Archive for May, 2011

ALL IN

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Burnside held a crumpled napkin in his right palm. Stopping, slowly arching the trajectory, he lofted a missile up and some six feet ahead to a four foot waste basket. Swish!

“It’s all in the follow-through,” the shooter chuckled.
“Like in pitching,” I said.
“And golf,” he added.
“And…” (leaving a recovery meeting, I was compelled to be profound)…like in life.”

Fact is, though…it’s true. Still, it took this clown half a lifetime to see—to realize all I need to do is use the gifts I’ve been given—whatever they are—and things will be OK. When I really look at it, my level of acceptance relates NOT to how things play out as much as whether, deep down, I know I’ve done all I can, leaving nothing in the locker room. There’s a peace in being all in. A serenity.

For so long I was your “three inning player,” that great starter but poor (if at all) finisher. Losing interest (perhaps), fearing failure (at times), I’d tell myself it really didn’t matter, I somehow didn’t care or it wasn’t for me. Truth was I lacked not inner strength so much as inner faith that if I truly put it all out on the table, win, lose or draw, I’d succeed. Today I get it.

Today I follow through. Today I know I don’t have to be THE best—I need to be MY best. I’m changing from a boy with promise to a man with commitment, and— win, lose or draw, I can live with the outcomes.

As an English major, my minor was theater, (at least for three innings). Theater 165 however, mandated working stage crew a month at Mershon Auditorium. (I learned this two weeks in, of course, finally reading the syllabus).

SOUTH went my passion for the arts. Dropping the course, there went I, a college senior, changing minors. Cramming eighteen psychology hours (six three’s) into one quarter, I emerged a psych minor. (I still recall The Jersey Girl joining me for Monday evening’s Psch 120, “How To Study”. In a class full of freshmen we both got A’s).

The signs were there, back then. I was always looking for the easier, softer way. How often did I just mail it in…do just enough to get by? That record I set junior year— cut 100 classes one quarter—kept a chart! Funny then, not so… now.

We sold Highlights on weekends. Long before Breakfast At Wimbledon there was Breakfast On Albert. Each Saturday he’d confirm our awakening by feeding us and assure our production by offering free dress shirts to those with ten sales. We’d spread out across town, running oh so qualified leads, and, week-in, week out three things occurred: it rained in Wieder’s neighborhood, I hit 10 on the nose, and Stuart led the pack. How was it that I always seemed to get that tenth sale at 1 just as the Bucks kicked off? Each week? Why was it that Fenton worked ‘til 3? Each week.

I know now what it was: I had promise; Stuart showed commitment.

It all came so easy to me…even law school. Daily I’d drop the wife at work, run to breakfast at Corky’s, then down the hill for class. Morning classes—always morning classes. Afternoon, you see, meant soaps. Beginning on ABC, it was “All My Children” at 1, then a switch to Channel 3. “Days Of Our Lives,” “The Doctors,” “Another World In Bay City,” “Another World-Somerset,” and….for a time “Bright Promise.” Never mind studies…I was living the dream, never once thinking perhaps B’s could be A’s.

The list of things I’ve done well, but perhaps not well enough is sobering. Hindsight, of course, is 20-20. What would have been had I worked harder at marriage…at fatherhood…at life? I’m not beating myself up….just thinking.

Recovery, to be sure, has taught me follow through. Today, be it fun, family or frolic, I’m in it to win it. As I can, whatever the endeavor, I try to be the best Bruce I can be. And yes, I often fall short.

Would I prefer to see my kids more? Of course! Did I tell them to leave town? Still I’m the best brother I can be, the best friend I can be…even the best ex-husband I can be…regardless of endeavor, it’s been a long time since someone’s said to try harder. Today, if only today, I finish what I start.

Would I like to spend more time reading poker, perfecting that skill? Of course I would. Should I watch my weight better? Respect the dollar more? Obviously. How well I know! Still, even as a work-in-progress, I’m comforted knowing it’s not the speed I’m travelling but the direction I’m facing.

So seldom these days do I think shouldda, wouldda, couldda. Once a bright kid with all kinds of promise, I’m now older, wiser, and all in. No wonder even my bad days are good. No wonder even when I miss the shot my life goes….Swish!

It’s all, as Burnside says, in the follow through.

