Archive for May, 2013


Friday, May 31st, 2013

She slept, but I was riveted to a two-episode arc from “All In The Family”. It was the day before Michael and Gloria were leaving for California and the couple’d opted to go to Manhattan and dine with a professor rather than spend their last night home with the Bunkers. Archie and Edith were more than hurt; they were devastated. She grieved silently while he railed of the Fifth Commandment and the looks on their faces detailed disappointment. It was not the first tear I would cry last night.

We always honored our parents. Always. There were times we disappointed them, moments we’d laugh at their expense…but there was never disrespect. More often than not, even if they were wrong/wrong/wrong, H and I kept our mouths shut. They were, after all, our parents.

Like I said: we honored them.

— As kids our parents kept us home High Holidays. (Rowland being 90% Jewish, the school would pretty much close down. Heck, even Masseria observed). There’d be temple by morning (children services for us), Grandma Bogart’s for lunch— and then home. For some reason I recall only good weather those days, and I remember still how friends would be out playing by the “school day”’s end. Not us, though. Not Bruce or Harold. No, our dad would have none of it. Mattered not what our pals did; mattered not that he was sitting inside playing endless solitaire. It was holiday, said our father—-so we shut up. (Or more likely, never opened our mouths).

We knew even then the difference between discord and disrespect. We knew even then that they’d earned our respect with their love. No more, no less. Sometimes we didn’t understand and sometimes we couldn’t agree—but we knew well our role, and our mandate to honor.

(Not to say that we didn’t get close. Not to say that I, specifically, didn’t tease that line you didn’t cross).

In the late 60’s The Supremes released their greatest hits album. A two-LP set, its dark royal blue packaging contained a tri-fold photograph of each of the singers. I was living with my dad at the time—on campus—and proudly I’d posted the pictures over the wooden molding in the bedroom.

“You know,” he observed, “If they couldn’t sing they’d just be hookers on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.”
I got angry.
“What do you mean?” I roared, beginning a several sentence rant.
Face reddening, he shot right back: “Don’t be naïve.”
Then I lost it. Don’t know why—I was never a rebel—but my rambling soliloquy ended with a glare and some ugly words:
“You’re a racist!” I accused.

His lip puffed. Smoke—the kind that signals the election of a pope—flew from his ears. For minutes, (it seemed so much longer), I then heard how the world had changed, and on and on, including his take on Detroit’s riots of ’67 and the Glenville riots just passed, and the war, and long hair, and …

My talking was done that day. I sat there half-listening, (waiting for the storm to pass), but more thinking how I’d gone too far. Who calls their father a racist? Really?

It was an episode we never once discussed. Ever. Indeed, when the dust settled he went in the shower, emerging soon after in boxers and his omnipresent “wife-beater” undershirt.

“What say you for dinner?” he asked with his twinkle.
“You’re not mad?”
“We both have to eat.”

I’ve replayed that scene quite often o’er the years. Stuart knows it  like he was there.  And me?  I laugh and cry.

It was years later— perhaps as I fathered— that it sorted out. Fully.

I’d crossed a line that day, to disrespect. This wasn’t the sixth-grade Bruce getting caught playing tackle football; this was an adult Bruce, forgetting who his father was. A proud moment it wasn’t, but unique it was, and never to be approached again.

I remember it though; I picture it; and when I see others mistreat their parents, as sometimes I do, I cringe. It’s not right. And as I watch poignant moments, like I did last night on TV, my throat clogs in memory.

Epilogue: We went to the Suburban Steakhouse that night back in ’68. A sucker for their rolls, Al Bogart could make a meal of them. “Better than cake,” he would tell me. Always. “Better than cake.”


Sunday, May 26th, 2013

My aunt is failing. Teasing 99, the once-flinty poster girl for rigidity is slowing at a quickening pace. Neither I, nor my brother (her son), like it.

We noticed weeks ago, Hal and I. First I did, then he— (or was it the other way around?) —as did Cousin Norman….and our aunt.

She notices everything.

“Bruce,” she said as we entered the grocery, “You get the food and I’ll sit here.” (Unlike her, I thought. Autocratic to a fault and passively aggressive, she just never showed weakness).

“Harold,” she remarked days later, “I do not wish to cook. Shall I consider delivery?”

