I COULD HAVE DANCED ALL NIGHT

September 23rd, 2016

We were talking not so much of family heirlooms as decades-old artifacts. (Ed. Note 1: middle-class folk from South Euclid don’t accrue heirlooms; they accumulate artifacts. You know: dated letters and such … old programs … dusty report cards). Memories they are — each of them — and aren’t memories the purest of birthrights? (Ed. Note 2: Jewelry? Well … there are my father’s Army dogtags!).

“They’re organized,” I told Stacy. “In boxes for each of you.”
“You know, Dad,” she offered, “You CAN be selective. You don’t have to save everything.”

I knew she was right, but it’s hard to let go. Every time I try to do so — to discard the perhaps less-than-vital mementos … like a 1984 birthday card — I just can’t pull the trigger. Back in one of four boxes it goes.

This was not our first such discourse, by the way. Just the most recent. In town for Noah’s Bar Mitzvah. Stacy brought her style, her smile, two daughters (and no car seat).

— So it was a weekend I ate right.
— And wore a seatbelt.
— And danced.

When WAS my last time at Landerhaven? The Bohrer wedding seemed so long ago … and yet it didn’t. Had seven years truly passed since some idiot naively posted his Little One’s bridal picture on Facebook one hour pre-ceremony?

(Ed. Note 3: How was I to know? As the Costanza once averred: “Had anyone said anything to me at all that this was frowned upon…”).

An elegant evening it was. Quite festive, and important on a personal level as Lucy’s first adult night party. Ed’s younger son had been called to the Torah that morning and Ed was proud. Rightly so.

My buddy was happy. Resplendent. Fulfilled.

And me? C.J. at my side I sat with one third of my children and one third of my granddaughters. How thrilled do you think I was?

“Can I sit next to Carrie?” purred an approaching Lucy.

The Prayer over wine, The “Motzi”, Dinner, Conversation…  First strains of “Hava Nagila”! (Electric guitar? Really?)

The guts of my night were spent on the dance floor.

— Lifting Weiskopf (Ed. Note 4: He ain’t my brother; he’s just heavy).

— Singing “What Makes You Beautiful” to my still-newlywed bride. (Someone requested the song. No names, please.).

— And dancing with one Lucy Hannah Bohrer. Ad hoc choreography at its best.

It was eleven by the time we left. Exhausted as Carr and I were. Stacy’s Little One rolled on. Ten minutes later we were home.

Tired, ass dragging, I hung up my suit. Emptying its pockets there, in the quiet of my closet, I pulled out the cardboard seat card I’d culled from our table.

“Miss Lucy Bohrer, Table 7”, it read.

Pausing, smiling, I placed it in the box marked “Stacy”.

THE SUMMER OF GEORGE

September 17th, 2016

To most Americans the unofficial commencement of summer is Memorial Day.  For me, though, summer always began when you could go outside and play after dinner. I’ll stand by that definition.

I don’t play anymore — outdoors, anyway. Oh, I walk here and there — sometimes even recreationally. But play? Did you SEE my last time on a softball diamond? (Ed. Note 1: It was a few years back, in Chicago. Hobbling ‘tween base paths I was no less ugly than Babe Ruth at his end with the Braves or, for that matter, my all-time idol Willie Mays stumbling to retirement in the New York Mets’ outfield).

Yet I love summer. Every summer. (As long as there’s air-conditioning). This year, in fact, I approached it with an internal skip down the sidewalk, not unlike the Costanza’s dance up the Manhattan street in his “Summer Of George”. Good weather was coming. There were places to go and things to do.

And so it was that o’er the past months, linked with Carrie I hugged my kids, played in the World Series, charted a future, and thrived. The important things!

Remiss I would be, however, if I didn’t memorialize the unimportant: the otherwise forgettable moments that colored in my times with smiles, warmth, and so often laughter. The ordinary.  How blessed we are when we marvel in the ordinary.

Here then, in alphebetical order, are the Most Important Unimportant Happenings of my Summer Of George:

AUTO WASH. “Dude,” said the guy wiping my car window at the AlPaul on Warrensville, “Don’t you ever get your car washed?” A head emerged from the passenger side: “He’s Rick’s friend. He comes here once a year.”

