Full Metal Motorcyle Jacket

“C’mon Gramps, you’re too slow!” The rain was coming in sideways and I had two inches of water in my boots as I steered the crappy little Yamaha back to the top end of the speed/stop drill in which you had to get up to a relatively deadly pace before braking hard in front of the drill instructor who bore a striking resemblance to “Large Marge” of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I could barely see through the visor in the monsoon-like conditions as I thrashed through the tranny to hike the speed and, apparently, my skirt to get the 200 ccs up to a sphincter tightening velocity.
There’s a lot of talk of bucket lists when you hit 60 – the travel, the novel, the one last spin on the marriage wheel. Few talk about the activities for which it’s a tad too late. No, I’m not going to get scouted by The New York Rangers. I might not ever get proficient enough at the piano to open a little wine bar and warble some clever ditties in a well-tailored tux. And it’s a little late to start riding a friggin’ motorcycle. Such was the revelation last week after two brutal days learning how to “ride” at a local training school which had approval from the local DMV to actually license its students who could successfully run the gauntlet so to speak.
This was about as unpleasant an experience as the first (and last) time I tried hot yoga only to wake up in a pool of my own juices on a gurney in emergency.
The spark for this outing was a “friend” who generously gave me his like new scooter, a low mileage Yamaha TMax with 600 ccs of displacement, perfect for a displaced individual like myself. He was upgrading to a BMW and I thought this was a great opportunity for me to groom my skills in case they need someone to play the Steve McQueen character in a remake of The Great Escape. My only experience with bikes was the fifteen seconds my father spent trying to teach me how to ride his Honda when I was fifteen and the few times I have rented some small bore scooters to whiz around Miami Beach and look like a complete idiot.
And so I bought the gear, some at the last bastion of machismo left on this earth – the annual motorcycle show at the convention center – and the balance at the local leather and testosterone supplement dealership. I took the written test and then enrolled in the course, sleeping through the perfunctory classroom session.
The riding sessions started promptly at 7:45 a.m. not the best hour of the day to drive a car let alone yank on the choke of a motorcycle. The first thing you notice is that most of the class is about a third your age. The fear of death , the inner mortality dialogue – they didn’t have that. There was one fool who was 50 and all the earnestness that comes with that age. Like that Viagra commercial where the guy takes the horses out of the trailer to get his pickup out of the mud with the slogan, “This is the age of getting things done.” When you are 60 it’s the age of, “Let’s just get this over with.”
So it went, from pushing your bike around the course to pushing some 6’5” lug on his bike around the course (he returned the favor) to clutch points and shifting and braking and …. and…. eight hours in all broken by an abbreviated lunch break and the constant yelling of the drill sergeants, “You are worthless and weak and if you don’t do what we say you will die out there! I have never seen such a useless group in all my years.” Felt like Gomer Pyle for a while there.
After it was over I went home, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli and did my best impression of Marty Sheen in that hotel room in Saigon at the top of Apocalypse Now. The next morning MPs came in, threw me into the shower dressed me my bike fatigues and choppered my back out to the base. Yes I have a very active cinematic fantasy life.
The second day was conducted pretty much in a typhoon, the NCOs treating me like Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman – “Are you out of it Gross? Because if you are we can bounce you…” “But I have no place to go, “ I cried as the dye from my leather gloves bled into my palms making me look like a very off color vaudeville joke.
We were cornering, accelerating swerving hundreds of times. Then they set up the test course and a few spins on that caused me to give up hope.
Just as the tsunami peaked we were told to line up for the test. I sat in a line of motorcycles for about twenty minutes feeling like I was some poor blighter on a bike at the Battle Of The Marne and when it finally came to my turn I screwed up the hard right and had to touch my feet to the asphalt. Now I’m wet and pretty much done. I angrily finished the rest of the test, or as much as I could because they cancelled the last part because of the rain.
Thankfully there was an ESL student named Mohammed in the class who could play the role of the requisite failure and they passed the rest of us. I took the soggy certificate homem, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli….
If someone asked if the course was good, I would say it successfully convinced me that a motorcycle was perhaps the best way of shortening one’s life span this side of a three pack-a-day habit.
Thankfully, it’s too late to start smoking.
Now I know Charlie Don’t Surf… but can I?