Aunt Helen vulnerable? Openly?

A Jewish unarmed Annie Oakley, our father’s sister has run out of times out. Once frail but fierce, docile but demanding, her weakened ears and failing eyes now demand, perhaps for the first time ever, that she lower her mask.

She’s afraid.

We’ve spent numerous hours—H and I— laughing with her and at her. OK, mostly the latter. (Not only did a 2012 video of shopping at Target go viral, but Hal’s Excel itemization of all her complaints recently became available in softbound). Even still, it’s been–always– laughter with love: frustration, but love.

The giggles though, are now gone. Her demeanor, edgy the past century, has just gone flat. She’s giving up … and we sense it.

It was Tuesday:

Diligently my brother’d contacted JFSA securing the info. Meals On Wheels for Miss Independent? First delivery on Thursday? With her consent?

We were on speaker phone that night. All of us. (Well, not all of us. There were H and B and M and C and L). Chuckling, some guessed how it might play out. Robert, came closest. “She won’t like the food,” I mused, “And when I shop with her Saturday she’ll give me the chicken.”

Thursday came, and in our oft-daily morning chat Hal and I chomped at the bit, reflecting…NO—anticipating the day’s events. So resilient has our aunt been, that I think yet again, she’d beat Father Time. That being the case, we agreed, fairness dictated we hear it together.

“I’ll call you at 7…and then we can conference her in.”

Evening came…and her telephone rang…and her nephews learned:

Results came quickly in another joint phone call: her food was too salty, the portions too big and she “just wasn’t happy”. Go figure.

Her nephews? They’d pegged it just right…well…almost:

“I should probably give the food to Harold…” she told me, and then hesitating, added “…and….(more hesitation)….YOU.” (It would be a bad joke—you would say I’m embellishing—but remember: unbeknownst to her there were five on the all).

“BRUCE!” I added, breaking the silence.
“Of course,” she said softly.

Then we hung up the phone. All of us. From three suburbs. In unison.

H called back moments later and the two of us laughed. It was, to be sure, still funny. But not as much and not as often.

Gravity tugs at the last link in an ancestral chain while in words unspoken  two brothers sense the inevitable.

And its easier to laugh than cry.


Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

A local theater was planning a short musical revue featuring songs from its past productions. The director asked, weeks ago, if I’d like to participate.
“Would you sing ‘Sunrise, Sunset?’” he asked.
I was surprised, to be sure—and not necessarily happy. The tune was, after all, just not in my wheelhouse.
“I don’t have the voice for that,” I submitted. “What about ‘Kids’ from ‘Birdie’? I can do shtick.”
“This would be better,” he assured, cutting debate.
(I agreed to do it, of course, but as a duet. We go up in June. Softly).

I loved acting—just loved it.

The sun rose on my theater fun in the late 80’s when, sitting in Beachwood’s theater, I saw Kraut have a ball singing “Oh Wee Oh” in “The Wizard Of Oz”. Soon after, a stage was shared with Stacy (who dazzled as a Von Trapp).

The marriage went south, though, and so did my comfort level in Beachwood. Next thing I knew I was sitting at a tryout in Chagrin Falls—they called my name—I hesitated—and another actor, (a friend), whispered “Just get up there and sell it”.

And they cast me: a blustery Senator Phogbound in “L’il Abner”. Nice role, short solo in a song—but what I recall most vividly is how they re-choreographed a production number just to get me off stage. What did they think: that inadvertently I might kick someone in the n%ts?

Ah, but it was the 90’s! I was in my forties and for some reason every time I wanted the manic, male flat slob role in a show, I seemed to be getting it–
from Mr. McAfee in “Birdie” to Teddy in “Arsenic & Old Lace” to Officer Krupke to The Cowardly Lion! Heck I was even the manager in “Damn Yankees” and a young Mel Brooks in “Laughter”. (Did it take any talent to crawl ‘cross a stage feigning heart attack?)

A good run it was.

When I got sober, though, they suggested I slow down. “Work your program,” said my sponsor.
“Yeah, but—“
“Give time time,” he counseled.
I did.

It was one from the rooms, ironically, that got me back on stage. Purim, 2009, and the bug bit hard. The kids were grown ups now and so (perhaps), was I.

