Archive for August, 2014

KALOOMS (WITH A VIEW)

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

“Bruce, my boy,” Ben Selzer would muse, “You have the world by the kalooms”. Thirty-something then, I sensed what he said, but didn’t quite grasp it. For years I’d been hearing it in different verbiage from my father: “By the balls,” he would say (more graphically)… “Little boy, you’ve got the world by the balls”.

I was 35 when Al Bogart died and 45 when Ben S followed suit. By 55 however, I’d embraced it. The good times and bad: they’d ebb and they’d flow. On balance, ‘twas clear, I’d been pretty well blessed.

They speak in recovery of having an “attitude of gratitude”. Not that I ever really had a chip on my shoulder, but for the longest of times I saw world as half-empty. Not that I ever quite moped around, but in my darkest of times I could well play the victim.

Closed were my eyes back then, to the wisdom of my fathers.

Gate 3C, Hopkins, Saturday…looking back -

Three weeks sober, sitting in the rear of a meeting… avoiding eye contact… a gravelly old man got right in my face…

“What the f are you so sad about, Bogart? You’re here, aren’t you?”
(I sure didn’t know him, but he somehow knew me).
“What are you grateful for today?” he inquired.
(My silence provoked him).
“Do you have a gratitude list?” he then asked.
(“Really?” I wondered. “Here I am,” I was thinking, “Two kids out of town, the third with her mother, bills up the ying-yang, sitting with these losers…and this clown thinks I should be HAPPY?”). My laundry list was probably still being thought out when:
“Why don’t you do yourself a favor? he pushed on. “Take a moment each day and write down three things you’re grateful for. Just try it.”

It was one of those times in my life where — for whatever reason — I listened. Maybe it was timing. It surely wasn’t me! Sitting alone, feeling alone, I’d been given the gift of desperation.

And I listened.

Lists were made. Daily. Did so for years, actually. Wrote ‘em until…until…it came naturally: that attitude of gratitude. Until I saw daily what Ben and Al had spoken.

I thought about it yesterday, awaiting my flight. Sixteen years later. Plus. While I waited to board. And it still felt good.

Good enough, let’s say, to write one again.

GRATITUDE LIST FOR AUGUST 30, 2014.

1. Let’s start with the obvious: Here I am heading out west to see Stacy. Could time be better spent?

2. Arrangements with Michael. Plans were made Friday to spend a weekend together — just father and son — watching football. It’ll be in January; I can’t wait.

My father once told me …it was 1977 … he from Columbus and me from Cleveland were flying to Chicago to connect on to Vegas…how “wonderful it was” that his adult son wanted to spend time with him. I heard him then, believed him then, yet understand it now.

3. Carrie. Whether it be after a trip to Max and Eli on the coast or after a flight to Lucy Bohrer in Chicago, is there any better angel to return to? Home with Carrie is where my heart is.

I made the list yesterday, thoughts flitting ‘tween my father and my father-in-law and that crusty old man from the church basement.

And I smiled.

I have the world by the kalooms, I well knew, and the view is wondrous.

I BELIEVE

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The kids moved away and I accepted. Different world now. Greener pastures for them.  Not once did I think it through: that I’d be a part-time grandpa.

No one’s fault, of course. Just the way it is. I see them thrice a year. Birthdays, holidays that fall on weekends…sort of like the new millennium’s version of the old Bob Hope NBC specials. You know:  not a regular weekly series— not something they can count on.  No, I’m more like a pop-up video; I’m there, then I’m gone.

I wondered, one night: do they know me at all? Do they see me as a cartoon or have a sense of my character. And so I wrote.

Dear Eli, Hailey, Lucy, Matthew and Max,

Some of you I know better than others. Some of you I’ll know better in time. Some of you were told I died in Vietnam.

It matters not.

What does matter is that, since I’ll never get you all in one room at once, I need for you to know my insides — stuff your parents won’t share.

Oh, they’ll state the accepted facts, I’m sure. You know: generic stats to gloss me over…

Like that your Grandpa Bruce was born in Cleveland and that he lived, loved and bled it. And they’ll mention that I met your grandmother at Ohio State, that she made me go to law school, and that we had three kids, got divorced after twenty-some years—and they may even tell you that back in the day my ex derisively called me “Mr. Fun.” (It’s true). Heck, if you get ‘em in a mood to talk you might even hear things like I was smart, overweight, polite, prone to be naïve, overly sensitive, perhaps trusted the wrong people, and was both insecure and confident. (Also true).

