Archive for September, 2014

CLOSING TIME

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

“Closing time! Open all the doors and let you out into the world…”

It was exactly as Dickens wrote: the best of times and the worst of times. Indeed from July’s first rehearsal through Sunday’s final curtain of “The Fantasticks”, I was seeking a comfort zone. Oh, the show found critical acclaim, to be sure, but the subtle yet persistent tension to it all kept the process compelling and kept me stretching. When the dust finally settled…both emotionally and physically…I was drained.

It’s a simple show really, but for me so difficult. Part rhyme, part free verse, this tale of fathers and their children chronicles the minefields of love and life. As musical comedies go this one — heavy on music and light on comedy — is just not in my wheelhouse. Can I sing harmony? (Not even in the shower). Can I dance (At Bar Mitzvahs).

So what was I doing in the show? (you might ask). Easy answer: I’m great at auditions. Others get nervous; I don’t. Others try to impress with mournful ballads or textured arias; I don’t. I sell schmaltz, my friends. No more, no less. For twenty years now every director for whom I’ve tried out has heard me sing the same song. Unabashed, unembarrassed, I strut to the century-old “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”. Schmaltz, I tell you!

And…not always but often…I get cast. And as such, every now and then…I’m out of my league.

“…Closing time: You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here…”

For eight weeks we rehearsed, and I drove a half hour each way.
For three weeks we ran, with calls two hours pre-curtain. For a lot of time I was driving, sitting, thinking…reading the script, hearing the lines…and relating.

— To the passage of time, and my children.
— And the passage of time, and their growth.
— And the passage of time, and the future.

What parent hasn’t time-travelled back? What father, wistful in thought, hasn’t hurt for his kids? What parent, right or wrong, hasn’t regretted?

Accepted?

Backstage I’d sit, juxtaposing fears for my next dance ‘gainst the lines of the show. The climax approaching I walk on:

“Not a word,” I tell the audience. “He’s been gone a month and I haven’t had a single word.”

How could I not think of Jamie? Every night.

I love every word of that show—every word. Not a night went by that my eyes didn’t moisten, that some part didn’t move me.
Believe me.

“…I know what I want to take home…”

What I’ll remember most, though, was the last show— and one pregnant moment. We had just finished “Plant A Radish”, an upbeat (and on a few nights even show-stopping) duet. Having walked offstage, resting, I knew: excepting a sequence at the tail of the show I was done. All in. Pressure off. Fifteen minutes from final curtain, my work now concluded, I let go. And teared. Quietly. With multiple emotions — and gratitude.

A myriad of good people had pushed me through the process — all three months of it.

—Cast members’ patience with my voice…
—The other “father”’s endurance of our dances…
—The pep talk from Grover (a real actor—equity, no less)…
—Good wishes from the Caryn Millers of the world as I opened…
—Multiple voice mails from Lucy through the run.

“Break a leg, Pappy”, I’d play for the cast.

— And Carrie, and her home where my heart is….
— Where whether I dance or sing, I can play leading man.

“…Closing time: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end….”

(Dan Wilson/Semisonic, adapted).

 

THE COMMON DENOMINATOR

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

Five men sat as one. Five friends honored past, reveled in present, and celebrated each other….

The common denominator was Rowland Elementary School.

We met in the innocence of Eisenhower years. Sharing emotional community, our true neighborhood was bound not only by religion but landscape. First, everyone at school was Jewish (including the Catholics. I mean really: did not Masseria take off all High Holy Days? And two days of Rosh HaShana, at that!). Secondly: tight geography. From 4111 Linnell to 1651 Wrenford to 4269 and 4249 Bayard to 1927 Warrensville –Mark ‘round our world to Kraut — was it really much more than a mile?

The common denominator was age.

Sixty-five this year (wink to Arthur). With Stu up north and Erv willing to drive, why not share milestones? (Not that it didn’t take sixteen emails, three votes, and ultimately — when Moxie was closed — a command decision). Still, we did last Sunday … at Red. Not a bad venue for five guys from South Euclid.

The common denominator was friendship.

First came the timely. Opening minutes filled with Fenton and Ermine expounding strategies of Social Security. If you have a wife do this…if your wife still works do that…if…if….