Sole Surivor


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“…time for these boot heels to be a wanderin…” – Bob Dylan

I think I just might be done with shoe stores.   Seriously, I know it’s not completely realistic but if push came to shove, if my fortunes took a sudden tragic downturn, or I gravitated to a cult that advocated abstinence of the sole (you had to see that coming), I could subsist to my projected expiration date on the current ‘roster’.

I have a solid rotation of Monday to Friday business starters – blacks, browns, some sacrificial oxblood, suede in loafer and lace – and a bullpen developed to come in at any level of relief.  Longer relief comes in the form of distance walkers, middle innings hurlers for seasonal conditions and short relief for date nights, weddings, bar mitzvahs and holidays.  My ‘go to’ pair in the late innings are black suede monk strap bad boys that my Bobby Fleckmanesque publicist forced me to buy at a store – “the best evah” –   off Union Square in San Francisco.  Four years later she might have been right.  I also have  “fatte a mano” dreadnaughts that I can wheel out when the count is full and the bases are loaded.  Closers, to push the baseball metaphor further than necessary.

I’ve consulted actuarial tables and cross-referenced that data with rare tractates on sandal wear among my ancestral tribes during the Exodus.  I’ve used digital fitness devices to measure my average daily trudging and came up with a wear vs. style algorithm that predicts I could, with the help of a good cobbler – you know, the shop next to the guy who repairs Victrolas – die with a pair of boots on that wouldn’t embarrass my loved ones.  I wouldn’t be very stylish in my twilight years, and the collection wouldn’t be worth much at any charity clothing dump but it would suffice as we say at the Seder table.

Okay, I’m ridiculous.  Think of it this way you there, not yet forty or fifty – how many more pairs of hockey skates are you good for?  Or ski boots?

This is precisely where the sexes diverge.  Tell a woman of my vintage, or any for that matter, that she had bought her last pair of pumps and her response would be, “Today?”  In my limited experience I have found that the instinctive female behavior in the vicinity of any substantial display of retail footwear oscillates between that of an unapologetic gambling addict and a crack whore.  Of course that is an insensitive and unfair comparison.  My apologies to the unapologetic gambling addict and crack whore communities.

I have heard recently that oncologists, in order to persuasively convey the gravity of a terminal prognosis to a female patient, have couched terms of longevity in a currency they can easily grasp.

“What can I look forward do doctor?”

“Six, maybe seven pairs.  You might get to a sandal if you’re lucky.”

“ So soon? But I promised my daughter I would be around for…”

“The semi-annual sale at Saks?  That, I am afraid, is not up to me.”

Those old enough might recall that very few women even bothered to feign outrage over the criminally large shoe collection of the late Imelda Marcos.   Most just shook their heads and murmured under their breath, “I wish…”.

I did a tiny bit of research that reveals that of all the shoes sold in North America, only six per cent are in the men’s dress shoe segment.  This is not surprising in a culture where everything is disposable. Nothing is worth the trouble any more.  However, I am not one of those guys who wears thinly disguised athletic shoes to work.  You’ve seen those – black on black deals with black logos that are better suited to NBA referees.  I am partial to shoes that need a shine once in a while, another simple pleasure of which so few of us partake.   Although I do engage the services of the shine stands at the airport, there are better rubs for half the money in Penn Station in New York when you can sit back in your suspenders with a an old Herald Tribune, complain about ‘dem Bums’ and generally pretend you are in a Norman Rockwell painting.

The truth be told, caring for my shoes is what passes as a  longterm relationship I can handle. My ex suggested that I build up my nurturing skills far enough down the food chain so as not cause any cognitive lifeforms undue pain when it all goes to hell.   Someday I hope to be able to look after a Chia Pet.  Until then, I will take my guys out for long walks and make sure they are fed the proper nutrients.  When I am away they have shoe trees for company. I keep them out of the rain.  There’s some travel, the odd night on the town.  Hey, if Disney could make ‘The Brave Little Toaster’….

There’s a larger consideration here –  mortality.   Disposing of a pair punctuates a chapter in one’s life with a very hard hit period on the old Smith Corona.  Once they’re gone so is a piece of you. Forty five years ago my father bought an expensive pair of Italian boots.  Years later I remember seeing them and wondering why he would hang on to them when they were out of step with the latest styles like disco platforms.  Now I get it.

To conclude, I add this qualification.  When it comes to  corn plasters, insoles, replacement golf spikes, socks, visits to The Bata Shoe Museum (can’t wait for the Odor Eaters retrospective) and even some comfy slippers –  I can see myself being in that market for some time.  For the foreseeable future though – my Achilles Heel is not heels.

