Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Man in My Mother's Bedroom

An edited version of this post is scheduled to be included in a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book to be published Spring 2014.

The desk has been shoved unceremoniously into a corner, its chair removed. The bed no longer reigns as queen in the middle of the room but has been reduced to a much less important position closer to the window. A hospital bed now serves as its companion. A recliner, with very large arms, competes for space. This piece, designed as half sleeper and half catapult to assist in propelling its occupant forward, is covered with sheets and a blanket. It plays a central role in a new dynamic here. There is an unmistakable statement, advising all of the troubles within these walls.

My mom is resting in the recliner as I enter the room. Her eyes are closed, and she appears to be neither awake nor quite asleep. It is a condition that has become all too familiar. This room, this state of half being, is the universe she inhabits with increasing frequency.

"Madam,  your son Rob is here, Rob is here". My mom half opens her eyes. "Rob?", "Robert." "I am right here Mom." I put my hand in hers and squeeze. She is surprisingly warm, and she squeezes back with a strength that acknowledges not only my presence but the depth of her feelings for me.

I try to converse with her, to keep her awake. It is only 5 PM, but this has become her new bedtime. She has exchanged night for day, and sleep now comes at all the wrong hours. So, one of my roles is to try to keep her up just a little longer, as we hopefully reset her clock, little by little.

I chronicle what my day has been like, and then a few seconds later I do it again. I make the smallest of small talk, trying to come up with anything that will keep her mind occupied. It is most often a losing battle, and she drifts away into her own world.

In the background, there is the unmistakable voice of the 1940's. The boy from Hoboken is crooning in those gentle soothing tones, telling stories of love and tenderness. Suddenly, my mom raises an arm, acting as conductor to the band that accompanies the sounds of Sinatra. Then the most remarkable thing happens. She begins to sing, in clear voice and tone. She recalls perfectly each syllable, each note. After several moments, she grows quiet.

"Mom, did you ever see Sinatra perform?". "Oh yes", she tells me. She is now more fully awake. "It was really quite a few years ago". For a person who has lost any concept of her age, or where events occurred on a time line, this acknowledgement is an aberration. "Do you remember who went with you to hear him? Where was it?". I know when her eyes move up and to the corner that she is searching her memory bank for clues.She tries to recall specifics but it is hopeless.

She begins to sing again, and I accompany her. I remember some of the words from the days I stood next to my Dad, at the piano, reading over his shoulder as he played Sinatra in our living room. I squeeze my mom's hand to tell her how nice this is, and she reciprocates.

In a bit, she is again silent. But I can sense how much she is enjoying the music. Her arm begins to conduct in perfect rhythm. I stop trying to intercede and just let her have this time to herself, with Frank.

There is a man in my mom's bedroom, filling up her mind and giving her comfort. She and Sinatra are in harmony. She is happy. And so am I.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Natural

It was an unmistakable sound. "Thwack". And then again, "thwack". It continued, repeating every few seconds. Several feet away, I stared, stunned. My son turned, saw the look on my face and then turned away once more. "Thwack". I had no idea that he was capable of this. Not my son.

I have been in hand to hand combat with the game of golf for almost 55 years. Each year I find brief rays of sunshine, but mostly there are dark clouds and often there is a downpour. Moments of joy are sandwiched around volumes of despair. I have come to accept this reality. And so, the pleasure I was experiencing was unrelated to anything I had encountered with a club in my hand. Only the club was now in the capable possession of my son.

It all began innocently enough. Being who I am, and unable to exercise self control, I befriended the family's 25 year old hair cutter. As I sat in her chair, and she pretended that there were enough follicle challenges on the top of my head to warrant attention, the conversation turned to the beginning of another season on the links. It turns out that this heavily tattooed woman, with hair that frequently changed color from dramatic to something beyond that, was a neophyte golfer. By the end of the massaging of the scalp and shampooing, we had made a play date for the following day at the local driving range.

But there was something inherently unsettling for me in this arrangement, and so I made certain to suggest that my son join us in this undertaking. One small problem was that he had absolutely no interest in this sport. But, as it turns out, he did have some interest in this very nice young lady.

While my waking hours had begun in the early dawn, we scheduled our meeting to coincide with the sleeping habits of our companion. And thus, at 12:30 PM, my son and I arrived at the house of the heavily tattooed hairstylist turned impeccably dressed driving range buddy.

The plan was for me to test my still somewhat unreliable back with a few shots. The rest of the small bucket of balls were to be struck, with increasing anger I imagined, by this black haired woman. As for my son, his role was to be that of friend and gentle supporter, providing encouragement and maybe some humor. The putting green was but a few yards away. It would be there that he was supposed to shine.

