Archive for May, 2014

CAMELOT

Friday, May 30th, 2014

ACT ONE

It started out fine. I was thrilled that Hal was up to getting out of his house and we’d called the night before to set it up. After all, she hadn’t seen him in months and we knew how she’d missed him. Although my brother and I shared a branch on her family tree,  indeed it was he that was the love of her life. It was not that he honored her more, frankly.  No, I sense it’s just that I reminded our Aunt Helen of her “fallen” brother (our Dad), who had the nerve to be the first American-born Bogart to marry, divorce, drive a car, go to college, and —dare I say it — lose virginity).  And so it was that over time Hal became Lancelot; she  played Queen Guinevere….and me?  At the far end of the Round Table I sat. Content.

“Aunt Helen?” he said, by phone on Saturday.
“Harold? Is that you?”
(I was on the line, but she didn’t yet know it. Exhilarated she was—buoyant even).
“Bruce is on too,” he continued. “We’re coming over tomorrow”.
(I can’t say her voice then dropped. She spoke, though, only to him).
“You’re coming here?”
“Yeah, how about 10:30?”
“10:30?”
“Yes, is that OK?”
(She hesitated, which was odd. Maybe she was counting the consecutive questions. In any event, although H and I’d agreed on 10:30 in our pre-game chalk talk, it struck me this was my moment to chime in…even move the clock up).
“Aunt Helen, this is Bruce.”
SILENCE
“Aunt Helen, can we make it 10:15?”
“Can we say 10:45?” she shot back. (I should’ve had Harold request it).
“How about 10:30?”
“I’ll see you at 10:30,” she pronounced, subject closed. (The exchange had eerily paralleled the bartering between Kramer and Morty Seinfeld when they were going to sell old raincoats. We too’d ended up where we’d started).

INTERMISSION

Peaceful — serene even — standing at my mother’s grave first thing Sunday. It was warm out already as moments and thoughts were sun-kissed. The calm, however, would come to a screeching halt an hour later.

ACT TWO

10:25 AM and having met at La Place, the Brothers Bogart drove down Cedar.

Buoyed by satisfaction that the pilgrimage indeed was “the right thing to do”, they did a final run-through of the impromptu discussion they would have with their aunt. Indeed, discussion of her approaching 100th birthday —with most people— would be celebratory. Too well they knew though that with this classmate of Tolstoy the seas would be choppy . Has not each of her life cycle moments been rough? Has not each been a delicate measure?

We never know what to do. All the charts and graphs, all the advanced planning and orchestrated circumstances have changed little. In the words of the great Harold Dale Bogart: “Always expect the unexpected.”

I rang the bell but (as we figured we go with strength), he walked up first. All eyes on Raymond as he moved to the couch.  Everybody loves Raymond.

“Sit over here,” she guided Him, “So I can see you.”
(She spoke not to me, but any doubts I had that she knew I was present were quickly dispelled).
“I’m angry with you!” she carped, turning swiftly toward me.
“What did I do?”
Answer she didn’t…at least not right away. (Sometimes with old people it’s hard to tell if they’re glaring or their faces are just immobile. Our aunt —when shes in that zone — leaves nothing to one’s imagination. Think: Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies” with Moe Howard’s face).
“Why didn’t you take me to see Harold?” she glared.
“I brought him here.”
“You know I like to get out of the house”.
“So does he”.

I’d like to tell you that it ended there, but it didn’t. On and on she went, “pissing away” (as our father would say) the better part of a half hour.  Airing resentments she’d apparently carried since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, she railed and she railed—-albeit always returning to her central concern:  we should have driven to Harold’s!

Was it not the most “Non” of issues?

Hal sat silently as I thought silently: what a waste! Does she not grasp the GIFT time is?  Could she not seize the moment?  Did it really matter on whose couch we sat?

“Have compassion for those less fortunate than you,” our father would tell us….over and over again….about her.

So I did. And my brother did.

Then and now.

Through her half of scowling replete with the her howling… biting our tongues….eating our anger….until mercifully we could change the subject.

To fluff.

We wanted to broach her birthday that visit. We wanted to make plans to have dinner with family.   We wanted to embrace her One Hundredth.  We just couldn’t.

