Archive for July, 2009

UPSIDE, INSIDE OUT (Living la Vida Bogart)

Friday, July 31st, 2009

“I’m too old to cry… but it hurts too much to laugh.”
                                                                                Adlai Stevenson

My “baby’s” bridal shower is in Cleveland tomorrow and the whole fam damily is converging on the shores of Lake Erie.
Why can’t we all just get along?
They’re coming by plane, train and automobile.
From the east and from the west.
By day and by night.

Because they love Stacy.

I never had a bridal shower, so I want this one to go well.
Oh, we’ll have Harriet for balance, but true family balance….not yet.
Why, oh why can’t we all just get along?
I don’t pray for peace in the family—only love. In time that will bring a willingness for peace. Has to be.
This will be an assembly of those that mean the most to me, with all the mishigos.
And they’ll all be in town—
Those that love each other, those that like each other, those that speak, those that grit their teeth. A somewhat different blend of the four sons in Passover’s Hagadah. And like at the Seder, they’ll all sit together.
My kids are all hurting; I feel for each of them. I don’t care which came first, be it the chicken or the egg. It doesn’t help to know that every family has its backstory. I only know that my kids are in pain.
In a hurricane, the calmest place is actually in the eye of the storm.
In many ways, today, that’s me. And from that vantage point I see and hear…and know that in time it will work itself out.
As Ben Selzer would say, “Soon…not tomorrow, but soon.”
Next Year In Jerusalem.


Thursday, July 30th, 2009

When you get to the rooms they tell you to find people that “have what you want…and then do what they do.” One of those jewels is Tom.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


His voice came from behind me but was instantly recognizable. Sort of like Jim Runyan’s (from the old KYW), with a unique ability to sound calm and excited all at once.

We hadn’t seen each other in a bit— he’d been out west. So I kidded him about his round-the-clock Facebook postings but he pushed right back, accusing me of living by the text message.

If it’s true that G/d speaks to me through other people, then Tom G often gives the keynote address. Somewhat like the old E.F. Hutton commercial….when Tom talks, (silence)…everybody listens.

If his stats as my friend were listed like they do on the back of baseball cards, he’d already have earned his spot in Cooperstown. Tom’s taught me that much.

May, 2006. One Saturday morning I got wind that a girlfriend was cheating.
Calling Tom from Club 24’s second floor I was frantic—upset at her and mad at myself—

“Bogie, it’s OK. Own your feelings. It’s OK to be angry. Claim them.”
(I exhaled).
“OK,” he continued. “Now, how long do you want to sit in it?”

(Sometimes you don’t have to be with a friend to feel his arm around you).

Tom’s Hall Of Fame credentials, though, were solidified later that year when I went to see him professionally. He is, you should know, a well-respected mental health professional. (He’s one of those psychologists with ¾ of the alphabet after his name).

Fifteen minutes into the session Tom stood dramatically.

“Do you know what you have?” he inquired.
He picked up a marker, approaching the white board.

“You have….H T FIB.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You have …H T FIB…..High Tolerance For Inappropriate Behavior.”

(I don’t think it was from any of those DSM charts. Rather, it was a diagnosis he’d conjured through the years).

But it made sense. I focused and I learned.

You see, like I said before, he’s one of those guys you listen to. And he’s never, (to use my Dad’s expression), given me a “bum steer.”

Once he recommended a book. The author, he told me, was a Pierro Ferruci. He said it matter-of-factly, like I should know the name. (To me Pierro was a local ice cream; Ferruci sounded like a sports car).

I not only bought the book, but I read it. Twice.

The beauty of guys like Tom is they ask nothing in return. His friendship, as they saying goes, is freely given. That having been said, it was nice seeing him today and once again feeling the arm of my friend around me.

Facebook can only go so far.


Sunday, July 26th, 2009

He looked older than we remembered, but certainly less dead than we had heard. He wore a golf shirt, shorts, and baseball cap. And—let’s get this out of the way right now: Yes, it really was him.

