Archive for February, 2013


Sunday, February 24th, 2013

First impulse was amusement when Bob noted that two high school buddies were jousting on line. Actually, I got somewhat of a kick out of it, until I read it.


Frankly, it mattered not with whom I agreed. Boys. Boys. Boys! Don’t you remember the politically bland fifties when our parents told us not to talk sex, politics or religion? Was that so bad?

We came of age in the turbulent sixties yet none of us, from the nice guys that played sports (think Alan, Bruce, Arthur) to the “bad boys” hitching down Lee Road for the Shaker girls, (think all the others)—none of us spoke politics. From Kennedy’s assassination through the civil rights movement, MLK, RFK, Vietnam…Kent State: nothing. Alas, even when quasi-grown in Columbus, even then Bobby hit protests on The Oval only “to meet chicks”.

But we all got along, I think…

Or was I just shallow back then? Naïve maybe? And was I too busy playing hearts with Walt to sense fermenting disagreements? Yeah, I know that somewhere along the way Wido bonded with Bernie Mehl, the far left OSU prof that was rumored to give A’s to all blacks, B’s to all Jews and C’s to the goyim. OK, so Wieder gets an asterisk.

Certain things we just didn’t talk about.

Even at home.

Never talked politics with my father. Not really. Once…we were driving in Toledo visiting Cousin Eleanor—must have been summer of ’65— and Barry McGuire’s “Eve Of Destruction” came on CKLW. Singing in the car I was abruptly interrupted when my dad, changing the station, demanded: “Why must you do those things you know will antagonize me?”. With anguish he then pointed out to me that “….if that animal doesn’t like it here he is free to move….”

And that was it. World order was changing; his realm was changing; he had little else to say. What good, (I suppose my father thought), would come from talking about it? My dad, as such, chose silence.

—Until Watergate, when again we butted… briefly. I’d tried to talk to him, tried to persuade him Nixon was wrong. Yet discuss it he wouldn’t… until one night—I think Sam Donaldson had gotten to him—when he erupted:

“This isn’t about politics,” I was told. “It’s about YOU.” “Why,” my father went on, “Do you feel the need to kick a man when he’s down?”

Case closed.

I suppose I bought in; I don’t know—I just always listened to my dad. What I can state is that, decades later I prefer listening to talking heads than being one. Serious discourse? Change someone’s mind? Better I should pull to an inside straight.

It was uncomplicated before… before we all evolved. It was simpler absent open dialogue on awkward subjects…which is why we NEVER questioned (openly) ’bout how only certain people sat in Snyder’s front seat or why it was no matter who was driving or where he was coming from we always picked up Myers last. And it was easier, clearly, in 8th grade, when none of my many friends pulled me aside even privately asking of my parents’ divorce. Silence was a system that not only worked for us, but bonded us.

Forbearance, moreover, sustained peace and friendships. Trust me: it wouldn’t have done me any good to know then that Grafchik didn’t like me or Fenton or, for that matter, that much of our crew was heading off to college, never to return…like Cleveland never existed. Better that it just happened, I think, than to have discussed it. For me.

And so, today, I read again the posts of my bickering friends. And I wished again that they’d kept it inside and fought instead with strangers. They were using strong words, those two, and it made me feel like I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Perhaps I’m not.


Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Why is it that whenever thoughts stray to the bygone years, in my mind’s eye it’s always sunshine, always spring?

       “…When I was small, and all the trees were tall
       We used to laugh with others and to play.
       Don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by.
       Other folks moved in from far away…”

First there was Sunday’s reunion: returning to Fox And Hound, 50 or so remnants from campus days dined and caught up midst the background music of the NBA All Star Game. As usual, Lester did a masterful job on everything and, just as usual, I won nothing.

Then came Monday: in the morning we buried Ruth. She was my dad’s first cousin, vibrant to her nineties and always, especially in our small clan equation, a vibrant part of the family circle.

