My Life In The Roaring Twenties

Family lore has it that on Thanksgiving Day, 90 years ago, a little guy to be named Maurice for his grandfather, emerged kicking and screaming out of his mother's womb, hanging on to his twin sister's big toe for dear life.

The event is reported to have taken place at a small hospital converted from an aging apartment house on E.55th St. between Cedar and Woodland Avenues. It was not much of a neighborhood, and in a matter of days young Maurice and his twin, Margaret, were hustled up Cedar Hill to a rented Cleveland Heights duplex on Meadowbrook Blvd. near Lee Rd.

Everett Mansion Owner: Sylvester T. Everett . Architect: Charles and Julius Schweinfurth
Construction: 1883-1887 Style: Mature Romansque Revival 1089 Euclid Ave. Razed: 1938
The mid-twenties were a good time to be born. Cleveland, the fifth largest city in America, was alive with economic vigor, led by such industrial luminaries as Severance, Mather, Rockefeller and the Van Sweringens. It was the time of Calvin Coolidge, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and J. Edgar Hoover. 
Flappers flapped. Speakeasies and black and tan clubs were all the rage. 
By then a huge swath of land on the south side of Public Square was being cleared for what was to become the grandest railroad station of its kind, topped by an office tower, the tallest between New York and Chicago. And the Van Sweringen brothers were quietly planning a local rail system that would take workers from the city to a new suburban shopping mall and residential suburb, well away from the smell, the soot, and the crime of the city. 

Union Terminal under construction
It was rumored that the Van Sweringens had arranged to route the sewers from this new development directly into Lake Erie, pollute it, and drive the rich from their lake front Bratenahl mansions to the new Shaker Heights. And it worked.

The wealthy were growing wealthier, building enormous monuments to themselves on Euclid Ave. (known then as Millionaire's Row) and nearby Bratenahl.

The banks were growing mightier. The housing market was soaring. Two of the greatest money houses, Cleveland Trust and Union Trust, were flourishing in spectacular banking halls that looked more like palaces, at E. 9th and Euclid.
Cleveland Trust 
They looked strong and powerful.
But, as are most excesses of the free enterprise system, the boom, the good times, were much too good to be true. Too much money concentrated in too few hands. And as it must in free enterprise economies, it all came tumbling down as President Herbert Hoover assumed office. Having studied economics at Stanford the bastion of conservative thinking, he assumed office insisting that the failing economic system must take its course.

Which it did with a vengeance, leaving us with a stock market in chaos and the disintegration of the banking system. (And I lost my entire savings that I had accumulated and deposited from my Union Trust Liberty Bell dime bank.)

Soon Franklin Roosevelt came to the rescue telling us in a speech at Chautauqua N.Y. that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."
Some believed it. Others were more realistic. After the death of my father in the midst of the Hoover years, my magnificent mother started her own business in Shaker Heights and somehow thrived even as she defied the New Deal and refused to put the NRA sign in her window as ordered by Washington. Our small family made it well enough. Cousin Peggy Krohngold came from Sandusky to get a social work job and shared a room with my sister. Grandma Kolinsky slept in the back room, where it was cooler and got some breeze.

It turned out to be the war and not Adam Smith that brought us out of the depression, and when I left to do my part, my room was protected as a shrine, in the otherwise overcrowded apartment, according to those who were there.

Having survived the war, thrived in Ann Arbor, conquered the Cleveland Press and Cuyahoga Community College and 15 years with RC 2000, I am thankfully here to share the tender moments of this wonderful day. With my spectacular family and friends
I must pause to say that Thanksgiving and this birthday* is reinforcing my strong feeling about this still tenuous political experiment we call America, and our role in it. There is too much complaining, too much finger pointing.
This is not the America that I know and have come to love.
Really love.

It has been good, very good, to me.