We met in the parking lot of the Clairmont Diner, U.S. Route 130 near Princeton, New Jersey. The sun was out, just like it was supposed to be. And it was there that three Ohio kids whose bond was baseball and innocence reconnected 35 years of dots.

It wasn’t awkward at all. It was great— as natural his left-handed swing, only with a Jersey accent. We heard about his life: marriages, divorce, family crap… then brought him up to speed as well: Hal’s marriage, my divorce. Family crap.

And it was warm. Curiously, he cared less about his death than we did.

“Steve, every time we told someone we’d spoken to you…they all said the same thing: ‘He’s dead!’”

“I know,” he’d respond, and then move on. (Two generations later he was still cooler than me. I wonder if at any time it has bothered him being dead).

Conventional wisdom had him OD-ing on the west coast in the 70’s. He corrected us, as he’d heard it was a drug deal gone bad in the 80’s.

“Steve, Art Wohlfeiler SWEARS he was at your funeral!”
“He was wrong.”

And then the conversation rekindled as a rhythmic blend of past and present.

We were focused and the playing field was level. Hal reminded him that he’d taught H to throw a curve ball. Steve recounted fond memories of our parents. And. of course, we ran through a litany of names, from the neighborhood boys to the sandlot teammates. From swift pitching to softball to hardball. Rowland, Greenview, Brush, college ball. Alfie Feldman . Mitch Simmerson. Jimmy Masseria. Frankly, he remembered everyone with a precision I may not have expected. Stuart Fenton. Fran Ross. Alan Wieder.

There was balance to the trialogue. A sadness at Hovanyi’s death…a warmth of stories about Frank Snell, Lou Trolli and others. And through it all, a mix about what each of us was doing in 2009.

I questioned his absence from Cleveland all these years.
“Steve, you were such a popular guy. How is it you NEVER find your way back for ANYTHING?”

“Hey,” he said plaintively, “I’ve been out here since ’73. There is a whole big world outside of Cleveland. There really is!”
(I was glad my son wasn’t there to hear what has become Michael’s mantra).

The breakfast was exactly as we’d wanted it to be, and more. No bullshit; no pretense. No “We’ll have to do this again soon.”

“So what’s the best way to get back to I-80?”
He talked us into the turnpike instead.

We took some pictures. We left.

Hal and Steve drove, but the truth is all three of us were in gear, and all three of us were smiling.

Fact is that in some ways I was happier for my brother than myself. I had reunited with a friend, but Hal had achieved parity with his hero.

And the three Ohio kids, at least yesterday, were “Forever young.”


Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Mark Ermine nailed it. “Talking about the past is fine, but continually reliving it isn’t.” That having been said, it still seemed appropriate that I take the streets uptown tonight. Why not do a drive-by of the old neighborhood, what with this being Erev Road Trip.

No, I don’t live in the past, but I am blessed with a great memory, and wonderful memories. And today for the first time since I got my license, I drove the old neighborhood….at speed limit…or below.

They’re pretty much gone from Cleveland now, the boys of my summers. Scattered like old baseball cards. A few even dead.

Hovanyi, Fenton, Cohen, Fromin to the east.
Gelfand, Davidson, Mateijka, Mulberg going west.
And on Beaconwood there were Jimmy Masseria and Marvin Rosenberg.

I loved Chris Hovanyi—“Bulb” we called him. He’s gone now. His given name was Alex, and he lived next to us/across the street. His dad had a big garden; his mom never left the house. When it rained we’d play Monopoly on his screened-in porch. But only until it stopped.

Stuart and Ricky were on his other side flanked by Morton and Gary Cohen. Morton was fat and we’d tease him mercilessly. He was so nice though, and kept coming back for more. I’m guessing none of us are proud of the way we treated him. His younger brother (Gary) died young. At five Gary’s parents had him wearing thick, coke bottle eyeglasses with black frames…sort of like a Jewish Ernie from “My Three Sons.” Moreover, he had a speech problem and couldn’t pronounce “F” words. It was always “Stuart Henton” to him. We could have treated him nicer.

Fromin was next. A year my senior, he was always the gifted athlete. At a time when most kids were promoted to the majors at age 11, he was drafted by Frank Snell and the Red Sox at nine. I, myself, was called up at 10, and that, too, was an honor. Nine though…that made you a neighborhood icon.

