I want to thank everyone who has stopped by and put up with my head.  Especially those of you who took the time to comment.  I don’t think the past year has been particularly easy for anyone, so let’s hope 2012 will be uplifting and loving.

I’ll be back on the 9th and will do my best to keep you interested–I wouldn’t be here without you.

“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes


If I had imagined that “A Tough Write,” the last four posts chronicling my relationship with my dad, was going to be cathartic, I was wrong.  I do feel good about my honesty and my ability to get it down on ‘paper’, but I don’t feel much different than I did before I wrote the series.  Presumably I’m learning a lesson that many people already know—time helps more than venting, however well written and honest that venting is.

Maybe it’s that I don’t feel as “light and airy” as I had hoped.  Maybe it’s that I feel drained.  Maybe it’s the countdown to Jewish Christmas (Chinese and a movie).  But it’s one of those weeks where, as my friend Bruce Turkel put it, “I got nothin’.” (see: http://turkeltalks.com/index.php/2011/10/16/i-got-nothin/)

Rather than make something out of that nothin’, which Bruce already did so well, I’ve decided to let the week’s thoughts, ideas, insights, lack of insights, wishes, and experiences lope onto the page.  Or at least some of them.  I may be honest, but I do have some limits. (Where are they?  Where are they?)

In no particular order:


NCIS, which has one of the highest television viewerships is my “comfort food.”  And like mac and cheese or take-out pizza, familiarity is probably more important than quality, especially when you’ve had a bad day. Nothing on NCIS makes you jump out of your skin and the relationships between the characters never surprise—that’s sort of the point.  Despite the above, Mark Harmon, in his role as Gibbs, has serious ‘duende.` ((P)RAISING THE DEAD): http://www.zacharykleinonline.com/1/archives/07-2011/1.html).

If you do want to jump out of your skin, Homeland, Showtimes’ series based on Gideon Raff’s Israeli Hatufim or Prisoners of War, makes that happen.  Claire Danes, as Carrie Mathison, is terrific as a manic on a mission to prevent a major terrorist attack.  Her intense mishagas is wonderfully offset by Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), Carrie’s calm, soulful, mentor who mostly believes her hunches, but spends as much time trying to keep Carrie’s head together as hunting down any potential attack.  Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody (whose acting is also marvelous) is an American Marine held captive by Al-Qaeda for eight years, originally the object of Carrie’s suspicion but becomes…well, I’ll let you discover what happens.

If you have Showtime and On Demand, I suggest you start from the beginning.  The show is that good.

Another pleasure on the television front is Starz’s Boss, which chronicles Mayor Tom Kane of Chicago (Kelsey Grammer, cast against the grain).  Although the series takes place in the present, it’s really about how the first Mayor Daley ran his town.  I think the series is worth watching, but I’m biased since I Iived in Chicago during three or four years of Daley’s term.  Again, if you do have On Demand and Starz, I’d suggest watching the show from the beginning.

(If folk have different recommendations, please let me know in the ‘comment’ section.  I’m always ready to hear about something decent on the tube.  Grateful too.)

Books I’d like to read:

Coming through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

House of War by James Carroll

Time Bites by Doris Lessing

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

On the recommendation front:  But Beautiful (A Book About Jazz) by Geoff Dyer.  Truly fabulous as he riffs about jazz greats, writing those riffs in the style of each particular musician he profiles.  A stunning book for anyone who loves jazz.

Movies I want to see:

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Mission Impossible-Ghost Protocal.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  (LeCarre’s second best book next to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.)

Dangerous Method (Viggo as Freud?  He’s been great as everyone else).

My Week with Marilyn.

Documentaries I want to see:

Page One: Inside The New York Times.


Eames: The Architect & The Painter.

The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975.

 Art I want to see:

Degas Nudes at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Play I’d like to see:


But mostly I want to finish the work of getting my Matt Jacob Mystery Series prepared for download.  It’s been a hell of a lot more effort than I imagined and I’ve yet to even figure out how to cut through the noise of the Internet where the books will live.  How to get the Matt Jacob series a following despite the overwhelming infoload of virtual reality? Of course, if anyone not on my mailing list wants to be, please let me know at zacharykleinonline@gmail.com.

I want finish because I’m chomping at the bit to write new ones.

So I plan to take the next two weeks off of my Monday posts.  I won’t finish my project, but it will give me an opportunity to do some catching up.  It will also allow me to recharge my Monday post batteries.  A Tough Write was tougher than I realized

I hope you all will return when I do.  Have a great, safe holiday; then let’s meet up again online Monday, January 9, 2012.

Feliz Navidad

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the Gods. – Einstein

A Tough Write: Conclusion

My dad had a superficial gruffness that helped create the impression he was a man’s man. Ironically, it took much of my life to learn that, despite the enormous amount of time my father spent with men running his father’s card games, the war, tending bar, and working as a government accountant, it was much easier for him to talk to women. Learned that through his and Sue’s relationship. Throughout the years their friendship tightened much more rapidly than his and mine, and it was through their connection that he and I gingerly approached each other.

