Archive for April, 2014


Monday, April 28th, 2014

Each of my core friends has special interests — avocations, perhaps. Stuart’s is work (Yes, even his “avocation” is work); Wido’s is photography: Bobby loves golf, and Arthur complains. I could go on. The point is that we pretty much know each other and, for the most part, each other’s interests. ‘Tis the beauty of lifelong friendship.

For years now I put Ermine on restaurants. Through the graces of Facebook we’ve marveled as our Columbus pal has crossed the globe, wining and dining at upscale eateries. It’s all relative. I don’t travel much, so as I may crave revisiting Bayside, New York’s Ben’s Deli for salmon—excuse the expression, but it doesn’t consume me.

So…preconceived notion of Ermine being precise, you can imagine my growing amazement these past weeks as he’s posted not once, but several times of being at Nationwide Arena in Columbus! Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

“What’s with you and all the hockey?” I asked him last week. (It seemed the obvious question from one Jew to another. I mean let’s face it: our people traverse desert, not ice. Especially South Euclid brethren. What do we know from such narishkeit? Had Erv been raised in Shaker Heights with its Thornton Park and all, I supposed his nouveau gentrification might make sense. Mark though, was one of us: a Brush boy. We played sports!).

This was last Monday.

“Trying to relive his youth at Bexley Park”, read his 10PM post. What the hell was he talking about? I would check with Wieder, I noted before hitting the sack. And Snyder. Did he know?

—And as I slept, the most social of medias lit up —

First came Bobby. Admitting he’d played some hockey, he then tried to mute the aberrant behavior by teasing me ‘bout the structure my poor deceased father’d tried to instill in me.

Then came Alan—so unnerved by Ermine’s blasphemy that at 6 AM his time he shot back in caps: “NOT ME!”

The dialogue continued…a score of comments to come. And so it was that driving to Wednesday’s weekly breakfast with the “old boy network”, I had but one goal: setting the record straight.

“Did you ever play hockey?” I asked of the table. It was Lester, though, at whom I stared. (A product of not only Rowland, Greenview and Brush…AND The Ohio State University AND Park Synagogue Hebrew School, he would surely be the best barometer).

“No,” said our standard bearer. Immediately.

Ah, but Snyder showed up. NO, he assured he had never played daily, but YES, they would play then at Bexley. “On the tennis courts,” he noted.
I was incredulous. Could it really be that otherwise mainstream South Euclid boys played games other than baseball, basketball, and football? Golf perhaps gets a pass—-but NO ONE played hockey. Not really. Not on the “mean streets” of South Euclid. Not at Bayard and Wrenford, the Tigris and Euphrates of the Baby Boom era. Maybe Stuart was right—that it was a “Bexley thing”. Perhaps that’s why Bobby not only acknowledged his past but also pointed out that he’d owned his own skates! (Are you kidding me? His own skates? Jeez, even when our parents would send us to Riviera Day Camp and the counselors’d shuttle us to Northfield Rink—even then we rented skates!).

The subject changed, of course. Men like Fred and Himmel and Kraut have better things to talk about than whether anybody north of Ellison stooped to hockey.

But the thought still lingered…in me.

Intellectually, I could accept, I suppose that in New York Matt Klein had his Rangers….or that in Chicago Jason followed his Hawks. But still, weren’t those the same two guys that…well: Brother Klein, he goes ice fishing. And Brother Bohrer: he held his bachelor party on a pontoon. (Would anybody really call them voices of reason?).

It was two days before the Facebook thread wound down. Ermine (I think), was frustrated by the fact that only Bobby’d lined up with him. As such, he switched gears to something he was, in fact, right about.

“…You have to come to Columbus,” he told me. “You promised a year ago.” “I’m still waiting,” he added.

I answered him plainly. Clearly. Even succinctly.

“Waiting,” I told him, “For the hockey season to end.”


Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

          “Life begins when somebody’s eyes look into your own…”

There’s this old Jolson song my father taught me called “A Quarter To Nine”. It’s about a guy who can’t wait until evening— when he’ll finally get to see his lady. He sings with anticipation—warm anticipation.

It’s nice looking forward to things but thrilling to anticipate. The difference, I sense, is in that positive tension altering the dynamic: the aura of expectation.  We looked forward to growing up but Lord knows we counted days ‘til the start of Little League, marked time ‘til we could drive, and charted months in kids’ pregnancies.

Stu and I broke into the minors in 1960. Spring training began in May or so. Proudly we’d sport our blue/white Hollywood uniforms on the two school days each week there was practice at night. No once called us “havisham” (the term for kids that wore the same clothes all the time). We were just eager.

FLASHBACK TO 1960: I had Hebrew right after Rowland and Mrs. Gelfand was driving. Park ended at 5:40 mid-week, and so hasty was I to bolt out of her car getting home that I closed the door on my right thumb. So practice was missed…and two weeks… and if you ask nicely, I can still point out remnants of stitches.

How we couldn’t wait to drive once in Brush! Arthur was first, although I didn’t quite recall it. What is clear though is that Snyder had a Mustang convertible long before Wieder or I even had “temporaries”. Indeed, just weeks ago Al and I were reminiscing about the “contest” Bob had to see who could go with him that first Friday night. The first three to call his house at 7 that night could accompany yet-to-be-named “Groovy”.

“Do you remember who won the contest to sit in Bob’s car?” I asked Al over coffee. This, just weeks ago, but it merited talk. “You DO know there was no contest—it was all bullshit!” he shot right back. (I was incredulous; I had no idea. …a half-century later).

FLASHBACK TO 1965: Some inquiries demand answers, such as (let us say) identifying the passengers in Snyder’s car. To the source I went, back in March to learn that Joel, Harold and Arthur had seats that first night. I didn’t ask Bob, though, whether it all was a sham. I believe in neither Santa Claus nor the Easter Bunny, but in Bobby I trust. Always.

Life’s canvas is filled with moments of expectation separated by measures of….pure…life. And how valued is just….life?

Nothing compares though to (even as a man) having a baby. Picture-perfect is my memory of each child’s birth date. Like it was yesterday. So too do I image the arrival of their offspring. Standing in Lakewood holding a MANDEL sign on Election Tuesday Michael called—water’d broken… pacing a Northwestern waiting room as Stacy labored with Lucy…dancing at my reunion when Meredith called (more water).

I’ll be crossing the country again, to see grandkids. Max will beckon me to play and Eli will follow me with eyes and before I leave I’ll tell Michael again just how proud he makes me.

Then the pendulum swings…and in Cleveland once more I’ll make plans for Chicago. Another trip west.

—Lucy’s smile will seduce and I’ll roll on the floor as her “Pappy”.

Things are great these here days. I’m in love, reasonably healthy, and wise enough to know just what things merit counting days ‘til. Like looking into the eyes of my family.

We’ll be heading east soon — and I’m counting the days down.. And until then though, it will feel like 8:30.

       “I know I won’t be late,
       ‘Cause at half past eight
       I’m gonna be there….
       And then the world is gonna be mine,
      This weekend, about a quarter to nine….”

Warren/Dubin (adapted)


Friday, April 18th, 2014

Three people have I heard sermonize with any regularity over the years: Rabbi Cohen, Rabbi Skoff, Aunt Helen. Still, it was the words of Sophocles, first heard by me in a eulogy at Woody’s’ funeral, that crossed my mind in temple last week:

“One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been”.

This is my sunset. Sure, I look to more “best years” ahead —but well I know that slowly, inexorably, the sun must set.

In the last seat of the last row on the left…alone…on our mother’s yahtzeit…thinking….

Friday night’s service at Park is a vibrant experience, a family matter. Liturgy is overwhelmed by the spirit of klezmer music children love. (Those my age? Not so much). There’s a buoyancy — and contagious is the sense of community. Indeed, sitting solo, I felt not lonely but transformed; I filled not with sorrow but elevation.

