Archive for March, 2011

SO FAR AWAY

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

         ”…So far away.
         Doesn’t anybody stay in one place any more?”

Hal and Margie drove south last week. She’s on Spring Break; they deserve to get away. Fine.

But I miss my brother. And I miss my kids. Friends? They are many, but scattered. What was wrong with everyone living in Cleveland? Seemed fair to me. In a week where I was busy but lonely, connections were too often through voice mail:

“Mom…it’s Bruce. Berkowitz sent the postcard and your yahrtzeit’s coming up. Can’t believe it’s two years. I love you.”

“Hey, H….Sorry about the Tarheels. I know you don’t watch the games live; I know you can’t take it. Hope it didn’t ruin your trip. I miss you. Even though we only see each other once or twice a week, just having you ‘round the corner gives me comfort. You don’t know how lucky you are to have all your kids in town. Mine are on assignment out-of-state. Miss you.”

“Michael! It’s your father. Thanks for calling Sunday. Max on Skype jump-started the day. I can’t believe he’s rolling over now. We need to rethink the third baseman thing—maybe play him at short. He moves to his right better than I ever did. Say hello to my beautiful daughter-in-law.”

“Walt. Missed you the last few Wednesdays. When are you coming back? You’d have been proud of me Friday. Final table. Played flawless for five hours then made one mistake. Knew it the minute I did it, but still…It was in Parma—York Road and Pleasant Valley. Awful lonely ride home late at night. But still…”

“Alan, call me. We need to talk about Vegas. The Beachwood guys want to go the week before Labor Day and come home Labor Day itself. Is that because the kids from the rich neighborhood never worked?”

ONLY ONE PERSON ANSWERED THE PHONE. FRIENDS AND FAMILY WERE BUSY. ALAS, ALL CALLS WENT TO RECORDINGS….BUT ONE:

“Hello?”
“Aunt Helen?”
“Harold!!!!!!?”’
“No, it’s Bruce.”
“oh…”
“Just called to say hello.”
“When’s your brother coming home?”
“OK, bye.”

Not that the week’s been bad. Got the office settled. Had breakfast with Jacobson, brunched with Bobby, did dinner with Matthew. Even made a few bucks and… the lady at Locksmith wants to fix me up with someone.

Still, I miss my brother. And I miss my kids. And hear the silence. Come to think of it, though, I DID leave one more message:

“Hey, Dad. It’s Bruce. I miss you. Thanks for teaching me to play solitaire.”

          “It would be so fine to see your face at my door.”

  

                                Carole King

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I’ve always had this knack of finding humor in the least-expected places. This talent, if you will, has served me well at times, but still…’tis a fine line between wit and impropriety. Often I’ve been…am…insensitive.

“Not everything is funny,” my mom would admonish. Ducking behind her, my dad—desperately hiding a smirk—would support his wife: “If you have to laugh, little boy, then leave the room.” THEN, after I’d taken maybe three steps, my father’d add a tag line:

“There’s a time and a place for everything,” he’d say. (“Al-speak” for “Yes it’s funny Bruce, but not now and not in front of your mother and this is one of those times, son, that I have to be a father and not a friend.”

I’m not sure, even now, that I’ve learned the lesson. The players change over time, but the game goes on.

“Daddy, you always make me laugh!” says Stacy. “It’s not funny, Dad,” says Michael. They’re both, of course, right.

I blame Stuart. My first “best friend,” my first peer role model, he wreaked of work ethic, conservatism, and a macabre sense of humor. Of these, it was only his perverse wit I latched on to.

As Walt would say, “Go figure.”

In its day, Morrill Tower was the jewel of campus. Its lobbies were plush in ’68, and there on the banks of the Olentangy, on those cylindrical, movie-theater-like couches Fenton taught me to people watch. We had nothing better to do.

Stuart was still pre-Marilyn and I, of course, was pre-everyone. Endlessly we’d poach on the sofa, but ten feet from the yet-to-open elevator doors, and wait. (Not that we knew anyone. This was “west campus,” trafe for the Jews. Our people, (excepting Bobby in the frat house), were living north: guys at Drackett and girls at Taylor. Still, the two of us, freshman clowns that we were, would sit, ponder, observe…recounting probable life stories of strangers as they’d funnel into the lobby. And laughing. Always laughing. We were so mature back then.

“Just look at these people, B,” he’d urge. I remember the first time like it was yesterday. There was this fat kid, a farmer…in a plaid flannel shirt…lost look on his face. He exits the elevator, turns left, then right, then pivots and gets back on to go upstairs again.

