Archive for April, 2012

WAR AND PEACE

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Woody Hayes used to say that when you put the ball in the air three things can happen and two of them are bad. ‘Tis true too of falling in love.

“Are you sending your ex a birthday card?” “I was asked recently.
“No.”
The response, void of anger or sarcasm, came not so much from the heart as from a cave of deep neutrality.

The Jersey Girl was my first. From winter quarter junior year (when romance took off), through final decree a quarter century later, it was a time of love, sweat, and ultimately tears. Only now, two decades after the fall, am I finding perspective. Only now—through a keener lens—do I see the inevitability of it all. What chance did Grace Slick and Richie Cunningham ever have…. really?

I was crazy about her, in the day. I was at once doting, insecure, possessive, smitten and naïve. What I wasn’t, ever, was confident—confident enough in myself to address our differences. And there were many. Even in those years of passion, there were many.

We came from different worlds; we wanted different things. Maybe.

She was east; I was midwest; she was cool; I was not. And those were just headlines. On good days she had insouciance, legs and looked like young Shirley Maclaine dating Ronnie Howard; in tough times it was more like her Moe to my Curly. Surprisingly—despite the contrast—it worked.

When we met she spoke of graduating and travelling Europe. My plans were different. I wanted to see Ohio—all of it. There was the time, indeed, that I urged her to move to Columbus. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” she cried, (and we settled on Cleveland).

And so we fought. Even in the good times—and there were many—we fought.

It’s an unfair equation—divorce. The folly of fighting lingers long after smiles fade. Unfair to all, perhaps. Seven progeny later, do not memories of good times deserve longer shelf life?

She was, though, a better fighter than me. Not meaner—just better. I fought defensively: afraid to show strength, to take stands—afraid to just be myself, to let the chips fall. Like the poker player sitting short stacked at a table, I played not to lose. Indeed, a bit more confidence in myself, a bit more confidence in our pairing….

(Thinking back: did I always run scared? How often—in all parts of life— was I ruled by fear?)

I recall one time, even before the wedding. Selling Highlights in Indianapolis… insecure…my mind started playing the “What if?” game. Stopping at a payphone, I dialed: 1 201 973 6617
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing.”
I didn’t believe her. Aware her east coast friends felt she could do better, I panicked. I don’t know what others do with anxiety, but here’s what I did: Stopping work on a dime I drove eleven hours straight through to Jersey. From Indiana to Ohio to PA—-I 80 wasn’t done back then— to her steps in Passaic.

“Ha, ha…Bruce, my boy,” her Dad greeted me. It was dark by then. “Sherry’s at Roberta’s. She didn’t say you were coming!”

Even with real issues, (and not my imagined ones), she fought better. Not meaner, —just better.

When we tussled then, I craved closure. Immediate closure. I just wanted to know that everything was going to be OK. Not Jersey though; she’d wait. So we’d have a blowout, let’s say, moments before going out with another couple. And then, twenty minutes later, over dinner with the Mandels or Fentons, she’d be smiling, chatting, laughing—as if nothing had happened, as if nothing was pending. Me? I’d be aching inside, studying her facials, wondering just what shoe would fall.

Then it ended. Not immediately, but over time. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Out of the bedroom in ’91; out of the house in ’93; RIP in ’95. Overnight the loving didn’t matter, the fighting didn’t matter, who was right didn’t matter….and all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put…

I was reminded the other day just how awkward I felt as recently as Michael’s engagement. There we were, mother and father of the groom, in tandem. Long past the last bullet, years into cease fire—yet awkward.

Alas, this too has passed. Time, as it always does, works wonders.

Today I stand in a place of serenity, neutrality. Forty years after she was my first, I feel peace. Yes, our differences, pronounced as ever, remain. And yes, we’re night and day. But there is peace.

People ask me, time and again, “What’s with your ex?”
“I never see her,” I say, “Except for life cycle events.”
(Once, I’m reminded— it was years ago—I walked into Zin with Rolo and the hostess shooed us downstairs quickly—the ex was in the rest room). Rarely though, do our paths cross.

Which is fine.

Today I laugh at the past and if nothing else, accept its unfunny. Three kids…four grandchildren later, it makes for a pretty happy ending.

FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH MAX

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Exhausted yet exhilarated, it’s good to be home. A wondrous weekend concluded, I am resting…’til the next one.

