Archive for October, 2015

BEYOND THE VERIZON

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

“Can we Facetime, Pappy”? asked Lucy last weekend.
“When Carrie’s home,” I told her. “It doesn’t work on my phone.”

Fifty-one years ago …

We were watching the All Star game — daytime, black ‘n white — when within moments Johnny Callison ended the game with what was not yet termed a “walk off” home run AND our Grandpa Irv honked; he was waiting outside.

We jumped, Hal and I, and midst the tumult my pop (which had been resting on the television), not only knocked over, but dripped through the vent backing the set … destroying what I later learned was the picture tube.

“Why did you do it?” my Mom asked when she got home from work. (Forty-five years later she would go to her grave awaiting the answer).

But here’s the point: The next day or so Cousin Howard Hoffman came to our house, replaced the part, and turned it back on! No muss, no fuss.

Two decades later, or thereabouts …

We had cable by now. Pong too, and PAC-MAN, and ESPN.

I recall again the TV going down, a name from the Deak Directory coming out, and watching how after ten minutes of his button-pushing, he turned it back on. And it worked.

Two more decades later, or thereabouts …

Netflix is the best! (Ed. Note 2: Ah, but not as good as last decade, when it sent you the discs. Please read on).

“Blue Bloods” is our show. Watch I do, with Carrie — once, maybe twice per week. Comforted, I am — that the TV works fine…
But NEVER, as I enter our boudoir, do I have any reasonable expectation that I’ll be able to tune in the show. No, wait I must … for my wife … who, propped up in the bed, fondles two (or maybe three) remote controls, pushes numbers and icons, and scrolls up, down and around until Selleck emerges.

Anything happens to Carrie and I never see that show again!

I stopped at Verizon just Tuesday.   Greeted was I, by a freshly-scrubbed thirty-something singing hello.

“Can I help youuuuuuuuuu?”, she offered, brandishing a hand with five blue nails. (Ed. Note 3: No sea has ever been as shining those nails — or spears…whatever they were).

“My Facetime doesn’t work. Can you fix it?”

Eyeing it, flipping it upside down, she studied it like an ER doc examining a rash:

“It still doesn’t work”.

“Try it now.”

“Maybe you need a new Sim Card? she suggested.

“OK.”

If this doesn’t work,” she advised me, (replacing the Sim Card), “Then I can’t help you. You’ll have to go to Apple”.

“But I bought the phone here, LAST YEAR!”
“It’s a warranty issue.”

The Sim Card didn’t work. (Go figure). Ever so politely, then, I suggested it didn’t seem right that I could purchase a Verizon phone AT Verizon but that Verizon couldn’t make it right.

“You may want to check your settings,” she suggested. Or “jumpstart” them, or something like that. (I can’t recall quite her verb). By that time, alas, it mattered not.  Indeed, I’d have asked for the manager but she with the vacuous smile, was it!

“Thank you for your time, ” said I warmly, bidding adieu.

On my way out … to drive home to my wife … she of beauty and clear nail polish.  And YES, at ten that night, the two of us (after Carrie set it up), watched Season One’s finale of “Blue Bloods”.

I’m thinking maybe this weekend I’ll borrow Carrie’s phone to call Lucy…on FaceTime.  After a long week, it’ll be better than running to Apple.

 

ALL THINGS MUST PASS

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

“How’s your aunt?” asked the guy washing his hands next to me in the restroom. “You know my aunt?” “Yeah, the lady from the record store.”

“Ma and Pop” Arthur Newman Records closed its Cedar-Center doors in the mid-sixties, to be succeeded briefly by the more corporate Recordland. The latter catered more to the baby-boomers, caring clearly for cash and not culture. Gone was the classical music; gone were the shelves of sheet music. Left standing — only — as a remnant of the “care-free” Eisenhower era … was its manager, Helen Bogart. And Yes, in those yesteryears— when Severance was still new and Beachwood Place but weeds — our father’s sister ran the only game this side of town.

