I’m an educated man. Rearing in the then-stellar South Euclid-Lyndhurst school system was supplemented by thirteen years of religious training, four years of undergrad, three years of law …and months nurtured as an army medic. My brother too is well-schooled. His OSU degree was followed by a Masters at UNC. Neither of us are idiots.

Why then, with all our formal education, all the hands-on experience…can we never have the right answer for our aunt? Ever.

My first year with the White Sox we were managed by Mr. Wendel. His single message that season, the one thing he’d plead to our bench: “Before every pitch…ask yourself ‘What will I do if the ball comes to me?’” It was a lesson I carried to Mr. Minadeo’s Brooklyn in the Pony League, to Waxman Plumbing and Sol’s Boys, and even honored playing out my string with Bruce Block in the 80’s. WHAT DO I DO IF THE BALL COMES TO ME? Time honored dogma, was it not the Jewish version of the Boy Scouts’ “Be prepared.”?

Try as we may, when it comes to our aunt, Hal and I will never get Merit Badges. H says, “It’s always what you don’t expect.”

A half century after Fred Wendel, it matters not the subject and matters not the situation. Upcoming Helen interactions demand team meetings. H and I, therefore, convene, asking “What do we say if she asks…” There is give and take, an open airing of perspectives, of theory, of stratagem….”And what, we ask, do we counter with when she says ….” Since we rarely see her together, as we’ll each be “on our own,” we think it through…anticipate: WHAT DO I DO IF THE BALL COMES TO ME?

In baseball there’s a “book.” Man on first, single to the outfield, he throws to third. Man on second, same situation….throw home through the cutoff man… Simple you might say, the steadfast fundamentals that made Wieder’s good teams great.

There’s no book on Aunt Helen!

This is, of course, more an issue for Bruce than Harold. Once, as the first born “b’chor,” the proud graduate of Hebrew High School, I’d been the family’s Golden Boy. Those sentiments were neutered by my life, wounded when our father died, and buried with Grandma Bogart in ’89. Since then it’s been Aunt Helen (Queen Mother), Hal as Ray Romano and….of course, Everybody Loves Raymond. Perhaps a function of time, perhaps not, but today Helen considers me the bad nephew and Hal the good son.

Which is why preparation so important! (Even for Hal). He knows full well that while in her eyes he can do no wrong (except, perhaps by defending me)….that any discord between his aunt and his brother will “not be good for the Jews,” especially one named Harold. There’s always fallout.

So we prepare. Together. We anticipate. Together. We plot. Together. But there is no book!

Consider: Two months ago I was cast in “The Music Man.” A glorious musical, it provided the perfect vehicle for her to not only be with family, but revisit the wheelhouse of her life.

Ah…but as Hal says, “It’s always what you don’t expect.”

“How’s the show going?” she inquired in May.
“Flat,” I said. “
“Should I not come to see it?”
“I told Hal not to come,” said I, but advised her she’d love it, that Weiskopf would bring her to a matinee. (What I hadn’t told her—it was a surprise—was that I’d dedicated my performance to her….in the program). Her birthday is mid-run; I thought it would be nice).
“If it’s not good enough for your brother,” she told me, “I too shall abstain.”
“But YOU will love it,” I insisted.
“Please…why must you be argumentative?….I don’t love bad theater.”

Time passed. Tech week approached. She needed chicken.

“Do you still want your brother not to come?” she asked, all the while checking the Boris receipt…again.
“Actually,” I noted, “The show’s quite good. I told him the other day he’d like it. He’s coming.”
“Really…?” she shrugged (a la Jack Benny).
“He’s going to call you,” I promised.

And he did. And…again….it’s always what you don’t expect.

“I’m going to Bruce’s play,” said The Good One.
“Is Margie coming?”
“Probably not.”
“Will you go if I don’t go?” she asked him.
“No,” he replied. “I wouldn’t go alone.”
“Then I will not go!” she said.
“But I will go with you,” he implored.
“Clearly,” she insisted, “I do not wish to see a show you do not wish to see.”
“If you were not going anyway I don’t want to go.” she said.
“But I AM GOING with you,” he pointed out.
“Please,” she insisted, “Don’t be argumentative.”

Then Hal stopped. On a dime. And why not? My brother is not only educated, but subtly brilliant. Keeping his mouth shut gave him victory on her court. Our aunt would feel good about intending to go if only Hal was going anyway and H, of course, would get credit for being willing to take her. Clearly, if the saga were to end here it would be Win-Win.

It can’t though. Not for the bad nephew. I, you see, must now make a special trip to her house to deliver the program…on an “off week.” And that, please note, mandated a meeting first, with Hal.

What if she asks if he knew of the dedication? If I say Yes she’ll want to know why I told him and not her. If I say No she’ll say that if indeed the performance was dedicated to her she should have been there for it. And did Margie know? And why? And why not?

My brother smiled as I took the field. The ball was clearly coming my way.

It’s always what you don’t expect, he reminded. “You’ll be fine.”

It’s easy for him to say, I thought. Easy for him to laugh. No matter what comes out of my mouth, no matter how textbook-right my answers are, I’m not Hal, I’m Robert…

And Everybody (especially Aunt Helen), Loves Raymond.


  1. anonymous says:

    own it…and who cares

  2. m says:

    It’s not easy being married to Ray. May I suggest, just listen to your aunt, offer no comment and NEVER any information!

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