The pendulum swung east last Friday, and exiting La Guardia, nuzzling the “ziskeit” in the car seat, I spoke:
“He’s the straw that stirs the drink!”
“I like that expression!” said Meredith.
(Honorable man that I am, I confessed: “It’s Reggie Jackson’s line. Can’t believe you’ve never heard it.”)

There can be no greater joy than WATCHING a child-like innocence in a park.  Eyeing it all, Max ambled from swing to slide to teeter totter…smiling all the way. I’m thinking Meredith and I have been in three parks now with Max, (not counting the one upstate with coyotes; we went there Saturday; I didn’t leave the car).

Max loves the park. There wasn’t a time this weekend when in field goal range he didn’t announce it. (It sits, in fact, a block from the Great Neck Diner).  Me? I’d have been announcing the upcoming restaurant. Not my Max, though. He’s evolved.

“Paa…paa”
“Later Max. We’ going to eat now.”
“Paa…paa”

Nor is his growth limited to greenery. Most babies point to their body parts: “Where’s your mouth? “Where’s your nose?’ “Where are your ears?” Elementary!  Others, too, can “Make a muscle.”  Permit me to brag:  Max makes two.  (Big deal, you say? That’s two more than I’ve ever made—and I’m SIXTY-2). Yeah, he’s come a long way since New Year’s Eve—when all he did was stuff a nurf ball.

Ten weeks later, I see the change.

The kid eats avocados, for one. I’m not thrilled with this, of course. The next thing you know they’ll have him eating olives. Let it go, Meredith; he’s a Bogart.

And the kid dovens—on demand.

“Max, show me how you doven,” anyone may ask. Immediately, be he sitting or standing, his neck jerks down, as if in a Sholem Aleichem tale. And the crowd roars…and someone else says “Max, doven!”…and the crowd roars, and….

The kid cares about me, though. He showed it. (I’m not certain he knows who I am but he cares!). Consider:

It was last Friday. Done with the lunch, the swings, the teeter totter, it was nap time for all. Max took the crib, Meredith the bed and me? Worn from an early flight, I hugged the floor. Gladly.

It couldn’t have been an hour later, though. Not certain who woke up first, but it wasn’t me. What I do know is that, eyes closed, face in carpet, palm over forehead, I heard noise.  (It was Meredith).

“He’s OK, Max…Bruce, get up. Show Max you’re OK!”

Peering out I saw the wince of a child staring at some lug on the ground. He looked scared—puzzled at least.

“Get up Bruce.  You’re scaring him.”

Rising like the phoenix:  “I’m OK, Max.”

It was, clearly a weekend of fun and family, all set against an angelic child. All-but-speaking, he directs traffic and misses nothing. By Monday he heard his mother read stories (all of which she knew by heart), learned a grandfather loved Stooges, and yearned for more time with his “best friend ‘La la’”.

And he would have reminded me—as all the children do— he would have reinforced—as (from Michael the oldest through Lucy the youngest) they always do, that it is the time together that matters.

And that we can’t take time for granted.

That it moves too quickly.

But that if I’ve time to be with my children…and my grandchildren…and my family…that I am truly blessed.

And rich. And satisfied. And grateful.

And now, Max:  Let us doven.

For time.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Twin grocery bags emerged through the rear view mirror.  Inside them, days after Pesach, were ten big boxes of matzoh.

I must be mellowing. For whatever reason, I handle Aunt Helen better these days. My mouth stays shut; I let things pass.  Sometimes I even laugh.

This, by the way, is no mean task. Two months shy of 98 she remains one tough lady.

It’s not so much that she’s preferred Hal to me. “”Why wouldn’t I?” she’s said to all. Or that she’s criticized entities as disparate as Cleveland’s Institute Of Music (“I tried to help them. Why don’t they want my list of composers?”) and Giant Eagle (“Don’t tell me how many stores there are. They don’t know how to merchandise.”). It’s not even her discord with others, a constant in all her relationships. No, this is just one tough broad.

Ask Cousin Norm about their recent lunch.

“We’ll go to First Watch,” he said, helping her in the car. “It’s two minutes away.”
“Might we go somewhere else?” she insisted at her passive-aggressive best. “Please. I get out so rarely.”
“What did you have in mind?” he asked—oblivious after all these years.
“Let’s go to the First Watch by Eastgate. The booths are softer.”

No good deed, of course, goes unpunished.

Still I laugh these days and, gazing back at the matzoh, I revel at her nonsense.  At least today.

It was a week ago you see. I was leaving  Jack’s  Deli with Jacobson when a big sign caught my eye. “MATZOH $3.00″.

