Archive for February, 2012


Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

         “…This is the song, La la la la, Max’s song…”

Al Bogart had an expression: “This sucks canal water”, he’d say. Can’t remember where he used it; can’t recall why. I do know though, when it fits. Long distance grand-parenting, for example, sucks canal water.
The elevator opened directly across from my kids’ unit Friday and I was greeted by The Prince. He stood there smiling, eyeing this wandering Jew, his sweet head arched 45 degrees to the north. Dulcet twinkle in his eyes, he sensed safety (what with his mother there), but truth is, he didn’t know who I was.  Probably.

Part of me believed, you see. The piece some deem half-full yet others just call “dreamer”—that portion said he’d picked up my scent—or maybe my voice, and he knew.

“Go show Grandpa where the froggies are!” urged his mother, me dropping to my knees. And he did. The playing field now leveled, we shot down the hall—Max walking, me feverishly crawling to keep up (only one of us knowing where we headed), until the journey mercifully ended. There in the fourth floor’s far endzone was a doormat, a doormat adorned with nothing but croakers. ‘Twas there that we rested, two infants separated by six decades, bonding with frogs.

It was a great weekend, of course. It always is. There’s a Cinderella aspect to it, though…always. Like when I hit Chicago. Like when I smile at Lucy. No matter how warm it is, no matter how synced our rhythms, it feels temporal. Always.

I’m not complaining—just venting. I know I’m lucky and have more than many. Still, when I get one-on-one time with Max, I can’t help but wonder how this all happened. How in the hell did my progeny wind up spread over lo these many miles? I mean, hey—not only did the paternal grandmother waiver her east coast rights by schooling in Ohio, but I swear—I looked at my records—I’ve never left town!

So we sat there, later Friday. Never one NOT to overdo a good thing, I played him “Elmo’s Song” from Youtube perhaps twenty straight times. He loved it! Again it was two infants, sharing smiles. But did he know me?

Time was spent, to be sure, with his parents—quality time. We joked; we laughed, and of course there was the obligatory press conference:

Michael: “Dad, would you ever consider moving to New York?”
Bruce: “We’ve been over this.”

Meredith: “Bruce, really, have you never had an olive?”
Bruce: “Meredith, we’ve been over this. Neither has my brother.”
Meredith (follow up inquiry): “But Harold’s more normal than you—“
Bruce: “Get him on the phone,” I interrupted.

It was my brother’s birthday. What better way to celebrate than further interview?

Bruce: “I’ll dial.”
Meredith: “Harold, why don’t Bogarts eat olives?”

(This was just the pre-game. Max, stirring on the monitor, mandated a move to important issues).

“It’s the 26th. When do you think Aunt Helen’s writing her rent check?”

“Harold, has your father ever put anything together in his life. Have you?”
(In celebration of Michael’s hallmark achievement—putting together a bike for Max—we learned that Hal once made a bookshelf and confirmed that I remained “on the schnide”).

And then the kid was back. Ambling to the inner sanctum of Chez Bogart, sixteen months of joy took charge. It was the stuff that parents thrive on, but grandparents—especially long distance ones—live for.

“Max, how old are you?” Hands flew up, index fingers out—like Richard Nixon on a good day.  “And where’s your __________”, one body part after another, some less appropriate than others. (I call him The Prince but this was clearly his kingdom).

“I wish I could be sure he knew me,” said I demurely.
“Max,” urged Meredith, “Give this to Grandpa.”

And then…tympany….

Forget the ’51 Giants! Forget Bobby Thomson! This would be The Shot Heard “Round The World. It came in the form of an outstretched arm—to me.

Soon after, we said goodbye. Airport-bound, I kissed his forehead, memorized yet another smile….and bid adieu.

It was time to leave.  My coach was turning into a pumpkin.

       “…I love the music,
       I love the words.
       That’s Max’s song….”

                  (Adapted from Tony Gleiss and The Muppets)


Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Dear H,

There’s been a symmetry to life that, on the eve of your birthday, I treasure more and more.

