Archive for March, 2013


Saturday, March 30th, 2013

       “…I am no better and neither are you
       We’re all the same whatever we do
       You love me, you hate me
       You know me and then
       Still can’t figure out the bag I’m in—
       I am everyday people…”

It was the ‘50s and the birth of suburbia. In fear of blacks, Cleveland’s Italians and Jews fled Collinwood and Glenville heading up U.S. Route 322 seeking refuge. In separate cars they went, caravan style, the Jews and Italians— separately but together, up The Hill, out of Dodge.

Ah—-but there was a problem. They didn’t want to live together, you see. Not really. All they truly shared was “white flight”.

According to what I was told by Herb Loveman years later, a deal was struck at the old Tasty Shop. Then and there the emigres decided that when they got as far east as Warrensville Center Road, that the Italians would turn left and the Jews would go right. This, my friend pointed out, accommodated not only the former’s need to be near Lake Erie—they controlled the docks —but facilitated the Hebrews’ annual migration to Florida.

And so it was that Hal and I were raised in the friendly and very homogenous confines of South Euclid. Thriving in a town one hundred percent white and ninety percent Jewish, we shared a warm, fuzzy childhood. (Ed. Note: my percentages may be off. Jimmy Masseria observed all faiths, missing school on all holidays).

Nobody “different” growing up. Not in grade school, and not even in Little League or junior high—when we first met Christians. They were, (of course), as nice as us (Welc or Raisin?) and as smart as us (Reagan or Reich?).  Moreover, truth be known, Capretta’s fastball was every bit as good as Fromin’s curve. Indeed, even at Brush High, where “greasers” intimidated me, even then we were all in it together. (Ed. Note 2: Over time I outgrew my fear of Lou Trolli. He is, to this day, a valued friend).

       “…There is a long man
       That doesn’t like the short man
       For being such a rich one
       That will not help the poor one
       Different strokes for different folks
       And so on and so on…”

I never heard the word “diversity” in the day, but I saw it first hand (for the first time, perhaps) in the rooms of recovery.

At 47, I was heading nowhere fast. It was a Wednesday night, and walking into that first church basement all I could see were people half my age and twice my age—but no one just my age. And I saw tattoos and piercings and pink hair and no hair…

All I could think– all that went through that skull of mine was “What the ___ am I doing here with these people? We have nothing in common”. (Ed. Note 3: It would not be my last mistake, but it may have been the wrongest I’d ever been! The folks in that room and in the rooms just like them would guide me and teach me and save my life—and would continue to be doing so, one day at a time, some fifteen years later). Our common denominator then and now was a disease, and Yes, clearly we were all there because—frankly—we just weren’t all there. Yet we were one.

       “…There is a yellow one that won’t
       Accept the black one
       That won’t accept the red one
       That won’t accept the white one…”

It was an interesting Seder this Monday. The table—exquisite, traditional—had it all, from the Maxwell House Haggadahs to the shank bone and carpas. Still…well, let’s just say it wasn’t “My father’s YomTov”. Surrounded I wasn’t, by the cacophony of rote liturgy. Oh, we recited the Four Questions and Yes, the Ten Plagues were sung. (Ed. Note 4: The Eleventh Plague:  our mother’s third husband Ed Turner, was omitted. Alas, this wasn’t “my brother’s YomTov” either).

It was, dare I say, like a community seder at the U.N. On a night recalling years of diaspora, it was deja vu all over again. Breaking matzoh were Jews and half-Jews and non-Jews and…. people I’d known forever, people I’d known a bit, and people I just there met. Moreover, to extend the U.N. analogy a bit, there were some there that viewed me with Most Favored Nation status, those that were friendly, and one—truth be known—that doesn’t recognize my right to exist.

So whom did I sit with, what with Carrie was serving and others occupied with babies? Who then, caught my interest ‘tween fractured Hebrew and festive meal?

Enter Jason and Matt, theater people from the west side. Entrée through closing I found more in common with them than the thrust of the Security Counsel. They were, an argument could be made, (excluding CJ and me), the happiest couple there. They were, of course… everyday people.

“…We got to live together….”

Sly Stone


Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Question: How long does a candle burn?
Answer: A whole wick.