IT IS THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

The signage on I-71 read MEDINA as Margie, from the backseat, reminded that us the world was ending. It was Saturday, and with Caroline aside her, it prompted Hal and me to address immediate concerns:

“Other than Mom or Dad,” I asked, “Who is the first person you’ll call?”
“In heaven?”
”Yeah.”

He hesitated but slightly: “Grandma Cele.”
“What about Grandma Bogart?” I protested.
“We weren’t as close.”

I guess I’d forgotten, but he was spot on. Instantly he spoke to all the times sleeping, swimming and otherwise hanging out with her. It was, we agreed, a function of logistics. One grandma was worldly and drove; the other was “old-country” and didn’t. (Speaking of logistics, FYI, the discourse took a ten minute detour when I casually noted that indeed, Cele Porter’d been the first person I’d seen—oh so inadvertently—south of her Mason Dixon line). “How old were you?” asked Hal between laughs.

“Who would be next?” I pushed, getting back on course, “Grandpa Irv?”

(H adored Cele’s husband, although politics neutered me. A caring man, he did, however, espouse my parents’ divorce and once told me “You’re father’s a loser.” I was thirteen back then. “Nuff said).

“No,” continued Hal, “It would be Grandma Bogart.”
“What about Grandpa Irv?” I pushed back.
“Dad would get mad.”

Approaching ASHLAND, my brother explained. No, it was not that our father would expect us to rotate sides of the family, per se…Heck no. It was more the fact that he’d be pissed it was Irv Porter.

“I’d like to think there’s no resentment in heaven.”
“Let’s not have a fight our first night there,” he said.

We passed MANSFIELD.

“Who do you think. “ I wondered aloud, “Harriet will see first…Dad or Fred?”
“Dad,” said H; “You’re dreaming,” said I, turning to Margie for support. She has, by all accounts, the objectivity of a surgeon.
“Fred,” said the doctor. (Case closed).

If the world were indeed ending, this was a drive to end all drives. We spoke of our kids, of course, but bragged of worldly pursuits.

“You have to admit,” I said, “Finding Fromin was remarkable!” My brother agreed, but then, blowing his own horn, added:  “What about my still picture of Herschel standing on his head?”  Again, Margie and I concurred: “You can’t compare the two!”

How, I wondered, could Hal equate our brunch with Fromin, (a man dead for thirty-five plus years), with mere photography of a late cousin, (albeit standing on his head)?

“Narishkeit!” Grandma Bogart would say. Hal Bogart thought otherwise. In what historians may some day dub the greatest sacrilege of all time, my brother’s exact words (and you can call Margie on this), were:

“The still picture of Herschel standing on his head is the clearest proof of all of the existence of God.”

(If that was true, thought I, this would be the end of the world as we know it).

We hit Columbus, this final day, dropped C-line on campus, and…on to Harriet.  A wondrous trip, we were, (for not spending a lot of money), going out in style.

Late afternoon was spent, frankly, the way you’d like to honor your last day. With family. Kin out-of-state, we huddled with our father’s life’s love, spoke to present and past, and…as always…laughed.

Harriet, by the way, can also play with a half deck.

“Who will you see first?” we asked her….”Fred or our Dad…be honest.”
“Why, your father, of course.”
“That’s nonsense,” I retorted. “You—(but she interrupted)
“…Fred’s not waiting for me—your father is. Fred’s busy with his first wife!”
(I don’t know what fascinated more: the sincerity of her answer or our group shock that she DID answer. Who said this was a stupid topic?).

The world, of course, didn’t end that night. Dinner at McCormick & Shmick’s was followed by, aptly, viewing tapes of “Modern Family.” And sleep.

We awoke Sunday to not only sunshine but breakfast with Harriet. 7AM she was all smiles. Leaving for the 5K, a family hug ended with our admonishment that when Helen asked her what we talked about, the answer was “Nothing.”

“Remember,” said Hal, “You don’t even know us.” And we left for Bexley.

Mother and daughter did the 5K in tandem that morning. Me? I trudged the streets of Bexley alone, knocking time off last year, all the while, listening to Michael’s radio, and thinking.

I thought of my kids out-of-state, and the grandkids…I thought of my family and friends and my relative health….

I thought of the fun we were having and the words in the songs on the radio I was only beginning to figure out and the new office and even my new haircut.

And I thought about the summer approaching, my travel plans east and west, and…

Even the play coming up and how I had the proverbial “loaf of bread under each arm.”

And I realized, yet again, that this was not, as that clown had stated, the end of the world as we know it, but, as always…Only the beginning.

