Archive for January, 2014

PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Litigation settled, the Magistrate accepted the agreement and provided copies. Six minutes, I figured. Six minutes and I’d be in my car. What next ensued, though, stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Before you leave,” she addressed the parents, “I’d like you to see a short video”. So we all did, the parties and counsel—watch a film for divorcing parents…about how even if they didn’t friend their ex they should  friend their ex’s relationship with the children…for kids’ sake.

Five minutes. Five minutes it played. And there wasn’t a moment it streamed that my eyes weren’t welled up…and that my heart didn’t look back.

My parents divorced before it was fashionable. I was an eighth-grader, Hal was in sixth, and the whole thing happened in a world long gone by. A “broken home” they termed, (and I felt like damaged goods). Our mom was a “divorcee” they said, and our father? He was the first man on his block to win a Scrabble game spelling out “VISITATION”.

Never discussed it with my friends really, although they knew. After all, ours was a corner house and our Dad’s red Plymouth Valiant was conspicuous by its absence. Of course they knew.

—And so it was, that summer of ’63. Mid the ordeal of two cars at every Little League game, as we evaporated weekends to be with Dad at his mother’s, it was different and it was awkward—but it was always peaceful.

I’ve learned a lot over time. About my parents: the genesis of their issues…the causes and conditions…the “mistakes” that were made.

But not a word from our mother. Ever. She knew, this June Cleaver did, that my dad was my hero. And every kid needs a hero. And two parents.

—Even when times got tough…even when the money came slowly…even when there were stories to tell…

Yes, I recall well those days…how she’d wait for support checks. How they’d come in envelopes from Emil J Masgay, Clerk Of Court—and how when I’d see the mail I’d know what they were.

My Dad was doing the best he could!   My Grandpa didn’t think so and was often quite vocal. Our Mom, though— if she caught wind of it she would cut him off. On the spot. Always.

“He’s a good father,” she’d urge. “He’s in Philadelphia getting back on track so spend this time with your Grandma.” (—Out the door she’d send us, often using her otherwise-needed money to put us in a cab from South Euclid to Cleveland Heights).

So we had two parents. And peace. And hope.
And I had my hero.

I remember the days—how I’d write him thrice weekly, all with her postage. And how he’d write back. I still have the letters, to this day.

Kids don’t care, you see, which parent is right or is wrong. Kids want peace…and love…and yes…in an odd, odd sense, kids want to hold on to the thought that in some way their parents still love each other. In some way).

So yes, there was much she held back (I now know). There were stories to tell—stories I never did hear.  And my Dad? He remained in my life. Through bad times to good, he was the vibrant soul that corner-stoned my being. My guiding light and best friend.  And when he died young…at just 59…they found in his apartment the letters I’d penned in the 60’s. And I have them too.

My Mom never quite finished college. (Three years short, but who’s counting?) And yet she was wise—oh so wise.  She friended, I guess you might say, my relationship with my Dad.

—And she gave me a hero…no make that two.

– And she gave me, I suppose, good reason to cry as I walked from a courtroom.

Cry and smile.

SATURDAY THE NEPHEW SLEPT LATE

Monday, January 20th, 2014

It was in many ways my roughest stretch in years. With rare exception every part of me was exhausted.  Aftermath perhaps from the stranded run in Chicago, but difficult nonetheless. I was spent. From office stress to time management through nagging health issues and gnawing wealth (?) issues, I was, as I told Carrie midweek, just trying to get through the week.

And so it was that hitting meetings, making calls and saying prayers, I fought hard that great urge to isolate. And still it was that as sun set Friday but one task separated me from the respite that would be weekend. It was Helen…and shopping at 5.

It’s not the same as it was (the Helen run). But what is?

The sound of her shoes, barely lifting from floor now bears a slower cadence, like the swoosh of too-thick corduroy slacks. There’s a gentleness to her these days— a “vulnerability” (God forbid you tell her) that’s marking her stride. She is losing it…running out of time…and she knows it.

We all do.

Was a time when she’d scrutinize, to the end….

“Check the sodium content in the Cheerios”, we’d hear, she over and over. (Like it was going to change on her watch. Like this would be the week they’d screw with the recipe).

There was a time too when she’d cook…

“Check the sodium in the latkehs,” she’d tell us as well. Or “What kind of store has chopped broccoli but NOT broccoli florets?” Oh! When they had them, she’d stock up like Washington preparing for winter at Valley Forge.

No more.

Not now. Not this past Friday. No more.  Today she is not what she was. It is, as Monk would say, “A blessing and a curse.”

