Friday, August 26, 2011


Yesterday I wrote a story about one of the benefits of getting older, that being the joy of reconnecting with old friends from youth. Today I am in a more somber mood with a sober realization.
My mother is dying.
Mom has dementia and it is eventually going to take her life. A few years back it started to show, as she became increasingly forgetful. In fact I wrote a story back in 2008 about her and referenced this behavior -

Sadly, in the time between then and now, it has gotten much worse. Her world is progressively shrinking as a result of her diminishing mental capacity. My mother is the most intelligent person I know. Much of what I am is a direct result of what she has instilled in me. Traits such as integrity, honesty, intelligence, courtesy…all came from her. I used to revel in our conversations about world affairs, politics, the Cleveland Browns. She was always insightful and always made me think. She also taught me how to disagree without being disagreeable. Unfortunately, I fall short of the ideals she set, but that does not in any way diminish her impact on me. She still remains the prototype of selflessness. She is, literally a saint. And when she leaves us the world will be a crueler place.
I just got back from a trip to Ohio where I was able to spend a lot of time with her. It was heartbreaking. Those conversations about world affairs? Gone. Receiving thoughtful advice on how to deal with this sometimes dragging dirge we call life? Gone. These days our conversations tend to go like this:
Mom: What day is it today?
Me: It’s Wednesday, mom.
Mom. Oh that’s right. When does your flight leave?
Me: Tomorrow, mom.
Mom: Oh that’s right. What day is it today?
Mom is now 84 years old, and due to being a lifetime smoker (and she still smokes) her body has been ravaged. She is extremely frail, about 90 pounds. But to me, the physical deterioration is nothing in comparison to the degeneration of her mind. Mom was an accountant, and as you could imagine, had that mathematical acuity accountants are known for. These days she cannot even process paying her bills. Imagine that for a moment - an accountant unable to no longer manage her finances. That’s how far she has regressed. Her phone service has been shut off twice because she simply forgot to pay the bill.
I hate this disease. Hate it. It has taken my mother…but she’s still here, and that is the tragedy of it. That frail old lady who sits in her easy chair crocheting and listening to The Golden Girls with the volume up way too loud is still my mom, but her essence is gone. What is left is a shell of a person, robbed of what made her her.

One of these days I will appear at her door and she is going to ask who I am. She will forget me.
So I hate to say this, because it sounds cruel, but when she dies it will almost be a relief.
Because, honestly, she left us a long time ago.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting Buzz’d

