Withering Heights

She Started It!

The Smothers Brothers used to do a funny routine about sibling rivalry. Who did their mother favor — Tommy or Dickie? "Mom always liked you best" was a familiar mantra of these sibling musician/comedians, who started out as a couple of college dudes in the 1960s and nowadays still do 60 or 70 shows a year.

People busted a gut watching grown men arguing about their mother's affections. And it wasn't because it was so farfetched. Everybody knows — all too well — how games of family one-upmanship tend to stretch undiminished from the cradle to the grave.

Don't believe it? Well, here we have the Slushers of Parkland and Orlando, whose simmering family dispute is halfway between a Victorian melodrama and a South Florida soap opera (there are condos and claims of fraud involved).

Gary Slusher, 54, is a musician. He lives in Parkland and makes a living on the keyboards, playing klezmer and tunes from the 1920s. He is one of Toby and Aaron Slusher's two children; he has an older sister, Laurie Rowell. In the 1970s, the Slusher family relocated from Brooklyn to Florida, although by then, the kids were grown.

Gary told Tailpipe that he was always his mother's favorite. By contrast, he says that Toby, who died last year at 82, treated his sister Laurie like "a piece of garbage." And he speculates that his father, Aaron, who died in July at 84, was jealous of his mother's love for him.

"When we were growing up," he says, "he had a nickname for me... He used to call me Jesús, you know, Spanish for Jesus. I never realized at the time: That's terribly sarcastic. But that was his little shot at me."

According to Gary, shortly before Toby died of cancer, she made him the sole beneficiary of two accounts she had at AmTrust bank, which together held just under $50,000. Then, a few days after Toby died, Gary says, his sister withdrew the money from those accounts. Gary says he discovered the drained accounts when he went to an AmTrust branch in Deerfield Beach, hoping to empty the accounts himself. He got upset, he says. He called 911.

Ultimately, AmTrust got most of the money back from his sister, he says, and referred the matter to the courts — where it has been ever since. Meanwhile, he and his sister are not speaking.

Laurie Rowell, who lives near Orlando, declined to comment about her brother's complaints. In court papers, she contends that Gary had tried to swindle his elderly father out of his life's savings by conniving to get his mother to take his father's name off their joint accounts, making Gary their sole beneficiary.

Ridiculous, Gary says. His mother's estate, including a condo in Tamarac, was worth about $250,000, he says — and most of that his sister inherited. He says if it were up to him, the estate would have been divided equally between them.

As it is, he was defrauded by his sister, he says. And he thinks she should face criminal charges.

The 'Pipe can't wait to see how this plays out, though don't expect any quick answers.

In the meantime, Gary and Laurie might try their luck on the comedy circuit. Play a couple of bars of folk music — with bass and guitar — then tell their story. OK, Mom liked Gary best. But how about Dad?

Hairdresser Unchained

Luiz Hernandez, a hairdresser in Deerfield Beach, is a little late to the party. This month, he's decided to go out on a limb and take a stand against the war in Iraq. This month?

Why now, almost five years after the war began and with less than a year of Bush presidency left?

"I just couldn't hold it inside me any longer," says Hernandez, 34. "Being trained as a hairdresser, you are taught to not let anyone know how you feel about politics or religion or anything."

But on Labor Day, he says all that changed. He shed his hairdresser inhibitions. He took a trip to New York with his boyfriend and saw a play called 33 to Nothing.

"It was so beautiful," Hernandez says. "It was about an alcoholic who kept everything in. I realized I had been keeping everything in, and I couldn't do it. I walked out, and something came over me. I said, 'We have to stop this fucking war.' That's when I came up with the idea of making shirts."

What better way to take a stand than by producing a line of clever T-shirts, $20 apiece, demanding that the atrocities end immediately? In a myriad of colors and cuts, the rebel attire demands that we "stop da faux-king war." Hernandez makes them himself and sells them out of his salon and on his MySpace page.

Hernandez, who started taking college classes for the first time this semester, says he's not just out to make a buck on this either — however outdated his outrage might seem. He says he'd like to take in a silent partner for the project, and though he doesn't know exactly where yet, he'd like to put part of the profits toward "violence and war awareness."

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