Archive for August, 2009

LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Tuesday, August 25-6:30 AM. Toweling off from the shower I am listening to the last night’s voice mail.

“Bruce, I need you,” the ex-wife’s plaintive message began. “Call me.”

Not exactly how I planned to start my day. Never once in the history of mankind had she ever uttered those words in passion. This then, clearly, could not be good for the Jews.

But I called her back. Oddly, it was about neither love OR money.

“We have to do the seating for the wedding, “she exclaimed. The woman sounded like Caesar readying to cross the Rubicon.
“OK, I’ll email you my tables. Gotta go.”
“NO,” she yelped. (My dad heard it; he’s been dead since ’85).
Sensing immediately that this would be no short conversation, I asked her to hold a minute. I wonder if she knows that the concluding six minutes of our “talk” were on speaker-phone, or that I dried my naked body to her admonitions about index cards, seating charts and protocol). As Yogi Berra would say, “It was deja vu all over again.”

“Whatever you say.”

A man’s been to the moon. There are lights at Wrigley Field. How difficult can it be to put 200+ adults in a room for three hours?

Flashback: Mid-90’s and six of our elementary school friends flew from Cleveland to Paradise Island. Fenton was in charge of securing flight seat assignments, and … Stuart being Stuart, had no problem performing his task. One row had the three biggest, Treinish, Codgie, Bogart (with Glassman in the middle and Alan T squeezed against the window). Seated immediately behind the row were the minimally built Arthur, Bob and Stuart. Fenton laughed in three different time zones.

Back to the story: So today, on Shabbos (of all things), we met to arrange tables. Summarily rejecting my thought of a neutral venue, she summoned me to her home. I was met at the door by the dog formerly known as mine.

It was 4:30 PM as she ushered me to the kitchen table. There they sat, an army of RSVP’s, stacked in even rows like Nazi storm troupers.

“I brought my list.” I said proudly.
“No, we don’t do it that way!” she advised.

And then it became like baseball cards. Little piles of names, usually 8. We began horse-trading like youngsters.

“Need ‘em, need ‘em. Got ‘em.”
“THIS ISN’T A GAME, BRUCE!!!”
“Why can’t I just do the piles with my people and leave? You can do yours”
“No Bruce, that’s not we do it!”
“Why not?” (And who is the “we” she keeps referring to?).
“Please, this your daughter we’re doing this for!”

(Was there logic here or just Jewish guilt? I need a meeting.)
“Do you think Stacy cares who Michael Jacobson sits with?”
“But we want this to be nice!”

I said the serenity prayer to myself, accepting my lot. (Quietly sorting my friends, I gave no slight consideration to age, political affiliation, who is sleeping to whom, and, need I say, who has slept with whom).

You talk about “Six Degrees Of Separation?” Try assembling homogenous sets of couples compromised of Jews, Gentiles, Addicts, and a family that has rarely been accused of being functional.

This relative hates that relative. That relative thinks the other one’s boring. What about the divorce factor? And that’s family—supposedly the easy part!

The friends were even more challenging! Perhaps because I have been blessed with a myriad pals from a variety of sources….and, while everybody had somebody, still nobody melded with everybody. Needless to say the ex wasn’t thrilled when I suggested eight tables of four.

“We have to combine them!”
“Can’t.” I explained, noting that, for instance this one thought that one was phony, and that one had a history with the other one’s lady.

But we got it done. Had to cross-breed a bit. Had to laugh a bit. But the dye is cast. Julius Caesar has traversed the river. Fartic!

I’m exhausted. It was fun, but frustrating, but…well, let’s just say that the labor for our first born son took less time.

Returning to my car, I SO wanted to share this experience. Grabbing my cell phone I noticed the date, August 29. Today is Ben Selzer’s birthday.

I’ve spoken of him before—he was a winner. Better yet, you could seat him with anyone.

TOMORROW

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

OK, my family, my friends, my health. That’s a start. (They tell me when I’m beginning to get a bit of the “Poor me’s” I should make a Gratitude List.
So here goes:

There has never been a minute in my life I’ve felt unloved. Never a moment I didn’t feel the unconditional support of a nuclear family. My parents knew how to say it; my brother knows how to show it. I’ve never walked alone.

