Archive for November, 2010


Monday, November 29th, 2010

He was a father, brother and son. He was elegant, honorable, sweet. More than anything else…my dad was a teacher.

Dusk. One day post bris. Not quite 6, but the gates were still open. Standing at his grave….Agudas Achim Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio….

Pausing briefly, saying Kaddish, thinking….

Each visit, before leaving, I mull over an axiom—a truth 0my father’d shared. (“Hochmahs”, our Grandma had called them). This time would be no different. My eyes though, kept staring at something I saw: There, that mid-November day, a month past Yom Tov, there atop the memorial of this transplanted Clevelander….sat 14 stones. 14—I counted them. (A quarter century—- Who?)

It’s been a great year, but weeks wind down and I’m already hearing the annual chant from coupled friends and family:
“You’re not seeing anyone. Come for New Years.”
“Come to Florida.” “Come to Chicago.” “Come see Max.”
It’s enough already (I’m thinking) —this solitaire. Time perhaps for another bad relationship.

“Look,” I said to Weiskopf, pointing across Caribou, “See those ugly people holding hands? How is it they find love and we can’t?”
“Because I don’t want to and you don’t have money.”
”You think it’s all about the Benjamins?”
“Not for you, dickhead, for them.”
“Burnside says you’re wrong.” I told him.
“Burnside has money.”

‘Tis an interesting query —one studied often between meetings and plays—usually with Ed. How is it that a reasonably nice guy like me—generally courteous, no body art or piercing…how is it in 15 years there hasn’t been the right “nice Jewish girl”?

Walt says if you look ‘round the table and can’t find the weak player— it’s you. True not only in poker (I’m afraid), but also in matters of the heart.

My dad was a sensitive man, a seasoned gin player. Still, (when assessing card skills), he was brutally honest. Indeed, it was candor in a long-ago family game that killed any chance my brother’d have of liking hearts. We were playing teams: it was Dad and H against Mom and me. Hal, (all nine years of him), passed my father (his partner), the bare queen of spades (without protection). More than once. Smoke flew from Al’s ears as he chastised my brother. It was a wonder South Euclid’s Fire Department didn’t show! Was my brother shaken? Let’s just say the next time he touched a card table he was setting up a 1980 Seder.

In his early years, our dad played too much. He won more than he lost….until he didn’t.

“Listen, little boy…if you sit down and lose in the same game three out of every five times, you’re in the wrong game. Get out.”

It was a lesson I’ve always remembered. Always. It’s kept me out of games I didn’t belong in; it’s hastened timely exits from others.

Maybe it applies to women as well? Maybe it’s time…to get up from the table…to go my meetings, hang with the guys….to content myself being a friend, father and grandfather.


When it comes to women…perhaps I’m just a good opener, but a poor closer? After all, I smile, I’m safe…I can not only talk, but listen. Perfect for the fluff of first dates. Heck, Stacy says I’m the best person she knows at “pointless conversation.”

What if women, though, view me as a poker hand. What am I…Ace-Jack suited? A low pair? What if they ran a D & B on me? (Then, maybe…7-2, off/suit)….

What if (in poker parlance) I’m one of those guys just good enough to ”See the flop? If it doesn’t hit perfectly—just fold.

It strikes me I’m thinking too much. Way too much. Wonder what the old man would say….

No I don’t. I don’t wonder at all. He’d say I’m on “tilt.” He’d say walk away. He’d tell me “Get out.”


        “You’ve got to know when to hold them,

          Know when to fold them,

          Know when to walk away…”


                                    Kenny Rogers


Thursday, November 25th, 2010

       “I see trees of green, red roses too-
        I see ‘em bloom for me and you—
        And I think to myself…what a wonderful world.”

Dinner at Hal’s tonight—4:30. It’ll be my brother & Margie, their girls, their mother (-in-law), their grandson…and, just to level the playing field, MY Aunt Helen.

“What time should I pick you up?” I asked her, (trying to be nice).
”Oh, Bruce, isn’t that ridiculous? Just tell me what time to be ready.”
“OK, I’ll honk at 4:20.”
“Could you make it earlier?”

My first years in recovery I’d complain of her:
incessant, insatiable demands. Preston’d smile
calmly, saying “Bruce, you don’t GOT to do it, you
GET to do it.”
“Yeah,” I’d remind, “But she is so ungrateful!”
“That’s HER problem,” he’d answer.

