Monday, November 30, 2009


It was  early in  1973. I was a part of the Sunday basketball leagues at JCC in Cincinnati.I only remember one other player on my team.....Mark Goldman . I was all of 5 feet tall and probably 90 pounds. Goldy may have been a bit shorter and a bit bigger. I remember what he lacked in speed and mobility he made up for with good hands. Although I lacked speed as well . I could play good defense because I wanted to win to a degree that I would do whatever I could to keep the man(boy) I was guarding  from getting open. I was also used to competing in tournaments as a tennis player so whether it was long hours practicing or just spending hours on the court playing matches but I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to win every time I competed.
Right now I want to apologize to every single guy that I have competed against or played on a team with in my entire life especially Goldy. Maybe not everybody but definitely Mark Goldman.
Goldy died on Saturday November 28th ,2009 over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Just  a few weeks back he called me to catch up on our lives.The last time I had seen or spoken to him was 25 plus years ago . It was probably during my time as a Sammy at Ohio State University.
Keith Gud my roommate was most likely hanging out with us that night at a bar on High Street .
Good times were had by all.

 But quite  a few years earlier Goldy  experienced my competitive personality firsthand on that winter  day in 1973. Our team was down by 7 points with somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seconds on the clock.
Maybe it was extremely unrealistic to think we would come back but I did especially because  as a 12 year old sport fanatic I was  generally unrealistic  in my expectations .I still thought the Reds would win a World Series.I had just witnessed them fall short a few months back.Seeing Pete Rose fly out to end Game 7 against Oakland  was a heart breaker but .....those guys never gave up.
( see 1975-76 World Series Trophy on Pete Rose Way)
For some unexplained reason as Goldy our point guard brought the ball up the court he decided it was the right moment to set up at half court  and take a "Hail Mary" ....wing and a prayer shot. Goldy's shot was not  close and the other team got the ball back and eventually time ran out .
I flashback to the scene in The Bad News Bears when Tanner Boyle angrily snarls at Timmy Lupus after he drops an easy fly ball.
Now mind you Goldy was no Lupus. Goldy had skills.Lupus not so all.
I remember yelling at Goldy .There may have been some four letter words.It is entirely possible that a 5 foot curly haired kid who weighed 90 pounds lost his temper enough to squarely punch a shorter stockier point  guard.
Unaware that the  said point guard had a mouth full of braces.The ensuing mayhem that took place on the first court at JCC must have looked ridiculous to all in the gym .Goldy was chasing me all over the gym.He was pissed.
I was pissed. I don't remember if he caught up to me.
One of us had a good sized cut on his finger.The other one a sore mouth .Eventually we made up and the season went on .We did not win the league that year.
When I spoke to Goldy during the 2009 MLB post season I had no idea that a few weeks later he would be gone forever.He wanted to get a group of guys together from the old JCC for a game of basketball or softball.
We talked for somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour and I think he had to go because he was on his way to referee a football game. He seemed to really enjoy the job .Plus he had a ticket broker business. .During the Yankees playoff run I was on his site daily checking out his tickets and also thinking of possibly selling my seats through his website.
Goldy and I had connected through Facebook. I had asked him to post some pictures on his page.
He eventually did post some of himself. Sure he had gotten older like the rest of us  but It was good to see him as a grown  up man.
I know he had taken some knocks lately in his life and been through a tough divorce .But he was taken too soon .He still had  so much to offer.Let us not ever take our lives for granted.Goldy's death has further reminded me to "seize the day".
I still laugh  when I think of Goldy chasing me through the gym at JCC. Obviously not funny at the time but now 36 years later it ranks up there in my most memorable and humorous moments .
Goldy if I could right now I would pass the ball to you  anywhere on the court see you set up at and  heave the shot and pray for a swish or bank shot then celebrate with you as if we had won the NBA title for the Cincinnati Royals or the Bearcats of U.C.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goodbye to Sal

Last Sunday night with my wife and our 9 year old boy I went to see our friends Sal and Angela Zavaglia
Sal has been ill for the past few years with cancer.My son has always looked up to him like a 3rd Grandpa.
