Archive for November, 2013


Thursday, November 28th, 2013

“What’s your favorite holiday?” I was asked just days ago. It was a reasonable question, what with the confluence of today’s feasts. My answer was less than serious because frankly, I don’t like this year’s overlap.

I hear one more time about Thanksgivukkah and I’ll vomit. Cute the word isn’t, (except to mahj wives and merchants), and though pretending to celebrate, it diffuses each festival. If assimilation of our people was bad, could assimilation of our holidays be better? Whatever. ‘Tis for a greater mind than mine.

I DO like holidays, though, and savor the well-defined memories each bring…

Growing up Bogart, Chanukah meant eight nights of candles enveloped by eight days dodging grease from our Grandma’s Cleveland Heights frying pan. She’d chop her onions, cut her potatoes and letting lard fly, she’d fry latkehs of a generation gone by. No one, remarkably, lost an eye.

(Ed. Note 1: Some time in the late 50’s, at least for H and me, the holiday “jumped the shark”. Instead of eight eves of small gifts for the boys —think crayons or a Baseball Digest—the still-wed parents got us one BIG gift. There was a bike, I remember, semi-hidden in our front door area. It was never the same, looking back. The miracle of Chanukah took eight days, not one night).

And speaking of eight nights, how about that Passover? As joyous as the Festival Of Lights may be, the advent of a light burning extra-long pales greatly to the parting of one Red Sea. I mean really!  think about it.

Not that Hal and I ever discussed those things. Indeed, Pesach “in the day” meant two lengthy Seders on two endless nights. (Great) Grandpa Sam’s one night, Grandma Bogart’s the next, and sometimes, I swear, we went from one to the other. (Ed. Note 2: 63’s Seder at Grandma Bogart’s ended early when our father announced that there was a Little League managers meeting that night. “You’ve ruined the evening”, said Aunt Helen.)

Grandpa Sam’s home was walking distance from shul. Must have been forty people jammed in his living room each Pesach, all sitting in contiguous tables joined at right angles so that, (spiritually at least), we were all one tableau. (Ed. Note 3: The table configuration was such that ironically it resembled an aerial view of a swastika).

Grandma’s meal was much simpler. Mother and father, H-ie and me, Grandma, Aunt Helen. We each took turns reading, (Ed. Note 4: Mom got the English), and while our Dad’s oft-off melodies had his sons laughing, he never quite minded. (Ed. Note 5: Our grandmother did. “Boys!” she would shry as obliviously Big Al’d speed through “Ki Lo Naeh”).

Those were special days, growing up. Holidays held memories—still do…

One year at my Grandpa’s I found the afikoman. They gave me a dollar. I couldn’t have been ten.

“Let me hold it for you,” urged Grandma Celia. “You’ll lose it.” “OK”, said I. (Ed. Note 6: The next time I would see that bill would be years later—at my rehearsal dinner no less—in Passaic, New Jersey. “If I’d have given it to you any of those other times you asked for it you’d have spent it by now,” she pronounced.)

Reminiscence of Chanukah’s often sensory—

The light of the candles…their smell…the standing with Hal, adjacent to Albert, reciting the prayers… Singing not only “Rock Of Ages” but “Ma Tzur”… Knowing that even as he sang our father was listening—to us, his boys.

And so it is that on this snowy day, embracing memories distinct for each Yom Tov, I wish them not muddled.

Thanksgiving is America, and turkey, and football. And all of it’s good. My gratitude’s daily, not annual—

(At least when I’m on my game).  Just sayin’.


Friday, November 22nd, 2013

Fifty years. Fifty years.

It was a Friday then too: November 22, 1963.

We used to cross the street to Rowland School,  duck behind the curtain and I’d watch my father complete his ballot. Always pre-dinner back then—polls closed earlier — and I loved it. Just me and my Dad—arguably the Jewish version of Andy and Opie whistling on the way to the fishin’ hole. Father and son. A memory.

They used pencils “in the day”, and this sixth-grader, lapel beaering the JFK button secured on the playground. well understood as his old man marked X for Nixon. Yes, as he’d heard quite often, Sgt. Albert J. Bogart served with Ike in “The Big One”.

It would be our last presidential election shared at the polls. Four years later both the parents’ marriage and John Kennedy were dead and our father, selling ties on the road, voted somewhere for Goldwater. Bank on it.

Does anyone our age not remember where he was, what he felt, or what transpired that weekend? That weekend in ’63…when suddenly the word “Dallas” meant more than an expansion franchise!