“Just look at him, B…guy doesn’t know where he’s going!”

It never occurred to me, ‘til Stuart showed me, that I didn’t have to know someone to study them. Or to laugh at them. Like I said: it’s Stuart’s fault.

My life’s been touched, of course, by others that think everything’s funny. My friend Greg has a rapier wit. Our paths cross less now—he’s moved to Strongsville—but our rule survives: the only thing that matters is if it’s funny. Weiskopf, for that matter, is another. He is a man who trusts few and suspects most; laughter may be the only of his venues that has no boundaries.

Someone once noted that human beings are the only species that don’t want to be who they are. Would it be wrong, then, for me to admit that, right or wrong, I stand by my unfiltered sense of humor?

As does Stuart.

They were dancing to Motown at a recent Brush reunion. Standing on the side, we saw Will surrounded by five or six women, in the middle of the floor. They all had their shoes off.

“B,”  Stuart prompted, “I’ll distract Will while you hide his shoes.”

And we did. (We were so mature then).

I’m reminded of these rather isolated incidents on days like today, (in the best of my times), and in days of more stress…when I need to smile.

The other day I sat outside Caribou with a female friend. Two tables down was a mutual acquaintance, a man. Someone, actually, that I don’t particularly like.

“Look,“ I whispered to her, “He’s got toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe.”
“You really should tell him,” she said. “ Aren’t you going to tell him?”
“Not a chance!” I retorted, amused by it all…chuckling.
She sat there, silently. Didn’t quite get it. So be it.

That’s why I love Stuart…and Greg…and Ed. They, you see, would have laughed.

CHICAGO HOPE

Monday, March 21st, 2011

It never occurred to me in the mid-90′s—marriage grinding to a halt—that fifteen years later I’d be uncoupled. Didn’t even cross my mind! Obese, penniless and hopeless, I was convinced that at any given moment a princess would appear and we’d fall in love like Kermit and Miss Piggy…and run across the field like in “The Muppet Movie.” Didn’t quite happen.

It’s been an odyssey: 1 1/2 decades, 2 1/2 relationships. The upshot of it all. of course, was that the thrust of time’s been spent riding solo. Singles run with singles while clearly, couples cling to couples (or the woman, whichever first occurs). Nature’s way.

Never once, though, have I lost faith in love or, (for that matter), in marriage. Ever. The past week, as much as any, underscored my thoughts:

Eight days ago they partied for Mandel’s 60th. Bruce is a core friend. Not merely a teammate on both Hollywood and the White Sox, not only the friendly enemy in many a Boobus Bowl, he has been steadfast in my life. Even in the darkest days he was one of a handful in my corner. I would not be where I am today if Bruce didn’t have my back when it was less-than-fashionable.

That having been said, I knew walking into his bash that the place would be infested by still-marrieds, semi-remnants of my distant first life. And so it was that, buffered by Howard Ross and my brother, I watched a warm parade of couples, each of whom somehow managed to stay wed through lo the decades.
(How is it, I asked myself, she and I screwed up? We were no better, worse, smarter, dumber…! C’mon, I told myself, I know the back stories!).

There’s a profound saintliness to couples that stay the course. I viewed my friends of a prior era not with envy, but with admiration. Marriage, I’ve come to accept, was one of my greatest failures.

Thirty years later, to Bruce she is still “Rita Lena.” Twenty years later Alan and Diane still work hand-in-hand. And the others: there was our dinner club…together. And the card game couples…together. Succinctly, I noted, the genre of young marrieds of my first life had done pretty well…together.

The warm/fuzzy images of the party were still fresh on Friday as I deplaned at Midway. Jason still working, Stace and I made a pit stop at Sarah and Greg’s. Like my kids, they’re no longer newlyweds, but clearly in love.

FADEOUT TO MRS. PELANDER’S CLASS, BRUSH HIGH, AUTUMN, ‘66

       “All right, class, what was the theme of your week?….Bruce?”

       “Love and marriage, Miss Pelander.”      

       “Right, Bruce. Very good.”

I love watching my kids in wedlock. The rhythm in New York differs with the personalities, but the thread is respect.

And love.

In a weekend of March madness it was clear these two were mad about each other.

Didn’t do much in Chitown, yet did it all. Baskets, dinners, playing with Adam. Sure, we dined with Jason’s dad, and yes, we brunched with Christine, but most of all, for me…it was basking in the glow of a happy child, of happy children…knowing full well they’ll succeed where I had failed.