FIELD OF DREAMS. En route from Newark, Ohio — rural routes half way — we were passing through cornfields. “Do you mind stopping?” I asked, yet hesitate she didn’t. Not for a second. (Ed. Note 2. My bride had the wheel, of course. Says my driving makes her nervous). And then, in two takes, emerging from the tallest of grains I pronounced on video that “If you build it they will come!”.

GRANDMA BOGART’S PICTURE. Directing one-act plays in Garfield Heights, in need of a specific prop — the portrait of an old lady, no less, — I grabbed my Dad’s mother from our family’s archives. Her framed, near-century old picture hung deftly center/stage in a suburb she never saw.

KFC. Three years after the “I ate the bones!” tv commercial captivated me, with bride by my side I returned to The Colonel for chicken. Original recipe, of course — still perfect.

SMILE. One of the roles in the Garfield production called for a soft, sassy, sweet-with-an-edge female. Reaching out even prior to tryouts, I called someone from my non-theater world. Allison, I reckoned, would be perfect.

“I’ve never acted,” she demurred (yet her interest was piqued).
“You’re a natural,” said I.

Commitments kept her from auditions but one day after work, in the parking lot at the Chagrin/Green Starbucks we met. There, sharing a front seat, I showed her one page. All the laugh lines. “I’ll do it,” she said. (Go figure).

The show opened September 9 and the lady, insecure as she was, hit it out of the park. But I won’t remember the laughs (‘though the audience roared). I’ll hold on to her smile … and her beam. How nice it is to see a friend ring happy.

THE ZOO Carrie Bogart Week, the annual pageant commemorating our 2015 wedding, ran in August’s first week: five days of events planned for husband and wife. And Sunday of that week (gevolt!) we would head to the zoo. The Cleveland Zoo. On the f’ing west side. (Where I hadn’t gone since an 80’s Lodge picnic).

And then….

“If it’s too hot we won’t go to the zoo,,” urged my bride, that hot, humid day. “We’ll go in the fall.”

(Ed. Note 3. Our change in plans was simulcast on cable news networks. MSNBC cited “global warming”. FoxNews said it was God doing for me what I couldn’t’ do for myself).

***** ***** ***** ***** *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****
And now it’s over. Summer that is. It didn’t end on Labor Day, of course; that’s only the myth. (Ed. Note 4: It’s conclusion until the eighties, was the end of the Little League or softball season. Since ’85, its formal end has been our father’s August yahrtzeit).

And I closing book on it, I seal it with gratitude. Yes, for the family and friends that surround me. But also too, for the myriad of “ordinary” events that shape my extraordinary journey.

One more moment, please. One final thought:

On a bridge chair he sat. At a chartreuse table on the grass at a farmers’ market in Chappaqua. “Poems $5.00” read the sign. Clicking away on an old Smith Corona, peace reigned within him (and I had to approach).

“Would you write a poem for that woman?” I asked. My new friend obliged. And yet — what he crafted covered not only my beautiful bride, but my whole family around me:

“Only in the light of this shared existence we see it clearly.”

How right he is. How thankful I am. Summer is over, but the sun shines bright!

WHAT, ME WORRY?

July 15th, 2016

“I remember visiting my dad at the nursing home. He had seen me through everything but now he’d been ill. Anyway, he looked up at me and said ‘You’re in a good place. I don’t have to worry about you anymore…’”.    (SPOKEN BY KEN, AGE 60, YEARS AFTER HIS FATHER’S PASSING)

Al Bogart would have said he never worried about me. He’d have insisted, rather, with that nuanced verbiage of his, that he was … from time to time … “concerned”.

“You’re not working to your ability,” he’d intone (whether quoting Mr. Goode from Rowland, Mr. Govun from Greenview, or merely comparing my high school SAT’s to my Brush GPA). “It would be different,” he’d remind me, “if you didn’t have ability.”

Concern.

Drenched by an indomitable spirit, my father parented with soft, measured eyes. Part “hands on”, part “Go find out the hard way”, he was never overtly worried but ALWAYS overtly concerned. Indeed, his admonitions and paternal warnings were the product of both his inward yearning things would square up and his gut-felt confidence that indeed they would.

He believed in me; and he trusted in God, and yet …

“I don’t care if your friends’ parents let them hitchhike.”