Around the corner you had Masseria and Rosenberg. Jimmy was a rare non-Jew in our lives. Still, in a neighborhood of wall-to-wall Landsmen, it mattered not. He was special. Although a devout Catholic, Jim stayed home from school on all Jewish holidays as well. Ecumenical before his time.

And, boy did Masseria have a temper. Stuart would always tease him about his late Aunt Agnes.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagnes!” Stuart would scream at him, for some reason thinking the name was funny. “Aaaaaaaaaaaagnes!” Relentlessly obnoxious: “Aaaaaaaagnes!”

Once Masseria got so mad he threw Stu on the ground and had Fat Morton sit on Fenton while Jimmy stood over him throwing grass on his face. Endlessly. He used to call that the “Chinese Torture.” And more grass… in his mouth…..

He’d be spitting it out shouting “Let me up. Let me up!” I’ll never say “Aaaaaaaaaagnes again!” And Fenton’s face would be beat red; he’d get up….and say it again. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagnes!”

It took a lot to piss off Jimmy. Only Stuart could do it.

The good old days.

Marvin was nice but even more manic. If he was in a good mood he was fun; if not, he’d tell you he had to calm down by giving you “Slugs.” That meant you had to let him hit you five times in a row in bicep.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. He’d count it out, and when done just go “Ahah. I feel better now.”

Marvin threw right but batted left. First of his kind. Steve was a switch-hitter. The rest of us were plebian.

Truth be known, these are simple memories, warm memories, and perhaps, a half century later, not important.

Stuart spends half his year in town, maybe less. The others are either geographically or mortally gone. Only Bruce and Hal remain.

Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. There’s something nice about it. A dozen kids in the 50’s living on “Leave It To Beaver” and baseball, and only two stayed home.

And they’re brothers.

Hal and I are closer now than we ever were then. We’re neither reliving the past, nor recreating it.

We’re saluting it… brothers.


Monday, July 20th, 2009

Some of my most gratifying times occurred just seizing the moment—going with it! Throwing caution to the wind…doing things a bit “outside the box.”

I’ll always regret not heading west one Rose Bowl. I’d bled scarlet and gray all season, but my Dad was against the long drive, so I opted out of Pasadena trip with the boys. Games come and go, but on the way back that year Will’s car broke down in Albuquerque. A Kodak moment I missed. For a variety of reasons, the guys just flew home to Ohio—stranding Will and his car in New Mexico. Sure, I missed the “Granddaddy” of the bowl games, but I regret more that I am unable to revel with the men as they continuously relive that saga (Come to think of it, their constant retelling may be the precise reason Willie passed on this year’s reunion.)

One Friday in the late sixties Alan called to see if I’d join him at the evening’s Indians’ game. I declined since it looked like it’d be rained out. I can’t remember if Wido went downtown or not, but Sonny Siebert did throw a no-hitter that night.

A moment missed.

May 15, 1981: Riveted to the tube, father and son sit on the corner of a South Euclid bed watching Lem Barker throw a perfect game. Later that summer I took the (then) two kids to Baseball’s Hall Of Fame somewhere off Route 10 in New York. As the saying goes…you can’t get there from here. (But we did), because it was an opportunity to be had—a moment to remember: They had a simulated carpet field in the library. Michael ran the bases endlessly, each time sliding into home as a piped audio of the invisible crowd cheered, and YES, with every score he’d rhythmically bounce up from the “turf,” dust off his would-be uniform, wave to the stands and then begin circling the bases again. Jamie, barely 2, never let go of my hand.

Barker’s game ball was framed in a glass showcase. With kids flanking it I snapped a photograph. That August the pitcher stuck his head out of Cleveland’s home dugout to autograph it. Cooperstown was majestic, but in twenty-eight summers I haven’t been back.