—–Within twenty-four hours…two events: disparate in tone, different in nature—-and for some reason I found myself reaching back …a long way…even before the core friends … to the oft forgotten buddies I cut my teeth with.

It was the ‘50’s—the “old neighborhood”. Living on Hopkins, we were doors down from our mother’s high school sorority sister. Like our mom, Bunny Lang was now married, living in her mother’s house. Enter new friends, fast friends in Stevie and Kenny Rubin. It was that simple.

Me? I spent time as well with an older kid next door. Hymie was his name, and my dad called him “The Bad Hymie” (to distinguish him from my our mom’s Cousin Hymie, who years later would be fired from Standard Electric by Uncle Bob and dubbed “The Dumb Hymie”). Our father was right, of course. Not only was Cousin Hymie the nicer of the two, but indeed, Hal got in trouble one night when The Bad Hymie was playing with matches with H, Stevie and Kenny and started a fire in the Rubin garage. (Predictably, I was absent).

Ed. Note: Suburbia found us in ’55; within years the Rubins followed. We were on Bayard and they bought on Hinsdale, but it was never the same. (It never is). H remains Facebook friends with the elder but word has it that Kenny left for college, developed a British accent and never returned. Who knows?

Landing on Bayard, though, meant new friends. Next door lived Mozart-playing child prodigy Mark Gelfand and next to him, Eddie Davidson. (Ed. Note II: It was the latter’s legendary temper that abruptly ended the first Boobus Bowl. So unnerved was Ed when, as he was going out for a pass I inadvertently hit him with the ball in the air that he began chasing me around the house. Three quarters of a lap through my perilous flight I ran in the side door, never to come out. Game, set, match).

And to the east there were many: Bulb on the corner… Stuart and Ricky…the original Cohen Brothers…and Fromin—not to mention another Hymie, (Massarobbo) and Turd Rosenberg on Beaconwood.

Rain meant Monopoly on Hovanyi’s screened-in porch. Weather permitting though, it was swift pitching off Rowland’s north wall. Simple stuff: ground ball past the pitcher, a single… fly ball to the street a double…to the tree lawn, a triple—AND, hit Fenton’s home on the fly: a home run. Morton’s house (to the right) was in foul territory. One time his mother, (who coincidentally had worked with my aunt some years earlier), was so unnerved when a ball found her shrubs that she seized it, not to give it back. (I don’t want to say Mrs. Cohen was mean but—-hand to God—Aunt Helen had once called her “ an angry woman”.

Yes, those were glory days, glorious with an innocence that, once life swept me off my street corner, I was destined to lose.

I don’t know why I think of them today. Couldn’t be the flock of Sunday’s Sammys. Where’s the connection? Nor, for that matter, could it be my cousin’s death. Just doesn’t compute.

That nexus, I suppose—the clutch on my past compelling periodic peaks back—is in all of us. Me, perhaps more so.

Mind it I don’t, but accept it I do…and yes, every once in a while I  even relish it. After all, it was springtime then, and the sun was always shining on the street where I lived—in my little corner of the world.

       “…Now we are tall and older trees look small,
       And we don’t have the time of day.
       But you and I, our memories never die,
       It still feels like first of May….”

Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (adapted)


Saturday, February 16th, 2013

The ethic of “The Greatest Generation” was God, family and country. This mantra played well through the Second World War and was modified only slightly in the 60’s when Lombardi told players to focus on but three things: God, family, and the Green Bay Packers.

He didn’t play much football but our father too had a credo and our father too preached a world vision. To the man that raised us, specifically, the world could be boiled down to three things…

First and foremost, our patriarch assured us, came family. Often we’d spend Sundays with Aunt This or Cousin That. They were from our mom’s side (pretty much) but Dad always followed suit. Be they great aunts or second cousins, it mattered not. I still see the old man’s lip puff over Grandma’s poor Scrabble play and, even more graphically, I vision his cringing through arduous violin solos by an Alfred E. Newman-ish Cousin Sheldon. (Dad’s ears were correct, by the way. In adolescence Shelly would ditch his fiddle for a bat ‘n glove— ultimately entering Softball’s Hall Of Fame).

