Archive for February, 2009


Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Other than my kids, I don’t think there are any people I might prefer to predecease. The possible exception is my brother.
Today is Hal’s birthday. I know him better than I have in any of his prior fifty-eight years. I’m sure he feels the same way about me.
Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I know him.
We were born only 16 months apart, but our perspectives of our childhood together don’t always parallel. Our heroes were different growing up and although the factoids of our past are the same, much of what I thought was funny he saw with pain. And vice versa.
I was the first born son. This brought with it the requisite:
First to go to school, first to play little league, first Bar Mitzvah (I even had the bigger reception).
First to drive, first to graduate, first to college,
First to marry, first child.
Hal is the funniest person I know; he is loyal; he “has my back.” He always was and did, but I just didn’t know it. I was too busy being first to recognize this Sleeping Giant.
He has been, since Day One, the model of consistency, fiscally responsible, and a true family man. Good stuff.
Not that it matters, but the true math suggests that my brother was actually first where it really counted:
The first to be the man he was supposed to be.
The first to be … a man.
And that is why his older brother looks up to him.

Happy Birthday, H.


Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Although in his retirement years he would always chide me with “Call me Milt, “ to me— for the fifty years that I knew him, he was always “Mr. Fenton.”
It was 1955— the last day of June, and our family was Movin’ On Up to South Euclid as part of the urban flight. Suburbia.
That summer night the Fentons, living two doors away, came by to welcome us to the neighborhood. It took less than an hour for my brother and I to become embroiled in what ultimately was recorded as our only fist fights…ever. For reasons long since forgotten we took on the Fenton boys.
In the midst of that fight, Mr. Fenton intervened.
“Hey, if you kids stop fighting…tomorrow you can come over and swim in our pool!, “ he urged. Grabbing my elbow, he pulled me out of the scrum.
That was all we needed to hear. (We weren’t much as fighters anyhow).
Gladly, we made up with our new friends, and went to sleep that night in anticipation of seeing their house and its swimming pool. The suburbs were just fine for us.
The next day our Mom helped us cross the street, walk two doors, and venture into the backyard. There we found not the concrete Olympic pool we’d imagined, but an eight-foot square rubber wading pool.
“C’mon in!”” he urged with exuberance.
The next decades would see the friendships of the families meld for a lifetime. The strongest link was between Stuart and myself. I thought we were the same age, (both born in 1949), but he would always remind me that he was born mid-August and was therefore older and wiser.
Through it all, like so many families in the ‘50’s, the fathers were dominant; indeed, most families were just getting their second cars in the garage.
We saw Mr. Fenton mostly on weekends as he travailed in retail. Still, what I remember most about him from those days was his big set of golf clubs in the garage, his love for his native Detroit Lions, and the smile. Always the smile.
I had a lot of friends back then, and they all had fathers.
But Mr. Fenton was always special.
When we got to Junior High, he developed a British accent. He also changed his name. I remember with warmth how he’d introduce himself to the Bar Mitzvah carpool as “James, your chauffeur.”
And then we got older. All of us. And at the right time, Mr. Fenton retired to Florida, golf clubs and all.
I remember once in the ‘80s I was visiting a friend in Inverrary, and chose to drive down to Pembroke Pines,where Stuart’s parents were. I dropped in unannounced. Still, the fifteen years that had slid away in the interim evaporated in the glow of Mr. Fenton”s…….smile.
His hair was now white, but the smile was the smile. Even the years couldn’t cause it to fade.
The last time I spoke with Mr. Fenton was the morning of May 13, 2006. I was in a gym at Kent State University awaiting my baby’s march with her diploma; he was in a hospital bed and had been handed the phone by his son.
He said he was glad to hear from me, and “When am I going to see you?”
He sounded weak, said GoodBye, and handed the phone back to Stuart.
Within the day he was gone.

We all meet thousands, (maybe more), people in our youth. How many of this multitude create a friendship that is truly the “Gift that keeps on giving?”

Mr. Fenton would have had another birthday this week, and perhaps that is why I am thinking about him today.

I miss you, Milt.


Monday, February 23rd, 2009

A wise person once told me that gratitude was a tool to be used on even the rainiest of days. Well, it’s not pouring in my world today, but drizzling it is.

My three adults kids live away; there is division between some of them.
It’s cold outside. Gray. Dry.
Business has tightened.
My Friday poker tournament winnings were left on the table last night.
I’m hungry.
I want to travel to NYC this month, to see kids, but not only do I hate travel, but the New York daughter doesn’t talk to New York son.. The last thing I want to do is shuttle diplomacy. (Why do all Jewish kids move out of Cleveland?)
I’m tired.
My Mom’s in the Old Folk’s Home (So much for being PC), and not coming out. My brother and I have been delaying some tough decisions for which there is no right or wrong answer.
I’m somewhat behind at the office, but have no urge to close the gap.
I’m in a relationship that poses daily questions.
The laundry has to be taken in.
I am overdue for my eye exam.
My brother has a birthday this week.
The cat litter needs changing.
My kid in Chicago has been layed off.

Still, there really is so much to be grateful for….Especially today.. I can never forget that:

My three adult kids are relatively healthy, and in time, their issues will resolve.
I choose to live in Cleveland, and I can go outside, even in the cold. My mother is stifled in a hospital bed.
Business may be tight, but at least I have a business. There was a time I did not.
At least I have the airfare to New York, and kids that want to see me. There was a time I didn’t and they wouldn’t.
My brother and I have never been closer, and together we are scaling mountains of major and minor family issues…stumbling a bit, laughing a bit, and moving forward with, as they say “due deliberate speed.”
So my laundry can wait, my cat can wait (a little less), and the baby in Chicago has life skills, resources, and a partner to sustain her.
And the last time I looked, I had ten fingers, ten toes, Seinfeld on DVD, family and friends to share with, and a G/d to protect me.
In fact, the very last time I looked, I had nothing to complain about at all.
Pound for pound, I have never been happier.
Time to eat.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

My cousin Bonnie turned 60 this week in Boston. She’s a half-year older than me, which is the source of my concern. (The last time I looked, I was 45).

Bonnie’s dad and my mom were brother and sister. Uncle Bob and Aunt Etty had four kids; there was just my brother and myself. We spent a decent amount of time together growing up, when the families were closer…Swimming, family picnics, birthday parties, Hebrew school… Family politics estranged our parents, and then life, at some level distanced the cousins.

The feeling of family, though, never vanished.

It’s funny how you view things; everyone has his own lens. I saw Bonnie as smarter than me, cooler than me, and, trust me, she always did the right thing. (The extended family seemed to like her more). And in high school, she dated…something I never did.

My brother and I saw Bonnie’s family as the rich family. They had a house with more bathrooms than we had bedrooms. Our cousins were never effected; they were just our cousins. Still, when our parents’ marriage hit the skids, and Uncle Bob retired to Florida in the early 60’s….well, when they returned a few years later…..the families just never fully reconnected.

So Bonnie went to school in Wisconsin, married a doctor and has lived happily ever after in Massachusetts. I went to Ohio State, married my first girlfriend, got divorced, etc., etc. etc….

And now, 40 years later, she’s turned 60 on me. I haven’t seen her in years, but my sense is she no longer looks 18. She may even have a gray hair or two.

I don’t want my cousin Bonnie to be 60. I don’t want to know that two generations have passed since we last swam together, or were at the same Seder. I don’t want to know that I am no longer 45.


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009