Archive for August, 2012

SPECIAL OCCASION

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Happy, healthy, and much wiser than I’d been that age, the Little One turned thirty this week. Time to reflect.

She was born, that sprite, in a year of change. It’s been three decades, two lifetimes ago: hers and mine.

We opened ’82 on Wrenford, long field goal range from the school of my youth. Michael was four, Jamie but two, and between playgroups and naps, we schlepped with Elaine Walter looking for houses. Stacy was coming and there was, (per The Jersey Girl), no room at the inn.

It would be a year of change, both on and off the court. Downtown that spring, my partnership ended. Uptown that summer, we moved onto Maidstone. Down south that March, a grandmother perished; up here in August, our step-dad cashed in. In a lot of ways, it all fell on me.

And in the midst of it all….

Stacy Celia Bogart arrived three weeks past-due on August 27. It would not, by the way, be the last time she was late. Named for our Grandmother Cele and Mom’s husband Sam (if you’re following along in your scorecard, this is Husband 2 in the series of 3), Rooney proved to be a hybrid. Autonomous, loyal (and stubborn) like our grandma, she is at once soothing and excitable like Sam.

And likeable. Everybody likes Stacy. To this day she walks with a child-like insouciance intoxicating all she touches. Rooney is one of those people, dare I say, that even as she frustrates you…even as she momentarily pisses you off…you can’t help but love her. Better yet, you can’t help but smile.

(At least I can’t).

I’ve heard it said that God has a great sense of humor. Consider:

The household split in ’93, Stacy being ten at the time. Last of the littler, she had yet neither the independence of Michael nor the soft guile of Jamie. That pair found ways to see me. Rooney just couldn’t; she was young, and I got it. Times together were, to be sure, jagged.

Ironic, (is it not?), that the lass I’d plot to see now calls up daily! Funny (is it not?), how it all works out.

Just thoughts worth sharing on this her birthday week…

Love and wings, we give our kids. Unconditionally. Just love and wings. I say it often—at least when asked. ‘Tis easier sometimes, though, to talk the talk rather than walk the walk. I miss her.

I miss all my kids. They’re out there, all three, sharing their love and spreading their wings.

On her thirtieth birthday I called my daughter: The Little One. Her voice mail—what a shock!—was full.

I didn’t get mad—even the second time, hours later. This was, after all, Stacy.

To Jason she’s a wife; to Lucy she’s a mother; and to many she’s a loyal friend.

To me, though, and to those who saw her all those years ago either laying in the kennel with Rocky or standing in a Tower City window with manikins, she’s still Punky Brewster. She is smiling, radiant, and warm enough to always melt a frustrated father.

(If only she would clear out her voice mail)!

ON GOLDEN PHONE

Friday, August 24th, 2012

I left the following message for my father this morning:

“Dad,

Sorry to bother you in the middle of your heavenly gin game, but I need to vent.

I was leaving my meeting this morning…waiting to turn onto Chagrin…and, eyeing my phone, saw four calls I’d missed. Then it struck me. Again. And I put down the phone.

They’ve changed the rules, Dad.

Remember the time you drove up from Columbus to join me at the heart doctor’s? Our meeting was at the end of the day, upstairs at Mount Sinai; you didn’t want me to be alone. Recall how you lit your cigarette and like lightning the receptionist motioned passionately, pointing to the placard on her desk. Apropos to the times it read “Thank You For Not Smoking”. Remember the look you gave her while politely crushing your smoke?

I do. (Turning to me, under your breath you muttered: “Next they’ll go after all left-handed people).

The screwing with us again, Dad.

It’s not enough they make us wear seatbelts, but they’ve passed this new law…
in one of the suburbs I frequent…that prohibits phone use while driving. Can you imagine?

It’s unfair, Pop—much worse than your smoking.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the texting thing; I get that. Driver inattention, like second-hand smoke, can injure others. But talking? Are they kidding? Are they serious? What’s next? Banning speech to a passenger? No shaving in cars?  No ipods? (Maybe there should be a law that only people in the backseat can sing along? It could be standard equipment for new cars to come with ear plugs for drivers).