After family came friends. To Al Bogart, his pals were sacrosanct. He taught us to honor buddies, break bread with them, do business with them, and regardless of right or might, have their backs.

There was, of course, a third rung to his holy trilogy…

To our father, after family and after friends came not baseball— and not even gin rummy. No, after family and friends came the United States Post Office. It was a love— and yes, a passion—which he passed down with relish.

“It’s the best buy in the world!” he’d exclaim. “Where else can you just put a stamp on something and the next day it’s in Texas?” “But Dad,” I’d point out, “We don’t know anyone in Texas!”

He was right (of course). I saw it soon enough and in time grappled the postal service to my soul. Those who know me know well how to this day I thrill sending mail!

And it’s never mattered what the stamp cost. First memory says it was 5 cents “in the day”, (with postcards even less). So what? Stick anything in an envelope and for a small price, it’s anywhere! How valuable is YOUR time? Over decades I’ve mailed letters, pictures, toothbrushes, decals, and even empty envelopes, all in the spirit of communication…and all for nickels. Would it have made more sense to schlep by car or pay for delivery?

—Which is why I was thrilled some months back to meet Jillian’s (then-future) in-laws—one of whom travels on behalf of the postal service.

“Are you kidding me?” I asked. “That’s really what you do?”

Not only couldn’t I get over it, but right then and there—on the spot—live and in person—in the Millers’ living room…I volunteered my services for the good of the service.

“You should let me be the spokesperson,” I urged. “I’d love to tell everyone how great the Post Office is.” (I WOULD, by the way. I’d shout it from the rooftops. For free).

No, I don’t kvetch when the line gets long. Tireless clerks tending to impatient clowns get my sympathy, not my wrath. And I don’t complain when sometimes one day means two. So what? This is the U.S. Mail we’re talking about!

In the ‘60’s it brought word from a dad still selling on the road. In the ‘70’s ‘twas boxes of cookies brightening days at Fort Polk. And even now…even now mail brings pictures—pictures of grandchildren…to hold onto….to grow young with.

With reverie I recall how years ago the ex took Michael’s Bar Mitzvah invites to the station for stamping. Crazy, thought I…until … a generation later I helped Caryn cart even more boxes for the Roth/Schorr nuptials. It was an event, you see—something to hold onto, even though admittedly, just recently, I asked Caryn what the point was.

Yes, it’s all good with me and the post office: from six days/week to five— from commemorative stamps to self-adhesive— from Cliff Clavin to Newman. In sixty years neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, has ever made me feel any differently about family, about friends…and clearly about the U.S. Post Office.


Monday, February 11th, 2013

Aunt Helen and I had been getting along so well these past months. Too good to last? Of course.

It began innocently when, midst her complaint about a local take-out restaurant, I assured her “Well, it’s not the end of the world.” Within moments, smoke flew from her ears.

“Your problem is that nothing bothers you,” she enlightened me.
“And your problem,” I retorted, “Is that when nothing bothers me, THAT bothers you.”

The good news was, thought, that our colloquy ended without bloodshed. Perhaps she too was savoring the recent détente. Still, wandering with her Wednesday— from Marc’s to Jack’s to Target to Walgreen’s— I vowed that the next time she threw that salvo my way, I would barrage her with an ample list of things that distress me.

The problem is: most things just do not bother me. I truly don’t sweat small stuff. Health issues of friends and loved ones concern me. Of course. Family estrangements? Of course. Other than that, though, I usually maintain my boundaries, letting others fight their own battles. So when I see some guy ahead of me at the grocery —like the moron with 14 items in a 12-max express checkout line—these days I let it go. Or when I’m waiting for a spot in front of Corky’s and some clown cuts in front of me stealing my space, I no longer wait another two minutes for him to get out of his car, just so I can stare the man down and give him the dirty looks my father saved for Grandpa Irv.

