Archive for July, 2010


Friday, July 30th, 2010

        “Life is not tried it is merely survived
        If you’re standing outside the fire”

                                                 Garth Brooks

“Think of me Friday at 5” read the text from a foreign number.
“OK…” I typed. “…Who is this?” Ten minutes later my phone rang.

“Hey, remember when you found my high school sweetheart?”
“Is this Steven?” I asked, recognizing the story more than the voice. (Why do people just PRESUME you know it’s them?)

“Yeah,” he continued, “Well after all this time I finally called her. Finally got the nerve.” (No How are you? What are you up to? Nothing).
“You’re kidding!” I reflexed, both excited and intrigued. “So?”
“We’re meeting in Chicago, Friday at 5.”
“Cleveland time?”

He never answered, but it mattered not. My mind had wandered to Roslyn, New York, to the words of Larry Thompson at the end of the Joan Rivers movie.

“You’ve got to stand in the rainstorm if you want to get struck by lightning,” he said. (It touched a nerve that night and I’ve clung to the synapse since).

“YOU’VE GOT TO STAND IN THE RAINSTORM IF YOU WANT TO GET STRUCK BY LIGHTNING!” My friend Steve was out there—maybe I should be?

There’s this girl, you see. She flitters through my life in cameo appearances. Always warm, always safe, always friends. We’ll talk around it of course, but logistics protect us from what may be gravitational pull. Or not.

May 5 we last spoke—little contact since. This Tuesday, though, she texted: “You alive?” The midnight message had come in as I slept and was read the next morning. Now, late Wednesday, even before my response, mitn derinnen, here’s Steve!

Serendipity? Perhaps. Cause to think? At least. I can see anything when I want to. As such, still chewing on it that night— I called her. For thirty minutes we shared smiles and fluid conversation and….said goodbye.

Hanging up I felt worse. Struck me if I really wanted to get hit by lightning maybe I shouldn’t fear getting wet. I’m pushing 61, after all…hard. What’s the worst that could happen?

With pen in hand, (figuratively), I drafted an email. It was honest yet protective, leaving an exit strategy. Then, being me, I needed a second opinion—a lifeline.
Time to “phone a friend.”

Who was I kidding? My pals are either married or know even less then me. It would have to, then, be a kid. And so, with Jamie unavailable, sensing well that Michael would just roll his eyes, I called …STACY! I would bother the newlywed just long enough to read it, get her critique, and then….

And so it was that I called her cell and got voice mail, phoned her house getting same, and then Jason—also AWOL. Bad news, I knew, for the Jews: I was on my own.

Tweaking the note, I wrote (in pertinent part):

“I am totally comfortable with our friendship…I decided that if you were inclined, I wanted to date you…I treasure our friendship and don’t want to “weird you out.” If it’s not something that you deem do-able, I’d be thrilled to enjoy another forty years in the friend/zone….If you’re open to being open, I’d love to spend some quality time with you. No expectations, no demands—just time together. RSVP.”

Reading it again, I teased the keyboard. Then, in my best George Costanza, at 11:09PM, I thought “I’m goin’ in, baby!” Empowered, I hit SEND and went to bed.

At 11:48, as I slept, the response came in:

“I need a moment to give you a more thoughtful response. Not tonight…Let’s talk about this another time; not weirded out, just tired.”

My take (the next morning) was mixed. Perhaps she was just like me- a bit afraid to start something we might not finish. My hope, though, is that, like me, she is now ready to stand in the rain.

Love, I sense, is like a gin rummy game. There’s either a fast knock or a slow gin. It’s nearly 5 o’clock Friday, and I’m in Cleveland. My friend Steve is somewhere in Illinois. Both of us, it appears, are waiting for a gut card.


Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

My phone rang in Great Neck last weekend.
“B, my mother died,” said the voice. The gentle giant, “Big Will,” en route from Florida… crying.

He wasn’t one of the Big Four nor did he really run with Arthur, Joel and that crew. But he was right there—one of our Sweet Sixteen— part of the package. Always.

A star athlete, Will was 6’5” back when 6’5” was still 6’5”. He was “Big Will,” one of us. Sure, he could letter in everything from Greenview through Brush; sure— the Indians would give him a signing bonus. We never let him forget, though: trophies came ONLY upon return to his roots, teaming with US on the sandlots. “God Damn Will!” we’d shout.