Typing class….Mr. Gonz….The PA system sounded….The President was shot—-that’s all we were told…

Go home, they directed.  2pm, give or take. Go straight home.

Walking up the hill—from the school to Green Road—and kids were talking about whether the Russians would attack…

I hold memories.

—As my dad did. He was playing football December 7 when Marv Melamed interrupted at the schoolyard with the news of Pearl Harbor.

—And as my son does, of being new to New York, and on Manhattan streets 9/11.

I hold memories.

Dismissed early. Where was Harold? There was Katie, as I walked in the house—our “cleaning lady” not cleaning but crying—tears falling for a man she then told me was gone.

Grandma Cele called. Was everyone OK?. They’d arrested the killer. “Thank God he wasn’t Jewish!” she said.

We stayed home that Saturday. Weren’t allowed outside, said our mother. (Dad barely out of the house, we still couldn’t play catch on High Holidays. This MUST be big, I figured).

And on Sunday: Well…let’s put things in context. This was the worst weekend of the worst time of our mother’s life—her year of divorce. In an era when people stayed married, she’d opted out. To her family, there sat poor Elaine and her boys. Alone. And so it was that Cousin Sam, ticket-taker at the stadium, suggested we come down for the game. (The NFL, unlike the upstart AFL, had chosen to play that day. The nation may have mourned but the owners chose to market).

I hold memories.

We were on the CTS Special en route to the lakefront when another passenger, radio in hand, started shouting. Someone shot Oswald. (I heard it standing up, my hand clutching a silver pole, somewhere on Mayfield Road).

I recall learning it was a guy named Ruby and how I thought he sounded Jewish and how I figured this would be good because he killed the bad guy.

I recall still that Monday, the day of the funeral and school was cancelled. Three times in my life, (maybe less) I’d been to Myers’ home. But I was there that day, in his den, watching…They were playing Stratego, he and Cohn, but I passed.

And then it was over—the weekend— for me.

Not once, ever, did my mother discuss it. Not once, ever, did my father discuss it. (although Yes, he had harsh words for Mark Lane years later). Perhaps there was nothing to say. After all, our mom was struggling and our Dad was part-time. Hal and I? We were innocent and maybe naïve—but reasonably happy.

I think of this now, all of it, as I have for some weeks. Media replay it; I can’t but relive it….

Both JFK’s death and our family’s demise…

In the eyes of the Bogart boys that year, two pillars had fallen.


Sunday, November 17th, 2013

There’s always a lesson.


My first shot at directing, (last year’s “The Odd Couple”), was the perfect way to lose one’s virginity. The cast had experience, obvious talent, and was often quite patient with its first-time director. Indeed, while having fun, each wanted it to be good for me too.

It was. Still, this was Neil Simon, for God’s sake! As I’d said at the time, “Even I couldn’t screw up”.

There was, I would learn, a down-side. Thrilled as I was each night of the run, I wasn’t, as the last curtain fell, at all convinced I’d contributed. Let’s face it: the author was classic and the cast was great. If I was right that “I couldn’t screw it up”, what then did I do? At least if I’m on stage as the crowd guffaws, I know I’m  “part of”. I’ve said the line, made the face, slipped and fell—gotten the laugh….


Fast forward to Summer ’13—

Insecurity was my foundation, but increasingly aware of the paucity of stage roles for fat slobs past sixty, eagerly I signed on to direct once more. Another stellar playwright —  they’d be doing Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink The Water”—this show had a cast twice the size and, frankly, I figured my directing once meant nothing…but TWICE? That might mean “street cred”. And again, unless I could lose thirty pounds AND twenty years, I’d need to direct.

It’s a well-run theater, replete with backup support and staff to address all off-the-stage issues. They provided, moreover, a Technical Director to work with ErectorSet matters— you know: sound boards, lighting: things clearly “landsmen” can’t fathom.

I loved it.  What a pleasure just not to be bothered. Let the Dickie Lomaz’s of the world play with wires, study sight lines, and hop and clop  with their hammers. Happy I was just to focus on actors, and script, and laughter.

—Until my phone rang…and emails came…and my elbow got tugged at rehearsals—

“Have you considered this?” asked their lead technician? “Or this?”  “Are you sure you want to do that?”

