Archive for April, 2016


Saturday, April 30th, 2016

My kids don’t see things the way I do, and that’s ok. At half my age, perhaps they’re not supposed to.

“You don’t really believe in miracles?” one asked last week.
“Of course I do.”
“Name one,” he urged with polite incredulity, his mind clearly closed.
“The ’69 Mets!” I shot out. (Why waste my breath?).

It could have ended there — he thinking I’m a dreamer … me wishing he was — but we  were both quite serious.

“You don’t think there are miracles?”
“No, I believe in reality.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Then name one.”

“OK,” I said. It wasn’t really the time or place, but he sat tight on my elbow so I figured “Why not?”

“There was a time,” I reminded him, “When I had spiraled so low I was drinking in the john stall at Burger King. Eighteen years ago. I was slowly killing myself but there was nothing I could do.  I was able to stop — you don’t think my recovery is a God-given miracle?”

“No, I think you just decided—“

Cutting him off in frustration, I knew inwardly it was not his fault. Our differences, frankly, were matters of perception. To him, seeing is believing; to me, believing is seeing.

Yet I couldn’t let go. Not so much because I thought I’d convince him. Hardly! My goal, rather, was to plant a seed.

“Do you believe George Washington really chopped down the cherry tree and then told his father he couldn’t tell a lie?”

(His eyes rolled).

“Do you think he really threw a dollar across the Potomac?”

(I nodded).

My son, startled — frustrated clearly by what he must have perceived as my sustained naiveté — stopped on a dime.

I couldn’t, however, let the gentle impasse go. Not at this Seder. Not on this night, which was “different from all other nights”.

“So let me ask you,” I pushed forward: “Do you believe the Red Sea parted so the Israelites could flee Egypt?”

“No Dad, I don’t.  No one does.”

Time, thought I, to teach the young dog new tricks. Seated near the end of the table, surrounded by his wife, my wife, an ex-wife and grandkids, the first fresh, objective face to my left was Arlene’s. Jason’s aunt, she is objective and open.

“Arlene,” I asked on the second night of Passover, “Do you believe God parted the Red Sea?”

“Of course I do,” she exclaimed, sans hesitation. “Certainly.”

I felt validated and Michael’s eyes rolled, yet debate had ended in triumph. No coincidence, sensed I, that Aunt Arlene was seated right there. Nor was it luck.  No, it was, rather, just God doing his thing.

(Or perhaps a miracle).

   “So, I’ll continue to continue to pretend
       That my life will never end,
       And flowers never bend with the rainfall….”

Paul Simon


Monday, April 25th, 2016

Sitting in her highchair, circled by a sea of family, Ruby toyed with her first birthday cake. Mammoth — layers tall, to be sure — it was coated with topping thick as the love surrounding. From Boca, Chappaqua, Chicago and Cleveland we’d come, and abetted by the Bohrer household, we were singing “Happy Birthday” to the broadest smile this side of the Rockies. (Not that she noticed. Her hands, busy spreading frosting through her hair, were playing a symphony).

You never know when you’ll pass that way again, really. When will it be, what with the dictates of work, family, and calendar, that the Seders will again fall on a weekend? When, in sync we’ll pass matzah? When – for that matter — we’ll convene in naming a newborn?

Maybe soon. More likely not. This was special.

Lucy played with Max and Eli: the splendor of cousins.

“Do you think Max and Lucy look alike?” I asked.
“Not really,” said Meredith, “But what about Eli and Ruby?”

(Ed. Note 1: Lodged at a nearby hotel, we were able to breakfast with Michael’s crew daily. The boys bounced in fun, but for me it was a learning experience. Little did I know, for example, that the eggs for the masses were in genesis, “powdered”. “They’re not real eggs,” my son informed me). (Ed. Note 2: You can’t imagine how his eyes rolled when I noted that Kramer had real food when he served all those people at Frank Costanza’s Knights Of Columbus hall).

In the morning there was temple. Layout of the chapel was like Uncle Ernie’s old shul. From an island in the center the Cantor exclaimed:
“Y’amode Shishi”— and with wife and daughter behind him, Jason Bohrer rose at the bima to take his aliyah — as so predictably tears graced my cheeks.

(Ed. Note 3: Not that there wasn’t levity. When services ended the luncheon ensued. Entering the adjacent hall, my favorite son deftly took the sign on the first table in…the one that said “Reserved For Bohrer Family”… and moved it to another table. Based on the kids and the traffic flow it made some sense; and no one would know; and it really didn’t matter. But Yes, I was proud).

There was Seder that night— 28 of us total. Lucy said “The Four Questions”, (or at least Question 1). Good enough for me, I’d figured. She was now on the board.

Why was this night different from all other nights? (My eyes wet once again).

Because on this night we ate matzah, not bread. And on this night we remembered our past. And on this night, I had family beside me. Four of six grandkids there were…and two of three children … and the wife I adore.