I don’t know if it was a mid-life crisis or not, but my brother in recent years, has been seizing many moments. As a member of the Jack Benny Fan Club, he got notice of his hero’s induction into the Comedian’s Hall Of Fame. Hal jetted alone to L.A. for the ceremony at the famed Friar’s Club. In addition, he said Kaddish at Hillside Memorial Mausoleum, Benny’s final resting place. No One-Hit Wonder, my brother! He later grabbed some time and flew for another tribute at Benny’s birthplace in Waukegan, Illinois.

Carpe diem.

July, 2009: Another magic moment is now upon us. Another opportunity to Just Do It.

For reasons known only to Bob, our high school reunion committee meets four times per year. Reunions are every ten years but Snyder convenes regular outings. (Did I mention that he is the only man on the committee?)

I’m invited from time to time, but rarely want to intrude. It’s Bob’s domain.
Still, I did stick my head in at Brio this January. Ten minutes and out the door, leaving Bobby with his menagerie. While there though, I was advised that lo and behold, Steve F was alive and well and living on the east coast. Not only that, but Michelle had his contact information.

Couldn’t be! It had long been conventional wisdom that the former star of Bayard & Wrenford, swift pitching, Greenview, Brush, Sol’s Boys, teen idol, neighborhood icon…had been long dead. Buried.

But not so. The very next morning I called him, after thirty years. And he answered. And remembered…not only me, but “Little Herb,” his name for my brother…and Fenton. It was he alright, and he even knew that “Bulb” had died.

We spent a few minutes catching up, and made the predictable promises about getting together.

But we are. Indeed, we are.

Hal and I are going on a Road Trip this very Friday night. Destination: Princeton, New Jersey—Lunch Saturday with Steve.

We planned it last winter, set the table in the spring, and are acting on it now. Our schedules have been lighter, but not our hearts.

Sane friends keep asking why we would drive 7 ½ hours to dine with someone we haven’t seen since virginity (ours). We are staying in the moment, and asking “Why not?”

Worst case scenario, we will spend a few days with each other, cherishing each mile. Best case, three boyhood friends will laugh and rekindle a past where the only worry any of us had was whether it would rain the day of a Little League game.

We can’t wait!

“Life, so they say, is but a game, and we let it slip away.”

                                                        James Seals (Seals & Crofts)


Friday, July 17th, 2009

They tell me that to grow, to be a better person, to be the best Bruce I can be, that I should not do what I want to do, but do what I don’t want to do.
And with that as my destination I set out on today’s journey.

12:50 PM My car is in gestation—five hundred feet east of her home.
Poached like a Berkowitz-Kumin limo I wait to approach.
12:58 PM Text message to family and friends that “I’m going in!”
13:00 Hrs I ring Aunt Helen’s doorbell. (Ed. Note: the switch to military
time is to recreate the mood).

(She is my Dad’s surviving sister and the Bogart boys’ only living ancestral blood). Still, the A.M.A. has determined my aunt to be the third leading cause of chronic heart disease in America today.

“We have to stop at Target’s,” she opened.
“Fine, “ I said graciously. We weren’t yet at the car.
“I’d like to return a greeting card.”

(Mantra: Don’t do what I want to do, which would be to ask her WHY WHY WHY she was returning a card. Lord knows she reads each card six times before purchase).


“Do you want to know why I’m returning the card?”

(Hesitation…Am I supposed to want to know why or not want to know why? This was clearly a question for Maimonides).

I punted: “If you’d like to tell me.”

“Well, if you must know, it wasn’t worded correctly.” She went on to explain that the bridal shower card purchased two weeks ago denoted “Shower” on the outside but “Wedding” on the inside. And since, she reasoned, the shower was pre-wedding—no one yet married— the card was technically inaccurate. I tried to differentiate to her a bridal shower from a baby shower but it was too late. Helen had crossed the Rubican.

Her response to my point: “Why must everything be an issue to you?”

We re-entered the car after Target, heading to the grocer at Mayfield and Green. Intermission. The road to Marc’s can be treacherous. It is a long stretch with no stopping in between. I promised myself to be careful, repeated my mantra, and……

“Do you want to tell me about your trip to New Jersey?”
“Of course. It’s next week.” (She was lobbing softballs. I felt like a guest on Larry King Live).