Ed. Note 1: Too much for this clown. Better with batting averages, unmarried as well, patiently I waited until their oral treatise mercifully ended. And then:

“Stuart, just tell me what to do.”
“B, you take it at 66.”
(No muss, fuss, or details. The way I like it. In Friends I Trust).

The night filled with mirth.

We smiled as Mark ordered “Grey goose chilled up very very cold, twist.” (At Greenview he couldn’t spell “goose”.)

The common denominator was sharing.

Laughing and listening to shouldas and wouldas and couldas…and “Ifs”.

IF I hadn’t been insecure about this…IF Bob had known that…I woulda done this and Bob woulda done that.

Mark would have been a physician. Bob would have stayed in broadcasting. It was Stuart however, playing doctor that night.

“Who at the table has ADD?” he posed coyly. (I figured Art).
“Why it’s The B!” he exclaimed. (I thought he was kidding).
“Absolutely!” chimed Snyder.
“Are you serious?”
“You don’t think you have ADD?” Fenton howled.
“You should see him at breakfast” roared Bobby, even before Stu had finished.
“Have you ever listened to him?” urged Stuey. “Every two seconds he’s on a new topic.”

This onslaught from Newman and Kramer was somewhat enjoyable. There were two lifelong friends, a half-century later, carving new territory. (Ed. Note 2: Not exactly true. In May Carrie’d mused “You know, if you were going to school now you’d be diagnosed”). So I didn’t push back; I let them laugh; after all, as my Dad would say: “They can’t all be wrong.”

The common denominator was that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

How difficult should it have been to grab a group picture?

“Before dinner,” Bob insisted. Then before anyone objected he voted again. “Before dinner, B”. “OK, Aleph Gadol.”

So from the center of the restaurant en masse we rose and walked to the front. “Not light enough”, Kraut opined as we regained our seats.

So from the center of the restaurant we got up again. “It’s light outside. Let’s take a selfie” said one overgrown teen. “Not good enough”, Kraut opined as we sat down once more.

So from the center of the restaurant we stood yet again. Five schmucks. Five schmucks that everyone in the room was now staring at.

Ed. Note 3: A wasted trip it was not. Reentering the eatery my friend whispered to the cashier: “Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re very attractive.” (Some things never get old. The man still has game. Indeed, hearing his play after all these years…well, it was like seeing McCartney live…with an AARP card).

History kept on repeating. (I couldn’t make this up). Midway through dinner the server behind us knocked down a tray. Clash! Bam! The dishes: they flew. First Ermine applauded. Then Art. And Stu. And me. AND THE TABLE OF SIX TO OUR IMMEDIATE SOUTH!

The common denomination was love.

I told the guys at the onset — before the appetizers… when I had their attention — that they were my baseline. Cornerstones in my life, they were.  Always.

I speak to Bob and Stu the most; Arthur had offered a ride up to Red. It was Erv however (Ed. Note 4: He being both the first AND the last person to fix me up on a date), that I texted as I sat in my car.

“I love you, Brother Mark,” I typed. “Drive safe. See you in October.”

His response was immediate: “Great evening…” he wrote. “…Love u….”

(Like we both didn’t know).

PLAIN WHITE T’S (?)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

I miss not my youth, but being young. I miss not being young but being viewed as young. Or maybe I just miss being relevant.

— Like the days Walt sold me life insurance and not a Medicare supplement. Like when Nielsen actually cared what I watched.

Relevance, my friends, trumps youth.

I don’t know when others first sensed aging. For me it was in a restaurant years ago when a blonde female server addressed me as “sir.” Not that it hurt. (My wince was silent). Still, I noticed it and heard it.

And it registered.

Shortly thereafter I found myself shopping with Michael in Manhattan. At Kenneth Cole, no less! We were both single at the time and a reasonably attractive saleslady approached us. Looked right through me, she did, to ask him: “May I show you something?”   I didn’t break stride but my psyche bruised.

NEVER however did I sense irrelevance. Never — from up times to down, fat days to less-fat, married…divorced … busy…bored…

NEVER did I ever feel like a footnote, a backdrop, a respected but post-prime utility fielder rounding out a roster —-

The twenty-fifth man.

