Archive for March, 2009

THE WINDMILLS OF MY MIND

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

On balance I would say that these are the good old days. But there were others, and some are so special that revisiting them once in a while is also special.
Thursday night I finished reading “1968”, the story of OSU’s undefeated football season. I’d lived through it the first time as a sophomore and the undefeated season’s retelling, week-by-week, brought back a myriad of memories.
The last forty pages denoted where the players and coaches are now and narrated the last decade of Woody’s life and his death.
I cried. I lay on the couch and actually shed tears for the guy. Twenty some years after I pulled Michael out of second grade to go to the memorial service, I cried.
It wasn’t just my second year in college that I was recalling; it was my youth.
Fact is I had bad seats that year. Sat at the bottom of the closed end, (below Block O) for Purdue; was in the open-end South bleachers for the blowout of Michigan.
But I walked High Street with the guys after both home victories, shouting “We’re Number One.” And I watched the OJ Rose Bowl with Stuart at Henry Katz’s apartment.
Glory days.
Then last night my brother prompted my attendance at the Moondog Coronation Ball, a retro-rock extravaganza downtown. The class of the night was Peter Noon, (late of Herman’s Hermits). It was hard not to identify songs with events of my long ago high school or college days.
Three hours into the night, though, reality set in. Enough of the past!
I’m not a kid anymore. It’s ten o’clock. Seinfeld’s on in an hour.
We got back uptown at 12:30. I put on another repeat of “Law And Order.”
Most days I wouldn’t say this, but this morning when I awoke I really wanted to tap someone on the shoulder gently and ask “Remember when?”

MAN’S BEST FRIEND IS A ……………………..CAT?

Friday, March 27th, 2009

One Thursday night in February 1960 our parents brought home a six two month old Shetland Sheepdog. Up until that time neither of Albert and Elaine’s children had come within four feet of a dog. We were petrified.
Within an hour of introducing us to the pet, (which was to be Hal’s birthday present), my father left for the night. Lodge meeting.
Adam was simply the best.
We lived on a corner house across from the elementary school. Kids coming and going would play with the toy collie that Bernie Pleskoff called “Little Lassie.” He’d run and catch tennis balls in mid-air, foam from the mouth, and smile. His best friend Tide Luxenburg lived across the street.
My father wanted to put Adam out to stud to create funds, but Doc Elsner said Adam was sterile.
Adam died childless on April 16, 1966 while my mom was in the hospital. It was rough. I told Arthur about it in gym class and he just couldn’t believe it. I vowed never to get another dog.
Life got in the way of plans, though, and one summer night in the early 80’s Arthur, Bennie (my brother-in-law) and I ventured to Chardon to pick up another miniature collie. The kids dubbed him “Rocky,” a name I hated. So be it.
The good news is that my second childhood came and, living alone, I secured another dog, a bichon. He was named Adam, in memory of Adam.
The bad news is that the dog was stolen from me. My baby Stacy had been staying with me, and one day, took him to her mother’s for overnight consolation. Neither Stacy or Adam ever returned. To make matters worse, Stacy moved to Chicago, and the hunt is now living in Beachwood with his step-mother.
Which left me without a pet,
This past fall it was suggested that I try a cat. Low maintenance (I was told). It was pointed out that you don’t even have to walk the thing.
I adopted Daryl at eight weeks and it truly was a breeze. Took him to Arthur (now a vet), and he urged me to, if nothing else, not get a second cat.
Two months later I rescued another young kitten. I named him Darryl as well. It seemed to work so well.
But not for Arthur.
Among other things he complained that two Darryls might create confusion on the medical charts. Then, when I stepped on Darryl’s neck and crushed his inner ear, Kraut reminded me that he’d cautioned me not to get the second cat.
It matters not. They are nice to come home to.. And while my son says it makes me gay, Meredith just loves Darryl. (or is that Darryl?)
We get along great, and while three is truly a full house, Passover is fast approaching. I wonder what Adam is doing for the second Seder?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY RANDY!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

My Dad liked all my friends, but some held a special place in his heart.
Like Randy.
To the guys he was “Raisinbrain,” or “Raisin” or “Rais.” Still, more often than not he would just go by “Fool.”
Fact is Randy is no fool. He has just, for some six decades, done some rather outlandish things making him an easy target.
Like calling my mother “Mrs. B”, still, although she became Mrs. L in 1965 and Mrs. T in 1989. Even to her face.