The friends. How lucky am I that even to this day there are those from grade school that would be there if the bell rang? And me for them. Not to mention the others I’ve picked up along the way. Or those that have come through recovery.

The network of surrounding people loves me enough to tell me what I don’t want to hear. With honesty like that, even I can’t screw up.

And my health—not bad for a guy teasing 60.

Ah, starting to feel better. The clowns downtown are fading away.

My Grandma Bogart, the wisest person I’ve ever known.
Chad at Corky’s, who always finds me strawberries.
And the guy who fixes my car. He never overcharges more than I can afford.

Life’s not so bad but I’ve been in a funk lately. You see someone mucked a good friendship two poker games ago. And my condo lease is up soon. Then the family issues!  I know G/d didn’t bring us this far to drop us on our asses, but ….everyone’s feeling the pain. OK, OK.

My ten fingers, my ten toes, the memory I was blessed with.
The cats: Darryl and Darryl. (Love the boys).
And the dogs: Adam from Bayard, and also the Adam that my ex-wife stole from me. May the former rest in peace and the latter rest in Beachwood.

And Walt. He read my poker post and told me what I somewhat knew but needed to hear. Better yet, he reminded me that absent trust and friendship, poker is just a card game.

OK, it’s starting to come. This gratitude thing is working.

Truth be known I am grateful for the rough times in business and the rocky times in relationships. Really. Back in my mudslide of the ‘90’s I had neither business nor relationships. Who am I today to complain?

No one—so I won’t.

Tonight I will thank G/d for everything I have that I want AND everything I have that I don’t want. And I will wake up Thursday, meet with my sponsor and get rebooted.

Tomorrow the little one will be 27 and the sun will again be shining. When my priorities are in order, the sun shines regardless of the weather.

And tomorrow is only a day away!

STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

I tackle missions with Aunt Helen no different than witnesses taking the stand—answering only the question before me. The less said the better, as there is certainly no upside to volunteering collateral information. With my aunt, issues are like tissues. Pull one out and another pops up behind it.
Friday was a perfect example:

Approaching her domain I found traffic to be inordinately heavy. And so:

“Hi Aunt Helen,” I greeted as she opened her door.
“You’re late.”
“It’s 1:03.”
“That’s what I said.” It was only then that we reached the car.

“Did you talk to your brother this week?” she asked, knowing full well that Hal and I speak most days.
“Of course.”
“When and what did he have to say?”
“Nothing, “ I responded, just beginning to back out of her driveway.
“Did he tell you about Alison?”
“Yes.” Breaking the plane of her sidewalk I just knew the examination would continue.
“Then he did have SOMETHING to say.”
“You’re right.”
“What do you think?”
“It is what it is,” I offered, hoping the generic response would suffice.
“And do you mind if we stop at Jack’s”
”No, why would I mind?” (Mind, I was goddam thrilled—thinking she’d forgotten about H).
“Your brother should do something.”
“You’re right.”
“Then tell him.”
“OK.”
“What will you tell him?”
“To do something.’
“Very well. Please tell me what he says.”
“Aunt Helen, I won’t get in the middle.” (I was caught in the crosshairs, not wanting to be her conduit for information… yet if I redirect her to call Hal, HE suffers. Can I really do it to him?)
“You won’t get in the middle! Why are you always trying to be nice?”\
“Is being nice wrong?” (I would try misdirection).
“Please don’t argue with me. You will let me know then?”
“OK, I’ll let you know.”
“What CAN he do?”
“Nothing.”
“Then maybe you should not say anything.”
“OK.”

Halftime.

After a solid moment of hallowed silence:

“I know you hate it there.”
“Where?”
“Jacks. You tell me you don’t like it.”
“But I’m not buying food. You are.”
“If you hate it there why don’t you just tell Michael Jacobson to meet you elsewhere on Saturdays?”
“It’s just easier. Why do you care so much?”
“I don’t care so much. Why do you think I care so much?”
“OK, you don’t care so much.”
“It seems to me you should be able to find a restaurant you both enjoy.”
“So you do care!”
“Why are you so disagreeable?”

I paused. We were within field goal range of the grocery store. All I had to do was punt and have my defense hold her one more time!

“I’m sorry. You’re right,” (I knew neither for what I was sorry nor what she was right about).

