Archive for April, 2013

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

My parents had different styles and, nine times out of ten (maybe more), I would go to my dad. Whatever the issue—be it my screw up or life’s circumstance, his black and white comfort mandated healing. It was just that simple.

“Sometimes life ISN’T fair,” he said, moments after Jon Scott’s father blew the call. It was only a game, he reasoned, as we picked up our bats; there were a lot of games left, he reminded— before surprising us with an impromptu pit stop at Victory Park’s carnival.

“This hurts me more than it hurts you, “ said my father. “Some day we’ll look back at this and laugh”.

Then tears dried and life went on.

“Life ISN’T fair,” he counseled years later. It was the Vietnam Era and a soldier— his soldier — was tied to a barracks and mourning a romance.
“Yeah, but—“
“Grow up, Little Boy,” said my father. “Oh…and I’m flying out. Will be there tomorrow.”
(Twenty-four hours later, fluorescent short-sleeves and all, he’d light up San Antonio’s Zoo).

“This hurts me more than it hurts you, “ he assured, (as if he’d lost the girl). “I promise you, someday we’ll look back at this and laugh.”

And tears dried, on both of us — and life went on.

My Dad had the answer for everything. Always. There were good guys and bad guys. Good fortune and bad breaks. Broken bat singles, dying quails that fell in and always—yes ALWAYS– the next at bat.

So our tears dried—every drop over every year. And we looked back laughing. Always.

He spoiled me, Al Bogart did. And he lied to me…in a way. Some things aren’t black and white. Ever.

I reached out last week, yet again. I heard NOT last week, yet again.

The old man? I know what he’d say. Arm draped ‘round me, misty eyes filtering his gut, his words would be clear.

Black and white, for that matter—-

“Stop moving the goal posts.” he’d demand. “Get off your knees,” he’d admonish. “Life goes on”.

And I’d listen, if I could. To every word, if I could. And I’d well hear what he wouldn’t say:
that someday, some way…we’d look back and laugh.

QUARTET

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

It was the late 90’s, early in my recovery, when I first heard the statement. “Give me a few minutes,” said Joe H, “And I can boil every problem down to ego”.

Like seats at Ebbets Field, four teeth, right behind home plate, anchored the lower boxes of my mouth. Four pillars they were, having emerged in the late 50’s, just as Walter O’Malley was breaking east coast hearts moving the Dodgers west. (Ed. Note: Ben Selzer, patron saint of decency, never forgave O’Malley and in fact, spent his next forty years calling the owner “a bum”).

Ah, but I digress. This is not a story of baseball nor a look at betrayal. It is, rather, a tale of teeth: mine. And of ego: mine. The world will always have O’Malleys and always have Modells; I get that. What I thought though—-what I truly believed—-was that I’d always have teeth.

I’m an idiot. I see that now. The only thing I’ll always have is ego.

I sat Wednesday, in the office of Dr. Sasha Ross. A fish out of water, filled with fear and colored by resignation, all I could think of was what a schmuck I’d been. Who the hell did I think I was that I could flit through life like Superman, gently disregard my body, and walk unscathed? How big was my ego?

Sometimes, indeed, spit happens; I get that. Bad things do happen to good people. Still, me sitting in the on-deck circle at the periodontist: this was not one of them. This, I well knew, was on me. I was the idiot.

I was also lucky.

There I was, getting topnotch care…supported by Carrie in the waiting room and family by phone, with, oddly, a secure feeling that all would be ok….and that like so much in life and love, I’d get a second chance.

So she yanked (excuse the expression) my teeth. Within minutes…the field boxes: gone.

And she put in the bridge—four shiny new seats …in a row: like Grandma Cele had.

And it didn’t hurt at all, like I thought it would. (Ed. Note 2: Frankly, it was a lot like the second Clay-Liston fight. You know— the one in Lewiston, Maine). There I was polite on the outside but frantic inside, wondering if the novicaine would last when…mitten dirrenna: “All done,” she announced. Truth be known, in an odd sort of George Costanza way I was disappointed. Was that all there was?

I’m an idiot.

