Archive for May, 2009


Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Growing up on the streets of South Euclid was easy. I walked to elementary school, to the ballfield, and to my friends’ homes. I hadn’t discovered the opposite sex, so if it didn’t rain I played ball every day. While abroad the Russians launched Sputnik beating us into space, and while at home my parents’ marriage was spiraling south, to me….the world was one beautiful oyster. I had not a care.
(So long as it didn’t rain).
Life was just that simple. We couldn’t get in trouble if we tried.
(Well, that’s almost true).
Jerry Wolf lived on Beaconwood. He was bigger, older, and a bully. He never hit us, but he had this bizarre fetish for taking our baseballs and hitting them onto the roof.
One summer evening he struck. As he laughed at his deed, I, for one, stared at the roof. For some reason I thought the ball would just magically come down. Stuart was more realistic. To my amazement Fenton nimbly scaled the building. There, atop the edifice he triumphantly held up the ball for the world to see before dropping it back to earth. Our hero!
Moments later the police drove by, cited Stuart, and demanded that he come down. He then received a personal escort home (across the street) where he got “in trouble:” with his parents.
We were told Stuart had a “record.”
I am reminded of this story today because the paper ran the tale of a family suing a school for damages resultant from the school’s failure to stop the bullying of a student.
Back then schools were more proactive in protecting kids. Ask Bob Snyder how many times he was called to Miss Roth’s office at Rowland and the answer is a resounding “Just once, because of Bogart.”
He still chooses to blame me but the fact is that the two of us published a newspaper called the “________ Times,” ridiculing some kid that had the nerve to be a good student. Sounds stupid, but we typed it on my Dad’s typewriter, used carbon paper to duplicate it, and stood at Bayard and Wrenford Roads before the school bell trying to sell or give it away.
Bob says that the principal told him “I can understand this kind of behavior from Bruce, but not you.” My sense is, one half century later, that this is but urban legend.
It was, after all, also my virgin appearance in her office.
There’s no great moral here, no great lesson. Times were simpler when the only threats were the rain and Jerry Wolf. Simpler, but no better.
I’m in a good place today.


Friday, May 22nd, 2009

I try to be accountable today; I try to be responsible for my behavior. That having been said, must I also be accountable for my occasional flair up of mental illness? Can I not blame that on my gene pool?

Consider Exhibit A, my cousin Sheila: A decade after serving as a bridesmaid in my mother’s first wedding Sheila went away to college. She returned 45 years later—divorced, and may I say, older.

She is attractive, artsy and stubborn; she has nice eyes. That having been said she is the only person I have ever known that is confined to a wheelchair, but drives. (Some people will go to any lengths to get that “Handicapped” sticker). At press time we still await a MEDICAL diagnosis.

Last February Sheila called the Brothers Bogart looking to secure a ride to the airport for May. We readily said we’d help out and to let us know as she booked her flight.

She called again in March to see if we were serious about taking her; we said “Yes.” She called in April to see if things had changed; we said “No.”

One week before her May 14 flight she telephoned announcing her mid-day booking. It went like this:

“Can I still count on you? I can’t sleep.”
“Yes, Sheila…if for any reason I get jammed you are absolutely covered. Relax. You have my word.”

Today I try to be responsible. When three days pre-flight it appeared I might be stuck in court I did call mutual friend Stuart. He was happy to be on stand-by. I then called Sheila to confirm this, and to provide Stuart’s number.

She was happy to hear from me; I confirmed back to Stuart; all was well.
He told me he would call me Flight Day to confirm he had picked Sheila up.

Thursday morning I got the call from Stuart, who was picking up Sheila. She turned him around, having made other arrangements. She said she didn’t know if we were reliable.

Or, better yet, consider Exhibits B –Z, my Aunt Helen.

At 1 PM today I rang her doorbell to begin the bi-monthly shopping odyssey.

The buzzer sounded; I stuck my head in; Then the voice came:  “Please come upstairs…I’m upset with you.”