“I’m certain you can find a place to ski a bit closer than Boyne Mountain, Michigan.” (Ed. Note 1: Winter break ’67 the genius of Snyder crafted a plan that with Kraut we drive some nine hours north. Brandywine, of course, was eight miles away. Not to mention that Jews on skis were universally frowned upon).

“Wouldn’t it make more sense,” he’d suggest, “To finish your homework first and THEN play hearts?”

Ah, but just as our father held faith, our mother harbored fears. Thus as his world enriched, her world plateaued. And then there was this dynamic: Elaine Bogart saw so much of the man she divorced in the first son he sired. She feared, as such, that I’d take on the sum of my father/hero (and not just the best of him).

So she worried. Feigning confidence, forever loving — but always: she worried.

I’ve got three kids. Adults. Three distinct, different children.

Well-coupled, in worlds of their own, and HeavenHelpMe…out-of-state.

Through life’s marvel and mire each threads family and friends and work and play and health and growth  — the very essence of which kept my father concerned and my mother so worried…

— All of which will work out, of course.

Four hundred miles from one — five hundred from the others — I think about them, speak with them, visit them, and I wonder…

But worry I don’t. Not really.

I’ve got my father’s eyes, you see … his abiding faith. My eyes, too, have seen the glory.  I care to know, need to know, and have to know.

Michael, Jamie and Stacy are brighter, more balanced and clearly wiser younger than their father was (or for that matter their grandfather). They too –like their father and grandfather, will splash through life’s puddles.

I know, (you see), something they don’t know:  states away I might not be in their faces …. but God will always have their backs.

What, me worry?

INSIDE, OUTSIDE…LIVIN’ LA VIDA BOGART

July 4th, 2016

We were never a Fourth Of July kind of family — even in my halcyon days.

Al Bogart was not the “outdoors” type. To our father the comforts of air-conditioning and a deck of cards could make any day a holiday.  Moreover,  the persistence of flies and mosquitos would make any event a nightmare. Why, he wondered, would anyone opt to perspire over charcoals in pursuit of barbecue. Was not Jayson’s Restaurant conveniently located at Washington Blvd. and Lee Road?  Did Lodge Brother Leitson not provide ample) parking, seating …..and air-conditioning?

Still at times we convened.  Mom’s side only (of course), yet from certain angles it almost appeared our dad smiled. (Ed. Note 1: Other Bogarts didn’t picnic. First: there were few of them. Second:  Parks didn’t have pianos.  Third: In the canyons of my being is the voice of our late, meek mother. “Albert,” she’d say, “I ask so little of you.”).

I loved family gatherings. Even outdoors. The whole cast of characters…

There’d be Bonnie, Gary, Debbie, Marla — our cousins…and Grandpa Irv and Grandma Cele. And Grandma’s siblings three… and their kids. (Ed. Note 2: Little did I know in those 50’s that Grandpa Irv didn’t like this one or that Aunt Ruthie didn’t like that one, or — for that matter — that Harry, Herman and Herschel Hoffman were all the same person!)

In the 60′s it changed. OUT was Forest Hills Park (which had peaked as venue to Cousin Marla’s 3rd birthday). IN was The Riviera Swim Club at Solon and Richmond.  (Ed. Note 3: Merriam-Webster Dictionary, UNOFFICIAL EDITION, defines “swim club” as “a golf club without a golf course designed primarily as a meeting place for post-war Jews without real money”.

I loved it! Just loved it!

They were all there each Sunday, holiday or not: Uncle Irv, Uncle Phil … the generations of female progeny of still-living maternal great-grandparents Sam and Becky Sharp: Celia,  Lil, Ruth, Karen, Sheila, Barby, Elaine —all laying face up in one-pieces in the second row of lounge chairs along the perimeter of the pool’s shallow end. An airplane view would have revealed a 40′s MGM musical cast at a local Hadassah chapter.   (Ed. Note 4: Grandpa Sam and Grandma Becky were there, of course. Sitting in the shade).

—And each Sunday was a holiday. I swear! (Sometimes even, to my father’s delight, a card game broke out).

—And each Sunday ended the same: The Oriental Terrace at Southgate.  Chinese Food.

Simpler times they were.  Sundays …

— When you didn’t need federal proclamation to make our family one nation.