We entered Marc’s and as she handed me her shopping list she reminded me to get a pumpernickel only if it was Pincus’s—not Ungar’s. Like I could forget. This same admonition is received alternating Fridays 26 times per year at precisely the same spot in the store. Like clockwork.

After a scoreless third quarter the action resumed. She had the ball:

“I need baking soda. Do you know where it is?”

I had this one: “Marc’s keeps it with the household products.” (We HAVE done this before).
“Please ask,” she urged.
I was tempted to scream “THEN WHY DID YOU ASK ME WHERE IT IS?”
but like manna from heaven a red-aproned helper appeared, advising: “Aisle 7, with the household products.”
“Thank you very much,” I offered and as soon as the lady was around the corner my aunt retorted: “Well that’s ridiculous. It should be with the baking goods.”

We ambled over to Aisle 7 and found no baking soda.
“You see, it IS with the baking goods,” she triumphed.
Back four aisles we went, but to no avail. No product on the shelf. Another red apron was summoned. We were again directed to Aisle 7, so “hat in hand,” I asked for an escort. It was discovered that the store was indeed out of stock.

“I don’t know how they stay in business,” she declared.
“You’re right.”
“You know,” my aunt continued, “I just hate doing business with them.”
“You’re right.”
“Do you think I have reason to feel this way?”
“Of course. It’s frustrating for all of us.”

The game ended in a tie. We drove back in small talk, and I helped her with the groceries. It was 2:15 on a sunny Friday afternoon, better yet, Brother Hal was now “on the clock.”

I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU

Friday, August 21st, 2009

It bothered me all week.  All week. Only today did it fall into place.  NOW I get it. That feeling—I’ve had it before. That specific sting. That violation.

Last time it was the early 60’s—one of those rare times we played tackle at Greenview. A Saturday afternoon. There used to be a practice field between Green Road and the school; somehow we were there.

A pileup and we recovered the loose ball.  No, wait! The runner, (who was and is a lifelong friend), looked us dead in the eye declaring he’d been down before he lost it. Dead in the f’ing eye.

“No you didn’t!”
“I wouldn’t lie about it,” he responded.
They kept the ball.

A moment in time forgotten until just now. But as I drove downtown this morning I once again saw his white sweatshirt and yes, again heard his lie.

It wasn’t just a game.

Fast forward: It’s Sunday night, there are no shoulder pads, and the “game” is poker. We prioritize it; we schedule around it. Vacations end on Saturdays, weekend jaunts by noon Sunday, and at 7PM sharp everyone is where they are supposed to be. Every week. Count on it. For nearly five hours there are no cell phones permitted. We laugh; we insult; we share fellowship. No shop talk allowed—just deal the cards and let’s go. It is a respite from the real world…until…..

Half the ten regulars are Jewish; there’s a married couple, an unmarried couple, an ex-nun, a black, a metrosexual, a few clean-cut degenerates and an assorted collection of recovery friends…oh, and one guy I don’t like, but I can’t remember why.

Well something happened last week that had stuck in my craw. Not major, but ugly.

Sparing detail, I was coerced into splitting a pot that was mine. Not the end of the world, but the culprit knew better, and others sat silent. And no, it’s not about the money; I wish it were that simple. It’s about honor.

“Forego resentments,” they counsel. Generally I succeed. Why “let someone take up space in your head rent-free?” Sometimes though, this is easier said than done.

It went down about 10:30 and I didn’t make an issue.

My heart told me to speak up but my mind said let it go; I chose the latter. How important is it, really? Folded the last hour away, played on a soft tilt, left quietly before midnight.

I woke Monday to the same bad taste in my mouth. Instinctively I knew I had to let go, but I still wasn’t ready. This, I decided, would be a two-step process.

First I wanted to assure myself I was right. I knew I was, but I just had to make sure. Perhaps I didn’t know poker etiquette as well as I’d thought.

So I called Maryanne; she knows poker. We needed a “one time talk.” Absent editorial, absent emotion I clinically narrated the story. I just wanted the pure poker answer. The news was both good and bad. The good news was that I was indeed right; the bad news was the same: I was indeed right.

More work. More processing. Why was it bothering me so much? If it wasn’t the money, what was it? Did I have a part in my funk?