While the game of golf, with its monotonous journey for hours and hours, had held his interest not a whit, my son in his formative years found mini-golf to be the "essence of life". Family competitions often occurred there. My wife, my son and sometimes even my daughter, took turns humiliating me, the "golfer". The driving range, lurking near, could have been half way across the world for all my son cared.

As our very unlikely trio began this golfing adventure, my son found a comfortable bench from which to watch and comment. After but a few ragged attempts, I took my seat next to him, done for the day. The minutes went by, and the number of balls left in the bucket of the neophyte began to dwindle. Out of what could only be considered boredom, my son got up from the bench and walked a few steps to where my driver was resting.

Several questions as to posture, grip and swing plane ensued. Then, he took a ball and placed it gently on the tee. I was full of trepidation. I did not want this to be a humiliation for him, certainly not in this particular setting. He took the club back and then froze for what seemed like 30 seconds, as his brain was communicating with his body what to do next. "Thwack". The ball traveled in an absolute straight line. Not terribly far, but straight as an arrow. And then again, and again. Over the course of 10 minutes, the human machine performed his act to perfection.

When the display was concluded, I know that my face was almost frozen in an edge to edge grin. Who was this person, and how had he made such a despicably difficult exercise seem as simple as putting one foot in front of the other?

The following day, we were sitting at home, late in the afternoon. I was in my normal state, half asleep on the couch, ready to do nothing more strenuous then change the channels on the television. Suddenly, my son asked if I had any interest in going to the driving range. What had I done?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Keys to the Asylum

("Let Arizona's Law Stand")

Is this the best we can do? Under Mr. Spiro's hypothesis we should allow deeply offensive, unconstitutional legislation to obtain the Supreme Court's seal of approval just so its proponents can later be ridiculed for the embarrassing backlash. Is that an actual theory of governing?

If this were followed to its logical conclusion, it would be best if the Democrats stopped opposing the ludicrous and destructive positions of the Republicans. Let health care reform wither on the vine, stop trying to regulate the banking industry, don't push for environmental sanity. If the inmates run the asylum, so Mr. Spiro seems to be advocating, then eventually they will self destruct.

Such is not a path I am comfortable taking. There may be significant backlash from foreign investment if they have legitimate fear of the impact of these anti-immigration laws on their people (although I personally doubt that this would occur).  And yes, migrant workers who are not showing up for work on the farms have, and will, create a backlash from their potential employers. But that is little reason, and scant justification for permitting laws such as the one in Arizona to withstand judicial review.

Our country will not be improved in our eyes, and in the eyes of the world that is watching, by such action. It is critical that, at each and every opportunity, we strike down legislation that would diminish and disgrace us. Otherwise, one day we may forget how and why we permitted these laws to remain, and only be left with their devastating results.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Little Bandbox that Could

("The Lyric Little Bandbox Turns 100"). There is something almost mythical in the vivid detail of Mr. Margolick's tribute to Fenway Park. The stadium is a living, breathing being capable of the broadest range of emotion. The Wall is physically assaulted by offending baseballs, yet I see it as majestic and defiant. Mr. Margolick captures, in glorious detail, what it means to be a fan, to not only attend a game, but to become part of something much larger and more meaningful.

As I sit in my apartment, I stare at a sign, literal and figurative, of something that is no more. It reads "Be Alert Foul Balls" and was taken, surreptitiously from Yankee Stadium on September 21, 2008, as the last out ever recorded there was made. Given the stern and constant reminders that we, as fans, were not entitled to walk away with a piece of history, this lasting memory was hidden on my back, under my sweater as I made my final exit from the place I had viewed as a second home for half a century.

Downstairs, there is an $80 clump of dead grass, purportedly removed from the House that Ruth built, as it was being unbuilt. It is, for me, as much statement as is it defective merchandise.

I envy Mr. Margolick and the treasures that he finds to this day. In my eyes, the new Yankee Stadium is an antiseptic fraud. It does not tell me tales of Ruth and Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Berra, and all the others whose blood, sweat and tears was taken away with the demolition of the old brick and mortar.

I understand that age and economics wait for no man, and that Wrigley and Fenway are the remaining vestiges of an era long since passed.  I know ultimately that the team I have rooted for all these years is not really housed in any place but my heart. But, at least for a brief moment after reading of the Little Bandbox that could, I am envious of a Red Sox fan. And in all my 60 years, that is a first.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Every action, or inaction, was viewed with suspicion. Every call a ruse, every felicitation intended merely to confuse. I saw shadows everywhere. It was, after all, my 60th birthday.