One of the benefits of getting older (yes, there indeed are benefits), is reuniting with old friends you haven’t seen in years. So to you twenty-somethings preparing to see old classmates at your 10th anniversary class reunion, those don’t count. I’m talking about friends from decades ago, which can only occur when you get to be around my age.
I played golf last night with my old friend Buzz. Real name Carmen, which, if I were tagged with that name, I would go by Buzz too. (And again, for you twenty-somethings, his last name isn’t Lightyear…jeez)
Buzzie was two years behind me in high school, and he has two amazing traits - an extremely easygoing personality and a lethal golf swing. The combination of those two traits led to a career in professional golf, both as a club pro and on the mini-tour level. And that lethal golf swing that, 35 years ago, left us all slack-jawed when he would rip a 270-yard rifle-shot controlled draw, is still there. Okay maybe it’s now 260 yards, as Buzz is now 50, but he can still pump it past 98 percent of the golfers out there. He plays forged Titleist irons. Translation: He can play. He’s one of those guys that has a dime-sized hole worn out on his 2-iron right on the sweet spot. And I can tell you that is the true mark of a player. Not a tour bag, not a form-fitting Nike shirt, not a set of hand-made whatevers. It’s a dime-sized worn sweet spot on a 2-iron.
Buzzie’s Achilles heel is, and always has been, his putting. I & My Man Mike used to joke that we would shoot a ‘Buzz 72’ - translation - 16 greens in regulation, 35 putts. I used to say that if you combined Buzzie’s ball striking with my putting, you’d have a helluva player. But that’s giving me way too much credit - Buzz is a helluva player all by his own.
Another nice trait he has is, from a totally self-centered point of view, is he thinks I am the greatest putter in the world. I’m not. As an aside, he also thinks I can sing. I can’t. But he swears that I am the best putter he knows, and you know what - I will let him keep thinking that. So we played golf last night and knowing that he thinks I can putt, I felt obliged to not let him down. Fortunately I didn’t, as I ran in a 25-foot for birdie on the third hole and a 20-footer from the fringe on 13 for another bird. That just let out the ‘Damn Jer….you can still putt’ comments. Which, of course, I ate up.
It bears noting in the 14th tee Buzz proposed we spice up the action by playing the last 5 holes for a buck each. Now up to that point Buzz was kind of scraping it around, playing the kind of golf that virtually any player on the planet would accept, but definitely not up to his standards. But once we put a little cash on the line? The laser controlled draw reappeared, flagsticks got fired at, putts dropped.
And five bucks passed from my hand to his.
We also exchanged lessons, prior to playing for money of course, where I pointed out a couple of things in his putting stroke and he helped me immensely with my swing. This happened on the 11th hole, where I was doing my usual spraying it all over the place form of Army Golf (left, right, left, right…). I commented to myself ‘Man I got to get back on my heels at address...’ and then I proceeded to hit a skank pull-hook pitching wedge 20 yards left of the green. Buzz came over and gave me a one-word lesson. He said ‘Balance’. Of course, I asked to elaborate, and he replied that the weight should be on neither the heels nor the toes - it should be in the middle of the foot. He pointed to my golf shoes and said ‘See the bottom shoe lace? Right there.’ I then dropped a ball, took his advice and put the weight right where he told me to, and proceeded to stick a pitching wedge five feet from the pin. I looked at Buzz and he just smiled. And for the rest of the round I actually hit it respectably good.
This is the mark of a good teacher. Simplicity. And you can’t get any simpler than a one-word lesson.
Dinner followed and we caught up on things. And the good news is Buzz will be in town for a few weeks so we will have the opportunity for more rounds, more one-word lessons and more laughs.
But I ain’t playing him a buck a hole anymore.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weekend With Bernie

As we grow older we tend to become less awestruck with the heroes of our youth. This may be due to a number of reasons – missteps in their lives that get publicized or maybe we just lose the youthful exuberance of meeting a famous person. Who knows. But it happens.

This last Saturday night I had the pleasure, and I do mean that, of meeting my favorite Cleveland Browns player of all time – Bernie Kosar. To set the table, Bernie is certainly a fan favorite, as his playing days showed a combination of guts and smarts. He wasn’t the fastest guy or had the strongest arm. A contemporary of his named Elway had those traits. Bernie was not graceful on the football field. In fact, he looked amazingly awkward – he was all legs and gangly arms as he dropped back to pass, and his throwing motion was this sidearm, look one way throw another…thing. I can’t even describe it. When he ran he resembled a Giraffe on Ecstasy. But he got the job done. Very well. Pro-Bowl level well. And nobody outsmarted Bernie.

When his playing days ended his personal life fell apart. Bankruptcies, a broken down body, divorce. Which just endeared himself more to his fans. Just as we could identify with his grit as a player, we identified with his struggles in real life, because many of us have gone through the same things. But Bernie went through these events with grace and courage…just like he did when facing a safety blitz. He would get up, dust himself off, and think about the next thing to do.

He does color commentary for the Browns preseason games, which has been a real treat. To hear him talk, he has a sort of a speech impediment – he tends to slur his words, which would almost make you think he’s drunk or under the influence of something. Hey, given the amount of injuries he had and the concussions, a steady diet of painkillers would certainly be understandable.

But when you listen to what he is saying, it is amazingly detailed and usually pinpoint accurate, so you realize that the brain is sharp. For example, when the offense breaks the huddle, Bernie is already analyzing the defense with comments like “They’re in Cover-two with the Strong Safety cheating the line. Look for the slot receiver to be covered by the linebacker, so he should be open on the slant...”

And he was almost always right. I can honestly say I am educated every time I hear him call a play.

So anyway. Back to Saturday night. It was the 25th anniversary of the Palm Beach Browns Backers club, and they got Bernie to do a meet ‘n greet. I arrive, and there he was – taller than I thought he would be until I remembered that he is 6-foot 5. But that’s the thing with Bernie – I guess it’s that everyman quality about him. He was so approachable, very friendly, patient…genuine. Within five seconds of being with him (or whenever the awe wore off), you were just chatting with an old buddy. He made you feel very comfortable. While we talked, he reached over to his right hand and took off his Super Bowl ring he won with Dallas in 1993, hands it to me and says ‘Check this out.”