Mania better directed, if nothing else, within three years there was  Murray The Cop (“Odd Couple”), Mr. Pinky (“Hairspray”), another coronary as Mel, the eccentric uncle (“Philadelphia Story”) in Painesville, a Nazi in Fairport and…timpani: YES, even a stage kiss!

A good run it was. Again, and I relish the friends found, lessons learned, and the laughs and the memories…

Still, a few years back I landed my best part ever. A recurring role, it requires not only travel, but prioritizing time. Like early sobriety, it’s first things first.

My new role, you see, is as grandpa. It’s a part where dividends grow east and west and birthdates are added year by year. Will I squeeze in another show when the calendar’s right? Of course I will. After all, I’m not ready to get off stage—quite.

But it matters not, any more. Not really. The sun’s setting on my theater career. The role of grandpa is the greatest gig—the perfect part for me. Surrounded by family, encompassed in love, I’ve no scripts to read and no lines to learn.

I just play it by heart.


Saturday, May 18th, 2013

“Three words can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”.

Robert Frost

This year marks a half-century since JFK’s shooting and the media will be scrutinizing yet again how it all went down. 2013 is also the semi-centennial of another loss—one that hit closer to home. It is 50 years this summer since an unsuspecting 8th grader learned his parents would divorce. It’s a scene replayed as often as Zapruder’s.

It occurred to me recently that just as the naïve country accepted at face value the “lone gunman” theory, Hal and I too, accepted the tight, neat package we were given when the marriage dissolved. But kids didn’t hear the truth —not back then. What if, I wondered…what if God commissioned a “round-table” to study the matter. What answers, years later, might perspective bring?

On a beautiful day, they each got a call: My Mom and her kin—Grandpa Irv and Grandma Cele, and My Father (Who Art In Heaven), and his mother, Grandma Bogart. ‘Round adjoining card tables, the five, none of whom had spoken in decades, found seats. Irv, at one end, unwrapped his cigar while our mother, already sobbing, hovered. On the far side was Dad, tapping an unfiltered Camel and eyeing the clock while his mother stood stoically by.

And then there was Celia, our mom’s mom. Cele settled—no surprise— mid everyone. (She always liked my dad, she’d tell you—but you had to ask privately).

“Choose among you an arbiter,” The Lord spoketh, “To adjust your differences.” My mother suggested her Uncle Irv. “You liked him Al. You trusted him.” “Yeah,” urged my father, “But he wasn’t in the lodge.” “Let’s leave,” said the other Irv. “He’s still no good.”

Pregnant silence ensued, and then the phone rang.

Cele: Al, it’s for you.
Elaine: What’s she say?
Albert: I’m not here.
Irv (to Elaine): Probably a bill collector
Elaine: What’d he say?
Gladys: We must wait for Helen.
Albert: Ma, please.

Thunder was heard as rain fell outside. God’s frustration reverberated.

Irv: Let’s get started.
Cele: Wait. Let me put in my teeth. (She actually left the room,
returning with knitting as well).
Irv (to Elaine): Your husband gambled away money he didn’t have.
Albert: Old news, you mumser. Things would have been ok.
Gladys: Albert. Don’t lose your temper. Your face is red.
Albert: Please Ma.
Cele: It was better for the kids.
Gladys: Elaine could have waited. Rabbi Cohen could have helped.
Oh, if Pa were alive.
Albert: Ma, please! If Pa were alive he would be dead.
Cele: Al, you had your good points. You were always there for
Elaine through her ear surgeries.
Elaine: What’d she say?
Albert: Thanks, Mom. There was plenty we shared. No one got
divorced back then. Couples worked things out.

The phone rang again and my grandpa answered. Grumbling, he gave my father the phone. The conversation would be short.