At some level, I’ve grown up.

But not totally.

It was only hours after Helen’s muted assault and Carrie and I had just entered Champps.

“Table or booth?” we were asked
And we sat down…facing south, toward the door.

No sooner, however, than our butts touched down that I saw staring right across at us from the next booth some putz wearing a bright yellow University Of Michigan jersey. (OK, it was “maize”, with blue lettering).

Now THAT pissed me off.

For years I’ve contended while not all Ohioans bleed scarlet and gray it is downright disrespectful and an insult to our great state to patronize our chief rival. I mean—there are so many other non-OSU schools. Only someone wanting to stand out, someone craving attention does those things. (Heck, if I were attending a friend’s Catholic mass, would I show up in tefillin)?

And for decades, did I not urge Norm Diamond to purge his stores of all U of M paraphernalia? It was the right thing to do, I told him. You don’t need the money.

The thought of dining for an hour and every time I’d look up having to see that yahoo—well it just nauseated me.

Well…let it be known that last Wednesday night…at 9:30 pm…in the absence of my aunt…I made her proud.

“You mind if we move?” I asked Carrie, visibly motioning at the mumser but feet away. (She well knew, I might add, what the problem was).
“Not at all.”

So with passion and flourish, in unison…we picked up our silver, our napkins, our menus…and moved in tandem (and not quietly) to the other side of the booth—backs to the asshole. And from there we enjoyed our meal, sans the ugly visual…God in His heaven and everything again all right with the world.

And I would tell Aunt Helen, when she fired on me next, that indeed some things DO bother me.

And I would also rest contented, in serenity, knowing full well that it is never the small stuff.


Thursday, February 7th, 2013

       “…There’s one more angel in heaven
       There’s one more star in the sky
       Cary we’ll never forget you
       It’s tough but we’re gonna get by…”

None of us gets to The Rooms on a winning streak. Cary was no exception. When we met during his stint in rehab—just two years ago— the guy was down, nearly out. “I’m a shadow of the man I was,” he advised me. “Screw the past,” I assured him, “You’re a shadow of the man you’ll be.”

In less than an hour we bonded. I told him my story; he told me his—and before we parted, we shared a laugh.
“Would you sponsor me?” he asked.
“If you’re serious, call me.”

Two weeks later– the afternoon of his discharge—my phone rang.
“Be ready at six.”
“But it’s my first night out!” he complained.
“Cary, really, what the F do you have better to do?”

He hit the ground running—no… racing. Within hours on the outside, the new guy was front and center at a meeting, introducing himself.

Find a home group, we urged. Get a service commitment, we suggested. Share your feelings.

So he did. For the next twenty months, like clockwork, there our friend stood, 7:15 every Friday morning at Suburban Temple… by the door…outstretched hand…. greeting the masses.

And there he was at other meetings: making coffee, setting up tables. And yes he spoke: candidly, to his foxhole buddies, opening up…finding his truth.

They loved him, my brethren did. To a man. We all notice when someone walks in, jumps in the “middle of the bed”, and stays. Too often do we see guys show up ‘til the heat’s off, then head back out. (We call that coming for the relief and not staying for the recovery).

Cary stayed. Cary became accountable. To a T. So responsible was his behavior, so bankable his word, that when he didn’t show to open a meeting two Fridays back, people noticed. And worried. He was, after all, one of us.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****  ******  
There was a moment of silence for our friend last Tuesday. Then, moving around the table, we shared thoughts and memories of our fallen pal. He was comfortable in his own skin, one remarked. And he went out a winner, said another.

I spoke to his willingness, to his purity; I mentioned how he’d called me daily…at 4:30…and how while I didn’t always understand what he was saying, I knew well it that came from his heart.