ONE JOKE OVER THE LINE

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Approaching Caribou my eyes caught Michael, mid-fifties. Coffee in hand, head in paper, he was oblivious. Imperceptibly I altered my angle and kept walking. Not that he’s a bad guy. He’s not. Actually, the man’s a friend. He is, though, mad at me now— over the top, I might add— and dying to talk to me. Screw him. He’s nuts. It can wait. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed for four days watching him seethe.

Some people I just love to screw with: especially those with no sense of humor. They ask for it. Heck, they beg for it.

Michael’s OK, but he’s anal retentive. Once he focuses, he only sees and hears what he wants. No matter what one says, he stays on his message and clearly, no matter what he hears he does his own thing. The beauty of it all is, of course, that no matter how much you f with him, he comes back for more.

Ya gotta love it.

Years ago…I had just started “not dating” Rochelle and we sat with her daughter in the basement of Zin. As luck would have it, Michael strolled in for open mic night and was immediately (and visibly) enamoured with Julie who, just as visibly was attractive, single, but half his age. My phone, of course, rang the next day.

“Bruce, I want you to call Julie and see if she’ll go out with me. I’d do it myself but I don’t really know her and it might be awkward.”
“Michael, PLEASE…don’t ___ things up for me. These people think I’m normal.”
He wouldn’t relent.
“Just make the call,: he pleaded. “If she’s not interested —fine.”
One thing I knew even then: Michael’s a good guy but a loose cannon. If I made the call at least I’d control the fallout. (Either way, this could not end well).

“Julie,” I said. “My friend Michael wants to go out with you. What do you want me to tell him?”
“Tell him not to call,” she smiled by phone.
“Can I quote you?”
“I don’t care what you say. He’s too old,” and then she used an expression I’d not heard before: “I don’t even want to go out with him just for shits and giggles.”

I put off the call. There was absolutely no chance in the world he wouldn’t call me. I was right.

“She says don’t call,” I reported. Those were my exact words, enunciated with British precision. “She says don’t call.”

He called her, of course, the very next day.

Fast forward a decade…to now. At my suggestion pal Michael, an extremely talented song and dance man, read for, was cast in a show I’m doing. Frankly, he’s a perfect fit.

The one thing you must know, though, about community theater…is that the players, more than anything else, play. Humor dominates the pre and post games, and eighth grade humor dominates this writer. Moreover, at this particular venue, with this particular director, filtering propriety is not required. No subject is taboo, no taste is too bad, and no fun is left un-had. ‘Tis why, perhaps, I love doing shows there. The only prerequisite, EVER…the only issue…is…is it funny.

There’s a deaf kid in the production. Kevin, late 20’s, was actually a card player in last fall’s “The Odd Couple.” We bonded back then as he didn’t drive and I’d pick him up for rehearsals and shows. Anyway…Kev survives by lip reading and the curtain’s rise had him sitting to my right, back to the phone. Midway through the scene the phone would sound and Kevin’s part was to answer it. Of course, he couldn’t respond to a ring he couldn’t hear, so we needed to cue him. My stomp, nightly, under the table, shook the stage just enough that our buddy’d get up and answer the call. It goes without saying (or perhaps it doesn’t), but in the six weeks we rehearsed and the three weeks we ran, whenever ANYONE at the theater wanted Kevin for anything, I would urge that they stomp their foot. They still do (and I take pride in that).

And so it was that I was sitting in the theater with Kevin last Tuesday, studying Michael on stage.
“You see that guy, “I pointed out. “You know he’s legally blind.”
Kevin’s head tilted quizzically, much like my dog Adam’s.
“Yeah,” I continued, “I guess he sees just enough to get by—memorizes steps, things like that…takes city streets to get here—he’s afraid to drive freeways.”
“Ahhhhhhh,” hummed Kevin, buying in.

The balance of the night, of course, was spent, whenever possible, subtly but noticeably helping Michael on and off the stage. Indeed, at 9:30, as we all left, with Kevin within earshot, I even asked Michael if I could walk him to his car.

“You’re a funny guy,” shrugged the director, watching it all. “Too bad you can’t act.”
Those, I knew, were words of love.

At breakfast the next day a text came.

       “What was that nonsense about you helping me off stage and to my car? I’m not sure where you’re coming from but I hope we’re   not headed for a problem!”

       “Sorry if you took it the wrong way,” I responded.