“How’s your daughter?” asked Burnside, scooping me up outside Hopkins.
“Great!” I remarked. “They seem so happy.”
“That’s good,” (perhaps he said…I wasn’t listening). My mind was picturing a party thirty-plus years from now, maybe Stacy’s sixtieth. There was Jason at her side…and a bunch of couples I didn’t know…and, oh yeah…Sarah and Greg.

BEGINNINGS

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

          “The great majority of men are bundles of beginnings.”

                                                        Emerson

South Euclid, 1960. On a spring Saturday in the back of Victory Park School, it was Little League tryouts. Single file, dozens aged 9-12 stood on damp grass waiting for a ground ball, their chance to impress the one manager that might pick them for “the majors.” I stood there that afternoon…afraid.

The draft would be a week later, on a Sunday. Bobby and I, too nervous to stay at home, spent the afternoon at the Mayfield Lanes. He was eleven and his biological clock was ticking. Me? I was a year younger by league standards, but was scared. In this new realm, a world outside Rowland’s parental cocoon, we were fish out of water. Our daddies weren’t there for cover, nor were there nets below our trampolines.

Columbus, 1968. Ninety days after bailing from MSU, moments after landing at Drackett Tower, I was longer alone. Dormed in the friendly confines of Curl Drive, rooming with Fenton, Wieder and Fischer, I felt safe. Harold, to be sure, wasn’t there much—he had Lisa up north. Stu was though, (as was Alan), and I, the insecure product of a then-rare “broken home,” found in those guys, the ultimate sanctuary.

There was a rhythm to our room: a backbeat I loved. Nightly Fenton would tease Wido. Endlessly. We’d be in our bunks, lights off…and Alan, frustrated would beg Stuart to shut up. He never did. He’d talk, ask stupid questions, sing “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” and the upshot of it all was ALWAYS that as Wieder’d get angry, I’d howl, and Alan, frustrated by the evening’s circus, would blame me.

“If you didn’t laugh, jackass, he’d shut up!” he’d yell at me or….
“Fenton, you’re a f’____ moron!”

Ah, but I was surrounded by pals and in that cacophony of love I never felt alone.

Beachwood, 2011. I’ve just entered my new office. Leaving people I know for those I don’t. An overnight move, it was three years in the making. Why is it easier to stay in a bad relationship than to risk the unknown? Why did I hesitate, linger, dawdle, defend and play “devil’s advocate” before listening to candid counsel of friends, before doing what Jacobson readily termed “the right move”? Why, oh why at 61, do I cling to a comfort zone, delay the inevitable…delay growing up? Am I that insecure?

It’s been a half century since that ground ball. Fifty years since our dads took calls. Five decades since Bobby made the Tigers and I the White Sox!

Victory Park is gone—there’s a Giant Eagle now. Mr. Snyder and my Dad…lost them too.

The Mayfield Lanes? Torn down… and Drackett, it’s co-ed. Fenton’s in Florida, Fischer’s out east, Snyder’s in Bainbridge (?), and Wieder: he’s in…of all places: Oregon.

A coffee shop anchors the lobby of my new workplace. Sitting over caffeine I know well the boys can’t walk in.

Time to leave then. Time to go upstairs…to work.

Maybe even time to grow up.

CHERISH

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

The movie “Field Of Dreams,” (I’ve always said), is a male version of “Sleepless In Seattle.” A reminder came just recently.

It’s a clip from “Mad Men”: Don Draper’s in the waiting room with another expectant father.

“The other one a boy?“ he’s asked.
“Yes.”
“You throw the ball around?”

There was a pregnant pause before response:
“Not enough.”

I watched that scene three weeks ago– maybe more, and it’s stuck with me. That, and this warm, fuzzy feeling from my youth. Whatever he was or wasn’t as a husband, my dad–our dad–played catch with his boys. It’s a history treasured to this day. Cherished.

He didn’t look the athlete. At six feet, 300 pounds, (other than to a gin game), the man rarely ran. Still, perhaps the only peace Al Bogart found in those ‘50’s was with his boys, and baseball. We were, (for lack of a better phrase), his “time out.”

Living across from a schoolyard was great! It was the epicenter of our simple lives: easy access to friends and, better yet, peripheral vision of the ball fields. How often did I slink home at night only to keep peering out a bedroom window just looking for reason to return?