He tugged at me, first night of tryouts:
“So and so told me he would love this role.”
“The guy’s a jerk, irresponsible”, I noted. “Two shows he was AWOL Tech Sunday”.
“He’s grown up, I swear,” urged my Aid “And he’s a good kid.”
“But he’s not funny,” said I (like it mattered).                                                                                                                      “I’ll vouch for him”, he re-raised. Not meanly, not rudely, yet with words unspoken he was telling me to make it happen. In a nice way yet firmly his was a message certain: “Look, Dickhead,” he was saying, “ I got you this gig, and don’t forget it.  It needs to happen.”


Five days after last Sunday’s six hours of tech, four nights after the putz I cast against impulse, our show opened to boffo crowds, full houses both nights, and smiles all around.

There’s a line in the first act where the Chef shouts “Oysters”. I had him shriek it so the guy he says it to can wince as if spat on. “They will laugh,” was my promise. (I was right, well I knew, ‘though a cheap laugh it was).

There’s a scene where the priest can do slap-stick.
“Is this too much? ” he’d asked me one night in rehearsal.
I said “No, go for it. Let her roll right on you.”
“Do you think you’ll offend them?”
“If it’s funny, it’s funny,” I pronounced, holding firm.

And the frosting —excuse my ego— on the cake:

“You were right,” said my Aid Friday night. The show had just ended and he held out his hand.
“Yesterday’s news,” I demurred, so politely….oh so politely.

(He was after all, the one that “got me the gig”).

       “…It’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
       You see, ya can’t please everyone,
       So ya got to please yourself….”   

Ricky Nelson



Monday, November 11th, 2013

I thought of her today, as I do on her birthday.

My mother-in-law was a beautiful woman. Not in the classic sense perhaps, but within. Rigid standards, fierce loyalties, and her frown on my zest for nonsense could divide us, but her intense love of family cemented my love for this woman.

It was July, ’72…

Stuart and Bobby, living in a house off Northern Boulevard had tired of both selling Highlights and the thrill of Long Island. Fresh from the Army, I scooped up their still-ripe leads, elated to jumpstart my relationship with Lil’s daughter. It was to be an easy summer, as working part-time at best, I eased back into my relationship with the daughter and civilian life as well. I could sell for my Dad that fall, (or so I thought), get married that winter, and while not the most ambitious guy around, I was happy and I knew it.

With that as a backdrop they dragged me to Bograd’s, the Mantel & Goetz of New Jersey, down in Riverdale one day…Lil, The Jersey Girl and me…looking at furniture. The wedding was months away, and I suppose it was the kind of thing I was supposed to care about. (What did Bogarts, however, know from furnishings? At 20 East 14th in Columbus I’d slept on four stacked mattresses and heck: our father’s idea of woodwork was the bat rack from the ’62 Little League White Sox).

“This young man is going to be my son-in-law”, she beamed to the salesman. “And this is my daughter. They met at Ohio State.”
“Wonderful,” he said….or something like that….”What do you do back home?”
“I sell magazines door-to-door”.’’

Talk about awkward moments. The pale of her face told the story. (I’d seen warmer looks on my drill sergeant). “He’s waiting to hear from law schools,” she added. (“But I don’t want to go to camp,” I was thinking).

She wanted what she thought was more for her daughter, and for me. Eight years my mother’s senior, while Elaine lived with depression, Lil Nathan Selzer’d lived  THE Depression.

“Count your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves,” she would say. (She was right—all along—and if we’d heeded her then I’d be retired today).

She’d give me that look— that pause that said “Some day you’ll see”, and she smiled—almost accepting the inevitability that her kids (she considered me one) would, as she perhaps had, learn from their own mistakes. For a quarter century this strong, intelligent woman stood integral to my life. There were highs and there were lows. Not once though, did she ever say “I told you so.”

She was better than that.

Ah, but I was too young to listen — too young to “get” her.

How I’d laugh, egging my father-in-law on when he’d tip-toe to IHOP for bacon and eggs. It frustrated her—his eating traif outside the house — and me, always laughing.   I was wrong (I would learn), and today, as my kids taste pork, I don’t think it cute.  At all.

Oh,  she was funny too, but didn’t know it. (Not funny in a neurotic Aunt Helen way, mind you,  Not at all. She was funny in an idiosyncratic way).

“Jacqueline,” she’d ask as her younger daughter’d walk in the door, “Why does your friend Jessica have to call you every night at this time?”

…or to another child:

“Why does your friend Gail need so many sweaters?”

(In both cases I’d agree with her—always—stirring the pot… a la Fenton).

