Archive for November, 2014


Friday, November 28th, 2014

7AM, the day before yesterday, standing in line at Starbucks, stationary, getting itchy…

It’s “study hall” each Wednesday — Yes, I cherish too that hour before I meet with the guys at Corky’s. Working on my computer, greeting friends passing by, a pre game, it is,  to our Breakfast Of Champions.

—Yet the line wasn’t moving, and I was still third.

After what felt like eternity a second register opened. Calming a bit, I moved to the on-deck circle, within earshot of the sole putz customer holding up traffic. What in the world (I wondered) could this guy be ordering?

—So I tilted in and listened…. but heard only small talk.

I didn’t roll my eyes, like I wanted and I didn’t grimace outward either.  The world needn’t see, I well figured, how restive I was — how put out I was.

Soon, of course, this lone ranger not only got his coffee, but paid, pivoted — and left.

“Thank you for your patience,” said the same warm barista that serves me each week. “He has nobody to talk to, and, well…”

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

3PM the same day, wandering semi-lost through the lobby of Cleveland’s V.A. Hospital…

It’s a massive facility; I’d never been there before. The sign outside states it’s the third largest such hospital in the land. There to see a new client, I’m struck as I walk the halls by the intermittent but consistent parade of people on crutches, or in wheelchairs, or whatever. Struck too, am I, by their good cheer.

I meet with the guy. He’s older than me — by ten years, maybe more — but we connect.

“Were you in the service?” he asks, and I nod.
“Just the Reserves.”
“I was in Germany,” he tells me, “Peace time”.
“Did you ever meet Elvis?”

We joked a bit –- about nonsense as men tend to do. We shared too of family — both of ours. Black or white, it’s all the same.

“I’ll be back next week.”
“I wish I could come to your office.”
“No big deal,” I assured him. “ ‘Probably hit you on the way uptown and tie it into a run for Aunt Helen.”
“Try not to make it Tuesday,” urged my friend. “That’s when I have chemo.”

He leaned forward, we shook hands, and I left.

I walked from the hospital — briskly. After all, Thanksgiving Weekend awaited. I passed the same warm faces on the same staunch crutches, the same old wheelchairs…

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Thursday morning, 7:30 AM:

Waking to the gentle sound of Carrie, I lingered in bed. Glancing out the window for my short morning regimen of prayer, I heard her clear voice.

“I’ll get coffee,” she said.

I rose moments later.  Walking downstairs , I greeted yet another day of a life filled with family, friends, and activity.


Monday, November 24th, 2014

There’s a moment each trip west where a sense envelopes me that if nothing else occurs during the weekend, the journey was still worth it. That instant came mid-Friday at a conservative shul in Deerfield, Illinois.

Preschool at Moriah Congregation was due to let out. Poaching quietly in the hall, it was as we peaked through a window that Lucy’s eyes met mine. “Pappy!”
she mouthed (I couldn’t hear her) — and the lass began running. “Pappy!”

‘Nuff said.

Scooping me up at O’Hare, my Little One beamed. (All week she’d been saying she missed me, “couldn’t wait” for my arrival. One time–I swear–she called me her “rock”)! And yes, her face at the airport confirmed that she’d meant it.

Not that she hasn’t always loved me — of course she has.  In her formative years though, she lived with her mother…and there was that whole dynamic.  Still…

Sometimes (like this visit), I’d fly to Chicago the week ‘ere my ex and, much as my kid clearly would thrill to see me, it was still like going to a game in Columbus the Saturday before Michigan. Sure, the house would fill and fans would cheer, but you knew damn well that Woody was looking ahead.

I mention this as an aside only as my focus this week wasn’t Stacy — it was Lucy. My baby’s baby was turning three. Yes, the days filled with friends, family and frolic, but the nucleus always was Lucy.

Not that there weren’t other moments. Indeed there were. Some ordinary and some less-so, each is cemented in my growing mental landscape of Chicago.

—Like getting lost on the way to a meeting late Friday. (11pm Cleveland time, but we finally found it).

—Like Stacy asking me if I noticed her new couch and me nodding “Yes” with a straight face.

—Like Stacy noting new hardwood floors. Shining, they were, like the top of my father’s head … and I know it’s a good thing and all … but I kept thinking that Hal and I grew up in a log cabin in South Euclid and our bedrooms never had carpet. But Rooney was SO HAPPY! And Jason was SO HAPPY! (Which made me happy too, especially since henceforth can spill at my leisure.)