Our dad, actually, didn’t like the proximity. There we’d be in the backyard— father and sons—just tossing the ball around. Friends cycling up Wrenford, mitts looped on handlebars, couldn’t help but eye us. Inevitably they’d slow their bikes, bid Eddie Haskell hellos, and ask to join in.

“Why can’t they play with their own fathers?” he’d groan silently, (never once being ungracious). I was proud. Beaming: softly showing off. Our dad was even “coordinated.”

It’s a snapshot I see in living color, even now. Like the times at Forest Hills. He had a friend—Earl Levine— that lived nearby. Perhaps the guy was a gambling partner, or worse. (Who knows? They always spoke in private). Mr. Levine would meet us at the park. A lot. He’d stand on the pavement with my dad; I’d be fifty feet away on grass. The men would talk and my father, grunting, would hurl softballs straight up, miles into the air for me to catch. “Fly ball to Rocky Colavito!” he’d announce, as I’d shag another. (They have airguns for that, these days. More efficient, I’m sure…but less memorable).

This is not, by the way, overblown, euphoric recall. We have proof:

There’s an old 8 millimeter—Hal put it on DVD. It’s a lodge picnic out at Wiegand’s Lake on Route 87. We’re in the field, H and I… a make-shift, all-grass diamond…and the old man’s pitching underhand to Cousin Gary. No sound. All of a sudden, Gary hits the ball and runs, IN THE WRONG DIRECTION, toward third base. It’s the highlight of the moving picture: Cousin Gary running clockwise! In family tradition…each showing…we reverse it, laughing even louder as he finally runs right.

That film is fifty years old. Give or take.

Hadn’t noticed then. Funny…did I even think of it over the years? Was I too busy laughing?

Our father, short-sleeve white shirt…long dress slacks….cigarette dangling: was the only grown up on camera—the only adult fielding dreams with his kids.

And making memories for them.

A few years ago I turned 60. We were at Hal’s and Costner’s movie was on TV—almost over.

“You have to see the last twenty minutes,” I urged.

Dinner waited as two brothers sat on a couch watching TV.

They were crying at the movie and, all the while smiling…like little kids.

PARTY OF FIVE

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

It was last Sunday and for some reason Weiskopf was AWOL from Caribou.  I sat alone, trapped within earshot of clowns.

Couldn’t they be softer? And where is the OFF button?

The Heat…Charley Sheen…Politics. Three men shared a table, each evidently an expert. Grandma Bogart would have said (in Hebrew), “…the more they talk the less they say….” Wisely I’d opted out of their conclave, seeking refuge tables away.

They just wouldn’t shut up. Miami’s struggles, Sheen’s tumble…As my son would say: “Just shoot me now.”

On his PBS series “Meeting of the Minds” Steve Allen surrounded the set with history’s great minds. The likes of Shakespeare or Einstein shared ideas with the host. What a concept! Why, I wondered, did it take a studio production to get it done?

Enthusiasm building, I conjured breaking bread at once with personal heroes: some friends, some acquaintances; some living, one dead…and planned my own Algonquin Round Table. Perhaps a fantasy, still, it was an idea whose time had come.

Wouldn’t meet at Corky’s. Could never violate the sanctity of Wednesday morning’s venue. Whatever…we’d find a place. And in they’d come, my party of five:

First Michael (don’t call him “Mike), who’s in marketing. A self-made man, he has the uncanny knack of being daring and successful while never losing priorities. Seat him facing the door; he likes to greet people.

Then Leonard, (of blessed memory). For years he was a fixture in his box behind home plate. Those were the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s when attendance so ebbed that each fan had his own usher. After decades of losses, Leonard finally erupted at the front office, trading season tickets for Torah study. He spent his final years with peace and serenity and in so doing, suffered not when Mesa stayed in Game Seven.

And Stuart, my machatin. Guy has the perfect blend of intellect and street smarts—plus the New York accent.

Which leads me to Leslie. Need a female voice. She too is family—Columbus office. I’m not sure if we’re technically related, but we do relate. Balanced, “Sister Golden Hair” is as close to normal as one can get and still retain cool.

Finally…tympany…) there is Siegal. This Jewish Kramer, for years a mainstay on Wednesdays, withdrew a few years back, preferring to spend days on the internet doing…whatever. (It’s not easy. I suppose, running Kramerica). Still, his unique spin would up the price of poker in any discourse.