College done, though, like most of Our Gang, Will left town. A high school teacher, then principal, he carved his career elsewhere… returning only a handful of times over forty years. Like yesterday.

It was a graveside service, then back to the house. We shared, and before leaving…we smiled.

For nearly an hour Bob stood; Alan and I split the couch. It fit. Will, (perhaps due to his size), had often been targeted by our humor. Not yesterday.

Monday no one laughed at stranding him in New Mexico, no one mentioned hiding his shoes at the reunion; there was nothing of Will’s tendency to exaggerate. Indeed, not a word even, of his Dad wrestling alligators.

No, yesterday it wasn’t three jokers yet again reliving the past—it was more. In unison, in warmth, it was three friends answering the bell.

A bell that, quite clearly, tolls for all of us.


Friday, July 23rd, 2010


     “Well it’s all right, remember to live and let live.

       Well, it’s all right, the best you can do is forgive…”

Burnside and I were at Corky’s when my phone rang. A program guy was calling, canceling out on something—totally screwing me over. “Thanks for the call, I’ll handle it,” I said, munching blueberries.

“You’re not mad, are you?” asked Dennis.
“No…He’s a schmuck, that’s all”
“You’ve really got that acceptance thing nailed, Rabbi.”

It wasn’t always this way—just the opposite. I used to pride myself on saying most things don’t bother me, that I don’t hold grudges BUT, (I’d readily point out), if and when you make my list…if you cross that line…then you never get off. Ever.

What a terrible way I lived! That heavy burden of resentment weighed ME down, not the “bad guy.” It crippled my todays with past baggage. I now get that A) the world’s not perfect but B), neither am I. I now know that my serenity directly relates to how well I accept the tightrope walkers and acrobats in my life. (Am I not, to some of them, the circus act)?

I don’t have to condone to forgive—I just need to let go. I don’t need to forget to move on—I just need to accept…FOR MY SAKE. (Not theirs…F&#! them).

The gift of time works wonders. Raw feelings grow scabs; new skin covers hurt….and this clown, for one, works to neither regret the past nor shut the door on it. It’s cleaner, easier facing forward.

Sometimes, though, easier said than done.

There was this guy, a friend from youth. His parents ran with mine (so in a sense, we were friends in embryo). Our dads formed Bolo Enterprises as teens, to market used baseball cards. Our moms, years later, would bowl together and complain about husbands between frames).

We were fast friends—from Presque Isle trips at four to grade school…to OSU. Never fully accepted by the core group, he was, nonetheless, always embraced by me. Richard was likeable, funny, and, IN A GOOD WAY, a novelty. This nice Jewish boy not only had an erector set, knew electronics and was mechanically inclined, but—get this—he was absolutely the only contemporary of mine to, in a world when kids would say “Hello Mr. Bogart, Hello Mrs. Bogart,” greet my parents by their first names. (And get away with it).

“How you doin’, Al?” he’d say, offering him a cigarette.

Our friendship sustained through the years. As newlyweds, The Jersey Girl and I fixed him up with the woman he’s been with four decades and counting. Our kids were friends. Still are.

Richard, though, threw me to the curb as my marriage failed. Without warning, without reason. Done. And it hurt.

A relationship that traveled from uterus through adolescence to parenthood…that survived the divorces of our parents, the deaths of our patron saint fathers…the storms of life in general…unilaterally discarded.

It hurt bad.

I remember crying to my mother about it—back then. Elaine Turner had raised victimization to an art form—she was (excuse the pun), the perfect ear.

“Really?” Mom asked AND ASKED. “You guys have been pals for years!”
“I guess I’m not fashionable now,” mused the victim.
“Is this one of your jokes?” she wondered.

But it was no joke. Richard, my friend forever, was now just a Dick.
Ensuing years saw hurt become anger become resentment….until I let go. It was a period I lost, not he. But it was a lesson I was learning, not he.

How toxic was it to say “I wouldn’t pee on his grave.” How wasteful was my spirit…until…

I grew up. I moved on.

By Michael’s ’06 wedding, indeed, I’d let go. It was tennish, and Dick was sitting at the reception…table for eight…alone …post-dinner…looking like a tired Steve Freedman…

“Hey,” I greeted, extending my hand. Nodding response, he asked where his wife was. “Not sure, “ said I, adding “Well, catch you later.”