Marjorie’s Yahrzeit



Last year it was at a wedding  for the son of a good friend.  I drank heavily, danced heavily on my bad knee and got up and rapped with the band to the Run DMC variation of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way: “…I was a high school LOSER, never made it with the LADIES…”.    No kidding.

Late in the evening the mother of the bride made a point of coming over and reminding me that she had been in my sister’s cabin at summer camp and was in the same class in Hebrew school.  She remembered and that was good enough.  As I headed into the seventeenth anniversary of Marjorie’s passing I would have to say that was the moment that stood out on yet another year without her.   That fact that someone took a moment from her daughter’s simcha  to say something this many years later was touching.

Its also surprising, considering that Marjorie left town when she was just eighteen and never really came back.   She moved to New York in 1974 to become a ‘comedienne’ back when they were labeled as such.   Probably because there weren’t any save for Totie Fields and Joan Rivers.  Marjorie soon became ‘Young Marge’ because she was years junior to the guys she shared the stage with at The Improv and Catch A Rising Star – Larry, Andy, Richard, Jerry, Gilbert, Jay.   If you can’t pick up the last names, you might want to move on.

Marjorie worked clean.  No four letter words, no narcissistic routines on her private parts.  There were musings about the designer scarves her mother would use to wrap school lunches, the convertible “sofa-oven” in her bachelorette-ette. There was a classic bit about her street gang of Jewish American Princesses: “You’re not going to rumble in that are you?”  Not a lot of edge but very funny, moreso if you knew her.

Whatever, she never made a dime for about eight years until someone gave her break as a writer on a sitcom called Square Pegs.  She was good from then on, spending her final years on Seinfeld.  I was lucky enough to work with her on a couple of episodes.  She was very, very sick through it all and I have no idea how she cut it.   Jerry put a cot in her office so she could rest. My rabbi in LA had me over for Shabbos a couple of years ago and an old comedy writer at the table told me that my sister was as tough as she was talented.In the end she was taken on in Hollywood as the ‘poor little sick girl’.  The old man went to visit her in her last months and Marjorie  sent someone to pick him up at the hotel.  He got into the car, turned to the driver and said, “Aren’t you Sharon Stone?”    There was a big memorial service after she died.  I didn’t go because as much as I was Marjorie’s brother, I’m not sure I was family.   I think when she left town, she really left it all behind.

And now a year later its not a an old bunkmate but  Howard Stern talking about her respectfully with Carol Leifer, another Seinfeld vet. I’m going to do a little something at shul for her in a couple of weeks, for her 18th Yahrzeit.

This is me sifting through the few shards of a broken portrait that cut through to the memories closest to the surface.  The deeper wounds, the fathoms of dark grief – those are depths I have stopped plumbing.  I tend to keep it light.  Marjorie was just 40 when she went.  I’ve now lived twenty years more and I often find myself staring at her headstone like the elder Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan who talked to the grave in which the Lieutenant played by Tom Hanks was buried, trying to assure his ghost that he has not wasted all the life his savior in the battlefield had sacrificed.

If you’re my age chances are you have suffered profound loss on this level or greater.   You know what it feels like, hopefully, when someone reaches out to you with a  kind thought.  This is the take away in all this –  if you see a relative of a friend, school chum, business acquaintance or even a survivor from  your local Hebrew school stalag who is no longer with us, say something.   You have no idea what it will mean to them.













The Looming


At this distance, sixty doesn’t appear to be looking too much like the new forty.

It’s getting close – I turned 59 last April spending my birthday as I usually do, buying new auto registration stickers on the expiry date of the old ones because I’m all about value.  Just the kind of guy I am.  I also ran around wrapping up my tax return because I want to squeeze all the value I can out of the tax department staffers.   Just the kind of idiot I am.

As for actual celebration, it was shaping up to be as festive as Kol Nidre.   My kids were in LA so I had to do without the perfunctory gift card from Golf Town and a dinner out at an organic restaurant of my daughter’s choice.  I didn’t bother mentioning it to the “Old Man” lest he gives me that familiar look of sadness and disappointment he reserves, deservedly, for his ne’er-do-well eldest.  I couldn’t very well start complaining to him that I was entering my 60th year.  He’s going into his 90th and complains only about the parking rates at the hospital where he was getting some radiation treatment for some topical cancer that, according to his specialist, “…wasn’t life threatening…”.  I think, at that age, life is life threatening.