As my foot touched down at the stairwell top she reminded me that four weeks ago she’d asked me to drive her to the Israeli Bond office to secure a form. At that time I suggested that the office would gladly mail it to her. Then, as we sat in the car in the April rain she’d jumped at me pointing out that the true purpose of the trip would not have been to get the form but to spend time together. It was then that I’d told her that my time in mid-week was limited, as was the time of most others, and that this was precisely why the Bond office mails out forms. In fact, I suggested that this was also precisely why there was such a thing as mail.

I thought the subject was closed. When, oh when am I going to learn?

Today though I did learn that Aunt Helen does not like the way the Israel Bond office is run. Further, she resents having to fill out a form “…to give them money…” and asked me to complete it for her.

One would think that this would be easy. (One would think that, unless of course, one had met my Aunt Helen).

There we sat at the table. I read her the questions, and asked her how to complete the form:

“Aunt Helen, they want to know how you learned about the Bond Office.”

“Tell them whatever you want.”
“OK, I’ll say you are a supporter of Israel.”
“No, don’t say that.”
“OK, I’ll say you are Jewish and leave it at that.”
“No, it really isn’t their business how I learned of them. Isn’t it enough that I am buying a bond?”
“OK, I’ll leave it blank. But you have to check a box concerning your household income. Are you under $50,000?”
“Does it really say that?”
“Yes, why would I lie?”
“Bruce, please I don’t have time for this. What does it say?”
“It has four boxes for income levels. What should I put?”
“Put whatever you want.”
“Can I make you rich?”
“Please just put down the minimum.”
“OK, they want to know if you are affiliated with a synagogue.”
“I know they do. I won’t tell them. It is none of their business.”

It was only then that I accepted the way this was destined to go. All other questions were answered on my gut feeling.

The silence, however, got to my aunt.

“Are there any other questions? I have to sign it. Don’t forget!”
“They need your social security number.”
“I think it is a remnant from the Bush administration.”

And so it went…..and when they asked questions about the recipient of the bond (which was a gift), we had ten minutes about what do you do if you don’t know the information about the donee….

Once done, with my aunt in full sulk, we descended the stairs for a lovely day of shopping. The silence in the car lasted from her home until we nearly reached Marc’s.

I couldn’t think of one thing to say to her that wouldn’t create an issue. Over the years I’ve learned that even discussing the weather is risky. (Weathermen, you know….my aunt says they should not make predictions because people rely on them…)

As we turned into the shopping center she looked at me, and plaintively asked: “Don’t you have anything to say? What can I tell you?”

I don’t know where this came from, but I did come up with one question.

“I was just wondering,” I asked, “Back in the 70’s, I was too young, but what was your position on court-ordered busing?”

“Where do you come up with such questions!” she demanded.

I didn’t respond, but I do know the answer.

It’s in my genes.


Monday, May 18th, 2009

The majesty of Park Synagogue’s Main Sanctuary amazes me!

You know how it is when you revisit an old school or walk down the hallway of a building you haven’t seen since childhood. They always seem so much smaller than you remembered. Always. The angle at 6 feet tall must be different than that at 5 feet.

Park’s Main Sanctuary however, never diminishes.

Saturday I sat in respite under the Big Dome. Long before Houston’s Astrodome or Seattle’s Kingdome there was the vast crown to The Park Synagogue. There in Cleveland Heights, Ohio I would sit week in and week out vowing to count the number of tiles on the interior of the roof. It was a task undertaken by probably every kid that sat there; I for one, am still working on it.

Park is the only spiritual home I’ve known. It has housed my family and our life cycle events for years. It remains not only home, but where my heart is.  Truth be known, it may be the only person or institution that has been a part of my life from Day One for which I do not carry one negative memory.

My grandfather was the B’al Koreh there. And although he stopped reading the Torah in 1954, our surviving grandmother received two seats in the Main Sanctuary, (primo for the High Holidays), for the rest of her life. Somewhat like having PSL’s on the fifty for Browns’ games.

