Photograph by Marla Rutherford
For most of the group, these lunches are ways to add routine to empty days of retirement. For Gershenz, they are quick stops in the middle of a busy schedule. Besides managing the store, Gershenz moonlights as a character actor. He goes to five or six auditions a month and takes an improv comedy class every Sunday.
After playing Benjamin Franklin in a production of 1776 at the Torrance Community Theater, Gershenz was discovered at a local improv theater. Ever since, he’s tried out for every “old man” and “old rabbi” part that’s come up and has successfully landed a Lexus ad (that was Gershenz ogling a gift-wrapped Lexus during last year’s holiday spots) and one-off roles on ER and Will & Grace.
He gets a call from his agent in the middle of lunch. “I played a father-in-law who was watching his son-in-law tie up his wife and put her through all kinds of torture, and I sit there applauding,” he tells her of his latest audition. “Isn’t that terrible?”
A few weeks later, Gershenz is back at the store after another audition, reclining in his desk chair and listening to ’30s Telefunken recordings from the Berlin Opera House. Usually alert and bright eyed, today Gershenz looks exhausted. The day before, he attended a funeral service for Lenny Gaines, and it’s clearly taking its toll on him.
“He seemed fine at lunch,” says Gershenz. “You know, he never liked people to know when he wasn’t well. He was such a special guy.”
Gershenz takes the needle off the opera record right in the middle of a Louis Graveure aria, hoists himself out of the chair, and begins listlessly navigating the piles around his desk, searching for his old friend.
“Lenny did this record called ‘The Banana Song’ a long time ago,” he says. “I used to have it on 45.”
He heads over to the card catalog, pulls out the G drawer, and finds the index card. Then, as he’s done countless times before, he lopes into the back room to see what he can find.
“This is one of those times when I’m glad I don’t sell everything,” he says. “I love every piece in here. I’m connected to each one. I guess I’ll just have to live another thousand years so I can listen to it all.”
This feature was originally published in the July 2007 issue of Los Angeles magazine.