UP IN THE AIR

November 22nd, 2016

…Sitting in the bowels of the small plane – 24A to be exact: a single seat within field goal range of the john – with pen in hand.

“Dear Dad, I miss you. “Wanted to write sooner, but haven’t had a chance to breathe.”

Still on the ground I heard a voice. His voice. As if he hadn’t left and was living, breathing and standing aside me in the aisle. It was that unique amalgam — HIS unique amalgam — of soft, sensitive, soothing sarcasm. Somehow audible and succinct, it carried no less resonance than it had years ago when I was still running against the wind.

“You must be such a busy man.”

(Ed. Note 1: I don’t know if he held a patent on the line, but those words sprung from his tongue whenever I didn’t finish homework, didn’t call Grandma or Aunt Helen, or didn’t — for that matter – run the Highlights leads Max Mitchell had procured).

(Ed. Note 2: Indeed, if I hadn’t made the sales calls per the latter example I could also count on hearing “You know: you’re tearing up money.”).

Crunched in my seatbelt 31-plus years after my father enrolled in the ultimate School Up North, an hour from LaGuardia, he still made me think.

Have I been too busy? Have my priorities this past half-year been awry? I hoped not.

Aunt Helen’s gone; the kids have scattered; and my brother (through struggles) is holding his own.

I schlep to grandkids, do theater, and stick close to Harriet.

My priorities? I think I’m ok.

Ah, but work keeps me running and recovery keeps me pedaling and there’s no time for poker. No wonder he’s got me wondering!

When alive, Al Bogart’s fundamental concern for me was that my priorities be in order. What was he thinking now as he smiled from United’s aisle? Would he say I’m in a good place, tired or not? Would he urge me to slow down, or do this or do that?

(Ed. Note 3: Frankly, but for my sixth grade year when he forbade me playing tackle football, my father never told me what not to do. Sharing feelings often strongly, it was more about finding options. The guys (before driving age) would hitchhike up Lee Road to see the “Shaker girls” and from his work out-of-town he really didn’t want to take the social bat from my hands. It wasn’t his thing to say NO; he’d just wax philosophic. “Too bad,” he’d surmise, “That they don’t have buses running.”

Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), it was in my adulthood that his opinions sharpened. Not that he tried to tell me what to do, of course, but that he invited me to think.

“You might consider this,” he’d preface his comment. “You might want to think about ______________.”

I leaned back in my seat, cellphone off, awaiting the inevitable sleep which occasioned most flights ‘cross country.

Eyes closed, ears open, I heard my father.

“You might consider slowing down,” he said. “You’re not as young as you were.”
“You might want to do one less play this year.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t be driving to New York alone.”
“You might consider eating breakfast at home once in a while. I’m sure the folks at Corky’s can survive without you.”

OK, Dad! Now I’ve got to draw the line!

He smiled back as he always did.

The plane was landing as outside the airport the man named after my father’s father double/parked and waited.   Unbuckling my seat belt, preparing to deplane, I cast self-doubt aside.

“One more thing,” I still heard him. “You’re older now and not at the school yard with Stuart Fenton anymore. Try to keep that in mind.”

Striding through the airport, marching toward my son, it occurred to me that at sixty-seven I was still his “Little Boy”…

—And how great that was.

Smiling, living in MY field of dreams, I texted Michael: “I’ve landed.”

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE PARK FOR THE HOLIDAYS

October 17th, 2016

Midway through the chant of “Kol Nidre” I sat in the bowels of the synagogue flanked by the love of my life, and already embracing the bitter-sweet.

For sixty years, give or take, I’d been coming to Park Synagogue. 1949 …Childhood … adolescence … college … marriage … divorce … odyssey … renaissance … 2016.

The congregation sat back down – me in the centerfield stands where familiar faces beam warmer by the year. As the rabbi spoke, overwhelmed I was by a sense that things were both the same and different.  Hearing his words, digesting his words, I studied the room.

Jeff Schneider was there. (An usher since last century).

And Cousin Gary.

And almost-kin Maynard.

And the myriad of Levines.

And even the guy my brother once insisted has a face resembling gefilte fish — he was there. (Same seat, actually).