I replayed the hand envisioning every person’s reaction to the events.
Why didn’t I speak up? Why didn’t they? Was I intimidated? Were they? Was discretion the better part of valor or do I lack balls? Would this have happened if Chuck were still there?

It occurred to me that the wrongdoer has no idea I’m upset. Is this good or bad? Does it get back to the fact that I’ve never thrown a punch? Am I a wimp or a mensch?

Wanting to let go, but still compelled to share, I called Dennis. I don’t know if he gets poker but he certainly gets me. He could be caring, yet detached. He would tell me what I needed to hear. And he did:

“When your girlfriend cheated on you with the guy in your office it didn’t bother you as much.”
“I know…but THEN I knew what I was dealing with.”

Four days later it sunk in.

It’s about expectations. Mine were violated.

As best as I can I play by the rules; maybe I’m naïve, but I expect others to follow suit. You sit down for 1-2 No Limit week in, week out…well, ain’t no virgins at the table. We all know the rules.

The fumbler at Greenview, the poker player….pillars of the community.
And they’re each good friends, don’t get me wrong. But you can wipe your ass with “cash register honesty.” Better you can look me in the eye.

So, ok, now I’ve worked it through. From frustration, to anger at myself, to anger at them, to resentment…………to understanding.

I’m dropping the rock of resentment, letting it go, and remembering that I too am not perfect. (Far from it).

I feel light again; I feel cleaner. I’ve indeed sorted it out…and, as usual, it’s “all good.”

Sunday night at 7 I’ll be at the table, chips and smile in place, and I’ll know what I ‘m dealing with.

So I’ll cut the deck.

        “Your lips are moving, I cannot hear
        Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear
        You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game.”

              Lennon/McCartney

THEY SAY IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY!

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Dear Stuart,

Happy 60th!   You’re older than me again and this year I’m glad.
Boy, are you (we?) running up the mileage! Where HAVE all the years gone?

At 10 we’d swing on the vine behind Rowland. With lives ahead of us our only concerns were whether Jerry Wolf would steal the ball or Johnny Palladino would push us off the diamond.

Then I traipsed through high school, you sped through puberty, and it was off to college. Thanks for proudly sabotaging my ‘67 cameo appearance at Michigan State. 8-track tapes of the guys back home cemented my decision to transfer, (especially the audio bearing YOUR voice singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”) Remember how you introduced yourself when, with Bob, you ventured to East Lansing?

“Well HELLO!!!!” you exclaimed to anyone who would listen, “I grew up near Shaker Heights, Ohio!”

So by 20 we were together again at OSU. Same friendship—different playground. Remember when Wieder thought he saw buffalo on I-71? He announced it one Sunday One night at Drackett. How obnoxious were you?

“No, Alan, buffalo are INSTINCT.”
“It’s extinct, asshole!”
“No, it’s INSTINCT. You didn’t see buffalo because they’re INSTINCT.”

Who was nicer than Wido, but you had to push his buttons! Moreover, that same winter quarter you proclaimed that that, hey, if your friend Alan was called “A,” clearly your friend Bruce should be dubbed “B.” Did you know… it’s still my favorite moniker?

Those were The Glory Days: you had Marilyn and Hagerty Hall; I had contact lenses, a brand new Mustang, and ultimately The Jersey Girl. Together we sold magazines and found avenues to keep the stream of kinship alive.

Where have all the flowers gone?

“The Wild Child.” Dark Shadows. Cape May for you; Fort Polk for me.
Joseph Mellon & Miller. Brian Drive. Campbell’s Soup. The Lodge? At times our paths were no more than parallel, but even so we always found a way to intersect. Always. How many times on how many mornings in how many neighborhoods have I honked at you jogging?

French lessons anyone? Dis huit! Dis neuf!

So happy 60th, S. William Fenton. Thanks for holding my hand when others wouldn’t and for loving me when others couldn’t. We’ve had the friendship of a lifetime and you’ve been a lifeline.

We are so different… physically, politically, financially…..but it matters not.

Have a wonderful day and remember: Snyder and I love you. (Not that there’s anything wrong with it).

Bruce

HAPPY TOGETHER

Monday, August 17th, 2009

And The Lord Speaketh:  “Before the wedding the groom must have fun.”