And then I did what I’d done years before. I moved on.


Monday, July 19th, 2010

        “…You know we just don’t recognize the most
        significant moments of our lives while they’re
        happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be
        other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day…”

                           Burt Lancaster, playing “Moonlight” Graham, 1990.

Twenty years ago this summer I first watched “Field Of Dreams.” With Mandel, at a theater, in tears. It was the story of father and son, redemption and baseball…of memorable characters. One of them was “Moonlight” Graham.

Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham was born, records show, on November 9, 1879. A physician by trade, his true aspiration was baseball—Major League baseball—to bat against the big boys.

It was a century ago.

From ’02 to ’04 “Doc” Graham pursued the dream playing minor league ball. Then, in June, 1905 it appeared his time had come.

It was the bottom of the eighth. He’d spent the spring riding New York’s bench, but on that day, at that moment, manager John McGraw sent him out to play right. Better yet, he’d bat fourth in the Giants’ ninth.

Poised, ready…Archie Graham could taste it. He was playing for a power-house, a team that would go on to win that year’s World Series. He was minutes, perhaps moments from grasping his dream.

It didn’t happen, though. Inexplicably, unexpectedly…it didn’t happen.

New York’s Giants, MCGRAW’S GIANTS…went quietly that final frame.  Three ground balls. Fartic! Who’d have thunk it? A dejected “Moonlight” Graham retreated from the on-deck circle.

He was never to get that close again.

Our lives, like baseballs, tend to take unexpected bounces.

AND…IN A RELATED STORY…My beautiful granddaughter is eleven weeks old Wednesday.


Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Life’s winds tossed me hard this week. I’ve dealt with self-righteous colleagues, unreasonable clients and uncooperative kin. Pressure at work, down-time minimal, and ….

Sunday morning, maybe 7. I was basking Caribou’s patio sun when another lawyer walked by. Randi is mid-40’s, reasonably smart, and if she ever learned how to smile, attractive.

“Mind if I sit down?” she asked mid-descent.
“No, “ I lied.

For twenty plus minutes she railed on everything and everyone in her life, (not necessarily excluding her husband).

“Don’t you ever get depressed?” she asked.
“Well,” I backed off…”I get flat, but it passes.”

She did another ten minutes or so, periodically reaffirming herself by reminding me of her “big house and nice practice.”

“I’m sure you have a lot to be thankful for,” said I.
“Who gives a flying f#&!” (thought I).

“Yeah,” she sighed, “…But sometimes I feel I have nobody…”

• My immediate thought was “Gee, I wonder if she’s
hitting on me?’ My even more immediate reaction:
1, Pray she’s not… 2, Use humor…and 3, RUN!

Took a deep breath and tested my wit:

“You know,” if I had your house, your practice— I’d still be married.”
Then, not quite knowing where I was going: “…Just brainstorming here… but if you ever want to leave your husband there’s someone you should meet…”

“I’m not leaving him,” said Randi, (taking the bait).
“Just as well, SHE’S married too.”

By the time my friend caught on I was standing:

“Gotta go…too muggy out here.” I said, entering the coffee shop to hide.

I used to be like her…mid-40s and reasonably smart….but for the most part, I’ve always smiled, and clearly for the most part I’ve gauged things half full, not plain empty. My dad would say she’s crying with a loaf of bread under each arm.

Today it’s a rare moment that I’m not grateful; it is a rare day that I don’t count my blessings. The little things, the intangibles…matter most.

In 2010 my troubles are only problems and my problems are only life.

And true pleasure abounds.

Like breakfast with the boys this morning…which gave me the smile to trudge final hours of trial.

Or the voice mail from Fenton, retrieved exiting court:

“B, call me! ___________ wants to friend me on Facebook. Let’s see how we can aggravate him.”

Stuart’s, of course, was the first call returned. Our plan quickly hatched, he quietly listened in as I dialed the victim. Alas, voice mail! Disconnecting _________, I referenced getting older.

“I don’t think we have to worry about that, B,” said Stuart. “We’re 60 years old and still making phony phone calls!”

An epiphany.

As we both laughed, Stu looked for a second number; we weren’t quite done.

Driving out I-90, grinning, my heart was light. I saw the smiles of Les, Himmel, Walt, Kraut and Stuart all reflecting back on me…from a glass half full.