       “I’ll talk to you about it later,” he retexted.

       Think again, thought I

It’s been days now, and he sits on the patio waiting to grab me. Cleary, he wants to talk.

I’ll see him tomorrow, at rehearsal. It’s at 2PM and trust me, I’ll have Kevin at my side.  Michael can talk to HIM, I figure. Kevin, after all…can’t hear.

IT’S ALL IN THE GAME

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

I had to laugh. Was it really about batting ninth? Pulling himself from the New York lineup last weekend, Jorge Posada had me chuckling for two reasons. Initially, it was the Yankees–’nuff said. Secondly, I thought to the lack of ego shown by my friends over the years…playing just a game.

Team sports being what they are…the human condition being what it is….why is it kids on a sandlot can better perceive of their relative worth? How was it playing just “for fun,” when it might have made sense to be democratic… to take turns batting first, be quarterback, shoot…why is it WE all knew our place (and were just glad to have it)?

My intro to team sports was “swift pitching.” Played against a brick wall, it was generally two on two with one pitcher and one fielder per team. Never the source of intra-squad squabble, we all got it: the strong arm threw, the other chased balls. It was a law both unwritten and time-honored…and no one sulked.

The best was when more bodies showed. South Euclid was growing and Jews, in the midst of “white flight,” were beginning to infiltrate. We’d play, back then, on the north lawn of Rowland. With home facing east, long balls hit left– if missed—or too foul, would roll down the hill. When I first moved in, they were all older guys. There were the neighborhood veterans: Bulb, Turd, Fromin and Bobby Stain. Not to mention Johnny Matejka, Paul Erlich and Bernie Pleskoff. There was even that bully Jerry Wolf. (The older guys didn’t let him play. Once they left and we got the field, Wolf would grab our ball and throw it on the roof). Me? I was new and an unknown commodity. I’d hang around, await my chance, and in the interim, be happy for the little action I got:

“Hey, go get that ball!” they’d yell as it rolled down toward Belvoir.

Schlepping down the hill, I’d return like Pavlov’s dog, sit idly, and wait for the next foul ball. As years passed, of course, Stuart and I got in. The torch passed to a new generation as our kid brothers Hal and Ricky groaned, smiled, and trudged down and up the hill.

Football was no different. We all knew our place. There was a team in sixth grade. Practice lunchtime in Raisin’s backyard…Snyder always quarterback….no questions asked. Everyone else would just “go out.” I quit that team when my Dad forbid I play tackle. Bob, for one, didn’t find out; he never threw to me anyway.

High school brought basketball. Wieder formed a team and got us in a tournament at Cudell Recreation out on Cleveland’s west side. Snyder, Cohen, Kraut, Alan…me. (Perhaps even Codgie). One practice I missed a layup and heard from Alan:

“You’re job,” he told me, “is not to shoot.” If I couldn’t shoot, I wondered, (being neither a runner nor a jumper), what WAS my job? Then it occurred to me. We’d piled five of us in my Mom’s green Chevy to head ‘cross town. My job was to drive.

By college I played football again. My friends, oddly, were not. When Hal’s peers included me, though, I was not only thrilled, but noted again that YES there was a caste system, and NO, no one bitched. Dick Baskin led one team, and while he could pass we were run-oriented. Nary a peep was heard from Herzog, Ross or the two Bogarts as our bread ‘n butter was just Baskin sweep right, Baskin sweep left. Across the line was Mandel’s team. Bruce’s squad included brother Dooey, Dick’s brother Tommy, and interchangable wide receivers. Our huddle was always peaceful; I can’t speak to theirs. (What I do know is that Bruce rarely threw to his brother—he always made him block—and that one day Doug, for whatever reason, up and left the country).

No one, though, complained. (Well, almost no one). Pear (not his real name), was traded annually. Named not for his gonads but his silhouette, Steve constantly beckoned “I can get open. Throw it to me!” Fact is that he couldn’t and they didn’t.

Well…that’s not true either. You see, there was this unwritten rule. As players tired…when the troops were pretty much in agreement that we’d had enough…there’d be a signal. THEN, whoever was quartering Steve’s opponent, on cue, would intentionally throw an interception Pear’s way. Both teams would then jump all over him and grind him to the ground before going home. (Not that he was unhappy, though. Steve always left gloating, proud of his “pick”).