And yet there were lessons to be learned, if only I’d listened—

We’d play pinochle after dinner—Ben, The Jersey Girl, and me. “When you going to stop?” she would call from the bedroom — before tiring, giving up, and just going to sleep. Except Fridays, of course. Except Shabbos. On that she wouldn’t waiver. Steadfast she’d stand at the table, demanding we stop. “Not tonight, Ben,” she’d urge.  “Not tonight.”

She was right, even then.

And vividly I recall a supper in her kitchen…how they were talking of a neighbor’s grave illness.
“He has cancer? asked her son, and the room got silent. Red turned her face, and then white, and then ghostly.
“Don’t use that word!” she admonished, (as I egged on young Joel).

Years later—many years— cancers would touch my family and I too would come to hate the word. She was right.  Again.

In time my marriage crumbled and I was gone from the loop. I can’t recall, frankly, the timing—which came first, etc.—but at some point Lil Selzer took ill. At some point mobility left her but she pushed on valiantly, to her sunset years.  I’d see her at simchas and such—wherever our families convened.  Until I didn’t.

She was a rock in my life without knowing it, and her lessons, like medicine in time release capsules, continue to make me better…

When I take time to listen.

       “…Don’t it always seem to go
       That you don’t know what you’ve got
       ‘Til it’s gone….”

Joni Mitchell


Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Midst a crowd of friends and family, there was little chance the three year-old Max would notice me. Who’d blame him? Living in his world … surrounded by family — familiar  family — his is a three-year old realm which he holds (as our father would say), “by the betzim”. Content then I was last week to be a face in the crowd, quietly grasping the mosaic of his birthday.

They don’t play Pin The Tail On The Donkey anymore. (In this PC world perhaps they’re afraid to offend some jackass? Or that some dork will stick another with a pin and everyone will get sued?)

And they don’t, (at least out east) have the parties at home anymore. When Max was one it was at a deli and Year Two was rained out. Last week an indoor gym served as venue as children ran, bounced, rolled and played on soft, carpeted turf. (We played on tile when I was young. The fun was the same but we didn’t bounce quite as high).

Oh, they still have cake, of course. Yet the food, especially for grownups has changed. Sure there’s pop I MEAN SODA, but also there’s water (bottled)…and salad (romaine) and sandwiches (wraps). Forget Kansas—we weren’t even in Cleveland anymore! How’s a fella going to maintain his overweight?

And they still sing to the kid…

“Happy birthday to you…” (This hadn’t changed).

—Valiantly I held my “camera” mid-air, vainly trying to capture Max Parker on film.

“Blow the candles out Max,” someone yelled from behind.
“Who’s the schmuck with the Iphone? (thought my grandson).

Then the party was done. And my son, abetted by peers, shlepped food from the hall…and gifts.

“Can I help?” I asked.
“Just pull the car up,” he said warmly, somewhat ignoring my abs.

(I couldn’t remember, just then, if my dad helped as Michael turned three. Did Linick or Starkoff turn to him and say “We’re OK, Mr. Bogart? Or did Lomaz take the cigarette out of his mouth uttering “We’re OK, Al.”?

That was then and this was now. The world is Max’s and Michael’s. Not mine.

As it should be.

We went back to the house after candles. Not the children—just adults. I was still a face; it was still a crowd…but the scope had narrowed.

Bothered but an instant— I’d been hoping for more access to Max. (I was wrong, though, and thought myself through it). This was his party, his time, and just as I’d reveled when young, ensconced in a myriad of family…

—The Hoffmans, the other Hoffmans, the Ungars and Sharps…
—Twin Woldmans that never played catch…
—Three heavy-set sisters on my father’s side…the eldest named Nina… (second cousins I think), that my never-thin father called “The Fleet”

Just as I’d buoyantly bathed in the masses that come out ONLY for a youngster’s party….

So was Max!

The baton had passed yet another generation.

So we kibitzed a bit and caught up a bit and had a pie tasting contest and laughed among family. Trivial stuff, but all good. We were family—all of us—connected by one generation cemented by another. (At one point Max played guitar with an amplifier and yes it was funny, yes it was cute…but I couldn’t help thinking that somewhere above my mother now heard him and elsewhere above my father was cringing).

At 5-ish we left. Carrie and I. Back to campus. We had Michael’s car and would see them at breakfast. Pared down again would be the crowd….

In came Max, the next morning. Then Meredith…and Eli.

He knew me at the diner. It was there in his eyes. I think.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked Max, ‘cross the table. At an instant, Eli—from the carriage—peered out. Ten weeks old, and he was beaming right at me:

“I know who that is,” thought the baby, looking up at his brother. “That’s the guy from yesterday—the schmuck with the Iphone”.