So I sat in post-op, enjoying respite before the lecture on after-care… WHEN…

—-Enter Christina, for what I can only term was a “debriefing”. (She was a nice lady, well-versed. Still, that look in her eye and the warmth of her voice said she felt like she was teaching me hygiene as a second language).

“Rinse your mouth with this,” she instructed,” Immediately after brushing your teeth”
“How soon is immediate?” I asked.
“Right afterward”.
“But I brush my teeth in the shower. Can it wait?”
SILENCE, AND THEN:
“…And don’t swallow it like you did before. It’s not a beverage.”

“Avoid strenuous exercise for one week,” she noted.
“That won’t be an issue.”

“A certain amount of discomfort can be expected,” she said.
“Have you MET my ex-wife?”

And then I could go.

Bounding from the chair with a passion last seen May 12, 1972, (my separation from active military duty), I shot to the waiting room.

“How do you feel?” asked Carrie.
“The doctor hated ‘The War Horse’ too!” I proclaimed.

We walked to the car, hand-in-hand. The long national nightmare, it appeared, was finally over.

Carrie made soup last night, and I gummed some grilled cheese. Drained as I was, I fell asleep —get this—minutes before the end of an hour-long show.

Oh, and family called—Aunt Helen twice—and my world went on…without teeth perhaps, but with lessons learned:

I’m going to take care of myself, starting NOW. And I’m going to walk when the weather breaks. And eat better.

Still, as Grandma Bogart used to say: “Warsaw wasn’t built in a day”. And so it was that at some point last evening I’d turned to Carrie, exhilarated by the ease of the day, and confided: “You know,” I told her, “Seeing how it wasn’t so bad and all…I would almost ignore my teeth another twenty years and do it again!”

She didn’t think it was funny. (Chances are she thought I was an idiot).

MANY HAPPY RETURNS

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

For a long time now my brother and I have ended conversations with a simple exchange. “Have a good one,” says one of us—to which the other closes: “Thank you very much”.

This practice stems not from common courtesy but shared derision. The dialogue, truth be known, is our joint nod to a treasured aunt: a lady so distraught hearing people wishing “Have a good one” (rather than “Have a good day”) —a woman once visibly and verbally unnerved by my bidding “Thank you very much” to a drycleaner who was, according to her, “Just doing his job”. “Why would you thank him?” she scolded me, “He gets paid for his work!”

And so… educated adults in our 60’s, ere we part…each time —in person or by phone—we honor her with subliminal tribute to her sustained lunacy.

“Have a good one.”
“Thank you very much.”

BULLETIN. Cleveland, Ohio. April 21, 2013: Aunt Helen is getting difficult!

She thinks Hal’s the nice one and perhaps he is. That stated, historians note it was H, the Raymond everybody loves, that years ago actually compiled our aunt’s complaints on an Excel spreadsheet. There it was, in aggregate: a black/white listing of every grievance ever spewed by the Jewish Margaret Hamilton: from Nephew Bruce to Cousin Norman to Rabbi Cohen to, … the Cleveland Institute Of Music. All this and more, wondrously available to the masses by one click of the button… courtesy of The Good Son.

Alas, even Hal…even my brother admits it’s now worse.  It’s not that she’s complaining less—she’s just returning more! No longer content just voicing displeasure, our aunt’s taken to affirmative action, summoning us to claim her refunds. You’ve heard of HBO On Demand? This is H & B on demand. And it’s getting old.

In this most recent winter of her discontent, Hal and I, flanked by what presents as a “nice little old lady”, have burdened area merchants returning:

Apples (“too hard”)
Oranges (“too soft”)
Hershey Kisses (“tastes ‘tinny’”)
Hershey Dark Chocolate (“They’ve changed the recipe”)
Manischewitz gefilte fish (“Oh, please—if I tell you it tastes bad must I say more?”
Knee-high Panty hose (“They fall down”—HOLD THE VISUAL!)
A Winter Coat (“too long”—Did she grow this week?)
Postage stamps (“Why did you get the ones that say ‘Love’”? You know
I prefer the American flag!”)