”People your age should not wear tee-shirts with writing on them”, came the proclamation. (Like years earlier, I heard it and it registered — and my wince was silent).

“Really?” thought I, not breaking my smile.

This was not a “fat” thing, I deduced. Indeed, had I been told my belly was too big for a tee, I’d have accepted it. Had I heard “Don’t wear horizontal stripes” or even “Solid white makes you look like a tent” I’d have dealt.

NO, this was a blanket pronouncement. “People your age” said the edict. No more, no less.

Sun poured down on that patio…upon me, my ego, and my Army Veteran tee …

There I stood: clad in the choice shirt of my summer collection…the one Carrie’d gladly pressed for my travel out east….being told to hang it up… and to bring my playbook.

Could it be? (I wondered). Was that really the rule? Should I call Snyder? No. Maybe Ermine. He would know.

Six weeks have now passed, and with them the summer. Fall chills have lessoned the pain and there’s time ‘til next season.  We shall see.

In the meantime I’ll remember, and in the off-season look back:

— At the white tees/blue printing of my Hollywood uniform. How proudly I’d strutted into Miss Shafer’s fifth grade class that spring! We all did in time. Hal wore one, and Howard, and two Fentons … and a half-dozen or so Mandels.

— And the gray tees of Sol’s Boys. Talk about value! Did not Pollack throw lifelong friends and his Premier’s uni under the bus just to play for our squad?

— And the red tees/orange printing of Boobus Bowls past.

Am I really too old to wear these treasured apparel? (I mean…if I could find them…and fit in them?).

In my drawer they lay folded: shirts of more recent years: “The Odd Couple”, “Bye Bye Birdie,” one from a Lustgarden walk. They fit me; they do. Must they stay in Ohio?

Discard them I can’t, I swear. Discard them I won’t!  Maybe one day Lucy will want to wear one to sleep. Maybe one day Eli will google Sol’s Boys. Maybe some day Max’ll…

Oh, who am I kidding? The torch has passed.  I’m stuck with plain whites — tees, that is. The one’s without message.

I’m in my sixties now. Not unfashionable, but afashionable.

Irrelevant.

THE ANNIVERSARY SONG

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

        “The world was in bloom, there were stars in the skies
        Except for the few that were there in their eyes…”

There was a different dynamic ‘tween the wedding of my first and the nuptials of my last. On the bima for Michael, flanked for the first time in decades by the ex, my thoughts tiptoed through tears as I was overcome with ShouldaBeens of us trumped by vibrant pride in him.

And then there was Stacy. Five years ago today. My baby.

Eleven she was when her parents parted. Young then: innocent with eyes looking up always…to her older sister. Eleven as the door to the marriage closed and I moved out forever.

Only eleven.

Then MOMENTS LATER she was 27. Down the semi-spiral staircase…
down the aisle… to Jason.

Beautiful. Precious. Her mother’s daughter, but still my baby.

I remember thinking (that day) how right they looked together. (I’d thought that at the first — years earlier —but it seemed even righter that Sunday at Landerhaven, if possible). And they looked so happy.

I still picture the chuppah. I recall being under it and thinking only of Stacy. Feeling the pride, joy, nachas and confluence of healthy fear for her future buoyed by confidence in her choice.

Their choices.

Them.

—And now, even more moments later — there is Lucy…with my Stacy.

Beautiful. Precious. She is HER mother’s daughter and no longer a baby. Guided, she is, by the most positive of female role models.

And I see Jason. I study how she runs to his arms as he walks through the door. I watch when this strong man melts as he cradles his first…

With pride, joy, nachas, and a confluence of love for their child buoyed by confidence in her future.

Their futures.

Their family.

…The night seemed to fade into blossoming dawn
       The sun shone anew but the dance lingered on
       Could we but recall that sweet moment sublime
       We’d find that their love is unaltered by time….”

(Adapted from Jolson, Chaplin)

BYE FELICIA

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

There’s a sign posted at one of my favorite restaurants. By the register—in plain sight to all — it tells patrons what to expect in service. “Smiling” it says. “Willingness To Help” it promises. “Always Facing The Door”. Oh, yeah, and “Gracious”. I almost forgot that one.