There were no bachelor parties when I was busy getting married. There were “stags, ” nights concocted by married elders now looking for a way to get out of their houses.

Mine was held on the eighth floor of Rockside’s Ramada Inn. Sure my friends were there, but memories are only of uncles Ben and Phil and my dad.; (It was the first post-divorce event compelling my mom’s side of the family to be nice to my father). And there was a stripper, but I didn’t care. She was for the altacockers, not me.

A generation later things have changed; Stacy blanches if I even utter the word “stag.” They are BACHELOR PARTIES. And we’re not talking one night, we’re speaking days. And we’re not speaking local, we’re now on location. Jason’s location was some remote area of Wisconsin overlooking Lake Geneva. So be it.

It really didn’t matter. When the bell rings… Just as the ladies flocked to Stacy’s shower, the men followed suit. Michael from New York, Hal and I from Cleveland. All for Jason’s Last Hurrah. Family, friends and bug spray.

It was also a further demonstration of the fact that it really doesn’t matter what you do so long as you do it with people you love. For me it was a weekend with my son and brother, sandwiched between chunks of time with my soon-to-be-Bohrered baby.

It was a weekend where, if I WASN”T with loved ones, well, as Michael is fond of saying: “Just shoot me now!”

But I loved every moment of it.

Even in Chicago before we headed to the hills. Stace picked us up at the airport, and over lunch the trio urged me to go directly for an eye exam; (I’d been postponing it for a few years-10); it was time. In truth, I’d been having difficulty telling hearts from diamonds lately, and have been compelled to sit center table. So, bullied I went, but for my own good.

The camaraderie was compelling as I tried on frames, EVEN as all three laughed at how big my nose is.

“Dad, until you put on the black ones I never noticed,” chided Stacy. She compared my nose to a pimple she spots on her forehead. “Once I see it Dad, it’s all I see.”

Ah, togetherness.

Later Friday Jason’s dad drove the men up to the cabin. With Michael in shotgun and Hal having 120 songs on his cell phone, it was three hours of “Name That Tune.” The thrust of the songs were from our glory days: Four Seasons, Doowap, early BeeGees. My brother and Jason’s dad shared music trivia. As for Michael, well let’s just say that if one listened closely you could hear the gentle whisper from passenger front….in a hush….of “Just shoot me now.”

Arrival at the compound was nondescript. The night consisted of hamburgers and poker. Hal and I bunked together and were asleep by 1AM (Cleveland time).

Saturday morning came too soon. Half-awake I stumbled into the shower and noticed I’d forgotten toothpaste. Sticking my head out I found my brother to be very accommodating as he handed me his. Five minutes later I knew why. While showering I applied the paste to the brush. It looked thicker then usual. Oily. Stepping out of the stall I noticed the box. He’d given me hemroid cream. And Good Shabbos to you too Uncle Harold!
Good sport that I am, I dressed and hiked the mile or so to buy a new toothbrush and toothpaste. Who says I can’t take a joke? Or rough it?

Bogarts are not meant for camping, to be sure. Even more so, Jews have no business being on boats.

Saturday’s plan was for the boys to be on a pontoon. A pontoon! True, Hal and I had pictured a wooden raft with no motor, and we were surprised to find this vessel had a few cushioned seats…but still….a pontoon! What the F do Jews do on a pontoon?

I now know the answer: we sit.

I sat next to Hal; Michael was near. Once the thing went out to sea Jason and his men jumped overboard to swim; the elders stayed aboard and did what we do best: we sat.

But it was relaxing, and it was fun. All of it.

Even when the boat broke down and we couldn’t move it. Even when we had to call the pontoon rental outfit to be towed in. Even then.

It was all fun.

There is something precious about being with Michael and Hal that makes every event special. We are each different, but we truly “get” each other.

Michael slams my shirt.
“Moshe,” says Hal: “Bogarts never had fashion sense.”
“Burn the shirt, Dad.”

Little inside stuff; innocuous comments. Family poking. Love.
This glue cannot be manufactured. The adhesive is love.
And when people love, they find fun in even the greatest of shipwrecks.

Like we did Saturday….as we drifted ashore on Lake Geneva.