Having orchestrated a relentless campaign for my family to surprise me with a party, how could I be surprised. Yesterday, when each of my 3 golfing companions announced that our game had to be cut short based on reasons like fear of excess traffic (when was the last time a golfer ever voluntarily had a club pried from his hands before completing his appointed rounds?) my geiger counter almost exploded with activity.

On arriving home, I took my wife's suggestion that I shower again as a sign. My son was dressed far too nicely. My neighbor was joining us for dinner way too late for my family's appetite alarm. And when my brother-in-law called on his way home from the office just to wish me a happy 60th, I began to practice my speech.

I have never been a good liar. When I entered the room full of familiar faces, and the questions cascaded regarding my state of mind, how could I be dishonest? I know that protocol would require me to feign shock, but after practically drawing up the guest list, would anyone believe my prevarications? After several half-hearted attempts, I gave up the ghost.

Part of the joy in color war at camp each summer was in trying to figure out the moment it was to commence. False leads were discarded. There was tension and intrigue leading up to the event itself. And so it was throughout the course of yesterday.

I know what kind of planning had to be involved, the secret missions that had to be accomplished when my eyes were averted, the effort and the dedication to the goal of making this the best night of my life.

Was I surprised when I walked into that Greek restaurant? That is not a question that ultimately has any relevance. The only inquiry that needed answer was found in the faces and the words of my wife, my children and those assembled.

Just one note of caution. While most of the glorification of everything me was perfect, there was one particularly huge fish tale told by a nameless friend, Mike, that might have been a teeny, tiny bit over the top. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that next time I might have to not only surreptitiously plan my own guest list, but also edit the speeches. In the final analysis, one can never be too careful in making sure there are no surprises at a surprise party.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Catch - Part 2

The call I received from my daughter brought an instant smile to my face.

It was a beautiful spring day. The May flowers were in full bloom in early April and everything was primed to shake off the last remnants of the winter that wasn't. When my daughter told me that she and her boyfriend had just spent time playing catch, it seemed perfectly natural. Only I was just a little jealous that it wasn't me who was on the receiving end of her throws.

Our family lived in Tenafly for nearly a quarter of a century. Our house was small, a cape that we had to expand so that both of our children had their own bedrooms. But the backyard was big enough to allow for life's most essential element, throwing and hitting of a baseball.

Hitting was actually more than a little problematic. The outfield fence was probably no more than 80 feet from home plate, which was situated next to our small patio. And there was always the issue of a foul ball, which could potentially do damage to the house, or more specifically to the windows almost directly behind the batter's box. But throwing was in large measure without these potential pitfalls. So, of necessity, almost all of our time was spent on the art of fielding.

When the kids were very young, we stood but a few feet from each other. We would have a 3 way toss, and count how many times this skill could be accomplished without error. As time passed, the distance of the throws increased and the subtleties of positioning for grounders and fly balls began to enter the conversation.

Baseball was not a sport that came easily or naturally for my son. In very short order, it was clear that the major leagues was not his future destination. But that did not mean that our time in the backyard diminished. There was something much more important going on in these hours than merely chasing left and right for grounders that would bounce off roots of trees and disappear into the bushes.

My son says that my daughter was the athlete that I always wanted. But it was never the athleticism that mattered in the least. When I came home from work and the first thing that my daughter did was walk out to the backyard with her glove and mine,  tossing the softball in the air, what meaning did it have if she didn't turn out to be the star, or even a starter. Who cared, as long as she wanted to be in that backyard with me, and with her brother.

Early last week I asked my wife if she knew whether we still had the old mitts. I understand that it is hard for me to throw overhand without discomfort now, and that I reside in a high rise apartment building where open space is at a premium. I talked with her about the possibility of using some land that had an unofficial "keep off the grass" policy. And I envisioned those high pop-ups that sometimes gave my children such trouble settling under.

When I got that call from my daughter I knew that it was not only me who remembered those days in the backyard with such emotion. I will search through the closet when I get home this evening and hope that I find remnants of those times waiting for me. Great minds do think alike, and true love lives forever somewhere in that pile.

Friday, April 13, 2012


She sat in the wheelchair in her dining room. The glare from the late afternoon sun robbed her of virtually all of whatever limited vision remained. The conversation of my aunt, my sister and myself swirled around her, as she seemed to hear in only small sporadic bursts. 24 hours before my mom had been lying in an emergency room, in great pain. It appeared that her back had finally fully betrayed her.