“Would 4:15 be better?” I offered.
“Whatever you think is right.”
“OK, 4:15.”
“Bruce, why are you difficult. Why must I rush?”
“You’re right.”

It is a familiar scene and familiar refrain but….perhaps that’s what family is best about: the predictability.

Tonight, my brother, (like hosts nationwide), will ask guests to share “something you are thankful for this year.” Then, clockwise, bound by social dictates of a dinner table, we’ll issue short, Pavlovian responses.

That, though, will be 5:30…eight hours from now. This is morning—a table for one…What am I grateful for? Let me now, alone…count the ways:

There’s Hal’s health! A year ago we were pre-diagnosis. In twelve months he’s been to hell and back, and. today, we’re thankful.

There’s Haley and Max: One in May, one just now: both with ten fingers, ten toes…

And my health, for that matter.

And the family and countless friends surrounding me with love and, just as importantly, (laughter).

And the myriad of positive role models, (from “Mom” Harriet to sponsor John). Each, through word and deed can’t help but shape my behavior for the better.

And the men in the rooms. Do they not, in caring more for me than my feelings, keep me healthy, happy, joyous and free?

And the brothers Darryl…

Then there’s the ordinary…my everyday blessings: like officing five minutes from home and knowing I’ll see the men at Corky’s on Wednesday or MJ on Saturday…and “Morning Joe” on MSNBC and Netflix and the Cajun chicken salad at Pizzaz…

I’ve so much….It’s been a great year…

Like May in Columbus: It was the night before the Jack Roth Run and Hal was explaining to a stranger that “Bogarts never eat olives.” The guy stared in wonderment (but I kept thinking: “YEAH, little by little we’ll take over the world)!

Or…speaking of events more significant to some than others… how great was it that morning in June—learning U.S.C. was on probation? That the NCAA banned it from post-season, stripped thirty scholarships, and finally called it out for what it was? Well I remember the mid-70’s– L.A. writer Jim Murray’s relentless attacks on Coach Hayes. After three decades of “kid gloves” treatment justice is finally being served. That’s thirty years, you know….a scholarship a year. Those arrogant mumsers! Well worth the wait…Everything: in God’s time.

I could go on…I won’t. Health, love, family, friends…..and the Trojans? Can it get any better?


      “Yes I think to myself…What a wonderful world.”

                                                              Thiele, Weiss


Monday, November 22nd, 2010

When Linda fixed me up with a groupie from Jethro Tull’s summer tour I was Ohio/naïve, nebbishy, and way over my head. Still, this busty Laura Nyro hadn’t met my kind either…so…in late ’69, I’d broken out in a girlfriend.

It was a dime-store romance: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy gives ring and gets uniform… girl takes ring then girl meets goy… (boy gets hurt), FURLOUGH…And then: a Hollywood ending and Jersey wedding!

I could have lived without the drama– not without the girl. Still, more than any angst of the time, what I cling to most is the clan I’d hooked on to.

My family, you see, was small. (There was Hal and me, our mother, her spouse de jour, Uncle Bob (who didn’t talk to our mother), and Aunt Helen (whom no one spoke with). Yes, we had cousins who loved us, but they were Shaker Heights progeny of wealthy, still-married parents. H and I, from a “broken home,” walked the mean streets of South Euclid. Throw in our dad’s struggles and our mom’s bad ear and it was no wonder that in a family of Ewings, Hal and I were both Cliff Barnes. As such, on December 24, 1972 I didn’t just take a wife— I married a family. And not just any family, mind you…..the Jewish Waltons!

Indoctrination, of course, had begun earlier. Her mom was one of four siblings reared as Jewish pilgrims in eastern Pa. By post time I’d met each with their spouse and kids. (Quickly: What’s 4 x (2 + 3) + Aunt Minnie from Newark with a G-cup minus Uncle Joe plus Uncle Charley?) That’s a lot of stories to learn!

My mind was sharp, but the gray matter was overrun by the myriad of relatives from Stamford to the Island to Farrell to Toronto—all of whom seemingly had a New York accent!

I took notes: Uncle Will lived in Pa but liked the Browns. And it was Aunt Rose that, within seconds of meeting me said I should lose weight. (Editor’s Note: Lil said “she didn’t mean it THAT way.” Aunt Honey wasn’t being pushy (according to Lil) that first night in The City when she bought me a book at Brentano’s and told me not to waste her niece’s best years.