Or the time in the ’70′s when he moved to Oklahoma or some other state Jews don’t go to help a friend build a house.  He was promised half the house, but when construction was completed all he got was a “Thank you.”  So he turned around and returned to Ohio.
One of Randy’s claims to fame was having and being proud of his two pee-holes. On any given day he could stand six feet away from the five adjacent urinals in a Brush High men’s room, and hit the two on the end urinals simultaneously. As if he was two place-kickers kicking off of one tee.
He has no airs about him. Never did. What you see is absolutely what you get. My sense is that this pureness was the reason you could never stay mad at him. Ever.
Like the time back at OSU when he missed the birth of his child. After waiting at the hospital through hours of labor he got itchy and called me to meet him for pizza. I agreed, and with my dad we ate while Hailey was entering this
True to form, when Randy returned to the hospital and found out he’d missed the birth he called again. The three of us reconvened and spent the night/early morning at the Holiday Lanes, an all-night bowling alley off Hamilton Road.
Or better yet, the time he agreed to ride with my dad to New Philadelphia, Ohio to deliver magazines. They decided that while my father was meeting with the elementary school principal Randy’d wait at a drugstore, have a Coke, and read the newspaper. Low and behold when my dad returned to scoop up Randy, he was nowhere to be found.
Fumes came from my father. His lip puffed. Where was Randy? How could he disappear in central Ohio?
An hour or so later my dad and the New Philly police (in a cruiser) found him…..sitting on an orange crate on a side street. Resting.
Happy to see the entourage, Randy exclaimed. “I just had to get away. Ha!.”
I think Randy knew my dad could never stay mad at him. Twenty-some years after my father’s death my phone rings each October 4. It is Randy calling to tell me how he still thinks of my father. His never-ending birthday wishes for “Mr. B.”
Raisin turned sixty this week. Incredible. To think that he is now older than my father ever was.
In reflection though, they shared not only a special bond, but also a special trait: each was and is forever young.

So here’s my birthday wish for Randy:

May the good lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
Surround you when you’re far from home
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you’ll always stay
FOREVER YOUNG,

A PROBLEM SHARED………

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

If my recovery is a continuum of daily lessons then tonight is my favorite class.
We convene Tuesday evening at 7: 6 to 10 recovering men. You won’t find the meeting listed in any 12-Step directory, but with neither pomp nor circumstance, each week we trudge down the carpeted steps of the luxury development to a secreted conference room. There, along the perimeter of a long, thick oak table embraced by the mahogany walls reminiscent not of an A.A. meeting, but rather the last scene of “The Apprentice” we lay it all on that table.
There we bear our souls. We share. We take off our masks.
Sometimes it is me; often it is another.
The players are there by invitation only. Most are educated; many are prosperous; still, these doctors, lawyers, high-profile politicians and businessmen, meeting together in anonymity, are woven together by one common thread: each has been humbled by substance, and each, after hitting his particular bottom has committed to a sustained program of recovery.
So we open up, and in so doing we demonstrate every seven days that a problem shared is indeed a problem cut in half.
I have conveyed both the agony and ecstasy of relationships as well as the unanswerable questions of family politics. I have listened as others express their bitterness over family or business demise. I have shed tears, shared anger and watched other grown men cry. And through the angst, we each, week in, week out, grow.
How fortunate I am to have learned that no matter where I am on my journey or what I’m going through, someone else has been there. It is settling to be reassured that sometimes time just needs time, and that all I can do is what I can do. It’s healthy to be reminded with love that there indeed is a God, and it is not me.
In recovery I have learned to be spiritually intimate with other men. It’s not about the sympathy, but about the understanding.
I have learned to be more honest with myself. I have learned peace.
One day at a time….but especially Tuesdays.

