Archive for October, 2013

LOVE ON THE TELEPHONE

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

It seemed like a good idea. After all, I was holding a Blackberry, and Carrie: well…do they still make those flip-tops?

“Let’s give each other I-phones for Sweetest Day,” she’d murmured.
“OK,” said I weeks ago.

Then the day came, last Saturday. And the phones came, last Saturday.

And the change came—last Saturday—just past noon.

“What’d you get Carrie for Sweetest Day?” asked my brother that night.
“We bought each other matching phones,” I submitted.
“Margie needs to hear this,” he said. “I want to vomit.”

I should know by now: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it…

We’d look forward to a new bat and forward to a new glove. Eagerly don’t we anticipate even the crisp crackle of a new deck of cards? But a phone? This sensitive thing we can’t push but must touch?

Look, I’m not against progress. Not all change, though, is progress. (How my dad railed against microwave ovens! “They’ll be the downfall of the American family”, he pronounced. Forty years later, he wasn’t far off).

First of all, my old phone, “ghetto” as they told me it was, worked. I got my calls, read my texts, and because it was a used phone to begin with, had the pleasure of retrieving NO email. What a machiah my “down time” was! What a burden it’s been—this past week—eyeing missives post minute by minute….

When can I rest?

Not that I actually understand the phone. Not that I even care to. Heck, happiness would flow from just being able to have certain songs ring when certain folks call….like “Eli’s Coming” when it’s New York, or the theme from “I Love Lucy” when Chicago. (Do I have tunes in mind for some others? Yes. I’m not ready yet—quite—to grow up).

In some ways though, the week was one long birth announcement—

“Did you buy a ‘4’ or a ‘5’ someone asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What model?”
“An ‘L’, or maybe an ’S’.

“What color did case did you get?” asked one child. “You cheaped out,” claimed another.

Oh, I knew eyes would roll with the children. Even Jason. There he was, slowly, in speech calibrated with care, trying to tell me how much “data” I was wasting. Data? What was he talking about? I was doing batting averages in my head long before he was born. Data!

And what of the others?

“You’re an idiot”, claimed Stace as she tried to explain things. Hers was a global approach. Michael, on FaceTime, stayed local. “Your nose needs a zip code,” said he.

Just give me some songs. That’s all. Maybe the thing by One Direction for Carrie’s calls, or “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” for H-ie. That’s all I need. Must I schlep my laptop to someone’s house to get it done? Heck, even Weiskopf has sounds.

I’ve got all this other stuff, though. Things I need not

There’s an app that says CALENDAR, which today notified me its “Wednesday 30”. (Good to know). There’s another yet, dubbed WEATHER. (For six decades I’d wake up and look out the window or I’d dial WE 1-1111 where the “voice” of Aunt Helen gave hourly updates).  And still another called NEWSTAND.  I say F the NEWSTAND app.  I’ll read whatever I want over breakfast at Corky’s!

No, if it ain’t broken going forward, I don’t plan on fixing it.Nor do I plan, ever, on opening up CLOCK, or GAME CENTER, OR for that matter PASSBOOK, (whatever that is…I won’t touch the pic to find out). No, I adore Carrie, love exchanging gifts with her, and look well to next time.  But better to hold her than hold the phone. And better to touch her than touch an app.

And speaking of apps…did I mention there’s one called COMPASS?

COMPASS? Really? Really? That last time I took a wrong turn was on our trip to Verizon.

That was last Saturday…just before noon.

JUST GIVE ME A REASON

Monday, October 21st, 2013

   “…Just give me a reason
       Just a little bit’s enough…”

Dear God,

I know You work in mysterious ways and believe me, I accept it. You’re busy running the world and Yes, I’ve enough on my plate just managing me.

…It made sense when I lost my father, I suppose. He was overweight and smoked three packs a day for so many years that his cardiologists had been betting the “under”.

…And I tolerated too the loss of our mother. Years of a home-and-away series with hospitals had exhausted her and the sucker-punch from Turner,…well…she had pushed past eighty. So I got that too, God. I understood.