*written on my 2015 Thanksgiving birthday


My Life As A Warrior (Chapter One)

   As I may have said before, from the moment I emerged from my mother's womb hanging on to my twin sister's big toe for dear life, it became clear that I had not been born to be a warrior. I wasn’t even the passive aggressive type. In the cradle when my twin sister kicked me, I rarely kicked back. And when I did, I wasn't happy about it. I wasn't combative.
   In the fourth grade, at Coventry school when Reno Koepke, whose father was the manager of Mayfield Cemetery, viciously tackled me in a touch football game, I didn't fight back. I walked away and never played football in the schoolyard again. I didn't even blame anti Semitism.
   I just didn't do contact sports. I did try out for the track team, but was not anywhere fast enough.
   I occasionally got angry with my twin sister, and I remember chasing her around the dinner table with a sharp pencil and swinging out at her face. (I missed, Doctor Carson.) But I remember feeling very angry. Can't remember why, Doctor.
   So by the time I was ready to graduate from high school, I was perhaps the last person you might expect to volunteer to be inducted into US Army in the middle of World War II.
That was 1944. There was this ethos: War on. And for some inexplicable reason I signed on with the other guys, to be inducted the morning after graduation, it was the thing to do, to avoid being thought of as something less than a real man. I signed on. I was ready. I told every one who would listen. Particularly my girlfriend Rita Barnett, a nice Jewish SDT sorority girl. Her dad was manager of the shoe department at Sterling’s, a classy women's store downtown.
   At the time I really believed that I would be assigned to an officer training program on some college campus, since that is what happened to my good friends who went before me. Tom Schattenfield was at the University of Michigan, Larry Coben at the University of Kansas, and Bob Saslaw at Penn State. So I plowed forward.
   Reality struck when I got to Columbus after a tearful goodbye to my mother at Pennsylvania station at 55th and Carnegie. After a day of painful shots in the arms and all kinds of tests much like the SAT that I was sure I had aced, the minute the group of about 50 of us were assembled the captain called us to attention. I felt like top dog. Maybe an appointment to West Point, Dr. Carson.
But the mystique of any sort of academic future faded quickly as the captain barked:
   “We've had a new order from headquarters, the ASTP program has been cancelled."
I nearly wet my pants. He went on, “Private Weidenthal, you got the highest grade on the test. You are assigned to the 95th Infantry division at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.”
   At that memorable moment in my life, I had become a warrior, first class. Like it or not.
And although I squirmed a bit, I accepted reality and decided to go with the flow. None of the cheap psychotic tricks that some of the guys talked about, like the peanut butter on the toilet seat trick, or simply feigning insanity. Not for me. This neurotic kids from Cleveland Heights was playing it straight, Doctor.
   It turned out that the 95th had been training for combat for two years at Camp swift in Texas, and was assembling in Pennsylvania for the trip to the war zone and had been assigned to join General George Patton’s famed army for the march across Europe. It was not all fun and games. I saw it as historically significant, but personally dangerous.
Basic training for this kid from Cleveland was more than learning the “F word” as the adjective preceding every course of every meal.
   “Basic” had its memorable moments. Like the day someone shoved an M 1 rifle under my arm and ordered me to crawl in my belly through 50 yards of Pennsylvania mud while a fifty caliber machine gun mounted on a Jeep fired real bullets over our heads.
I remember being petrified, Doctor.
   We heard later that one terrified young man stood up and his body was torn apart by the the deadly bullets. They say the shooting ceased for awhile so they could remove his remaining body parts. I didn’t see it, but they say it happened, Dr. Carson.
   Or the day on mountain maneuvers in the Snake River Canyon of West Virginia, where I was assigned to carry tree pigeons in a cage on my back. They were geniuses. So smart, you could tie a note to their feet telling them where to go, and by God, they would make it. Of course my back was covered with more bird droppings in one day than the Ciivil War monument on Public Square gets in an entire summer. So much for basic training.
   Sometime during this period, my magnificent, caring mother, taking view of reality as only a mother can, came to Pennsylvania. She was on her way to New York on business and took me to dinner with some people she knew, including dear friend Leo Shore and his wife Shirley.
   Leo was a tough 32 year old Jewish business man who happened to be assigned to my unit. It was toward the end of the evening that she looked Leo in the eye, wagged her finger him and declared,
“You take care of my boy!”
Her words turned out to be more meaningful than we at that table in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1944, could ever imagine.