—Like having a family talk about serious stuff on Friday.

—And having nonsensical, “firing for effect” talks still on Friday.

“Stacy,” I asked, would you rather Lucy married a Chinese person or a Japanese person?”
“I don’t know, Dad—what do you think?”
(My answer surprised her).
“I never thought of that. Pretty good, Daddy.”

Lucy bounced for me Friday, as she always does. If I’d have had a trampoline like that when I was growing up my mother would have been glad she was deaf.

And then there was Jason. Continued contentment felt eyeing the fit between Stace and her hubby is trumped only by the peace known watching Bonesy play father. Good things are happening in the Windy City. Always.

And Adam. You remember him, that beautiful bichon I’d rescued from Parma only to have him pilfered from my midst and driven to Chicago (much the same as Irsay ripped the Colts out of Baltimore).

Adam napped with me Friday, for a bit. Unable to quite figure out how to turn on the tv, I settled for Youtube. “Twelve Hours Of Barking Dogs” played as we slept. (Like the good old days).

And then there was the conversation with Brother Greg. Ah, but I need to set the stage:

Stacy had summoned us (a third of the way through Lucy’s birthday party) to drive across the street and get three more large cheese pizzas. An easy gig, one would think. Have YOU ever been married to a first-time mother?

“And hurry!” we were told as we left for Whole Foods.
(One quarter mile it was, from one lot to another).
“It’ll be a half hour,” we were told, on arrival at the store.
(Greg called Bonesy, but his cell wasn’t answering).
“What do you think we should do?” asked my friend.
“No matter what we do we’ll be wrong,” I assured.
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
“We’ll take the pizzas,” I told the guy behind the counter. (It’s an old theater adage I’ve learned: be wrong, but be strong).

And so…and so… What do Jews do with thirty minutes to kill?

I got some chicken wings while Greg, he had sushi. I ate with my hands, as he — proving no one is perfect — used chopsticks. And we gobbled.

Within moments of digestion though, the telephone rang.

“We don’t need the pizza,” churped Jason. “They’re doing the cake now. Come back.”

…So we paid for the pizza and told them we’d return in an hour. And we retraced our steps to the near-ending party…

…And we hustled back—he to reunite with his wife and two sons.

—And me to kvell again at my dazzling Lucy, and (with her other grandpa), to leap in a pool of multi-colored plastic balls, and rejoice with our jewel.

Within moments the party was ending. The friends went home as the family packed up….

The only thing left was my smile.


Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

“May we go shopping today?” she asked plaintively. And so later that day I picked her up at the time of my choosing, and we went to the grocery. She was smiling.

“How many bags of Kisses?” she inquired. (We were in the candy section, and it occurred to me that she’d petitioned neither my brother Hal’s opinion nor mine even once in the twentieth century). Oh, and she was still smiling.

I miss Aunt Helen. The white-haired centenarian I mark time with is just not The Iron Lady of old. Indeed this newcomer, whomever she is, has taken the challenge out of Marc’s and both the drama and fun out of anguish.

In the good old days I’d text down aisles, updating her nonsense to Alice or Carrie. Post-game I’d call H to recap the narishkeit.

And then… somewhere along the way … her world changed. Once H was her son me but a nephew. Today I’m her son (while Hal has been sainted).

FLASHBACK TO December, 2000…

Thursday before a holiday and with Hal out of town our aunt went to her bench. “Bruce,” she commanded, “We must buy a new stove.” As such, after work that night, at the Snow Brothers on Mayfield, she bought an appliance.

“When will you deliver it?” she importuned.
“Saturday.” (I exhaled; his answer seemed Helen-proof).
“It cannot be Saturday,” came her edict.
“Then it will have to be Tuesday.

(I took another breath, considering Saturday and Tuesday were indeed separated only by Sunday and Christmas Monday).

With a glare that could melt an ex-wife she relented: “Saturday will have to do. What time will you be coming?”

“We will call you tomorrow afternoon to give you a three-hour window for delivery.”


Friday evening I called her. With H gone I remained on the clock. Her Complaint de Jour was that indeed the store had called at 6pm confirming the next day’s delivery.

“I waited at home all day in case they called,” she carped.
“Where the f&!# were you going anyway?” I questioned (meekly, and sans profanity).
Clarifying her remark, she asserted she’d stayed off her phone lest the store call, hear a busy signal, and never call back.