The going was rough; Hal was spent (so was I).   Eyes meeting ‘cross the couch in fraternal connection; we both knew now wasn’t the time.    Neither of us, truthfully, could take the fight.

Even if she could.

I’LL NEVER WALK ALONE

Monday, May 26th, 2014

I don’t know how I got the idea they were crunches, but when my nightly regimen began in March someone fed me that narishkeit.
Weeks later however, Meredith set me straight. Turns out what I was doing was merely touching my toes and that “crunches”, on the other hand, was just a new label for sit-ups. No more, no less. Too bad. It felt good saying “ crunches”…productive, even… healthy! Gave me a swagger. Whatever it was though, clearly I was exercising. Does not the journey of a thousand miles begin with one step?

Regardless, one thing this cowboy wasn’t going to be doing was crunches…or sit-ups…or deep-knee bends, or whatever they were. I paid my dues at Greenview, in Junior High…laying back on the floor…watching Mr. Moffitt survey us…faking the grunts, even faking the sweat.

I remember those days, when isometrics was chic: the “crunches” of the day, so to speak. The object, as I recall, was to exert pressure, be it a palm a muscle—whatever— against an immobile object. It was the rage in the ‘60s and done each Phys. Ed. class. Let me share something with you: there were only two immobile objects in our gym: Alan Wieder and me.

“Why don’t you just walk?” someone asked me.
“Really?” (I thought). “Hadn’t we seen this movie?

It’s not that I don’t like to walk. Not one of my favorite things, mind you, but when done with another—as a social event— it’s ok. But walking alone? Solo? Well…it’s not that Bogarts don’t do it, mind you. Let’s just say it’s frowned upon.

I can honestly state that I never saw my father walk (except to a card table). And not once did I see Wieder walk (except to the mound). Dare I say more?

These men…these giants in my life…were my muses. In their actions and words they taught me the science, the lore, the tactic and the honor of sport.

Al Bogart urged “Always cut the deck”; Al Wieder scrowled “Always hit the cutoff man”. Al Bogart? The night of a gin game, he’d never walked to his car. Oh no! Bert Hines’d honk the horn and three hundred pounds of my father’d hustle to the driveway. And Wido? I’m serious now. We played softball for trophies, shot baskets in tourneys, played “touch” and played “tackle”. In softball he stood affixed to the mound; in basketball, he was both the play-making guard AND the last man down on defense…common denominator being that he never left the center six feet of the court. Oh—and in football? In an era defined by the scrambling of a Fran Tarkenton and the agility of a Dan Fouts, Wieder out did himself. Indeed, he was the last in a long line of immobile quarterbacks, but honestly…I never saw him sacked. (I think, frankly, he also played QB on defense).

—And I repeat: these men were my muses.

—And just so you know: I have walked. Just not alone. (Ed. Note: I did try it, sort of. ‘Went to a gym once in Great Neck. All alone on a stairmaster—ok Meredith was in the next one—and…let’s just say I was invited to get off the machine because I was singing too loud).

Yes, I have walked.

H and I’d trudge to Rowland (which was close), and Greenview (which was far). Together.

Stu and I would hike to Cedar to go bowling and to Bexley when we had to. Together.

And even when older. Like in college? When there was nothing to do didn’t we walk up to High Street….together?

It’s a social thing—this walking. Jason walks with Adam; Carrie walks with Rusty. Even Harvey, the lonely soul that lived down Bayard in the late ‘50’s…even Harvey had this little poodle he walked with. Not once, however, did I see Jason…or Carrie…or Harvey walk alone.

The moral of the story—where am I going with all this? (you may wonder)….

I’d love to walk—with you.

Not to replace the crunches that I guess I never did. Nor to regain the swagger I never should have had. Just to socialize—no more, no less.
We could walk your streets, if you like. You bring the water; I’ll bring the sheet music, and … it would be nice if one of us brought a dog.

Especially one named Adam.

