Archive for March, 2014


Sunday, March 30th, 2014

“It’s a ‘Numbers game’”, my father would say to his sales force. “Ten percent of the parents will return the card. Of those, 2/3 if contacted will buy. 3/4 (he’d assure us), IF when you made the sales call, there was a picture of the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King on the wall.
Facebook too, is a numbers game. Post a charity and response just trickles. Throw up though, a snapshot of grandkids (especially newborns), and 4 to 5% of your friends hit LIKE (usually the women). Just the way it is. Hard fact. Bank on it.

Tuesday morning. Beaming at the first hint of spring, en route from Painesville to an office in Mentor, I saw it…at the street’s corner… fifteen feet in the air…calling my name.

Emboldened by the sunshine, to the side of the road I pulled. Motivated perhaps by fifty degree weather I hopped from my car with speed last shown chasing a bunt up Negrelli’s first base line.

—Then I snapped the picture — and I posted it — on Facebook.

I don’t know what it is about the thought of a yellow brick road, but it’s universal. Who my age doesn’t hear the phrase and instantly picture Dorothy and friends singing, bouncing toward Oz? Who among us doesn’t sense their optimism, share their buoyancy?


My dad would look at me—even in darkest times— it was often the same. I’d fret ‘cause my cup was half empty and this big man, eyes moistened by wisdom, would smile at my gripes. “Little boy,” he’d tell me (well into my thirties), “You’ve got the world by the balls.” I’d nod obligingly, always, never quite knowing how right he was. Even then.

Today I get it. All of it. I embrace the good, accept the bad, and drink from a cup that’s half full. Always.  Today…TODAY I see…that I’ve got the world by the balls.

Lucky I was to be raised in South Euclid. The foundation of friendships made years ago to this day serves as a cornerstone buttressing my periodic insecurities. As good as things are it’s nice to know —and I’m acutely aware —that if I’m silent for long, the likes of Ermine, Snyder, Wied or Walt will reach out. Or I’ll get an email from Stuart. Even now.

Do I miss my children? Of course. Still I’m soothed that they’re happy. Would I have them much closer? Of course. But they’re thriving, and living THEIR lives.  I have my blood—what’s left of it —in Ohio. ‘Tis an older, smaller expanse than the circle of aunts, uncles, first and second cousins of my youth, but so be it. They’ve splintered across Cleveland, and for the most part it’s just Aunt Helen (in Willard Scott’s green room) — and Hal.At the apex: Hal. He is mine and I am his. Sharing each other’s history, nonsense, emotionally twinning…two brothers embracing our past, juggling our Aunt, eyeing the future.

And Carrie. Whodda thunk it? She blends friend and family, sprinkles in love, gets me, and even gets the idiocies my family shrugs off.

Excuse me. Did I say my cup was “half full”? I as wrong, very wrong. My cup runneth over.

Blown away was I by response to my posting. That picture —  of YELLOWBRICK RD – had lit up my Facebook. Just shy of 10% LIKED it; twenty-some left a message; it had stricken a chord.

‘Couldn’t but notice, though, a bittersweet “comment’ well-buried on the page. “I’ve been looking for it for 60 years”, a friend wrote.

I wanted to respond—to tell her Just Open Your Eyes!  But who am I? And who am I to be smug? Four decades it took me to see what was obvious.

I waken each day in a house on East Groveland. I walk outside, to my Yellowbrick Road. And tomorrow, like enlightened days before it, I’ll be off to see The Wizard.


Monday, March 10th, 2014

Dear Dad,
I don’t know what was going on in my mind — perhaps it was the fact that at 59, somewhere in my psyche brewed the fact that you’d died at that age—who knows? What is clear though, is that in April of ‘09 I crafted a “bucket list” and that the time and change of five more years have altered not only my perspective but my priorities.
So here’s my List, Dad, in the order I’d penned it …upon further review…
1 Drive around Lander Circle clockwise against traffic.

(Well, not all my priorities shifted. How great would it be if Hal could film it. My kids would roll their eyes but I’d smile and someday in some far off town like New York or Chicago their kids would smile too, just seeing my face. It takes so little and really—is it asking so much?
2 Give a college commencement address.
Still to be done. I’d tell them it’s all about passion. You were gone by then Dad, but what I told my kids (that asked) is that it didn’t matter what they did in life as long as they did it with passion. Oh, and I’d also give a “shout out” to Coach Wooden. “Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life,” he would urge. Bingo.
3 Be a greeter at “Corky & Lenny’s.
Yes, I’ve given this perhaps too much thought. And Yes, it stays on the list. My office has moved and so Sunday works best. This too would also optimize opportunities to see old friends perhaps in for a weekend.