It would only get worse —

Long story short: they delivered the stove, she didn’t think the stove worked, she called me Sunday night asking that on Monday I call to have the new stove removed and the old stove returned, she called me Monday morning to repeat the instructions she’d given me just twelve hours before, I called Snow Bros who first they suggested someone come out and look at the apparatus and when I told them that my aunt didn’t want that then advised that unfortunately old stoves are discarded immediately upon pickup. (At this point I would have rather gone to a dentist than call back my aunt, but being the grown-up that my absent brother would have been, I gulped hard and dialed).

“Why must they inspect the stove if I tell them it isn’t working?” she shried incredulously, accepting the fact that they’d be ringing her bell.

Twice she heard me say “They’ll be out this afternoon,” but that wasn’t enough. “One more time, tell me: will it be this afternoon?”

They returned, of course. And got it to work, of course, and life went on (as always). Better yet, in days the Red Sea would part and brother Hal’d return home…. and as family, we weathered our Hurricane Helen.


It is Sunday, and at a reasonable hour my cell phone rings.

“Good morning, Bruce. Are you able to bring me soup today?”
(She is almost singing her words; I HEAR her smile).
“Whenever it is convenient to you,” she continues.

Softer now, she is gracious, loving…and yet….

I miss the challenge; I miss the angst. I miss the aunt that we grew up with.

The view is bittersweet.  Slowly, inexorably, another piece of my mosaic is going gently into the good night.


Friday, November 14th, 2014

Dear Stuart,

Hope you had a nice Veterans Day.

I didn’t hear from my kids Tuesday. Not from my youngest (who usually calls), nor my eldest (who discounts reservists)— nor even from my middle one, who, (no pun intended), remains AWOL.

I heard from you. And Bobby. And my brother. Plus a card  from Carrie— she gets it.

The usual suspects, Stuey. No more, no less.

Look, I know you’re like me. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES would we equate our six months away — stateside at that — as being in harm’s way. We never have.

Yet sacrifice we did; disrupt our lives we did; and in our generation we were a distinct minority. Not that we wanted to go, but we went. Not that we relished the time, but we served.

You went to the Coast Guard, like Agin. I, to the Army, like Himmel.

You they docked in Cape May, New Jersey: armpit of the armpit. Me they flew to “Basic” in Louisiana. Eight weeks I spent tiptoeing through snakes and shrubs on a military scavenger hunt searching for just one Jew to talk to.

— And in uniform too, we lost. You: forty pounds…and me? I shed a fiancé.

I don’t know about you Mr. Fenton, but I’m proud of that time. In a way, it’s no different than other fruits of my life. After all, I didn’t want to go to Hebrew School, but look back now in comfort. I didn’t run to recovery but cherish that journey. And yes, afraid as I was of enlistment — petrified to leave Ohio’s cocoon…I feel good about it now. It too was the right thing.

It’s true, you know: if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. In hindsight I see not the after-school boredom of the 60’s, but a Jewish foundation solidified. I feel not the fears of early sobriety but marvel in the ordinary of my todays.

— And I recall well how I didn’t want to go away, how I hated each moment that played out in real time. And yet…

Picturing those days at Fort Polk, I conjure, still: laying on my bunk thinking that any minute something would happen and I ‘d that I’d get a call that I’d be going home. Really, Stuart. Surrounded by strangers that first week of ’72, midst a sea of southern accents, I was certain still that Al Bogart would rescue me! Convinced I was still that somehow, some way — like something out of the movies — any moment my father would arrive, scoop me out of distress, and take me from misery.

I hold those memories, Stuart, and I know you have yours, but I look now through a different lens….

I focus these days though, as I trust you do, on the fact that we went. On the truth that, involuntary as it was at the time, we got out of our comfort zones, and with it all, we grew.

Bottom line, Stuart…. Ask the guys about those twenty weeks…remind them how we went away each summer. They barely remember.

You do, though. And I do. And Bobby and Hal and Carrie.

(That seems like enough).

Happy Veterans Day. Four decades later I still salute you.


PS. Don’t forget about Ermine! The Navy? What was he thinking?


Monday, November 10th, 2014

She was one of The Greatest Generation.

She had eyes that sparkled and a face that, frankly,  I never saw not smiling.

She had a quite grace to her — a dignity, if you will.

Growing up Bogart our household — boys only — saw fathers grab all the headlines. I’m not certain if this was our home’s unique spin or just still the Mad Men mentality. After all, dads back then would play catch with us, teach card games, and (in Christian neighborhoods)  instruct sons on fishing.  Moms? They made lunch… and played board games when it rained outside…and…oh, and they’d perhaps serve as den mothers for Cub Scouts — at least until the troops were old enough to play Little League, of course, and run off with their fathers.