We went to the cemetery today. The two of us.

Four grandparents I saw. And Uncle Bob …Ruth and Ernie Schwartz….Norm, Charlotte, Herb Diamond.  And Aunt Helen. (Can you believe it?) Aunt Helen.

Noon it was, give or take, as I placed each stone. Through a shining sun, not yet perspiring, I was whispering Kaddish.

For a moment I felt old, even semi-depressed. Yet it passed.

Minutes later we were home. Stace called. We spoke to Meredith’s mom.

Smiling again, holding on to last week’s Chicago I filled with glee with my eye on New York.  Two more weeks. Just two more weeks.

Michael‘ll barbecue today on a deck bigger than the house I grew up in on Bayard. For family. Stace and Jace’ll schlep their girls to a park … full of insects. And family.

We’ve got this thing today at the Baskins. Carrie’s side. Fourth of July and all. They’ll sit on the patio, all of them. And they’ll eat, drink and smile. (Like at Forest Hills. Like at The Riviera. Like when my Mom and Dad were there. And my Grandma and Grandpa. And my uncles, aunts and cousins…).  They’ll be nice tonight. Yes, they treat me like family.

(And with any bit of luck, a card game might break out).

A MONTH OF SUNDAYS

July 1st, 2016

“Good to go’, the adage goes, and “Good to come back.” For the first time in three weeks — and only second time since May — my Sunday eyes will open in Cleveland, Ohio. (Not that I’m complaining. Weekends this virtual month of Sundays have each been better than the last). It’s just that I’m tired.

I need to sleep where my boots are. It’s my natural rhythm…and yet I’m blessed:

Cameo appearances, even as a weekend warrior, were nothing but joy. Consider …

We woke June 5 in the greatest capital city in the world: Columbus, Ohio. Our overnight sojourn held its standard agenda:

1) The poker room at West Broad and Georgesville Roads was friendly; it usually is. (Ed. Note 1: Needless to say, I couldn’t resist reminding Carrie for the umpteenth time that before the interstate ‘twas a Lincoln Lodge Motel at that spot and that while lunching there with my father some worker left his paint bucket and mop on the floor at our booth and walked out. And I told her yet again how my Dad had opted at that precise moment to go to the mens’ room— but couldn’t get out. And I told her YET again how his lip puffed and his voice raised, and…and then mercifully my monologue ended turning into the casino).

2) The Jack Roth Run/Walk was in Bexley that morn. (Ed. Note 2: Not that we ran, mind you. Or walked. It was the ebullience of “The art of conversation” that ruled as we renewed acquaintances with the myriad of Shafrans).

3) The cemetery. My father.  “You’ve gained weight,” he told me, “but it looks good on you.” (Ed Note 3: Which is why he was the best).

4) Breakfast with Harriet at an eatery with profound staff, and where on that very day at the age of 66 I concocted the perfect — and I mean PERFECT morning spread: buttermilk pancakes topped with sliced lox. Was it not the ideal ending to this 24-hour outing?

We awakened to the penultimate day of our Vegas trip June 19. The 68th anniversary of my parents’ union — Father’s Day — and it punctuated what had already been a wondrous trip.

1) Dinner with Linda and Jeff. Catching up. Something about Linda always makes you smile; something about Jeff always makes you feel safe. Friends of a lifetime are friends, and a lifeline. Just the best.

2) The Wayne Newton concert cancelled, but curtail it didn’t my recounting that Hal and I saw the crooner open for Jack Benny one ’66 Philadelphia night.

3) You didn’t see it on ESPN. Nor for that matter did it trend on Twitter. My entry in the 2016 World Series Of Poker, however, completed a rare trifecta some six decades in the making. (Ed. Note 4: My appearance in the 1987 World Gin Rummy Tournament was short-lived, although my father did cash. Years earlier, midway through the twentieth century, I came off the bench to hit a bunt double at old Brainard Park in the 1960 South Euclid-Lyndhurst Little League World Series).

5:54 AM it was, just last Sunday. In a well-slept bed near an Illinois mudroom where a bichon hangs his leash, a sprite four-year old tapped my shoulder. (Ed. Note 5: I used to have a dog like Adam).

“Pappy,” she murmured, “I want to watch ‘Curious George’”.
“OK, Lucy,” I obliged, wiping crust from my eyes — as I had also some 24 hours earlier.