… And my tears dried quickly—did they not?—with less vital stuff. Did I dwell in ’66 when Brush lost to Talmadge? Or in ’69, on that day in Ann Arbor? …Or for that matter on The Drive or The Fumble?

I move on, God, when it’s only a game. We all do. So I rebounded well from my losses—the good, bad and ugly. From the marriage, my odyssey, and even defection of a life-long friend. (Heck, I now can laugh, especially ‘bout Lomaz. Had my dad been alive at the time, the way Dick bailed would have killed Al. “Addition by subtraction”, he’d have muttered, before adding “Deal the cards.”)

So I know what’s important God, and I know what isn’t. Really. And this here… this matters, God. Really. You see, my daughter walked, God….

From her sister and her brother and her mother and her friends and her past…and me.

But it’s not just her.

She’s got kids, God. My blood, God. And they’ve got cousins, just miles away.

Family. Cousins, God….family!

Whether I’m there or not….whether I live or not…

Family.

I don’t understand, God…and I need to… a little, (unless, of course, you think it’s better that I don’t.

Because you are my God.

And I trust in You.
And I know you have a reason.

And I believe You if you say that’s enough.

Amen.

       “…We’re not broken, just bent…
        …It’s in the stars…
       It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
       And we can learn to love again…
       …Just give me a reason…
       Just a little bit’s enough…”           Pink

MY LEFT FOOT

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

I sleep on my stomach, right palm on forehead, left hand under pillow…always. And my left foot? Angling ‘cross midfield, it chances on Carrie, nightly. Those inadvertent brushes ‘gainst her make not only for contented sleep, but remind me, in the midst of each rest, that we’re in “this” together…—-Which is why I don’t relish travelling alone. Comfort flows, you see, ending days with that lady. We share her load, my load, and life.

That stated, plans to fly east in tandem were scrapped last week when Carrie’s mom (The Artist Formerly Known As Mrs. Baskin) took ill. As such, solo went I through the friendly skies to the mountains of New York… to Chappaqua, where two beautiful boys live and thrive and cellphone calls go to die.

This was my first trip post-bris and what a difference in Eli: from eight days to eight weeks! The kid is stunning.

He’s got this wide, I mean WIDE smile that he breaks out and that leaves me giddy. You know how infants stare at you until light hits their eyes a certain way or they twitch a bit, and then we convince ourselves they’re smiling directly at us? Well this kid truly beams and his round, dimple-punctuated cheeks illuminate the room.

Max directs traffic, of course, and is still the star of the show. Nonetheless, it should be noted that Wally Pipp himself (the first Yankee to win a home run title) was New York’s first baseman for a decade before Gehrig took over.

So my weekend was nice. Better than nice: family.

Friday afternoon with the Millers, and at night with the Bogarts… all against a tapestry of Eli feeding, Max glowing, Eli sleeping, and Max displaying more talent with the internet than his charming “Deedee Bruce”.

We brought in for dinner. Not traditional Shabbos fare, but the post-game was special. “I’m going to take Eli for a ride,” said Michael. “It tires him out. You want to come?” (I jumped at the jaunt, only to find fatigue quite contagious. Within minutes of return I was bidding Good Night).

It was not quite 10, and after an unsuccessful effort to access the Netflix on the TV in my room, I called Cleveland. Carrie. She’d been sleeping.

So I did too. In New York. Alone.

There’s something about the fall in New York—must be said—that is special. On a crisp autumn morning, like last year, we went picking pumpkins.

“Is there a reason we didn’t do things like this when I was growing up? (I was asked).

I felt well the twinge, immediately imaging baseball and soccer and football and baskets….but pumpkins? Was it possible they didn’t have pumpkins in Ohio back then?

And then some more sleep—for all of us. Resting up, I suppose, for the morning’s trudge. This would be the fourth walk I’ve joined in on, a way out Long Island. Time was I knew no one en route; these days are different. I know most.

Again, though….a twinge.

Sitting under a tent, applying to give bone marrow, Stuart’s buddy Robert approached.

“What the heck are you doing?” he asked.
“Look,” I showed him, brandishing the form, ”I don’t have any of the diseases.”
“Yeah, but you’re too old.”
OUCH!