Albert: It was Dr. Brothers. She wanted to be here but she’s still unpacking.
Gladys: What’d he say?
Elaine: He said it was my brother and he wanted to be here but he’s
still unpacking.
Albert: Joyce Brothers says that you were depressed, but people
didn’t talk about those things in the 60’s.
Irv: You’re full of apple sauce.
Albert: Get Irv Ungar on the phone!
Gladys: Elaine WAS depressed. There weren’t words for it then.
Cele: Gladys…
Gladys: Cele—
Albert: Please, both of you. Mom, (to Cele) I’m sorry, but Irv had been divorced. He thought that was the answer to everything.
Irv: I’m leaving. Nothing’s changed.
Albert: You’re right, Porter. Nothing’s changed.
Elaine: I just wanted security.
Albert: I just wanted understanding.
Elaine: You wouldn’t listen.
Albert: You couldn’t hear.
Irv: It’s his fault.
Gladys: It’s no one’s fault. But it wasn’t necessary.
Cele: It was better for the kids.
Albert: I’m sorry for my part. Sam was good for you.
Elaine: I always loved you Al, but Harriet was good for you.

The phone rang once more, but they let it ring. My dad had stopped grumbling and mom had ceased crying, and as a calm set, Grandma Cele even removed her dentures.

But the bell kept ringing…

And then I awoke. It was MY phone I heard—that’s all. I’d been sleeping—dreaming if you will—about people and places a long time ago.

And it didn’t matter if it’d been one gunman or his fault or her fault or no one’s fault. We all survived, I’d concluded, and ultimately thrived

This was God’s world, I remembered… and through rain and thunder He takes care of his children.



Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

It was Monday, pre-dinner. Carrie prepped food, Leesa sat waiting, and me: I sought music. You think I’m manic with the car radio? Catch me on Pandora!

Searching song, from Phil Ochs to Phillip Sousa, I stumbled on the perfect tune for the interim time. Volume up, it was the Barry Sisters belting “Hava Nagila”.

I rose quickly, with passion, beginning to dance. “Oh, brother,” moaned Leesa; it was a reasonable response. Then her mother looked up, eyes shining.

“Call Max,” she said.

We don’t talk about it often, unless I want. She knows I miss my kids —tells me she senses when I’m thinking of them, sometimes by refrains I play.


I just don’t like they’re being out-of-town.

‘ Last time I saw The Prince it was January. We were circling the coffee table in a clock-wise Hora— Max Parker Plus Six— in what I gather was for Carrie too a Kodak Moment.

I miss him.

Lucy’s younger, of course. A year and a half now… coming in to her own. With Stace having business in Ohio, I see her little one more— or so it seems. Prime time, though, is splintered at best. My Rooney has friends here, and another parent. So, with Lucy too, it’s the old Marx Brothers’ lyric: “Hello, I must be going”.

I miss her.

It’s understandable, of course. I’ve held them and hugged them and kissed them and diapered them. I’ve watched them sleep, heard them cry, and made them laugh.

I’ve smelled them.

There’s a picture on my mantle of two others. She’s three; he’s not two.

I kissed her forehead once in ’11, but he was sound asleep. Miss them both.

I’ve never held them or hugged them.
Or kissed them.
Or diapered them.

Or watched them sleep or heard them cry or made them laugh.

But I miss them.

It’s a funny thing, when you think of it: I never glimpse at Hailey. Can’t view Matthew in his crib. But I see they miss me—miss having their grandpa.

And their grandma. And aunts. And uncles. And cousins.

We see that.

A funnier thing, yes….that others, those gifted by their lines of sight, are blind.

I guess people see what they want to see. That’s all.

And the children, when they grow up: they see it all.


Sunday, May 12th, 2013

My mother loved getting greeting cards. Preferred them to gifts, (almost). They filled her drawers and lined her etagere for decades. And she craved the schmaltz: the syrupy language pre-printed on each— even knowing full well the words weren’t ours. (We’d add text, of course, but that was for better shelf placement…that’s all). So she loved Mother’s Day, ‘cause it was the one day each year she’d (no pun intended), hear what she wanted to.

Six decades we had her. Two sons… sharing a lady that had married young, would die old, and along the way sandwich three husbands between years of insecurity, health issues and …

“Who’s the one who tied your shoe when you were young
And knew just when to come to see what you had done?
Mama, oh mama…”

“What’d ya do now, Bruce?” she would say, never quite getting mad. Those were halcyon days, and whether it was spilled milk or torn clothes, there was no crying.

My first ten years may have been her best—as a mother at least. In the 50’s her husband ran but she walked: to Lakeview for my first haircut, to Chesterfield for my first school day, and on one scary night, down Hopkins Avenue to the Rubins, where my brother’d been in a garage fire.