Why would anybody NOT want to live his life in this community—this Jewish community that is Cleveland? Where, I wondered, could life within two square miles yield such a sense of loyalty… fraternity … belonging?

Hal was home last week, so my tone was gray. I missed his warmth, our banter, us…

—Eyeing the crowd, mind spanning ‘tween prayer and decades, heart tugging a bit, I waited for Mincha.

On my far right—all the way at the other side— were Billy and Nancy. Whenever I’m here (I swear) so are they. Be it summer for Dad, winter for Grandma, or spring for our Mom—there they sit…together…always. Do they come every Shabbos? How nice they’ve been married so long! That they still fit together! We nodded hellos as folks do in shul, and outside I smiled. My insides, alas, were now swimming in melancholy, traversing a beautiful landscape:

I was picturing the schoolyard, Bill’s older brother Les (the first kid I knew to make the “Majors” at nine), and his even older brother Stu, (All-World in his sport). I was in the back of Rowland playing Swift Pitching the night Les got lime in his eye sliding into home as a Red Sox. ‘Tis a tale apocryphal, no less now than then. —Because it’s true!

Then I saw Mrs. Chaitoff. Mrs. Chaitoff! She sat, actually ten seats down, to my right. Same row. She too, I knew half a century. Jeffrey’s mother, Hebrew car pool connection — very nice. “Benjy”, he calls me, to this day, at once shortening and Anglicizing my Hebrew name of Binyamin. Came to know his wife as well —Jews know Jews in this city! She was Queen to my King Ahasueros.  (I approached Mrs. Chaitoff…before services, of course…as our parents had taught us).

Then I dovened alone. Thought alone. Felt at home.

There’s a moment in Maariv when the rabbi has fathers stand and bless their sons; then the mothers bless their daughters; then the spouses join hands; then she says “Turn to a friend.” I was sitting alone —they were at the husband/wife part and frankly, studying a couple some five rows up I was wondering how the two of them ever hooked up. Looks-wise, they just didn’t match up.

“If you’re with a friend…” urged the Rabbi, as I sat missing Harold.

“Bruce, come over here,” came the voice. It was my old car pool chauffeur, Mrs. Chaitoff. By her side was Rich Lichau. How many years have I known him? And Al and Barbara, from my first life in Beachwood.

Together we stood (for an instance only), hands coupled in prayer.  And then, breaking the most social of scrums, I took my seat…

Smiling and thinking but not of the past.

Resolutely my mind turned,  to the future…the immediate future.

From the east they were coming! And the west!  Tomorrow!

I pictured my Max; he’s now three; and reveled at Lucy; she’s two.  And I conjured, Eli—nine months. His eyes: if my mother could see them.  Ah, but if my mother could see them!

Services ended minutes later…a minute past 7.

To the car I strode, my gait somewhat quicker, as I marveled at the beautiful sunset.



Friday, April 11th, 2014

Dear Mom,

I haven’t seen you in a while now. Five years have flown. I can’t ask “How’s life?” but somehow “How’s death?” seems inappropriate. Anyway, thought I’d bring you up to date.

Trust you’re not as lonely there as you once were. I mean: the entire nuclear Family Hoffman has reunited, what with the addition of Uncle Bob. (Frankly, we were hoping Ed would join you, but it hasn’t worked out).

Let me bring you up to speed. Much has changed since 2009.

First things first: Hal says hello. He’s been struggling a bit, but Mom, the kid never complains. (Not that he has time to—he’s always on line emailing YouTube rock videos. Oh—maybe I should explain. There’s this website, you see, where you can watch clips of old entertainment. You would love it, Mom and would spend endless time surfing Benny Goodman, Tony Bennett, and all your favorites. Oh, and you can tell your middle husband Sam he’ll even find Jerry Vale). Anyway, Hal predominates my Cleveland life.