No, I didn’t make that up. It’s culled, truth be known, from the pages of Highlights For Children, the mag sold in the day by not only the Brothers Bogart, but by Stuart, Rais, Bobby, Walt, Brooker, and even Baskin (for an hour) and Wieder (for a minute).

The simplest gestures—unsolicited—leave lasting imprints.

—–It’s tucked in the console of my car amid business cards and the stains of long-dried coffee… resting. ‘ Don’t eye it daily, but I know it’s there… always: the orange, white and spiraled wax. A birthday candle, it came years ago from a cupcake born in Margie’s kitchen. Only those who’ve known the pain of estrangement may understand, but the two inches from my 56th birthday symbolize miles of renewal, and love.

—–It’s in the medicine cabinet—second tier—shelves above contacts, Speed Stick and Mambo. Most mornings I see it first, even as I drip from the shower. Paraffin, red on white, shaped as the number “2”, it once crowned cake. Max’s cake. On his birthday. I was in Cleveland the day he blew it out, but it came via Meredith…by mail.

Funny the importance of those candles. I asked for neither but cling to both. I wonder if Harold knows…or Michael even.

—– I walked in the house last Monday, suppertime. “How was your day?” asked Leesa, as she does most nights. “It just got better!” I noted, approaching the kitchen. On my entrance, Carrie, who’d been unpacking groceries, looked up.

“Got a candle for your mother,’ she said. “Friday, right?”
“How did you know?” I inquired.

She just smiled.

Question: How long does a gesture live?
Answer: A lifetime.


Friday, March 22nd, 2013

My phone rang on a Friday morning in January. It was Jacobson.

“Bogie,” he exclaimed, “We missed you yesterday.” (He was referring to Past Chancellors’ Night, the annual reunion of former lodge leaders).
“Rehearsal,” I noted.
“Well,” my friend went on, “You really disappointed Dr. O…. He said the only reason he came was to see you.”
“I swear. He asked all about you. I told him of Carrie and your grandchildren—“
“I should call him…say hello.”
(I never did).

There was an era—a decade solid, maybe more—when as a young adult, every nuance I felt was shared with Dr. O. More than frat brothers, we were compatriots.

Lodge was prime-time back then. From the mid-70’s to the lean ‘90s I lived, breathed and basked in Thursday night glory. It was all my dad said it would be and more. Lifetime friendships were born, relationships were carved, and yes, even lessons were learned.

Bolstered by the old (my father’s cronies rallying ‘round the flag one more time) and the young (my pals, most of whom didn’t care), two years into knightdom I found elective office. It was an upset win, never really respected by the middle-aged brothers. And yet…

Doc O was one of them, connected not only by age but by lodge politics.

Allen, even so, not only didn’t resent youth, but he gravitated to the blend of tradition and irreverence that dripped from my being. For some odd reason, perhaps sensing the fade of his own youth, Al Oster got a kick out of me. And Jacobson. And the nonsense of Castle Hall.

I could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice, and feel it as he gave me counsel.  How well I recall the shoulder he’d provide as his contemporaries, trying to keep me in my place, flexed their muscles in the guise of brotherhood.

“Don’t mind Eisen,” he once told me. “He just can’t accept that you won.”
“Yeah, but—“
“He really likes you, but as long as he sees you as ‘Harvey’s boy’ he’ll never make it easy.”                                                   “Yeah, but…”

It’ll be thirty years this June that I held the gavel…Chancellor Commander. The world was changing; fraternal organizations everywhere were declining—and against that backdrop there I was—in my early 30’s—-running the show.

I needed every Al Oster I could get.

We were mavericks trying to change things; it didn’t take.

Rather than go with the usual suspects, I asked Cutler and Widman to run entertainment. In the day, Entertainment Chairs were akin to Secretaries Of State. I wasn’t just pushing the envelope naming the two relative unknowns—indeed, I was opening an Office Max.

Al never broke stride. Al never buckled. Always, he waved the flag.

There was a guy on tv back then called “The Unknown Comic”. He would do his routine with a brown paper bag over his head. Some jokes were good, of course, but some weren’t. Still, the sight of a schmuck doing stand-up with his head covered always drew laughs.

—Until the night when, to generate excitement for the upcoming entertainment calendar—we had Cutler and Widman sit the entire meeting with heads covered.