The most fertile ground for dueling egos, of course, could have been Sol’s Boys. It never was. A team of core friends improved by talent met in high school or college or competition, we not only never fought, but we jelled. Geographers note that from embryonic days as Waxman Plumbing to the last trophy in the last year for Sol, Arthur kept moving across the outfield getting further from the left field line. He never questioned, never sulked. Others too wound up in positions less prestigious than those they’d earned their bones on in Little League or beyond. No one cared. It was, truly, all about the game.

Which reminds me of one more story. Pay attention, Jorge:

’69 was not only the summer of contact lenses and the summer of my Mustang, but also the season of my batting title. To the surprise of many (most specifically my teammates), I led our league in hitting. As the team won two titles, I’d outhit the stars.

Where, you might ask, do you think Wieder batted me? Leadoff? No. That was Bobby. Always. (In his contract). Tenth? No. That was Arthur. Always. (Alan told him it was an honor…a set up for the top of the lineup).

No. The league’s leading hitter hit NINTH. NINTH. And guess what? I never sulked. Never complained.

It was all about the game.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Dear Kids,

It occurred to me recently that you were but 10, 12, and 15 when your parents separated. As such, though you lived through the end of a marriage, none of you bore witness to its ascent, those halcyon days when, inexplicably Opie Taylor fell for Grace Slick. Even in the profound neutrality of today, I think back to those first sixty days and smile. You should, too. This then, is how I met your mother.

My junior year: Living off campus with Arthur I was, not unlike today, vibrant, busy, and loveless. Days were spent not going to classes; nights were with friends or my Dad (who’d taken in Dick Baskin), or cards….or….all of the above. Uncle Hal was but a freshman, Harriet had just shown up…the world was indeed younger.

I’d been given your mother’s name by a still Jeff-less Linda Yankow. Oddly, as insecure as I was, I’d never feared the fix-up. (Snyder once told me the reason I went on so many blind dates was because a girl would have to be blind to go out with me. He had—back then— “street cred.” I believed him).

Saturday, October 18, 1969: Meeting her was NOT the highlight of the day. Indeed, I’d spent that pre-cable afternoon with thousands watching OSU beat Minnesota 34-7 on a closed circuit feed to St. John’s Arena. Your mother was at best, the after-party.

Those days boys couldn’t go to girls’ rooms. Calling from the lobby, I stood at the base of Taylor’s elevators, and still picture this tall, leggy coed strutting past me, aimlessly looking for a more hirsute guy.

We doubled that night. Saw “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” with Walt and Andy Wolf (a junior up from Miami). The typically platonic agenda was movie and dinner (Emil’s), a dime in the booth’s jukebox (“I Take Alot Of Pride In Who I Am- Dean Martin), and home. After dumping the ladies, Marc and I returned to his frat house. It was there that I announced in the dorm area that I’d never go out with her again.

Like I said, though, these were busy times. The next week was homecoming and, nerd that I was, I’d had a date for weeks. Brenda was a nice girl…had been to her Cinci home. Still, for reasons I’d come to learn later, we never did turn the corner.

It didn’t matter. I was having fun finally coming into my own! Contact lenses and a new Mustang convertible provided confidence I’d never felt before. I was so happy to be able to talk to girls (without fear), that the thrill of it all trumped any urge for romance.

Take Homecoming, for example: There was the DPhiE Brunch, the Bucks’ 41-0 scouring of Illinois, then the Blood Sweat And Tears concert. My scorecard read clearly: Day full, plate full, life full.

It was my birthday that year that I next thought of your mother. Longert threw a surprise party and in the midst of it all, suggested I call her.

“She thought you were different,” said Linda.
“Good different, or just different?”
“She’s not sure, Bruce…Just call her.”

Our second date was another movie. Safe venue, thought I. Crestfallen—OSU had lost to Michigan that day—I acquiesced to your mother’s eerily prescient suggestion, the stoner film “Easy Rider”. (Was I the only one on campus not to like it?) Afterward we went back to my apartment, sat on the couch, and kissed slightly. (It wasn’t my idea. Snyder said I had to take her back, if only so she wouldn’t wonder about me). Again, though….no magic.

I’d like to say our third time was a charm; it wasn’t. Dateless, sitting on tickets for The Association…it was default and destiny calling. No one hit it out of the park that night. Still, it wasn’t three strikes and you’re out, either. We fouled off a few; we stayed alive.

Something…whatever it was…was beginning to kick in. After days delaying, after sensing perhaps, an emotional investment), I called again. We had a few “study dates.” Nothing major. The worm, alas, was beginning to turn.

