Archive for June, 2016

FIVE FLAGS

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

My Dad’s dad was a Torah reader by trade. A B’al Koreh. In near eighty years not once did he cradle a baseball in his hand and my guess is not even once was he in the room with one. Still, on a brisk October 1948 day he caught a streetcar to Euclid Avenue where he stood at the curb as the newly-crowned World Champion Cleveland Indians paraded. Staid, rigid as Andy Hardy’s stoic father, he beamed as the moment called!

I wasn’t there Wednesday – at the party downtown. Bobby and Stuart had
called me to join them … even teased when I said No. Excoriating me, Snyder laughed that in all the years I hadn’t learned my lesson! Hadn’t the two of them, he noted, been the ones that told me not to go to Michigan State? “When you going to learn?” he asked, Stuart laughing in the background. (Ed. Note 1: Answer I didn’t, still trying to figure out what Fenton was going to do downtown.  (Ed. Note 2: And No, I didn’t pass ‘cause the Cavs fired Coach Blatt. Weeks ago I’d reasoned he wasn’t the first Jew thrown to the curb). (Ed. Note 3: And No, the previous note in no way refered to my first marriage).

I worked that day — at least the morning. Yet in the evening, eyeing festivities from the comfort of a bedroom, I thought back to other titles….

Five times in this cowboy’s we’ve won it all. Five times seasons have ended my way. Five inpenetrable memories:

December 27, 1964, Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

Side-by-side with Brother Wieder I sat. From the first row on the 40 we reveled as the Browns rallied from a scoreless half, stunning the 11-point favorite Colts.
From the tickets we’d won to the post-game press conference we’d trespassed, it was the perfect day for a fifteen year old. I picture it still.

January 1, 1969. An apartment off Shaker Square in Cleveland.

Led by super sophomores, OSU had run the table that fall. I’d been in the closed end for the October shut out of #1 Purdue in October (Bill Long at quarterback), and I’d been in the open end for the season ending route of #4 Michigan. And then… on New Year’s Day, Stuart and I watched Woody’s men upend O.J. Simpson and the Trojans from the apartment of the one and only Henry I. Katz.

January 3, 2003. A kitchen in Moreland Hills.

Sleeping in downtown Columbus the night before Michigan and sharing a room
that night with Michael B and Brian Block were preludes. The double-overtime Fiesta Bowl weeks later was watched with Matthew Friedman, just the two of us. Can I tell you I didn’t change my seat the entire second half PLUS? If there was a chance we could pull the major upset I would do nothing to jinx it!

January 12, 2015. Las Vegas, Nevada.

Elbow to elbow we sat (father and son), front row, eyes angled up. He’d flown from New York; I’d flown from Cleveland; we sat there together. Until… until: as the inaugural NCAA College Football Playoff Championship ended, and as scarlet and gray confetti filled the sports book screen the heretofore composed Michael erupted from his seat. “Yeah!” he shouted as players flocked the field. “Yeah!”

June 19, 2016. Las Vegas, Nevada.

With a woman I sat in a restaurant in “Paris”. A wife! MY WIFE!!! (The world had indeed changed in six-some decades).

There we dined with her friend from olden days — a guy I’d yet to meet by the afternoon of The Drive — and had yet to hear of the night of The Fumble — who wasn’t on my radar as Mesa faltered in that ninth ….

That half century collapsed in what then seemed but an instant! My daughter called at halftime. I peaked up here and there at the game on the monitor. We gobbled burgers.

Then Kyrie hit the shot!

— I cried. I really did, (as did many).
— I filmed all the noise. I really did, (as did others).

This flag, it occurred, wasn’t just for the team or the sport. This flag was for the town – my town — CLEVELAND!

The place I never left.

It occurred to me midst tears of joy that Modell was still scum and the Ravens were still thugs, and Yes, I still didn’t give a damn about the whole state of Michigan —- but that what really mattered was that my heart was #ALLIN Cleveland!

They’re talking Tribe in my hometown this week, (the parade over). Three more months (and a bit) ‘til The Series. But it feels like the year, yes it does. “Next year” might be this year. We’ll see.   Maybe I’ll call Bob and Stuart Monday (for a ride downtown).

East Lansing seems so far away.

ROOTS

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

I hooked Grandpa Maysai’s tie clip to the cravat gifted from Cousin Rick and hung my dad’s dog tags ‘round my neck. In my left pocket was a photo of my brother and in my right, photos of six grandkids.

I stuffed yarmulkes from Great Neck, Jamaica, and Cleveland weddings into my Siddur bag and pulled my grandfather’s century-old tallis — the one he’d worn on Park Synagogue’s pulpit — from the Diamond Men’s Wear hanger.

And I left, already wistful, for my Confirmation Class reunion.

From Chagrin Boulevard I drove: down Richmond, left on Fairmount, past the temple 80’s Beachwood housewives cherished … through Fairmount Circle, where Cousin Howard, in a since-razed theater once taught us to throw popcorn in the air and catch it in our mouths … and down through the Heights.

Fifty-one years it had been since our class convened. Some of us (the vast minority) had classes three days per week; the greater portion: weekend warriors. Still, ‘though a new world punctured the 60’s, at one level or another each of us — perhaps pushed by our parents — had played by the rules.

I turned down Euclid Heights Boulevard, then right at the gate. (Ed. Note 1: Rabbi Cohen lived there “in the day”. Aunt Helen didn’t like him. “He was rude to ‘Pa’”, she would say to her grave).