THE STORY OF MY LIFE

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

“Our stories disclose in a general way,” we are told, “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

My family never asks why go I to meetings. Sixteen and a half years later the subject never arises. They know, intellectually, that I’m still in recovery— but to this day some don’t care, some don’t understand, and others don’t care to understand. So be it. Long ago I learned that if it works for me and it’s hurting no one, the only one who must get it is me.

Sometimes, though—

I found myself sitting… listening… wishing my child was aside me, sharing the moment. Indeed, even after 3,500 to 4,000 of these hour-long assemblies, just last week I heard three “leads” in three nights and each one I found riveting. Friends they were, speaking Friday, Saturday, Sunday—three men I’d met “in the rooms” and while through bits and pieces I’d come to know them through comments, there I sat, listening to their “stories”— glued to my seat.

Scott spoke on Friday. We’ve known each other maybe five years—
from discussion meetings. He opened with a reference to an incident from a Chanukah party and there I sat, stunned. Not that it mattered, but it never occurred to me he might be Jewish. A lot of money would have been bet the other way. I mean this guy, from khaki pants to silken shirt, smelled WASP. Trust me, he’s never perspired.

But his message was great. Rather than the typical narrative, his story, rather, highlighted different times in his life (both when out and when in), that (as he saw it), God put people in his path. “Miracles”, he called them—and they may be. I was reminded of the old Einstein quote: “There are two ways to live your life. One is as if nothing is a miracle, and the other as if everything is”. Either way, I sensed, we’re embracing gratitude.

Then came Saturday: Brother Mark. I’d heard him before, frankly—the whole Megillah. Years had passed however and I heard well his growth. I recall his earlier talks: the rancor, the venom for his ex. I wondered back then: did he know the anger is killing him? How great it was—and I told him so last week— just to hear he found peace.

“I’m still in the judgment business, Bogart,” he told me that night. (But his tone had changed. And he had. For the better).

And Sunday—end of a slow weekend I’d used to catch up—on work, on play, and on…rest.

‘Wasn’t my regular meeting that night. ‘Hadn’t been to The Marshall Group in years. Nonetheless, when a guy from Thursday asked me to chair there this June…well…it made sense to check it out.

Arriving early, no sooner had I poured my coffee than a voice came my way. Thick was the New York accent and well I knew it was John. He’d been around a while, since mid Y2K, and I don’t see him often. Here and there, Yes, but not like before. The good news was, though, that he was wearing a tie—and if you’re wearing a tie at a Sunday meeting it’s for only one reason: you’re leading.

“Are you the talent tonight?” I asked. (Of course he was).

Good sponsors will tell us “Be honest, be brief, and be seated”. Brother John touched all bases. Fact is, and my egos calling, he referenced something I’d said to him when he first got sober. Remember it I didn’t, (but it was clearly something I would have said). He used to come to Tuesday Discussion and apparently he opened up one night, expressing feelings…and after the meeting I’d approached him and said something like “Thanks for sharing your pain.” It was something — to him — that resonated.

And then we were done. With the meetings and the weekend, but not with the journey.

—Carrie sees me sometimes, not long after these stories…eyes just misty and all…

—She eyes me as I grasp the humanity of it all…they’re all happy endings…and so often it’s like the last scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

And NEVER, does she ask me why … after all these years… I hit 5-6 meetings a week.

Carrie, after all, not only cares about me, and understands me— but she gets me.

THE WALL

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Bounding stairs at week’s end, even this half-full gent was feeling half-empty. The week had been hard — busy not bad — and downtime was limited. ‘Tween the clowns in my business and the tightrope (Aunt Helen), I felt quite the acrobat. It was Friday, alas, and I plopped on the bed.

Crashing face up …in my clothes…thinking.

To my left was a window, and in thoughtless mind I stared at the same sky to which my morning prayers were sent. I was tired. Drained, I guess, but not quite sure why. Down a bit, but for no real reason.

For a split second –OK, maybe a minute – I grumbled within that my children’d left town. For a moment or so I reveled at the thought of devouring a large pepperoni pizza from Geraci’s. (I wouldn’t do it, of course, but trust me: as I looked out that western window I well could smell it).

Then my eye caught a piece of the wall: a blue tambourine, to be exact. It’s a compact thing, blue, the size (let’s say) of Geraci’s small pizza. And on it, top-center blaring out, it reads “MAX”.

