For my mom, Bobbe Bromberg

Time, as previously noted, always wins. Thursday morning, it beat my mom. But, like my dad before her, my mom took time into extra innings. Lots and lots of extra innings. Time took a licking; my mom kept ticking.

The obit notes are ordinary: Ruth Panitz, born April 7, 1926, to Sam and Minna (Berkowitz) Panitz. Married William Bromberg on June 16, 1946. Mother of Stephen (1950) and Judith (1954-2012). Grandmother of Joshua (1979) and Benjamin (1985), sons of Steve and his wife Linda Kallman. Great-grandmother of Tenzin (2014), daughter of Josh and his wife Marie Bromberg, and Julia (2020), daughter of Ben and his wife Molly Alig.

But the obit notes don’t even begin to tell the story of Ruth, starting with the fact that nobody — ABSOLUTELY NOBODY — who knew her called her Ruth. Born into an extended family with a few dozen Ruths, my mom was Bobbe from the day she was born.

The obit notes don’t reveal that she graduated from Tilden High School in Brooklyn when she was just 15 and Brooklyn College at 19. They don’t reveal that in another, more enlightened time, she could have been a doctor or a lawyer or anything she wanted — IF she’d wanted, because all Bobbe Bromberg really wanted was to be a wife and mother. She was Ruth when my dad met her, and he called her Babe. They adored each other for 69 years.

My mom was a New York City public schoolteacher, a proud member of the United Federation of Teachers who worshipped Albert Shanker, the union leader who fought for the benefits that benefited her greatly for decades after she retired.

Bobbe loved to read, and she loved to read to others. She must have read books to me. I can say for sure that she loved reading to my sons when they were young. They — and their wives and daughters — meant the world to her.

She played canasta. She played mah-jongg. And she played a killer game of Scrabble — she knew all the “cheat” words, including some that don’t exist.

She loved the beach. She loved show tunes. She wasn’t big on rock ‘n’ roll, but she never told me to turn down the sound. (Well . . . almost never.) She hated what the rest of us call room temperature; she kept the thermostat at hot or too hot.

Here’s something else you won’t find in the obit notes: I owe my career and my greatest passion to my mom.

When I was seven, all the kids my age had to learn to play an instrument. It was a rite of passage: Thou shalt not graduate from second grade unless you play an instrument. Your choice of instrument could be found behind Door Number One, Two or Three — piano, violin or accordion. Pick whatever instrument you want, so long as it’s the piano, the violin or the accordion. They were the chocolate, vanilla and strawberry of instruments.

Larry played the piano; Dean played the violin; Norman played the accordion. Michael played the piano; Linda played the violin; Tommy played the accordion.

And me?

My mom was the piano-playing music teacher at P.S. 194, but she had something else in mind for me — a weird instrument that none of the other kids had. My mom bought me a guitar. And so it happened that I went every week to Sea Gate in Brooklyn to take guitar lessons from Lou Stallman, the musician who wrote the Perry Como hit, Round And Round. A few years later, I took lessons from Herk Favilla, the luthier who built Favilla guitars. And a few years after that, I’d walk to Kings Highway and East 18th Street to take lessons from Sid Margolis, a former studio musician who just happened to also be teaching some guy named Dion.

Larry, Dean, Norman, Michael, Linda and Tommy all gave up their instruments before they got to high school, but I’m still playing my guitar more than 60 years later. Well played, Mom.

The guitar was the passion. As for the career . . .

One year after she put a guitar in my hands, my mom the schoolteacher took a look at my godawful penmanship and decided there was only one thing to be done: She bought me a typewriter.

It was a big clunky gray Remington with green keys that weighed about as much as I did. And my mom sat me down in front of it, showed me where to rest my fingers and told me, “Don’t use a pencil anymore. From now on, just type.”

And then she walked out of my bedroom, leaving me to teach myself how to type. I was 8 years old, so it was easy, and I acquired a skill that has served me well ever since. I typed papers for beer money in college, and I typed 50 or 60 pages a night when I got my start in newspapering. Well played, Mom.

Here’s something else you won’t find in the obit notes: Bobbe Bromberg was no quitter.

My mom got breast cancer in 1971. She underwent a radical mastectomy and was told she’d be fortunate to live another four or five years. She was unlikely to be around to meet my wife, or our kids, or their kids. She’d probably be gone before she turned 50.