We were born sixteen months apart in the midst of the “baby boom”. How proximate is that? It would be like Max, the Prince Of Great Neck, gaining a brother next week.

Our mother—in the 50’s and 60’s—-not only considered us twins, but dressed us accordingly. We were oh so young then, and to family and friends, we were two peas in a pod: “The Boys”.

In tandem it was swift pitching on Rowland’s front lawn, hardball at the diamond, and sometimes, (though only at last resort), softball in the blacktopped area around back. We were, like I said, “The Boys”.

And it wasn’t just the school yard. In Little League we both wore blue on white for Hollywood, and yes, White Sox too. Moreover, to the extent that rules permitted, we shared a manager (some bald, fat man schlepping around a bat rack).

The realm of baseball, though, was idyllic. Outside, a real world waited. I didn’t like it trekking to Cedar-Center Lanes for bowling—kid brother tagging along. Not at all.

“Someday when your father and I are gone,” our melodramatic mother would urge, “All you’ll have is each other.”
“OK Mom.”

Teen years were awkward. Divorce had divided Eden us. Through junior high and high school we were rarely in the same building. What’s more, the camaraderie of Hebrew School carpools was no more, (a direct result of our two disparate post-Bar Mitzvah conversations


Bruce: “Dad, do you care now if I quit Hebrew school?”
Albert: “I’m sure you’ll do what you think is right”
(I went through ’67).


Harold: “Mom, do you care now if I quit Hebrew School?”
Elaine: “No.”
(You stopped on a dime).

Next came college, in Columbus. These were salad days. For a few brief years, Dad—his odyssey ended—had his sons together again…his “boys”.

Middle decades blur. The 70’s and 80’s begot the 90’s and a new century. Focus, though, returned. Our father gone and mother rusting, we learned, in OUR fifties and sixties, that we didn’t need baseball to team up.

How great was that? How special to see…long after her voice had stilled, that Mom was right?

H, bonded as I am to a myriad of wonderful, caring friends, the greatest of them all is you…my kid brother.

The best days of my life—front end and back—have been the years that we’ve been closest. It’s not coincidence.

Have a happy 61st. I’ll be back in town soon. If you want, we can even go bowling.

I love you,


Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Conventional wisdom dictates that carrying resentments, even justifiable ones, is useless. Still, it was hard not to laugh and impossible not to rejoice when, appearing on Letterman a few weeks back, Howard Stern ripped into Leno. One had to applaud the way Stern had his friend’s back.

It reminded me of events from freshman year. Transferring to OSU for Winter Quarter ‘68, I shared a dorm room with Fenton, Fischer and Wieder. Alan, I came to learn, had developed intense dislike for another fourth-floor student named Preksta. Stuart, moreover, had issues with Marshall Miller, also down the hall. My allegiance, while predictable, led to mixed results.

Preksta—a westside Clevelander, ultimately corralled his roommates, and in Alan’s absence, swarmed upon me, pushed me into a bathroom and gave me a “swirlie”. (This, I learned that day, is what you call it when they thrust your head in a toilet and flush).

Interaction with the other guy went better. Stuart arranged a boxing match—gloves and all—between the Miller and me. We fought to a draw just outside the fourth floor elevators—three full rounds. Neither of us, I recall, landed a punch. It was two days later that I caught my breath.

So much for carrying buddies’ spears. Life, short as it is, mandates peace, not war (let alone someone else’s battles).

Well, not for everyone.

At Wednesday’s breakfast discussion turned to the NBA Allstar party. Administered annually by Les, this gala’s attended primarily by Ohio State Sammys and is held at a restaurant on game night. It’s an evening of reunion, sideboards, and fun.

I was lamenting a conflict in scheduling and noted the concurrence that night, of the Academy Awards.

“I can’t believe you watch that show,” said Les.
(I reminded him that both Clooney and Pitt were nominated).
“You know,” he asserted, “I’ve boycotted the Oscars since ’69”.
“You’ve GOT to be kidding me!”

Turns out he wasn’t. Turns out that so incensed was our friend when Dustin Hoffman (“Midnight Cowboy”) lost Best Actor—-so unnerved was he that John Wayne (“True Grit”) got the nod—that he just stopped watching. On a dime.