—And with one glimpse my smile returned—

I moved to East Groveland in 2012. It was Carrie’s house to be sure, yet from Day One she made it my home.

Especially, I might add…where we sleep.

It’s a funny set-up, that room: More Fenway than Feng shui, our bed sits in the center as an un-elevated pitcher’s mound eying the field. It was from the eye of that needle last Friday, that I surveyed the park and my home, now a sanctuary.

Laying on my back, skies of blue peeking in, I felt comfort. The left field wasn’t Boston’s; it was warmer.  More like Wrigley—“friend confines” and all.

Max was 8 on my clock; at 6:30 was Adam. (No, not stolen Adam, the sequel that lives in Chicago. I’m speaking, rather, of a framed painting of The Adam, tri-colored sheltie that thrived on Bayard. Carrie’d put it there early on—rescuing the portrait from dusty relics in my cartons — and dare I say that dog is “well hung”?).

Then at 10 were our children. Hers and mine… young and old… assembled together (for only our eyes). Pix as tots and tuxedoed it works well for us. (Especially for those of us with kids out- of-town).

Funny thing about laying in bed…clothed…alone…and being a half-full kind of guy. Stopping, musing a bit, midst family and love I returned to Grateful.

I could mention much more, by the way. Posted plaques of my plays…framed small Tees of her infants….and my rack full of ties I’d promised my children to throw out….

It was pushing supper and time to move on. We would stop at Tommy’s, grab dinner for Leesa, then I’d head to a meeting. Five fingers per hand and five toes per foot I had life by the …..

Again.

With love near and far—both rested and centered  — I rejoined the world.

Lucky I was, and I knew it, to be safe

And at home.

WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

“Think we’ll ever go to another concert?”, he asked Sunday morning.
“Probably not,” she replied. “Breakfast is ready.”

I’ve always loved music. (Ed. Note 1: The nerd days of teendom found me charting songs on the radio, computing their playtime. Truth be known, it continued in college. With a pad on the passenger seat I’d jot down the stats even as I drove ‘cross PA to New Jersey. Sadly, the binder of weekly standings was among other erstwhile treasures “lost” in the Lomaz garage). Ah, but from Anka, Avalon and Rydell on ‘HK to the early Beatles of KYW, and even the changing sounds of “The New WCOL” in Columbus, I just loved music!

Until psychodelia, of course—when I hit a brick wall—when (for me), the music was over. (Ed. Note 2: Sure there were still sounds I liked. Even in my personal diaspora. Let’s see: after The Partridge Family there were Manilow…and Bare Naked Ladies…and…oh…Plain White T’s).

—-Nor did I ever really get into concerts—

There was a prerequisite (back in high school) to going to a concert: one I never had. It was called a “date”. For the most part, that’s what kept me from live music ‘til OSU. (Ed. Note 3: There was a second reason that never quite mattered. My Dad, you see, told me I wasn’t allowed to go to Leo’s Casino, the Euclid Avenue venue Motown groups played. He said the neighborhood wasn’t “safe” and in rare instances when I may have found a date—Heck, no one would turn down The Temptations—-I still honored father). (Ed. Note 4: Brother Hal, of course, was in the process of morphing from Nemo to “Wild Nemo”. He went to Leo’s. More than once, I think).

Our father though, got me to my first rock concert.

Summer ’67. He was living in Inkster, Michigan selling home study off leads from the back of matchbooks; I was mired at MSU; and Hal, “Little Herb”, was in from Cleveland, to see his father….

I don’t know where Dad went that day — after all, it was the 4th of July —but he planted his boys at The Upperdeck, upstairs lounge overlooking Detroit’s famed Roostertail. There we sat that day watching Sam The Sham And the Pharoahs (“Little Red Riding Hood”), Tommy James & The Shondells (“Hanky Panky”), Keith (“Ain’t Gonna Lie”), and The Royal Guardsmen (“Snoopy vs. The Red Baron”).