I loved Hebrew School. Those days at Park, if you wanted to be on the track for a Bar Mitzvah you had to begin study in either the third or— worst case scenario, the fourth grade. Those starting earlier, (myself included), were treated differently. We had instant credibility. I just presumed that this meant our parents were better Jews…more serious about our religion. Indeed, when as a fourth grader, new kids showed up, they were placed in our grade at Sabbath School only and remained a year behind during the week.

I loved the caste system, (even if it didn’t really exist).

We even got to screw around and as long as we learned no one seemed to care. Moreover Park provided a special class of people known as “Hebrew School friends.” These were classmates you saw after school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, but never in the “real world.” Certainly never during the summer!

Learning at Park was fun.

Mrs. Friedland ran the Sabbath School. One morning, exasperated at the incessant gum chewing, she screamed “If you have to chew anything, chew tobacco!” Sure enough the very next Shabbot Brett A. brought chaw for the boys. I passed, but Alan didn’t; he was suspended for a week.

Then Dr. Spotts showed up. Leon H. Spotts was, to the pre-pubescent, a strict, no-nonsense guy. He succeeded kindly Sylvan Ginsberg, and as our new Educational Director, he intimidated the ___ out of me. He used to get on the p.a. system and dictate discipline, urging that he wanted to make things “…crystal clear…” Years later he was living in the same South Carolina area as my friend Alan (the tobacco chewer).  The latter was now a Ph. D. (G/d has a great way of leveling the playing field).

Immediately after my Bar Mitzvah I asked my Dad to let me quit Hebrew School. He hugged me and told me it was absolutely my decision. (Yeah, right).  I was not only confirmed, but went on to Hebrew High School. Each year the student population was dropping like flies, but there I was.

I think ten of us (out of 175 confirmed), crossed the finish line. Maybe 9.  Mattered not— as the memories continued to accumulate…

Of parking on Ivydale (when no one else knew it was there), and walking through the backyards to Park…

Of waiting by the big rock during the mass exodus at noon, searching for our father’s bald head…

Of the time I forgot my sport jacket on a Saturday. When they brought the kids in at 11 for the last hour of services my Great Grandfather Sam Sharp, from his regular aisle seat, mortified to see me half-dressed, IGNORED ME.

One autumn evening on the way to Kol Nidre Hal and I were misbehaving. Our new step-father Sam was ready for neither teenagers nor nonsense. He booted us out of the car and made us walk to temple. We did. An hour later we triumphantly strode into the childrens’ services.

By the 80’s I was married. Fairmount Temple was the “it” shul, and my wife wanted to join. I remember running it by my dad who laughed and asked me why we “really needed to belong to two temples.”  Belonging anywhere else was never really an option.

When the financial well ran dry my dues went south, but my love for Park never did. Fact is, I’ve always been embarrassed about my absence from the roster. I wonder if they’ll crop me out of the pictures on the walls.  I know, though, that I evaporated; Park never did.

When Stacy was hurting one year we went to the creek for Tashlich.  Comforting her, Rabbi Skoff urged her to come see him.

Like I said…I evaporated; Park never did.

I wrote my Bucket List a while ago. Rejoining Park was part of it.

If it’s true that G/d really only gives us one day at a time, perhaps today’s the day to call Ken Anthony.  In this case I think I can go home again.

Fact is, I still have tiles I have to count.