Over 20 years earlier, doctors had declared her back an official mess. Yet, in the intervening years she had been able to avoid any major setbacks. Last weekend, as our family gathered for the holiday, there were signs of impending disaster. At dinner she listed terribly, as if in the perpetual process of falling over. My sister and I sat on either side of her. We suggested that this was nothing more than my mom following the tradition of our culture (which called for one to recline at the table that night) and my sister feigned insult that my mom was favoring me by leaning in my direction. I thought possibly her brain was  unable to instruct her on the art of sitting upright. But in retrospect, I believe it was her way of compensating for the ever increasing discomfort she was experiencing.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was directed to the room where my mom was laying down. Her ever present and ever more incredible caretaker was hovering over her like a mother hen, gently stroking her hair. My sister was, as always, in charge, giving the doctors book and page of my mom's travails.

Next to my sister, my mom lay quiet, but then, even with the smallest of moves, found herself in momentary agony. I could envision her, much like me in my worst days, unable to move without the possibility of excruciating discomfort. This, I feared, would be what the future held for her. Surgery at her age and in her condition seemed a very remote possibility. I could almost literally feel her pain. For me, empathy was too timid a word.

We were once again informed that her back was in shambles. She was given painkillers and muscle relaxants and told, at least for the moment, to go home. If the pain was unrelenting, there was always the possibility of a return trip to the hospital.

They let my mom use the emergency room like her own private space for several hours, while she slept on and off. I left for the office. I was later told that when advised that the room was needed for other emergencies, my mom became combative. It took the combined strength of 3 people to get her out of that room. And so I think we all anticipated the worst.

As she sat in the wheelchair, my mom appeared to be free of discomfort. The events of the last 24 hours had long since receded from her memory. I told her how impressed I was with her ability to recover, that she had not been feeling very well the day before, but now seemed perfect. She looked at me, or at least in my direction, without acknowledging what I might have been referring to.

As I readied to go, I thought to myself that my mom must, in some ways, be bionic. While almost everything about her is in grave decline, she has (knock on wood) been able to withstand the physical traumas without any permanent damage. All the falls, all the physical deterioration, and she was still here and talking about 'going home' tomorrow. She still wants to be in motion, and who am I to say that I won't soon receive a call saying she is looking to go out to lunch.

Two months after re-injuring my back, I struggle and complain about residual discomfort. One day after her experience in the hospital, my mom was, at least within the confines of her own universe, fit as a fiddle. With all that has gone wrong over the last several years, at least there is something for which I am most grateful. And astonished.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reigning Supreme


("Bring the Justices Back to Earth")

The average life expectancy in this country is twice as long as when the first Supreme Court justices began their tenure in 1789. Of those appointed to that first court, only one sat for a decade. The average duration was less than 9 years.

Of today's bench, Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas are into their third decade on the highest court. The four most recent appointees, Kagan, Roberts, Alito and Sotomayer were all born in the 1950's or 1960's. The tenure of some or all of this latest foursome may well just be in its infancy. Clearly, the contemplation of the framers of the Constitution was vastly different from the reality of the present world.

If the reasonable expectation in the late 1700's was merely that this body sit unimpeded by the pull of political tensions, what we have witnessed in recent years is something very far from that ideal. What Bush v Gore and Citizen's United have shown is a court, willing to flex its muscle in furtherance not of constitutional protection but of political preference. With the pending ruling on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, it is feared that this trend will continue with devastating result.

It is past time that we reform this system, where justices rule much as dictators, year after year, free from oversight or ethical restraint. We should apply 21st century reality to an 18th century document and restrict the length of time that any of these justices can reign.


This past weekend, I was unfaithful. The saddest part is that my children were not only aware of my infidelity, they participated in it. On Saturday we all attended a Met game.

As Alex, Evan, Richie and I made our way into the ballpark, I was hoping no one would recognize me. If spotted could I possibly have explained my aberrational behavior on the basis of reduced price tickets? Would Governor Spitzer have been excused if he stated he strayed only because the escort service was running a special promotion?

It is not even a week into the season. The undefeated Orioles took on the winless Bronx bummers last night. Meanwhile, the record of the Metropolitans remains unblemished. This is something much more than coincidence.

I sit in a room surrounded by images that stare at me in contempt. There are autographed photos of Mantle and Jeter shown in the midst of majestic performance. A pinstriped jersey with the intersecting NY is signed by Joe DiMaggio, #5. I turn out the lights but I still feel the burning, piercing eyes.