“…And who’s the one you didn’t need to plead
To give you rides to the little league?…”

She did all the driving back then. In the days pre-GPS she found McFarland Field, the Riviera Swim Club, and Euclid Beach. That’s what moms did back then, and she was there. She feared when I caught, worried when I swam, and when he hit the amusement parks it was always the same: “You hold your brother’s hand,” she’d remind.

“…And who’s the one who gave her shoulder
When you told her your first love was over – she had met another?
Mama, mama…”

It was ’72, and away in the army, the Jersey Girl went on hiatus. Engagement broken, I hogged the post phone booth, calling both parents. My Dad was hurt, like it happened to him. But not my mother? She was pissed. Angry! It was years before she let go: 30.

“…And who’s the one who held a tear inside
When you introduced Michael’s future bride?
And who’s the one who didn’t mean to cry
As he walked the aisle — the tears you saw her smile…”

She was ill by the time the kids were coupling. Tired. Her last hurrah, perhaps…the mental snapshot that I carry is from Michael’s wedding.

It was Great Neck, New York, an elegant shul, and dressed to the nines, after being wheeled down by a son, she sat front and center staring at the other son, AND HIS SON, under the chuppah.

I faced out that night, and saw it all.

Standing there: listening to the rabbi, thinking about Michael…and Meredith…and Yes, all the shoulddas, woulddas and coulddas of the past thirty years, I looked out and saw one proud Elaine Delores Bogart Lerner (Turner)…

Front and center.
Eyes glued on the process.

She was as happy as I’d seen her in decades. Like it was 1959 again.

And Mother’s Day.

Lyrics adapted from B.J. Thomas


Friday, May 10th, 2013

People speak of “living life to the fullest”, regaling of cruises taken, mountains climbed, or bacchanalian orgies. Me? Not only was I never a traveller, not only was Bayard Hill my Everest, but even in drinking days my war stories were few. Still, make no mistake about it, I live life to the fullest. I have found…acquired… the one thing that breathes life to my every moment.

Remember the scene in “City Slickers”? They’re in the mountains—the cowboy and the New Yorkers:

Curly (Jack Palance): “Do you know what the secret of life is??[holds up one finger] This…just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.”?
Mitch (Billy Crystal): But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

I found out. The key to life—for me at least—the key to, better than finding happiness, finding JOY…is my ability to marvel in the ordinary—to revel in the simplest of measures. And I do.

Take this week, for example: the top of the month:

5/1: Nothing special, or was it? Breakfast with the boys in the back of Corky’s. A full house: Fred was resting pre-Derby, Walt was visiting from Vegas; sprinkle in Lester, Kraut, Himmel and Groovy and there wasn’t an issue we didn’t touch. Then came work, (like any other day)…and then, at 7…Well… not once in fifteen-plus years of sobriety have I ever gone to a meeting and not felt better at the end of the hour.

Ordinary day? Perhaps…but the best was yet to come. Wednesdays, you see, is “Date Night.” Every mid-week, since the last first of August, it’s been Carrie and me—somewhere. Hokey maybe? Not to us. Indeed, even the night of my surgery we took a quick spin ‘round the block.

5/2: We were readying to watch “The Notebook”—(Ed. Note: My second viewing. Hal and I cried through the credits some years ago, as Margie’s eyes rolled)—
The movie, in so many ways, was better the second time around. I saw more, felt more, and but laughed when, at film’s end, the lady on my right dried her eyes inquiring “How could you sit through that twice?”

5/3: Jumpstarted early—7:30 to be exact—with the comradarie of my home group at Suburban Temple. Fridays get lazy sometimes, and this was no different. Booked a trip up to Windsor; (we’re going this June); made a stop at T Baskins, and just slid to the weekend. With Hal “on the clock”, not even a trip to Marc’s would violate my weekend.

5/4: Enveloped by my laziness, awaiting the start of an NCIS marathon on cable, the phone rang. It was Michael. Twenty minutes flew by, quality time with The First born…. Oh, did I mention that Max, heir to the throne, had used the word “actually” in a sentence. Let’s give the family gene pool its props.

5/5: Hailey’s third birthday. H scooped me up and in tandem we then saw our uncle. It was difficult, and emotions roamed, yet we stood there together…just the way it should have been…as our mother (his sister), would have wanted.