Let me, though, share with you my insides: the thoughts and matters I relied on… the tenets that, whether accurate or not, were MY TRUTHS and beliefs… things your parents may not have bought into, didn’t wish to pass down, but that you need to hear….

The things that made me ME. (And I am part of you)!

Know me, children, and know what made me tick—

Laugh if you want. Roll eyes if you wish. But this is me kids, from my moral compass to my mishegos.

I BELIEVE

—- In family, loyalty, love and our country.

I believe in running on first down in football, hitting behind the runner in baseball, and puhleeeze, don’t get me started on the “Designated Hitter” rule!

And I love playing cards. In poker, don’t call if you can’t take the raise. In gin, get on the board first, under the count next, and always cut the deck. And NEVER, in hearts, pass the queen without protection. Aside to Max and Eli: your mother’s wrong; you SHOULD count the cards.

I believe in multi-tasking. I brush teeth in the shower, ‘lectric shave as I drive, love to read when I eat.

I believe it’s ok to be politically incorrect. If something’s funny, it’s funny. It’s all right, for example, to note that Italians are capable of acting Jewish and Jews act quite Italian—but that Protestants can’t fake either. Tell me I’m wrong.

And it’s ok to do what you want to do as long as you don’t upset others. I sleep with the tv on, for one thing. And another: I’d rather watch the same great movie three times than see three different good movies once.

I believe in being real. Each of you: be comfortable in your own skin. Like, hey! I’m not embarrassed to tell you I believe in the Bible tales. Did the Red Sea part? I don’t know. Did Cain slay Abel. I’m not sure. But I believe…and you should.

I believe in respecting others, but being me. F’em if they don’t like your style. Be kind but be real.

We all stumble.  Just stumble with dignity.

I believe what other people think of you is none of your business.

I believe in listening with my eyes.

And I believe you can tell how a man will treat a woman by the way he treats his mother.

Respect others, kids, but be yourselves. And don’t forget where you came from. Do you really think Oprah would crusade against texting in a car if she didn’t have a driver?

I believe the whole world is anti-Semitic primarily because they truly fear we are the Chosen people. And that’s ok, because there IS a God; he did choose us; and Yes, he does look like George Burns.

I believe laughter is the best medicine, crying’s sometimes called for and waiting for the magic is mandatory.  There has to be magic,kids. There has to be.

Oh, and I believe the good guys win in the end. Always. And I know your parents, kids, so you’re all good guys. And I love each of you.

See you soon (I’d like to believe),

Grandpa Bruce

UNFORGETTABLE

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

I heard it said that one doesn’t truly die ‘til people stop talking of him. It’s true. Twenty-nine years after my father’s “death”, (Yahrtzeit was Friday), his star shines bright. To this day friends tell stories and family looks back as Al Bogart lives.

He was the perfect blend of renaissance and resistance: the conduit of my dreams yet drummer of my reality. We shared thoughts and theories, laughs and losses… and time. Did I always agree with him? Hardly. Was his logic quixotic? Often. But were his actions ever less than honorable? Never.

Perhaps it was a blessing my parents divorced. At liberty to unveil past foibles, he spoke frankly when needed. “I tell you this not so you’ll laugh,” he would clarify, “But so you’ll learn from them.” In pain buoyed by love he’d remind me “You don’t have to make the same mistakes as me.”

—So we spoke of good things and bad, rough things, awkward things, and matters, YES, that others might not share with fathers. Still, though touching all bases he never spoke nonsense.

“How many quarts of water are there in Lake Erie?” I might ask.
“Why don’t you save that kind of question for Bobby or Stuart?”

Circumstances had made our relationship somewhat of a day-night doubleheader. He was there in the morning (‘ere our parents’ divorce), and he was there in the evening (having regained his stride).

(And he’s stayed for the post-game…in my heart).

—Which is why decades later… at forks in the road … to this day… I find myself wondering “What would my father think? What would my father do?”

—And why decades later … at forks in the road … to this day … I know what he’d say. And know what he’d do …

Even in this, a world he never would recognize.

Oh, to be sure, his thoughts could be numbing:

“The microwave,” he opined, “will be the downfall of the American family”. How we chuckled en masse — Harriet, Harold, Margie, me.
(But not my father…who if he were here today would pronounce he’d been right).