Only Oster laughed.

—Or the bus trip to Toronto where I went up and down the aisle waking sleeping altacockers, asking each if he preferred beef or turkey sandwiches. Dutifully each responded and diligently I wrote down each order. Problem was, we had no food. I was just having fun. (It took Oster to calm the seas; some people, hungry perhaps, just didn’t think it was cute).

Yet Oster, too, could tell me the truth. Privately. Like when The Jersey Girl was in her ninth month with Stacy. (Might have been the tenth month even). She was being “herself”, let us say—only more so. There I sat with Doc O…at the Theatrical…bitching.

“LISTEN TO ME!” he shouted, semi-shaking my shoulders. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to carry that thing around for nine months…and it’s always there…and every time your wife sits down on the toilet it’s there…do you know how uncomfortable that is….? Give her a break!”

“Yeah, but…”

I was thinking about that today because…I never called Oster. Not in January. Not in February. Not at all.

You see…my phone rang just Monday. And again it was Jacobson.

“Dr. O died,” he told me—there would be no funeral.

“Lost time is never found again.” —-Benjamin Franklin


Sunday, March 17th, 2013

It probably never occurred to my father that even in the post-mod era of the 70’s his black and yellow plaid polyester sport jacket was loud.

“How loud was it, Johnny?” asked Ed (McMahon).
“So loud even Bruce’s mother could hear it!”

His garb though— that dreaded jacket— had legs. Indeed, when our dad passed on years later it was one of those things I just couldn’t let go. North it came— first to Maidstone, then beyond. From box in the basement to box in the closet, until…finally… generations after its original sales date, it became retro. Ugly, but retro.

With legs!

So much so that with me playing Banjo, (the Jimmy Durante role in “The Man Who Came To Dinner”), it found the Independence stage.

So much so that it found homes on both Murray The Cop (“The Odd Couple”) and Mr. Pinky (“Hairspray”) at The Fine Arts Association.

Whodda thunk it? Certainly not the clerk at Kuppenheimer’s who’d unloaded it.

The best part of it all has been that inevitably each production cast mates inquire about my wardrobe and inevitably each production I get to share about my father.

For the past weeks, playing a frenetic TV director in a show at Gates Mills, I’ve once again thrilled others not so much with performance as wardrobe. Thank you, Dad.

We closed last night and, once again it rests in the closet—that relic which so well explains our Dad’s absence from GQ’s cover. Ah, but now it has friends: the cravat I wore around my neck, (Aunt Helen’s scarf from WWII)…and the long-sleeved, collared, black corduroy shirt that Stacy said “Don’t wear” and Meredith urged I burn. Still it’s all, dare I say, about the jacket: my father’s black and yellow jacket.

It was his coat of arms; it personified his heart; and oh…it had legs!


Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Dear Mark,

Remember how our parents would preach “time flies”? I never got it back then. Now sometimes, and clearly at moments like this, it seems there’s never enough…time.

Knowing your birthday approached, I’d been thinking perhaps we’d get together when I was in town recently. It didn’t happen, as you know, and even my cemetery stop on what used to be called Old Refugee Road was missed. Still, I figure if my father could survive without my presence (like the word choice?), so could my lifelong friend.

Anyway, I was thinking about you on your recent birthday. Two scenes stood out—one back from high school (relatively trivial), and the other of recent vintage.

Did you know that you were the first person to ever fix me up on a date?  Not Fenton. Not “Groovy”. ‘Twas you! Must have been 11th grade or so ‘cause I was already driving. You were seeing a Sherry K —she lived either on East Antisdale or Grosvenor (in the portion of South Euclid that went to Heights). Anyway, she had this friend—-a nice, somewhat nebbishy girl—the perfect match for a high school me. I mention this so in the event you appear on a quiz show you can spit out the Final Jeopardy answer.

The other memory, distinct in my mind, is from Vegas. We were breakfasting poolside a day into our mini-reunion…you and Bobby were still debating which was the right hotel to stay at…and during a lull in the action you leaned my way:

“Why were you always so insecure?” came your question.

It was a curious question, but such a tender inquiry that I never forgot it. It was the kind of thing only a friend of fifty-some years might ask. I wasn’t embarrassed at all yet frankly, it raised a question in my mind. Did you know
that I’d wondered the same about you? Did you sense (as I have over time), that we were but two sides of the same coin?