PRESERVING HISTORY

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss was recently in Washington D.C. to call attention to the most endangered Civil War battlegrounds. The actor joined the Civil War Preservation Trust as it released a report regarding the battlefields deteriorating due to neglect, land development and other issues.
The thought occurred to me that the same measure must be taken to safeguard the great battlefields of my life. Even nice Jewish boys from the suburbs get into fights.
Here then is the bi-centennial report of the Bogart War Preservation Trust.
The following battlefields, venues for the four greatest struggles of my life, should be remembered and if necessary preserved as historical landmarks:
1. Holiday Inn, (Exit 232, I-80). Sight of the Battle Of Buckhorn (July, 1991). In route to New Jersey with children in tow, the then-wife and I spent the night at a motel. One of us was snoring, and a quiet peace was had only after I agreed to sleep in the bathtub. Not necessarily peace with honor.
2. Houston Woods State Park (Cincinnati, Ohio). The Battle Of Mary Jane was fought here over two days, April 4 and 5, 1970. My college girl friend and I spent the weekend with another couple in southern Ohio. Over the course of thirty-six excruciating hours she importuned that if I really loved her I would smoke marijuana. (“Why can’t you just try it…for me?”) I was as resolute as she was high. Each and every cycle I abstained and passed the joint on; over time her glares morphed from frustration to disdain. The silence between us was deafening. The only unspoken communication was that ours was not a match made in heaven. On that score, the instant we got back to her apartment at Woodruff and Waldeck we broke up. I drove to the SAM House and discussed the matter with the wise men of my generation. Upon their advice I shot over to the AEPhi House to see Wendy. We made out in her room for a bit, but the fact is she just wasn’t for me; she didn’t have that “edge.” On Monday, April 6, Grace Slick and I reconciled. Little did I realize that I may have won the battle, but I would lose the war.
3. Mt. Sinai Hospital (Cleveland, Ohio). This renown medical facility was the scene of the Six Day War (November 9-14, 1979). During my wife’s extended convalescence after the birth of our middle child, I broke the news to her that the 1975 Plymouth Satellite had a mishap and wasn’t making left turns; it would only turn right. This was long before the GPS, but I had carefully prepared a roadmap home (by way of West Virginia). The problem was that we were routed through some of the less favorable neighborhoods in the area, and for some reason my wife didn’t want to take the scenic tour with a newborn in a car seat. Frankly, I thought the entire episode was rather funny. I laughed alone.
4. Truckstop, (Snowshoe, Pennsylvania. August, 1990. The Battle Of The White Hanky occurred on the westbound return trip from New Jersey. Its genesis occured several days earlier. The Von Bogart family had been traveling from Scranton through the hills of The Quaker State to pick up the kids at Camp Perlman. Somewhere along the way I got lost, but instead of asking for directions I relied on my gut instinct. The wife kept urging me to stop someone and ask for help. I rejected all help, continually reassuring her that “This feels right.” Ultimately I got it right and we found our way to Starlight and then to Passaic, New Jersey.
Our trip home was no less eventful. Seconds after passing the Snowshoe exit we suffered not one, but two simultaneous blowouts. After pulling to the side of the road I did what I do best with flat tires—I stared at them. The wife urged me to start walking back to the exit ramp.
That wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I remembered what my father had taught me to do in such situations and tied a handkerchief to the car’s antenna.
“Just what is that supposed to do?” she asked incredulously.
The kids laughed.
“Someone will stop.”
The kids laughed harder.
She yelled at me, calling me “Mr. Fun”, ”Loser” and other warm, fuzzy names, but I had faith.
Within ten minutes (maybe less) someone stopped to help us.
We spent the next two hours at a truck stop while the mechanics patched us up.
The Good Samaritan had proved me right and vindication was mine. Once back on the road I did apologize. That’s how Bogarts win fights.
The aforementioned quartet of battle sights can and should be memorialized. Each represents a pivotal action in my personal Civil War. I don’t have the wherewithal to secure some Hollywood celebrity espouse my cause in our nation’s capital. Still, why is it that when I review the seminal fights of my life I feel like I myself starred in “The Revenge Of The Nerds”?