And then he walked away.

You read that right – he handed his Super Bowl ring to a total stranger then went over to talk to someone else. He was about 30 feet away and I yelled over to him, ‘Hey Bernie, I got your ring…’ His reply?

“I trust you.”

Those that know Bernie’s story since he retired know that many of his personal problems stemmed from this very trait. He trusts people. Sometimes too much so. He has lent money that was never returned, he lent his name (and money) to businesses that went belly-up, and he married a woman that ended up taking him to the cleaners in the divorce. A few years back he was broke and lost as a result of this trusting nature. So you would think, as a result of all that, that he wouldn’t hand a Super Bowl ring to a total stranger, wouldn’t you?

But that’s not Bernie.

The other totally lovable trait about this guy is the respect he gives to any and everyone. When he shakes your hand he looks you straight in the eye, and not with a ‘Ain’t I a big shot and you should be honored’ glare, but with a warm smile and a genuine ‘Nice to meet you’ attitude. When you ask him a question, he looks at you, ponders the answer, and then gives you an honest reply that gives total respect to the effort of the person that framed the question. In other words, he doesn’t blow you off. He is also amazingly earthy. Meaning, he swears. Which seems like a bit of a shock when you first hear it, but almost immediately you realize yep, he’s one of us. He was sharing the story of his first practice with the University of Miami football team. In his words, “I was standing there with Jim Kelly on one side of me and Vinny Testaverde of the other, and I realized that I was fucked.”

It bears noting that Bernie, like many famous athletes, arrived with an entourage. However, unlike those other famous athletes, Bernie’s entourage consisted of his three kids. And that was it. Now, to be fair, there was a representative of the Cleveland Browns with him too, but given she was the 25-year old Coordinator of Browns Backers Worldwide, she could hardly be categorized as part of his posse. His peeps are his kids.

Like I said, he’s everyman. And I am even more in awe of him than I was when he was sidearming passes and leading the Browns to playoff victories in the 1980’s. I may have gotten older, but my respect and admiration of him has not waned one iota.

He’s still my hero.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Man Plans…

So last night I was playing golf with My Man Mike, our regular Wednesday night male-bonding experience. We played Dubsdread, a real nice public track in urban Orlando. Started on the back nine. Teed off a little after 5:00pm, which gives us just enough time to get 18 before dark. The rain fortunately held off.
We started on the back nine. Number 10 is a short par 4, about 320 yards, with a lake on the left about 180 yards out that goes all the way up to the green. You can bail right, but there’s bunkers and mounds to keep you honest. Essentially, you have to hit something laser-straight about 200 yards, then face a wedge shot to the green with that water on the left begging you to hit it there. Great little hole.
I hit my 3-hybrid nicely, given it was my first swing of the day, about 190 yards down the middle. I then hit a cautious 9-iron to the right fringe, respecting the lake on the left. I lagged up my 30-foot birdie putt to three feet…and then missed the putt. A 180-horseshoe. So I played the hole exactly as it should have been played...and walked off with a bogey 5.
The twelfth hole is a 160-yard par 3 over water. Huge green, but it is all carry to get to it. Mike hits first & throws a real nice 7-iron in there about 20 feet away. I’m up, and I hit my 6-iron just a touch fat. Here’s a tip - never hit a shot 'a touch fat' with water in front. The ball is in the air & I’m thinking ‘Oh crap. Where’s the Drop Area..’ when the ball comes down, hits the top of the wall that separates the green from the water, careens high in the air, and lands inside Mike’s ball, about 15 feet away. Mike misses his putt, I run mine in for a nice (read lucky) birdie.
Better to be lucky than good.
The next hole is a dogleg right par 4. No water, but trees frame both sides of the fairway from tee to green. Pretty hole. Having the honors with my awesome (read Luckbox Jerry) birdie, I proceed to hit a pull hook that settles in the trees on the right. I was fortunate to even find my ball, as it was sitting down, waaay down in the rough. With about 125 yards to the green I take out a 9 iron and give it a violent hack hoping to just advance it somewhere in the vicinity of the green. It actually came out decently and settled in the rough to the right of the green, pin high, about 60 feet from the hole.
I take my sand wedge out, make a couple of flop-shot practice swings, and hit the ball. It comes out nicely, plops on the green about 15 feet short of the hole, rolls out and starts breaking left towards the hole, hits the pin and drops in. I just made my second birdie in a row, and none of the shots I hit were any good. In contrast, I played the tenth hole perfectly, and made a bogey.
This is why golfers are fucked up.
Seriously. To play this game you have to have a few screws loose. But more accurately, as I have waxed upon previously and repeatedly, golf is like life. You just don’t know what awaits next. Go ahead and plan all you want, but God is sitting up there laughing His deified butt off at you when you do, as if He is saying ‘Yeah okay Jer. Have at it. I need the entertainment.’