In the most perfect of imperfect worlds, this was as good as it would be.

At least now.

A cup for Elijah sat still on the table, yet the door stayed open.   (Not just for the prophet, I knew,  but for the rest of my family).

Perhaps next year in Jerusalem.


Sunday, April 17th, 2016

On our mother’s yahrtzeit what’s left of her family sat clustered in temple. Five of us, that’s all. Just five.


Connected by love now more than consanguity, what was once nearly two dozen grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins gathered under Park’s big dome had dwindled through time, travel, and atrophy to a quintet. Just five of us. Five!

So there we were: Margie, H, Etty, Carrie, et moi … sitting not in Cleveland Heights, but in Park’s new, friendly confines: Pepper Pike. A motley crew! (Ed. Note 1: Four Bogarts and a Hoffman by marriage, but we had our own row. Still, give Aunt Etty her “props”. Remember — she did date Al Bogart at Glenville).

The lump came early (to my throat). How could it not? From the rabbi’s first intonation to the cantor’s last blessing my senses were triggered by sight, sound and memories.

There was the shaking hands and warm embraces with Hebrew School faces. (Most names I remembered, but gee did they get old!).

And the singing of songs. (The tunes had varied o’er time, but the words remained. My father, to be sure, would have cringed at the changes. And so too his sister). But chant I did, and smile I did, and remember I did:

— My Bar Mitzvah, the day the Cuban Missile Crisis ended…
— Hal’s Bar Mitzvah (sixteen months after mine — the significance of which is that during that interval our parents divorced) … and how after services Grandpa Irv walked in front of our dad’s car in the lot, and though stopping, our father dramatically puffed his lip and exclaimed “I could hit him now and no jury would convict me”.).

— Michael at Park Main, too young for fire yet holding a flashlight in the dark of an aisle for Havdalah.

— Jamie accompanying me “religiously” to minyans for my father.

— Stacy, being married by the same clergy presiding that night.

The Shabbos service, of course, bears a recipe ripened by time. The lineup of prayers changes not; the regimen of hymns alters not; I hold peace in just sitting, contemplating, and yes, sometimes people watching: (Ed. Note 2: There’s something warm and fuzzy about seeing an old Sabbath School friend … all these years later … still pedaling in the same parish). (Ed. Note 3: There’s something intriguing too, seeing other old faces and trying — in those moments of mind-wandering — trying to decipher if indeed that was their first wife they’re sitting with). (Ed. Note 4: The most compelling question of the night, however, was trying to guess which surname they’d announce my mother under. Bogart was out, we knew. But would it be Lerner or Turner?).

Yes it was bittersweet Friday. Until it wasn’t. Until it was just sweet.

Readying for the Sabbath Kiddush to close things out Rabbi Skoff urged kids in the congregation to join him on the bima. At once
a girl rushed by me; she couldn’t have been four. Followed, she was, by her sister (perhaps two).

In a Chicago Minute I thought of Ruby and Lucy, who I’ll see on Yom Tov. Eyeing young lads as well, in a New York minute I thought of Eli and Max; they will join us out west.

Then it was over… for the night.

Hal and Margie drove Aunt Etty home; (we had gotten her there). (Ed. Note 5: I drive one way and he the other; it’s the way The Boys roll).

H and M we would see in the morning, at the cancer walk, on campus. Aunt Etty? An envelope she’d given me— with a pic of my mother … and phone numbers for her grandsons in Chicago.


I walked out with Carrie, hand-in-hand.  It was early, and the stars weren’t out.  The sky was full of blue, the lightest of azures. And well I knew that above it all was a mother looking down … and smiling.


Sunday, April 10th, 2016

Awaiting flight to Chicago, looking out at an empty runway, my mind murmurs in a blend of gratitude, wistfulness, and reflection. At 66 I’m running harder, working smarter, and feeling wiser than in years. Fueled, I am, with sustained gratitude for the friends and family that have loved me, held my hand, propped me up, and more than anything else: taught me. It is a wondrous feeling to be teasing my seventies yet quite able to look backward and forward at the very same time.

       “…Once I was seven years old, my mama told me,
       Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely…”

The corner of Bayard and Wrenford roads was to me no less than the 20th century’s intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This epicenter to my life, the fulcrum of which was its ball yard, brought me the lessons and memories of Fromin, Fenton, Cohen, Gelfand, and Davidson — not to mention Masseria and Hovanyi (two good hitting/poor fielding Catholics whose families, pioneers to South Euclid,  never dreamed that Jews would invade). It was the perfect neighborhood in a perfect time … weather permitting.

       “…It was a big big world, but we thought we were bigger
       Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker…”

Fromin taught me to throw a curve and Johnny Matejka taught me to hurl a spiral.  “Alfie” Feldman?  In an era where they’d line us against Rowland’s right field fence to choose players, he made it clear that age didn’t matter, and that if you were good enough you’d get in the game.