You can’t imagine how intrigued I was that this erudite professional could sustain such rancor.

“Let me ask you,” I pursued, “Are there any other grudges I should know about?”

“Well…” he began, reciting a list…

“Wait a minute—I NEED to write this down.”

And I did—the whole list (or what I thought was the whole list).

Methodically, then, he recited. It was like the scroll of yahrtzeits read weekly at Shabbos services. Still, there was method to his madness…even logic.

The City Of Cleveland Heights (for cause we all knew), and Mel Gibson (anti-semite), and Spike Lee (racist) and Vanessa Redgrave (see: Mel Gibson) and…Charlton Heston.

“Charlton Heston?” I interrupted, (the rest being obvious).
“For his N.R.A. crap.”

Parting shortly thereafter, I felt invigorated by the morning’s rant. How refreshing that our mild-mannered friend held such strong resentments! I wondered what he thought “in the day” when his pal Pollack’s jumped teams to play for our Sol’s Boys. Oh well, fodder for next week…

Just yesterday I thought to crafting a blog of it all: The Letterman show, the dorm wars, and Les’s whole list. It was 8:18 last night when the text came in.

It was from Les—unsolicited. Hadn’t talked to him since Wednesday. ”I forgot to mention I’m boycotting the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame until the Moody Blues get in,” he noted.

I smiled…and chuckled.  Forget Ronnie Pollack; come Wednesday I’ll ask about Jan & Dean.


Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

       “…You reach out your hand 
       But you’re all alone, in these
       Time passages….”
                                     Al Stewart

It was just before 1 Sunday as I drove down Cedar. One car ahead was Kraut. In tandem we would pay respects to our friend Arlene—lifelong since Rowland—whose father had just now passed.

The kids tease me. Derisively they’ll comment, count, and note the many funerals I go to. I do attend too many; we all do.

What I didn’t see at thirty (and barely knew at forty) was that death is a part of life. I like bris’s and love weddings. H and I, though, were raised by our parents to support family and friends through each spoke of life’s cycle.

I remember our youth, when aunts, uncles and third/world cousins were dying off. It was the day of men-only pall bearers and our clan, estrogen-laden that it was, did not have a deep bench. As such, when the Woldman boys left town, Hal and I took their slots in the rotation at Berkowitz. Indeed, so often we were called upon that my brother, displaying early brilliance, once took the gray gloves home with him— tucking them in his sport jacket for the next burial.

It was then, as it is now, about our upbringing. Our parents didn’t teach us to hunt or build model airplanes; they didn’t even teach us to budget. No, they only knew what they knew. Our mother, (especially when well), and our father, pretty much always, honored the tenets of friendship and family. As such, their behaviors, even more than words, spoke volumes. That’s why, to this day, if we do nothing else right, my brother and I show up.

“Yeah, Dad,” chides my son, “But you have to admit you go to more funerals than most of your friends.”

Must I again point out the obvious? Living one’s whole life in two square miles..being HERE. That’s why I hit so many. Like Arthur, and Bobby, and Stuart (in summer). We show when Will’s Dad goes and pay condolences for others. It’s what we were taught (all of us), and what we do.

The wheel keeps turning—that’s all. My children read the Jewish News for weddings and births. In the day I did that. Bar Mitzvahs came next, followed again by weddings, (only this time friends’ kids were getting married).

Life was simpler when we all lived forever. The only thing I cared about at thirty was immediate family and the lodge. It was the pink cloud of my life— all horizon. And yes—it was the right place to be…at thirty.

I’m sixty now (62 if you’re counting). On the back nine. David’s gone, and Benny, and others, (not to mention the so few of our parents still left on the course). All too often the news is bad.

We keep paddling–all of us:  Bobby, Art and the handful in town.  We’ve learned, each of us—that death is a part of life, and that life’s about showing up.