My sun roof open, I was basking in the shoreway’s sun, and I couldn’t wait for the rest of the day.


Saturday, July 10th, 2010

       “You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
       You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
       And life gets more exciting with each passing day
       And love is either in your heart or on its way”

August, 1972- Somewhere on Interstate 85. A flat stopped our caravan as we traveled Atlanta to Greensboro. Murray Galan, age 60, knelt on the median, changing MY tire. He was sweating, smiling and radiant—clearly having a ball.

July 3, 2010- Chicago, Illinois. There in The Second City my daughter spoke words that echoed through not only Wrigleyville, but my heart:

“Dad, I never realized you’re getting old.”

It didn’t bother me the first time, nor for that matter, the second time she said it. Or the third. But by the eighty-third pronouncement (July 4, 10:15PM, Central, 11:15 PM EST, time approx.)…

My Dad was 47 at his first heart attack. Whatever hair he had was gray, and he bent over only for the “Aleinu.” Still, with all that, never once did it occur to me he was old. Ever.

Those were the days Bert would pick him up for cards. The horn would honk, Big Al would bolt out, rhythmically cantering to the car. Even by the 80’s, when he’d slowed to a trot—-it was never about age. A few extra pounds, MAYBE…but old?

Our Mom—SHE got old (and with reason). By 80 she’d wed our Dad, Sam, and The Thief. That would age anyone. Anyway, it wasn’t so much that she got old as that she rusted.

No, I wouldn’t say I’m old. My underwear: old. My taste in music, perhaps. But me?

Don’t take my word for it. Consider the opinion of the unbiased source, the barometer of social mores, the paragon of reason. What follows, then, is a true excerpt of a telephone conversation (July 8, 2010, 4:00 EST):

“Aunt Helen, do you think I’m old?”
“No. Why would you ask?”
“Just wondering.”
“Bruce why do you bother me with these questions?”

If only my daughter called her aunt more! If only she’d known Murray Galan, or people like him. Like cousin Herschel, who at 70 was still dancing the kazakhski and standing on his head at weddings.

Or like Freddy Gold. When not running The Schvitz at East 116th and Kinsman, Fred found time to manage softball. And so it was that in his late 50’s he was blessed with a catcher named Bruce.

Back then it was me that called his field general old. Thought he’d lost a step, his edge–that he was letting friendships color the batting order. Oh, how I’d hound him, noodge him to tweak the lineup! Those were the days (have they passed?) when I didn’t quite know where to draw the line. So I’d give him a little ZETZ. And another. Always…

“Fred,” I said, behind the skating rink at Monticello, moments after he’d announced the starting ten…”I have a question.” (Alas, I’d gone to the well once too often).

All of a sudden, flying out from behind the third base bench comes this “old” man—all 5’7”of him.

“You sonofabitch!” he screams, as he, in one feel swoop, smacks me over the head with his clipboard, “Get out in the field and shut up!”

Fred old? I think not. He scared me more than any Brush greaser ever did. Fred resentful?…not at all. By game’s end it was like it never happened. Fred was young.

I think of Freddy now and then—he died in February. So real, so youthful, even at 80. And Murray. And Herschel.

Age is but a mind-set. The other night Hal, Margie and I blew a tire on I-271. With Murray gone, we waited for AAA. And laughed. We were smiling, radiant, and having a ball.

If you see my baby, tell her the old man’s young. That my weight is down, spirits up. Softball may be a thing of the past but I’m still sliding head first into life!

       “Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth
       To be young at heart
       For as rich as you are it’s much better by far
       To be young at heart.”
                                                          Leigh, Richards


Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

      “If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!”

                                                   Jean Valjean

There was a day in the early sixties…it was so ugly, and I was so young. I told my Mom back then, (and maybe my Dad), but no one else. Not Alan, not Stuart. No one. Certain things you couldn’t tell the guys. Like that your Grandpa Irv hated your father…that he’d told you to your twelve-year old face…that he’d called your Dad names vowing “…You’ll never see him again…”. That your fabric was, JUST LIKE THAT…threatened. In an era when families remained intact, you just didn’t share that story.

My grandfather loved me, but saw things black and white. In his world of absolutes he felt no compunction in defaming my hero and, as one who admittedly hated his own father, no guilt in trying to usurp mine. He was self-righteous. Absent a frame of reference, he justified every abscessed word by professing love for “Elaine and the boys.”