       “Once I was twenty years old. Stuart told me.
       Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely.”

Wedding my very first girl friend wasn’t necessarily mistake. I mean we did last twenty-two years, and you’d have won some money had you bet the “over”. Yet it took its toll.

“…I always had that dream: to be like my daddy before me.                                                                                                                                         Couldda sold some magazines and never looked for glory.                                                                                                                                         Something about that glory.                                                                                                                                                                                                 Just always seemed to bore me                                                                                                                                                                                       ‘Cause only those I really love will ever really know me…”

Passion for my chosen profession has come in bits and pieces. Truth be known, when I’ve been comfortable with myself I’ve been comfortable with my work. My dream job? Still? To be the greeter at Corky’s. (Sunday mornings, 11 am would be perfect)

“…Once I was sixty years old.  My daddy died young— And so I cherish time and life!  Each day’s a better one..”.

 Our mom ran longer, grinding past eighty. I was a good son, on balance, but not a great one. She didn’t ask for much, and I usually delivered … usually. But I felt no guilt —

“…Soon I’ll be seventy years old.  Will I think the world is cold (or will my children’s children come and warm me?).

It’s Social Security now — for most of us. Fromin and Gelfand are on the east coast; Fenton’s on the Gulf Coast; Hovanyi’s dead and Matejka’s just gone….

And yet— and yet friends of my youth remain; friends of my life sustain; and in a perfect example of “Whodda thunk it?”, I wound up marrying my best friend of all.

No, I don’t throw the ball around as I used to. Nor do I care much for football.

And yet — and yet on any given day I wake to family and friends in a world that widens as I let it, and more than ever I embrace looking backward and forward at the very same time.

(Once I was seven years old).

—-Lukas Graham, adapted.


Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Entering the cavernous rec hall of the suburban church I immediately pivoted to the door and phoned my sponsor. In fall of ’97 I was a fish out of water.

“Preston,” I moaned, “This is ridiculous.”
“Relax,” urged the man sixteen years my junior.
“But I don’t belong here.”
“Sit the f#!* down.”
“But we have nothing in common,” I pointed out earnestly.
“Wrong!” he shot back. “Just the opposite: None of you got there on a winning streak.”

Lord knows why but for the first time in many years, I listened. Trudging back in, taking a seat among men and women, old and young, white collar, blue collar, no collar, clad in mezuzahs, crosses, tattoos and piercings, I not only listened, but heard.

How lucky was I back then? Spiritually (and financially) bankrupt, I’d been granted the gift of desperation, and for reason unbeknownst to me, I began following suggestions from one not yet born the day Kennedy got shot!

(Ed. Note 1: How’d that joke go? A guy says to a date half his age: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” And her reply: “Ted Kennedy got shot?”).

There’s an old bromide that says “Recovery isn’t for people who need it; it’s for people who want it.”

I wanted it.

Meeting after meeting I was mixing with an amalgam of people from all walks of life — people I’d never have met. Day after day I was finding commonality not in our jobs, or religion, or schools, or whatever — but rather in the pure fact that each of us, taking disparate paths, had found his/her bottom…. that each of us had learned that to really see that the sky’s the limit we had to have our back on the ground — and look up.

Yes, I wanted what those people had. They were calling it “serenity”.

I was reminded of that autumn night just recently. Ron and I, (Ed. Note 2: We’re the same age, give or take. He: a rich kid from Beachwood; me: product of South Euclid’s “mean streets”) .… Anyway, there we were — the two of us — again Wednesday — taking a meeting into a downtown detox center … sharing our “stories”. It’s our commitment, and frankly, as we speak weekly to the always new assembly of four to six barely/clean addicts, it’s always a coin flip if one of our captive audience will snore.

This week, though, was different. Someone — he couldn’t have been twenty-five — actually wanted to share. (Ed. Note 3: “Vent”, if you will).

“I hate lead meetings,” he asserted. “No one tells my story.”
“How many meetings have you been to?” asked my partner.
“Two,” he said, “And then I got pulled over.”

They laughed — all of them. It was funny, except it wasn’t.

“Let me tell you something,” I said, staring directly at the kid, (who may have led his high school class in tats), “I once sat in your seat”.

Standing oh so politely, he interrupted: “You don’t understand,” he told me.
“Really?” I pushed back with vengeance.  “Sit the f#!* down.”

… Silence … Just silence … and I picked up steam.

“I didn’t get here on a winning streak, my friend. Either did Ron here.”

My buddy nodded; the kid hit his chair; the horse had left the barn; we closed the meeting.

Brandon — that was his name — came up to me afterwards and asked for my number. Gladly I gave it.  Gladly.

He’ll be gone by next Wednesday. Four days for detox— that’s all they give them. Odds are he won’t call — but we’ll see. We’ll see.

It all depends, you know…

Not on whether he needs it, but on whether he wants it.