This, however, is the story of another establishment.

The goodbye had been coming for some time now. How often had I sat there and waited patiently for service or groveled plaintively for a second cup of coffee… and been ignored? (Or even worse: had extra caffeine poured by a server giving the look teachers gave as we turned in homework late).

How often did I look across the booth at whomever had joined me and wistfully quote my father. “This would be a great place for a restaurant”, he’d remark.

— And oh so recently, on occasions occuring geometrically — how often had I looked to Jacobson or Carrie with ire in my eyes and declared “I may never come back!”?

Alas, this day’s been coming. It was destined. Once an eatery of choice, it had become, (despite some of the very nice people that work there), a marriage of convenience. Moments from home, (minutes from the office), it was still quicker to sit and there and pout, eyes begging for coffee, than to hop in the car and schlep to Corky’s.

(Where my heart lay).

The final chapter began in June. Aunt Helen, by then, was no longer cooking. As such, three — maybe four times per week — she was ordering in. In addition, since her only requirement for To Go food was that the proprietor’d descended from the Twelve Tribes, more often than not I’d be picking up THERE.

Our routine was quickly cemented:

“Should I tell them you’ll be there in fifteen minutes?”
“Yes, Aunt Helen.”
“Call me when you get there to tell me how much.”
“Yes, Aunt Helen”.

— Like clockwork this rat would navigate the maze…  Dutifully

“You have an order for Bogart?”

Meekly, at the register, it would roll from my mouth. And like clockwork … every time … her bagged food would be ready; I’d pay and I’d leave; and I’d call from my car.

“Fourteen dollars and sixty-five cents” I might say.
“1-4-6-5”?
“Right. 1-4-6-5.”
“Bring the receipt.
“Yes, Aunt Helen.”

Like clockwork….

Until that day in June. It was a Friday, when the wheels came off.    When I hit the front desk that day, the food wasn’t ready. Alas, it wasn’t even started.

“You have to ask at the counter,” I was told.

“Was that YOUR order?” the proprietor asked.
“My aunt. Is there a problem?”
“She didn’t know how much fruit salad she wanted.”
“So?,” I mused, not quite perceiving the problem.  How many times had he seen this frail lady come in on my arm?
“She wanted an order but wouldn’t give me a size.”                                                                                                                                                       “So? Don’t you have an order of fruit salad?”

I still didn’t get it; still don’t.  Of course I know she could be difficult.  (Or worse).  But I’M not.  And NEVER, after maybe thirty years of patronage and ME always being polite, did I expect this:

“I should have hung up on her. She didn’t know what she wanted.”
“She’s 100,” I noted. (She may have been confused, I was thinking, but she was the customer — and a frequent customer — and she was f’ing 100).
“I don’t care. I don’t need it!”

I took the food, paid for the food, and left. But he’d crossed the Rubican.

“Who talks to a customer that way?”, I wondered.   “Yes, the food is good,” I thought, and “Yes” it’s convenient….but REALLY— “Who talks to a customer that way?”

— Two months passed. Almost three. In time I heard her side of the story and, truth be known,  she was more right than wrong. Not that it mattered.  I mean…really —right or wrong…who talks to a customer that way?

Last Friday I went there again. For her.

“You have an order for Bogart?”
(They didn’t have the order).
“I’m sure she called,” I said nicely, while starting to call her.

AND THEN – - –  Mitten driven — From the other register the son (I think) of one of the owners interceded half-scolding. Mildly, mind you.  Not yelling, really. More of a rebuke, I would say, although oddly, I hadn’t been talking to him.

“Listen,” he glared (like a server pouring a third cup of coffee), “Our computer’s down. You’ll have to wait. We couldn’t take the order.
I was about to tell him “Hey listen, I’ve got underwear older than you” when a lady emerged. From the kitchen. With the order.

I took the food, paid for the food, and left.

Forever.

REALITY CHECK:  Forever is a long time.  Let’s just say “On my dime”.