Immediately I thought of my aunt.  We shop each Friday and as she mistrusts non-kosher bakers, each week she picks up matzoh. Like clockwork.  What a good nephew I might be by jumping on this sale.

I made the call.

With my aunt, though, it’s always what you don’t expect.  Always.

“Aunt Helen,” I said, “Matzoh’s on sale. Should I get some?” (Mid-sentence, the owner Alvie walked by. Clearly, he’d heard our discourse).
“How many you want? Today’s the last day…” he shouted. “I’ll give’m to you for $2.”
In my other ear shried Helen: “Three boxes. Get me three.”

I hung up the phone when my ego took hold.

“How many, Bruce?” urged Alvie.
“I’ll take them all, ” I proclaimed. “Whatever you’ve got!”

I had it all planned out, big shot that I am. Helen wanted three boxes and figured to spend $9.00. I could give her TEN boxes—I would tell her they wound up being a dollar apiece—and for the extra dollar she’d be thrilled, she’d have matzoh through the summer and best of all:  I’d be a hero.

Alas, like I said: with my aunt, it’s always what you don’t expect.

I wasn’t even out of Jack’s lot when my cellphone buzzed. It was her. This, (I knew), could not be good for the Jews.

“Aunt Helen?” I said. “Is everything OK?”
“Where are you?”
“At Jack’s. We just talked. Is everything OK?”
“I’m glad you’re still there,” she said. “I changed my mind. Don’t buy me the matzoh.”

I STARTED A JOKE

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Tongue deep in cheek I turned to my aunt. “Harold and I are going to the Three Stooges movie. Do you want to join us?” Her silence was deafening.

I’ve read that the world is made of two types of people. There are those who think The Stooges are funny—and those who don’t understand why others think so. It’s a dynamic not limited to Larry, Curly and Moe and a paradigm that reminds me of Stuart and yes…myself.

To this day, Fenton makes me laugh; (I’m in the minority). Decades down the road his nonsense, repetitive as it is, breaks me up. Years after the first phony phone call I roar as he gives French lessons by phone. Indeed, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Was I not (just weeks ago) reciting his foreign gibberish in Great Neck? I love too, STILL, Stu’s “agitate and aggravate” game plan. How often in Vegas a few years back, did Snyder demand of me “B, why do you have to egg him on?” Indeed, Arthur wasn’t laughing, Ermine wasn’t laughing. No, these two lifelong friends, frustrated, just stared at two schmucks from Bayard…laughing.

Maybe it IS us? Does it matter?

It was 1972. Out east for my wedding, my eightyish grandmother unpacked at the Jersey motel. Looking up, she found, hanging proudly, a framed watercolor painted years earlier by her niece. Perplexed, this grand lady, fluent in seven languages, turned to my father:

“Albert, why is this here?”
“Bruce,” he chortled, perhaps even putting down his cigarette. “Are you responsible for this?” Triumphantly I recounted sneaking it from her duplex to my suitcase to the wall of the Howard Johnson’s.

My dad laughed of course, and I laughed— but his mother just stared. Not only did she not GET the joke, but she didn’t know there was one.

Some bits never get old.

Adorning the stage of my recent show was a massive framed photograph of yours truly. It was, perhaps, 12 by 18. Moreover, final curtain having fallen and its value gone, they gave it to me. What to do…

Days after we closed Stacy came in. As I stopped to see her (she stayed with the ex), opportunity knocked. Hard. Readying for dinner, The Little One erred leaving me alone downstairs. What better to do than pull the picture from my trunk (it might have stayed there a year), gingerly replace the dusty framing of three barefoot kids that Ms. Jersey had in her living room, and keep quiet?

There is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. There is, moreover, no greater aphrodisiac than positive reinforcement.

Enthralled by my nonsense, Stacy not only took a picture of my picture on her mother’s wall, but put it on Facebook. As if that wasn’t enough, days later, some 350 miles away, my brother-in-law responded:

“…That reminds me…” he posted, “…of when either your father or Uncle Harold brought a picture from your Great grandmother’s (and Aunt Helen’s) house and hung it in their hotel room at your parent’s (sic) wedding….”

Joel’s validation, his memory some forty years later, spoke volumes.

As far as I can tell, my visage hung at the ex’s for days—at least through their first Seder. I sense this because at the SECOND Seder, the subject arose. At the hind end of the table, away from the madding crowd, I sat there listening. Innocently listening.

Stacy regaled them, sharing the story of the picture on the wall, and how the night before the Seder guests had laughed… and how no one knew YET where the picture of the children was.