There was a prerequisite also, to concerts in college. Well, it wasn’t so much requirement as my sense of discomfort. Seeing Peter, Paul and Mary at ‘68’s homecoming I hated being the only one there not smoking dope. A year later, bolstered by car and contacts, I began dating Grace Slick. The rest, shall we say, is history.

—So imagine my angst when in March, my only brother, (the one I thought would never let me down, the one who in virginal days sung along to “Wooly Bully”), emailed inviting us to see Hall & Oates.— Say it ain’t so, Little Herb!

(Ed. Note 4: No sooner had I opened his missive then I wrote back NO!).
(Ed. Note 5: No sooner had Carried opened his note then she wrote back YES)).
(ED. Note 6: We bought two tickets).

Well, as Grandma Bogart once said, “Time matzahs on.” March became April became May and the evening was looming. For a sheer instant it appeared I might dodge it and head to Chicago. Stacy was busy, though, and the beat went on.

It was daylight Saturday as we headed downtown. Public Hall is many things, but a venue for rock it is not. The bad news is, it was oval shaped; the good news is, I sat at the far end.

Hall & Oates were ok, Carrie says. I know not. Watching it on a giant screen didn’t quite cut it. (Nor did they, frankly. One of them kept eyeing his watch, but I couldn’t tell who).

Me? I didn’t have a watch to eye. (It’s not a Bogart thing). I did have a cellphone, though, and I used it for many things. During “Sarah Smile”, for example, I computed the number of glass tiles in the overhead ceiling. (Ed. Note 7: 7 x 9 x 48). (Ed. Note 8: How bored was I? In nary a set I achieved what in Park Synagogue’s Main Sanctuary had been a lifetime goal!).  Was not my ennui understandable?  Heck, I didn’t like the ’70′s the first time I’d lived them!

Ah, but there were things to watch. Like the always-fat women clogging the aisles and dancing all night. Why ALWAYS are they bigger than me? And don’t they have mirrors at home? And what’s with the skinny blonde, perpetually upright and ALWAYS in the row in front of me? Someone should tell her that she’s good from far, but far from good. (I can say this, Brad Pitt that I am). Ah, but I shouldn’t complain. At least she was blocking the giant screen.

—And I’m not complaining at all, mind you. Not at all.

I spent the night, you see, with a smiling brother. Ours was quality time—-not a song out of tune.

And I woke up on Sunday, Ocean Eyes at my side.

And she agrees with me: that the music’s over.

PREPARATION H

Friday, May 9th, 2014

My Dad taught me early on that certain circumstances mandate treating life as but a scripted reality show. (And, YES, ‘twas a lesson learned long before we were plagued with such programming). One quick example: In college days when one might fill his gas tank for five bucks or so, occasions arose where I would drive friends to Cleveland and back. His recommendation? That I discreetly give one of my pals a dollar and ask him to wait until we were half-way up 71 and to then ceremoniously offer to chip in for gas. Then, he reasoned, the rest of the car would follow suit. “They should offer on their own”, he would add, juxtaposing his code of honor on others. “Actually,” he’d add, “You’re really doing them a favor. You’re saving them the embarrassment if their parents should ask.”

Make no mistake about it: when it comes to the scripted reality of this millennium, Hal Bogart’s my “go to” guy. (Especially for all things nonsensical). It’s not that we can’t play like adults. Au contrere. It’s just that —and I believe I speak for both of us — no one touches our inner idiots like we do each other’s.

Some scoff at the length of our colloquies. They roll their eyes in frustration as the Brothers Von Bogart dissect and trisect what to many are but mundane matters. But are they? And are not the paths of our discourse ripe bounties of profound logic?

Should we serve strong or weak coffee at our mother’s party? It will, after all, be evening and what if the people aren’t really coffee drinkers…and should we buy weak coffee from Starbucks or strong coffee from Caribou and should we have non-dairy creamer as well as half-and-half and what about milk …but then if we have dairy what about the one person in the crowd that maintains kashrut and does that mean we need different spoons and should we get plastic and if we do should they match the paper plates and if we have paper plates would it not make sense to buy them at the Dollar Store…but then what if our aunt asks the two of us why we spent money on paper plates when “surely you could have brought them from home”…which, of course, always somehow ends with me driving her home and where as she gets me one-on-one this lifetime leader of passive aggression will warmly remind me that if I didn’t spend money on paper plates that I didn’t need I would have money in the bank right now….