LAUGH LAUGH

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I guess I’m not always as funny as I think. Sometimes drawing the line is my problem—or sensing when and with whom to play. Those closest to me have often expressed displeasure.

My Dad always worried I was trying to be “too cute.” His mantra: “You’re not half as funny as you think you are.” On the other hand, my mother would struggle to keep a straight face, sigh “Bruce?”, or again frustrated, spit out her true thought: “When are you going to grow up already? It’s not funny anymore. You’re ___ years old.(insert an age).

My older kids could be more direct: “Not funny Dad,” from the son.
“Really not funny Dad,” from Jamie, with a touch more warmth.

Blood, however, is not always thicker than water. Stuart Fenton has never said those things. Perhaps because we share an inverted sense of humor, (some call it “warped”), we have, over the years, created some of our funniest moments, even if we have to say so ourselves.

Conference calling was introduced in the 70’s, and it opened up a whole new world to us. From separate locations we’d convene for phone and laughter.

In those days a leading food manufacturer’s standard radio commercial featured an announcer calling Americans at random, asking them to sing the soup’s well known jingle, and as a reward, be shipped a case of the listener’s favorite soup.

Stuart and I had a ball! Stuart was the voice and we’d call friends and relatives urging that they sing for their suppers. Marilyn’s Wisconsin cousin, our friends’ parents, my cousin. Never had a problem.

“Mm mm good, Mm mm good…”” Everyone sang.

That decade my Grandma and two of her siblings passed. The Florida contingent was being wiped out, but the funerals were all up north.
At one such shivah call cousin Pinky shared a story. Apparently several months prior her phone rang….she was “on the radio…” She sung the jingle, chose her favorite flavor, but never received her case of soup. Not to worry. Pinky then bragged that her husband wrote a “lawyer’s letter” and ultimately she got results.

(I can picture my mother in stone silence, balancing her embarrassment and pride, and all the while listening like she’d never heard such a story before).

The price of poke went up a few years later. That’s when Stu and I realized that if three’s company four can be a ball. We decided to bring together people that either didn’t speak, or had no reason to speak to each other. One such duo was our friend Ken and our other friend Marvin’s father.

We called one, had the other’s number dialed but not sent, and then as we heard one pick up the phone we quickly connected the other. Each thought the other had called him. The result was great!

“Hello.”
“Hello.”
“You called me.”
“You called me.”
“Don’t you think I know when I hear my phone ring!”
“Listen, just because I never went to college….”
And then the irate father hung up on the kid he’d known for years….all the while Stuart and I listened quietly and intently.

Who says you need an expensive MP3 to be happy?

The more things change of course, the more they stay the same. Recently our friends Susan and Garry married off a daughter. Stuart’s very close to them and was invited. At the reception a mutual friend—let’s call him Larry—stopped by Stu’s table.

“Where’s Bogart?” he asked, thinking I’d been invited. Fenton knew better, but still issued the appropriate response:

“He’s over there. You know Bruce, he’s moving around. On the other side.” They guy went off to find me….and the ball was in play.

A week later I was sitting in my car outside Marc’s, Michael by my side, when Larry came by. By then I’d known that a week earlier he had done laps at the reception looking for me. First words out of his mouth—that he was sorry I left the wedding early— That was my opening!

“Had to Larry. Didn’t you hear what happened?”
“No.”
“Fenton didn’t tell you?”
And then he bit: “No, c’mon…what happened?”
(I don’t know where this came from, but….)
“I had to give someone CPR. I left with the family.”
“Wow.” (I could tell he was impressed).

The bubble burst two days later. My 11PM Seinfeld was interrupted by the beep of my cell phone—Larry had left the following message on Facebook:

“You’re not funny. You and Fenton think everything is a joke! I just found out you don’t even know how to do CPR.”

Taking a deep breath I thought it through. Did I go too far? Another boundary issue? It was just a joke. So I sent back an apology. Straight up. Without reservations. I’m not sure if I meant it but I somehow thought it was the right thing to do. Maybe my Dad’s right: I’m not as funny as I think I am.

Still, my parents are gone and my kids are out/town. I’m 59 years old, so maybe it’s not funny anymore.

But Stuart thinks it is. And he’s almost 60.