“Are you taking off Friday?”
“No. I have to work all day—I’ll actually be in trial).”
“Bruce, why are you so difficult. That’s not what I asked you!”
Clueless, I repeated what I thought was the appropriate response:
“I’m in trial next Friday. We’re leaving after I’m done.”
“Oh, Bruce, please! Then you are TAKING OFF Friday.”
“Oh,” I submitted, just then understanding what she meant, “Yes we are LEAVING Friday, but after work.”
“Then why didn’t you just tell me that. Really I don’t have these problems with your brother.”
“You told me he only calls you every two weeks…”
“Oh, please. When I do speak with him he understands me. And what’s there to say? We don’t have this problem communicating.”
“Aunt Helen, I really thought you meant—
I stopped on a dime; she was already in full pout.

Recircling my spiritual wagon I commented about the weather.

“Don’t try to change the subject. Why is it I never have this problem with your brother?”

(I WANTED to say “Why is it you DO have this problem with everyone else?” but instead I drove on in silence).

Then she changed the subject, abruptly and the press conference portion of trip began in rapid fire:

“Have you done anything about your daughters?” “When are your children coming to town? How often do you talk to Caroline? When was the last time you spoke to your brother?”

We traversed Green Road and were waiting for a parking space. Silence. A calm filled the air.

“You know, I’m really very easy to talk to,” she smiled.
“I know,” I answered, sensing the storm had passed.
“I only want a bread if its from Pincus,” she warned.
“I know, “ (I was on a roll).

Truth be known, the balance of the shopping was uneventful. It always goes smoothly when the bananas look good.

Exiting the store we were greeted with a torrential downpour. I pulled the car up and then we headed back. She asked me if I had more plans for the day and my candid response was: “Nothing I have to do.”

“Good,” she said, as I held my breath. “If it’s raining like this at my house we can wait in the car for a bit.” “Of course, “ I smiled.

Moments later we approached her home. As my Toyota broke the plain of her driveway the skies began to clear. Here comes the sun!

Once again, G/d doing for me what I could not do for myself.

2:35 PM My brother’s on the clock.


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

I had never in my life watched a lady with such expensive perfume devour chicken wings so passionately. Two hands—like a guy. She too, I’m certain, never sat across the table while some clown so struggled with lobster tails that food went flying across the restaurant.

She married young; I was more seasoned (but immature), yet between us we had 56 years in long-term marriages. But that was then.

She was a Heights girl—Boulevard Elementary, Roosevelt, then Heights High. I was South Euclid: Rowland, Greenview, and Brush. So we never met.

Parallel lives. A lot in common.

We honored our parents, belonged to Park, and each had two girls and a boy.

We were friends before we were friends. And we were destined to be friends. (I had known her brother and her aunt). Moreover, her father and husband held the highest honors: they were my Lodge Brothers.

But I barely knew her.

I did know she could cook. One Pesach in the mid-90’s I was Sederless. Tony, the entrepreneur of Coffee Creations, uber-coffeehouse of the time, had been feeding me thrice daily. He was clearly a Jewish wannabe, and delighted in urging me to join him at his friends’ home for Passover. I did. Like I say…the food was good… and the portions!

Still, I didn’t know her well.

I had seen her at lodge dances, but really didn’t study her. I do recall that even before it was a catchy line on a greeting card she was one of those people that would “dance like no one is watching.” (When I got to know her better it was clear she’d read the same card—she also sings like there is no one listening. That, I might add, is not necessarily a blessing).

Parallel lives.

A decade ago I would have said there was no circumstance that could forge our friendship. And then it did. Coincidence?

We were both rebuilding— inside and out. Two middle-aged kids playing in life’s sandbox. Divorced. Somewhat naïve. Fish out of water. Yet we bonded like Hal and I did with the Fentons our first night on Bayard in ’55.

She showed me her family; I showed her mine. We went swimming and out to eat. And into business. And we shared friendship.

The business died— but the friendship thrived.

And we learned from each other. She taught me how to make a garden. Never change a business appointment. What a camisole is. And that I’m OK. I taught her that Jews don’t eat white bread. And that life goes on. And that she was OK.