Yes, some deride this recurring yet earnest dialogue. (These nay-sayers are typically B or even B+ students constrained by rote upbringing. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist like Howard Ross however to sense true beauty in our fraternal exchange. Indeed, if one really listens, he hears not nonsense, but connection.

—And so it was that I missed Little Herb through his recent stint down at Seidman. (Not that we didn’t sit there … make plans…orchestrate)—

“Please call your aunt and tell her I’m too tired to talk.”
“What if she asks how I know?”
“Tell her I emailed you.”
“But what if she says that if you’re strong enough to be on the computer then surely you could have called her’”?
“Then tell her you haven’t spoken to me since I went to the hospital.”
“OK— and what if she asks if I was down here to see you?”
“Margie,” he mused, somewhat lost with introspection, “What do you think the answer should be? Was Uncle Bruce here?”

Little help was my sister-in-law. (She’s seen this movie before). There was thunder in her silence.

“I don’t care what you want me to tell her,” I assure him. “As long as we’re on the same page.”
“What do you WANT to say?” he asked.
“I’d rather go with the truth. It’s easier to remember. Who knows when she’ll get around to asking you?”
“OK.”
“But what if she wants to know why I didn’t ask her to come down with me?”
“Tell her I wasn’t strong enough for company, but that you were an exception.”
“And what if she asks if your kids were down here?”
“Tell her you don’t know.”
“But she’ll ask why I didn’t ask.”

FINALLY…FINALLY Margie chimed in: “Why don’t you both grow some __________”, she demanded, signaling the end of the conversation.

Hal was discharged days later and that fire was put out. Others smoldered, of course, and me? I had to face them with the help of rank amateurs.

—-Like last Sunday…Jack’s Deli.
—-With Carrie and Leesa. (Lovely people, of course…but as I said: “rank amateurs”.

We weren’t at dinner five minutes when the lady of my life spoke. “When Bruce spoke to Harold” she began …

Then she saw my face—
And she heard my voice…change the subject….deftly.

Dodged a bullet, thought I, my segue hurdling over the hazard. And relaxed I was, until Leesa spoke up.

“It was nice to meet Michael, Aunt Helen.”

She never quite heard it. Interrupting LOUDLY, somewhere between the c and the h (of “Michael”), I’d eluded another. And my stare at Leesa? (Think Margie at the hospital).

Dinner progressed and the talk turned quite safe. Hal was missing, though, and we fumbled through our reality show unscripted.

THE LIVING YEARS

Monday, May 5th, 2014

I thought about it but then dialed the number. Who was I kidding? Of course it would go to voice mail.

  • “Happy Birthday to you….”

All I could think about was that old saw: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” (Well, that’s not really true— my thoughts were plenty. Indeed, my mind swarmed with intersecting memories…).

She fought with her family — but I got a pass. Her support, I was…and a conduit…and a bridge.

Was I wise enough? Or in denial? Or too quiet? Or too loud?

Did I not comfort her when I sat at counseling? Did I not buffer her when occasion rose? Or did I sit silently? And blindly…

  • “Happy Birthday to you….”

When a child rejects you it doesn’t anger you so much at first as it does hurt. And perplex. And make you wonder WHAT—even if she is right—what could be so bad? (So I paused, and reflected, and angered before again I paused because—and it’s so true: anger dies but never love). I her father, I reasoned.

“You’re responsible for the effort, not the outcome,” my sponsor reminded, and I bought in.

I would reach out and pray. And lay low and pray. And love.

With my eyes I saw hurt in my children. With my ears I heard still how they cared. And loved.

Stunned, I was, when my daughter went south. Blown away.

I looked in the mirror but it didn’t add up. “Give time time,” I was told (and I listened). My mood stayed serene and my rhythm in tact, but….when she told me just days before her baby that I needn’t fly out….my soul: it volcanoed.

—Still I gave time time—

  • “Happy Birthday dear Hailey….”