Today she just goes for fresh air…for company…for life. Today she’s but mailing it in.

—And No, she can’t get to me now. Not like she used to anyway. I too sense the loss.  The days are gone, I now sense, where coarsely she’ll instruct on tomatoes.

 “Not too big, not too small…not too hard, not too soft….”

The days too are gone when dutifully H or I will rifle through bushels of Roma tomatoes—and this goes back to Marc’s at the original Cedar/Center (Alav Hashalom)—where we’ll intermittently (almost ceremoniously) pick them and toss them back until finally she was satisfied there’d been adequate sampling….

No, those days are gone. Gone, like the price tag they bore: 98cents/pound. Gone, like the then 98-year old, spritely pushing through aisles. Gone, YES, like the frustration of a nephew unnerved by an aunt.

We hit the deli last Friday, on our way home. It was almost Sabbath, and my aunt wanted soup with dinner. Slowly she trudged, from my car to Jack’s door. Slush…slush…slush, her feet barely lifting. I’d offered to run in and grab it, to let her rest in the car. “No,” she asserted, more gently than usual, beginning the inexorable march.

No, things aren’t as they were.  Neither her fire nor our ire.

It’s good to be with her these days…to watch her push on…as the clock keeps ticking…for all of us.

I’ve heard it said that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

There’s always a lesson.

THESE SHOES WERE MADE FOR WALKING

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

“Time for new shoes” Carrie said. Again. She’d been urging me since December but an urgency in her tone signaled renewed priority. Perhaps the hole she first spotted had grown?
She was right, of course, but how do you say goodbye to a loyal friend? This pair, this tandem of black dress shoes that had served me so well all these years….these OVERACHIEVERS? I just couldn’t let go.
—So I reminded her, again, of how I’d purchased them for less than ten dollars. And I mentioned once more, that I’ve worn them for nearly five years. (But I held back their hidden treasure: that although they had laces I never untied them—just slipped them on and off…all in one smooth move).
“I’ll buy them for you!” she exclaimed, clearly frustrated. “It’s not the money,” I shot back. “They’re still good.”
(Ed. Note: They still had life, I swear. And they still brought comfort. If these shoes were dogs, I wondered, would Arthur put them down?).
“There’s a sale at Mar-Lou,” she announced. “We can go there today.”
Then I caved. I got real.
Fact was in recent months I’d been resting my shoes. Sometime after moving into Carrie’s in ’12, I found a new pair (still in the box), deep in the of womb my trunk. Must have been lodged there a while. A bigger size, still polished, it had just made the road trip to Lucy.
“Bring presentable shoes,” Stacy’d urged. “Of course,” I replied. “Listen,” I asked my Little One, “I’m not checking luggage so I’ll only bring one pair of shoes. Can I wear dress shoes with blue jeans?” “Since the 90’s, Dad!”
(Ed. Note 2: The newer footgear are larger, 13’s. Not that I tried them on or anything. If memory serves correctly I was leaning against the backwall at Nordstrom Rack, put on one, and it just felt right. Still, there’s something ego-boosting about over-sized shoes. One can just sense the women passing, eyeing the feet, and taking mental note).
So I caved, even though I don’t like shopping, particularly for shoes.
H says it’s a subliminal manifestation of my latent mixed feelings about our Grandpa Irv, (the career shoe salesman that hated our father). I say Hal’s wrong and is just full of applesauce. Fact is I’ve never driven flashy cars, worn jewelry, or for that matter, worshiped footwear.
Ironically, our dad always bought the shoes. Off-the-rack he’d pull them, always, at Diamond’s Men’s Wear. Style mattered not to Big Al, and if Norm Diamond sold it, it was good enough for his boys. (The whole process would take minutes. We ‘d try them on, I’m sure, but I can’t swear he ever made us walk around. It was more like “If the shoe fits, wear it.”).
There were exceptions, of course. Like baseball spikes. Buying these was special…to be savored…a process.
In Little League cleats were rubber. Not that they upped my game, but I recall the excitement of going with my dad to Blepp-Coombs, 5000 Euclid Avenue. Cleveland’s premiere sport goods store, it was in the same building as WHK.
By Pony’s, ‘twas metal, or steel, or whatever. Playing for Brooklyn, (I’d been drafted by Mr. Boman, an old White Sox coach), for the first time I was warned ‘bout my slide. “You can’t do that,” he said. “You’ll hurt someone.” “That’s how they slide on TV” I told him. “You’re not on TV,” he said. “Spikes down.” Who knew?
(I only played one year of Pony League. I don’t know why. The next time I donned my metal it was slow-pitch softball—Waxman Plumbing, and all that. Times changed, of course, and over time, styles changed. Hanging them up in the 80’s, I found myself in the minority. Rubber spikes were back, apparently safer. At some level, I was a stubborn fossil.
A fossil, I might add, that rarely bought shoes. It just wasn’t my thing. I mean I had one pair black, one pair brown, and one pair of sneakers. Who needed more? I’ve rationed my shoes, kept distance from shoe stores, stayed somewhat a fossil.
“Somewhat”. (Ed. Note 3: A few years ago while out shopping with Meredith we happened upon a pair of chartreuse sneakers. “These are perfect for you,” she advised. They were bought on the spot).
I wore those green things once. Maybe twice. They were tight. Soon, though, they went missing. Replacing them with a $4.99 pair from Payless, I never looked back. (Ed. Note 4: Carrie says my tennis shoes look like spats; a child asked if I stole them from a homeless guy).
I haven’t seen those luminous monstrosities in quite some time. I just remember they hurt. Still, no one said they were ugly, and they were definitely cool. I should try them again, I guess. Before Carrie gets sick of my spats. Before she wants to go shopping.