—And the children are fine, even thriving. Grandchildren, too…FIVE!. The kids didn’t come back, you know. Stayed in New York and Chicago… made a traveller out of me. Nothing from Jamie yet.

Incidentally, Aunt Helen does not say hello, but don’t take it personally. (Fact is our aunt had a rough winter. For a while we thought she might be having First Seder with you). It’s just that, as she approaches the century mark Aunt Helen prefers speaking to only blood Bogarts…and Carrie.

OK, stay with me on this, Mom—
Three years after your exit I developed a girlfriend. You didn’t know her, but you may have known OF her. Remember Dick Baskin? Well this is his sister, Marv and Sue’s kid. Yeah—a South Euclid girl! (OK, the rich end of Wrenford, but so what?). Anyway, in the summer of ’12 H and a bunch of his friends were going to Cain Park and asked me to join them. Herzog was there—remember you leased cars through him? And Ross. Well, we bought tickets but one month out I didn’t have a date. Long story short, Dick’s sis took the open seat and within days I was in with both feet.

All good, Mom—and we live together now—even play gin rummy.

Cleveland’s the same —more or less. I still see Bobby, Arthur and Marc. Stuart, too (in the summer). The guys had a reunion in Vegas a few years back. Ermine and Snyder had a turf war over where to sleep and Fenton stayed at another hotel to save a few bucks. (Go figure). He even left on the Saturday since weekends cost more. Yeah, the more things change, Mom, the more they stay the same.

I moved my office…to La Place. You’d love it: there’s a Chinese restaurant in my building.

And I don’t play poker much. There’s just no time. ‘Staying home more–with Carrie. ‘ Guess my priorities shifted. They opened a casino downtown and I’ve yet to stop in. As your first husband would counsel, “No good can come from it”. Frankly, as it turns out I’d rather drive to Mountaineer.

What else? Remember how good I looked at Michael’s wedding…how I’d lost all that weight? Well, the bad news is that what I didn’t regain before you left, I’ve gotten back since. The good news is though, that I’m addressing it. Oh—and speaking of the Great Neck nuptials, you looked so elegant that night, going down the aisle, beaming with pride from the Hal-guided wheelchair. I don’t think it’s the same one, but your cousin Sheila’s now rolling. (Just an FYI).  I know — you don’t think it’s funny. But Mom—she doesn’t have a diagnosis!

Oh, and another thing that’s not funny:

‘ Haven’t spoken with Ed. Here, let me say it in your good ear: I HAVEN’T TALKED TO ED TURNER, your third husband. ‘ Did see him at Berkowitz the day of your funeral and he said he’d stop by — at Hal’s. We’re still waiting, Mom. Even though Shivah ended sixty months ago. Sorry. I know you wanted to believe. I know.

I guess that’s it, Mommy. But I did save the best for last. Since you’ve gone there’ve been five grandchildren and one of them, a sterling, smiling Eli, was named in your memory. He is beautiful, Mom. Absolutely beautiful.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m exhausted. Helen and I hit Marc’s, Jack’s, Izzi’s, the Post Office, Heinen’s AND Target today. Like I said, the more things change….

I love you, Mom. I’ll write more often.



Monday, April 7th, 2014

I auditioned for “The Odd Couple” in March. The theater’s a trek from my home, but I don’t remember EVER wanting a role more.  The thought of doing that show on that stage!  In my heart, I belonged in the card game.  

The tryout went well. Oh, there were the “usual suspects” —, the cadre of high-profile actors reknown through the region, and others, a half rung below…like me.

Sunday morning, 6:30 AM

I woke for the third time, not ready to rise. Mind on a hamster wheel, fumbling with the remote control, I played out scenarios. Even in the dark of a sleeping bedroom, I knew that this would be the day, that these would be the 24 hours. I was groggy, excited, attuned, pessimistic, and yes, hopeful.
So the replay began:

Gee, when I tried out, the director knew me by name. A good sign I thought—until recalling shows I did with her Mom in the ‘90’s. So it probably meant nothing.