Still, some moms stood out…and Harriet Mandel was one of them.

Five plus decades I knew her, and our conversations in all those years were never long. They didn’t need to be. Some people, like Mrs. Mandel, let their actions speak.

I picture her at the old Negrelli Field, watching Bruce play for Hollywood. I see her too at Memorial.  Bruce and Doug were both White Sox. Always present …  always graceful … always smiling.

A decade later I detect her. On a cold Thanksgiving morning at Rowland School…bundled in a car just north of the end zone…she is watching not only Booey, but Dooey and Hooey play football. A dozen boys held the field; only a few viewed their mother. Yes, some moms stood out. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed this courier from completing her round.

Years would pass and our paths still crossed. The thread of friendship borne by a Harriet and an Elaine had sustained through to yet a fourth generation…

And yet some things: they never change.

Forty years past Little League I happened into a civic meeting in Solon.  Josh was speaking and this wasn’t a fundraiser, mind you— just a campaign stop in northeast Ohio.  Yet there she was that night…sitting alone…beaming up at her grandson.

I still see her that night, poised in a foreign community center, showing no wear or tear from that long campaign year. Recall I do, watching the kvelling grandmother across the room… wondering how she must have felt, what with some of our own community indeed taking shots. I knew how I’d felt of our “boutique friends”, but how did she feel?  Studying her sustained elegance, I could only but marvel.

—And I see her yet again … two years later, in the ziskite Taylor.  

They teach us in recovery that one key to life is just learning to show up. My friend Mrs. Mandel not only held the key, but with it opened the door for generations to come.

She wasn’t just one of The Greatest Generation; she personified it.

“A woman of valor–seek her out, for she is to be valued above rubies.”

Book Of Proverbs




Friday, November 7th, 2014

“I’m about at the end the line. Do me a favor. As I walk off, just give me ‘one of these’.”                                                                                                         Rodney Dangerfield

Many went the extra mile for my birthday— it being a milestone and all. The decks of cards and mug featuring The Boys’ pictures, the Scarsdale dinner with the Bogarts and Millers, Lucy feeding me a chocolate via Face Time—each were of signal moment. Still, no one gifted me with such novelty and purity as Carrie did.

“You didn’t want a party,” she prefaced it, handing me a one foot tall, Halloween-themed gift bag.”
“Didn’t want a present either,” I reminded dismissively.
“JUST TAKE IT!” she pushed back (with love).

Right then I saw—really saw the bag and I grasped—really grasped its contents: Sixty-five cards, to be exact! Birthday cards … delivered by carriers … solicited discreetly by CJ…secreted for days to be tendered in bulk.

“You’ll read them in the car,” she suggested, (balancing my hunger to open the envelopes with my obsession for hitting airports early).

And so I did. Fervently. Zealously. Passionately. As she drove.

Left hand in the bag, I withdrew Michael’s first. What were the odds? (64-1, Walt would say. Marc’s card arrived too). Won’t share my son’s comments, but his sentiment was so moving that an immediate re-reading would have been like sitting through the final twenty minutes of “Field Of Dreams”.

What a ride to the airport! The hits kept on coming….

Not only from my son but from HIS family. And the machetanim, and branches therefrom, and, believe it or not: from two couples I’d only met once at an east coast wedding. (Who says New Yorkers are a tough crowd?)

Not only from Stacy but HER family as well. The machetanim. (Ed. Note 1: Rooney’s card urged me not to die. How do I tell her that sometimes parents have to say “No”?).

Not only from Margie & H but from two daughters and Maynard as well. (Ed. Note 2: “Almost family,” Aunt Helen terms him.).

Not only from Carrie but HER family too. All wings.

And me? Unabashed lover of snail mail that I am, I studied each, savored each, cherished each — and reached back in the bag.

Grateful I was that people’d taken time … and memories emerged:

Aunt Etty sent old family pix. We were younger then, all of us. (I heard too from Debbie and Gary. (Ed. Note 3: Into my 50’s I’d wondered if Debbie even liked me). From Harriet came a copy of a check from Vegas’s Union Plaza Hotel — my Dad having cashed in the ‘78 World Gin Rummy Tournament. And from my most senior of friends, Stuart: reflections on 1969. Contacts (for self-approval) that year and a Mustang (for Bob’s approval). Yet Stu wrote so much more.