MY DAD

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

“He isn’t much in the eyes of the world—
He’ll never make history.
No, he isn’t much in the eyes of the world
But he is the world to me

My dad, now there is a man…”

                                        Paul Petersen

They laid him to rest twenty-four years ago today. On the main drag of a cemetery in his favorite city, Columbus. The funeral was attended by family, friends, and some of the best gin rummy players in central Ohio.

He was my father. And although I don’t think of him each and every day, he remains, year in and year out, my moral compass.

There was a wisdom to his observations that was a bi-product of his bumps, bruises and lessons learned. He was a black and white kind of guy—no gray. You always knew where he was coming from.

OSU, Dean Martin, Vegas-up. Michigan, Johnny Mathis, New York-down. He rarely argued with you if you thought otherwise—“not worth the effort”— (but silently he knew you just had it wrong).

Days before his death he bumped into my friend at a play. It was intermission and he greeted Ermine with “I fart better than they sing!” Yep, you always knew where he stood. The man rarely swore, but somehow when he did it just wasn’t profane.

There was a purity…a common sense… a warmth.

Sure, he taught me the stuff of all dads: He’d point to Indian catcher John Romano, reminding me to “Take a level swing…the hits will fall.” Or remind me to “Keep your eye on the ball.” (Little did I know then that he wasn’t just talking baseball).

Or maybe it was the gentle suggestion that “Would you consider doing your homework first and THEN calling your friends?” (Another life lesson?)

When I was young he’d take me to the library at Cedar Center and wait patiently as I browsed the shelves. “You mean to tell me that you can’t find one book you like in this whole library?” I can still hear his incredulity. Then, typically, we’d cross the street to Mayflower Drug and pick up a “Baseball Digest.”

My Dad only spoiled me with love. He would correct my grammar, admonish my nail biting, and monitor my behavior. But he would never judge.

And it was unconditional. Totally.

I can only remember lying to him once. That was enough. It was in the sixth grade, and he had forbid me playing tackle football. My bones were still developing, or so his lodge brother friend had advised. I’d been playing with the guys behind his back; (we’d practice lunch times at Randy’s home on Hinsdale). Everything was geared for a game to be played at Bexley Park on a certain Sunday afternoon.

My friends all knew of the prohibition, but the inexplicable happened. Came game day and a teammate clad in full shoulder pads knocked on our side door. Unexpected. Out of nowhere. Joel was among the book-smartest of the group; to this day I still don’t get it. My father answered the Wrenford door, directed Cohn to move on, and confronted his first born.

Crying, I promised to never lie to him again. “Some day we’ll laugh at all this,” he said mid-hug. Once our tears had dried, together we went to watch the game at Bexley.

He was a man of passion that practiced compassion. He used to tell me that mistakes were fine so long as I made new ones. Watching me repeat the same error would frustrate him. He viewed my new miscues as a sign of growth.

How great is that! He let me stumble with dignity yet was always there to help me up.

Even today when I do something stupid, or something I’m not proud of…I just know that if he’s looking down (and he is), that he’s somehow smiling and thinking “That’s my boy.”

And he remains proud of me, even as I stumble. Unconditional love. Al Bogart’s been gone two dozen years and that remains his legacy. From my first Schwinn to my first Mustang, from my first step to his last….unconditional love.

August 11, 1985 they buried the messenger—but not the message.

“When I was small I felt ten feet tall
When I walked by his side
And everyone would say “That’s his son”
And my heart would burst with pride

My dad, oh I love him so
And I only hope that some day
My own son will say

“My dad now there is a man”

THE DANGLING CONVERSATION

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

It occured to me the other day that not once in my adult life have I walked hand-in-hand with a woman through an airport. (I guess I must have done so in wedlock—those 8,216 days tend to blend together), but…even if…well, certainly not since. I shared this with the poker game.

“Never?”, questioned Maryanne, her interest clearly piqued.
“I don’t think so.”

At that point I thought the conversation might become an inventory of past interactions, failed relationships, or possibly ladies or circumstances overlooked. But no, the talk turned neither warm nor fuzzy.

“You’re lonely. That’s your problem.” She diagnosed as she shuffled. “That is why you sleep with the lights and TV on. Admit it.”

“Not so.”