Highlight I could my Chicago adventure. Share it I could: in a hundred words or less…

Salads from Michael’s. Stacy says I chew loud. Fixed it, ordering three grilled cheese next meal. Babysitting Ruby, one-on-one (like I had early Max). Stacy skinny. Walked girls and Adam. Forgot tissues. “I’ll get it later” said Stace. She forgot. It found Jason’s shoes a day later. Everyone laughed (except Jason). Read Lucy a book and Stacy a book. Town hall meeting with Bonesy. Good interview, available on tape. Best spinach pie ever. Bohrer refrigerator stocked by a reincarnate of Aunt Helen. Starving in bed. Smuggled in bagel-wrapped hot dogs for Night Two. Kissed Rooney goodnight on top of head. Jason too.

— Memories pale, though. All of them: from the 5K I didn’t run in Columbus to the set of queens I did flop at Bally’s to the joy that is Deerfield —all of them dim to the light of one short colloquy between that sparkling young lady and me:

“Lucy,” I’d told her as I bid her Good Night, “I wish we lived in the same city.”

“Pappy,” she said, “I wish we lived in the same house.”

FIVE FLAGS

June 25th, 2016

My Dad’s dad was a Torah reader by trade. A B’al Koreh. In near eighty years not once did he cradle a baseball in his hand and my guess is not even once was he in the room with one. Still, on a brisk October 1948 day he caught a streetcar to Euclid Avenue where he stood at the curb as the newly-crowned World Champion Cleveland Indians paraded. Staid, rigid as Andy Hardy’s stoic father, he beamed as the moment called!

I wasn’t there Wednesday – at the party downtown. Bobby and Stuart had
called me to join them … even teased when I said No. Excoriating me, Snyder laughed that in all the years I hadn’t learned my lesson! Hadn’t the two of them, he noted, been the ones that told me not to go to Michigan State? “When you going to learn?” he asked, Stuart laughing in the background. (Ed. Note 1: Answer I didn’t, still trying to figure out what Fenton was going to do downtown.  (Ed. Note 2: And No, I didn’t pass ‘cause the Cavs fired Coach Blatt. Weeks ago I’d reasoned he wasn’t the first Jew thrown to the curb). (Ed. Note 3: And No, the previous note in no way refered to my first marriage).

I worked that day — at least the morning. Yet in the evening, eyeing festivities from the comfort of a bedroom, I thought back to other titles….

Five times in this cowboy’s we’ve won it all. Five times seasons have ended my way. Five inpenetrable memories:

December 27, 1964, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Side-by-side with Brother Wieder I sat. From the first row on the 40 we reveled as the Browns rallied from a scoreless half, stunning the 11-point favorite Colts.
From the tickets we’d won to the post-game press conference we’d trespassed, it was the perfect day for a fifteen year old. I picture it still.

January 1, 1969. An apartment off Shaker Square in Cleveland.

Led by super sophomores, OSU had run the table that fall. I’d been in the closed end for the October shut out of #1 Purdue in October (Bill Long at quarterback), and I’d been in the open end for the season ending route of #4 Michigan. And then… on New Year’s Day, Stuart and I watched Woody’s men upend O.J. Simpson and the Trojans from the apartment of the one and only Henry I. Katz.

January 3, 2003. A kitchen in Moreland Hills.

Sleeping in downtown Columbus the night before Michigan and sharing a room
that night with Michael B and Brian Block were preludes. The double-overtime Fiesta Bowl weeks later was watched with Matthew Friedman, just the two of us. Can I tell you I didn’t change my seat the entire second half PLUS? If there was a chance we could pull the major upset I would do nothing to jinx it!

January 12, 2015. Las Vegas, Nevada.

Elbow to elbow we sat (father and son), front row, eyes angled up. He’d flown from New York; I’d flown from Cleveland; we sat there together. Until… until: as the inaugural NCAA College Football Playoff Championship ended, and as scarlet and gray confetti filled the sports book screen the heretofore composed Michael erupted from his seat. “Yeah!” he shouted as players flocked the field. “Yeah!”

June 19, 2016. Las Vegas, Nevada.

With a woman I sat in a restaurant in “Paris”. A wife! MY WIFE!!! (The world had indeed changed in six-some decades).