Or the time in ’72: Ohio State had reneged on its promise to me and with no political contacts he just picked up the phone and called down to the Statehouse … even scoring a meeting with Gilligan. It got us nowhere, of course, and my Dad couldn’t digest it.

“Rhodes may have been a crook,” he pointed out, “But he’d have done the right thing”.

So often he let heart trump cynicism and wink at life’s harsh realities—like when I’d chided him as Nixon resigned: “It doesn’t say much for YOU Bruce if you kick a man when he’s down.”

My father found a way to live with the carnage of his past mistakes and grant character to the thrust of his life. As such, he was larger than life…

And lives on.

I honor him to this day. And I cherish him to this day. And Yes, with laughter and tears I know even in now what he’d say of people, places and things that he just never laid eyes on.

The end of my marriage (early 90’s): “Unavoidable.”
Me drinking too much (late 90’s): “Don’t you have anything better to do with your time?”
Me entering a Twelve Step program: “What does Michael Jacobson think?”

From entertainment and sports…

Lebron James (2010): “He’s a schmuck”.
Lebron James (2014): “He grew up”.
Art Modell: “He forgot where he came from”.
Tattooed young celebrities: “Their parents must be so proud.”
Left-wing actors: “They should stick to acting.”
Right-wing actors: “They should stick to acting.”
Sophia Vergara: “Healthy woman.”
Jay Leno: “He couldn’t shine Carson’s shoes.”
Johnny Carson: “He’s funny, but he couldn’t shine Steve Allen’s shoes.”
Steve Allen: “Good, but did you ever see Jerry Lester?”

To politics and family…

Obama: “Not ready for prime time.”
Romney: “Don’t they have something better?”
Democrats: “No talent.”
Republicans: “No compassion but good for Israel.”
Aunt Helen: “I’m so proud of you boys.”
Hal: “Have you spoken to your brother lately?” (He’d be asking me daily).
My kids: “Are they OK? I don’t need details. Are they OK?”
My ex: “She knew how to play hearts.”
My job: “You should have stuck with sales. Look at your friend Marc.”
My core friends (Bobby, Mark, Stuart, Kraut, Walt, etc…): “You’ve been blessed.”
Carrie: “You found your Harriet.”

My Dad thrives in my spirit. Still smiling when I smile, still hurting when I hurt, he is here. I wish the Caryn Millers and Jason Bohrers in my life had gotten to meet him, but it wasn’t to be. They see him though — for whatever it’s worth — in me.

How lucky I am that my Dad’s still alive.

HONEST, ABE

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Dear Mr. Cohen,

You may not remember me. I mean, it’s been what…fifty-five years? I lived three doors from you and used to play with your sons up at Rowland. Morton and my younger brother Hal were in the same grade. Stuart Fenton, who lived next to you, was my best friend. Once in a while, even, I was at your house.

I remember you, and the few times we interacted.

Once you refereed a wrestling match between Morton and myself in your basement on Bayard. Those were the days we used to watch The Gallagher Brothers, Lord Layton, and Bobo Brazil on black and white TV. Boy were my parents surprised to hear you let us fight on cement!

There was another time—another good memory — when you took a bunch of us to your job at the New York Central rail yards. Stuart was there, and Ricky too. We road on the open box cars. It was like a field trip without teachers!

Those memories have legs, Mr. Cohen, and bring back simpler times.

I was in New York last week, awaiting a flight from LaGuardia, when I read of your death.  Committed to be in Painesville an hour before your next-day services, I hadn’t anticipated being able to attend. As such, I was wearing a burgundy dress shirt on Thursday — not necessarily funeral attire.

Anyway, court ended quickly and, driving like a maniac that day I arrived right at noon. The last thing I wanted to do at that point was walk in as it started and walk to the front (dressed as I was). So I sat in the back…with nary an angle on the family room.

—And I listened intently —

Grateful I was learning that the second half of your life was so joyous. You were a nice man, nice to us kids, and Lord knows you deserved it. I’ve got to tell you though, for the first time in my life, sitting in that chapel, I felt ire toward a rabbi.

Look, I’m thrilled that in your second marriage you hit it out of the park and found happiness. Frankly, Stu and I knew your first wife was nuts. Well we recall playing swift pitching across the street from your home and how, one day, a batted ball trickled into your shrubs. That thing you were married to bolted out of the house screaming, grabbed our ball, and retreated inside.

So we sort of got it, even as young kids, when one day you evaporated. And we understand, to this day, of life’s second acts.

