He sat at Legacy’s patio. Spotting my approach, he stood like the Coast Guard waving me in. I wasn’t late; Norman was, as usual…early.

“I like to face out, watch the women,” he said.
“No problem,” I obliged the 82 year-old.

His voice is softer now, a far cry from the fire and brimstone that used to greet me. His gait is slower too. Still, though I surpassed his height years ago, there hasn’t been a moment I haven’t looked up to him. To this day.

A half century of business and pleasure: I’ve seen him brash and self-assured. I’ve heard his laugh, watched his anger and oh how I’ve cringed as he’s yelled. Still, in sixty years, there’s never been one moment his heart hasn’t shown through it all. The man, to this day, is all heart and no bite.

“Bruce,” he once shried, “ I hate my relatives. Each and every one of them.” It was an odd statement to hear from a cousin.
“Norm, I’m a relative.”
“Oh, I forgot.”
(That was ten years ago, maybe more. He was just beginning to mellow).

I first met Stormin’ Norman in the 60’s. At least I think it was him—he was moving so fast— I couldn’t tell. My Dad’s cousin, he found me summer work at his Mentor store. Down in Akron then, Norm was opening Summit Mall in a chain growing geometrically.

Too young to handle money, my job was to straighten piles. Pick up, restock, and straighten. I loved it. Donnie Eisner, Joe Lemmo, Richard Kaufman: they’d play word games and tell adult stories of intrigue. I was a batboy sitting in the dugout with Mays and McCovey…content to listen, observe.

One day Norman barged in unannounced. Blowing by me, he stopped at the register, but within minutes turned to leave. And then it happened.

“Who stacked these pants?” he demanded, SCREAMING.
I was mortified. His arms flailing, his face beet red, he was incensed.
“Who’s responsible for this mess?” he shrieked and in one fluid motion picked up a pile of 36-30 Haggar slacks, thrusting them in the air!

Dead silence. No one was moving. I was scared.

“Now,” he implored, “Someone pick these up and stack them the way Norm Diamond stacks pants.” And with that he was gone with his wind.

Fast forward to the mid-70’s. No longer store-bound, Norman operated from corporate offices adjacent Corky’s. I had just passed the bar.

“Al’s boy? Send him back.” I heard from a room.

Ushered in, I found my Dad’s cousin standing, eyes closed, holding a sunlamp
inches from his face. Our session took five minutes—maybe less. He never opened his eyes.
“Your Dad says you’re a good lawyer…that I should throw you some work.”
“That’d be great.” I said.
“How much should I charge you?”
(Did I hear him wrong?) “It will be good for you, “ he pointed out “If people know you represent Norm Diamond.” And then he laughed….(but I don’t think he was quite joking).

Years would pass. Some good, some not so good. Our paths would cross for a while, and then they wouldn’t. He was always there though…at some level. And I was always aware of him. Always. I thought then, as I do now: it’s a shame everyone can’t see him as I do.

As No Nonsense as he was in with business, Norman always buttressed family. Then and now. Over time he found homes and sustained jobs for more people than he’d care to remember. I, however, remember.

When our dad bottomed, Norm got him a line selling ties; (to this day I can spot Shantung samples). Decades later he paid our mom to answer his phone. (Who but Norman would, looking the other way, hire a one-eared receptionist)? Indeed, history will record that brother Hal too once had the distinct pleasure of stacking pants.

Have you sensed yet that I love this man?

He runs hot and cold, but always with warmth. Like in the 90’s when I was leasing from him and had fallen behind. One day, without warning, I found my files in the hall.
“Norm,” how could you do that? I asked (still minus rent). Within moments he calmed down.
“I’ll help you move back in,” he offered…and the two of us carried boxes.

But that was years ago and for both of us….tears ago. My mom’s gone. His Charlotte’s gone. Even some of the stores are gone. Norman and I, though, still stand.

We had a nice dinner on that patio Monday. All pleasure—no business. Leaving, he mentioned meeting Paul from Toledo every now and then…somewhere on the west side…would I be interested?
“I’d love to,” I said. “Anytime after this month—I’m in rehearsal ‘til then.”
That was three days ago.

Walking through Heinen’s today my phone rang.
“Bruce,” the voice came, “It’s Cousin Norm….Can you have dinner with Paul Stark next Wednesday?”
“Norm, it’s still September!” I noted.
The more things change, of course… the more they stay the same.
The man is always early.

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