It’s not funny! Not to us. Last week (for example) our aunt, evolving at the rate of Senator Portman, announced she was ready for touch-tone dialing. Yes, with the help of my brother, she would discard her rotary and venture forward to a new frontier.

“It’s only a question of when,” H advised me that Saturday, the night of their purchase. “We’re returning the phone,” said his message, the very next morning.

We can’t keep pace!  (And she thinks it’s a COMPLIMENT that store managers know her first name)!

Heck, even before Hal could reprise his Target run and replace her phone, she volleyed again.

“There’s a slow leak in my milk carton,” she announced. “It must go back”.
“Not tonight Aunt Helen…really…I’m exhausted.”
“Very well,” she obliged (almost warmly). “It can wait until Wednesday.
Her mood changed quickly though when I suggested we take it to a service station, have them put it on a lift, and locate the leak. “Perhaps they can patch it?” I suggested.

—-This, in the same week she had me tiptoeing into The Jerusalem Grill, a kosher eatery on Cedar. How embarrassing is it—really—when you enter a deli and as one guy moves to get you a table, from the back of the counter you hear a voice shout “No, Simon, she’s here to return something.”

I swear.

Ah, but we laugh today. Somewhat… my bro and I.  Not always, of course, but certainly when it’s the other one doing the returning. All’s fair in love and war, you see—and she’s both.

Still, we love our aunt, through it all. And we honor her, in our talks.

I spoke to Hal today, for a bit. It ended in the usual fashion—with a twist.

“Have a good one,” he said. “Thank you very much.”  Then he got the last word in, my little brother did.  One last shot:

“Many happy returns!”

 

IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

I don’t want to say my life is different now than it was at this time last year, but (Thank You Howard Ross), Yes, it took a rocket scientist to put things in motion.

Here was my rhythm last spring: Wake up at 6, pray and go eat. Work most the day, then meeting or theater… and then… on the way home, 10 or so, stop to pick up Fourth Meal (which I’d inevitably devour in bed on my stomach to Seinfeld or Letterman). Oh yeah, and but for the occasional road trip, I slept alone.

Somewhere about that time the man that Brother Bob still considers but Fran’s younger brother got wind that a bunch of sixties groups would play Cain Park in August. Corralling his cronies, Howard, (or maybe H, sensing the bands were Bruce-appropriate), emailed me.

“Two tickets,” said I. “Let me know who to pay.”

They were buying them together, this crew of theirs—months in advance. “Who you going to take?” asked my brother (not to be insulting so much as to invite theoretical my hypotheses. With us, it’s always the art of conversation).

April became May became June became…

—-Sometime mid-July the seat was filled. (I think. Frankly, it may have been later).
—-Sometime mid-August I found out it was a date. (I think. Frankly, I’m still not sure).

Ed. Note: When first I was notified by Carrie that indeed she’d considered the concert a date, I pushed back.

“No way”, I’d insisted, citing A) our driving arrangements (H drove), and B) my steadfast adherence to the neutral zone, pivotal fact being that I didn’t try to kiss her.

She smiled.

“Even the fact that you didn’t talk to me,” she shot back—“Even the fact that I spoke more to Hal and Margie that night…even the fact that when we sat down you called your friend Stuart and ignored me“….”It was still a date.”

(This must have been autumn, as our debate was loving. It did not, however, preclude further scrutiny).

“I’m calling my brother. He’ll know.”
(Her eyes rolled, not unlike my son Michael’s when I say something specious).
I hung up the phone.

October became November became December became…

— ‘Twas the dead of winter, I suppose, and our Wednesday date. Sitting, chilling at the Cedarcreek Grill, her friend approached. ‘Though we’d met once before, that night, for whatever reason, the talk came easy.

“You know,” said the lady, “You really disappointed her on that first date. You didn’t even kiss her!”
“It wasn’t a date,” I asserted. “And she had me drop her in the back”.
“Puhleeeeze”, said her buddy.
“OK,” I exclaimed, a la Cosmo Kramer. “I’m never going to say it wasn’t a date again….STARTING NOW!!!”
(But I wasn’t done. There were, I’d supposed, amends to be made).