LUCY UP IN “CHI” (WITH BOHRERS)

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Nine rehearsals in twelve nights had me weary. As such, plans were for a weekend respite in Chicago blending rest, relaxation, running lines, and Lucy. It didn’t quite play that way, of course— but what did unfold was so much better…

Barely through security, my one eye not searching for Starbucks caught the scoreboard. Imagine! An earlier, catchable flight could land in O’Hare two-plus hours early. I would grab it, I resolved, unless a) there was an upcharge to switch or b) the walk to the new gate was prohibitive.

It all worked out.

“Lucy wants you to sit next to her,” urged MY baby. “Jason’s golfing; you came in early.” The back seat was ours—gladly.

“Pappy!” the little sprite exclaimed, her smile all aglow.

(Ed. Note: The kids offered me a choice as to a call name. “Grandpa” didn’t fit, I’d figured, since that would have meant I was in my sixties. “Papa” seemed to be everyone’s tag and frankly, I didn’t like the connection to Hemingway. Ah, but “Pappy” was perfect. Years ago, you see, Morris Adelman was dubbed Pappy. He was Aunt Etty’s dad, and a sweeter man you couldn’t find. Sort of like my cousin Gary, with white hair and whiskers).

It was a brilliant Saturday, and we went back to their house.

“Lucy,” show Pappy how you bounce,” urged the mother. And with that this nearly-three year old leaped on her trampoline and played ubergymnast for nearly an hour.

Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce on her tush…and bounce right back up. We were clapping of course, as the kid kept in rhythm.

“Thank you,” she nodded, without losing stride…until inevitably…every what seemed like five solid minutes…she’d give us that semi-curtsy:

“Ta da!” she beamed….before starting again.

(Ed. Note 2: We might still be doing that — I mean the bouncing and applauding thing, but for …

“I have to go potty!” she proclaimed.

“Oh, Lucy, Run!” urged NOT ME. The kid took off —bolted — like she was tagging from third with winning run.

(Ed. Note 3: This was good for all of us. One got relief, another felt pride, and me? I checked my email).

My weekend was many things like that. Sometimes light, sometimes real…always warm. Indeed, the “takeaways”, as the new verbiage goes, were the visuals — the images I flew home with:

Like walking hand-in-hand with The Little One at a carnival—
And watching Jason throw darts to win her a banana—
And riding a merry-go-round with MY Little One as Lucy watched—

Like Sunday breakfast at (where else?) Eggsperience —
And a field trip to Chicago’s Heinen’s. (It felt good, I’ll admit, when its transplanted employee flagged me down with “Hey, may I ask if you’re from Cleveland?)  —
And getting one-on-one time with Adam. (Ed. Note 4: Yes, Stace had me walk him outside and Yes, she called me in the midst to make sure I picked up after him, and YES, I sure did).

(Ed. Note 5: A video of the dog and the companion “still” will be made available upon request. My daughter’s no fool. To her it is Trust But Verify).

The common thread though was Lucy. Always.

And family.

On adjacent couches we watched Billy Crystal —Bones and I. It was maybe 100 Sundays into the show that the thought occurred: my brother should be here. Or Carrie. Or Bruce Bohrer.

The weekend also brought learning. I did not know for example … that I had backwash when drinking. (I don’t want to say Stacy glared when I picked up her soda, but the look on her face was the same grimace my father gave in 1969 when Stuart Fenton bought a Volkswagen). Nor did I know, for that matter, that there was a right or wrong amount of Sweet N Low to sprinkle on entrees. Really?   What are the things — two cents apiece? (This, I’ve deduced, is generational. Even east of Eden, up in Westchester N.Y., they keep count on my sweeteners).

Ah, but then Monday came. And the moments with Lucy — from every video on Mickey on my laptop to every Wheel On The Bus to Monkey On The Bed to…

… To the “The Day The Crayons Quit”, the brilliant but seemingly endless tome I read her…

… All these moments were winding down…into visuals…images for the plane…to hold onto.

I was dropped at the airport on Monday. Early.  If you’re early, I say — then you can’t be late.

Couldn’t sleep on the plane; I ran lines. Nine run-thru’s—that’s all— before opening night.

Respite? Not quite.  Rested?  Hardly. Yet it mattered not. I’d gotten exactly what I needed. In full.  I was happy.

Carrie met me at Hopkins.

— I kissed her hello.
— I shared of the weekend.
— And the very next morning I called my brother. We had something to                watch.