I never once,though needed notes for Uncle Ernie. Fact is, while I’ve loved them all from Day One, clearly he has been my flagship to that family.

It’s funny…I always knew it, but then, again, I never quite knew it. Ben Selzer used to marvel: “There’s nothing in the world that Ernie can’t do.” “Imagine,” he’d go on: “If you have a leak under the sink, Ernie can fix it.” (A rather trite example of his excellence, I thought. So be it. It was always Ben’s “go to” line).

I’ve come to realize, over years, that my uncle’s greatest asset is not his body of accomplishments nor his intellect, nor is it his steadfast reverence of the faith of our Fathers. It is, rather, his devotion to family. Life cycle events have severed marriages, but never family. Never once in fifteen years post-decree did Jamie or Stacy return west without a simple message: “Uncle Ernie asked about you.”

It’s not just me…it’s family. It’s not Ernie either, to be fair. After all these years I’m still learning “LeeandErnie” isn’t one word. They are the Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme of the team. Indeed, the only time I’ve seen them apart was the fateful morning the ladies dragged me to NY’s diamond district.

My father-in-law and I spoke often of the family we’d entered. I never quite appreciated his thing about Ernie and the faucet, but we marveled at them all. Ben Selzer was an easy man to please. Put him in a room with a TV and a ballgame, leave him alone and he was happy. Having said all that, the only time I’d ever really see him jump for joy was at a Yankee loss or a LeeandErnie sighting. He knew, as I came to know, what was special.

I note this now, because of Michael: my son, Michael. At the reent bris, standing with Uncle Ernie, I watched a sturdy new father wade among his mass of instant-relations. On the precipe of familydom, he is the first father in the next generation of his new-found family.

How lucky he is! Does he know it? He has a chance to set the tone…the family tone. In the next years other men will join that group. They’ll marry in to names and faces they’re only now beginning to know. And they’ll look to Michael, my son…as the flagship to the family.


Friday, November 19th, 2010


“…Somebody asked me today, “Phil, if you could be

 anywhere in the world, where would you like to be?”

 And I said to him, “Prob’ly right here…”.


                                                Bill Murray ( ”Groundhog Day”)


Keith relapsed this week, surprising few. He never got that “attitude of gratitude.”
Too bad.

We were leaving a meeting last month:

“You know Bruce,” he sighed, “It’s been a half year Is this all there is?”
“Just seems like every day’s the same. Work, home, meeting,” (Had he forgotten so soon? In April there’d been rehab…his marriage hung then by a thread and the thread was on fire).

I hear this kind of crap a lot and have a standard answer: “Rent ‘Groundhog Day!’” I tell them.
(They don’t get it).
I remind ‘em what Ben Selzer used to tell me—that they have the world “by the calooms.”

We all do. Me for sure. Yes, today I marvel in the ordinary.

Not that I don’t get flat — I do. I push through it though, knowing not only that it passes, but sensing full well that even the bad times are good. My Dad used to say “Learn how to sit still, little boy.” He knew then what I know now: there’s something special about quiet.

Sometimes life just needs to bake.

I’m flat now, by the way. Why shouldn’t I be…in the afterglow of such a great run? This train chugged through twenty-five “Odd Couple” rehearsals in five weeks, ran nine performances over three weekends; this locomotive roared through High Holidays with an engine that accelerated right into the road trip of birth and bris….and now, abruptly, I’m idling.

Saw it coming—expected it—in some ways even relished the silence—the ennui.

When I was a first-grader acting out in Miss Gustely’s class she’d sit me in the corner. On a shellacked caramel wooden chair, back to the class, I’d crave return to the tumult. It was punishment.

Not so today. Not exactly. Today it’s therapy: involuntary therapy. Today when my regimen slows to “time out” I fidget less, inactivity no longer being the end of mankind as we know it.

Business as usual this week: Calls to return, rain…Shabbos dinner, bad cold. Same old same old.

The other night I stayed home. I lay there…like a wounded duck…alone.
For a moment it got to me: that boredom. I was lamenting my singleness and thinking too much: Match.Com? Boring blonde shiksahs and nothing in common. Free on-line poker? Boring idiots with play money calling everything.