It is said that the Red Sox fate was sealed for the rest of the 20th century when their owner sold the Babe in 1918 for money to finance a Broadway show. It would be almost nine decades before the curse of the Bambino was lifted. Directly in front of me he is there, in dual photos as a member of both the Yankees and Red Sox, framing a copy of the agreement made "for transfer of a player". Is this a sign of the price I must pay for my wrongdoing?

The Yankees are offering their own steeply discounted tickets to several upcoming games. In the near future I will return to my real home and will try to keep my impropriety quiet. But ultimately there is no such thing as a discrete affair. The heart is forever tarnished and the mind can never be as pure. I apologize profusely to Joe D, Mickey, Derek, and the Babe but they appear uninterested in my empty words. Too little, too late they seem to be saying. I am disconsolate.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fish in a Barrel

 ("Haunted by the Primaries")

Yes, Romney has made a mess of the primary process, taking ludicrous positions to sooth the wild beasts on the far right. But it is far from certain that his past words will dictate the future course of the conversation.

One of the principal shortcomings of this administration has been its inability to be on the offensive. The Republicans have controlled the focus, leading to debate over such matters as the propriety of raising the debt ceiling and forcing the President to produce a copy of his long form birth certificate. It has been a waste of time and energy.

The Republican dominated super PAC monies will be directed at misdirection, to lead us not to an examination of Romney's shortcomings but to the failings of everything Obama. It is easy today to conceive that the next few months will be filled with Romney running over himself as he tries to backtrack from every position he has taken out of primary necessity. But this will not be like shooting fish in a barrel.

The course of our very fragile economy, a very political Supreme Court, Angela Merkel, Al Qaeda, or matters now unknown or unforeseen will give the Republicans plenty of ammunition to deflect attention from the etch-a-sketch man. If the history of the last three years is any predictor of the future, and if the Koch brothers dollars speak loudly, Romney's foibles may well turn out to be little more than mostly forgotten footnote.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Republican Primary- A Musical - Act 2 Begins

Act 2- Preamble- It is now April 3 nearly a month after Super Tuesday. Only Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul remain. It has been a slow march through March, but now it appears that Romney will be the last man standing. Yet, none of the other 3 contenders are ready to pack it in. The present delegate count for each candidate is set forth on a large screen in the background. The chorus stands on stage and tells us what remains.

Scene 1-  "Wherever I go, ego" tells the tale of the former speaker with the super-sized mouth and a superiority complex. Gingrich is portrayed as a man so in love with hearing the sound of his own voice that he can hear nothing else. His "wait til the convention" theme is translated to mean "I am out of money and ideas but I won't give any of you the satisfaction of seeing me quit." As the song finishes, we see Gingrich walk across the stage, alone.. He turns to the screen behind him, stares for a few seconds, and then drops to his knees and starts to cry, head in hands.

Scene 2- "Where in the world is Ron Paul" asks the question as to the state in which we find this candidate, literally and figuratively, on the night of the primaries in Washington, DC, Maryland and Wisconsin. The answers are California and his own universe. In the world of Mr. Paul, this is not about whether you win or lose, but only that you continue to be eccentric and unsettling. For Ron Paul, it is enough that he is there as an irritant, a bug that flies around your head that can't be swatted away. "Where in the world is Ron Paul" ends by saying "he is right where he wants to be, we just can't  seem to find him."

Scene 3-  In "The Chosen One" we learn of a candidate who understands that outside the states where the crazy evangelicals reside in large numbers, his numbers are small. And so what if most of the country thinks he might be the illegitimate love child of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh? He has a calling and a purpose and a message from God. Unfortunately, it turns out that he is unable to decipher what that message is and thinks it was either to to tell him to keep the heat up on Romney, or keep the heat up to 62 degrees in his house. But it doesn't matter, because either way God has chosen to speak to him. And so the song concludes with Santorum entering the stage, looking up to the heavens and, with arms outstretched, asking for guidance. And then everything goes black.

Scene 4- The chorus begins "Starting Over" by singing the line from the John Lennon tune. "It'll be just like starting over" tells of the "etch-a-sketch" man and his ability to recast himself. It portrays Romney not so much as a man with shifting values, but as one with no values at all. "It is not hard to change, when all you are is a mirage, an invention of the moment". Romney appears, wearing a tee shirt reading 'Romney, 2012, a man with the answers to ALL your questions." As he turns to study the delegate count on the wall behind him, we see the reverse side of his shirt which reads, "Romney 2012, a man with ANY answer to all your questions."