“Where is it Bruce?” demanded my ex.
“Trust me, it’s safe,” I said. “Still on the property site”
“Just tell me where it is,” she repeated, (more frustrated than mad).

They were laughing, my brother and crew. They’d seen the movie before but still they were laughing.

“It’s in your garage,” I told her. “Protected.”
“Thank you,” she said, and turned to the masses.

“You think it’s funny?” she asked rhetorically. “You try living with him!”
And then they laughed harder. Much harder.

(Not all of them, I must say. I didn’t laugh. At all. Not only didn’t I GET the joke—I didn’t know there was one).

FORTY EIGHT HOURS

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

With his familial warmth my brother, sitting at the closed end of the table, held forth. On his left elbow Friday night, in the only seat not requiring a place card, was Aunt Helen. Bill James had it as her 195th Seder, (recalling with her how she’d been suspended from a second Seder years back). Me? I sat at the other end—the open end. It was away from the heavy-hitters—almost another zipcode in fact—but a better seat. On my elbow, cradled as a bundle of bliss, was Lucy.  Unfazed, 760 Passover nights behind her great, great aunt, she watched the show.

You’re not missing anything if you’ve never been to a Bogart Seder, (unless of course, you have a sense of humor). We sing in Hebrew, read in English and revere our heritage. Still, as much as anything else, we laugh.

I love this holiday; I specifically love the meals. In a common foxhole, Jews congregate, recalling, remembering what Pharoah did to us.

“Seder” means “order”. In proscribed fashion we run through liturgy honoring old traditions, creating new ones….and speak to the past.

Each family, of course, has its own NONSENSE: matters funny only to that clan—doings that would not and could not be appreciated any place other than under that one roof. Upgrading this narishkeit, we dub it tradition. This gives it street cred.

The Haggadah, for example, notes ten plagues. Twice yearly our people dip pinkies in wine, methodically reciting “Dom, blood…Tsfardayah, frogs…” Our cutting edge family has eleven.  While globally members of the tribe build poignantly to that tenth affliction, (killing of the first born), Bogarts keep dipping. “Itzy,” we chant, “…Ed….”,  paying homage to our mother’s errant spouse.

I laugh. H laughs. Even Helen smiles. (If our mother had married only twice, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN ENOUGH!) “Dayeinu”, we say.

Not all new wrinkles find ready acceptance. Hal’s handout this year—the lyrics to “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”—met with mixed results. Yes, nearly twenty sang along, but yes too…it sounded like a dirge. My sense is he’ll speed up the audio next spring, in a make-or-break year.

A tired Lucy left mid-Seder, (actually, right after that song). By morning she was fresh. On a sunny northeast Ohio day (that’s why people move here!), two parents, two grandpas and a baby brunched in the ambience of Sara’s Place.
As our infant slept soundly, we spoke of health, of baby naming…and of the present. Lucy, to the side of our four-top, was at my elbow.

Then came Sunday.

They were leaving town, so I stopped to see her. The baby.

She was upstairs in her grandma’s crib. Sleeping.

I had never been upstairs at the ex’s house. Not in all those years. It wasn’t, frankly, on my Bucket List.

“May I go up?” I asked Stacy, (sensing a Yes).
“Of course.”
“Come with me.”

My Little One led me quietly to her little one. “Don’t wake her,” she urged, (like I was some idiot that would stick his head in and a la Jerry Lewis shriek “HEY LADYYYYYYYYYYYY” !

And then she left us alone and I was quiet, only softer. So not to disturb.
This child sleeping at my elbow? I had her back.

For ten minutes I stood there, staring at the crib—at the bundle. They don’t wrap’em like they used to, I thought. What if she got cold? (I wondered). Shouldn’t there be more cover?

We’ve all been there. Watching them—squinting hard…until we’re sure we see the chest expand, contract—until we see them breathe…

So we can breathe.
And smile.
And think of their futures.

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Two brothers stared intently, their heads tilting at 45 degrees. Clearly, the hanging monitor offered a better, closer view of talent on stage. Eyeing the same screen, my bet is Hal and I saw different things. H probably focused on instrumentation. No doubt he studied the guitarists, their fingerwork. Try as I might, though, I saw the rings—the wedding rings. And I asked myself again: how is it everyone in this world is coupled, even these road-weary burnouts….but not me?.

I don’t care like I used to; I really don’t. But I notice; it’s hard not to. And I think about it too; it’s hard not to. That having been said, today, more than ever, I understand.