Sure, I was on the quiet side and you: less so. And yes, I lived on Bayard and you couldn’t hear me, but on a clear day day… from your house on Linnell I sure heard you.

And the decades dribbled by. When you drove me ‘round Columbus just two years back it was you that had mellowed and me that was heard. With reverence you spoke of your new home town.

I don’t know, Erv, why I was unsettled back then. Years fly by and more and more I see the strength and foundation of childhood friendships. I hope you feel the same. Those you’ve touched, still bound to Cleveland, remember well the smiles they shared with you.
Julie recalls how you pestered John Carroll in class until he stabbed you with his pencil, and how (in the days only “hard guys” had them), you called it your “tattoo”. And he remembers well your—should we say “audible”?— laugh.

You touched Barry too, both at Brush and in Sunday School. Community Temple—I almost forgot. C’mon, Mark. It’s been a half century since our Bar Mitzvahs. (I had no idea, by the way, that your Dad coached Little League).

People remember those things. Even in your absence.

I could tell you too the stories from Bobby and Stuart. I won’t though—you can get those yourself. I will share, however, a tale from Maddy. Goes back to the seventh grade…

You snapped her bra, she swears—from the back—right in the Greenview cafeteria.

She says she was mad at the time. I don’t know. Says you probably told all her friends from the SLAM club. Beats me. What I do know is that anyone who could pull that off couldn’t have been THAT insecure.

(Not that I’m asking).

Happy Birthday, buddy. Hi to Lisa. Come north.


c.c. Alan, Stu, Bob, Raisinbrain


Friday, March 8th, 2013

Seems hard to believe but when our dad wed Harriet he’d been living in Columbus just two years. That’s all. My transfer from MSU in January ’68 compelled his request and alas, Highlights found him a home in central Ohio just prior to my sophomore year. (The timing, impeccable as it was, kept me out of a dorm).

So there we were: two wandering Jews living as “townies” in the heart of campus. Neither of us dated much. (He more than me, I suppose—except for an occasional Sammy party) until lightning struck in the fall of ’69.

She sparkled yet again last weekend and shared the story yet again. It’s a wondrous tale really, about how they’d met inadvertently at Columbus’s J, and how she really wasn’t looking for a bald, fat guy eight years her senior.

She regaled us, telling that he’d called her office the very next workday and asked her to dinner. “I’m meeting with a client this evening”, she’d advised him, (which was true). “Don’t you eat?” he shot back.

It was a relationship whose time would come. And blossom. And “have legs”.

Our parents got divorced, you see, before it was fashionable. We spoke back then of broken homes—not extended families. We spoke softly.

I remember well his comments from their very first date. It had gone well. Still, a prediction then that 40+ years hence his first born would drive south to see her grandson sing on stage…well…”Monkeys should fly out of your ass!” he’d have laughed.

No one’s laughing now, decades later; they marvel.

There we were, Carrie, Leesa and I—and there she was, four decades later, with Leslie; and there we sat at a Chinese restaurant…minutes from the theater.

Yes, I’d been meaning to get to one of Matthew’s plays for some time now. The timing though! From travels to plays to general commitments—it just never happened. Downstate trips there were, but never at show time.

Until now.

“What’s in Columbus?” people were asking last month. “Everything OK?”
‘Yeah, Harriet’s grandson is doing ‘Fiddler’”.
“That’s so nice you guys are going.’
“Overdue”, thought I.

They didn’t get it, I knew. This isn’t just my father’s second wife we’re talking about. This is HARRIET. Mishpacha.

Who knew? Who knew that day back then—as we noshed over Marilyn’s latkes and introductions…that the lady on the couch would be such an imprint on his life and enduring fabric in ours?

Fifteen years they were married—to the day. Then, on a Friday in August… without warning…he was gone.

His bride never left, of course. Nor did the kinship between us.

There’s been sweet; there’s been sour; there’s been simchas and then “stuff”.
But there’s always been us. Always.

From Michael’s college laundry to Jamie’s wedding to Stacy’s graduation…
to the next generation (and counting).

I watched her the other night…flitting around in the lobby…at the very J where she’d met our father.

