February 2019

The Nearness of You

A few weeks ago I was at the  funeral of a good friend. His wife and three children got up and spoke about their husband and father. It was a truly beautiful and moving event. They spoke of how much he meant to them and how he was a friend to all who met him. They spoke of his unwavering support for them and their dreams in life. They spoke of how they would not be who they are today without him. They spoke about how much they loved him and how much they missed him just one day after he was gone. They already missed not being near him. Almost everyone was crying.

My father died when I was 36 years old. He died before he met my future wife. He died before I got married. He died before he got to see his grandchildren. He died before he got to really see the type of husband and father I was to become. He died not really knowing who I was or what I was capable of.

Did I really get to know him? No. I had only a few facts about his childhood and adolescence. My father was a quiet man with a quiet soul. He didn’t say much and he didn’t get involved in any big events. He worked, came home, ate dinner, watched a little TV and then went to sleep. He did that five days a week, 50 weeks a year until he died.

“The main reason I go to the cemetery to visit my parents is to try one more time to be near them. Try all you want, it’s not the same. Do it now while you can.”

When I was a kid, I saw him only for about 1 1/2 hours a day. Sometimes we’d both sit in bed in our boxers and polish off a pint of ice cream while watching some TV. I felt so protected. Any time spent with him was very valuable to me. We really didn’t need to talk. He was Dad and I was Mark. That’s it. We just needed to be together. We needed to be near each other. My leg over his leg watching the tube.

And that’s what my friend’s wife and kids were saying at the funeral. That’s what I’m saying. The bottom line is sometimes you just need to be near the people you love. When one of my kids calls and asks me to go for a ride with him to get a haircut, I go. When the other kid asks me to go to a ballgame, I go. When my wife asks if I want to go to Ralphs with her, I go. Not because I think any huge event is going to happen or I’m going to get an answer to one of life’s problems that’s been plaguing me for years. Not because I need to find out anything new or different about them. I go for one reason and one reason only: I go just so I can be near them. I go so I can be the first to see the new haircut. I go to share a bag of peanuts at the ballgame. I go so I can hear a question like, “Do we need pickles?” I go because one day I won’t be able to go anymore. I know it and they know it. We don’t talk about it, but we know it.

The main reason I go to the cemetery to visit my parents is to try one more time to be near them. Try all you want, it’s not the same. Do it now while you can.

Oy Vey Iz Mir I’m Getting Old

I have a friend who told me he takes three pills a day to help him increase his saliva. His doctor said that as you get older, sometimes your saliva dries up. Nice; something new to worry about as I age — a saliva shortage. 

My next birthday is big one. I pray I still have enough saliva to masticate my lunch that day. Now when I must add my age to an online form, it takes me 45 minutes to scroll down and find my year of birth. 

When it comes to aging, people have a lot to say about it. For instance: “You’re as old as you feel.” “Age is in the mind.” “What’s the alternative?” And the funny ones: “Don’t let aging get you down. It’s too hard to get back up.” “Respect old people. They graduated from school without Google or Wikipedia.” 

Recently, I noticed that my skin is slowly drying up, so I glob on Regenerist anti-aging cream every night. All I get out of it are pools of expensive cream stuck in the cracks of my wrinkles. And I’m still aging. 

I found exercise and diet help keep my body looking young, but only if you don’t see me naked in the steam room. I meditate twice a day, but I once had to call 911 to unfold me out of the Lotus position. My kids constantly tease me about taking away my driver’s license. I tease them about taking them out of the will. 

“My kids constantly tease me about taking away my driver’s license. I tease them about taking them out of the will.”

What really got me was my wife and I recently bought two plots in Simi Valley. Any further out of town and we might as well get buried in Norway. The lady who sold us our spots said we had one of the better views. I’m looking forward. You ever notice that the word fun is in funeral? Maybe a jazz funeral down in New Orleans is fun, but not the ones I go to. I’m at an age where every year a few people I know are permanently removed. Some older, some younger. As soon as you’re born, you’re in the lottery. The writing is on the wall. 

So, what do I do now that I can see the big knockout punch coming? What I do is live my life as if all is going to be well. I just bought a new mattress and soon I’ll probably buy a new car (if my kids let me). I just bought my first-ever handmade suit. I’m going on trips with my wife before we can’t go on them anymore. I’m eating healthier than ever before and exercising more now than when I was 25. I’m trying to stay excited about life. Yes, I’m doing it for me, but I’m also doing it for my family. I believe that it would be better for them to have me around. How selfish of me to think that. But what happens if I get very sick and need to be taken care of? You know, when I’m almost out of saliva. Then what? 

In the Mishnah, one rabbi says, “This world is like a lobby before the olam ha-ba. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.” I hope if I get to olam ha-ba, it has vegan options at the banquet. 

In her wonderful autobiography, “The Wheel of Life,” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross told her dying husband that it was his turn to let people help him. She told him that his lesson at the end of his life was to stop doing for others and let others do for him. Aging seems to bring many options. If you let yourself be open, the possibilities for growth are still plentiful.

About a minute ago, I stopped writing this column to phone a woman who booked me to perform at her Yiddish club. No, I don’t speak Yiddish. I called her this morning and did not hear back. I figured maybe she was out of saliva. So I called her again. When she got on the phone, she apologized for not calling me back sooner. She said her husband had died that morning. As my mother used to say, “Oy vey iz mir.”   