I thought about the “call-backs”, which went down last Wednesday. Yeah, I’d made it that far, but…

They’d been set for 6:30, and in the two-plus week interval, I had studied the script. (Not the whole script, of course. Just Murray The Cop—the role I so wanted.) Don’t get me wrong, I’d take any part, and I’d said so on the questionnaire. But the part of Murray? That was me! No acting required—I’d shuffled those cards—it was right in my wheelhouse.

And my mind kept rattling.

In anticipation Wednesday, I’d left two hours early, just in case there was “rush hour”…in Madison…50 miles away. And when the traffic did snarl, for a moment, I’d hopped off the freeway, opting to dreidle 25 miles on Route 84…from Willoughby, through Mentor and Kirtland Hills, through the township to Madison. (I don’t want to say it was rural or anything, but I may have counted 31 churches on the one lonesome highway).

I recalled too how I’d taken the exact parking spot from the first tryouts (to regenerate karma). How that night I’d felt flat— not that I wasn’t “on” so much as that it smelled like a courtesy call-back—for whatever reason. “Bye the end of the weekend”, she said we’d hear, and “To check our spam”.
The end of the weekend is today, I well knew. Mired in thoughts of how I’d exited Wednesday without any sense of optimism, I slept some more.


Sunday morning, 9:30 AM

Opening eyes to a sleeping Carrie, I ambled downstairs.

No missed calls. No new emails. No spam. It did occur to me though she may be in church, or that her staff might think I was—that for that matter nothing might happen ‘til noon.

It’s funny where your mind goes. As a ten-year old on Draft Day for the South Euclid Little League, I studied the phone. EV2-5088 was our number and awaiting a ring, I drove parents crazy. That Sunday, pre-call waiting, was so unbearable that even my father had to get me out of the house. It would be the only time I’d ever go bowling at the Mayfield Lanes. (I went with Bobby). My Dad drove both ways, picking up at Pap ‘N Jay’s Pizza as we rolled. (It was a wonderful tonic—that bowling, with two happy endings. As Bobby rolled strikes and me perhaps spares, Mr. Wendel called my home and Mr. Scott called his. We were White Sox and Tigers…and happy.

Sunday morning, 10:30 AM.

CJ awake, breakfast concluded, she walked Rusty and me? I waited.

A text message came in— from one of the actors—it was Alan. He’d been cast as Vinnie, he noted—yesterday.

“Are you f’ing kidding me?” I thought. “I’m better than him! Are you f’ing kidding me?” Even alone, I know it didn’t matter…even IF I WAS right. Even alone though, I knew what to do. Darting upstairs I called him, congratulating. ‘Twas the right thing to do, I sensed as indeed, the joy in his voice trumped the sad in my heart.

“I’ll be in the audience,” said I as we bid our adieus. (My heart was still telling me that fat lady hadn’t sung but my head knew full well she was clearing her throat).

And my wait continued. Perhaps all the parts weren’t confirmed? Perhaps they hadn’t called because they were waiting to hear from others? I couldn’t care less if I was second choice…or third. It was pushing high noon.

Sunday afternoon 12:20 PM (or so)

The world refused to just wait. Carrie went to Heinen’s without me and I still had to call Aunt Helen about dinner and there was work I could do, but I didn’t.

Until 12:35

That’s when the email came—polite and pointed—that they were going “in a different direction.”

—And I winced and wrote back, with a “thanks for the opportunity”…and that “I’d be in the audience”…(which I will). Me too—I can be polite and pointed—and meant. These were good people, I knew, making valid choices.

I can’t always get what I want.

Fifty years later the bowling alley’s gone. And Pap ‘N Jays is gone. And Mr. Wendell and Mr. Scott are gone. And Mr. Snyder. And Al Bogart? His words echo though—my father’s.

“If this is the worst thing to happen to you,” he would say, “You’re a lucky man.”

He was wise then as he is now.  The players may change, but the game goes on.