Phoned a friend. She’d said call if I didn’t feel well. Voice mail. No mood to write, nothing to read…and, indeed, (WSOP done) nothing to watch…Return to JDate? Not blondes but brunettes, I thought. Still, Bob says I’m too particular and Michael says “Be particular.” Whatever!

Pedal to the metal.

Margie called—that very night—about Thanksgiving. More of the same…wonderfully, more of the same. (Can I forget ’96? It was dinner at Fridays that Thursday…alone. Maybe I should have told Keith about that!)

I got up the next day and went to work. It would be an uneventful yet great day…(accent on “great”). Ermine in town, with Bobby for breakfast (first shift)…then the Boys ‘n The Back…lunch meeting at noon… Hillcrest Hospital… Mentor Court… then Recovery Room by night…A full day. A turnaround day. An ORDINARY day.

There was more.

Went home that evening, exhausted. Nose running, achy, drained, I eased back for SVU, Skype, and sleep. The phone rang— New York. Do I miss Max they wondered. When would I be back?

Simple questions with simple answers and yes, the same questions and same answers from conversations before…Same old, same old. And I love it.

I take nothing for granted in this world—not even tomorrow. The simplest of joys is priceless; the most predicable is treasured. This was true that ugly mid-‘90’s night at Friday’s when for $7.99 I had turkey, stuffing, and a holiday alone; it was true through the hustle of recent weeks, and it’s true today…I do, as my father-in-law would say, have the world by the calooms. And, as he’d often add, “Everything’s all right in America.”

May I never forget it.


Monday, November 15th, 2010

They’ve dubbed him Art, Kraut—even “the Nazi.” For a lifetime this bleeding heart, both as do-gooder and kvetch, has groaned with such consistency, such pleasure, that we’ve come to accept rantings as merely “Arthur being Arthur.” And today, at 62, he is beloved.

He’s been part of me since Rowland; I’m lucky. Moreover, despite a Lifetime Achievement Award for complaining, he’s appeared throughout my past…always smiling.

From sixth grade to sixth decade…snapshots of Arthur—smiling:

I remember when we first learned dancing. Maybe sixth grade. The box-step was hard, the jitterbug impossible. Art nailed ‘em both. Gliding ‘cross Heights Temples’ floor, he was the one all the girls wanted to dance with. He knew what he was doing! (Heck, my only shot at rhythm was knowing the lyrics. Jill Lerman, specifically, refused to dance with me).

Snapshots of Arthur…FROM SPORTS:

In high school we’d play football on Wrenford. Once I tackled him into a tree, hurting his ankle. It cost him some soccer. By spring, though,
he’d recovered, and I remember well shooting baskets in the Stonehaven driveway. They were carefree times which only got better. By college we were Sol’s Boys. Banner years. Still, Wieder hid Kraut’s arm in right, batting him 9th (ahead of me), even as I led the league.

I’m blessed with a life of seemingly unimportant moments, ALL MEMORABLE and each with a common thread: Arthur.

Like in eleventh grade gym. It was a Monday; my dog Adam died over the weekend. I still see it: Art entered the locker room—I collapsed on him…and cried. A pre-cursor? This veterinarian remains today my only childhood friend working now at what he’d planned back then.

He’s been Zelig…always there….

Like the ski weekend in Mt. Summit, Pennsylvania. (I didn’t ski, but went for the story). Driving back that very first Super Sunday the troopers nailed Bob. We waited at roadside when they took him away. Then, on Bob’s return. hearing all about the ticket and fine—never once did it occur to either of us that we should kick in…

Or the time—even before college— he took me to a holiday party in Lyndhurst. It was all strangers, but we bumped into Kraut’s friend from work. The girl found me charming and we evaporated into the house. No one was drinking then and ultimately I reappeared. Driving home he was laughing, all aglow: “Do you have any idea how ugly she was?” (he asked).

Or the one and only toga party I’ve been to…(in Oxford).

There were, of course, rough times too—for both of us. He was sitting Shivah for his Mom the week Sam Lerner died. A block away…moments apart. We even connect there. From the blessed memories of Rose Swier and Sam Lerner came Ross and Stacy—lifelong friends.

Time marched. The eighties became the nineties became today. There was the lodge; there were the plays…and always Arthur.