She kicked me in the ass if I didn’t call my kids enough. I admonished her for getting down on herself. When the bell rang we were honest with each other and there for each other. That’s what friends are for.

And then as often happens, we moved to new neighborhoods. Time and change….and newer friends. Never, though, even to this day, too busy for each other. Last December I danced at her baby’s wedding. This September she’ll dance at Stacy’s.

Her name is a derivative of a French word meaning “little rock.” Fact is that for many years she was the big rock at the foundation of her beautiful family. And in a most pivotal time in my life she was not only an anchor, but a directional signal.

She is Rochelle, and she is much more than OK.


Sunday, July 12th, 2009

4PM on a lazy Sunday afternoon and I’m baking in a lounge chair, listening to the Bare Naked Ladies. The song: “If I Had A Million Dollars.” My thought: What WOULD I do …”If I had a million dollars?”

No, seriously. What would I do?

Well, first I’d get rid of my debt. Second, I’d earmark funds for air travel to the kids. Then, I guess, it would make sense to sprinkle some on favorite charities.

Finally, before I piss it all away, I would give the rest to one of my kids to hold for the family benefit. (Money won’t change my life and I was never much good at handling it anyway).

The million wouldn’t make me thinner nor could it make me happier. It would bring neither world peace nor family tranquility. And for certain it could not guarantee that my next set of wired aces wouldn’t be cracked by some putz that should have folded pre-flop.

And clearly, it could not sweeten t the beautiful weekend I am having. The best things in life remain free.

There’s a program guy that has an expression…he speaks of “marveling in the ordinary.” Today…at least at this point in time….that’s where I am.

What a weekend. Peaceful. Busy. Ordinary. And I am grateful for every moment!

Friday evening Bob, Terry and I went to Shaker Square to see “Bruno.” Terry feared it would be mobbed and wanted to get there 45 minutes early. Bob and I disagreed, but were outvoted. (It was fun sitting outside for nearly an hour).

After the show I went to a meeting, and then to The Boneyard for some live music. Same old same old, so I was home by 11, just in time for Seinfeld.

Saturday began with the traditional Breakfast With Jacobson. The food at Jack’s was predictably bad and I vowed never to return. This sacred promise is also tradition; within the month Michael will “guilt” me back.

I then went to Chagrin Falls for a morning meeting, did some office work, took nap, a walk, and a swim— then an early dinner at Giant Eagle’s salad bar. A calming day…and a beautiful day.

The evening brought more music at Legacy. A friend’s band was playing out and t’was a good chance to see all the usual suspects. Time to catch up with all my friends that have managed to stay married lo these many years.

Then another meeting. Then home for a new L&O/SVU.

Today I awoke at 6:14 to a vibrant sun. Hal, Margie and I were breakfasting to plan our mother’s unveiling. Should the stone carry her married name (Lerner) or her buried name (Turner)? She’s resting next to middle-spouse Sam, who she’d identified as the “love of her life.” Still, after Sam’s death she wed, then twice sued, but never completed divorces from # 3, The Thief. What would the respectful thing to do be? What would she want? What would the rabbis say?

G/d, of course, puts people in your path to answer such questions. And so it was that at 9AM, as I downed my oatmeal, the rabbi walked right into Corky & Lenny’s.

“Lerner Turner” is appropriate, said Rabbi Jacobson. We thanked Michael for his advice and exited the restaurant. (That man always has the answer).

After the cemetery I filled mid-day with other “ordinary” matters: Stopped by Brother Burnside’s to see his grandchild. Reminisced a bit with some old Riviera friends…picked up a cake for Chuck P’s Going Away Dinner.
(Does everybody leave Cleveland?)

And it’s only mid-Sunday afternoon.

Tonight I will dine with pals and bid the first of many goodbyes to Brother Chuck. And I will go to a meeting, then home to Darryl and Darryl.

And, when I go to sleep I will feel gratitude for a remarkable weekend of doing nothing, doing everything, and enjoying it all.