When the weather breaks I’ll grab them. They’re in the trunk of my car.

TO BOB, WITH LOVE

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

“…Those school boy days of telling tales? and biting nails are gone?. Yet in my mind I know? they will still live on and on.
But how do you thank someone? Who has taken you from baseball to perfume?? It isn’t easy, but I’ll try…”

A true friend is one that not only always has your back, but just as consistently, holds a mirror to your face. For five-plus decades my friend Robert George has been just that blessing.

—From Rowland through Greenview through Brush through Columbus.
—From Excels, (the sixth-grade club we were forced to disband) through R.E.N., through Shiloh AZA, (the chapter they too stripped away).
—From bowlin balls on the east at Cedar Center to basketballs out west at Cudell Recreation.
—From dancing at the Chagrin Armory to dancing at Brush reunions.
—From eating Geraci’s Pizza often at a restaurant on Warrensville, to devouring Angelo’s Pizza once on a ball diamond at Edgewater Park.
—From hearing WHK growing up to broadcasting WHK decades later (still growing up).
—From dates to weddings to births through divorces….

Life after high school began at Michigan State. Steadfast in disapproval of my venture, Bob (with Stu) went to the trouble of making and mailing an 8-track tape to East Lansing. Beginning with “Ain’t No Mountain High”, the assembly of songs was interspersed with loving insults — warnings of how lonely I’d be. “Come home,” said Stuart. “Don’t be a wussy,” urged Bob.
Life after college meant army: Fort Polk. Family wrote often and friends wrote sometimes. Bobby? Bad handwriting and all, he wrote weekly. It was the thing a Jew stuck in 1972 Louisiana could never forget. (Especially this innocent abroad—away from home for the first time).
Times changed, but not Bob’s game—
Life after marriage came decades later. These were the Radio Days and well…not my prettiest. Still Bob was there, steadfast—-speaking to me on the air and listening to me off. Teasing o’er the airwaves ‘cause it made “good radio”, comforting in the green room, as it made good friendship.

Yeah, there was “on-the-air” Bob and “off-the-air” Bob. I’m grateful to know them both.

Flashback: We were broadcasting on a Tuesday evening, summer of ’93. The conversation with our listeners turned to current movies…
“You know B,” he shot, “Fenton and I were going to let you come with us but we thought you’d be afraid.”
Contrast that with:
“Do you have somewhere to go for The Holidays?” he would ask privately. Always.

Times changed; we changed (maybe); but not our bond—

In some ways he’d forged the path. The 90’s were ugly for me and Bob knew it. Sensing my status, seeing the disrepair, feeling my loneliness, he’d still openly fret watching me look for love in all the wrong places. “She’s not for you,” he would say though I didn’t want to hear it. “She’s not for you.”

A dynamic exists and thrives to this day. Bourne by confidence of concurrent pasts, sustained by overlaps in boyish presents, it brings pure zeal to our futures. It is a friendship from here…to eternity.
Flash forward: It is a Wednesday morning, and as matters go, Bob sits to my left in Corky’s back corner. The boys, busy solving problems of the world, may or may not be listening.