Could I pull this off? I doubt it. It’s a fantasy, though, that easily trumps the coffee house narishkeit. It’s a mind game I’d rather play than sit with the jokers.  Sometimes sitting alone (as my father woud say), is “addition by subtraction.”

I’m at Caribou now, actually…on my laptop. Weiskopf’s due soon and together we’ll end our day scouring the problems of the world.

As experts.

AS TIME GOES BY

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

I knew him when he had hair. We all did. Bobby, I suppose, met him first. In friendships spanning a half-century, (whether he’s liked it or not), he’s always been one of us. Even today, on his 62nd birthday.

From the times at Greenview and Brush as John DiPasquale used to kick him in the back with pointed black Stetsons— through interactions and reunions in this, our AARP era, (as he looks me in the eye and erringly says “B, I don’t know how you pulled it off…she likes you.”), Mark’s style has been singular. A graduate of our core group, Erv has been, and to this day remains, his “own man.”

I met Mark a bit after others. It was nothing personal. My circle of friends until then was limited to ballplayers at Rowland. With Stuart two doors away and a half dozen pals on Bayard, venturing beyond five hundred yards of comfort zone was unnecessary. Heck, it wasn’t ‘til fall of ’60 that my world opened up to Snyder, Codgie, Gaffin and others of our oh so motley crew. Enter Brother Ermine.

I called Bob this week, knowing I wanted to share about Mark. His memories, I sensed, would be vivid and warm. I was right.

It was a matter of geography, Bob noted. He and Mark lived near Bexley, (Mark on the “wrong end”). As such, when Erv moved in, Bob introduced him to Raisinbrain, Auerbach, Fischer and other pool regulars. (These were the cool guys back then. Me? I was still shooting hoops in Wieder’s garage).

By seventh grade we were all friends. Banding together in the red and black of R.E.N, Mark displayed wondrous foresight early on, being the first on our block to call Marvin a jerk. He was light-years ahead of us.

He was his own man.

Like when we entered Greenview. The exodus from an elementary school 90% Jewish took us to a real world where we were perhaps a minority. Mark, more than most, was not deterred. Not only did he mix right in with our new Christian friends, but he was one of only three Jews playing varsity football—and quarterback, no less!

He always had that tough exterior. And posture. Good posture. Although like the rest of us, he must have had insecurities, Mark, even at Greenview, walked with attitude. Five decades later I can close my eyes and still see his confidence.

Maybe it’s me?—my insecurities. Mark, I figure, was entitled to that “air” about him, even then. Even then, you see…he knew the girls. This was true in part because he had (for a Jew) that “bad boy” thing going, and also because his mom sold dresses at Donna Lee. Trust me, Goldie was always talking Mark up; he couldn’t help but be a known commodity.

By high school our group of sixteen was changing, morphing into sub-cliques. There was The Big Four of course, (Stuart, Bobby, Wido and me), and there was JoelandArthur. Dennis, Fred and Randy hung out, and yes, a few guys evaporated with girlfriends. Mark, in my mind’s eye, was independent. He was working, for one thing, but more than anything else, he was daring.

Like the way he drove—even before he had a license. Or, as Bob points out, the way he drove AFTER being licensed. In an era of GM and Ford, Mark road American Motors with arrogance. Many of our non-dating nights were spent in epic group car chases and Erv, so often, had the driver’s seat.

He was a risk taker. He was our Jewish Fonzie.   And he loved being first.

First in the workplace, first in the military, first in The Lodge, and yes, first to get pregnant, married and have kids (ALL in the right order).

Time, of course, distanced us all. But only in spurts. Lives bound in friendship connect and reconnect.

Bobby, years ago, fixed Mark up with Lisa and eventually Erv moved to Columbus. By then, of course, my dad was there. Mark may not remember this, but he actually bumped into my father the week before he died. They were at a movie theater and the men, bored by the film, had each gone to the lobby to smoke.

“I fart better than they sing,” my dad greeted him, (or so Mark told me at the funeral days later).

Our friendships, it is clear, have rekindled of recent. Not that they ever burned out. As boys we turned to men and as men, we turn in a different way, still, to each other. Bonds borne in youth, ties like Bobby, Stuart and I have with Mark, hold a special adhesive. Outlasting our teenage mock fights, outliving our mid-life crises, they’re secure enough to thrive and endure, even ‘til we grow up.

That’s why it’s easy for us—Bobby, Stuart and myself, to wish our pal the happiest of birthdays, and thank him for a friendship we continue to cherish…as time goes by.