What about sporting events? Will there next be an ordinance requiring motor vehicle operators to turn off baseball after seven innings? They could pattern statute after the MLB save rule, where if it’s more than a three-run game it doesn’t count. This will allow drivers to safely listen to boring games.

It’s frustrating, Dad.

I got a taste of it last week, this intervention. My cross country drive was encumbered by the same nonsense just entering New York. There I was, looking for this bridge or that parkway, surrounded by honking maniacs posing as humans, and I couldn’t pick up the f’ing phone to call my son for directions.

(Michael, you should know, thinks it’s a good thing. I haven’t asked Stacy, frankly, since I know she likes Oprah, and Oprah campaigns for this nationally. Michael and Oprah both champion the law. He has a blue tooth; she’s got a driver. Go figure).

You can’t imagine, though, how it impacts me here. At home.

Just Wednesday, near day’s end…leaving the office… my phone rang. It was Harold. “You got a minute?” he asked.

We spoke for twenty, give or take. We dealt with his stuff, my stuff, and even Aunt Helen’s nonsense. Finally—politely— he cut me off.

“I’m on Brainard now…I’ll be home in a second,” he reported. (He’d been heading home from work as we spoke). Me? I was sitting like a schmuck in the same damn spot at La Place.

And that’s when it hit me, Dad—when I got up off the mat.

Beginning then, with my trip to the theater, I began routing myself—to the extent practicable—outside that suburb.

Gates Mills to Beachwood? Not a problem. I took Mayfield in, the longer way, and made a left at Richmond. Yesterday’s meeting at Van Aken & Warrensville? Not a problem. Bypassing Chagrin, nixing Green, Richmond and the like, I drove down Warrensville, swallowed some lights, made my right turn at Cedar and head toward the office.

Longer excursions, perhaps—but more efficient. My phone buzzed all the way.

It was at this point that the tape ran out. Redialing my father (to finish my rant), I couldn’t help but notice the phone was flashing. A voice mail’d come in, ten minutes ago…caller ID blocked.

I retrieved it, and the voice was familiar. Comforting and familiar.

“Got your call, little boy,” it said. “If this is the worst thing that happens to you today you’ll have a great day….And by the way, you’re crying with a loaf of bread under each arm.”

I hung up the phone and drove down Cedar.

SMALL TOWN

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

       “…Well I was born in a small town
       And I live in a small town
       Prob’ly die in a small town
       Oh, those small – communities….”

In a few hours I’m heading home. To Cleveland. Ten-day road trip concluded, it’s back to my future. Other than twin two-week sojourns to Aruba, (guns perched at my head, I might add), and yes, other than the U.S. Army, I’ve never slept off my home court so long a sustained period.

THIS was MY idea. This year, with the advent of east coast events successive weekends, it made sense. This summer, therefore, gracious hosts at Chez Miller enabled me to sandwich five days of Max Parker between family nuptials. I seized the moment!

       “…All my friends are so small town
       My parents lived in the same small town
       My job is so small town …”

From the instant that first rehearsal dinner when Cousin Eric shried “I didn’t know you were invited!” to last night’s tug on my heart: Matt Schorr asking Michael sign the K’tuba…my trip was special.

From musings with Cousin Lewis to amusement with Cousin Mike…From the warmth of Jeff’s toast the first Sunday to the tenderness in Jason’s that second Saturday….and from, most of all, just watching, eyes moisting as 21-month Max, tuxedo and all, marched down the aisle.   

Yes, on this trip—my longest voluntary vacation ever, even the mundane was memorable:

Like dining at Ben’s Deli (Bayside) and dubbing it the “best salmon ever had in New York” , and drinking at Dunkin’ Donuts (Great Neck)—”Best decaf ever!” smiled my Meredith.

       “…Educated in a small town…
       Used to daydream in that small town
       Another born romantic that’s me…”

They had a gentle flow, these days. A rhythm. Awaking mid-7′s, I’d hit the diner, then the library…back to the diner for Max and “Mama”, then errands post-lunch and some potschkying around. Family by day, some meetings by night.