It seemed everyone knew of my aunt. At least by reference. Dour, fifty years old and counting (even then), she was the lady behind the counter: austere ….her eyes her security system … a Jewish Emily Dickinson …

She was, without ever smiling, the music world’s first front man!

What you saw, by the way, was what you got. Hal can tell you, our children will confirm: she was not different off the court.

Forget to say hello to her in temple? She’d sulk, steaming hot.

Our mom once told us that when still dating our father she’d pulled Helen aside privately to point out her slip was showing. Talk about cold? It was Ice Station Zebra — our aunt neither speaking nor acknowledging her future sister-in-law the rest of the night.

“Was it awkward?” I asked my mother.
“No, but your grandmother asked me to apologize.”

Nor did anyone back then ever accuse our aunt of being sweet. Just wasn’t her thing. Nice? Perhaps, (like when she taught H and me piano from her Michael Aaron book). Warm? At times (trips to shul to honor yahrtzeits). But sweet?

— And never, in those days of yore, did she speak of love. Ever.

Our aunt never married. ‘Twas a shanda then, and perceived she was, as “damaged goods”. Sadly, so sadly, that’s how too she viewed herself. It was, moreover, a subject never broached.

“Dad,” I once asked the man I could speak to anything about, “Do you think Aunt Helen ever had sex?”
(Ed. Note: My father’s response was curt and but one sentence: “This will be the last time you ask that question.”).

The record store closed by 1970. True to her Prussian work ethic, our aunt found new work.  Downtown.   And bused downtown daily. Five times/week. Until they had the gaul to give her an electric typewriter — at which point she retired.

Our Dad passed in ’85 and our Grandmom in ’90. From each, we were left (Hal and I), both supreme memories and our stoic Aunt Helen. The two, we would learn, are conjoined.

Through the lens of time recollections rejuvenate. How well we still picture this event, that event, the time that …… . Mental images change not; if anything, through the telling and retelling they grow stronger. So too with our aunt.  She doesn’t change. Ever.

(I mean ever).

But then …

Frail now, some two decades later, she ventures out little. Her contemporaries are gone and her world’s grown silent.   Alone again, she is (naturally).  Frail today, abandoned by time, she is buttressed only by family— indeed, the two little boys — the ones she taught piano — who are now in THEIR sixties.

I dropped off food yesterday. A quart of mushroom/barley, two pints of vanilla ice cream, and a bag of Hershey Kisses. She smiled softly, like she might have done on East Overlook after a Triple Word score in Scrabble.  Her eyes?  They said “Thank you”.

“Look Aunt Helen,” I told her. “Hot soup on the counter… I put the ice cream in the freezer … and your sweets are right here”.

Cutting the plastic, handing her some chocolate, standing to leave:  “I love you,” I said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“I love you too,” she told me. “I love you.”

AMERICA’S TEAM

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

It was their first dinner for two; they’d just begun dating. Mexican food…El Mariachi, downtown Chicago … courting … falling in love. Blending natural interest with intuitive anticipation my daughter looked in his eyes. “What is your favorite sound?”, she asked him. Tenderly, reverently, Jason Bohrer looked back. Their eyes unhinged upon each other he answered: “The crack of the bat at Wrigley Field.”

My favorite sport today? Baseball. Never has it not been! Volumes could be written on why, and yet if you really need an explanation, then it’s not that it doesn’t matter, but that that YOU don’t matter.

My passion for the game has neutered o’er the years. I’m a purist, and let’s face it, the pro game has changed. (Ed. Note 1:  It is a classic example of how I haven’t changed, but the world ‘round me has. A second example occurred recently. Having suggested to Michael that I might drive to New York to see the boys, I heard him push back. “Don’t you remember,” I reminded, “How Grandpa Ben would drive from New Jersey to see you when you were young?” “OK Dad,” he rebuked me, “Why don’t you come by covered wagon?).

But yes, my compulsion for our pastime has softened. (Ed. Note 2: Blame it on its crash commercialism, ever-expanding playoffs, the DH rule, instant replay … or to save time: former commissioner Bud Selig (Roger Goodell with a brain).