Driving past a police car, (the presence of which wasn’t needed back then), I parked in a primo spot that would have made George Costanza kvell. Then I froze! Outside my car, you see, staring right in my face, was a deer. A giant deer.

Really?

(Ed Note 2: He finally moved, but not until I’d taken a picture and perhaps even frightened him. I’d post the pic on Facebook, but in this PC world it would offend nature lovers. Or PETA people perhaps. To paraphrase my hero Gilbert Gottfried: “I apologizes to all animals).

Risk extinguished, entering the temple I joined old friends (some of whom I even recognized). Mixing in the lounge they were, looking older than before.

A beautiful service ensued. They had us march in in procession and put us in field boxes. Me? I took an aisle seat next to Billy Levine. (Ed. Note 3: Water seeks it’s own level. We were Rowland School boys.).

They would bring us to the bima and read our names, but the splendor of the morning came sitting in repose, watching those fifty years younger embrace their own roots. And Torah.

—Like most Jewish simchas: we came, we prayed, and we ate —

I didn’t care for the post-service luncheon. Not my thing,so I mingled. “The art of conversation”, Brother Hal would say.

On a table to the side lay a four by five foot frame. Within it, one half-century later we were: our entire class, posed in black-n-white smiles, framed in composite.

Grabbing my cell phone I took Wieder’s picture. (Ed Note 4: I had no choice. From the Left Coast this month he’d been denying being part of our class. Here was proof I could send him. No wonder Mrs. Tishkoff didn’t like him!).

“Which one is you?” asked a confirmant still wearing his gown.
“That’s me” I said, and then straight-faced: “Do I look older?”
(The boy nodded).
“Do you want to know why I look older?” I asked.
(He nodded again, slightly).
“Because I married a girl from New Jersey”.
(This time he didn’t nod. He just walked away).

“I’m sitting over here,” pointed Levine, and I trod over — to a table with other women I hadn’t seen in fifty years. From Rowland School, of course. (Like I said: water seeks its own level. Beachwood kids? They sat elsewhere).

And then I left. Politely. Shaking hands. Saying all the thank you’s.

Walking to my car I loosened my tie but tightened my grip on what was. Without thinking I drove the periphery: past the old school where Michael begun, past the door Jamie carried her lulav, past the creek Stacy joined me for Tashlich….

This was not my grandfather’s world … nor my father’s … nor even mine.  Yet it was all three.

I am a vibrant and reasonably healthy. I have family, friends and love in my life.

I cradle each day and find comfort in the future.

… And yet … in some ways I couldn’t help wondering, as I drove from my father’s synagogue … whether my tour of the grounds had been a nostalgic victory lap— or just me rounding third, and heading home.

TO ALAN (wherever I may find him)

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Dear Alan,

Recall a while back sitting at Himmel’s restaurant with Walt and the wives, speculating about all meeting up in Portland? Carrie was thrilled to head west; Marc and Mary were down for it; and me? I assented to go (but it really wasn’t in my wheelhouse).

It never happened, of course, and in the few years since, as you know, I’ve formally codified the unwritten rule of my heart. The “Four State” Rule, I call it. Perhaps you remember…

If compelled to leave The Great State Of Ohio, I’ve limited myself to but a quartet of destinations: Illinois and New York —adopted homelands of my children— plus Nevada and Florida. (Ed. Note 1: Clark County only in Nevada, and east coast only in Florida).

Perhaps you scoff at my thinking and well I know how others (including but not limited to Ermine, who leads the league in out-of-county restaurants) sneer passively at my reverence of home…. but I’ve got to tell you, my good friend: I’m more convinced now than ever that The Four State Rule rules!

The problem with travellers is that they’re never just satisfied. One “hot spot” begets another and this place is better than that. Really? Is the sun any brighter in Turks and Caicos? Is the food any richer? Are the people much nicer? Is where you go this year any better than where you’ll go next year? And if it was so good this year why are you heading somewhere else next yere?

Give me northeast Ohio any day of the week. Any year.

Never a hurricane, rarely major flooding. Meteorology? Meaningless.

Home to culture and Corky’s.

And our roots.

Consider: a giant alligator crawled ‘cross a Florida fairway last week. You may have seen it on Youtube. That crap doesn’t happen up here. The only golf hazard we ever faced was on the fifth hole at Highland.

Look, Alan— I’m not judging. If you want your travel, go for it. But remember: you cut your teeth, and indeed made your mark on Cleveland’s sandlots with Sol’s Boys. To this day hereabouts you are known as “The Jewish John Wooden”. Think back, buddy. Where was all the action on that diamond? In the infield, of course. Closest to home.

What you need, mon frère, is a Life Coach. And for this, I volunteer.

Four states, I say. You can do it!. (Ed. Note 2: OK, six if you need them. You were always more liberal.).

Keep Oregon, both Carolinas…and Illinois.

Yeah, I’m giving you the Land Of Lincoln because I know you’ve got a book signing in Chicago this year. (Ed. Note 3:  And FYI, Wido:  Abe was Republican.  But let it go.).

Oh… and don’t forget to email me ‘bout the book signing. Am thinking I’ll be there.

In fact, I wouldn’t miss the gig — it being in Illinois and all….

RIGHT IN MY WHEELHOUSE.

Talk to ya soon, B