Sunday, May 10th, 2009

She was born two years before The Great Depression and left us in the midst of another one. In her 81 years she heard the world on a radio, watched it on her television, and near the end, from the room she hated at Menorah Park, she kept in touch with it through the internet.
She had two children, three husbands, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild. And along the way…a lot of laughter.
Our mother had a good run.
She couldn’t teach me to swing a bat, but she tried to teach me to drive.
She wouldn’t teach me gin rummy, but she did tell me “the facts of life.”
Like many women of her generation our mother lived in the shadow of the men around her. Her father was her hero; her brother was eminently successful; her first husband’s rise and fall….
She was never the story.
Still it was when people WEREN’T watching her that she shone the brightest. It was in these times that she taught me by example…taught me lessons that I didn’t fully appreciate for years to come.
In times when others might have acted differently, our mother took the higher road.
She was a novelty item in the sixties: a divorcee with kids. (This was long before divorce became fashionable). Still, whatever issues she had with our Dad never were discussed in our presence. She couldn’t control some of her family members, but her personal behavior was immaculate. Never once did I hear her utter a bad word about our father. Ever. (And I knew, even then, that she could have).
She let me have my hero.
Even when our dad lived out of town, every other weekend she got us to his mother so visitation could go forward…sometimes even by taxi; she didn’t have to. She just did it.
Another decade down the road, with her wounds still healing, I was getting married. The rancor and awkwardness between our parents couldn’t have evaporated totally, but they jointly walked sons down the aisle first in Passaic, and then in Chicago.
Years later I went through divorce. There was bad blood between the ex and my mother. I tried to talk about it with my Mom but the response was always the same: “I don’t want to hear it. Just remember, buddy, she is the mother of your children.”
The higher road.
She was opinionated, and at times very stubborn. She was, dare I say….melodramatic! Still, Mom consistently practiced what she preached.
In 1998 the still-closeted Thief threw her to the curb on the eve of Passover. He left a Good Bye note, and drove to Baltimore as our mother slept in a hospital. She woke up, thought divorce, and even filed it…but then gave him the benefit of the doubt (and a second chance).
Years later she once more lay in a hospital, this time never to return home. It had now become abundantly clear to one and all that her husband had been less-than-husbandly.
Once again, she couldn’t pull the trigger. She left her money on his table yearning for family peace. She wanted “…to close her eyes a married woman.”
The higher road.
Elaine Delores Hoffman Bogart Lerner Turner spent her last few years in and out of nursing homes and hospitals. Her maladies were many and her health level diminished in plateaus. It was over that period that each of us in our own way had plenty of time to say our good byes. And we did.
Oddly enough, I’m not quite sure I ever really said “Thank you.”


Friday, May 8th, 2009

The best five minutes of my day are spent weeknights from 6-6:30 at Park Synagogue East. There in the back of the sanctuary, as the sun sets on Cleveland, my brother and I unwind from the events of the day.
We convene to observe minyan for our mother, but truth be known, we don’t talk about her much. Our comments rather, concern the problems of the world and the absurdities of life and those around us. We share thoughts that are often frivolous with feelings that can be compelling. And in the short period necessary to run through Mincha and Maariv services we each, in our own way….relax.
Picture Hawkeye and BJ after an hour of surgery on M*A*S*H.
Or Alan Shore and Denny Crane the last five minutes of “Boston Legal.”

A few weeks ago there was well-dressed middle-aged man standing to pray. He was wearing a silk shirt, pleated pants, and he was thin.
“Do you think he’s gay?” my brother whispered.
“Probably not,” I said, pointing out “He’s a Republican.”
My brother then reminded me: “Yeah, but they’re the one’s that get in trouble for it.”
Last week there were sisters in shul that we’d each known from our days in Sabbath School….in the sixties.
The older one, Cheryl, had gone through Sunday School, Hebrew School AND Hebrew High School with me. Those were the days when regardless of the zest in which I underachieved in public school, I was an avid student at Park.
And so it was that some insecurities never quite disappear.
As my brother and I whispered through the service I kept wondering if Cheryl was noticing, and whether she thought I was misbehaving.
(I’m teasing 60 and I still get nervous when I think the teacher is watching!)
But I’m not alone. Last night my brother broke stride as we walked into the Temple.
“Wait. I don’t want to have to talk to that guy.”
I waited.
“He’s a nice guy, but how much can I have to say to him?”
The man passed and my brother and I entered, finding our seats at the back of the chapel.
For the next half hour we reveled in the immediate issues on our plates: His kids, mine, the funeral bill, the Thief, Mother’s Day, and of course, Aunt Helen. This is my weekend to take her shopping so my brother is smiling.
At 6:29 PM we stood for the Mourner’s Kaddish, and began to leave.
Tomorrow we have Shabbos dinner at his place, and will probably be back at Park on Sunday. With the weekend over he won’t be smiling.
He’ll be “on the clock.”