Like the summer eve with Benny Erlich in Chardon. Staring at a litter, Kraut picked out Rocky and NO, we didn’t drive straight home. He insisted, rather, that we stop at his clinic first. (The dog needed a bath).

Does he think I don’t remember?

More marching. The nineties became my bottom became better. There was Paradise Island where we watched Treinish sleep and Vegas where, rooming with me, Art slept with lights and TV.

And today. As good as it was, today is the best.

Today we share moments better than any. We smile not from adventure but from peace. We share more today than laughter and memories.

We share health.


Friday, November 12th, 2010

It was a moment both soft and intense. Two unknowing eyes looked up—
a hundred glowing eyes looked back. The mohel prepared; two grandfathers stared.

“One of you hold the plastic nipple, the other his arms.”

“Whatever you want,” urged Grandpa Stuart.
“No, you decide.”
In a dialogue few heard, we each demurred, back and forth and back and forth— two strong men needing an act of God for decision.

It came.

The mohel leaned forward; the baby leaned right.

“He’s facing you, Stuart,” said the man with the scalpel. “Take the nipple…”

Max Parker Bogart had spoken.

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

The plane was idling but my mind couldn’t. Awaiting the flight home, thoughts raced, rather, from 2006 to now, and back. From the wedding to the baby. From their past to his future.

They married at dusk and it was elegant—bridesmaids in champagne. The bris was by morning, collegial— most women wore black.

My mom, 8 decades, enjoyed the wedding. (They wheeled her in). Max Bogart, 8 days, “enjoyed” the bris; they carried him.

The bride? ‘Couldn’t see her pre-nuptial—we stared as she entered. The baby: HAD to see him— at game time I winced.

It was cosmic…that chupah that night. Eyes welling… thoughts of Michael’s past, from dirty diapers on Wrenford to dusty slides on diamonds, from Cleveland to Columbus to New York.

It was magic…that simcha this week. Bigger tears: Of joy. Of gratitude. Of hope. Of prayer.

I thought again of our pasts, and looked again to his future.


Friday, November 5th, 2010

Other than maybe my first baseball glove, (a Wilson: Ray Jablonski), I have never held anything or anyone as gingerly, tenderly, carefully or tightly as I did that baby last night. I just couldn’t let go.

Small, blue/gray eyes peeked from a face resting on my inner elbow; tears trinkled here and there. I sat staring at perfection and couldn’t let go. There was hair— dark and lots of it. And long fingers. I kept looking, though, at his eyes. Were they not shiny slate stars forming a new constellation? Did they not say “Grandpa, not yet. Don’t get up yet.”

I couldn’t let go.

In a soothing, monotone Mr. Rogers voice, I spoke to him. (First impressions are important; Max and I were building a strong foundation). Surrounded by a sea of family, focused on the “heir apparent,” I talked to him softly and continuously—methodically bringing him up to date on the pre-Max years. It was magical; it was the two of us….and I couldn’t let go.

How many times before had I sat on that same couch in that same room? Did I ever imagine it would some day hold its place in history? Was I not crossing the Rubicon of my life? Others poised on the periphery, each craving a turn. Too bad, I thought. Look at his eyes! Read the stars.

This was by far the most intense, profound, humbling moment of my life. Bar none. Take that instant before you head down the aisle with a child—triple it…then add five. You still fall short. And so it was that as his right cheek pressed against my heart, as his left hand clasped my right thumb….as I regaled him with stories of the past, I just couldn’t let go.

It was the denouement of a three-day life arc thread together by pulsating moments:

Like Tuesday morning, maybe 8:30. I’m standing at (of all places) Rocky River Middle School and my cell rings. It’s Michael. “Dad,” he pounded, “I think Meredith’s water broke. We’re going to the hospital.“

Or ten hours later. I’m sitting at (of all places) a restaurant in Willoughby, Ohio. It’s noisy but my phone lights up. Michael. I bolt for the quiet outside, racing like the guys at Pamplona, all-the-while urging “What’s up?”“ Max is here!” he said.

I’m resting at the hotel now. Exhausted from joy, emotionally drained, I’m reeling with gratitude for a healthy baby.

He’s napping now— Max Parker Bogart is…so I will too. Now, before dinner.

Nighttime lurks, you see…and the stars will be out….and I can’t wait to see my favorite constellation.