Some cards, of course, were less pensive. Keith’s card, for example, burped. A few others sang songs. Still others contained the likes of birthday cakes, erections (3D), singing monkeys, excretions, and various references to anticipated bodily dysfunction.

How thrilled I was that all groups took part! I heard …

—From lodge brothers met in descent to drunks met in recovery.

—From Sabbath School friends (in Hebrew) to a state official from the right to a core friend so far left that he’s profiled in airports.

—From Boobus Bowl veterans and two Vietnam Era vets.

—From one cat and two dogs.

—From one Deak Past Chancellor to five ushers from my ’72 wedding.

—From two Beachwood housewives that never went south to my 12-Step sponsor who keeps my eyes north.

—From a card penned by Lucy and a card stamped by Max to a card signed by “Rocco Scotti” to another just unsigned. (Ed. Note 4: As to the last two, I still have no idea).

Yes, I read every card, both canned text and comment. One couple, for example, said I’d reminded them of The Cowardly Lion. Had I ever played the role, they wondered. (Ed. Note 5: Of course I had. And I’d nailed it!). A few miles from there someone had written “You bring a smile to my face…”.).

And then we got to the airport…and she pulled to the curb…and I left.

With the bag in the car and a smile ‘cross my face.

Reveling in the good wishes, I embraced still, the greatest gift of all: sharing life with one who “gets” me, who sees that as self-assured as I can be, all I really want from people is “one of these” —that “OK” sign saying I’m, well…OK.

—-And THAT is the gift that keeps giving.

“…I always think about how you love and respect the work of your local postal workers….”

R.S. and J.S., Oakland Gardens, NY  (10/31/14)


Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

No one told us back then that the holiday was traif…that our people were prohibited from celebrating it. No one, not even our father (who art in heaven), a gent steadfast in Jewish practice, ever shared that in fact, our Halloween was in March… and called Purim. (Ed. Note 1: Our Dad would have told us but he was at a lodge meeting from 1955 to 1959).

Trick-or-treating was two nights back then. “Beggars’ Night” they called it — that street trek the night before. (And so it was that in grade school days we’d be ringing bells on Erev Halloween.

Growing up on the mean streets of South Euclid, Hal and I reveled in such joys as dressing up. Simpler times, they were…with simpler needs. Our household claimed a baseball glove for each guy, one bat and ball to share, and innocence. As for board games, it was checkers (with a chess board on the back for the likes of Mark Gelfand), Chutes And Ladders, and always Monopoly.

No frills for us— just thrills.

And so it was too with Halloween. I don’t know how many years we actually walked it, but I can assure one thing: both of us wore the same costume each and every year. (Ed.Note 2: I was a ferocious lion and Hal was a clown with a big nose. Ironic, I’d say).

They were safer times as well back then. Sans parents we’d walk the streets, terror striking only as we reached Rubin’s house up on Hinsdale. (Ed. Note 3: A high school friend of our mother’s, Mrs. Rubin felt compelled to kiss us, annually depositing thick red lipstick on the cheeks of the Brothers Bogart. Talk about pagan customs!).

By the time we had children the world had changed.

We were in Beachwood then … the Bogart clan (abridged addition) … where parents marched ‘long side their kin.

I remember Michael donning a plastic garbage can: Oscar The Grouch. And I remember how one year Marty Wishnek’s father-in-law Nelson Levy stopped over clad as Cookie Monster — there‘s a snapshot in the archives, somewhere. (I don’t think Michael wants it). Oh! And I recall too how by Executive Order (from The Jersey Girl) the kids were chauffeured to Mandels’ street to pound doors with Josh and Rachel.

Thirty years ago it was— slightly less. The 90’s brought divorce and depression, then addition by subtraction. The Y2K’s meant renaissance, renewal, then children relocating…

I pushed the buggy up the hill last Friday. It was dusk out and within it sat Eli at fifteen months: eyes beaming up at 45 degrees from a burnt orange astronaut’s outfit. Maybe he could catch the heads of his parents ahead, but he could not, I well knew, see his brother, the dinosaur.

He heard him, though. I’m certain. And he felt him, I knew. We all did. The hills were alive with the sound of children!

—And at the very same moment, on a galaxy far, far away, my mother— the gem that dressed my brother as the clown and me as the lion…the lady that could barely spell “astronaut” and thought our Grandma Bogart was a dinosaur…she looked down on Chappaqua, New York — a town there’s not a chance she had heard of …

And smiled.