NATURE OR NURTURE

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I grew up on the mean streets of South Euclid where other than sitting in the stands at a summer ballgame no one broke an athletic sweat.
The only gyms back then were for basketball. Oh sure, we “took gym” from 7th grade on but exercise was strictly frowned upon. Some of the Italian kids lifted weights, but to my people isometrics and calisthenics were merely 14 and 19 points in a Scrabble game.
I am reminded of this because I was recently invited to “work out” with some loved ones.
FLASHBACK to a generation ago.
The kids had loaded my new Sony Walkman with a “mix” and one Sunday morning I decided to walk. So there I was singing along to the music and feeling younger than springtime. Suddenly and without warning, as I passed outside my house, from the deepest caverns of my inner ear and with a shriek that broke window panes countywide, I heard the mother of my children scream:
“ENOUGH!”
(I guess I was singing too loudly).
So that’s pretty much been it. I have neither offended a neighbor nor broken a sweat since.
Actually, the subject of exercise was broached just recently with my brother. A week ago I was down with a bad back, a problem that recurs every couple years. It had been diagnosed by one of the card players as sciatica, but H insisted it was congenital. He reminded me that both our father and he had endured similar maladies. Similarly, he noted, none of us was ever known for any regimen of sustained physical care.
Maybe I should accept the invitation and hit the gym. I do have the sneakers. Still, Hal asserts that Bogarts don’t run unless they are being chased.”
Nothing, but nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.
I think I’ll lace ‘em up this weekend. Hal may be right, but fact is, I’m being chased by Father Time.

UP FROM FEAR

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I was in my mid-50’s before I realized that most of my life had been fear-based.
It just never occurred to me. These past years I’ve been taught to identify my fears and work through them.
Too bad I didn’t stumble upon recovery earlier. Hindsight truly say, is 20-20.
I don’t know what my outside looked like, but from 5 to 55 fear shaded my behavior. Exterior confidence was plagued by inner insecurities.
Would I fall off my bicycle? Would people laugh? Would the kids at my new school like me?
When I was ten I was asked to play in the Majors in Little League. That young, I was in a distinct minority. I was drafted by the White Sox that year (1960), and put at second base. The league rule mandated that all roster players bat at least once per game and play two innings in the field. Each fifteen player team had to have three players 9 or 10 years old; the rest were older: 11 and 12.
I batted once per game, and at season’s end was 0 for 16. All my friends were in the minors hitting up a storm. We’d hang out and they’d all have their war stories of homeruns, sliding into bases, and the like. My Dad told me it was better “to be a little fish in a big pond than a big fish in a little pond.” But I was 0 for the season, Dad!.
With two games to go the White Sox needed one win to clinch the pennant. Feigning an injury, I told Mr. Wendel I couldn’t take the field. I was so afraid I’d cost us a title. My father sensed it and called me on it on the drive home. He advised me then, nearly a half-century ago, that sooner or later I’d have to learn to face my fears.
I was a decent ballplayer…or better. In the collegiate days I was part of Sol’s Boys, a slow-pitch softball juggernaut. We cruised for years winning everything in sight; we were the class of the J.C.C. leagues; everyone knew we kicked ass. I picked up one league batting title (.683 in 1969), but was more appreciated for my defensive prowess. Still, truth be known, my mitt’s pocket had the following printed in bold print magic marker (for my eyes only): “Please God Don’t Let Me Make The First Error.”
Fear. Hidden fear.
Our team was so powerful that I vividly remember (each game) hoping someone would screw up in the field early, so I wouldn’t feel pressure. We were always strong enough to catch up.
College changed nothing.
Fear of abandonment. Fear of rejection. Fear of dying a virgin.
I recently came across a letter I had written to my Grandma explaining my sudden departure from Michigan State and transfer to The Ohio State University. In it I explained to her that I always wanted OSU, but was afraid to tell my father, since he wanted me in East Lansing.
I never feared relationships, though, because I never was in one.
So I married my first girlfriend.
Fear of sex. She was from the east coast and worldly. Fear of failure.
Would she love me if I didn’t have money?
Would they like me if they knew the real me?
Would I even like myself?
Isn’t it sad how I let fear govern my behavior?
Fear plagued me in the late 70’s when I asked my Dad to quietly meet me for coffee. Huddled at Fogel’s Deli in Columbus, I shared with him my concerns and played the “What if?” game.
He laughed. He smiled. He cried.
My father had, in his life, been to hell and back.
“Bruce,” he comforted, “I can promise you this….they won’t cut your balls off.”
And he was right.
My mother used to always quote FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
My friend Tom has taught me that the fears disappear if you go through them, and not around them.
Another guy swears that looking back, most of the terrible things that happened to him in life never actually happened.
I fear less these days. Making a long story short, let’s just say I’ve replaced fear with faith.
Most days I feel like I can face whatever comes my way.
Most days I do.
Life throws me curve balls from time to time, but with faith I keep swinging.
I hit some; sometimes I just whiff.
Still, I know, just know that even as I swing and miss, they won’t cut my balls off.
Even if I go 0 for 16!