       “…No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
       I cannot forget the people who love me…”

And now…now it’s time to go. Carriage turned pumpkin, heading ‘cross 80, I’ve three states to drive, miles to think and, upon breaking the plane of Ohio, (the proverbial) miles to go before I sleep.

“Sound Of Music” opens Friday. My role, taken more as a favor than anything else, is not well-timed. Heart, mind and agenda lay elsewhere.   Not yet behind the wheel, I’m already thinking:

Tryouts for “The Odd Couple” Wednesday. Let’s hope I cast a better show than they cast a director…Then there’s that book I opened that very first night of August. Looking forward to the next chapter(s)….

That, though, is for next week, and the week after. For now I’ll just revel in the week that was, when all my family that chooses family was under one roof, smiling—when two weddings bordered days of a bubbling, growing Max.

If only I could bottle it, bring it home…them home…to my home.

‘Can’t remember the last time I drove west from the coast. Must have been year’s ago–perhaps when my father-in-law died. This time, alas, I’ll be coming from the Empire State, up north a bit. It matters not. Michael will get me to the bridge and from there it’s a straight shot in. Like it always was…all those years.

My trip will end as it always did— all those drives, all those times. Tired of singing, weary of travel, I’ll gaze up ahead at the arches, the bright navy, red and white signposts. “Welcome,” they’ll read, “To The Great State Of Ohio”.

Exhaling, I’ll wind it down, finish the drive.

God will be in His heaven.  All will be right with the world.  I’ll be home.

       “…Well I was born in a small town—
       And I can live in a small town
       Gonna die in a small town
       Ah, that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me…”

                            John Mellencamp (adapted)

PUT YOUR HAND IN THE HAND

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Saturday. Paws together a toddler and his doting uncle stutter-stepped through the park. For the former it was business as usual; he’s never alone. For the latter, father to his own newborn, it was batting practice for the spring to come. Holding hands, bridging four states through touch, they ambled over brick and grass…and played.

I envy Max. The world is his oyster. First born of first borns, at twenty months he remains the “only game in town”, unaware he is positioned as patriarch to yet unborn branches of his family tree.

Perhaps the kid knows. I do sense he gets he’s directing traffic. Who (but a first born) receives a standing ovation for trying on clothing? Or gets high fives for GIVING high fives. Everything is new not only to him, but to the kinfolk as well. There’s a purity to it all, even to the childlike innocence with which adults feel compelled to exult in sometimes just ordinary behavior. (He is NOT, I am reminded, the first child to eat an avocado. THE FIRST BOGART, PERHAPS. but not the first child).

I watch them kvell, enveloping him with bursting hearts. Like I do. How lucky that tyke! How many kids out there—born of less circumstance— miss that gift? Is there a greater jumpstart on life than love?

And I’m grateful. If warmth is the legal tender invested by family, a boatload of people are doubling down on my grandson.

The story’s not unique, of course; it is, though, specific to us. My deduction, moreover, (after decades of “people watching”), is that love is systemic…congenital…You can’t give what you haven’t received. Rarely have I seen a family breed love that hasn’t been raised in it.

Warmth, unlike the zone defense, is not readily learned.

I remember my youth. I picture the days–the “old neighborhood” off 105th: our Hopkins house, (home ’til “white flight” sent Jews scurrying to suburbs). It was a happy home, a family home. It was—dare I say—a “Poor man’s Ponderosa”. Our mom’s mom, Grandma Cele, lived above us, and though they didn’t live near, family never was far. There were first cousins and second cousins and aunts and uncles and great aunts and great uncles. To a mid-50′s Bruce or Harold, though, they were all just kin. We felt closer to Gary than Sheila because he was our age and a boy our age and she was a girl much older. But that was it. We all belonged.