To be continued…

Next week:
B-bombs and blackouts
Missing the boat to Omaha Beach
“I Always Wanted to Kill A Jew”
Having lunch with Gen. Patton
Winning the air medal
The Battle of the Bulge
Losing best friends
My life as a muckraker


My Life With Guns (Revised and Updated)

   The first time I ever saw a gun was when Don Glaser fired a pistol into the ceiling in Mr.Tubaugh's ninth grade English glass at Roosevelt Jr. High in Cleveland Heights. Needless to say mayhem ensued. Naomi Garber, who was sitting next to Don, screamed hysterically,
   "I can't hear! I can't hear!"
   Don, who later in life went on to win the Nobel prize in physics, had no idea the pistol was loaded, trembled and dropped it to the floor. Mr. Tubaugh, a round faced little bald man, who looked for all the world like Oliver Hardy, seemed about to explode. Punky Bernstein, a street-smart trouble maker who owned the gun, looked perplexed.
   "It's only a starter pistol," he shouted.
   "It’s okay. Nothing to worry about.”
   But it wasn't okay. Mr.Tubaugh grabbed Bernstein by the collar and threw him out of class, calming Naomi as well as he could. Of course no one called the police, and the class was dismissed with no assignment for the next day.
   But I had learned a lifelong lesson. It was back then, just before WW II was about to tear the civilized world apart, that it I came to the rather simplistic conclusion that guns, real or fake, loaded or unloaded, had no place in the classroom. And creeps the likes of Punky Bernstein, needed to be watched by someone carefully. BUT, with all that, Punky popped into my young life early on. We were neighbors. He lived in the next apartment building over on Euclid Heights Blvd. near Coventry.    There was no avoiding him. One day, we heard several loud snapping sounds not far away.
   “That’s a gun!,” he shouted, with considerable assurance.
   “Let's go!"
   We raced toward Coventry and the noises. Punky was exuberant.
   "It's gunshots!" There was no doubt in his voice. He was excited. Frantic. I was breathless and confused. What we found was not nice. It was the Bird brothers, a nationally notorious gang of bank robbers. They had attempted to hold up the Central National Bank at Lancashire and Coventry.
The Heights police had caught them on the spot. It was a nasty scene. There had been a shoot out. Two of the four Birds were shot and lay bleeding in the street. An innocent woman waiting for a trolley had been killed in the crossfire. When the smoke cleared and I had time to think, I asked myself, "Why?!" This was crazy. Had the world gone crazy?
   Fast forward a few years to World War II. I was the innocent, chosen at 18 for the infantry to fight with General Patton in Europe. Plenty of guns and much ugliness. Enormous devastation and lots of questions. Occasionally in the silence of an evening or two, I paused to ask myself,
   "Why this craziness? Why?"
   On my first week as a police reporter at the Cleveland Press, after college, I learned of a terrible tragedy. A woman in East Cleveland had accidentally shot and severely wounded her baby boy. I pounced on the story with visions of a page one byline driving my passion. With the help of police I found this attractive, but terribly distraught middle class white mother. She of course, was beside herself in horror and guilt. The gun was somehow left on the bed loaded. It was there, she claimed, to protect herself and her eight month old son from her husband, a madman who had threatened to kill her. Somehow the baby, while crawling on the bed, gotten hold of the gun and it fired.
   “Why?!,” I wanted to ask. But this was not the time. I was too busy getting my first story, which did indeed appear across the top of the page the next day. Mixed feelings, of course. It was a victory for my budding career.
   That was sixty years ago. No time for philosophical thinking. Strange how the memory of my first page one byline sticks.
   I don't remember whether the little boy died, or whether that mother went to jail, but I have often wondered about this fetish with guns. And as I read with distress about infants being shot in their homes or in their car seats, teenagers dying in gang shoot-outs, there are more questions about this human inanity. And I ask why, hoping that someone is listening.
   Maybe I should ask my Texas friend, Mark, a retired motorcycle policeman and gun aficionado, who once shot himself in the foot while loading his rifle, proudly posting a picture of it on Facebook.
Okay Mark, why?
   Perhaps that monumental intellect Jeb Bush had the answer the other day when asked by a reporter about the massacre of students at that Oregon Community College. With only a short pause, he declared without further comment,
   "Stuff happens," and then went on to brag about how he cut taxes in Florida when he was governor.
I guess that's it Jeb.
   "Stuff happens".
Why Jeb, WHY?


My Life As a Jock Watcher

It is difficult to identify the exact moment when I began my life as a jock watcher. Most likely it began some time in the tenth grade at Heights High.