In all these years I hadn’t thought of this…until yesterday. And now ….I feel it again: the pain, the helplessness, the anger, the anguish.

I defended my Dad back then. What son wouldn’t, shouldn’t? You want to surgically remove my family—you’re going to hear from me! Matters soured. Going forward Grandpa favored my brother…overtly. He dubbed me “Al’s kid,” the one with the big mouth who preferred baseball to fishing. Polite, subdued Hal, only tennish and not victim to the verbal assault, was his “Butchie Boy.” My grandpa and I loved each other, but I was in his doghouse ‘til the day he died.

Time passed. To Mom’s credit, she deflected his efforts and, even in Dad’s odyssey, our mother made visitation happen. Indeed, a few years later, Mom cringed at a Shivah call when a toxic Aunt Ruth uttered, IN MY PRESENCE, those words that still live in infamy: “Too bad,” Ruth Ungar remarked, “That Al Bogart didn’t die instead of Irv.”

I never regretted my words, candor or actions. Not once did I think “Hey, maybe I should have kept quiet, let him slam Dad…” Nor did I regret the consequences; indeed, they ignited me.

I spoke for my Dad and was ostracized. I spoke from the heart and was shunned. My father was my family and my family was my birthright. Only God could separate us, and I sure as hell knew Irv Porter wasn’t God.

I could look in the mirror then; I can do so now. And then, like now, I feel.


Monday, July 5th, 2010

It was Kodak moment, a YouTube opportunity: At Marilyn’s recent farewell dinner for Bob (his wife was returning), there we were—Fenton, Snyder and Bogart, discussing a mature topic…maturely. Stuart, (who retreated from the workforce only to return), Bob, (who arguably has been on vacation since college), and me….discussing retirement. Our trio sustaining a serious conversation! (Not that there’s anything wrong with it).

It didn’t last long, of course. Stuart skimmed his Social Security printout and discussed options, Bob talked of supplemental needs…and me? I cut to the chase, revealing what my closest friends had to know: that I couldn’t afford retirement….that I’d “die with my boots on…”.

“Your wife can retire,” said Fenton. “You two should get together again—”
“EX-wife,” interrupted Bob, correcting our host. (EX-husbands always pick up on that).
“…If only for the medical insurance,” Stu continued, “And besides, it’s the kind of thing George Costanza would do—you could pull it off! No one has to know. C’mon B, do it.”
“Monkeys should fly out of your ass!” said I, abruptly ending the discourse.

Fact is, I really do ponder retirement—either slowing down or, better yet, getting out of the rat race and doing more of what I’d like to do. The landscape of my future, though, is somewhat limited; options are slim.

Anchored in Cleveland—there are few  other places I’d even consider calling home: New York or Chicago (the kids), Columbus, Vegas (not realistic), or Florida (Jewish side of the state). Still, I’ve somewhat eliminated the south and west. I am what I am and, frankly, I don’t see me really pulling that trigger.

None of the other four venues is truly unthinkable. I would move, I would stay…if only I could support the ultimate dream: to spend more time doing things that pique my passions: To write, to act, and all-the-while interact with family and friends. (For me, the rest is all bullshit). A vision of working 20 hours a week, sitting on coffee patios, acting or writing, holding grandchildren….Not a bad way to go.

BUT…I’m sixty years old…and after all these years there’s only so much I’m qualified to do. Practice law (of course) …Or I can sell, (but it’s too late to start THAT career)….or teach. So I’ve got to stay real.

George Costanza, a bit younger, had a similar problem. “I like sports,” he mused, suggesting he might general manage a pro team. When Jerry noted “That could be tough to get,” George said he would be the announcer. “People always say they like my comments…I make good comments,” he asserted. “They give those jobs to ex-players, “said Jerry…to which George concluded “That doesn’t seem fair.”

Life, of course, isn’t always fair. But it’s pretty good. John Wayne once said that “Life is tough, but it’s even tougher if you’re stupid.”

I’m not stupid. Moreover, these days I do try to keep it real. With a cadre of good, solid friends, a support system of caring family, I’m giving serious thought to reshaping my future.

Stuart once told me I could do anything I put my mind and heart in…
Ermine’s said I’ve always been too insecure. Walt tells me if I’ve got the cards I should just play them.

This summer I’m weighing my future…and reading my hand.