What I didn’t tell them, but what I thought in silence, was how Cary—like me— had been grappled to the soul by a fellowship that loved him until once again he could love himself. And I was comforted, (if that is the word), knowing that my good friend was indeed resting in peace.

       “…There’s one less place at our table
       There’s one more tear in my eye
       Cary, the things that you stood for
       Like truth and love never die….”

Tim Rice


Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Hoopla over brothers competing on Super Sunday has caused reflection on other legendary siblings that have threaded the fabric of American sports. Not surprisingly, many of the great tandems cut their teeth on the sandlots of South Euclid, Ohio.

The sixties was perhaps the last innocent decade. Long before video games took the bats out of adolescent hands, long before the clowns in my hometown cemented over the fields of dreams, life consisted of baseball, football and kinship.

First organized ball came the summer after fifth grade as Fenton and I broke into the 9-10 minors with Hollywood.  Later, as H then Ricky came of age, they too would wear plain white tees like their brothers. Not only that, but when the White Sox drafted me another dye would be cast as a year or so later they grabbed H. And catch this: ‘though Stuey made the majors with the Indians, he finished out with the Sox. Contemporaneous to the Sox later picking Little Ricky, a backroom deal was cut bringing Stuart too to the Pale Hose. (Want to know how sib-sensitive the Sox were? Over time their rosters included not only the Capretta and Myslenski boys that I teamed with, but the Brothers Mandel as well). It was like playing on Noah’s Ark.

South Euclid was, of course, home to the Boobus Bowl. Traditionally played on Thanksgiving, this no clock/no-equipment tackle game was in many ways a family affair. Not only did in one decade alone no less than four clans send two or more representatives to the annual event, but each tandem, in its own way, made a contribution to the legacy of the clash.

There were the Mandels, of course—always together. Bruce called the signals; Doug generally blocked. The former was dubbed “Boo”, the latter “Doo”, and conventional wisdom was that kid brother Frank was so unnerved at the prospect of being “Foo” that he opted, growing up, to go by his middle name, Howard.

And the Baskins, Dick and Tommy—the only bros never to team together. Go figure. Dick was older, more compact, and played quarterback. He could run a bit, throw when necessary, and like Rex Kern, was the perfect leader for a grind-it-out team: Conversely, brother Tom—all speed— played well in Mandel’s west coast offense. (Note: Mandel lost more than he won. Remember: in those days the west coast was at the Mississippi River).

Ah, and the Fruit Punch. Each year but one, Pear Freedman played opposite body double Plum. We had Steve, and in games where everyone was an eligible receiver, our huddles were predictable.

Like it was yesterday:

First, Pear would stand with his back to the line of scrimmage, hands up like he was on TV. It would be Baskin, Ross, Herzog, two Bogarts, and Steve.

Dick would speak: “I’ll run right. B, you and Alan lead me”…and four guys would nod. “ I can beat my guy”, Pear would say.

…or it would be…

“B, you take it. Give us time to get in front of you”…and we’d nod. “Yeah,” Steve would urge, “But I can beat Gill. He’s ignoring me.” “We’ve already got a play,” Alan would glare, with that look of frustration reserved solely for amos. (We loved Steve, we did—but it wasn’t an accident that Plum played against him).

….which reminds me of a story (not really related to the brothers theme)….

So unnerved were most of us by Pear’s constant nagging for the ball that one day—and it wasn’t a bowl game—we had a special signal…a special play. Plum wasn’t there, but I recall that somehow we’d reached a silent consensus that we didn’t want to play anymore. At a tacitly agreed time, Herzog intentionally threw an interception right at Pear and then….all of us…both squads, gang-tackled him. On that play—on that one play—we were all brothers.

Which brings me to the last siblings worth mentioning: the Bogart Boys. One hit and threw left—the other right. One could run—the other couldn’t. And one did his homework after school and then played ball—but not the other. They were as different on the diamond, as night and day. But they were teammates, always… on and off the court—

And that made for super ball!