How lucky he was. Imagine: meeting the love of your life on your back nine! How lucky they were, for their time together and the brand of family they mastered.

—And how lucky we are for the lesson they taught us—that “family” is not only a noun, but it’s an action verb.

To life!


Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

I learned long ago that if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. It’s a Wayne Dyer line, and invaluable.

Wednesday was miserable, just miserable. We’d been getting long terrifically lately, but the moment my aunt greeted me it was clear ‘twould be a bumpy ride.

“The bag is the trash,” she said from atop, pointing to her weekly bundle at the bottom of the stairs. “The envelope, (unambiguously packaged, addressed and marked in bold print “Do Not Bend”), is not. Be careful with it”.

Like I always do, I ran her garbage to the back, dumped it in the can, and returned to help her down steps.

“Did you accidentally throw away the mail?”
‘It’s raining. Did you protect it?”
“How did you protect it? It’s raining!”
“I put it under my coat”.
“Did you zip your coat?”
“Did you bend it?”

Ten minutes into our sojourn, not yet off her property, and I was exhausted.

Then, breaking the plane of her driveway, this tender lady, perennial league leader in passive aggression, unleashed a verbal assault that would have made Wayne LaPierre proud:

“When did you decide to go to Columbus?” she asked. I was about to answer—it was, after all, a response well-prepared with my brother, but before I could: “Did you tell Harold before or after you told me?” “Will you see Harriet?” “Why are you going?” “Is Carrie going?” “Did Harriet ask if I was joining you?” “I surely would not have, but did you consider asking me?” “Who will take me to see your brother ?” “What if he can only see me Saturday?”


“You know, you travel too much,” she continued.
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t?”
“You’re being stupid. You never used to travel so much.”
“I never used to have grandchildren.”
“You have no grandchildren in Columbus.”

I punted. Drained by the intifada, I said nothing—at all—until we entered the grocery.

The pivotal moment each week is the one full minute consumed choosing the appropriate shopping cart. This is no mean task and not taken lightly. It is also the juncture at which my aunt first brandishes the trip’s shopping list.

“Did you read it through?” she inquired the instant it touched my fingers. “It is long today. And we must select birthday cards for Michael Jacobson and Carrie.”  Groaning inaudibly I envisioned reading every card in stock.  (I would not be far off).

So we did our thing. There was the traditional checking of the Cheerios boxes to assure that since last week they hadn’t changed the sodium content. “Aunt Helen, you’re too old to die young.” (OK. It’s a good line, but I only thought it)…Then her sensuous fondling of six, perhaps seven baked potatoes…and her compelling me (at gun point) to check expiration dates on each carton of milk, package of cheese and YES, bottle of Coca Cola….

And the mandatory math lesson: Is it better to buy one bag of ten oranges for $3.99 or seven loose ones at 40 cents apiece. And which are fresher? “What would you do, Bruce?”

‘Though spent long before hitting the card aisle, dutifully I read her this card and that, all the while being serenaded by choruses of “Too cute” or “ Too juvenile” “Too loving” or “Too long.” Still, I read on (in mortal fear that her next words might well be “Should we check the cards at Walgreen’s?). At one point actually, a card was chosen. Then, dramatically, she reached in her purse, culled text she’d earmarked for Jacobson, and asked that I read it aloud: “This card is belated because a certain someone forgot to remind me it was your birthday”. “Do you agree?” she asked me. With Solomon-like wisdom I offered no comment. “Then you admit,” she insisted, “That you were wrong.” (As my Dad would have said, I didn’t know whether “…to spit or go blind….”).

We never got a card that day. Not one (to her) “seemed right”. “Why is it,” she posited, “They don’t know how to merchandise?” No, we never got a card, never got the black marker she wanted (“Sharpy’s smell”, you see), and never got the cereal.

But we got along. Not as well as we have, but we got along.

No blood shed. No harsh words. We got along.

She’s pushing 99, my aunt is, and that’s quite a blessing. Day was when I’d moan about her nonsense and forget my Dad’s admonition—something he said often about others over many a year: “Someday, if you’re lucky, you too will be old.”

He was right, of course. He usually was.

—And I remembered again that if I change the way I look at things, the things I look at change.

I love my Aunt Helen.