All My Friends Are Strange: Two

A very lovable, very strange guy was Gerald Fineberg. We met at a Jewish men’s club gathering. I never go to these things, and I don’t remember why I was there, but I remember I was pressured by a friend, for some reason. In the end, it was okay, because I met Gerald F. (for fearless) Fineberg. We eventually became good friends for many years.

At the ridiculous ‘lodge meeting’, Fineberg and I were chatting, and learned that we had a mutual interest in automobile racing. Gerald was a unique character, big and round like Pavarotti, and could let out an aria from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ that was pleasant to the ear. He smoked large cigars, wore a cowboy hat and boots. He was most often in loose shorts with massive legs showing between shorts and boots.

During our chat, he invited me to his garage. He claimed he was building a Formula Vee car to race and a hot rod to drive daily. I didn’t believe the very large, muscular man with the western hat and boots, chewing on a cigar. I went to his home one evening, to see for myself. He lived with his parents in a large home in a suburban neighbourhood of upper-middle class homes. His father owned a kosher food distributing company.

The first thing I noticed was Gerald’s vehicle in the driveway. It was magnificent! It was a shiny as new, 1956 Ford pickup truck in vibrant orange. He came out of the house, greeted me with his usual booming enthusiasm. The double garage had no division between the two sides. When the double door rolled up and away, I was greeted by a hot-rod roadster in the making on the left, and a single-seat, open wheel Formula Vee race car. On the side were the words ‘Outcasts Racing’. Formula Vee cars are very small, and Gerald was very large. He built his car to accommodate his bulk.

We would see each other at the races, although I raced in a different class from Gerald, we’d spend time together between races. In spite of his large size and big black beard, he was such a sweet person that dogs and children were immediately attracted to him. My daughter was especially fond of him. When it was time to take my wife to the hospital to give birth to a second child, I left my four-year-old daughter with Gerald for the day. She had a wonderful time, and lots of treats. In the basement of their home, the Fineberg’s had extra refrigerators and freezers. There they kept lots of ice cream, popciles, fudgicles, creamcicles and such things.

Gerald Fineberg made his living in various ways. He distributed sailboat finishes. He taught himself aluminum welding and did it. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. The strangest thing about him was that he was a compulsive liar. He seemed to not remember that he lied the day before. He might say, “I’ve opened a bank in the Cayman Islands. It’s making a fortune.” The next day he might say, “I need to find a payment on my loan.” They were not always outrageous lies that were easily overlooked. “I’m going to raise the Titanic. My idea is to pump it full of ping-pong balls and it will float right up.” Crazy, right?

One day, he said he was going underwater to do submerged welding on the pylons that hold up Ontario Place. Ontario Place is a vast waterpark and entertainment venue in the waters of Lake Ontario, at the south extremity of Toronto. Of course, we just absorbed the unlikely story as we did with all his stories and claims. We never challenged him. He was a sweet guy. The next day, on the front page, second section of the Toronto Star, there was a huge photo of Gerald Fineberg, holding a huge divers’ helmet. The story was, he was going down to do some maintenance welding under water.

One day he told me that he used to drive a stock car, and one day the throttle stuck open and he plowed straight through a railing and a tall fence. They put a metal plate in his head to save him. Again, I let it pass as one of Gerald’s fantasies. Sometime later, I was in a performance parts store. When the salesman noted my somewhat Jewish name, he noted that not many Jews are into modifying cars. Having now profiled me, he asked if I knew a guy named Gerald Fineberg. When I said I did, he told the story of when Fineberg’s throttle stuck open and he went through a wall and needed a metal plate in his head. The salesman had been there, racing his own stock car.

Gerald was a great guy, eccentric all the time. I fear he must have passed away, because I’ve been unable to locate him during the past few years. I’ve been off to distant places, and lost touch with him. He was strange, but a very good person.

I remember more Fineberg stories, so I might have to bring him up again some time.

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