Walk over, weekend near done, we were convened at Chez Miller. Max ruled, (go figure), and the men watched football as the women (some unknown, but all with thick accents), passed Eli around … gingerly … like a century-old Torah. The closest I got to him, frankly, was when Caryn put the food out. Then, for but ten minutes, the exodus of estrogen to the dining room left a time slot open. (I could have held him longer, of course, but he wouldn’t take my nipple).

And then it was over. The weekend. I was gone.

Bumped from LaGuardia, my flight being cancelled, they shipped me by cab down to Newark. An hour and a half…plus…in a taxi…then another two hours, in an airport…and a plane….

And in thought.

—About Michael, and the world he is shaping
—And Meredith, and the kids being raised…and their health.
—And Carrie, who would greet me in Cleveland…with the smile of her ocean eyes….

And I thought of my left foot.

ROYALS

Friday, October 11th, 2013

A long-running joke between Carrie and me (at least she thinks it’s joke) is that while each of us cut teeth in South Euclid, I was raised on the poor side of town. It’s true. Her roots on Upper Wrenford placed her among the crème-de la crème of our city until God parted the Red Sea that was Belvoir Boulevard and Jews resettled on Langerdale and Temblethurst.

Growing up Bogart across from the school was idyllic. Ours was a small bungalow, (but we knew it not). Indeed, H and I had few of the amenities gracing others’ home— like a second floor, for example. Oh, we did have an attic, but in our decade of residence it remained unfinished. Not to worry: our Mom stored things there so Hal and I’d periodically access what could only have been described as an asbestos bomb shelter.

(Ed. Note 1: I was twenty when first advised that our home was small. It was December of ’69, with my first girlfriend in tow from Columbus).

“This is the house I grew up in,” I boasted, driving by. “You grew up in THAT?” she responded. Politely, of course, but make no mistake about it—with incredulity. (Years later I did ask my mother if indeed our old home had been small. She said Yes and I accepted it as fact. Mothers don’t lie).

The point is it never mattered. Not to me or my friends. Sure I’d noticed that Wieder’s lived in a split level, and that his expanse of land included a driving range. And yes Cohn’s home was bigger. Heck, my twin bed on Bayard fit under Joel’s ping pong table. Who cared? Weather permitting, H and I played table tennis on our back yard picnic table. A baseball bat dissected the surface as the net and the only downsides were the longitudinal cracks in the wood and the errant bounces they caused. (Ed. Note 2: Our reflexes were actually augmented by the unexpected, inadvertent caroms we learned to address). Dubbing it “crackball”, we’d vie endlessly with Gelfand or Fenton or Fromin in our pristine, palatial world— all as Adam circled, barking.

We had no idea—none of us— that we didn’t live in the high rent district. Indeed, ours was the best childhood money couldn’t buy. For whatever reason—and it wasn’t just Hal and I— but the thrust of our group shared a value system concerned less with what others had and more with joy we all felt. Rich kids may have owned “pitchbacks”— those verticle trampouline/nets that provided catchers for pitchers, but we had the real thing: friends.

But back to our house: It had three bedrooms, a small bath and a half, and was so compact that, honestly, years later living in Beachwood— especially after my divorce— I knew housewives with mouths bigger than our living room. So what?

In the mid-60’s we moved. Bayard lost in foreclosure, our mom remarried and new hubby Sam bought a colonial on Stonehaven. It was newer and bigger and I knew they were trying. Still, (to me at least), ‘twas a house, not a home.

Yet all was good. We had what we needed and never looked back. Heck, even in the lean years, with the divorce still raw, the Brothers Bogart saw life half-full. (Ed. Note 3: My Great Uncle Irv died suddenly and I would stumble through junior high wearing his brand new black dress loafers. “The elastic’s killing me,” I’d complain to my mother. “Oh, don’t be a big baby,” she urged me. “Some people don’t have shoes”).