There we dined with her friend from olden days — a guy I’d yet to meet by the afternoon of The Drive — and had yet to hear of the night of The Fumble — who wasn’t on my radar as Mesa faltered in that ninth ….

That half century collapsed in what then seemed but an instant! My daughter called at halftime. I peaked up here and there at the game on the monitor. We gobbled burgers.

Then Kyrie hit the shot!

— I cried. I really did, (as did many).
— I filmed all the noise. I really did, (as did others).

This flag, it occurred, wasn’t just for the team or the sport. This flag was for the town – my town — CLEVELAND!

The place I never left.

It occurred to me midst tears of joy that Modell was still scum and the Ravens were still thugs, and Yes, I still didn’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan —- but that what really mattered was that my heart was #ALLIN Cleveland!

They’re talking Tribe in my hometown this week, (the parade over). Three more months (and a bit) ‘til The Series. But it feels like the year, yes it does. “Next year” might be this year. We’ll see.   Maybe I’ll call Bob and Stuart Monday (for a ride downtown).

East Lansing seems so far away.

ROOTS

June 12th, 2016

I hooked Grandpa Maysai’s tie clip to the cravat gifted from Cousin Rick and hung my dad’s dog tags ‘round my neck. In my left pocket was a photo of my brother and in my right, photos of six grandkids.

I stuffed yarmulkes from Great Neck, Jamaica, and Cleveland weddings into my Siddur bag and pulled my grandfather’s century-old tallis — the one he’d worn on Park Synagogue’s pulpit — from the Diamond Men’s Wear hanger.

And I left, already wistful, for my Confirmation Class reunion.

From Chagrin Boulevard I drove: down Richmond, left on Fairmount, past the temple 80’s Beachwood housewives cherished … through Fairmount Circle, where Cousin Howard, in a since-razed theater once taught us to throw popcorn in the air and catch it in our mouths … and down through the Heights.

Fifty-one years it had been since our class convened. Some of us (the vast minority) had classes three days per week; the greater portion: weekend warriors. Still, ‘though a new world punctured the 60’s, at one level or another each of us — perhaps pushed by our parents — had played by the rules.

I turned down Euclid Heights Boulevard, then right at the gate. (Ed. Note 1: Rabbi Cohen lived there “in the day”. Aunt Helen didn’t like him. “He was rude to ‘Pa’”, she would say to her grave).

Driving past a police car, (the presence of which wasn’t needed back then), I parked in a primo spot that would have made George Costanza kvell. Then I froze! Outside my car, you see, staring right in my face, was a deer. A giant deer.

Really?

(Ed Note 2: He finally moved, but not until I’d taken a picture and perhaps even frightened him. I’d post the pic on Facebook, but in this PC world it would offend nature lovers. Or PETA people perhaps. To paraphrase my hero Gilbert Gottfried: “I apologizes to all animals).

Risk extinguished, entering the temple I joined old friends (some of whom I even recognized). Mixing in the lounge they were, looking older than before.

A beautiful service ensued. They had us march in in procession and put us in field boxes. Me? I took an aisle seat next to Billy Levine. (Ed. Note 3: Water seeks it’s own level. We were Rowland School boys.).

They would bring us to the bima and read our names, but the splendor of the morning came sitting in repose, watching those fifty years younger embrace their own roots. And Torah.

—Like most Jewish simchas: we came, we prayed, and we ate —

I didn’t care for the post-service luncheon. Not my thing,so I mingled. “The art of conversation”, Brother Hal would say.

On a table to the side lay a four by five foot frame. Within it, one half-century later we were: our entire class, posed in black-n-white smiles, framed in composite.

Grabbing my cell phone I took Wieder’s picture. (Ed Note 4: I had no choice. From the Left Coast this month he’d been denying being part of our class. Here was proof I could send him. No wonder Mrs. Tishkoff didn’t like him!).

“Which one is you?” asked a confirmant still wearing his gown.
“That’s me” I said, and then straight-faced: “Do I look older?”
(The boy nodded).
“Do you want to know why I look older?” I asked.
(He nodded again, slightly).
“Because I married a girl from New Jersey”.
(This time he didn’t nod. He just walked away).