We went home that night, the two of us—just a half hour later. She stepped from the car and gingerly I cut her off.

“Let’s go back ‘round the house,” I insisted. “I want that first kiss”.
“You’re nuts,” she decried, acquiescing.
“There,” I said moments later, “ THAT’S for our first date.”

*****        *****        *****        ******

I got a note from my brother—last week. They’ll be at Cain Park again, they will: The Turtles, Gary Puckett…even Mark Lindsay.

“Two tickets,” said I. “Let me know who to pay.”

Ah, but this year the dog won’t hunt. ‘Though the emails did sail, the guys didn’t care. Not this year. Not even H.

I went on line today (to get the tickets).

For two of us–just the two of us.

We’ll go in one car this time and I’ll drive. I’ll take her home this time, alone.

Where I’ll stay.

It will be more than a date this year. It will be the two of us: happy together.

A MOMENT LIKE THIS

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

“For a moment like this, some people wait a lifetime….”  - – -Kelly Clarkson

Midway through a pre-Masters interview of The Golden Bear I sat wistfully wishing Linick was watching. David, like me, looked to Nicklaus with reverence; David (like me), would have called this the finest single sports interview ever televised. David, like me, would have had a lump in his throat and been lost in thought when the golfer was ultimately asked “What single moment are you most grateful your father saw?

I’ve done a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong in my life. My father saw much and, until I was 35, lived through it all. What instance am I most glad he shared? What Kodak moment? What video runs viral through my montage of “stuff”?

Wasn’t my schooling, good grades and all. Wasn’t the military, (his politics and all). Wasn’t even when I hit 1,000 career sales and they planted a rose in my honor at the Highlights For Children garden in Columbus.

No, it was a lot earlier… on a sunshiny day…when the world—when all of us—- were young.

Opening Day, 1962. Memorial Field, South Euclid, Ohio.

This would be it for me: my last year of Little League. To my father, ‘twas the season the stars had aligned for—and the big guy was ready.

Coming off my brother’s epic season with Hollywood, (Ed. Note: twin southpaws Ross and Bogart pitched them to the 9-10 trophy), my father eagerly awaited my final stanza. He’d watched in ’60 when as a ten-year old I got my two innings per game and, surrounded by the league’s icons, won a world championship. He’d suffered a year later, when the White Sox, devastated by the loss of eight 12 year-olds, began rebuilding. And he’d jumped, just months before, at the opportunity to manage me in what would be my final stanza.

He knew the players, both old and new. Racila, Vince, Fenton, Fischer, Karabinus, Myslenski: they were twelve now and ready for prime time. Hand-picking other draftees (Ross, Bogart, Mandels, Ricky Fenton), he filled out his squad.

And there was me. Always me. ‘Though he never said it, I knew he felt it: This would be my year. This would be my time. I’d paid my dues; I’d honed my skills. I was ready. This annum, all Rowland games and backyard catch, all the “Watch John Romano—-just take a level swing like he does” would pay off!  Yes, 1962, for my teammates he’d watch mature, for the man himself (in his gut perhaps knowing this would be his final married season), but most of all, for ME..… this would be that one shining moment!

It was a beautiful May night, it was, and a Monday or a Tuesday…and we sat on the third base side. (My Dad loved the third base side on that field. “Less sun,” he’d point out, for whatever it mattered). And I was batting fifth, and the pitcher had red hair, and there were two men on and two men out.

I hit the ball high and hard. To left. There was no fence and I ran. And I ran.

‘Have no idea if the guy played shallow or if I hit a gap or if anything. What I do know is with the bases circled, as I crossed home plate (No slide necessary, Thank you), I saw him. First. Clipboard in hand, eyes shining bright, his smile spoke: Fenced in or not, his boy’d knocked it out of the park!

It was one of only three homers I hit that year. One of only six games we won. Yet it mattered not.

I remember that hit, the shot heard ‘round my father’s world, like it was yesterday. And I remember his smile too, because frankly, it never left him.

I walked every step of my life in the light of my father’s love. Every misstep too. He was always proud, ever accepting, pristine. His greatest beauty, though— especially in later life— was to see every day as opening day, and every pitch as one his loved ones would hit.