Not once in the eulogy however, was Morton acknowledged. Nor, for that matter, was there mention of Garry (who died so young). That wasn’t right, Mr. Cohen. It wasn’t your doing, but it was wrong. Very wrong. Omitting them? Not the right thing to do.

I guess what burned me most though was when the rabbi gave a shout out to your stepson. Again, I’m thrilled you two bonded; it sounds like you raised him. I met him back at his house and he seemed to be nice. Clearly you’d both been good for each other.

But did the rabbi’s homage really require a tribute to the guy proclaiming “You were the son Abe always wanted”?

Really?

I sat in the chapel, listening, but couldn’t see Morton. But I felt for him. And I thought of Garry. And I angered.

They were your sons, Mr. Cohen, and I don’t know what went on or why—and I don’t care. They were your sons.

A handful of times—not much more—have I seen Morton in decades. Every once in while we’ll bump into each other on Fridays at Marc’s. I’m with my aunt; he’s alone; we always speak. What a mensch he is! Do you know there’s never a time he doesn’t ask about Hal? Never.

I left the funeral dazed the other day. Bothered. Confused. Needing to vent.

I called Stuart from the car and we spoke.

Of you … and Morton and Garry … and the New York Central.

And I drove home past Bayard and stopped to see Morton. (I think he still lives there).

He wasn’t home, by the way; but it matters not. Some day our paths will cross once again.

And he’ll ask about Harold.

Morton, your son, does the right thing.

Rest in peace,

Bruce

SOUNDS IN THE KEY OF LIFE

Friday, August 8th, 2014

With mixed emotion I left town last week. Unlike most excursions, I was not flying to a life cycle event. Sure I’d see the kids and Yes I’d stay in Westchester but truth be known, this trip was for me. This jaunt, you see — this absence from Carrie’s comfort — was taken for one reason only: to see a play in Edison, New Jersey.

What’s that your mumbling, conscience? When am I going to grow up? Can’t growing up sometimes mean embracing your passions?

Listen, Inner Voice: Don’t bother pointing out (as Aunt Helen did) that I was just in New York. And don’t chuckle at my theater doings either. Know…just know I take it seriously. Get that when I direct a show I study it. So, OK, this one was for me… to see “Bye Bye Birdie” in a big venue and maybe learn. This one was me — blending insecurity with diligence — looking to know that when the show goes up in January I’ll have left nothing in the locker room.

Yeah, I planned it. Saw it on line months ago. Right after getting the gig. Map-quested it, considered driving straight to Jersey, studied options with Michael, blocked out the work week, and finally… August came.

Anyway, I left on Saturday. Waking to a Carrie-less home, (she was babysitting Evelyn), downing the morning coffee she leaves me daily, I passed through security with hours to spare.

My flight? Asleep before takeoff, awakened by touchdown, I was, most importantly, greeted by Michael and Max. We were on to their homestead, all systems on schedule.

The boys were great. Beautiful. Meredith too. Eli crawls in perpetual motion, his eyes shining with the glow of Wieder’s smile when Snyder hit the cut-off man. As younger brother, he still plays the off-guard. Max has the point, rules the court, directs traffic. The good news: it’s great to watch; the bad news: he’s apparently traded Elmo for Carly Rae Jepsen. If I hear “Call Me Maybe” one more time I’m going to wish I had my mother’s ears.

Cacaphony aside, seeing them strut their stuff, hanging out absent the pressure of time — you know: weekends when you land one minute and pack to return the next — was wonderful.

Being… observing … absorbing…laughing …

Warm and fuzzy it was, watching Michael with the one year old.

“This is a flower”, he showed him, holding the petal. How wonderful, I thought, that the kid’s being taught. How precious it was, that my son took the time.

Of course other lessons left mixed emotions:

“Eli, where is your head?” asked the father (and the kid pointed aptly).
“And where are your ears? (Two small hands raised in sync).
“And where, Eli,” urged Michael, pausing … pointing dramatically … securing attention… ”Where is Grandpa’s big nose?” (Ed. Note: Stacy says she didn’t know my nose was big until I got glasses a few years back).

Eli wasn’t the only one that learned, of course. Indeed, where would I be without the wisdom of my children?  I did not know, for example, that men my age should not wear tee shirts with printing on them. Solid only is the mandate. Nor did I know that using Sweet N Low in lieu of sugar was a bad thing. God I love my kids. And well I know that that they tell me these things ONLY because they love me and want me to dress well and be well.  But F’in A, do they really think that the moment I touch ground in Ohio I won’t be donning “Odd Couple” regalia and drowning my eggplant in powder?