And yet, as the NLCS begins, as the semi-final chain of games (a TV mini-series in disguise) I am watching again, cheering again — and caring.

I want this one for Jason — my Mensch of the Midway — for Chicago, his team.

We all should.

Remember the late 70’s when PR guys in Dallas dubbed the Cowboys “America’s Team”? That was crap! This country’s true team, the one squad that with its city perennially symbolized the strength, endurance, and grit of our great nation, has been and is the Cubbies.

I state this without reservation, without hesitation, and with two other kids in New York.

Do I like the Mets? Of course I do. Anyone growing up in Cleveland hating the Yankees is drawn to the Mets. But were they the cornerstone of the game? Have they called one field home for a century straight? Do they have any sense of a storied past? (Ed. Note 3: Would ANYONE on its roster even know what I was talking about if I mentioned the “College of Coaches?”).

The Chicago Cubs ARE America’s Team. That’s it. End of discussion.

Lucky I was to be weaned well on baseball. My Dad had me memorizing team managers, team stadia, and history.

Tinkers to Evers to Chance? “Three-Fingered” Mordecai Brown? Charley Root?

Cubs all.

First park to play organ music? Last to have uniform numbers? The Cubs.

No night home games!

Among my first baseball cards: Billy Williams, Ernie Banks. Ron Santo. Among my son’s: Ryne Sandberg.

I once went to Wrigley. The early 80’s it was and there were still no night games! Four of us flew from Cleveland, braving questions from wives … just to be there … in “the friendly confines”. Can I tell you to this day who won? Hell no. I can’t even tell you whom they played.

But I cherish that trip, remember the ivy-covered walls — and cling to the majesty.

No franchise in America can couple triumphant years of tradition with the tragedy of a Bartman moment— and thrive. The Cubs have, and do.

So don’t point back to 1908. Don’t tell me the Mets last night. Three reasons’ I’ll give why the Cubs will advance:

1. In the 1989 film “Back To The Future 2”, the 2015 Cubs win it all;
2. Theo Epstein;
3. It’s America’s Team.

Nine years ago, at that very same dinner, my daughter pressed on. “What,” she asked Jason, “Would be your ultimate dream?” Again he didn’t hesitate. “That the Cubs win the World Series,” he uttered. Assuredly.

(Ed. Note 4: That was, of course, before he wed Stacy.  Before they had Ruby and Lucy).

— And for that … from life’s press box … we shout “Holy cow!”

18

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

Tonight, on a beautiful autumn evening in Cleveland, I will be indoors, huddled ‘round a table with a dozen or so men that “on paper” I never should have met.  

The journey began on this day in ’97. Over this time I would hear words and come to embrace examples of men and women from all walks. With gut-level honesty they would teach me that life is an inside job and that I must look in the mirror. Daily.  Mrs. Pelander and Mr. Kilfoyle would have to step aside.  These would be the best teachers of my life.

How I resented, in those early years, the repetitive slogans! “Victims don’t stay sober”, they’d harp (when I’d be feeling sorry for myself) or better yet: “Poor me, poor me, Pour me”. But their sachel surfaced as my ears opened, and the light bulb went off when I just stopped debating.

“Sit down Bogart. None of us gets here on a winning streak”. “Look for a reason to stay, not a reason to leave.“ “Relate, don’t compare.”

I can’t explain how grateful I am for it all. For meeting people who taught me and touched my life for the better, and for The Rooms, the classrooms (if you will), where five to seven times per week for some dozen and a half years I’ve been taking notes. No, I can’t explain (necessarily), but I can share. These then are my personal favorites: axioms I could only grasp listening one day at a time:

“If you’re early you can’t be late.”
“You want self-esteem? Do esteemable acts”.
“Education without graduation.”
“The givers receive”.
“Believing is seeing”.
“If someone says something and you are able to hear it then God must have wanted you to.”
“There is a God, and you’re not it.”
“Trust God. Clean house. Help others.”