Grandma Bogart used to quote King Solomon to me in Hebrew. The English, however, was that “He is rich who is satisfied.” I can still hear her say it. And that, believe it or not, is why this entry begins “If I Had A Million Dollars” rather than “If I Were A Rich Man.”

I don’t have the million, but I can certainly “marvel in the ordinary.” My grandma would say I am rich.

I agree.


Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Remember the old theory about answering True/False questions? Always go with your first thought. The other day provided a great example.

May’s madness found me registering on an internet dating sight.
It’s something I do biennially and with equal success: None.
Still, (as they say), even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while.
And didn’t Alan meet Joanie on JDate? So I posted my picture, completed the profile and put the ball in play.

If nothing else, hitting the Search menu is a good way to fill time. Mindless energy at day’s end. It’s fun to look at the faces, read the bios, and then do nothing. And it’s easy.

Every once in a while a lady has “that look.” Usually, however, I pass.
Truth is if there’s no physical connection there’s zero chance of moving forward. I’m not above being appropriately shallow.

Last week I passed on a lady for no specific reason, although, in fact, her demographics were in field goal range: she was 57 and Jewish. Still, for whatever reason, maybe mood or timing, I was just not inclined to contact her. She, however, wrote me:

“I am answering you viewing me….because…I would like to meet you…”

She appeared to be better looking for a woman than I am for a man, so I bit.
We arranged to meet at the Starbucks on Chagrin. Proximity to my office provided an exit strategy if needed.

My M.O. is to arrive early and study the entry. This was no time to make an exception. Window glare handicapped my focus, but as she entered field goal range I noted that her website picture had not been taken yesterday. There was a better chance it was shot during the first Gulf War. That having been said, I silently repeated my mantra (“Don’t drop your smile).”

She approached. When she hit the red zone I offered her beverage.
We each ordered iced coffee. Not my standard fare, but I’d already concluded that getting two of the same drink would shave 1.5 minutes off the adventure. (It all adds up).

Five minutes into our conversation she dropped a bombshell:

“Just so you know,” she smiled, “I lied on my profile.”
“Yeah…about my age.”

I don’t know if she noticed my gulp, but I was more bothered by the lie than the age thing. At least then.

“So how old are you”, I gingerly queried as I measured her body language.

“In my 60’s…but does it matter? I think age is only a number.”
“Well, “I noted with charm, “If you really think that—why did you lie?”

The pause was pregnant, but then things smoothed out. Truth be known we were not a match on many grounds. B’Shert she wasn’t. She did, however, in the context of my running out the clock with Jewish Geography, reveal that she had been related to my almost-relative Maynard.

EXACTLY forty-five minutes after the fun began I got up, thanked her for her time, and went back to the office.

Calling Maynard last night to share the story, I withheld the name until the narrative was complete. He was dying to know who the blind coffee date was. I made him grovel by phone, but then told him.

He was incredulous!

“Bruce, do you want to know how old she is?”
“Of course.”
“Let’s see, she was married to ____________, OK…. she’d be about 72.”

When he was done laughing I thanked him. Seemed the right thing to do.

You know, I could live with 60’s. 62, 63, or even if the stars align just right a young 65. But 72?

That dog don’t hunt.


Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Some things you can be taught. Others you have to learn. Before I was ten I could throw popcorn in the air and catch it in my mouth, (Cousin Howard showed me at the old Fairmount Theater). A year later, teammate Fred Capretta demonstrated how to throw a curve ball. Soon after, in the dead of winter, Alan on his indoor garage’s basketball court taught me the difference between a dribbler that properly backs into position and one that commits an offensive foul. (If HE had the ball it was backing in; if I had it, it was charging).

You could teach me what I could see. But only what I could see. Abstract beliefs came more slowly. Sometimes a half century later.

“Life isn’t fair,” we’d hear. (This was the way they said “Sh*! happens” in the 50’s). And when it did happen they put a bandaid on it and sent you home— a valuable lesson delayed. Consider:

One night at Nigrelli Field we got beat by the Tigers (2-1). We lost on a bad call at the plate. I can picture it to this day.