We emerged from Park Synagogue and walked toward our cars.
Picture Churchill and Roosevelt.
“Have a good one,” he said.
“Thank you very much,” I responded.
No, we hadn’t speak much about our mother, but we had shared each other.
And peace.
Somehow I think she knows.


Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Tonight the Cavaliers take another step in their very real run at the NBA title. Everyone is excited and it’s great for Cleveland. I won’t be watching. It’s not that I don’t care; I hope they win; it’s just that I don’t care.

My lifelong love affair with sports died with none of the passion that had fueled it. Like looking back through the prism of a failed marriage—can’t quite remember when and where it went south for the last time. Trying to figure out just when Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall. Wondering if and when it could have been saved.

I used to live and breathe sports. 24/7 before people said “24/7.”

In a town short on heroes I had my idols anyway: Rocco Domenico Colavito, Jim Brown, Jerry Lucas, Mohammed Ali (nee Clay)….the best.

In a world devoid of cable tv, rec centers and virtual games, my only outlet was sports.
We lived across the street from the school and spent endless days and evenings playing “Swift Pitching” against the wall. Our mother’s porch light was the signal to come home for the night. How many times did my brother and I feign blindness from the setting sun, just to eek out an extra inning or two?

Bad weather meant basketball in Wieder’s garage. He crafted an indoor court encompassing two levels of his split-level home. Hey, his entire estate was a mecca.
In springtime we could tee balls off his front lawn, down on to Bayard Road. I wonder if it ever occurred to Alan that a 9-iron into a moving vehicle might hurt someone. Fore!

I played year around and when I wasn’t playing I was a fan in the truest “fanatic” sense. Summer nights were filled with Cocoa Grahams, milk and WERE baseball. I’d fall asleep with the Tribe behind but wake up every morning, run and grab the Plain Dealer and still be devastated to read they’d lost again. Fall brought OSU football, (even before the Browns), and my father taught me to bleed in scarlet and gray.

Winter in Cleveland was no different. We had no basketball, but I found a team. Snowy nights were spent straining through the static of KMOX radio out of St. Louis. Harry Caray and the St. Louis Billikens (whoever they were).

This is not just the euphoric recall of youth –it’s been a lifetime of devotion. Hal and I had no money but found our way to the 1963 Allstar game. I had no ticket, but found a scalper and wound up in the Dog Pound at “The Drive.”

When Wayne Woodrow Hayes died Michael missed school. We sat in the closed end of The Horseshoe with 15,000 others paying our respects to the coach.

But today as the Cav’s tip-off approaches the thrill is gone….”…Gone away from me…”

Maybe it was the baseball strike of 1994 when the Indians’ season abruptly aborted. They were finally good and greed cancelled out the post-season.

Or maybe it was that November day in 1995 when Browns’ owner Art Modell stood on a tarmac in Maryland, smugly announcing to the cameras and the world that he would prostitute the team and take it to Baltimore.

Or maybe, just maybe it was the way Ohio State, my beloved Ohio State, treated my kid when she was victimized on its campus. Instead of protecting her as one of its own, the administration played corporate politics and tried to bury both the issue and my baby under the scarlet of its rug.

The signs were there. Early this decade my son called me on the first Saturday of March Madness. He was in front of his television; I was at Great Lakes Mall. “Dad,“ he urged:
“While you’re there maybe you can buy a penis.”

More recently, on February 3, 2008 The New York Giants stunned the world by upsetting the unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl. I found out about it at 10:00 that night as I exited an A.A. meeting.

The toothpaste is long out of the tube.

It may not have been the strike, or Modell, or even the crap in Columbus. It may not even be a function of my age. Many of my friends remain rabid.

It may just be that my priorities have changed. And I can live with that.


Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

Whenever faced with doing something I’d prefer not to do I really try to be grateful that I am healthier now and can be called upon by others. Better that I look on chores as not things I have to do, but things I GET to do. And so it is that on alternating weekends my brother and I each GET to take Aunt Helen shopping. She is, indeed, the gift that keeps on giving.

Neither Hal nor I are confrontational people. By and large we are either satisfied with things or prefer not to make a fuss. Never have we been accused of being the squeaky wheels getting the grease. You won’t see us sending food back at restaurants, nor are consumer complaint departments on our speed dials.

This level of acceptance however, is not congenital. Quite the contrary. Over the past 94 years Aunt Helen has raised Complaining to an art form. Perhaps that is why she is on a first-name basis with most store managers in the one square mile between her home and her grocery.

In concert with our bi-weekly mission for staple items we often escort our aunt to other establishments. To this day she cannot understand how any of them stay in business and relentlessly cites to us the fatal flaws in each proprietor’s operation.

Did you know for example that Marc’s, the oldest and biggest discount chain in Northeast Ohio “doesn’t know how to merchandise”? Or that it carries unneeded goods, or that it was “stupid” to move the store (when the strip was demolished)?

Or that a newer chain, Targets, is also mismanaged? “Why isn’t there anyone here to help you? How can they not have terry cloth bathrobes? The cord on my new telephone should not be curling!”

These, though, are not the only merchants that improperly merchandize their wares. She makes the same assertion regarding Sears Optical, Kaufmann’s, Macy’s and Walgreen’s, and we we’re still at Cedar-Center!

For that matter, imagine, she exclaimed, the nerve of Pollack Jewelers! In 2007 it was unable to fix a watch she had purchased there in the 1950’s. She brandished her half-century old receipt; they acknowledged it was theirs; but they could not fix it! What kind of jeweler is this?

She can, bless her heart be an equal opportunity destroyer. Consider the following declarations recorded by my brother in only the past few years:

Cleveland Heights/University Heights Library: “Poor choice of books.”
National City Bank (Week 1): “Why didn’t they ask for my identification”?
National City Bank (Week 2): “Why do they need to see my identification? They know me.”
Cleveland Institute Of Music: “Why don’t they return my calls?”
Abba’s Kosher Meats: “The chicken is too expensive.”
Boris’s Kosher Meats: “”The chicken is too small.”
Tibor’s Kosher Meats: “The chicken should cost more per package.”
East Ohio Gas: “Need I say more?”
Kaufman’s: “The May Company was better.”
Macy’s: “Kaufmann’s was better.”
CVS Pharmacy: “Why don’t they carry reinforced pantyhose?”
Corky’s & Lenny’s: “The portions are too big.”
Jack’s Deli: “The tables are too wide and the booths are too small. Where should a family sit?”
Mayor Beryl Rothschild, University Heights, Ohio: “Why didn’t she return my call?”
Jo Anne Fabrics: “They have bad scissors.”
The House Of Lights: “It’s too dark in here. And don’t they have plain lamps?”
Sharpie Pens (Week 1): “Why do they smell?”
Sharpie Pens (Week 2): “Why do they run through the paper?”
Search For Pens (Week 3): “Why don’t they carry Flair pens? They don’t smell.”

Enough! (you say). OK, enough. The rest of the list can wait.

It is not funny, though. It is sad. Can you imagine a world in which one finds fault in everyone? Where everything is half empty rather than half full? (Well, not everything. Hal notes that our aunt insists that despite it all, she “gets along with everyone.”)

“T”ain’t necessarily so. Many of these merchants, (most notably Tony of Marc’s), have their own stories of interactions with our aunt. They will regale you with episodes of consumer complaint from a kindly little lady escorted by one of two wimpish middle-age men (usually making disclaiming gestures behind her back).

Truth be known, in 1977 when my ex-wife gave birth to our son the labor was less painful than some of these shopping moments.

Aunt Helen means well. She truly does. If she only understood that everyone else does too. Then, just perhaps, her life would be half-full.