And teaching me that if I took a level swing, every moment would shine.

DAYLIGHT

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

        “Here I am staring at your perfection
         In my arms, so beautiful …”

Six days after touch down from Vegas the travelling Wilburys again hit the road. Warm heart and soft tooth all packed, as RFK’d once exclaimed, it was “On to Chicago!”

“Too soon,” Jason exhorted. We had just arrived and there I was overwhelming the baby like a used car salesman. “Give her a moment,” said Stacy.

They were right (I knew), but my eyes were pinned to the silken hair and pearl skin of perfect progeny. She was a quiet, delicate flower and I was straining to sense she knew me.

“I’m your Pappy”, I whispered. “Your happy Pappy”.

(My theory, dating back to the Maxwell Infancy, is that young bundles learn not only the dynamic of our smells but hear the comfort in our sounds. They KNOW us, and indeed know us better than we know them. Go figure).

Out-of-town grandkids? Let’s call it like it is: the agony and the ecstasy.

My thinking’s changed. Time was upon visiting kids that once I’d heard, seen, felt and touched the bambino I was—mentally anyway— prepared to go home. Great to see the children, but…(and they know it too): they’re no longer the straws that stir the drink. And yet, it’s different now. Grown up kids oft act grown up…and, thriving in their own elements…are true joy.

We spent Friday night on a couch: five of us. It is a quite old sofa (remarks Jason), and one she “inherited” (reminds Stacy), but as Lucy slept we curled ‘round the soon-to-be-discarded sectional and laughed. Time stopped as the Cubs lost on the wall and we shared pictures and stories. Had I never seen their wedding album? (I wondered) “Were you really that thin?” others blurted.

“I love the black and white photos,” Carrie told them. (Did anyone else catch the subliminal metaphor of the weekend? We’re here then we’re not. We see Lucy, then we don’t. We hold her, then there’s daylight between us).

       “…Here I am waiting, I’ll have to leave soon
       Why am I, holding on? …
       —How did it come so fast?
       ….Cause I know, when I wake, I will have to slip away…”

The weekend pressed on and Sat. AM, no different than Cleveland, meant potchkying around. “This is my favorite deli in the world,” Stace said as we entered. With a tooth on the critical list and a Lucy on board, I cared very little. Just let me watch the kid.

Torture of soft-boiled eggs over, life ventured on—-

Stopping at an art store, Bonesy stayed with The Little One as Father & Daughter moseyed in for her package. No sooner had we broken the plane of the entrance than I was overcome with hot flashes, suffering severe, sustained flashbacks to Gramercy Interiors and my life in the ’80s. And THEN I heard the price! Indeed, dare I say once she spit that out…had I not been ill and had I in fact ingested my normal breakfast….well…there’d have been something else on the wall for framing. “They’re thieves” I texted Jason, as a show of support. (Indeed, sometimes water trumps blood).

‘…And when the daylight comes I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close
Cause in the daylight …”

We slept the afternoon. All of us. When babies nap old folks tend to rest because as babies waken, symphonies play.

Music that night played at Chez Baskin. Brother Dick (once known as an usher in my wedding but now footnoted as CJ’s brother) and Adrienne hosted as many of their kids and ours as could get past the fire marshal. Endless Sinatra blared from speakers against the backdrop of a disappointing national semifinal while three generations mingled, caught up and (except for me), ate. It mattered not—I was watching Lucy…and thinking…

The kid DOES know me—somewhat. I mean she may not intellectually know who I am, but she senses the comfort. It’s there on her face, in her demeanor and…

“Give me a kiss,” I prompt her as she sits on my lap…and gingerly, blissfully she tilts forward, ‘til her forehead hits mine. “This”, I tell myself, “Is why I’m here.”

We went home that night and they put her to bed. ‘Til tomorrow. ‘Til daylight.

It would be another breakfast, another hug, and another goodbye. The agony and the ecstasy.

The way it is.

Bittersweet, the daylight is—the inevitable mornings that always come: when it’s time to leave, to get that that one more tilt of the baby’s head ‘cause you know you’ll be separated once again by miles and miles. And daylight.