It bears mentioning that that the one common thread I’d noticed in Saturday’s acts, (from Sam Minus Dave through Creedence), was that all four fossils seemed to sense, to accept that their true glory days had passed. Still, they bled of gratitude, oozing joy at the opportunity to just be out there, in the arena…playing. They seemed to know their places in the grand scheme of things; they seemed content.

It’s occurred to me—just since the concert—that instead of worrying about why I’m not in a relationship, instead of counting the wedding rings, I’d be better served if, like the musicians, I just accepted my place in the sun. Fact is, when it comes to romance, I’m no kid anymore. Do I not, though, have value? I’m like the young pitcher that has a good career (the back of my baseball card would show 22 years with my first team), and then, relegated to the bullpen, finishes up bouncing from team to team, quite often at mid-season. But I still have value.

I am, in baseball parlance, the perfect “middle reliever”.

No longer young enough to plan a lifetime with someone, not fiscally up to the “closer” role, it occurs to me that, again…I’m the perfect middle reliever. Indeed: factor age and finance from the equation and who better than I to keep someone in the game until she gets to her late innings? ESPECIALLY when her starting pitcher got knocked out!

I’m not only reasonably nice, but with a modicum of charm, three or four innings? Cake.

Names aren’t necessary. We all get it. Run down the relationships (should I term them “interim interactions”?) that I’ve had since ’95. What did they have in common? Each and every lady had pulled her starting pitcher and after a while…there I was. Safe, (dare I say refreshing?), I’ve been their optimal middle reliever, their perfect pathway to final innings—their segue to times when, rebalanced, they again risked their hearts.

It’s not a bad gig…really. Middle relievers rarely win, but they never lose. They walk into messes, bring stability, rarely get Saves, but never get booed. And they make friends wherever the go.

They’re in the game…playing…like aging guitarists…playing.

Some middle relievers, by the way—in the twilight of their careers, get to the World Series.

And some of them win it.

And for that they get rings.

CHANGES

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

The first I recall Ohio State in the Final Four was 1960. Miss Shafer’d directed our 5th grade class to scrapbook the month and with me being “too busy”, it fell upon our father, home recuperating from gall bladder surgery, to cut and paste. The Bucks won it that year (in an upset), and for our Dad it was like the coming of the Messiah!

By the next March I was acutely aware of the tourney. I shared then, our father’s remorse as we lost the finals in overtime one year and got blown out (again the title game) in ‘62 . (How he imploded at the latter. There was no shot clock then and as Paul Hogue’s Cincinnati went into its stall, Al Bogart stormed out of his house, seeking refuge up the street with Ralph Lomaz). He was early thirties then and had tasted only life’s victories. Years would pass, of course; there would be time and change, and he was yet to learn what really matters.

The apple, of course, doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My freshman year in Columbus, the boys returned. Even as they fell in the semi’s, even ‘though no one then could touch UCLA, it hurt. I was a baby…at eighteen, and had tasted only victory.  Years would pass; there would be time and change. I was still to learn what really matters.

Another apple fell.

The game my father viewed in black and white, the pain I took so well in living color…well…Michael walked that path too—in person. I had to look it up a bit, (and even called my boy for details), but how well I remember looking for his face in the crowd on national TV. It was Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg…1999. The Buckeyes lost that night—to Connecticut. And life went on.

In hindsight, I didn’t grow up on time. Learning life on a “need to know” basis is not recommended. Some (and I suspect my son of this), better and earlier balance their priorities.

He called last night, Michael did. Home with Meredith…and Max, warmed by the grip of family, he was in front of the tube.

The call went to voice mail.

“Sorry I missed you Dad. Hope you’re watching the game but you may be out shopping. Love you.”

Was he “busting my chops” (to coin his phrase)? It mattered not.

I was at a concert, you see: The Moonlight Coronation Ball—not that I was necessarily thrilled to be there. (Would YOU like to sit through four hours of Sam & Dave minus Dave, Creedence Clearwater minus John Fogerty AND The Monkees minus three of the four?). But I was there. I was with Hal and Margie…and it was all planned…

We are family.

I don’t know if it was time or change, or the way toxic administrators treated my daughter ten years ago.  Again, it matters not.  What I do know is that though my eye was on the score and I may have felt a little angst here and there,  my heart and body were where they belonged last night: with family. 

Oh, for what it’s worth, the Buckeyes lost last night.
And life went on.
And—better yet— on cribs in Illinois and New York little apples were shining.

        “…Time may change me
       But I can’t trace time….”

             Bowie