And yet,

Aunt Etty was ailing, and at home. And my brother was ailing and at home.

The room was full; my heart was full; but did my mind not wander?

Our first year, it was, without Aunt Helen. (In a lifetime).

“I’ll pick her up and you take her home” Hal would say.
“No. I’ll pick her up and YOU drive her home,” I’d push back.

Or vice/versa.
Annually

“Either way, will you get her home after lunch?”

Or vice/versa.
Rosh Hashanah.
Annually.

Eyes watering, I heard Rabbi Skoff speak of the finiteness of time.

In the fifties, after Children’s Services in Glass Auditorium we’d wait by the rock outside the Main Sanctuary for the first citing of Al Bogart’s bald head. Must Grandma Bogart be the last one out of the service every year?

In the sixties came divorce and our father’s hiatus. The Brothers Bogart, though, were never alone. Certainly not at The Holidays:

The Eisners drove Grandma and Aunt Helen. Our Mom came with Sam. There were grandparents and great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles galore. Family abounded with Hoffmans and Woldmans and Ungars. (Ed. Note 1: Aunt Ruth opened as an Ungar, buried sweet Uncle Irv early on, and ‘ere decade’s end wed Irv Porter’s friend Sam Levensen. This  stunned odds-makers as smart money had him going to also-widowed in the 60’s Grandma Cele).

Fact was there just was no place like Park for the holidays. (Ed. Note 2: My Dad’s Dad had been Torah Reader there. As such, we were grandfathered in for primo seats under The Dome. Our parents divorce, though, also divided our seating.  Fast forward to Hal and I sitting in the caverns of Kangesser Hall or at Park’s temporary satellite shul, The Richmond Theater).  (Ed. Note 3:  It was outside this latter venue that in autumn ’67 Uncle Phil urged me to go back to college.  I’ll never forget it.  There we were, walking to our car after services, when his big car approached.  Rolling down the window he warmly counseled “You’re a smart kid.  “Don’t quit.”  “I didn’t quit, Uncle Phil,” I tried to explain.  “I’m just transferring to Ohio State.”  He gave me his signature quarter, smiled at me, and with Aunt Lil aside him drove on — but I never quite thought he believed me).

We rose again for “Ashamnu”. My machzor was in my right hand. Was it wrong to pound my chest with my left one? My father would know.

The seventies saw Grandma Cele and her siblings head south. (Did they even have a temple in Pembroke Pines?).   The eighties brought children while the nineties and millennium brought distance, dynamics, and less dovening.  And yet, did not the pictures in the mural of my mind have us all together, still, on that night?

The Adelmans. The Eisners.  Sam Lerner.  The great aunts and great uncles (all of them). Grandma Becky,  and Grandpa Sam.  Grandma Cele and Grandpa Irv.  Grandma Bogart. Aunt Helen.

My mother and father.

Up once more for “Ve-al Kulam”, I could hear yet long-gone Rabbi Cohen singing over —no, drowning out — the choir. I mentioned it to Carrie, (as I do every year).

Then we sat.

Minutes from conclusions, as others were leaving, we sat. I wanted to leave — was emotionally drained — but we sat. Longing to exit, clinging to the familiarity— sitting.

“Let’s go out this door, “ I urged as it ended. “I want to shake Jeff Schneider’s hand.”

Traversing the very walkway where Stacy’d had her Bat Mitzvah luncheon, we stepped outside to brisk air, crossed the driveway, and cut through a backyard to the side-street of Ivydale —where Bogarts have parked for sixty years …

(more or less).

TO ALL THE SHIRTS I’VE LOVED BEFORE

October 10th, 2016

The aging of a parent occasions some adult children to suggest a father or mother no longer drive at night. Reluctantly, with love they’ll speak up. The conversation — awkward, poignant as it must be — is even more difficult when keys are grabbed altogether. Imagine the expanse of emotions eyeing a beloved within field goal range of the nursing home.

Alas, the task facing my children is different. Perhaps it’s because they live ‘cross the country. They cannot (from miles away) gauge the quality of my driving. Trust, they must, as they love in absentia. Trudging past my prime I am strengthened by their unfettered candor.