My mind’s eye looks back: Marla Hoffman’s third birthday. Forest Hills Park. Family all over. Everyone alive—everyone still talking to everyone else. And we’re surrounded, (my brother and I), by all kinds of adults. Smiling adults. (We were “new” back then— !in a way. First boys of the next generation—in an era before equality—we bore baseball gloves, not dolls. And we could catch. We were—you guessed it—the only game in town).

I’ve never asked my brother this, but my guess is that, like me, there’s never been a time in his life he didn’t feel loved. It’s a wondrous feeling, that family adhesion. It toughens at times, to be sure…but cementing like no other, it’s a priceless foundation.

There’s a feel to family, a trust to it, a love to it.

…Which is why so readily, so steadily, a little Max Parker held Jason’s hand. And why, just months from now, in an Illinois park, a little Lucy will seize Michael’s.

ONE MORE DAY

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

     “…One more day
      One more time
      One more sunset, maybe I’d be satisfied
      But then again
      I know what it would do:
      Leave me wishing still for one more day with you….”

                                                    Tomberlin, Jones

His eyes closed years ago, but he just didn’t die. Not to me, anyway. In the quarter century since my Pop went silent, there has never been a moment—good or bad—that I haven’t felt his presence; there has never been a time, for that matter, that I didn’t feel his strength.

He was special. He was unique. He was my father. He loved the past and revered the present. He was my father.
Driving ‘cross country, I couldn’t help but think how happy he’d have been with my day …how he’d have enjoyed just taking the ride.
My Dad loved cars. Oh, not race cars, or engines—nothing mechanical. Hardly! The man reveled just BEING in a car. He would drive with Harriet or his boys…anywhere. Indeed, on a sunny day like Thursday, even on the anniversary of his death—had he known I was heading east—he’d have offered to pick me up. Just because. Window open, left elbow dangled out, AC a’ blastin’, he’d have scooped me up at my office and exulted to eight hours of big band music all-the-while urging me off the phone.

  • Still in Ohio I had a conference call with the guys. Typical nonsense.   “Don’t you think Bobby and Stuart can live without you for a few hours?” he’d urge, (‘though loving it all). Indeed, merely knowing that on August 9, 2012, years post-his-mortem, I was still in contact with a Fenton, a Snyder and a Baskin (of sorts), would have made his day.

He asked so little! Just hearing my half of interstate conversations with my brother, his sister and the like would have made him smile.

“Remember when I slept in the lobby of the Holiday Inn-Dubois?” I’d ask.                  

“You were in such a hurry to get home, weren’t you? Alan Wieder couldn’t wait?”                                     

“I was coming from seeing Feder in Nicholson, Pennsylvania.”                                                                         “I know,” he remind. “You insisted on driving through the night.”

  • Stayed on Route 80 last night. Not at a Red Roof Inn, mind you. (How he loved that motel chain. In an era of Holiday Inns, pass a scarlet billboard on the highway anytime in the Nixon administration and he’d loudly proclaim: “Look, “Sleep Cheap!” (like he was reading it for the very first time….like we were hearing it for the first time)!

We’d stop for the night. Often. Day trips, he taught me, were done in two days.
“Let’s drive half-way the night before,” I’d hear, “And head in in the morning.”

It all made sense. We’d make the call before leaving: 1-800-THE ROOF. It would all be set. Then we’d pause as he’d planned…for the night.

There was more, yet, to his game. Al Bogart would forage exits —for proper cuisine. Teaching his sons neither to hunt for game nor to pitch a tent, his counseling entailed, rather, the proper securing of provisions.

“Don’t eat at restaurants,” he’d advise, “With dirty bathrooms.” To our Dad, though, pastry trumped entree. As such, he’d pass on dinner if an adequate bakery surfaced. Even then his mandate was clear: “Don’t ask if it’s fresh,” he demanded, “Ask if it’s TODAY’S”.

These are simple treasures, these memories. In a lifetime where others knew prices, our father taught values. And he taught them with the one glue that never unhinges: unconditional love….

Which is why Friday, exiting an Econo Lodge one hour from New York, heading for the GW Bridge to be guided in by a my son named for my Dad’s father, I know the Old Man was up there beaming.
                                                                                                                                                                                                     As was I.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Monday, August 6th, 2012

“It’s always what you don’t expect.”