CARPE DIEM

Monday, March 16th, 2009

I tend to remember my first experiences as either better than they were or worse than they were, but (over time) never as they were. Perhaps this is just human nature.
Most men universally cherish their first baseball gloves and their first new cars. I am no different.
My Dad bought my first glove in the mid 1950’s. This was before I hit ten and was eligible for Little League. Still, I cherished it and never let it out of my sight. I dubbed it “Old Faithful” and truly believed that I could never miss with it.
If memory serves me right I never did.
My brother was a lefty. In those days they stereotyped. Left-handed players were consigned to first base or maybe centerfield, but never ever were they positioned as catchers. It had to do with the southpaw’s longer throw to first. So Hal had this big Japanese first-baseman’s glove which I swear was a foot long. He could barely keep in on his hand.
The guys at the schoolyard taught us the requisite care for the glove as well. You would rub it with saddle soap to protect the leather. At bedtime you would put a ball in its pocket, wrap the mitt with a rubber band, and place the entire thing under your mattress. A daily ritual.
In the years that followed I surely had more expensive gloves. None of them got a nickname.
My first new car was also special.
It was the 1969, and the blue/green Plymouth Valiant inherited from my father had 150,000 plus miles on it. It bounded through the alleys of Ohio State’s campus squeaking, squealing, and begging to be retired.
That April, with summer approaching, my Dad had a novel idea. He suggested that if I sold magazines for his company and worked hard from June through August, that I could pay cash for a brand new car…that I was capable of accomplishing this feat by the time OSU reconvened for fall quarter. All it required, he assured me, was that I spend some time out of Cleveland, not get lazy, and just give it eight solid weeks.
I signed on to the venture.
By mid-summer I’d accumulated almost $1,700.00—about half what we figured we’d need. Still, I reasoned (and convinced my Dad) it was time to go car shopping.
My father’s allegiance was to Chrysler products. Always. I’m not certain why, but it probably had something to do with the fact that Byers Chrysler-Plymouth sponsored the Buckeye Bandwagon Saturday mornings before the football games. And so it was that he insisted on a white ’68 Dodge Challenger.
The next logical step, he told me, was to have our personal car expert Dick Lomaz examine the vehicle.
Dick came over and looked under the hood.  We had absolutely no idea what he was studying.
“Al,” he asserted, “The car’s got 5,000 miles on it. I guaranty you they turned back the odometer.”
(Dick was the only one of my friends that called him by his first name, but it mattered not. My father had his heroes, and when it came to cars it was “Dickie Lomaz.”
The Challenger was dead.
Two weeks later we found a 1969 blue Mustang convertible at Worthington Ford. It was $3,500 out the door.
Done.
And so was my summer’s work. My dad fronted me the extra couple thousand dollars, and told me he was proud of me, and to just enjoy the month that was left.
The very night I got the car I drove downtown to the Sheraton where Dick Baskin was staying; he was in for his OSU orientation.
The next day I traveled top down to Cincinnati to see a girl for another predictably platonic date and stayed at the Carousel Motor Inn (alone), parking outside room’s window. Sleeping with one eye open I’d peek through the window if ever I’d hear a car door open. Didn’t want it stolen, you know.
Bad news. This saga ends tragically. The Mustang never saw another summer!  Speeding to a card game at the SAM house just months later, I turned left into another vehicle at Indianola and Iuka totaling my gem.
Insurance would replace the car, but by then I developed a girlfriend. She was cooler than me, better looking than me, and had shoulder-length hair. She told me that a convertible would mess with her mane. I was young and in love, so I agreed. I’d get another convertible later.
Truth is that I’ve had many new cars over the years, and better cars.
But they were just transportation.
And the harsher truth is that in the forty years since, I’ve never driven another convertible.
So the bad news is that, in my fifties now, I have neither the glove nor the car, nor (for that matter) the girl. The good news is I suppose, that I not only have my memories, but also— not all my dates are platonic.