Being single I just couldn’t foist my fear and loathing on any of the women in my ‘harem’ so to speak.  (Please play along here because my long married friends think I have the love life of Derek Flint.)  My close friend ‘Uncle Benny’ managed to treat me to lunch at one of the “old boys” clubs downtown, the habitué of establishment men who look like they came out of a yachting magazine that covers only craft of a length of a hundred feet or more.   I got there early and informed the hostesss that the reservation was under ‘Howell, Thurston the third’.  Didn’t go over well.

I was grateful for the experience.  It was new, just as is this cathartic public journal  recording the ebb and swell of the seas as I try to navigate myself into a third act.  Or just fine a place to dock.

Stay with me and you will meet my personal trainer under whose guidance I have perfected the “palliative workout’.  Let it be known that I have a bum knee that gives me the gait of Walter Brennan on The Real McCoys. It screams for a replacement to which  I have yet to commit.

I will spin the medical “duty wheel”.  I will try to retrofit my wardrobe in a climate where the local haberdasheries seem to be stocking only  two sizes, ‘Gay’ and ‘Extra Gay’.  (Fellas, c’mon, you know that’s the only way that joke could have gone.  Besides I can just hear the uproar  ‘DID HE JUST STEREOTYPE US AS SKI…? Wait a minute.’)

You will meet my golf game, my car and  my circle of weirdness.  You will be regaled with stories from my new passion – scuba diving – which I thought I took up to experience the underwater world of Jacques Cousteau.   And because chicks dig wet suits.  And because nobody can call you at a depth of 80 ft.

I will mourn –  people I knew, like my buddy Irwin whose number was called quite suddenly last year.  He was a big guy who left a big space in many lives. People I didn’t know too well like David Brenner who was a terrific comic back when my sister was a comic in New York.  She’s no longer around too.  You will know her too.  We’ll discuss TV, mostly in the  past tense because I watch very little these days outside of old Seinfelds – for good reason – and Mad Men because I grew up exactly during the show’s timeline.  A recent episode visited the old Electric Circus in New York on St. Mark’s.  My parents took me there when I was a kid.  “There are places I remember…”  sangeth The Beatles.

I fall asleep in movies although the irony is that I am in the friggin’ film business.  The ass end of it but still very much in it.  I restored the old Canadian hockey movie Face Off a couple of years ago for no apparent commercial reason but mainly because I hadn’t seen in 40 years.  I am nostalgic for nostalgia.  We will rock to my favorite song – I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again by The Barracudas.

Seriously, however,  who thought up this “Sixty Is The New Forty” crap?  What kind of  society do we live in that we have to come up with delusional “new math” of aging in order to mentally stave off the inevitable.  I had a grandmother in Miami Beach who died on the dialysis machine at 92.   The day before was 92 the new “70”?  I don’t believe so.  And if sixty is the new forty then shouldn’t I be going through another midlife crisis?  My God, how many convertibles and baseball caps can I buy?

The cholesterol pills I don’t take enough of don’t feel like forty, nor do the colonoscopies and dental excavations.  How about this –  lying about your age so you can buy seniors tickets at the movies and having nobody call you on it!!!

Look there are moments.  On a very good evening 60 can be the new 38.  However there are days at the gym where 60 is the new 84.   When I am with my daughter 60 is the new 12 and enrolled in Special Ed.   When I am with the old man 60 varies from 16 – that afternoon when he spent ten whole minutes trying to teach how to ride a motorcycle  – to about sixteen and a half.  Such is the relationship.

Time is precious no matter what the age and I plan to make the most of it – from rebuilding relationships to restoring my faith in mankind to reinvigorating some passion to revisiting times good, bad and instructive.  To hug when its appropriate and maybe when its not.  To laugh at no one else’s expense except my own, to rebrand, rework and renew.   Its going to be a ride and if you want in, I might ask you to kick in for some gas.  I haven’t written competitively in 25 years so be kind.  Tips are appreciated – no cash just advice.

Just in case you were worried the 59th  birthday was rescued by a nice blonde and not a moment too soon.  That night 60 was nowhere in sight.   I  am throwing a little something for me next month because nobody appears to be stepping up.   Film at eleven.

Me at my desk

Me at my desk