Hal’s declaration on Aunt Helen is oh so true. 98 and counting, the Queen Mother continues to confound, frustrate, demand, criticize, and yes…care deeply for us both. (Note, however, that while she loves me like a nephew, she reveres Hal as a son).

So be it.

Friday shopping is now done Thursdays. For some reason she finds this better. The downside, of course, is that it knocks up a good work day for me; (Friday afternoons were pretty much “garbage time”). The upside is that by weekend I’ve recovered from the exhaustion generated by our trips to the grocery.

Like last week:

“Have you been to the new house?” she inquired.

(A simple question I think, and lead with the truth): “Yes,” I respond.  Nothing else. (No uttering when I’d gone, or with whom I’d gone. No details. We’d learned long ago—my brother and I—that her interrogations were strictly governed by the accords reached in the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1949. We offer, as such, nothing but name, rank, and serial number).

“Is there more than one floor?” she pushed on.
“Yes.”

She paused—think Jack Benny — and then:
“Isn’t that stupid!”  It began– her rant against multi-level housing.
“Why must people walk steps?
More Benny…
“You must agree with me,” she presumed, interrupting herself, as the dam broke down.

“Aunt Helen,” you’ve lived in three places in eighty years. Each was a second floor.”
“Why,” she shot back, “Must you always disagree?”
“Why,” I asked her, “Must you always find fault? Half the homes in the Jewish community have two levels. Are they all wrong?”

Then it came: that look, that venomous glare like when some clown knocks over the Scrabble board. There was silence driving on—a pregnant silence. Entering Marc’s I had that sick feeling, the kind you get when you’re down a touchdown yet sense you won’t see the ball again.

Our food run itself ran well. The aisles of her hallowed grocery are the foxholes of my Thursdays. I breathe safely as she speaks not to the frailties of life, but focuses rather on material matters: like the fact that the bananas are too big, or that the oranges just aren’t orange. (Not that each week she doesn’t importune me to inventory the four pound bags. In a world full of 9-orange four pound bags, our aunt once got 8. It was ’99 I think; ask her she’s kept the receipt. So we count each week. Did YOU ever count oranges in a bag? They keep moving around. It’s either going to be 8 oranges for $3.99 or 9 oranges for $3.99. Should the marginal cost REALLY matter? I actually asked her that once…nicely….. She shot me down. Immediately. At point blank range. “That’s why you have no money,” she adjudged.

Tied at halftime, we exited Marc’s in peace. This, for me, is a good sign. I figure if I can go into the locker room close—you know, ” in a position to win”—I’ll be OK.  Second halves, frankly, are predictable

She’ll ask about my brother—not only his health, but how often I’d seen him that week. Was it at his house? Were third-parties present? (If others WERE present she’ll seek names, affiliations, the identify of drivers and, though not directly inquiring, will strain to learn if matters were prearranged). Only then does will she mention Michael…or Meredith. Only then, after again reminding me that Stacy never called directly to announce her engagement so perhaps (she’ll opinen) my daughter’s not really married—- will she ask of others

“Has Jamie called you?” she asked THIS WEEK. :
“Has Rabbi Skoff called you?” I rejoined.

More silence.  Predictable silence. It’s all so predictable.  Or so I thought…

We were by Cedar Center, within field goal range of her home, but moments from yet another Mission Accomplished…

“May I ask you something?” she purred.
“Yes.”
“Have you ever heard the expression ‘menage a trois’”?

(She pronounced it MENAIGE), but I picked it up.
“No.”
“It’s French”, she related, “When a husband, his wife, and a paramour live under the same roof.”
“Oh.”
“You and I are in, let us say, a ménage a trios! Do you know why I say that?”
“No.”
“It is you, and me, and your cell phone.”

It’s ALWAYS, as my brother says, what you don’t expect.

