Archive for March, 2009


Sunday, March 8th, 2009

     There’s a line from “The Sound of Music” where the mother abbess says, “Every time God closes a door he opens a window”. And so it was that in 1993 as my 20+ year marriage wound down my daughter Stacy asked me to be in one of her plays.
I said “Yes.”
     For the next decade or so I had a love affair with the stage. Further, there seemed to be an urgent need then for fat male Fortysomethings with time on their hands that were neither afraid to be laughed with or at.
During the next several years I spiraled downward. I would try out for and grab parts in any show scheduled for performance on holidays, especially New Years Eve. Fear (and embarrassment) of being alone overwhelmed me. So it mattered not what part of town, I auditioned.
I gravitated toward musical comedy. Although my singing might best be left in the shower, I was always able to get my laughs. (Picture Vince Vaughn, not Michael Buble).
     As time ensued, directors cast me in bigger roles providing me solo bows at curtain call! I reveled in it. In those days the only pat on the back I ever got was the response of the audience.
     But it was, to be honest with you, still lonely. Ten minutes after the audience would roar with approval, I would be listening to the gray silence of the world I was in.
     And then I got sober. And my life began to change. I changed.
     Slowly, invisibly, my priorities were shifting. I had better things to do with my time, like, perhaps, growing up.
     I did 20 shows in the 90’s. It pushed me through a pivotal time. That time had, though, mercifully passed. I’ve done but one show this millennium (in 2005).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     A few months ago my friend Alice asked me to be a part of her temple’s Purim skit.  Rehearsals once/week; one show only. I said “Yes.”
     They cast me as King Ahasueros of Persia, savior of the Jews, and gave me a few songs.
     The show went up last night and was fun, pure fun.
     I know why.   I’m not escaping any more, nor am I hiding on stage. I’m comfortable with myself, flaws and all. I can be alone at will and never ever feel lonely.
     One show per decade is therefore more than enough.
     Oh, and by the way, I got my laughs.


Friday, March 6th, 2009

            When my 94 year old Aunt Helen is in my car there are certain rules I

honor for self-preservation:

1)     Don’t talk on the cell phone, 2) Expect to be criticized, and 3) No

music less than thirty years old. 

            And so it was that last Friday on our way back from shopping I started humming “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from South Pacific, ( Broadway debut,1949).

            The play concerned racial discrimination in the Far East, and the essence of the lyric was pretty clear:

“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear.
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.”


            “It’s not true, you know,” she surprised me with her interruption.

            “What do you mean—You don’t believe it?

            “No I don’t.  Everybody hates everybody, you know!”

            I couldn’t believe these sentiments were coming out of the mouth of my extremely difficult, but somewhat educated aunt.  She was a Roosevelt Democrat, a devotee of Robert Kennedy.  And she was a Jewess that survived nearly a century of overt and covert religious bigotry.  She should know better.

            “Aunt Helen, you’ve can’t really believe all that!  Do you hate?”

            “Of course I do.”

            I pressed forward:  “Who?” “Why?” (Me?)

            “Don’t you mind,” she uttered with a glare that declared the end of the conversation.

            We drove on in silence for six eternal minutes, and when I walked her to her house she thanked me for taking her shopping.

            With the front door still only half-closed I couldn’t resist:

            “Aunt Helen, I love you, but you’re just wrong.”

            The door closed tight.

            I’ve been thinking about this for a week now.   

            I’ve been thinking about my family, my friends, their roots.   My dad’s parents were educated; my mother’s were not.  Still, I never heard a racial epithet from either.  (Nor my brother)  Ever.

            I thought of my lifelong friend Stuart and his parents, and my sister-in-law and her parents, and even my ex-wife and her parents.  Not one recollection of even one moment of hate, even in jest.  That’s a lot of exposure to a lot of people over the years; I’d have picked up on something or heard something somewhere along the line.  People can’t hide ill-will that well that long.

            I called my brother just to see if I suffered from euphoric recall.  He concurred.  Hate talk just wasn’t around in our home. 



            There were many things our parents never taught us:  To fly a kite, to collect stamps, …financial responsibility.  That’s the bad news.  Clearly, they could only pass on what they knew.

            The good news is that they never taught us how to hate.

            You see, they could only pass on what they knew.



Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

My father had a movie theater ritual. Before we’d hit our seats he would buy both buttered popcorn (extra butter) and a box of chocolate covered raisins. Then he’d sprinkle the raisinettes over the popcorn, place a napkin atop it, and shake them down and through. Every movie; every time.
He loved Woody Hayes, High Street, and the old Neil House Hotel, but didn’t trust Art Modell, even then.
Smoked Lucky’s, then Camels…but nothing filtered.
Couldn’t stomach Elvis, but loved Buddy Holly.
Liked Mort Sahl and Jack E. Leonard, but not George Gobel.
Insisted that Jack Paar was a phony, and never quite understood why more people watched Johnny Carson than Joey Bishop.
He saw no use for female comedians whatsoever.
And he liked the “Rat Pack,” and the original “Ocean’s Eleven,” but would be late for dinner, Cub Scouts, or even card games for “Sgt. Bilko” or “Maverick.”
He liked Martin, but certainly not Lewis and years later Newman but not Redford. My father would insist that “The Sting” was great in spite of Redford.
My Dad loved “The Music Man” and no one, absolutely “…No one could shine Robert Preston’s shoes…”
He bet football and basketball, but not the ponies.
Liked the Four Tops and the Beatles.
Could “do without” the Supremes.
He revered his mother, but would demand that each Sunday night at 8:30 she switch from Ed Sullivan on CBS to Car 54 Where Are You? “Ma, please.”
When I was young, my dad told me that I had the “best set of friends” in the world, and loved Stuart, Bob, Joel, Mark, Alan, all of them…
Even in college when Wieder’s hair was long.
And try as he might he could never stay mad at Randy. Ever.
Fact is though, back in the day, when I’d be riding with him and whenever we passed some hippie-type college kid wearing the very same sweatshirt I’d have on, (but with hair down to his waist), my dad would always exclaim: “I’m sure his parents must be so proud of him!”
My dad taught me how to swing a bat, shuffle a deck, and respect my elders.
He would correct my grammar relentlessly.
And when I would bite my nails he would take his palm and flip my hand out of my mouth shouting “Fingers!.” “Bruce,” he’d harangue, “Some day you’ll be in public and you won’t even realize what you are doing or how it looks.”
He urged that I “Have compassion for those less fortunate…”
He would sometimes tear up, and tell me that I wasn’t obligated to make the same mistakes in life that he had.
And to his dying day he called me “Bruce The Goose.”
Some days I miss my Dad more than others.


Sunday, March 1st, 2009

He is mid-eighties, with white, floppy hair. And he’s from Western Pennsylvania. We met last night.
He was one of twenty fresh faces at my friend Dennis’ birthday dinner.
Seated at the 40 yard line of a long rectangular table (high school cafeteria style), we were surrounded by the warmth of someone else’s family.
So how do you people from Cleveland break the ice with a sea of Pittsburghers?
“Bruce knows everything about the Pirates from the good old days!”, Dennis bragged to his brothers.
“Well, not really. You know, Mazeroski to Stargell, those days..”
Then they tried to one-up me.
“Doesn’t’ he look exactly like Paterno?” they exclaimed, pointing in unison at the man down by the ten.
“Uncle Steve, “ he said extending his hand.
For the next hour or so the men at the table connected through the universal language of sports, from Steelers to Browns to Ohio State to Penn State to….
“Did you know I’ve never driven a car?”, Uncle Steve interrupted.
And with that the sports talk stopped on a dime. This was a story I needed to hear. And I did.
“Let me get this straight…you NEVER drove a car?”
And so I came to learn that Uncle Steve lost one eye at age eight when the truck backfired, that he walked to work and back his entire life, that he never married.
“What do you do all day?” (I had to know)… He seemed too active a soul to be housebound.
With a smile, he explained to me he walks to breakfast daily, that some of his friends drive, but he prefers to walk. That, did I know he’d been a halfback in the military? Or that his nickname back then was “Greased Lightning?” And that twice a week he takes a bus down to Wheeling, West Virginia, to play the ponies.
His face glowed. Indeed, he is the softer, gentler Joe Paterno.
“Uncle Steve, “didn’t you ever want to drive?, I asked. Again, I had to know.
He looked me dead in the eye with his answer: “Why would I?”