In 1995 when our daughter was but a few months old we were looking for a caregiver to help us out with our new baby.The Westchester Child Care Council referred us to Angela . When we visited Angela to interview her as a prospective babysitter we knew right away that we had found the right person to help us raise our child.Angela offered us food,espresso,home made wine.It was a warm family atmosphere.
Angela was referred to as Nonna by the kids she cared for.Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother.
The kitchen is the center of activity in their home. Olivia our daughter quickly picked up the culture and language of her own Italian great- grandparents through her time spent with the Zavaglia's.
Sal and his son Tony ran a landscaping business and would spend their lunch hours with Angela,Olivia and her friend who I will call "Eve".Olivia and Eve became good friends at Nonna's.
Nonna and Sal's grandchildren visited from Canada and helped with Olivia and Eve.
Over the first 6 years they became our family.Olivia got bigger and did not require a caregiver yet we would still find time to bring her to Nonna's.Then our son was born and we started the cycle all over again. Our little guy became attached to the Zavaglia's and Sal would teach Matt about gardening and show him all the cool gadgets that they used in their landscaping business.
Nonna watched over Matt and Olivia with love and affection for the past 14 plus years.
Sal taught me how to make homemade wine. Sal also took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
The Bronx' Little Italy  is a great place to shop for espresso,bread and cheeses from Italy.
I would say about fifty percent of my knowledge of Italian cuisine was given to me by my wife Sandra Spinelli and her family. The other fifty came from the Zavaglia's .
Sal is from Gioiosa in the Calabria region of Italy on the Ionian Sea .Nonna grew up in the next town.
From Italy to Larchmont.
Larchmont.......home of Wall Streeters . Home of the head of the US Treasury Secretary
Tim Geithner....Joan Rivers.....Lou Gehrig.....Norman Rockwell and our friends Sal and Nonna.
My son and my wife went up to the family room where Sal had been sleeping in their home .
Nonna told Sal that Matt our boy had come to see him .Sal reached out his hand for Matt and then my son hugged Sal.
Later that night at our house Matt could not fall asleep.He tried laying down with my wife but was still stirring.Then came down while I was watching Sunday Night Football.
I asked him if something was on his mind and walked him back up to his room .
As I tucked him in to bed he told me he was worried about what we were going to do if Sal died.
He started to cry. His whole body was shaking as he imagined a world without Sal.
When his crying subsided we spent some time talking about a similar talk I had with my mom when I was an eight year old.I had imagined life then without my parents and I remember feeling overwhelmed with sadness and fear.My mom helped to calm me down.Now it was my turn.
Mom passed away six years ago and when she died I felt the sadness of my eight year old self return.
As the week went on our world returned to it's normal routine. Late Thursday night as I was headed to sleep I noticed on our phone's caller ID that Nonna had called at 12:45 p.m. Thursday.It was too late to call their house so I figured that I would call in the morning.
I hoped it was Nonna taking me up on my offer to drive her somewhere or to pick up some stuff from the store. On Friday morning as I walked by the answering machine next to our computer I noticed a new message. I pressed the play button and my worst fears had come true.
Nonna was weeping her way through the message that Sal had died.She had taken the time to call us in her darkest hour.
Matt had woken up especially happy yesterday and I could not bring myself to tell him that his Sal was gone.I let Sandra know. Olivia had been without her cell phone for 10 days due to a bad battery.I had gotten it replaced by Sprint finally and handed it to her Friday morning.To a teenager being without their phone for a day is like a day of detox .Being without one for ten days is like detox boot camp
I didn't want to wipe the cell phone elixir euphoria off her face. But she had to know since her friends at school knew the Zavaglia's.When Sandra told her she was very upset.At school she did run into Sal and Nonna's next door neighbor and they commiserated about Sal.