Our values were skewed to the inside. Why look to what others have when you hold all you need? (Like a bat, a ball, and a mother willing to let you ruin a mattress keeping a mitt under it). Sure some kids played Careers while we played Monopoly. And No, we never actually owned our own rubber-coated hard ball. So No, we didn’t ask for much. Why would we? On the streets of South Euclid every day was in season and every game was for the world championship.

We learned long ago, H and me, that happiness is an inside job. Perhaps it’s the South Euclid in us. Perhaps it’s the simple fact that even as our parents’ marriage shattered and even as their worlds disintegrated, each found a way, always, to reassure us how much we were loved. We looked not then for THINGS to be validated; we had family.

I think of those days now and then…not in euphoric recall, but with gratitude. Our parents left us minimal assets yet maximized memories. The cornerstone of love they provided, as much as anything else, is the reason there’s never been a day in my life that I haven’t felt blessed.

OUT OF AFRICA

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

1967 the Indians ended the season mired in eighth place. That same year the Browns were thrust from post-season in a 38 point loss to Dallas. Oh yeah…one more thing: 1967 was also the year our lifelong friend Alan, truth be known, limped out of Brush High…

Ah, but that was then. This week—this most improbable of weeks—not only did the Tribe make the playoffs and not only did the Browns perch in first, but Professor Alan Vernon Wieder, make that Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University Of South Carolina, strode to town on a book tour.

What an amazing story! Not that Wido wrote a book, mind you; he’s done that before. Remarkable it is though that none were the volumes expected.  Left unwritten were “How To Win Games And Influence People”, “Diplomacy in One Word:  No”, and even the long-awaited  “ Mayor Of High Street”.  Au contrere! Our erudite-come-lately amigo, rather, has spent adult decades living with and studying the world of South Africa, and has in fact now authored a dual biography detailing intertwined lives of two leaders of its fight against apartheid.

Still, there we were, Thursday— Bobby, Stuart, Mark, Fred, H & H (the left-handed Hollywood pitching tandem from early 60′s  South Euclid Little League), and Kraut—each refugees from suburbia, tucked in the basement of a bookstore–listening intently.

And there he was — light years from the days on the mound when he’d dust off his mother— speaking passionately of the struggles for freedom.

(It was a serious talk, as such, and we all behaved. Well, almost. Let’s just say each of us behaved as best we could).

“I was surprised” mused a guy from the audience, prefacing a post-speech inquiry, ”That this high-profile husband and wife would fight in public”.

“Just like me and my wife”, blared one of our troupe. (The eighth graders in us laughed as Alan, not quite hearing it at the podium, took another question).

To a man, though, we were appropriate. Ermine shot his hand up first in the Q & A; I nodded my head periodically, and Stuart?  For once in his life, didn’t laugh at the word “Mozambique”.

*  There was one minor surprise: You know how when you’re in school and it’s almost time to leave…how there’s that pregnant pause of silence when no one dares open his mouth? Well get this: it’s 80 degrees in the bookstore cellar and the thing is pretty much over…Wieder’s just thanked the crowd and the store’s hostess is edging in to take back the gavel… And then…AND THEN…and then as Arthur had one foot out the door, Harold Bogart, (arguably a “walk-on” last night), blurts out a question!

“What’s wrong with you, Nemo?” cried Snyder minutes later as we walked to The Lizzard.

It mattered not, though—the night was so good.

Browns played overhead as we sat down for dinner. Bobby faced out, of course, and we dined over burgers or wings—Alan autographing books—and caught up. It occurred to me, (but I said nothing), that the only thing that’ll ever be read ‘tween those covers will be Wieder’s name. Thirty years from now those blue bindings will still be stiffer than us. Bank on it. (I didn’t want anyone to think, by the way, that I hadn’t purchased the book. Not only did I get mine on Amazon in August, but I personally signed Alan’s name weeks ago.

And then it was over. And we left. To our worlds.

—Six friends and brothers, faces chiseled by time, memories chiseled in love, to our homes—

It’s a good bet we’ll never all share that bookstore again. It’s an even greater bet we’ll not share that basement. We’ll have the evening, though:  the night our cherished friend shined. And ‘though we’d don’t quite feel the heat of his passion, we sense well his luster, and we view him with pride.

He deserves it.