It wasn’t ABOUT me. Not really. Sure she should have her grandfather and Yes, I should feel her hug. But I’m out here and she’s up there… and…and…

Will she ever know the warmth, the nexus of cousins? Of aunts? Of uncles? Will her brother too be punished by mysteries of stubborn past?

I’ve long since ceased wondering why. I’ve long since stopped intellectualizing that no matter what the genesis, it didn’t justify walking away from the family, pivoting from love, disobeying Commandment.

With purity of heart … truly … I’ve given it to God. Let Him reconcile.

And yet, that having been said…I wonder:

What will Hailey and Matthew ever hear, ever learn, ever know of their mother’s family? Will there even be a hint of how much each of us misses what was and what still could be?

I had a great-grandfather, David Diamond. He was Grandma Bogart’s dad and Aunt Helen’s grandpa. They called him “Zaydie”. Zaydie died when I was four but I have this image of him (I don’t know whether it’s pure memory or a combination of pictures and family remembrances, but does it matter?) with his white beard, white-collared shirt…sitting silently at the dining room table upstairs at Great Aunt Blanche’s house. He lived there and they told me that Cousin Norm and my father’d play gin with him most Sundays. (It was their grandfather, you see, and they banked the moments).

I have four cousins—only four. And a myriad of second cousins…and first cousins once removed…and cousins like Lilly Flate that no one could ever quite say how we were related….and other “cousins” like Marilyn Schiffman from Detroit (whose son Marvin had the big nose), of whom not only can no one quite confirm consanguinity, but no one quite cares. (After all, she always showed up at Bar Mitzvahs).

  • “Happy Birthday to you….”

—And I have Hailey. And Matthew. And Eli and Lucy and Max (their cousins), of whom they’ve not glimpsed—

I don’t know if Hailey will ever hear that voice mail. In some ways it matters not. I do know that when a tree falls in a forest—or even a voice sings in recording—a sound is heard.

And it is the sound of love. Happy Birthday, Hailey. We miss you.

                “…Say it loud, say it clear
                You can listen as well as you hear
                It’s too late when we die
                To admit we don’t see eye to eye….”

Mike And The Mechanics

WE FIVE

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

We sat inside on a sunny Thursday…the five of us….in common purpose.

Patricia is an elegant lady. Always has been. We first met in the halcyon days of junior high. It was then that boys from the 90% Jewish Rowland first mixed with good looking Christian girls from other elementary schools. Actually, it’s a stretch to say I’d met her. No, in those days introverts like me never had the kishkehs to speak to cool girls — unless of course they were “grandfathered in” from Rowland. New girls? Never. Not me. (Except for Cindy, of course, whom I met working Greenview’s cafeteria). So let me suggest that I knew who Pat was back then, and let’s let it go at that.

‘ Round that time that we met Ned. I did know him. Not that I ever felt his social equal, of course. I figured he was up there on the food chain, sort of like the Snyders, Cohns and Auerbachs of the world. Still, he was —even then — a nice guy… approachable. And may I also say (quoting the great George Costanza) that notwithstanding my “unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality”, even back then, Ned too was elegant.

And Jimmy Masseria. He was there. Hymie Massarabbo, as he once was called. I knew Jim first, of course—and in some ways— back in the schoolyard days….I knew him best. Could not have been easy for him growing up Catholic in our sea of tribe. Still there he was, is, and remains, a solid statue cemented to the landscape of my life.

And Bobby. Bobby. An impenetrable bond exists between us and in fact it was he that had sent me the email and called to see if I would be there. How perplexing is the irony that this gentle soul, this man of constancy and loyalty, this unwavering friend constant in his values since the sixth grade days of R.E.N., remains the most misunderstood member in our troupe. It shouldn’t be.

So there we were. We five—together in one room for the first time since ’67, (give or take a reunion or two).

—There to pay respects to another, whose Mom had passed.

Barry too was a South Euclid boy. We’ve run in concentric circles over the years, intersecting time to time. Periodically it’s at Tasty’s; more often than not it’s at reunions… yet once in a while, when it really matters.

Like last Thursday—
When his mother died—-
And the six of us were under one roof.