Then Terry in her Nawleans accent chimed in: “Hey it is HUGE to be able to sleep with the lights on. Are you kidding?”

T’s sanguine husband Bob protested: “It’s abnormal.”
Back to the dealer: “You’ve got to stop dating whack jobs.”
“She’s right,” said Terry; my comrade was bailing on me. “Enough of this crap about a woman with an edge. Time to get real.”

“But most women bore me…I like a woman with an edge…”
“________ the edge,” said Maryanne. Still pushing: “Don’t you think you deserve someone balanced?”
Bob looked up again: “And it would help if they could read!”

Terry’s diagnosis was different: “You’re just too picky! And that’s OK.”
She hesitated then concluded: “And why SHOULDN’T you be?”

“Jewish girls want guys with money.” I was clearly in a defense posture.
“Not so. At this point,” comforted Maryanne, “They want what everyone wants…to be treated nice.”
“And money,” added Terry.

The cards were cold and the conversation was not fun. It felt like Carl Jung was giving me an enema.

“All I said was it would be nice to hold someone’s hand in an airport.”
Maryanne: “And all I said was that you’re lonely.”
Terry: “And what’s WRONG with that?”
“Come to think of it,” I added, “I’ve never gone out with a girl wearing a bright white peasant dress, like a sun dress. I love the look.”
“Try ‘Just Lunch’”, offered Maryanne.
“JDate,” countered Terry.
“Deal the cards, ” said Bob.
And we did.

A DEDICATED FOLLOWER OF FASHION

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve never enjoyed much fashion sense. Ever. It’s just not a Bogart thing. Hal and I have our talents, (like taking old ladies shopping, enduring pain, etc.), but choosing clothing: Nischt.

We HAVE been blessed, however, with an ability to know what we don’t know. Accordingly, I prefer to have others pick my wardrobe. Since my girls reside abroad (NY, Illinois), fashionistas outside the family graciously tend to assist. Terry and Bob Luria met me at Beachwood Place signaling each outfit for Jamie’s Jamaica wedding. Years earlier Tammy was dictating my taste in shirts and footwear. (Interestingly, Tam and I never walked through a store together. She would merely have the clothes set aside at Nordstrom’s register on her daily travels to the mall. I’d stop in, have a coronary at her pricey choices, buy a few, then leave most).

Recently Meredith has been the point person. Flanked by Michael she’s picked dress shirts, casual shirts and just this week, swim trunks.

In New York last spring a light weight jacket was on the agenda. Well, actually it wasn’t on my agenda, just hers.

“Bruce, you need a new jacket, ” she said mildly, all the while smiling.
I looked down at my mushroom-colored fake-suede, semi-soiled old friend.
“Take it off.”
I was unconvinced. “Really?”
“Yes! We’re going to get you a new one today.”

Michael brandished a deck of coupons and we were off to Bloomingdale’s A bit later the deed was done, and within my budget. I was wearing a slick black garb and feeling like Brad Pitt cruising the strip in his first “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Donning my new acquisition I began to put the old jacket in the store bag.

“No!” my daughter-in-law shrieked in alarm.
“That goes in the garbage. It’s not leaving the store.”

I obeyed. (Who knew?)

Lately she’s accused me of wearing my “uniform.” Evidently it is improper to wear long-sleeved collared shirts with blue jeans 24/7 in the summer. As such, on her recent visit for Stacy’s shower we ran to Macy’s.

As I exited the dressing room in new swim trunks Meredith displayed four different like-sized golf shirts and noted the minimal sales prices.

“I’ll take them all,” I proclaimed in triumph, confident of my correct response. (Clearly this would indicate a “New Bruce”—a dramatic paradigm shift).

They laughed. Hard.
“Bruce,” she smiled, “That was a test.”
“You flunked, Dad, ” Michael chimed in, readily pointing out that I should never, ever, consider wearing hot pink.

Who knew?

Stacy’s wedding is in mid-September. Black suits, white shirts, black ties. Even I can’t screw it up. The bride’s taking no chances, however. A month ago she delivered the tie. Solid black. Bulletproof.

Meredith has already asked about the rehearsal dinner. Did I know what was I wearing? Truth is I haven’t given it a moment’s thought.

Perhaps I should.

L