“No more graphics on your shirts, Dad”, word came down from the east. “It’s just not a good look,” urged my kid in the west.

Rarely do I wear my old T’s. Their glory days were my smaller days and the stack of Larges and Extra Larges in my closet rises higher than any in the back rooms at Norm Diamond’s old stores.  Unworn for years, they remain a reverent and rainbow coalition of shirts I can no longer fit in — even with Vaseline.

       “To all the shirts I’ve loved before,
       To all the shirts that crossed my chest—
       In sizes I’d outgrow. I ate a lot, I know.
       To all the shirts I loved before…

       “To all the shirts that covered me
       When I felt no one lovered me.
       Their graphics crossed my heart.
       They’ll always be a part—
       All the shirts I”ve loved before…”

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (Aurora ’96. I was Teddy. Chaaaaarge!”). THE ODD COUPLE (Murray The Cop. Was not playing a fat slob not right in my wheelhouse?). THE MUSIC MAN (Ah, The Music Man. Other than 44121 no town stirs warmer memories than River City, Iowa).

       “To all the shirts that mirrored my life
       And gave me smiles in times of strife.
       I’m glad they came along
       In laughter and in song.
       To all the shirts I’ve loved before….”

WRITER (My inner Richard Castle). THE HUMAN FUND (Money For People).
SPRING BREAK ’96 SOUTH PADRE ISLAND (Michael wore it. Me? Didn’t fit). FREEDOM ISN’T FREE / I PAID FOR IT. (Did I ever tell you I was a medic in the Army?).

       “The winds of age are always blowing.
       My kids say “Dad it’s just that way.
       Please no more graphics. It’s annoying.
       Please Dad, throw them away….”

ROWLAND ALUMNI. DEERFIELD HIGH SCHOOL. TEAM PEARL. SOL’S BOYS. BOOBUS BOWL.

I returned from Chicago last night.  Carrie was at the airport to greet me — Called my brother as we drove — Got food from Corky’s — then went home to unpack.  I’d travelled quite lightly, of course:  just blue jeans and tees.   That’s it:  blue jeans and tees.  Black tees:  three of them.  Solid black tees!

Stacy, of course, thrilled at my wardrobe.  Truly.  And God bless her.  Little does she know that they can take the shirts off my back but not the memories from my heart.

       “…To all the shirts I’ve loved before….’

Apologies to Willie Nelson

 

PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF

October 2nd, 2016

The first voice I heard entering Juvenile Court’s second floor elevator came from a maintenance worker. In heavy work clothes bearing both his and his company’s name he wasn’t so much speaking to his compatriots as he was making a declaration.

“I never go to doctors,” he pronounced.
“Me either,” said I stepping in — like he’d been speaking to me.

One flight we  would share, but bond we did.

“I was never sick ‘til I went,” he continued, “You go to a doctor — they’ll find something wrong with you.”
“Only if there’s insurance,” snapped another.

As the door opened and we separated in the lobby I was warmed by the fact that I’m not the only counterintuitive person that gets it.

Look, don’t get me wrong.  I respect physicians.  Let’s, however, look at the facts:

Our mother was never one running us to docs at the drop of a hat. Our father, however, shot me to Huron Road Hospital each time I was hit by a pitch. “Just to play it safe” he’d advise. (Ed. Note 1: Years later I would note the irony that Al Bogart, a stickler for grammar, always used the adjective instead of the appropriate adverb).

To be sure, we had the family assortment — a pediatrician, dentist, and eye doctor … all chosen by our patriarch. (Ed.Note 2: This, remember, was the 50’s, long before women were allowed to make decisions). Al Bogart did, however, select medical professionals employing the strictest of standards.  Each needed to be from either Ohio State, Glenville, or — in the case of one whose parents moved to the Heights in his adolescence — a graduate of Patrick Henry Junior High….or the Lodge.

Still we didn’t rely on doctors in those days. And didn’t go. And didn’t get sick. Ever.

Then college came, followed closely by my first stab at adulthood. It was the 70’s and a time where everybody (it seemed) wanted to act like grownups. For the would-be upwardly mobile, this meant having doctors. Me? I was married to a girl from New Jersey, so I drank the Kool Aid, followed the rules, and opted in.