Friday, December 12: A month had passed. Fear and Thanksgiving had paused the process and an accident had totaled my Mustang. Still, in an orange Plymouth Barracuda (Al Bogart loved the color), I picked up your mother for yet another movie, another meal. (I just never had GAME).

It was a classic night. We saw “The Sterile Cuckoo,” (starring Liza Minnelli, NOT your aunt). In the dark of the theater, though, I saw only your mother. Gone were her purple sunglasses, on was her Estee Lauder. For some reason, that evening she thought everything I said was funny. Just as suddenly, I began to actually understand her Jersey accent…and thought it cute.

A light bulb went on.

The next night, a Saturday, the Bucks were at home. Basketball. (Wieder would miss the game, going to the hospital with swollen eyes). Me? I saw your mother before the game, having dinner at IHOP. The flag, (no pun intended), was up!

It’s a funny thing about confidence. When I have it…when I’ve got that swagger…I’m fearless.

“You’re funny,” she told me again, (which I interpreted as a seismic pronouncement of emotion).

Buoyed, I asked her for New Years in Cleveland. She passed but it mattered not.  “Going home,” she said, but…”You can take me to the airport.”

Port Columbus, back then, offered metered parking. Right up front.

Tuesday, December 16, 1969: I parked on the circle, walked toward the trunk, and pulled out her bags. She stood there, your Mom did, DPhiE friend to her side. And I kissed her—right then and there, in front of her friend, in front of other travelers, in front of the world.

“Really going to miss you,” I said (to no response). Beet red, flustered, she’d pivoted and scrambled away—MORTIFIED.

It mattered not. I worried not. The future looked bright. (It always does when you’ve got the swagger).

Just remember that,
Love, Dad

AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Roz took my order, but not before asking AGAIN how New York was. (Hadn’t we had this conversation just yesterday? Did she think it changed?) “Great,” I repeated as my phone rang.

“Hello Bruce, “came the voice. “I thought you would call me about the weekend.”
“New York was phenomenal,” I reported.

It’s hard to speak of Max these days. Sometimes I feel like the late-night talk host that introduces each guest as “the lovely, the talented…” It’s difficult, though, not to dwell in superlatives. No, impossible.  I love that kid so much.

“What did you guys do?” she asked. (Fact was we did nothing special. When I’m with the right people, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts).

I wonder if Max knows the power he has. He sits there, focus of everyone, and whether he smiles, sighs or sleeps, we drool. Surrounded by attention, his bills all paid, he’s got (as Ben Selzer would say, “The world by the kalooms.”)

     “I can see a new expression on my face
     I can feel a strange sensation taking place
     I can hear the guitars playing lovely tunes
     Every time that you are in the room.”

OK, I’m a pushover. When the kid’s around even dirty diapers are fun and games

Heading upstate Saturday, Michael noted the next exit was Ossining, home to Don Draper. “Could we drive through there on the way back?” I asked, (unwittingly opening the door). Does Michael bust anyone’s chops but mine?

“Dad, did you really think they filmed it there?”
“Yes, Michael…–“
“And I suppose they filmed ‘Seinfeld’ in Manhattan?” he chided.
“Actually,” I told him, “I figured the outdoor scenes, yes.”
(He was still laughing, muttering something about a soundstage or studio as Max yawned).

Time was that Michael’s teasing made me insecure. Those days are gone. Our rapport today is cemented by a profound sense of family.  (Max, FYI, slept through it all).

Returning to Great Neck, I was exhausted from the fun of it all, the simplicity of it all. Could there be a greater joy than sitting in the backseat right next to The Prince?

It was a weekend replete with love.

As nights fall, SOP at Chez Bogart mandates quiet for Max and whatever adults be present retreat to the bedroom. Meredith cradles a black-and-white video monitor but all eyes see the baby in color.

“What do you think of your grandson?” asked Caryn. (My smile was my answer).
“That’s some kid you got there,” urged Stuart.

     “I can feel that something pounding in my brain
     Just anytime that someone speaks your name…”

It was family night at the compound. Five of us sat on and around the bed, laughing, cajoling, much like kids in a dorm room. Indeed, there was a collegiality to it that just cannot be manufactured.

Sunday Michael played ball. He was, I sensed, in the twilight of a great career. Not unlike his father, he was playing out the string still getting his hits, but surrounded by teammates that hit puberty long after Michael’d hit his prime. (He’d have started for Sol’s Boys, I thought as they swept the double-header).