“I’m sitting over here,” pointed Levine, and I trod over — to a table with other women I hadn’t seen in fifty years. From Rowland School, of course. (Like I said: water seeks its own level. Beachwood kids? They sat elsewhere).

And then I left. Politely. Shaking hands. Saying all the thank you’s.

Walking to my car I loosened my tie but tightened my grip on what was. Without thinking I drove the periphery: past the old school where Michael begun, past the door Jamie carried her lulav, past the creek Stacy joined me for Tashlich….

This was not my grandfather’s world … nor my father’s … nor even mine.  Yet it was all three.

I am a vibrant and reasonably healthy. I have family, friends and love in my life.

I cradle each day and find comfort in the future.

… And yet … in some ways I couldn’t help wondering, as I drove from my father’s synagogue … whether my tour of the grounds had been a nostalgic victory lap— or just me rounding third, and heading home.

TO ALAN (wherever I may find him)

June 5th, 2016

Dear Alan,

Recall a while back sitting at Himmel’s restaurant with Walt and the wives, speculating about all meeting up in Portland? Carrie was thrilled to head west; Marc and Mary were down for it; and me? I assented to go (but it really wasn’t in my wheelhouse).

It never happened, of course, and in the few years since, as you know, I’ve formally codified the unwritten rule of my heart. The “Four State” Rule, I call it. Perhaps you remember…

If compelled to leave The Great State Of Ohio, I’ve limited myself to but a quartet of destinations: Illinois and New York —adopted homelands of my children— plus Nevada and Florida. (Ed. Note 1: Clark County only in Nevada, and east coast only in Florida).

Perhaps you scoff at my thinking and well I know how others (including but not limited to Ermine, who leads the league in out-of-county restaurants) sneer passively at my reverence of home…. but I’ve got to tell you, my good friend: I’m more convinced now than ever that The Four State Rule rules!

The problem with travellers is that they’re never just satisfied. One “hot spot” begets another and this place is better than that. Really? Is the sun any brighter in Turks and Caicos? Is the food any richer? Are the people much nicer? Is where you go this year any better than where you’ll go next year? And if it was so good this year why are you heading somewhere else next yere?

Give me northeast Ohio any day of the week. Any year.

Never a hurricane, rarely major flooding. Meteorology? Meaningless.

Home to culture and Corky’s.

And our roots.

Consider: a giant alligator crawled ‘cross a Florida fairway last week. You may have seen it on Youtube. That crap doesn’t happen up here. The only golf hazard we ever faced was on the fifth hole at Highland.

Look, Alan— I’m not judging. If you want your travel, go for it. But remember: you cut your teeth, and indeed made your mark on Cleveland’s sandlots with Sol’s Boys. To this day hereabouts you are known as “The Jewish John Wooden”. Think back, buddy. Where was all the action on that diamond? In the infield, of course. Closest to home.

What you need, mon frère, is a Life Coach. And for this, I volunteer.

Four states, I say. You can do it!. (Ed. Note 2: OK, six if you need them. You were always more liberal.).

Keep Oregon, both Carolinas…and Illinois.

Yeah, I’m giving you the Land Of Lincoln because I know you’ve got a book signing in Chicago this year. (Ed. Note 3:  And FYI, Wido:  Abe was Republican.  But let it go.).

Oh… and don’t forget to email me ‘bout the book signing. Am thinking I’ll be there.

In fact, I wouldn’t miss the gig — it being in Illinois and all….

RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE.

Talk to ya soon, B

 

ONE CALL AWAY

May 6th, 2016

Under beveled glass atop my father’s tall dresser lay two snapshots. Black and white they were. One was my dad, cap and gown with his parents. And the other: a sketching of two boys … brothers, perhaps … one carrying the other on his shoulders. The caption on the latter read “He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother”.

The thought didn’t occur right away – self-absorbed as I was — but in the years post-divorce I’ve often wondered what residual impact the marital demise had on our children. Would it subliminally influence on how each treated a spouse? Or children? Would there be lingering effect on their perceptions of commitment or their value of family? Would they only know what they saw? In fact, what DID they see?

Was it better than I thought? Worse than I thought? Do their minds’ eyes remember (or choose to forget)?

Did we screw them up? Strengthen them? Do anything right?