It was just before 1 Monday, as I drove down Cedar. My friend Kim had lost her father…


Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There is a scene in the film “50/50” where the cancer-stricken protagonist is kvetching to his shrink (played by Anna Kendrick). Noting that his dad has Alzheimer’s, he further bemoans daily calls received from his mother—considering her but a well-meaning pain-in-the-ass (and nag).  He awaits the doctor’s sympathy.

“So,” says the Anna Kendrick character, “She has no one to talk to, does she?”

I sat with The Little One, watching the flick…thinking…of Aunt Helen. Recalling a lesson from recovery—that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change—-I resolved once again to try harder.

                                Act I

As the curtain rises, it is Monday morning, just past 9, on a walk-way directly underneath Lakeside Avenue in downtown Cleveland.  Scurrying through the tunnel, hearing my phone ring, I gazed down. There, glaring like the beacon of a watch tower was the exact sequence of numbers that for years has been used by veterinarians to neuter bulls: 216932…

Buoyed by recent resolution, I chose to pick up.

‘Aunt Helen?”
‘It’s not 9:30. You said never call before 9:30.”

(There is something about those without cell phones: they have mental blocks. No matter how often they’re told that if two speak simultaneously neither’s quite heard, they just don’t grasp it. My aunt is no exception. As such, I paused before the security gate, trying to get a word in. Communication, however, stalled).

“WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” she said as I said “ 1 o’clock.” as she said “WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” as I said “ 1 o’clock.” as she said “WHEN ARE WE GOING SHOPPING?” and then screamed “WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING ME? YOU ARE MEAN.”

Finally she went to commercial break.

“I’ll pick you up at 1, Aunt Helen. We always go at one. I was trying to—“


                                        Act II

The second stanza opens that very day, moments past 1 pm, in a University Heights driveway. The ignition is off.

”Did your brother go to work?”
“How do you know?”
“He told me.’
“When did you last speak with him?”
“As a matter of fact, “ I offered, “I called him on my way over here.” 
“How often do you speak with him?”
“I don’t keep track.’
“Surely you speak to him daily.’
“Surely I don’t,” I responded (which was a sign of growth.  A week prior I might have said “Don’t call me Shirley”).

A minute passed—a moment of thundering silence. Unable to resist—unable to stand prosperity, I spoke:
“Why do you care how often Harold and I speak?”
“Don’t talk to me.”

There was silence as I turned at Wrenford, heading north.  (Well—not total silence.  She reminded me yet again that my brother turns at Green.   “Why don’t you?” she wondered.)   Give the lady credit for a well-crafted inquiry.  Both rhetorical AND sarcastic, she was merely setting the table…

“You should have called me from Chicago. Why didn’t you call?”
“I didn’t call anyone from Chicago, including Harold.”
“I find it hard to believe,” she countered, “That you didn’t call your brother all weekend.’
“I find it hard to believe,’ I re-raised, ‘That you don’t believe me.”

More silence, and in time it softened to quiet.   There’s a difference, you know.  Somehow we always get there.  We were at peace again, she and I.  No longer asking questions for which there were no answers, she spoke poignantly of her parents.

“My mother spoke seven languages. Fluently.”

I knew this; I’ve known so for years.   It mattered not.   Her voice, vibrant and prideful, could not be stilled.  When our father’s sister slips into reminiscence—when she forgets to be caustic—she is elegant.

“Your grandmother loved books.”  “I know,”  I said…”Remember when she found me cutting out pictures of birds?  It was the only time Grandma ever yelled at me.”

We were smiling now—at each other.  Temporal as it was, we were smiling.  Both of us, yes BOTH of us, had someone to talk to.



Monday, February 6th, 2012

      “God bless my Lucy, baby I love.
      Stand beside her, and guide her
      Through the night, with a light
      From above…”

You could have packed my bags yesterday, after that first half hour. You oould have called the cab and shipped me back to Cleveland. I love Stace and Jace, but the weekend had peaked. In a period of thirty minutes— I repeat—the weekend had peaked.

“Jason’s going to the corner. Do you mind watching Lucy while I lay down?”
(“Are you kidding me?” I thought. “Rest child, sleep, sleep….”)

She handed me, then, my Lucy Hannah.