My serenity would sustain itself all day in fact, as I devoured Paul Anka’s new book. A birthday party and a speaking engagement would fill the day and I would head into Monday well rested.

5/6: “Would you like a solo?”, came the question. I was already part of the grand finale, but the director of the musical revue was offering me “Sunrise, Sunset”. Should I have been content to sing the few lines of Hebrew in “Can You Hear The People Sing?” from Les Mis…probably. Did I grab my own song? Of course!

5/7: Scurried home after meeting. It would be the penultimate episode of NCIS. Even dinner could wait. Spoke to Stacy, twice, yet when my brother called to tell me he’d got a message to call Aunt Helen, more than a half hour was lost in chat and email, strategizing his return call and all variables thereon. (Echoes of my father’s voice rang strong: “If you ONLY spent this much time on your homework…” he would rail).

Nothing special, my week. Or was it? What’s my point?

Seven days in May: a sequence of boring anecdotes, yet evidence clear and convincing that simplicity gives my life sparkle.

In seven days—any seven days—I will laugh, cry, smile, stare, people-watch, wonder, stumble and even fall. Surrounded by friends, encompassed by loved ones though, I feel as Curly did riding through those mountains: like I’ve found “that one thing”.

For me, it’s life on life’s terms. Not the same old faces but the SAME old faces: loved ones. Not malaise in monotony but thrill in repetition, healthy repetition.

Yeah, I’ve found the one thing, the elixir to at least my life, and…guess what? It’s not so different, actually, from what my Grandma Bogart used to tell me way back when—and in Hebrew:  “He is rich,” she’d remind, “Who is satisfied.”

My cup runneth over these days, and I’m more than satisfied.


Saturday, May 4th, 2013

8 AM this morning:  Buoyed by the cross breeze, laying in the background music of Sesame Street, I turned to Carrie.

“My dad only really yelled at me once,” I told her. (She’d probably heard it before—it’s a story I love to tell— but I went on to share how back in the sixth grade we had this football team…and how I wasn’t allowed to play tackle because Dr. Hangar told my father I was too young…but how I’d done so behind his back).

“So we were supposed to play this guy Mike Ina and his friends on a Sunday,” I continued, “And one of my smartest friends, Joel Cohn, just knocks on our side door wearing shoulder pads”.

And all my father could say to me, over and over, was “How could you lie to me?”

He never hit me (ever, for that matter); we talked it out that day; and not once through the rest of his life was it mentioned again. Oh, there were times he’d explode, of course. I’d leave the phone off the hook and face would turn crimson. I’d defend campus radicals:  his voice would rise and his lip would puff and we’d swear he was going to blow the house down.

But never, in all the years after Joel’s knock on the door, in any time we’d disagree, did he ever say “You disappointed me.”

That, I suppose, is why it sticks out…still.

Carrie had a similar story. I knew her dad, in fact, years before knowing his daughter. He was Dick’s father then, my character witnesses applying for grad school. Intelligent, cigar-wielding, and a writer of poetry, Marv was, in a manner, the Jewish Winston Churchill.

Yet her tale’s the same. This morning, a decade after her father’s death, tenderly she recounted to me of a time he’d pulled her aside, with love and said “You disappointed me”. Worse than yelling, she said, was the look in his eyes.

I dropped the ball last year and hurt a loved one. No, it wasn’t the end of the world, and yet, truth be known, I denied it at first. Laughed it off. Justified it.

But I was wrong (and I knew it.My child didn’t say it—in so many words—but I’d disappointed. Disappointed.  (Better there should have been yelling).

I hold on to that day, more now than when it first went down. Not ‘cause it matters still  No,  it’s over. Not ‘cause it’s brought up to this day, as it’s not.

I hold on to it, I suppose—-and so too I cling to the day with my father— because sometimes, reviewing the exact nature of my wrongs….I realize that even more than I let my dad down, I disappointed myself.

I’m better than that, or should be.   Not beating myself up, but eyeing the mirror.

Still, “Sorry” just doesn’t cut it. I know that.  So  just like the tackle football game I never played in…and just like Carrie’s time with her dad…I’m going to be remembering one day last fall

When I disappointed.