented people and those who are in America have woven themselves into the tapestry of American life.

 

As a novelist, I sat down and tried to write the story several times, but I couldn't move forward because, quite frankly I didn't know any Mongolians. Until one morning when I awoke at around 5 a.m. I found myself in that transitional state between sleep and wakefulness when the thought popped into my head. I realized I could write this story from the perspective of a 72-year-old Jewish guy! When I sat down that morning, the first chapter poured out. The book flowed from there and my first draft was completed in approximately 3 to 4 months. I wrote the manuscript, week-to-week, in a stream of consciousness to its completion.

 

They say writers either hide or reveal themselves in their writing. I guess I'm very much like the protagonist, Harold Kushner, a man seeking answers to the soul-searching questions we all ask as we get older: "Did I live a good life? Did my life have meaning? Was I a good person?"

 

In the end, everyone must answer this question for themselves. My prayer is that experiencing the first—and perhaps only—Great Mongolian Bowling Tournament of the United States of America through the fictional Harold Kushner's eyes will bring you closer to your answer.

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