Proof That There’s a God? I’m Still Married

“Before a man gets married, he is incomplete. After he’s married, he’s completely finished.” — Borscht Belt comedian

The fact that I got married and have stayed married is proof there is a God. When I asked my rabbi what God was doing these days, he said, “arranging marriages.” He also said that arranging marriages is harder than splitting the Red Sea. 

To have continued marital bliss, all I have to do is forget most of what I saw and heard while growing up. My parents, aunts and uncles, though nice enough people, were not the best examples of happy and healthy marriages. I remember being at my aunt and uncle’s 55th wedding anniversary. I said, “Uncle Louie, congratulations.” He said, “I haven’t killed her yet.” She fired back, “Go ahead and try.” 

I think I’m a very different person today than I was when I got married. Hopefully, a better one. I credit my wife and many other people with helping me make a lot of the necessary changes. For me to have stayed married for close to 30 years, I had to grow up. My mother warned me that I had a lot of work to do if I ever wanted to live with another person. She would say: 

• You’d better grow up and grow up quick;

• You’ll shape up or you’ll ship out;

• One day you’re going to get married, and I’m telling you now, she won’t put up with your nonsense;

• You’d better marry a maid;

• Keep acting like you are now and you’ll be alone a very long time;

• (And my favorite) I’ve never seen anything like you. 

After careful deliberation, here are some of the areas I believe I was deficient in before I got married: Taking care of my health, dress, neatness, attitude, cleanliness, clipping my toenails, paying attention, smiling, manners, washing and drying dishes, brushing all my teeth instead of just the bottom ones, barging into rooms unannounced, saying thank you, eating all the food in the refrigerator and not telling anyone when we were out of things, blasting my music, yelling across the room for things instead of getting up and getting them, controlling the remote control, grabbing food off of people’s plates without asking, releasing gas in bed and lying about it, putting my underwear on inside out and not fixing it, taking phone messages and not passing them on, taking the garbage only as far as the back door, finishing my dinner before the other people have even started, walking a block ahead of everyone, leaving the toilet seat up, not replacing toilet paper rolls, using the same face towel until it is as stiff as a board, constantly asking questions to things I know the answers to, etc. 

You get the point. The good news is that God created women so that when they look at a man, they see an unfinished project that needs shaping. And women feel it’s their job to try to save this poor soul from wrack and ruin. It’s Torah: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” 

There are two types of married men: One who always wants to be right. God bless him for trying. He ends up divorced or murdered. Or one who realizes that the other person has your best interests at heart. That person surrenders and stays married. 

My wife and I sent three boys into the world. They are in much better shape than I was when I was released. But to be quite honest, like all men, they still need a good overhauling.

Consult a Doctor Before Buying Another Gadget

Don’t get me wrong. I really like my iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Dell laptop, smart TV and Alexa. I’m connected, baby! I recently took an EKG from my Apple Watch, downloaded it to my iPhone, and then emailed it to my cardiologist. After viewing it and consulting with him, he took a photo of my bill, downloaded it and emailed that to me. I almost had a heart attack. 

It’s not unusual to see people davening with their iPhone and trolling eBay at the same time. Guilty. 

Recently, while my wife and I were watching Netflix at the airport waiting to board our flight, I got updates on my watch that our flight was on time and our bags were loaded. Thirty seconds later, United Airlines let me know that it had a hummus plate on board for me. We were in Group 4 and, when we inadvertently tried to board with Group 3, the scanner that reads the bar code started to ding and we were busted. We were sneered at as we crawled to the back of the line, covering our faces like mobsters coming out of a courthouse. 

When my son was in Cuba a few weeks ago, we chatted on FaceTime. When I was a kid, you had to stand next to a person for FaceTime. 

While I was growing up, if a person needed to send a short message in a
hurry, there was Western Union. Now, using texting, I’ve probably sent half a million short messages. When I was a kid, people had limited access to world events. Now, I can find out about an earthquake in Bangladesh while standing at a urinal. 

“I now know a lot more about the world and the people in it, and less about my family and myself.”

But am I better off with this global connection or was I better off before? Maybe both? My mother used to say, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” There’s wisdom in that. Is it good for my health that I find out first thing in the morning that 400 people died in a ferry accident in Tianjin, China, or 200 young children were kidnaped and tortured by Boko Haram while I was fast asleep on my new MyPillow? 

I now know a lot more about the world and the people in it, and less about my family and myself. I used to spend more time with other people. Now I’m spending more time with devices. These devices don’t give a hoot about human beings. Devices don’t care about bettering the world, nor are they supposed to. But the amount of time spent with these devices is insane. 

Good friends or family will tell you things because they care about you. When’s the last time your iPhone said, “You look tired” or “Go to sleep; I don’t want you to get sick” or “You should call your mother and apologize for yelling at her” or “Dinner’s on me tonight.” People tell you things because they sincerely care about you. Machines tell you what they are programmed to tell you. 

Go to any restaurant and you’ll see people staring at their phones instead of their spouses, kids or friends. Even sitting alone for a few minutes doing nothing has become a thing of the past.

The other night I was out to dinner with my wife and, when she left the table, I thought, “I’m not pulling out my phone. I’m just going to sit and think and look around like I used to.” About thirty seconds later, I thought, “This is hard.” Then I thought this would be a great idea for a column. I would write about how hard it is nowadays to just sit and
do nothing.

So, I went to my Apple Watch and left myself a message. I then checked my email, went to Yahoo and saw that Trump again was going to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that a whale had washed up dead on shore up north.

When my wife returned to the table, she asked me a question people never used to ask when they returned from a trip to the bathroom. “What have you been doing?” I told her something my watch or phone would never tell her. I told her, “I missed you.” And I meant it.

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