“Why’d you say that to so-and-so?” he’ll whisper, smacking my shoulder. “What happened to your diet?” he’ll ask, smacking again. Yet still, when guys give me sh#t, perhaps about not playing poker like I used to or whatever, my friend from Wrenford will cut it off. “Leave the B alone,” he says, (as if to say “It’s all good.”).
—–65 this week…he turned… my friend Bob—
Still the world’s oldest teenager and well-proud of it.
Still moving, still grooving with his on-air persona and off-air warmth
Still a special blessing in my life.

“…A friend who taught me right from wrong? And weak from strong. ?That’s a lot to learn, what?can I give you in return?
If you wanted the sky?I would write across the sky in letters?That would soar a thousand feet high?: “To Bob, with love….”.

Lulu

PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

       “ It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Sitting in a Chicago Starbucks, just yesterday, I wondered if I’d ever again see Cleveland. (Let alone Carrie or my brother or alas, my Wilson Larry Sherry baseball glove)…

I flew in Friday, sole agenda being quality time with Lucy, Stace/Jace and the captive Adam. Then weather hit, and stuck.

United cancelled flights and wouldn’t pick up its phone. Then Amtrack, not to be outdone, scrubbed train schedules. Finally, Jason, ever voicing reason, convinced me driving was folly. (Ed. Note: Aunt Helen concurred. “If the trains won’t run and the buses won’t run,” she opined, “Who are you to say it’s ok to drive?”).

       “It was the season of Light….”

Lucy’s an angel. Like a fresh bowl of cereal, she’s all snap, crackle and “Pappy”. Monday, what with her parents at work, the kid was all mine. There we were: me on a chair and she on a couch; me studying email, and she….Curious George.

“More, Pappy.” (The episode ended). “More, Pappy!” We did three hours. What is it about grandkids? They say your name and you smile! Lucy, she makes me melt.

       “…It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

“Can you take smaller bites?”
“I haven’t eaten in six hours,” I am thinking. “This isn’t High Tea.”
“Must you read while you eat?”
“Carrie lets me”.
“Do I have to show you how to change a diaper?”
“NO,” I assure, “I changed yours”. (Ed. Note 2: Third base to first).

       “…It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

I love Stacy. Adore her, in fact. But she doesn’t understand—after all these years—that when it comes to food I’m not a good sharer. When it comes to food I say “Order your own. Get whatever you want. Like if we’d be at a movie and both wanted buttered popcorn. She’d be wanting to share a Jumbo and I’d be opting to each get Large). It’s my thing; let me have it! I like to know how much I’ve left at any given moment.

It was Monday dinner and we ordered on line— Jason, then Stacy, then me…perusing the website, pushing the prompts…unfettered by outside pressures…

“Can I have half your potato?” I heard sitting, dining.
“Why didn’t you order one?”
“Yours looks so good.”
(Ed. Note 3: Mine always looks good. I’ve been doing this 60+ years! And she wonders why when I went to Walgreen’s I brought back two bags of Skinny Pop!)

       “…It was the spring of hope …”

“What’s your plan?” Jason’s asked me each morning. Fair question, after all. Planes stopped flying and trains stopped trying days ago.

       “…It was the winter of despair…”

Like when I wanted to eat but couldn’t figure out how to open the baby-proofed drawer. “Oh well,” I mused, “I’d used my hands before.”

Or when I breakfasted with Rooney. The walk wasn’t short, from the lot to the restaurant, and with wind it was also not easy. But we’d made it, and were seated, at once.

“Do you have Wifi?” she asked, hearing “Yes.”
“Do you have newspapers?” I asked, hearing “No.”
(Ed. Note: The weather was no hiking back to the car. Still, I had to read something).

Or when, preoccupied with Lucy and Curious George, I’d delayed taking oatmeal from the microwave. Finding it frozen hours later, this stopped me not. From the frig came the yogurt, to soften the oatmeal I’d heated that morning. Notta! Then, utensil-less, remember, I pulled apart the brickened oatmeal from under the yogurt I’d used to soften the oatmeal I’d heated that morning. Nothing! So…I brewed some Keurig to pour on the yogurt I’d used to soften the oatmeal I’d heated that morning.

Had Gadya. Had Gadya. I’d give more than two zuzim for Carrie’s cooking.

        …And yet we had everything before us….” 

—-That beautiful toddler, enjoying her morning;
—-Her tandem of parents, thriving in mid-day;
—-And the warmth of their love.

Yes, I missed Cleveland, from Carrie to H to the mitt. And sure, I couldn’t wait to get home. Still…still….as rough weeks go, this was a near-perfect moment.

And some memories, with all they encompass, will not be erased.  (Not even by a plane, train, or automobile).

Charles Dickens (adapted)