And further, ain't it great that we don't get what we deserve? Had things gone according to how I played & deserved, I would have parred the first hole, rinsed a ball on #12 for a double bogey, and at least a bogey on #13. I would have been 3 over par instead of one under had I got what I truly deserved. And that's the beauty of life - we don't get what we deserve, we get what we get.
So, dear readers, make your plans. Execute them to the best of your abilities. But my advice is to remove any and all expectations on results. That will turn God’s belly laugh into a wise, knowing smile.

Friday, August 12, 2011

100 Percent Polar Bear

So a baby polar bear goes up to his mom and asks, “Mom, am I one hundred percent polar bear?” The mom replies why of course you are. I’m 100% polar bear and your dad is. That makes you 100% polar bear. The baby polar bear then goes to his dad - “Dad, am I one hundred percent polar bear?” The dad says sure - I’m 100% polar bear and so is your mom, and both our parents were polar bears. That makes you 100% polar bear. Why do you ask?
The baby polar bear looks at the dad and says, “Because I’m freezing my ass off.”
I share this somewhat cute and amusing joke to illustrate this basic fact. I was born and raised in northeast Ohio as were my parents and their parents. But I live in Florida. Have for virtually my entire adult life. And when asked why I moved from Ohio to Florida I share the baby polar bear story.
I am a Buckeye through and through. Not the Ohio State kind of Buckeye; I went to Kent State thank you very much, but the Ohioan kind of Buckeye. I know what’s knee-high by the fourth of July. I can pronounce Mantua and Cuyahoga (Man-away and Ky-YOG-ah for those keeping score). The top of a house is called a roof, rhyming with woof. I have experienced Lake Effect Snow. I love and am very proud of my roots, and try to get back there every chance I get to see family and friends. So why did I leave?
Because I was freezing my ass off.
My issue with Ohio weather isn’t that it gets cold. It’s not that it snows. It’s that it does both for an inordinate length of time. The winters are too damn long, and linger on stubbornly. Usually by mid-October is the first snowfall. By early November all the leaves are off the trees, and just to be sure none are remaining a nice sleet storm rolls through to polish off the rest of them. By Thanksgiving the thermometer has retreated south of 32 degrees. By early December a blanket of snow ushers in the hibernation period which lasts until late March. When April comes it can be either 65 or 25 degrees. You’re not out of the woods when the calendar turns to May either. The rule of thumb for gardeners is to not plant anything before May 15, lest frost kills your fledgling seedlings. Finally by June any remnants of winter are erased. You know this because the temperature goes from too cold to unbearably hot. They get that for three months and the cycle repeats.
There is really only one good month in Ohio weather-wise - September. The days are sunny with temperatures in the 70’s. But you know it won’t last, as the sun gets lower and lower on the horizon each day until…
Baby polar bear leaves.
Having lived in Florida for over 25 years now, I feel blessed that I actually have two homes. I am equally comfortable in either place - whether it’s the fickleness of Ohio weather or the surliness of Florida people. But the people don’t really bother me, thus I can deal with them. The weather, however, is another story entirely. I cannot control it. I can just choose to not be in it.
One day I will be a snowbird. I will retire back to my home in Port St. Lucie and, when that third week of May arrives and with it the Florida humid rainy season, I will load up the car and head to Ohio, since by then I am pretty sure the snow has finished for the year. And I will stay until late September which, again, by then I am pretty sure that the snow hasn’t started yet for the year. I will play golf, eat Szalay’s sweet corn, and listen to the fellow Ohioans bitch about hot it is. And I will laugh when they do.
Because baby polar bear is warm and happy.