It’s a funny thing about babies. You hold them; you study them harder than you ever did for a test. Still, you sense damn well that in spite of it all, they don’t know who the hell you are. THEN, in spite of it all, you speak to them, smile at them and even make faces, thinking YOU they’ll remember.

(At least that’s my MO).

I held this jewel. Eyes open, she stared smack dab at her glowing granddad. And I sang. (This too, is my MO). She wouldn’t know my face, I figured, but comfort and warmth she’d feel.

I don’t know where it came from, but right then and there an impromptu parody of “God Bless America” sprang from my lips. Moreover, in those first hours of the morning I knew full well they were going to her heart.

      “…From Ohio, to Indiana,
      Cross the bridge to…

I didn’t sing it once, by the way—nor twice. I sang for the half hour. Early on a Saturday, (I hadn’t had coffee), I worried not of the frog in my voice. (Have you HEARD my younger daughter sing? For that matter, have you SEEN the video of little Joey Goodman as his mother sang?)

I sang it in rounds; I sang with interjections: “Just the girls now…just the guys…” I just kept singing.

For the first time in our lives I was holding this pink crystal of joy and the only thing I didn’t want to do more than let her go was to see her cry. All I needed, that moment, was the wide-eyed stare of my little baby.

The clock ran out, of course. It always does.

“How’s she doing?” urged Jason, entering upstage. “She didn’t cry once,” I beamed.

Stacy emerged and together we shared the couch. Lingering, eyes on the prize, we planned the day.

I didn’t matter what we did—at all. I sat there quietly, contently. My grandaughter, you see, now knew me.

      “…God bless my Lucy,
      My baby girl….”


Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I spent a half hour yesterday at a Roman Catholic service. Yes, this “nice Jewish boy” was at a Mass in Kirtland, Ohio, (a town, I dare say, with more churches than traffic signals). Sitting beside a good friend, prayers were offered for a beautiful baby.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****    
In his day, he says, he announced prize fights. Who knows? He’s a bit of a “Damon Runyan” character; I can see him on Short Vincent.

That was then.

I first heard Mike some time ago, at a meeting. He’d been sober twenty years (give or take), and as I sat through a myriad of comments, his was the voice I heard.

I was in a bad place that night. Eight years into recovery I found myself pressured by the past, afraid….. As my Dad would have said: I didn’t know whether “to shit or go blind.” I just wasn’t functioning.

To this day I can picture the moment. This guy stands up, looking like Spencer Tracy—if Tracy had a Jewish mother—and he shares as if speaking to me. Just to me.

He spoke of fear…of his being “up against it”…and of his faith that God would protect him. He was calm.

Walking from the hall that eve, I was a different man. Emboldened by Mike’s message, his belief…I reinforced mine. That night—that very night—the faith I felt in my head shot down to my heart. It was the signal moment in my life.

Years passed before our paths next crossed. . It was a Friday night on Wilson Mills, and I was “leading” the meeting. Speaking as we do, without notes…just telling my story…I found myself thanking those that had come before me—those that taught me lessons. Mike’s was a name I mentioned.

Years passed. Four, maybe five. It was fall, 2010: I’d developed a new sponsor and the rhythm of my program was changing. Gravitating to men’s meetings, I met more and more guys with depth in sobriety …including Mike.

There was something about his handshake that very first time that said “friend”, and something about his manner that spoke “peace”. Today, two years later, his is the reassuring presence ever reminding me of the lesson first learned in that old hall on Mayfield: that I’m safe in God’s world.

It was not surprising then, what happened last December. Word had filtered; prayers were uttered…and Mike phoned.

“What’s your baby’s name?” he asked.

The card came a few days later. It named the church, the date, and the hour…

Our people: we call it a “Misha Berach”. It’s the traditional prayer for the sick, often made from a pulpit. The Catholics—they speak of “Intentions”. To God it’s all the same.

So there we were, sitting in his church, for my grandchild. Side-by-side.  It was morning—half past eight.  I was a long way from the night I’d first heard him. Mike was a long way from Short Vincent.

There we were, the two of us, at peace in the prime of our lives.