…So there I was, on paper only, with Stuart Markowitz, Jerry Adelstein, Art Newman and Art Wohlfeiler — each of them either Ohio State, Brush High School … or the Lodge.

Like the sands through the hourglass, divorce ensued over time. My marriage ended mid-1995; my health insurance a month later. Ripped from the trenches of grownup society, any impulse I may have had for medical attention slid to remission.

Time — make that decades — passed, and not once did I take ill. Minor issues perhaps, yet nothing enduring in nature. Ever. Truth is, even in those rebounding years I not only relied on the foundation I’d received as an Army medic, but I was also blessed with a talented cadre providing advice.

For general health issues, if he were in town, there was Stuart: “I’d have that looked at, B”, he might say, after suggesting yet again his lifelong remedy:  wheat germ. (Dr. Fenton’s first medical advice actually issued in the early 80’s. “B, you need to start running,” he submitted. His laughter — he barely finished his sentence — meant he already knew my answer.

For diet and nutrition I had Bobby. His Wednesday admonitions about my weight and eating right were never quite convincing since I’d watch him (each week) grab seven pads of butter from the Corky’s receptacle.

And as for specialists, well, I didn’t have my own ENT person, but I did have my kid Stacy for both eyes and nose. Eyes and nose, you wonder? Consider one trip to Chicago:

“Dad, you need to have glasses,” she told me. “Not just contacts.”

Obliging, we ducked into an optometrist right there on the spot. No appointment— we just walked into a storefront. (At least that’s how I remember it, and for some reason I think Michael, Meredith and Jason were there … but I could be wrong).

“Dad,” she said, when first seeing my new frames and glasses, “I never realized how big your nose was.”

—- So I always had medical coverage, o’er the years. The Friends And Family Plan, I would call it.  It worked, and for lo those decades I was healthy.

Halloween of ‘14 I turned 65: eligible (pointed out Stuart, Bobby and Stacy) for Medicare. (Ed. Note 3: Fenton’s reminders to enroll began with his birthday that August).

Since then I’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, and gum disease — none of these a malady I’d had in my twenty years sans-insurance.

I thought of that last week, as I met the men on that elevator.

And I laughed.

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

September 27th, 2016

For a hundred years plus she lived “between a rock and a hard place”, never quite fitting in. Schooled by “old world” parents (picture Judge Hardy and his wife had they been Jewish), yet trudging with a supreme intellect gravely ignored in a male-based society, she was endured by peers — accepted, perhaps, — but never truly embraced. A single woman, she trudged in a coupled society.

Helen Bogart buried her father at forty, her brother at seventy, her mother at seventy-five, and her smile thereafter. We tried to fill her vacuum, (my brother and I), for the next quarter century. Her ground line, alas, dialed but two numbers: his and mine.

And she had a lifetime to call…

Our aunt loved us the same but liked Harold more. This is not speculation but pure, solid fact. Unabashedly she’d declared it on a drive to Columbus when Fred Grail passed. Four people heard the pronouncement (and eight eyebrows raised).

Oddly enough, it didn’t really bother me. In some ways, actually, I relished it! H and I would joke of it over the years and I wore her line as my “red badge of courage”.

Perhaps she thought of me as having been stained by divorce? Perhaps she saw me to be too much like my father? Perhaps it was that once in ‘75 I’d forgotten to acknowledge her. (Lord knows she’d hold onto it). Then again, it may just have been that she liked Hal more!

Truth is that in her final years she and I enjoyed the most beautiful and symbiotic of relationships. Co-dependent we were, in bittersweet harmony. I, you see, was half her world, and she, truly, was half my tie to a world gone by. Moreover, after all was said and done, love fueled our nexus.

I came to understand; she came to accept. Both of us grew.

Sunday was her unveiling at the cemetery. Nine months had passed. Time.

Hal led us in The Kaddish. I read Psalm 113. She rests now, in peace.

— And I would not be me if I didn’t point one more thing out: that our beloved Aunt Helen, at this very moment, is still between a rock and a hard place.

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.”