Nor did I know people don’t eat in bed. (I think they tried to teach me that one before but the lesson comes slowly. Fact is I snuck a banana into my room Sunday night, dutifully smuggling the peel out the next morning and disposing it at the Starbucks in downtown Chappaqua.

The weekend flew by. The play would be Tuesday. With no show on Sunday, plans were to head down with the Millers, see the show, sleep in Great Neck, and fly out on Wednesday. Easy. In the meantime: quality time.

—I babysat Saturday. The boys were sleeping when they left, so I watched TV a bit and the monitor a lot, texting Meredith with precise, timely updates. (I think she trusts me more. Status reports are no longer 20 but 30 minutes apart).

—We hit the zoo Sunday. The Bronx Zoo: 265 acres (I looked it up) with hundreds of animals and nary a restroom. I looked for them too.

—We were a family, doing what I love most: marveling at the ordinary.

And Yes: Saturday just chillin’ became Sunday at the zoo became Monday at the coffeehouse.

Became Tuesday… and don’t ask! Turned out the theater was outdoor only; turned out rain left the performance an if; turned out it made no sense to schlep an hour and a half each way for an 8:30 curtain that might never rise.

Turned out…well, what’s that they say? People make plans and God laughs.  And it turned out, YES, common sense trumped even my passion.

So no show was seen.  Just life.  Ordinary life.  Extraordinary life.  Family life.

I did, by the way, sleep at Chez Miller Tuesday.  Better yet, awakening Wednesday, as I readied to leave… who should walk up the steps but one Caryn Miller—cup of java in hand.

“We are NOT going to be outdone by any Carrie!” she exclaimed.

(It’s good to be loved).

So I sipped, smiling…and then Stuart drove me to LaGuardia.  And I flew home to Carrie.

And a second cup.

WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Dear Carrie,

Two years! Whodda thunk it?

You know how we disagree on whether our first date was August 1 of 2012 or three nights later? Well, not that it matters but…

Substantial proof exists establishing that the night at Cain Park was just not a “date”. I cite you, my love, to Robert’s Rules Of Order as authored by my friend Bob. Bobby’s edict: always kiss them on the first date! Surely you recall then how that Wednesday night … not once did I cross the neutral zone!

Ah, but why focus on that? Better to recall the linchpin of our nexus — that very next morning when I answered your text.

“Are you in?” you had asked.
“With both feet” I shot back.

—Or a week later, when from an I-80 motel en route to the east I emailed you the link to a song you had not yet heard:

       “…If only you saw what I can see,
       You’ll understand why I want you so desperately…”

Brash words after 8 days, don’t ya think (for a shy kid from Bayard).

—Or a week after that, when I returned from out east to your invitation for dinner with Leesa. (She MUST have been wondering just what I was doing there).

Brash move, I would say … (for one Carrie Jo Leimsieder).

You were beautiful even then, C.J.

I saw it in the twinkle of your Ocean Eyes and felt it in the texture of your mending heart. I sensed it in your loyalties to family and friends and saw it in your respect for mine.

I fancied your face, was charmed by your grace, but fell in love with the beauty of your spirit. You were South Euclid, (OK, Upper South Euclid), and I loved it.

You were real. You were genuine. You were simply the nicest person I’d ever met.

‘Must have been a month or so after we started dating. I know I told you at the time. It was a Wednesday morning and Art and I were walking through the lot at Corky’s. Standing there between cars, he could not only see my happiness but feel my joy.

“B,” he said, “You know why it’s so easy?”
I sighed, saying nothing.
“Because it’s right”, he concluded.

-–And it’s BEEN right, Carrie, these two solid years.

For twenty-four months we’ve shared births, deaths, weddings, funerals, and hands…

For a hundred and two weeks we’ve laughed, cried, teased, pleased, and shared.

And through it all, one thing’s been constant: YOU.

You see, Carrie, what I saw then, I see now: YOU.

Then as now, Carrie: YOU.

Real. Genuine. A compelling twinkle of Ocean Eyes.

And, oh yeah: simply the nicest person I have ever met.

So ask me Carrie … text me again with the “Are you in?” question. Go ahead, but know the answer has changed.

“With both feet” is outdated, C.J. Has been for a while.

I’m in with all my heart, Carrie. Forever and a day.

               “…Baby you light up my world like nobody else…”

C. Falk