Food followed, of course, at the Great Neck Diner.

”Where’s the baby?” they greeted us. I beamed as Michael brought the buggy. We were in a hurry for breakfast—lunch was approaching!

It was an afternoon of further warmth. Mothers Day, Casa de Miller…a family affair:  women in one room kvelling over the Max—men in another kvetching of the Yanks. Jeter, alas, was having a good day and Brother Matt felt vindicated. (Fools gold, thought I. My son’s career has more future).

Day’s end was approaching—the highlight yet to come. Rejoining the women, I found them feeding The Prince. Politely, I hung around.

“Do you want to feed him?” they asked in unison. My smile, again, was my answer.

Spoon in right hand, I eased toward his mouth. In an instant no less momentous than Moses parting the Red Sea…it opened! Not a clean shot, I’ll admit. Most of the rice, though, wet, sloppy as it was…found his gums.

One time was enough, (I figured), handing the spoon to the lady in the on-deck circle.  I was on the board having fed my boy. Dayenu!

I looked at the kid…and smiled. Soon I’d be returning to Cleveland. 

I packed my bags that night enriched not only by the weekend, but by the firm belief that I too, had the world by the kalooms.

     “…Everytime that you are in the room.”

                                      Jackie DeShannon

EVERY MOTHER’S SON

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

My mother was not perfect. Stubborn—at times self-centered, the lady was, if nothing else, honest. Indeed, to my knowledge, she lied to me but once.
It was 1963 in the parking lot—Cedar-Taylor Optical–we were discussing her marriage. “Your Dad moved out,” she said, “But only for a while.” This, of course, was untrue, (unless “a while” can be defined “forever”).

Her comment, to be sure, was borne of concern, of need to protect…and it was what I needed to hear at that time. Elaine Delores Hoffman Bogart (86 Bogart) Lerner Turner was but the first of many to love and nurture me. In the years that followed, while remaining my father’s son, I also stayed coachable…gleaning lessons from a myriad of beautiful women

Cele Porter was our mother’s mother. First of the food chain born in the States, she married twice. Husband Harry, (my granddad), died in ’49 to be followed by Irv Porter. Cele, having lived through The Great Depression, wanted more for her kids. As such, our Mom out did her, marrying thrice. To this day, though, I
close my eyes and picture Grandma Cele’s apartment, filled to the brim with aunts, uncles, cousins…of Seders and Chanukah parties. Flipping memory’s screen I see her wading in the pool at The Riviera, tongue deeply imbedded in her false teeth…ready, willing and able to splash her six grandchildren at play. The water was never too cold for Cele Porter.

Our Dad’s mom was different…of a different world. Gladys (nee Baronovich) Bogart hailed from Lomza, Poland. Educated, devoted to Judaism, accepting of almost anything, she rarely rocked the boat. Except once: It was the second Seder. South Euclid’s Little League had scheduled a managers’ meeting and our was ripping through the service. “Albert,” she admonished her grown son (with that Russian-Polish edge), “They would never have a meeting on Good Friday.” “Ma, please,” whined my father, sitting and slowing his pace, and pouting.

My college years brought two new faces. Junior year, I fell for The Jersey Girl and met HER mom. Lil Selzer, raised in the Jewish aristocracy of rural western Pennsylvania, would some day be my mother-in-law. I cherish not only her memory, but the lesson of her steadfast devotion to family.

Enter Harriet.

Experts said there would be a man on the moon before our father’d fall in love again. They were right. And so it was that in autumn, ’69 we met our Harriet
So smitten was the old man that he summoned Marilyn to make Chanukah latkes for a planned impromptu introduction to his future. (And ours). Decades after our meeting at 20 East 14, she continues to weave the lesson of family.

But it all started, (I’m reminded this Mothers Day), with our Mom.

“Just remember, Buddy Boy,” she’d tell us, “After I’m gone you’ll only have each other.” If she said it once, she said it a thousand times. “After I’m gone, there’ll only be the two of you….Remember that!”

Elaine Turner closed her eyes in April, 2009. Her last years were spent watching Bruce and Hal, two boys from Hopkins Avenue, Cleveland, clearly loving each other. My gut tells me that, having seen this, she saw no further reason to live. My heart tells me, seeing this, she died happy.