I’ve said it before:  Al Bogart taught me everything I needed to know about life except how to live without him. My real growing up would indeed come after he passed.

And all these years later, I too am in a better place.

PLAY ON

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Off the court 2009 through last year was continuous cycle of audition, rehearsal, and performance. Thrice yearly I was traipsing to Gates Mills, driving to Willoughby or schlepping all—-the—-way out to Chardon and Painesville.

And loving it.

Still, as JFK once said, “Change is the law of life”; and my life here and now is angling once again.

Right after the divorce –back in mid-90’s – I found shows to do just for the company. Indeed, the sting of being persona non grata to my still-married friends was lessened through comeraderie of cast-mates and applause at the curtain.

Beachwood. Chagrin Falls. Garfield Heights. Shaker Heights. Hudson. Aurora. Solon. Independence. Euclid. Bay Village.

No venue was too far, no night drive too long that I didn’t jump to meet new friends and crave their attentions. In the “red zone” of the bottom of my life, the game (I was learning), was over.

The other actors back then? Oh, they heard the laughs I garnered on stage. Nightly. Still, when the clock stuck whatever, and the curtain lowered, and we all went our ways…they couldn’t hear me cry.

Nightly.

Then.

By all accounts, my life today was unfathomable back then. With one impenetrable exception, everything in my world is purer, fuller, deeper and better now.

Alas, ‘though I’m married again … reasonably balanced again … and 65. Sixty-f’ing five.

And overweight.

And not Brad Pitt.

How many “fat slob” roles do you really think there are for a guy in his mid-sixties? I’m too old for Mr. McAfee, too slow to be “Damn Yankees”‘ manager, and too young for “On Golden Pond”.  No wonder three of my last five theater ventures have found me directing. And don’t get me wrong.  Directing’s fun. There’s even the ego thing to it. Glad-handers, though, all tell you how good the show is even if it’s bad; they smile at you.  Give me rather the rhythm of  laughter and crescendo of clapping that bolts from the audience when I crawl ‘cross the stage or do a pratfall.  Immediate gratification! Pure!

Am I a realist? Yes. That ship, I’m afraid, has left port.

Summer of 14′s audition for “The Odd Couple” fell flat. Likewise “The Producers” this spring.  My fifteen minutes?  Over.

Came a time back when that White Sox manager Mr. Wendel pointed me to third — not to short.  He saw well my “range”.  So too with Wieder years later.  “Get behind the plate” he would snarl.

‘Comes a time.  They knew.  They saw.

I got called this week to direct “Harvey”; I said Yes, and we go up next spring.

A classic comedy it is, and there are roles in it I might well have played. But they want me backstage.

To teach. To direct.

They want me behind the plate (so to speak) …where Alan Wieder put me.

In 1969.

(When he saw).

 

SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS

Monday, October 5th, 2015

       “…Though nothing can bring back the hour
       Of splendour in the grass 
       We will grieve not …”

William Wordsworth

My father would have turned ninety yesterday. Still, my guess is that at some point Sunday, 30+ years after his exit, he muted the sound on FoxNews, looked down on his two boys, and with his driest of wits chuckled: “If I was alive today I’d be dead by now”.

I don’t attest to thinking of him every day; I just don’t. What I can confirm though is that the simple moral fabric he wove remains the garment of my aspirations —

And that the admonitions he gave me —at once both profound AND elementary — have all proven true.

“Take a level swing,” he would urge, (often pointing to Indians’ catcher Johnny Romano), “And the hits will fall in”.

It was true on the ball field and I would learn even truer in life.

“What do you have better to do?” he’d point out, especially as I balked at Hebrew School, or studying in college, or calling on relatives. Oh so warmly then, with his arm ‘round my shoulder … oh so softly, deftly he’d punctuate it: “Trust me. Your friends will survive without you for an hour.”

“I promise,” he’d say. “Have I ever given you a ‘bum steer’”? he would ask.

Al Bogart never broke a promise to me and never, EVER gave me a bum steer. He wasn’t always right, but he was never wrong. His heart was always on course.