4. Rejoin Park Synagogue.

Actually, Pop, I did this. Did you know they email death notices?

5 Get an apology from Dick.

Off the list. Look: I know; you know; and The Man Upstairs knows If the putz doesn’t get it, does it really matter? Yeah, Dad, I get that you adored Ralph and that Estelle sang at my Bar Mitzvah—but isn’t this (as you would say Dad), “addition by subtraction”.

I say: Off the list.

6 Hang out with a blonde that wears one of those baseball caps where her ponytail sticks out through the hole in the back. (Soft pink, if possible).
Now here’s a line item I thought would survive. Wrong again. So I came to dinner at Marv Baskin’s daughter’s house a few years ago and for all practical purposes never left. Haven’t thought about the blonde or the baseball cap or the ponytail since then, Dad—although I must say, Carrie does look better in a hat.
Off the list!
7 Hold a grandchild.

By the balls, Dad— the world by the balls! I’ve swum with Max, danced with Lucy and sung with Eli. Kissed Hailey’s forehead, I have…and dreamed of Matthew. To be continued….
8 Sing along at a Bar Mitzvah, arms around each other,? with my three kids and their spouses, as the music blares out “That’s What Friends Are For.”
I let it go, Dad. No more picturing hand-holding, smiles or “Kumbaya”. I’m all in. For my sake.
My Bucket List is for ME, Dad, not for them. I’m living the present and the future is theirs. It will be or it won’t. And not in my time, but His.
God’s given me everything I’ve needed, Dad, most of what I’ve wanted.
I’m contented.
And happy.
And have no reason to add to the list.
‘Miss you.


Monday, March 3rd, 2014

My dad showed me everything— from how to hold a bat to how cut the cards to how to act in temple. He buffered fears—from the loss of my training wheels through my loss of innocence. And he propped me up—always —be it my spirits or my bank account. Fact is, my father taught me everything there was to know about life except how to live without him. Perhaps that’s why his sudden death caught me flat-footed and his instant vacuum confirmed that THIS Emperor had no clothes and clearly no life skills. So I turned to alcohol.

I never drank to get high; I drank to escape. I never wanted to party, but inside felt pity (for myself). I was sick, and worst of all, I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

So my drinking got worse. Slowly…but steadily worse. With the guys after work. With the guys over cards. With myself.

My marriage was struggling—had been some time. In the old days we’d through money at it. Or I’d talk to my Dad—get a pep talk. “You want to be one of those fathers that only sees his kids weekends?” he once counseled. Our four eyes watering, he kissed my forehead, and in words unspoken urged me “Get back in there and win one for the Gipper”.

Ah, but I was lost without Rockne.

Don’t know what my kids saw, not really…back then. For my protection perhaps, God’s hidden the memories.

But I do know what I saw … for years…

Living alone, my world was shrinking. Imperceptibly but steadily, I was isolating. I would look in the mirror oh so often and ask “How did this happen to a nice Jewish boy like me?”   Sometimes I’d tell myself that “Hey, I had a good run for a long time and now I’m just on a bad streak”.   Some times I’d blame others. “You’d drink too if this happened to you,” I would think.

What I didn’t see— what I didn’t know— is that I was the problem. Frankly, it never entered my mind.

LIfe had turned, it was clear. And I drank, that I knew. But it never occurred to me —not (as my Dad would say) for “one New York minute”, that the two were related. No, this kid with the high SAT scores, this lad that obediently went to twelve years of Hebrew school and never touched drugs—was sick. I had alcoholism.

So I fell
And spiraled

From 1985 to 1997.

I got sober nearly 6,000 days ago. It was not my intention. No, I entered the rooms ’cause of back ache. My friends, you see, were on my back. They were worried, and more.

But I stayed, somehow. And I listened, somehow. And (go figure), everything in my life is much better. Especially me.

Somethings, of course, just haven’t changed. Days are good and days are bad and I make mistakes and life’s still life.

But I don’t escape these days, and never try. And though I never wanted it, I wake up each morn and know each day’s a party. Oh, and my father…(who art now in heaven)? He’s looking down with gratitude, knowing his kid’s got a chance.