But who the hell was Cancer to tell my mom how long to live? Cancer??? FEH!!!

My mom lived long enough to lose the other breast to cancer 25 years later. And then she lived another 24 years after that.

Bobbe Bromberg, my mom, lived to be 94 years old. It took a series of strokes and finally a broken hip to bring her down. It took time, and time always wins.

But cancer? Cancer wasn’t big enough to beat my mom.

How great is that?

* * *

Please don’t send flowers. If you care to make a donation, we suggest the MJHS Foundation. Under “General Designation,” please select the Hospice and Palliative Care program, which cared for Bobbe for the final seven months of her life.

— 30 —*

We can be heroes

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

Those 15 words — and the 7,102 that followed — were spoken in a courtroom by a now 23-year-old woman to the man who raped her, while unconscious, next to a Dumpster behind a fraternity at Stanford University a year and a half ago.

They may well be the most powerful words I’ve ever read. Continue reading

Memories of The Greatest


This wasn’t supposed to happen. Sure, I was just 13, but I read the New York Post, the New York Times, the Daily News, the Herald Tribune and Sports Illustrated and I watched TV and I listened to the radio and all the experts said Cassius Clay would be crazy even to appear in the same building with Sonny Liston, let alone the same ring. Hell, he’d be crazy to set foot in the same ZIP code, a newfangled thing that had been invented the previous year.

Sonny was a monster. He was big and way too strong and he had a couple of sledgehammers hanging from his shoulders that could kill a skinny, 22-year-old pretty boy. He would hit Clay so hard, the experts said, that his fist would come out the back. Clay would certainly leave the ring on a stretcher. He’d be lucky, the experts said, to still be breathing. Continue reading

Just a dad, with his little girl

I collect handshakes. Hank Aaron, Smokey Robinson, Buddy Guy, Sam Moore, David Halberstam, Bill Kunstler, Hubert Sumlin … Getting a photo, or god forbid a selfie, is not what matters most. It’s shaking the hand and saying thank you for making a difference in my life. Thanks for making me smile. Thanks for making me think. Thanks for being you.

I like to think that if I shake your hand, maybe some of the brilliance will rub off.

But there’s one handshake I didn’t get. Continue reading

For what it’s worth, 06/02/16

We didn’t start the fire, until we did

The story in my local paper carries the headline:

Yeshivas fight back, claim county inspections ‘improper’, ‘draconian’

And no, this is not about the missplaced comma in the hed. This is about a bunch of religious wackos defending their right to endanger children. In my country. In my state. In my county.

Rockland County (NY) Executive Ed Day recently announced that “the state [has] given the county permission to inspect 53 private schools, mostly in Ramapo and Spring Valley, for fire and building code compliance.”

That’s good, right? When a school goes up in flames … or collapses due to faulty construction … that’s a bad thing, right? We try to make sure that doesn’t happen, right? Continue reading

For what it’s worth, 06/01/16


I’ve been awol. Shame on me. Shame on me also for writing awol instead of AWOL, which is AP Style. And since I’m writing this on June 1, 2016, let’s note that a brand new AP Stylebook came out today.

Remember when we had to capitalize Internet? Now it’s internet.

Remember when we had to capitalize Web? Now it’s web.

A few others, according to my email (which used to be e-mail once, but the times they do change) from the AP: Continue reading

For what it’s worth: The gun edition


Executive Vice President of the NRA LaPierre holds a 300 Remington Ultra Mag that was auctioned off after he gave the keynote address at the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah

A weasel of a man named Wayne LaPierre cut a slick video a few weeks ago that pretty much revealed everything we need to know about our wonderful defender of the Second Amendment – the NRA. So let’s just come out and acknowledge the truth:

The “R” in NRA doesn’t stand for Rifle.

It stands for Racist. Continue reading

For what it’s worth, 11/18/15

I’ve been busy, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. My conservative friend Joe even challenged me on Facebook:

I’m surprised you have been so tight lipped about Paris…not a word.

OK. Word.

Joe, John Lennon said “War is not the answer,” but sometimes it is. There are just wars, like the one we won 70 years ago. That was a war worth fighting. Imagine (sorry, John) what might have happened if we’d sat it out. For sure, I wouldn’t be here writing this.

Continue reading