At Bald Sam's luncheonette in Brooklyn, Izzy and his friends Archie Feinstein, Jack Goldfarb, Benny Kubbleman, and Meyer Woolf gather to eat, to watch the Dodgers on TV, and to share their hopes and their fears. But most of all, Izzy and his friends tell jokes. They've heard them all before, but in this time and place, jokes are their best defense against the sense of powerlessness that pervades in a world fraught with uncertainty. Izzy has been a boxer and a World War II soldier; and he carries in his head not only shrapnel from the Battle of Monte Cassino but also the memory of his father lying dead on a muddy street in Poland. Now a street singer, Izzy plays his concertina in the courtyard for a woman who invites him up for companionship and jokes, he reluctantly lets himself be set up on a date with Meyer's niece Celia, and he befriends a troubled librarian, as all the while he struggles to find his way back from his own war.