On our first day at school, there was an orientation in the auditorium, and the first thing I noticed were these big muscular Arian looking men in the front, looking extremely important.
They each wore a black cardigan sweater with a large gold H, meaning they were athletes, rewarded with the letter for their physical prowess.
I decided that I really admired these guys, and perhaps at that moment I became a “jock watcher,” better described for me as a sports writer.
It made sense. There was no way that I was going to be one of them. I wouldn't be invited to their parties, certainly not their fraternities, and wouldn't have a prayer with their girlfriends. They were in another world, and I knew it that first day at Heights.
But as a writer I could become close to them. (As close as a little five foot five Jewish kid with glasses could ever become.)
So I signed up to be a sports writer for the school paper, The Black and Gold, a pivotal point in my young life.

This assured me immediate entree into the magical world of sports, into the locker rooms and all the games, even allowing me to travel with them to away games. But let me be clear, this was not a sexual thing. By that time as a high school freshman, I had clearly defined myself as a raging heterosexual. Or at least as hetero as one could be in the tenth grade. You do what you do for satisfaction, but that was it. I liked these athletic bodies, but I didn't want to touch them. It was more of a form of hero worship.
My heterosexuality was pretty much limited at that time to Virginia Hill, a tall slender, blue eyed blonde, who was a hall guard three days a week. Each of those days, I made of point of walking slowly past her, smiling and moving on. At first she didn't notice, but as time wore on she began to smile at me, and I smiled back. That was pretty much it for the tenth grade.

Back to those guys up front in the auditorium on the first day. One of them was a fellow named Sam Sheppard.To my mind, he was the classic picture of the ultimate jock; handsome and muscular. And standing next to him was his attractive girlfriend, Marilyn Reese, whom he would later marry.

Sam was a classic athlete. A star on the basketball team, quarterback in football, and a runner on the track team that won the state championship in Columbus. My career as a jock watcher in high school gained me some recognition, and even Sam would call me by my first name. “Hi Bud!" he would say. 
I would say "Hi Sam!" as though we were real pals. That gave me the stature at Heights that I longed for.

My next encounter with Sam Sheppard came a number of years later when I was working on the city desk at the Cleveland Press one Fourth of July. The call came from the police reporter that the body of Marilyn Reese Sheppard had been found in her bed, brutally beaten, bloodied, and partially dismembered by blows from a sharp instrument. 
Sam had become a surgeon in his father's hospital on the lake.
Sam protested his innocence and claimed that a bushy haired stranger had entered the house, fought with him, and then murdered Marilyn. So much for hero worshipping. The rest is history.
As I progressed in my young life as a jock watcher, I signed on as a sports writer at the University of Michigan Daily, after my stint in WW II. This was the big time. And I became totally immersed in the ethos of big time sports.
There would be none of this fighting for seating in Michigan's gargantuan 100,000 seat arena, the largest in the western world. There was greatness here, and I planned to become an integral part of it. Early on I arranged for my press pass and entered into the enormous press box high above the field, and of course high above the ordinary fans. They served hot dogs and coffee there, for free. Everyone had a seat with their name on it.

I pretended to know the game and its intricate ins and outs. Michigan executed its plays from the single wing formation. Half back Bob Chappuis as the passer, became famous. And coincidentally, he also had a girlfriend named Marilyn. I worried about her in later years.
By my senior year Michigan had won two national championships and made it to two Rose Bowls, and I went with them. 
On campus some people noticed me in class. Once, my philosophy professor asked me who I liked for the upcoming Ohio State game. I would puff up and respond, “I like the Wolverines, but we will have to wait and see to see. Pete Elliot has a bruised knee," I would tell the philosophy prof. As if really knew.
"Cogito ergo sum."
 "I think, therefore I am”, I whispered to myself, feeling certain that I now would get at least a B in this intellectually challenging class.

As for my jock watching, after graduation I gave it up to become a real reporter on a real newspaper, only once returning to Ann Arbor for a football game in 65 years, more than half a century.
Now on football Saturdays I can be found at The Fox and Hound Tavern at Eastgate, frantically cheering on the Wolverines along with “ordinary alumni," rarely recognized as the storied jock watcher of another mighty era. No press pass, no free hot dogs, no adoring sorority girls.

Just this little guy struggling to bring home a winner for another generation.


Dr. Freud, Wake Up!

Recently I read in the Times that the decision makers of the Psychiatric profession at their annual meeting have declared the malady called “hoarding phobia”, an official mental illness: eligible for treatment by a certified shrink. Covered, thank the lord, by Medicare.