The answers will come perhaps not to me, but certainly for each of them as life unfolds. What’s that they say: Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it!

Consider:

My Stacy had surgery this week. Major surgery… the sterile confines of a downtown hospital … near an hour from home.

Her husband, steadfast in support, was bound by reality. Juggled, he did: the dictates of time, work, two daughters …

Yet my daughter, she wasn’t alone. Not on the weekends — and especially not on those “dog days” midweek.

There was her brother.

“Michael’s coming flying in that week,” she chirped back on Pesach.
(Eyes welling, I knew full well he’d have just have been there two weeks hence for the naming of Ruby).
“He’s coming on Tuesday and staying two days. Missing work.”
(Mind working, I thought so too how he was leaving his wife and kids, how Meredith would bolster her crew sans Michael, how the “village” was thriving … answering the bell). The excitement of my daughter’s voice manifested as warmth in my heart. My kids were indeed all right.

They operated as scheduled and all went well. Inside and out.

We spoke briefly Monday, a bit more on Tuesday, and buckets on Wednesday.

“Michael could not be any nicer,” she told me.
“Michael makes me happy,” she told me.
(My eyes filled in joy).

“Why are you taking a bus here?” he asked from the backdrop.
“You told me I was too old to drive alone.” (Ed. Note: Not the reason, of course, but YES, he did voice that sentiment).

The discourse aborted as my daughter spoke up:

“Michael, could you scratch my elbow?”

(Scratch her elbow? Ask a New Yorker to scratch her elbow?)

I’ll be there this weekend. To cradle my baby. And to smile.

We’ll talk about the week, if she wants. And talk of what comes next, if she wants. And I’m certain — quite so certain — that we’ll talk about Michael.

He was only one call away.

FLOWERS NEVER BEND WITH THE RAINFALL

April 30th, 2016

My kids don’t see things the way I do, and that’s ok. At half my age, perhaps they’re not supposed to.

“You don’t really believe in miracles?” one asked last week.
“Of course I do.”
“Name one,” he urged with polite incredulity, his mind clearly closed.
“The ’69 Mets!” I shot out. (Why waste my breath?).

It could have ended there — he thinking I’m a dreamer … me wishing he was — but we  were both quite serious.

“You don’t think there are miracles?”
“No, I believe in reality.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Then name one.”

“OK,” I said. It wasn’t really the time or place, but he sat tight on my elbow so I figured “Why not?”

“There was a time,” I reminded him, “When I had spiraled so low I was drinking in the john stall at Burger King. Eighteen years ago. I was slowly killing myself but there was nothing I could do.  I was able to stop — you don’t think my recovery is a God-given miracle?”

“No, I think you just decided—“

Cutting him off in frustration, I knew inwardly it was not his fault. Our differences, frankly, were matters of perception. To him, seeing is believing; to me, believing is seeing.

Yet I couldn’t let go. Not so much because I thought I’d convince him. Hardly! My goal, rather, was to plant a seed.

“Do you believe George Washington really chopped down the cherry tree and then told his father he couldn’t tell a lie?”

(His eyes rolled).

“Do you think he really threw a dollar across the Potomac?”

(I nodded).

My son, startled — frustrated clearly by what he must have perceived as my sustained naiveté — stopped on a dime.

I couldn’t, however, let the gentle impasse go. Not at this Seder. Not on this night, which was “different from all other nights”.

“So let me ask you,” I pushed forward: “Do you believe the Red Sea parted so the Israelites could flee Egypt?”

“No Dad, I don’t.  No one does.”

Time, thought I, to teach the young dog new tricks. Seated near the end of the table, surrounded by his wife, my wife, an ex-wife and grandkids, the first fresh, objective face to my left was Arlene’s. Jason’s aunt, she is objective and open.

“Arlene,” I asked on the second night of Passover, “Do you believe God parted the Red Sea?”

“Of course I do,” she exclaimed, sans hesitation. “Certainly.”

I felt validated and Michael’s eyes rolled, yet debate had ended in triumph. No coincidence, sensed I, that Aunt Arlene was seated right there. Nor was it luck.  No, it was, rather, just God doing his thing.

(Or perhaps a miracle).

   “So, I’ll continue to continue to pretend
       That my life will never end,
       And flowers never bend with the rainfall….”

Paul Simon