CASHING IN

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Never in the 20+ years that I was married to The Jersey Girl did she waken before me. Ever.
Well, once.
On August 9, 1985 between 6 and 6:15 I emerged from the shower to a crying spouse. There she sat in bed, legs crossed like Chief Wahoo. It took her several stumbling minutes to tell me that my father had died.
That just like that this vibrant, passionate, turbulent man was gone.
Like that.
The man I watched smoke three packs each day of my 35 years, the man who found cosmic joy in the simple consumption of banana and strawberry jelly sandwiches (Challah, and Smuckers jelly ONLY)…all 350 pounds of him…was dead..
Gone.
This gentle giant that would love me to death, frustrate me to tears, yet with one look or word convince me that no matter what I had done, no matter what I was going through, it would be ok….
He was gone.
Which was just the way he wanted to go… He used to always say that when his time came, he hoped that some day he would just “Wake up dead.”
He was pretty philosophical about his ultimate demise, even in his middle age.
As sales manager for a national company, he traveled the continental states often. From time to time we’d talk about the probability of his “cashing in” while he was out of town. His request was pretty simple:
“Just bury me wherever I die.”
Over the years I’d often tell my Dad that I just didn’t know what I would do if he ever died. Each time he would respond with the same assuring prophesy:
“You’ll bury me— just like I buried my father.”
I think of these things now, nearly a quarter century later as my mother’s days linger. She is not well, but she is. The quality of her life is questionable, pain or no pain.
Clearly nothing in my mother’s life has ever come easy—not even her final years.
I have all the questions, but few of the answers. My brother and his wife stand aside me, and together we watch to see if Mom’s today can ever be better than her yesterday. It is peaceful, but sad.
So here it is: World take notice. This is me speaking. For me.
I have never been happier in my life. I’ve got a lot to do, and have no plans of going anywhere soon.
Still, just so you know….when my time comes, fact is: I just want to wake up dead.

THE BIG FOUR

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

God has always blessed me with a myriad of good friends and this was certainly true in my formative years. Indeed, our inner circle numbered sixteen. It was to be sure, an overlapping group of three or four subsets of friends, but together we created a bond that for the most part has survived the decades.
I was one of the “Big Four.” Bob, Stuart, Alan and myself. Probably named by Snyder, but maybe not. And within the quartet it was clearly Bob and Stuart, and Alan and Bruce. (They dated; we played ball).
All four of us went to The Ohio State University. We each graduated. It was 1971, and the world was at our feet.
Over time, we had nine kids, six wives, and three divorces.
We won major athletic championships, batting titles, professional awards and the like, generally tasting the thrill of victory much more often than the agony of defeat.
We have written books, sold magazines and been on stage.
We have lived in New York, Connecticut and South Africa.
We have performed charitable work, given eulogies, and made our parents proud.
We’ve done other things for which no one could be proud.
And held each others’ hands through good times and bad.
One of us is in recovery; one is in denial. Two are spiritual; one is intellectual; one is material; one is purely genital.
Two liberal democrats; two conservative republicans. One of us voted for Perot.
Three of us are content, and the fourth will tell you under oath that it is still the 60’s and pass the polygraph. And not know it’s not funny.
Chances are none of us would befriend the other if we first met at age 50.
But we met at a time when the only thing to worry about was whether it would rain the day a Little League game was scheduled.
Our paths cross less and less these days. Stuart spends half his time in Florida while Bob and I remain in Cleveland. Alan never really returned to town and just recently landed in (of all places) Portland. It is a new millennium; there are now Jews living in Oregon!
But the bond forged remains.
Last October I held the chupah as an absolutely giddy Alan said “I do” on a South Carolina beach. This year Stuart and I will marry off kids. Bob’s going to be a grandfather. We’re all going to be 60.
This is good stuff.
On a day (like today), when nothing in the world is exactly the way I would want it, I am warmed by the thread of my past, and the constancy of my boyhood buddies.
I’m glad I met them when I did.