But despite the circling, I finally began to see how tolerant a person he actually was. He never batted an eye when we told him Sue was pregnant with Jake. He knew we weren’t married, but didn’t even ask if we were going to. He just rolled with it. Much the same way he’d rolled with my wedding, for which I never gave him much credit. And much the same way he rolled with my less-than-ambitious earning power—something that was important to him, but that he never laid on me other than an occasional tease.

I also learned it was impossible for him to live alone.

As much as both Sue and I have come to believe that Lenore was his true love, it wasn’t long after her death before he became involved with another woman from New Jersey and they eventually moved fulltime to Florida.

At this stage of our lives (I was about 40, him about 70), both of us were reluctant to jeopardize the delicate link we had made. And Sue made certain we not only maintained but fostered it. She would announce that it was time to go to Florida. She was the one who came up with the idea of making a license plate that read Sammy K., echoing a band leader he liked. She was the person I could watch tease my dad and make him laugh. She brought out and introduced me to aspects of his personality that made visiting more than a chore or duty.

In fact, it was Sue who, once he mentioned an interest in computers, suggested I take him shopping for one, set it up, and teach him how to use it. The first two were an easy do. The third, well, that turned out to be a blessing and a personal trip to hell.

He enjoyed the machine that let him follow his stocks, but never really got the hang of operator error. He was ham-fisted and impatient; if something didn’t happen instantaneously he’d keep banging the keys—lots of them. Not a useful way to work a computer, and out of character since he was usually pretty damn methodical.

Of course his computer ‘tech’ was me, which meant call after call with complaints about the machine while I tried to visualize what was going on and give him suggestions. Every time we visited I spent a day untangling the mess he’d made. But it was also a bridge. We were finally
talking on a regular basis.

Our visits and the computer crap slowly healed the old hurts we had inflicted upon each other. It wasn’t that they disappeared, more that new space opened between us. Space where something

other than the past, the conflicts, or the pain resided.

I was writing at the beginning of those years and, though he used to complain that my main character was too unkempt and drugged for big sales or a potential tv series (he was probably right), my father now knew me well enough to understand I was gonna write what I wanted to write. Years later, after Sue transformed a magazine writing career into writing books for kids, he kept asking why she didn’t just write “another Harry Potter.” I honestly believe he thought if a person could write, they could write anything. WRONG! This crack and his chuckle went on for years until Sue couldn’t take it anymore. She stopped it cold, when she countered with her own question: “Tell me Sam, how come you don’t stop buying those loser stocks and just get
good ones?”

But he was also quietly proud of our work. Kept our books in the living room where anyone who came into the condo would see them, including us.

Even more space opened between us. Hell, when Matthew was in college, he and a coed group of friends crashed at his place. The old man really enjoyed the visit. He never stopped telling the story of a mass of sleeping bodies on the floor and how Josh (Matt’s best man at his upcoming wedding) would wake up early and cook breakfast for everyone. My father still liked action and throughout his 70s traveled to Las Vegas (I met him there once), and to Atlantic City (met him there too), and went on cruises—as long as there were ‘comps’ and crap tables, his favorite gambling game. He’d started playing dice on the streets when he was a kid and the bug never left.

By the time he was 75, we were pretty comfortable with each other. To celebrate that birthday the whole family went on a short cruise where he and Matt hung in the ship’s casino, Sue and I chilled, and Jake fell in love (for the trip) with a girl he met at the karaoke bar.

Essentially, what had been at best an arms-length relationship had morphed into a strangely familial one. Strange because neither of us were yet willing to talk about the past, which hung on like a background shadow.

Those discussions began when he was about 85. He had slowed down considerably. I no longer had to have Sue at my side when I visited. And when he needed a hip replacement, I basically moved down there for a month or two, though Sue was also there a great deal of the time.

That’s when some real talk began to occur. He and I used to stay up after everyone was asleep, tv on in the background (tv background seems to be a necessity for men talk. Lets you move your eyes around when things get tough), and slowly, over time, our conversations became more
personal. He talked about his troubles with my mother and sister, and his pain about Lenore’s deterioration and death.

My end of the conversation included talking about the impossibility of living with my mother and sister, that night at the bar with the rebbetzin, his long, long absences. And, finally my embarrassment and dismay at how I treated him when Lenore was sick.

His hip mended. Even though he used a walker, he went back to his shopping, cooking, cleaning, and poker playing. But my visits, with and without Sue, became more frequent. As did her visits without me.

When I was there, those late night conversations continued. I learned more about the decisions he had made and why he had made them. He learned more about my life, my work, my anger towards him, the pleasure of our reconciliation. Sometimes the talks were easy, sometimes damn difficult. But they created a bond that remained for the rest of his life. A bond that will be with me the rest of mine.

This isn’t to say that all the conversations and my many years in therapy erased what had come before. Deep inside me there’s still part of that kid who sat at the bar. Things didn’t just vanish; nothing ever does. I’m still a product of my childhood, however altered.