Friday, April 4th, 2014

Some years ago a daughter approached me. “What do you think I should be?” she asked. “Do you think I should go to law school?” My response was immediate, if not quicker. “I don’t care what you do,” came my counsel, “So long as you have a passion for it.”

I spoke from experience.

It’s not that I dislike what I do. I don’t. Indeed, some days it’s —dare I say — fulfilling. But I never…really…set out to do what I do. And I rarely…very rarely…wake up in the morning and think “I can’t wait to get there!”.

The story’s apocryphal. We were in Columbus back in ‘70 when my first love made our future contingent on me in either law or med school. Me…this phlegmatic kid from South Euclid? What did I know from those things? At that point I’d devoted more thought to the Mets of New York than I ever had to a career in Cleveland. I just didn’t care.

(Ed. Note, semi-confession, and stream of my conscience): Never, up to that point, had I led the league in ambition. Al Bogart, a salesman by trade, thought my future lay there. He’d never given me a “bum steer”, so I just figured it made sense; I would sell. On the other hand, I didn’t want to lose the girl friend—Lord, it had taken me two decades to get one. On the other hand, I couldn’t stand the sight of blood. On the other hand, my dad would be supportive of any decision.  So send in applications I did, but my heart wasn’t in it. And did I come to think that acceptance at OSU would keep me in Columbus with my Dad, and that this was a good thing?  Yes.  But when The School rejected me I knew it would be my Dad I’d miss, not the law school.  On the other hand, there was one more chapter to be written. I was playing gin with my Dad the last week in August, ’72. Mail came: there was an opening in Cleveland; school started that week. Me? I stayed true to form. Did not, in my less-than-industrious mind, three years of classroom trump three years of working?).

I went to law school and the rest is history. The passion I honored was not toward career, but toward her.

My buddies were purer. Three of the Big Four had passion—

Bobby? His dream was to broadcast and he did. A pioneer doing play-by-play for professional softball, he followed his dream. It was a fervor resurrected more than once by my pal, climaxed by his thrust to get “The Fabulous Boomer Boys” on the air in the ‘90’s. (Query: Was it not this fire Bob felt that Stuart so lacked, as the latter withdrew after thirteen strong weeks on the air)?

(Ed. Note Two: Stuart’s desire, indeed his passion, was sales. One hundred units (3 year subscriptions) in a week got him a new car. Indeed, my brother still recalls being wakened for a week in Roselawn, Michigan at what my H could only perceive as the middle of the night. “Cmon Nemo,” Stuart would shout, “Time to Sell Sell Sell!”.

Even Wieder had passion…young. (Not for work, mind you, but for not working. The very first recorded uttering of the phrase “pushing the envelope” came one fall Saturday in Columbus when H, Stuart, Randy and I each sold magazines but miraculously it had rained on the few streets Alan had leads).

Ah, but Alan did have a passion—for softball. (Ed. Note 2: Some would mistake the fire in Wied’s belly for anger. Not always the case. According to SABR (Society For Baseball Research), Wido, in a stellar career, threw his mitt to mound 2.4 times per game. Further stats revealed that while half the glove-slams were from pure passion for the game, the genesis of nearly 48%, however, was Arthur having missed a cutoff man).Al played the game as

Bobby announced, and Stuart sold with an intensity—with, as my Dad would say: ”Piss and vinegar”.

I may be paraphrasing, but perhaps Eugene Olivier in “OJ- The Musical” that said it best.   “You teach a lot of things in this world,” he noted, “But you can’t teach passion.”

How true.

Are not the most attractive, enticing, appealing things about people their attitudes and focused zeal for that they cherish? Is it not what makes us tick that makes us click?

I face my todays with a zest for family, a love of theater and a perseverance in recovery through the best of my times.  I walk with a passion for life today, and live in a zone where even the bad times are good.

A piece of Eugene Olivier lives within each of us.  I don’t know about you, but for that I’m grateful.