Picking my son up at school was difficult .He was so happy and I knew that in one moment with one sentence sadness would be brought into his world.
I turned off the radio and put on some James Taylor." Winter,spring ,summer or fall .All you've got to do is call and I'll be there.You've got a friend".
It calmed my nerves. As my wife and daughter puled up to our driveway I knew Matt was about to to be saddened.It was best that we were all together .Matt took the news hard .Who wouldn't?
Last night we went by their house to drop off some food and spend time with their family .
I think Matt saw how Sal's family although very upset by his loss was still able to laugh and love each other and life would go on.Matt laughed a little .He cried some too. As we left their home he clutched my hand and we made our way home .He kept Sal's rosary card with him all night.Staring at his picture.
To Sal our dear friend. We will miss you. As your rosary card stated ," You are not gone but merely in the next room. When we speak of you we know that you will be with us always".
Rest in eternal peace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Big Red Machine,Bob Shreve and a dead barber.

In 1971 and 1972 I had the experience of a lifetime.
My hair was kinda big in 1972.
I was rocking an afro or as we Jewish kids called it back then a Jewfro.
 My dad was raising money for the Kid Glove game that benefited little league baseball in Greater Cincinnati.I was allowed to be the bat boy for the celebrity game before the Reds played the Indians in an exhibition game.Celebrities included local D.J.s and TV news anchors and Bob Shreve of the Past Prime Playhouse.A late night staple on Channel 19 that showed "B" movies along with Bob and his cast of shtickmeisters to fill air time on late Saturday nights.I was assigned to hand out bats in the Cleveland dugout.I knew that across home plate as the game went on were some of the members of "The Big Red Machine".Every time I stepped out onto the field I looked up in awe at the huge stadium that would be the home of 3 World Series Championship teams.
I approached Bob Shreve with a bat and told him how I loved watching his show every Saturday.He told me how much fun they had doing the show and was very appreciative of my compliments.
I have no memory of who won the game.But after it was over I was allowed into the Reds dugout.As I crossed home plate I got a huge lump in my throat.I stepped down into the dugout and can only say that it reminds me of the scene in the movie "Field of Dreams" when Ray Kinsella sees all the players on his corn field and starts realizing they are some of the legends of the game and he is in total awe.I had a baseball,a glove,and a Bick ballpoint pen(Sharpies?) and as I stepped down into their special sanctuary I silently walked up to each and every player that was milling about.Bench,Perez,Morgan even Sparky ,the manager .I really wanted Pete Rose but he was too busy being interviewed by a few reporters so I kept my distance.As my time in the dugout came to a close I heard a loud voice calling out to me from a few feet away,"Hey kid come 'ere".I turned to see Davey Concepion sitting on top of the bench between a few players.He was motioning for me to come over to him.I hurried over to him to see what he wanted."Hey kid?", he asked."Yes Mr.Concepion?",I replied quizzically.He scratched his head with his voice loud enough so many of the surrounding players could hear him."I was being set up and didn't even know it.Me innocent,in awe of the greatness surrounding me had no idea."Kid let me ask you a tough question?",he prodded with a somewhat thick Spanish accent as he reached toward my 'fro of curly hair.
"Did you barber die?".The dugout erupted in laughter.I think I laughed.I didn't answer him as much as I remember myself being in awe of all these guys who were my heroes sharing a laugh with me even if it was at my expense.
Life went on after that day and I took my signed ball and glove home and instead of placing them in a case to save for the rest of my life.I continued using the glove.The ball I don't remember what happened to that artifact.I still collect baseball cards and memorabilia but the true memories are in the experiences not in a piece of paper or a ball but in your heart and mind.
Being the butt of a joke for one of the greatest teams that ever played the game of baseball and witnessing them compete in all those games in the 70's will stay with me forever.