Aciclovir

LET’S LIVE FOR TODAY

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Cain Park, the 60’s. It meant Tony Dow in “Bye Bye Birdie” or perhaps Bobby Vinton in “Music Man”. “Wholesome” (as they say), entertainment. Rock concerts, for me at least, were also tame. There was John Davidson at Vets Memorial, Columbus with Vicki, and even earlier, (TYMPANY), in one banner afternoon, Hal and I caught Tommy James and the Shondells, Keith, AND Sam The Sham and the Pharoahs—all on one bill at Detroit’s Upperdeck, second floor of the legendary Roostertail.

It was a simple world. We were pre-marriage, pre-divorce, and in so many ways, pre-life. Indeed, even my idols, predictable to the times, made innocent sense. They were, indisputably: Jack Nicklaus, Jimmy Brown, and Bobby Snyder.

Fast forward the torch—forty years and more. Wednesday, in an amphitheater once charmed by Wally Cleaver, it was the same faces (somewhat older) and the same music (somehow bolder). And for three hours plus, it morphed together.

Those forty-five years.

Could I sit through the Buckinghams, the Grass Roots—and even Gary Puckett— and not run my mind? On a night of nostalgia served full course, could I hear The Monkees (minus three) and the Turtles (standing tall), and not look back?

Programmers at Mapquest would be challenged to chart my route.

The Buckinghams played “Don’t You Care?” and instantly I saw the “Summer Of Love”, my eight weeks holed up at M.S.U. A wondrous mural, that mind of mine. There in living color flashed the Greyhound ride west, the no-AC dorm in East Lansing and…yes, draped in madras: Fenton and Snyder at East Wilson Hall.

The Grass Roots took stage. Smack dab in my Buckeye years, theirs was a heyday generating hit after hit heard endlessly in the car selling Highlights. Never, Wednesday night, were there less than six degrees separating my thoughts. I listened, Carrie to my left, (flanked by H in his glory), as the sound of “Temptation Eyes” took me to a 1970 blue and white Plymouth Duster…which took me to Kenton, Ohio (The Caboose capital of the world, mind you)…which took me down the road and backward in time to Belleville, Ohio…which took me to the only afternoon I would ever spend there. Not drinking, standing in a croweded tavern, I watched horrified, as the team up north stunned Woody’s dream team.

And then Gary Puckett. The experts, (Hal, Lady Leimsieder, and friends of Char’s), railed at his voice. Me? I heard “Woman, Woman” and before he could croon “Have you got cheating on your mind?” I’d retreated. Again. ’67 —the fall. Having left MSU, selling toys at Mays-On-The-Heights, I was counting days until winter quarter. Drackett Tower, palace that it was, lay still in my future.

If there was a tear in my eye it was gone by the break. Halftime meant handshakes. Many.

There was Stuart and the Mrs. Mickey Dolenz sang “That Was Then, This Is Now” and my mind wandered. An oft-forgotten song, when first recorded by The Monkees I was trying to date Marilyn’s sister. Now (I hear), she’s pushing 61.

There stood Diane—always smiling. “Can you tell me why Alan’s first wife hated me?” I asked yet again. She responded, as she has so many times before, with silence.

It was a wondrous night populated by gray-haired faces from a High Street long ago.

“Why is it,” I asked the group, “That only ugly people stand in aisles dancing?”

I clung there, that second act…thinking. It was not so much about the past by then, but something different. ‘Though my brother’d marveled at the instrumentation of the Buckingham’s pre-intermission, it was The Grass Roots that captured me. One song…one lyric in particular.

    “…When I think of all the worries people seem to find
And how they’re in a hurry to complicate their mind
By chasing after money and dreams that can’t come true
I’m glad that we are different–we’ve better things to do…”

It was hard not to think, yet again, how precious time is…how valued life is…

Panning the crowd, seeing so many warm, familiar faces, I couldn’t not think of those not there: like David and Mark, two men of Iuka.

And…

It occurred to me, marching out at 10:30 , that a crowd of cliques was, en masse, one heart—that we’d gathered that night not with the illusion it was ’69, but with a healthy reality, indeed a mandate, to enjoy today.

We did.