Three decades after family, friends, card players, lodge brothers and co-workers laid him to rest I remain heartened.

He was my mentor, teacher, guidepost, cornerstone, and compass. He taught me how to laugh, hugged me when I cried, and guided me —always— with both sustained humility and the twinkle in his eye.

He was not a perfect man, but I’m telling you: he was the perfect father.

    

ROUTE 66

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

“…One day you will look back and you will realize that every experience you ever had, every seeming mistake or blind alley was actually a straight line to who you were meant to be…”                                                                                                                                                                   Richard Castle

I was the first born of two sons of The Greatest Generation. The breadth of the world my parents grew up in had been the route of a streetcar and indeed, but for the military and honeymoon, neither may have left Ohio.

The shared bedroom with Grandma Cele ended abruptly.  I was two when (perhaps planting the seed for my mid-life abandonment issues) she left me for another man: Grandpa Irv.

Three years later — whether affordable or not — the Family Von Bogart settled eastward in the shtetle of South Euclid. ‘Twas a seemingly perfect 50′s equation: 1 upwardly mobile husband, 1 perfectly Stepford wife, and two  freshly-scrubbed “nice Jewish boys”.

Days would mean school, baseball, and playing by the rules. Nights were filled living in a house that I didn’t know was small, playing with walking-distance friends, and bonding to a family where each branch of the tree was bigger than the last. Two brothers…four cousins … seven second cousins … a dozen or so first cousins once removed, all kinds of Great aunts and uncles, of course: CousinMarilynFromDetroit (YES, all one word!). (Ed. Note 1:  Not unlike many families of The Diaspora, we had one relation absolutely no one ever knew HOW we were related to…but we were.).

The nest was tight, global, and mine ‘til it wasn’t.

Big Bar Mitzvah in ’62 … parents split in ’63. Mom remarried in ’65 and by ’66, staring at a junior prom, Ermine found me a date. (Ed. Note 2: It did not escape me that Little brother Hal, Bar Mitzvahed sixteen months after me “became a man” four years before me).

Baseball and football on streets never mean (except when bullies like Bobby Stain or Jerry Wolfe would take our ball and — for no reason at all — throw it on the roof.) …World Champion White Sox in Little League…the perennial champion Sol’s Boys on sandlots….

—Always blessed with friends: The Excels, R.E.N., Shiloh AZA.

East Lansing in ’67, Columbus in ’68, contact lenses in ’69, love in ’70.

Selling shoes for Wieder’s Uncle Izzie, Highlights For Children, The Army, a Dear John letter, a wedding, law school…

Michael, Jamie, Stacy …

Adam, Rocky, Adam …

—The pals of youth and adulthood, be they diehard or dick.  (They all mattered; they all taught; they’re all treasured).

The lodge, the divorce, the booze, the bottom.

— Family, friends that would carry me after my marriage.
— Friends, family would lift me to recovery.

Rolo, Jodi, The Envelope:  trumping Love@Aol, and Match.com and JDate.

Margie and Harold (who always were there).

Never losing Aunt Helen OR my sense of humor…

Reuniting with my God.

Breakfasts with Holsman and Jacobson on Saturdays … with The Boys Of Summer on Wednesdays.

The phony phone calls with Stuart then and Yes, a half/century later, in the midst of pure nonsense hearing Bobby chirp: “What are you egging him on for?”

The loss of my father, and my mother… and Ben, and Lil …

And my treasured friend David.

From the plays I got cast in to the directors that rejected me..

To the joys of six grandchildren — the jewels on the crown —

To finding Carrie when I wasn’t looking —                                                                                                                                                                                 To seeing Carrie, and quickly knowing!

To remarriage, rebirth, remembering.

—And above all: to the splendor of my time-worn eyesight which permits me to perceive beauty in life’s pauses, value in its detours, and magic in the journey.

I cherish the past, every experience and “blind alley”. I smile at the future (win, lose, or draw).  Most importantly though, pushing 66 I’m embracing my present.