I’ve often wondered how they decided these things. So now I know. And I am delighted. Indeed, Dr. Freud should be alive to share this milestone of medical science. I wondered to myself how he would react to this historic moment.          
With me, saving stuff is sort of a personal thing. Not a disease, simply more of a sentimental habit.
Got it doctor? A habit, not a compulsion. Not an obsession.
I simply don’t throw significant stuff away. Dr. Freud, is you listening? For very logical, non-psychiatric reasons.

I have become more aware of this in recent years since Margie has become my partner. She doesn’t have my compulsion to keep things. She a cleaner, a straightener, a thrower away. As you know that hasn’t been labeled a sickness. Not Yet.
Stuff, it turns out, is in my mind the essence of life in these days of digital non-existence. Without stuff, what is there? what’s left that has any meaning? Digitalized faces and words, down in the bowels of some computer somewhere on a discarded iPhone...only to be relegated onto some cloud up there somewhere never to be seen or heard from again.

That’s not stuff. That’s not essence. That’s not human, doctor.
As I move more deeply into my octo years, I tend to fixate on this kind of stuff. For example, aging photos of my grandfather Maurice and Grandma Lida on the beach at Lake Erie in 1911. I never knew him.
But he is there in my heart, as a good looking man and a warm human being. I cherish dozens of hand written love letters between the two lovers when they were courting. They both worked downtown. Passion. You could feel it growing through the months of courtship... The earliest letter started with “Leda”, then Dear Friend Lida, My Dearest Lida, and then simply, Dearest. You could feel the passion growing, as Grandma Lida began more to respond, sometimes passionately...and then the wedding.
I know Grandpa Maurice through his written, articles in the Saturday Evening Post about Mark Hanna and President McKinley, about theater and politics in the Plain Dealer. His crusade to have Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice taken from the curriculum of the Cleveland schools for their anti-Semitic overtones.
Yes I know, Dr. Freud that sounds like censorship. But things were very different for Jews in the in the 1920’s and thirties. You must remember. When you got kicked out of Germany simply because you were Jewish.

And then, Dr. Freud, there was the fate of Grandma Belle, Grace’s mother, a magnificent woman who taught kindergarten in the New York City schools most of her life, starting in a one room schoolhouse on Staten Island. She died unexpectedly in the 80’s. And by the time we got to the apartment on the west side of Manhattan, her husband, a very pragmatic pharmacist, was cleaning out the closets of every stitch of her clothing.  He piled up the school things and other mementos, and wanted them out.
Sadly, there was a truck driver strike in New York. No one could pick up anything. So we decided to give it all to the custodian, a nice man with a family, who promised to get it all to the proper place, where it would be useful.
A couple of days later, after the funeral, we were walking out of the apartment on busy W. 79th Street to hail a cab to LaGuardia, and there it all was, strewn on the sidewalk and the gutter. The essence of her life simply waiting for the rubbish drivers strike to end. There was absolutely no distinction on the sidewalk of this busy Manhattan street between the rubbish, the garbage and Grandma Belle. I had a lump in my throat, Grace was in tears as we headed out to the airport. She didn’t stop crying until we landed in Cleveland.
It was over, very much over.   
Today in the antiseptic digital age...they simply close down your Facebook homepage and it’s over. No muss no fuss.
“Dr, Freud, are you listening?” I said “It all started when I was a nervous little kid. I starting saving newspaper articles. I still have them.”
What? Am I covered, by what??? Yes I have full Medicare, and AARP gap.  You’ll be paid in full, don’t worry doctor. As I was saying, I was a little boy. I think I felt guilty when I thought about sex, and...Dr. Freud you’re dozing off again...Dr. Freud!



Weiner’s Tweets, Eliot’s Tarts, Truman’s Bomb

When God, in his wisdom, dictated the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible he describes in some detail how he created all the stuff in the universe. The sky, the sea, the animals, day and night; after each he declared “and it was so” and/or “it was good”. But when he got to the creation of man, he either intentionally or by accident left out the phrase “and it was good” which set off a chain of events for which it appears we are still paying dearly.

I thought about that the other day I when read that Anthony Weiner, that brilliant former New York congressman is now the front runner in the race for Mayor of New York City. He’s the fellow who allegedly took a picture of his crotch encased in his tight jockey-type underpants, and then put it out on Twitter for the world l to see.

Let us call it God endowed Human Nature run amuck.