IF I WERE A CARPENTER

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Herb Loveman would often exclaim “If you see a Jew with a hammer in his hand, he’s selling it.” We’d laugh, of course, knowing full well it wasn’t quite true.

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

Will stood in the rain and spoke of his father. Ducked under the tent, he was at that moment, no taller than kid brother Mitch.

“When I was in the second grade,” he said, “Dad told my friends he’d wrestled alligators. I guess we all knew it wasn’t true.”

Chuckling a bit, gripped in bittersweet, our friend continued: “My father was a carpenter. He didn’t only build homes though, he built lives.”

It was hard not to be moved…hard not to think.

Glancing up to the red in Bobby’s eyes (Stu stood behind), I heard not a word that followed. My heart, you see—no, make that my mind—was busy racing, busy asking: indeed, what kind of carpenter was I ? What foundation did we provide? What bedrock did the brick and mortar of my imperfect life construct?

There’s no handbook for being a parent; it’s not a science. We do the best we can with what we have…

And pray…

Pray that our kids take the best from each of us, leave the rest to each of us…and that they too grow up to be carpenters.

BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

A Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew are in a bar. ‘Sounds like the beginning of the worn “formula” joke (but it’s not). It is, rather, a reference to a time long gone, a snapshot of the mid 90′s: my bottom. There, in a “restaurant” at Mayfield and Richmond, midst chatter and second-hand smoke, stood a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew.

Tracy was young then—late 20′s. The girls all liked him, and as lead bartender he was point guard for the tavern. By that time I was strolling in nightly, meeting Ed, maybe Gary Krinsky…often no one. Trace was good; the drink always beat me to my seat.

Sam was my server of choice. Short, affable, we connected from Day One. You know: that Judao-Italian thing. Each arrival, kids in tow, we’d sit in his station. Adroitly he’d tender my drinks, JUST as the girls played pinball or Michael shot hoops. Double Jack Daniels, always straight up, always on a separate check.

And that was my so-called life….until it wasn’t.

I got sober in ’97 and needless to say, lost contact. Ed’s girlfriend didn’t like me; our playgroup was cancelled. Krinsky moved west and Tracy, I’d heard, was working downtown. Sammy: he just evaporated.

I stayed sober and life got better, one day at a time.

It was at a meeting in 2005 that I next saw Sam. I picture it like it was yesterday. Church parking lot, Fairmount and Coventry, two friends embracing not only each other, but recovery. He called himself “Sal” by then, apparently his given name. And he was homeless.

“How long are you clean?” I asked.
“Two months.”
“You can stay at my place,” said I, “…get on your feet.”
“You’re kidding…how much?”
(I wasn’t going to charge him. It wasn’t the money).
“Just don’t use.”

Sam—excuse me—SAL, moved in days later. Jon, a program guy, helped him schlep.

It didn’t take, though. Didn’t work out. He wasn’t working, wasn’t hitting meetings, and (let’s face it) , wasn’t straight.

“Should I tell him to leave?” I asked my sponsor, somewhat plagued with guilt.
“You have to,” he said.
“He’s a friend.”
“He’s NOT a friend,” urged David, “But if he is, you’re not doing him any favors.”

I told him, days later.
“Dude!” he responded, leaving that night without embrace.

Sal’s been back, of course, to the rooms. Strings together a few months, here and there. Always thanks me, these days, for the past. And—give the devil his due—twice the guy’s moved my niece’s furniture. But he can’t stay clean.

Tracy also found the rooms. He too, never stayed. I saw him years ago, (maybe three)…at a meeting. Last one in, first one to leave…sparkle clearly gone.

They’re not, of course, the only remnants of my Scooter’s days. Everyone once in a while I see other barmaids, servers. We laugh fondly of those times; I’ve even represented a few.

As for Sal…I saw him here and there when I played poker more. Nothing, I could sense, had changed. Tracy, though, I would never see again.

They held a wake yesterday. For my bartender, Tracy…dead at 45, the direct result of alcoholism. And I asked myself again, why I’ve been lucky—stayed healthy. Indeed, but for the grace of God….

This year alone: Jeffrey, Jimmy…and now…

I stood at the home with Coach Sam, just talking. Our paths cross here and there—he helps a lot of people. (Both Sal and Trace, in fact, had stayed at his place). Like always, I was tempted to remind the coach that years ago…way back when…he was on our radio show.

I never, though, bring it up. Why would I ?

It’s just not important.