“…This is way too hard,
‘Cuz when the sun comes up I will leave
This is my last glance that will soon be memories….”

Maroon Five

TOOTH OR CONSEQUENCES

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

My Dad’s dentist was Sylvan Simon, a very nice man with an office out on the town square in Twinsburg. This was the sixties—long before Twinsburg was Twinsburg. Anyway, once—my father swore—he was so afraid of an upcoming visit that when he got there he told Dr. Simon he just wanted to sit on the chair and chat. And they did…after which my father insisted he pay for the visit. “After all,” he assured me, “I took his time.”

I don’t like the dentist. At all. Indeed, if I were inclined to hate, I would hate the goddam dentist. I don’t though, as I’m mature… balanced. Still, the thought of going to one seems inhumane—so much so that I term it an “it” rather than a “he” or “she”. I don’t like the dentist.

Can stand neither the smell of the office nor the phoniness of the magazines. (Why is it that only in a dentist’s office do we find CURRENT magazines?). And I certainly am not enamored by the fake smiles that greet you as they try to put you at ease. I mean, really: why must they seem happy to see us, why must they act as if we too will enjoy interacting. Really? Why would anyone in his right want to see a dentist? Why, for that matter, would anything in its right mind thrill at poking in someone’s mouth for sport?

Dentistry is the dark side of gynecology.

Ed. Note: Contrast this to the eye doctor. Walk into Lester’s office, why don’t you? Everyone’s pleasant yet everyone’s real. No staff does hand stands as you enter and, better yet, not once will you stagger out clutching your eyeball in pain.

Phil Passan, office above the old Mayflower Drug at Cedar Center, was my first dentist. These were pre-braces days. He was Al Bogart’s lodge brother, (go figure), and the best thing I can say about him was that he had no pretension. He never smiled.

And then, through a series of cosmic confluence of events, I avoided the dentist…

First, my parents’ marriage was crumbled. Second, and about the same time, it was determined I needed orthodontia. Bingo! What the absent father couldn’t see the deafened mother couldn’t hear. “Guess what,” I told her after a visit with Dr. Rabin, “You don’t go to the dentist as long as you have braces”.

Who says I didn’t have “game”?

Over time my mother lost not only hearing but focus. The next time I saw a dentist was the late ‘70s. and yes, it was another lodge brother.

Jerry Adelstein’s office was at Emery and Green. I really didn’t want to go but by then the wife was pushing me to “TakeCareOfYourTeethYou’reAFatherNow” and it was either lose my mouth or lose my mind.

I arrived early that Saturday—first thing. (Heeding my father’s advice of years gone by, I always made the first appointment of the day. That way they couldn’t be behind).

I was scared that day. (Not because by then Jacobson had told me about the time Jerry got the dental drill stuck in his chest hair. No, I just didn’t want to go).

“Look,” I told the Past Chancellor while ascending the chair, “I don’t want you to touch me. Let’s just talk.”
“Oh, B”, I’m just going to look.”
“Don’t look—really. Put down that spoon.”

We fought a bit, gently…but then he did. It was, truth be known, a wondrous talk we had. We laughed—about lodge politics…about our wives…and even about Jacobson.

Twenty minutes passed, give or take. It was time to go. Always my father’s son, I forgot not my manners.

“I expect to pay for your time,” I insisted. “Don’t be ridiculous” he said—in a tone that told me “Write the check.”

We shook hands and he turned away—me moving toward reception.
“$25.00” the lady said—SMILING, as I moved toward my pocket.
From a distance came Jerry’s voice: “Marge, don’t forget to give him the lodge discount!”.

Ah…memories. The good news is it would be a new millennium before again I’d smell the clove oil. The bad news is….

Today I will see a dentist. A nice man, his name is Marc Price and he doesn’t smile too much—just the right amount. Still, I don’t want to go. I’m afraid.

But my tooth is loose…and two weeks of yogurt’s enough. I’m manning up.

It’s an afternoon appointment—that’s all he had. I hope he runs late.
I’d be happy to read a magazine.