And almost too good to be true, Eliot Spitzer, defamed New York Governor, has announced he is running for office in New York City. He was discovered to have been much too personally involved with a house of ill repute.

And then there’s that financial genius, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, touted to be the next President of France, and called in the media “the most intelligent man in France.” He was caught running around his luxury New York hotel room naked, chasing a 32-year-old West African chamber maid demanding sexual satisfaction.

One can only conclude that God is apparently still frantically but unsuccessfully struggling to repeal his initial error.

He, of course, knew he had a problem when he created the first man and then the first woman from his rib. The first guy did not need to chase her around the room. Or send a tweet. He simply tempted her and she fell into his arms.

With the exception of the great flood, there was a relatively quiet period for the next 400 years, while the Israelites were busy advising the pharaoh on economic matters, designing and then constructing the pyramids. But when the people of Israel began losing those top government jobs they left Egypt and began trekking eastward across the North African desert. Without pyramids to build and pharaohs to advise they got out of hand and started worshiping a calf made out of highest quality gold.

Alarmed about his obvious loss in popularity, God told his spokesperson (Moses) to go up the nearest mountain and come down with his ten amendments, as you might call them. To this day Israelites all over the world mark the anniversary of that event with a holiday called “Shavuot” celebrated in the spring.

It is not clear whether the amendments really changed anything.  The jury is still out.

As we still struggle with war and brutality in far off lands once occupied by those same Israelites, it is difficult pour over history and find much positive spin.

A new book, for example, tells us that Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day. Lincoln, we are told, either ordered or permitted young boys who deserted the army to be hung after being forced to sit on their own coffin for a day, before their terrible premature deaths. 

Darwin, whose father in law was a minister, fearing he had defied God’s word, waited years until he published the book that changed the way we look at history.

Another new book called Final Jeopardy, describes how some of the great technological minds at IBM spent years to create a robot-like device called “Watson” to outsmart the human brain, which managed to beat some of the best.

Mother Nature, in all her majesty, has not fared much better. In her pristine forms she is magnificent. Enough to move great writers and painters to replicate nature’s wondrous beauty. It seems we couldn’t leave well enough alone and thought we could conquer those forces which brought the earth to life.

We raped the forests, poisoned our rivers and our air in the name of progress.  We even tampered with the atom, the stuff of which nature is made. 

One of God’s own Israelites, Albert Einstein, found a way mathematically to tear the Atom, the fundamental substance of nature, apart. Others labored in the hills of New Mexico, to create mankind’s most devastating weapon, using the Einstein equation as its basis. Their monster was capable of killing or horribly burning hundreds of thousands of human beings at a time.

When the time came to use it, President Truman told the world that he “never lost a night’s sleep” over the decision. But, to his everlasting credit, we know for sure that he never knew that it led to the incineration of 200,000 innocent Japanese.  But one thing is certain; he never would have twittered an amorous message to anyone. Never.

Nor, as far as we know, did he ever chase a chamber maid around a hotel room. Or hire a call girl.  Probably because his lovely wife Bess would have hit him on the head with a broomstick.

He did, history records, call Paul Hume, the music critic of the Washington Post, a “son of a bitch”, for criticizing his daughter Margaret’s performance at the piano.  That’s as good, or bad as it gets.


God help us!


What’s it all about, Tommy?

Back in that other century, on his 90th birthday, my “Uncle Tommy” jumped rope for twenty minutes at the downtown YMCA, without so much as breathing hard or turning red in the face. So notable was his achievement that there was a picture and story in the Cleveland Press. It was mentioned that he was a physical fitness aficionado, and went regularly to the summer Bernard McFadden health camp in Western New York, and was one of their prized students.

Tommy lived for much of his later years in a quiet house on the road to Chardon. He was never married, but was very successful in business, founding a food service business that eventually served a majority of the city’s factory workers called United Food Services.

Shortly after he reached that landmark birthday he was living in a disheveled apartment in the Statler Hotel downtown.  A year later he was dead, having been ripped off a by a couple who befriended him, feigning to care for him. He left no immediate survivors.

He was good gentleman. Short, with twinkling bright blue eyes and curly hair. Frequently giving his nieces and nephews gifts on special holidays. Tommy talked a lot when there was someone to listen and I can remember one lunch time parked at the corner of 12th and Chester talking for half an hour about something before I got a chance to mention some charitable ideas I had. He always came through with a smile.