But it’s almost funny. For so much of my life I never would have imagined that when my dad died, I would lose a friend.

Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

A Tough Write, Part III

I began a serious relationship with Sue in February 1978 and moved in with her towards the end of the year. Lock, stock, and Matthew who lived with us for half of every week. It was a rich time of my life and I remember a whole lot about it, but no matter how much I wrack my brain (and Sue wracks hers), neither of us can remember how my father and I reconnected. I’m not sure if it was even before or after Sue and I got involved, but, in fact, we had.

I do remember visiting him in Livingston, New Jersey, and meeting Lenore the woman he moved in with as well as her two high-school-aged kids. She seemed nice though needy. It was good to see him happy, but watching my father living with her kids raised feelings of jealousy about what they were receiving from him and what I hadn’t. Still, the time was well spent and all in all the visits satisfying.

Then I got hit with another one, two punch–a real schizoid bomb. My father asked me to be his best man at his wedding. The notion of being my dad’s best man, given our intermittent and difficult history, felt like the best gift I ever received. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. He continued by fumblingly asking me not to bring Matthew. Lenore didn’t want any of the invitees to know he had a 7-year-old grandson. It embarrassed her to be marrying a man that “old.”

On one hand I felt great about the best man do, but I also felt a growing rage about his willingness to disinvite my son on account of Lenore’s self-serving mishagas. Once again my father managed to raise all our history and it wasn’t pretty. He hadn’t stood up for me when I was a kid, and here he was refusing to stand up for my son. And worse, given my childhood experiences, my being the best father possible was huge. It was something I had fought for the right to do in my own divorce. Yet here was my father easily disowning his own grandchild rather than claim what was his. Déjà vu all over again.

My need trumped my rage. But, at the same time, I made late afternoon train reservations back home to be with Sue as soon as I possibly could for her return from a long planned trip to Europe. I have no doubt my decision to leave his celebration early was, in no small measure,
acting out about Matthew and god knows what else. It sure had nothing to do with my self-deceiving rationalization about needing to meet Sue the moment she arrived.

Once home, my relationship with Sue and Mathew was front and center. New love, fun times, making a new family, creating our own holiday–Mammal Day, replete with customized tee-shirts. And, like any new couple that just moved in together, there were issues to be worked through. Plus, Sue had the added responsibility of becoming a stepmom at twenty-five–which as any stepparent can tell you is pretty damn difficult.

So once again, the relationship with my father stabilized. The three of us made a number of trips to his and Lenore’s new house in Jersey–made easier because her kids were no longer living with them. There were some nice memories there too. A spiral staircase Matthew was enchanted by with a landing on top where he would perch over the action and read. Some really large, fake stuffed lions we would wrestle on; my father going out of his way in restaurants to do tricks with the cloth napkins which Matt loved. A general sense of comfort among all of us.

Problem was, with my father’s and my relationship, nothing lasted all that long (at least until later in life). Lenore was diagnosed with acute multiple sclerosis, the kind that advances pretty rapidly.

Which is when I became a shit. Instead of sympathy, I felt anger. It made me sick to watch him become a fulltime caretaker, catering to her every need (a trait I later realized was a significant aspect of his core personality). He even retired early to be home every possible moment.

Despite Sue’s exhortations and accurate analysis about my long-term resentments emerging in the most heinous ways, in my twisted mind I didn’t even acknowledge she had MS. Or at least that bad. She was just using her weakness as another way to take my old man’s attention away from everybody but herself. All the slights and abandonments from my childhood through Matthew’s dis-invitation, filled my head and there was no way to break through the cement.

My passive aggressive attitude and dickwadedness peaked when he brought Lenore for experimental treatments in Boston for two or three weeks. I went to the hospital once or so and only invited him over twice. And, as I recall, those times were tense, though by then I had actually accepted that she did have M.S. I just didn’t give a damn.

We drifted as emotionally far apart as we’d ever been, this time because the anger and hostility were shared by both of us. I knew he was enraged and, frankly, was pleased about it. He knew I felt this way and it probably enraged him more, though all this was unspoken.

My father and Lenore eventually moved to Florida a few years before her death and we visited them down there a couple of times. I told myself it was a way to get out of Boston’s winter. But despite Florida’s heat, my father and my relationship remained arctic until years after Lenore died.

Like I said, the connection was ugly. And I have no one to blame other than myself and my inability to see past my prior let-downs and earlier hurts. No excuse. When I think about it I have trouble looking at myself in a mirror.

Because the truth is, in thinking back, he really didn’t know what a father was supposed to do–which didn’t make the betrayals any the less painful for me as a child, but much more understandable as I grew into a mature adult. He loved me, but that wasn’t the same as being a good father. I understand now that when he and Lenore were in Boston, he was asking me for something for the first time and I refused. Which hurt him. And made me, once I began to
understand him, ashamed of myself. But of course I was always one, or in this case, several steps behind in life.

Luckily my dad and I had time for one last chapter.

Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong? Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’

Charles M. Schulz