My dad was the manager…Harold Fischer slid into home… Scott Lery was on deck; I was in the hole. Our vantage point from the first base side was perfect. Then, in shock, we watched the ump’s thumb go up! Disbelief and tears and anguish….we were inconsolable. And then we had no choice but to slink off the field.

The regular umpire hadn’t shown and Jon Scott’s father filled in. But none of that mattered. My dad looked horrified; he knew. He knew. He said nothing, but he knew.

That night we didn’t want to hear that life wasn’t fair. Instead, in route home, our manager took Stuart and Ricky Fenton, my brother and myself to the Victory Park carnival to walk it off with ice cream.

He consoled us; we laughed a bit, but the loss still hurt. Still, looking back, the seed of a lesson was being planted: No matter how bad that umpire’s call was the score wasn’t going to change. Get over it, Bruce. Accept it. Move on.

It took me a long time to truly learn that lesson. And just as I still visualize the flying dust from Fischer’s wasted slide I can also pinpoint the exact instant I finally, once and for all, “got” it. It was Saturday, February 9, 2008. 8:45 PM.

I had been reeling from a recent series of events. And the pain was sharper than a 2-1 loss. You see, ten days earlier, for reasons only G/d knows, a recently-departed girlfriend had summoned me to talk; she had something she “had to share with me.”

We convened in neutral territory–the friendly confines of Barnes & Noble’s. Over coffee she revealed that yes, she had been intimate with a “friend” of mine. She just needed (she said) “to get it out there.”

It was something I’d suspected, but she’d denied toward the end of our relationship. Why she opted to bring it up two months post-mortem I’ll never know. So now it was out there, and eating me.

It hurt. I felt violated…by both of them.

Hey, he was a colleague…a would-be friend…and I’d never cheated…and didn’t we all know each other? There were a million reasons why I couldn’t justify it. And try as I did, for more than a week I couldn’t accept it.

I hadn’t wanted her back; I knew them both for what they were…but still, WHY?

I didn’t have my father to take me to a carnival, but I did have a support system. My sponsor told me to write the guy a letter, but read it to him before issuing it. And I did. No joke—I emailed the “draft” not only to David, but also to Burnside and Michael B. Within moments each had emailed me back begging me not to send it. (Dennis was more adamant. He called me, and his exact words were “You’re better than that.”)
And because of them, I was…and it still rests in peace, as a Word document.

But it ate at me, and ate at me, and ate at me. Why? The program had tried to teach me that everything happens for a reason. That I should look for lessons in everything. That what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
But I hurt.

My sponsor told me that sick people do sick things, but that I didn’t have to dwell in their sicknesses. Intellectually I knew he was right, but I ached.

And then, that February night it fell into place. John D was leading a meeting and I didn’t want to miss it. Entering the chapel I noticed not only the ex, but also the guy…with his wife. All of us in one small room…THE PERFECT STORM.

My head was spinning as I sat down in back. Afire, I kept asking myself how all this could be happening. How could they just flaunt it? What’s wrong with these people?

And then, as she took a seat in the front row, husband guided wife to the seats to my left. Purposely next to me—in my face! One big happy family. (Only no one was upset—except me).

I burned. In anguish I mentally replayed the “tools” I’d been taught.

And then it happened. I had been asking myself why G/d was doing this to me and somehow my thought process asked “What’s the lesson here?”
And, so help me G/d…a warmth came over me. At once I felt safe and at peace. I felt comforted. I knew.

At once that abstract lesson I’d been learning in one form or another for a decade finally pierced my fabric. I “got it.”

Acceptance IS the answer to all my problems. I don’t have to worry about other people’s actions, only mine. And I could choose to play the victim or let it go. I could mire in the crap of others or let it bounce off me and just work on my self. I could, if I chose to, breathe.

And just like that…it was gone. I mean it—just like that.

You may scoff but I know that G/d put me in that circumstance to finally learn that lesson. No pain, no gain.

It’s been a year and a half. In that time I’ve seen many things I haven’t liked, but few I could change. Still, I am accepting people, places and things exactly as they are…and sleeping better.

I am at peace…and have been since 8:45 PM on February 9, 2008.