And he did a give a lot of money to the Cleveland Sight Center.  There is a plaque there at 101st and Chester that bears his name. He was generously involved in the Hebrew Free Loan and other charities. It is said that on the way home from work he would often stop by the site of many of his beneficiaries to see if all was going well.

His funeral was well attended in the Mausoleum at Mayfield Cemetery. It was so cold that the radiators stated banging during the service, as if someone out there was trying to protest the Rabbi’s words. And then they buried him in the cold wet mud of a Cleveland winter.

I started to wonder: ”What’s it all about, Tommy?”
Is there any meaning in the lonely childless life...that ended with jumping rope and getting ripped off?
Certainly his charitable instincts, regardless of his motive, have done good work that continues well beyond his death.

And it is said that in the light of a full moon, the shadow of a little man with twinkling eyes and a broad smile can be seen merrily jumping rope in the parking lot of the Sight Center or the Jewish Federation.

As if to tell the world, in his own unusual way, that his life had meant something after all.


Our Dicey Encounter with the Egyptian Army

A month or so before our Swan Cruise ship slipped into the vast harbor of Alexandria, a gang of Islamic extremists had invaded the resort area not far from the pyramids and killed a number of tourists. Germans, as I recall. The idea was to break the back of Egypt’s then highly successful and lucrative tourism industry in an attempt to weaken and then overthrow the dictatorship of Mubarak.

We even got a call from our travel agent telling us that we could opt out of the trip, if we wished, with no penalty.  But they noted that the US State Department had issued no formal warning. So we decided to live dangerously.  So did most everyone one else in the hundred or so of the roster, who, it turned out, were primarily classic, stoic Brits. Even though the British government had issued an alert, cautioning its people about the hazards of traveling in Egypt, these hardy folks weren’t about to be intimidated by a bunch of radical Muslim Arabs blowing up places. 

So we all sailed out of Athens on this 18-day tour of a lifetime into Mediterranean history, complete with books and lectures. We had pretty much forgotten the mayhem at the pyramids, until our last port of call. As we marched down the gangplank at Alexandria, it seemed as though we had entered another world, another century. Half-naked men wearing only loincloths sitting crossed legged, smoking pipes and selling stuff. Women in full religious garb. And in the midst of it all was this modern truck loaded with teenagers all in the uniform of the Egyptian army. They, presumably, were to be our protectors.  Perhaps personally sent by Mubarak. Each was armed with a rifle. Many of them seemed confused about how to hold their weapon, or, God forbid, use one. They, a bakers dozen of youngsters in khaki, were to be our constant companions during our stay in their homeland. To guard us from the terrorists.

While waiting for something to happen, they were mostly directing traffic away from us. But their presence made a difference. We felt relatively secure in this strange, embattled land. People moved out of their way. Cars dodged us. I wasn’t sure who was in charge but the uniforms helped keep order.
And it worked pretty well. They protected us as we visited the great museums in Cairo, had lunch at the Hilton, and so on.

Then we headed out to the pyramids. Everyone posed for pictures on a camel, climbed around the religious relics, bought souvenirs. Did all the pyramids things. At dusk we were told to get back on the buses and head to the ship in Alexandria. “So far so good'" said one of my Brit friends and we headed north. As darkness fell and we were speeding past those so “terrorist ridden” resorts, I heard a cracking sound near the bus ahead of us.

“What was that?!,” said someone. “Was it a shot?”
My God, I thought, is this my worst nightmare coming true?
The stoic British couple started talking about the long, happy life they had lived together. My thoughts were a little more desperate. I ran to our driver.

”The troops, the soldiers, where are are they?,” I asked our driver, who had pulled up behind the stopped bus ahead.
“They went back to the barracks for supper. They don’t work nights”. My heart palpitated.  Here we were in the blackness of this road to Alexandria, naked of any protection.
“It’s okay,” The driver said in broken English. 
“The first bus has engine trouble and is backfiring.  We’ve called for help and they’re on the way.”

We sat there for about an hour, and then we were on our way again to the Alexandria harbor and then on to the fresh air and sanctity of the Mediterranean Sea, wondering whether the soldiers, our so-called protectors, had a good dinner and were tucked into their beds by their drill sergeant.

I can’t help but wonder what these, “boys”, (our protectors) are up to now, as revolution, mass murder and mayhem prevail in that once magnificent Land Of the Pharaohs.   


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