Ode to my dad
Len Bloom 1927-2014
NEW YORK — For whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. And on Tuesday, during a snowy day in his beloved New York City, it tolled for my dad. He was 86.
For those among you who know us well, it would figure he did not go softly in that good night. He struggled to the last breath. I know. I was there to the bitter end along with my brother and daughter. Like his mother, brother and father before him he went out when his heart gave out. His body was used up. He got everything he had out of it.
The gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson once said that, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
That’s the way it was for Lenny and his immediate family. It was quite a ride. And we’re all here today for the sole reason of celebrating all that.
With his passing it is certainly the end of an era. Sarah, Saul, Murray and Lenny. Luncala as he was affectionately called by his parents. We used to laugh about that when we were kids.
All gone to eternity and memory now. Always affectionately and lovingly. Sarah was the first to go, in 1966, almost 48 years ago. Murray in 1978 and Saul in 1990. Lenny was the last somehow making it to 2014 despite beginning his long broadside slide many years ago.
He left behind a motley crew of sons, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and his wife, Gloria, who is also 86 and holding her own.
With all of them gone we are the standard bearers now of the Bloom tradition. The family softball games of spring and summer and the Rosh Hasshana football games of the fall. The Blooms, Kaplans, Chenfelds, Selingers, Walchers, O’Briens, Wilbats and on and on. The Kaplans still haven’t beaten the Blooms, but I digress.
For there was nothing my father loved more than his family, his own and the entire extended group many of us who were at his bedside in an incredible outpouring of love and affection in the days before his death. A musician and writer, he never wrote that hit song or score to a Broadway play. Who can forget the great rock ditty, Yo-Di-Yo? In the ICU this past Sunday we sang it to him: “Love me quick, love me slow make my heart go Yo-Di-Yo. Tell me baby that you love me so. Yes, he wrote that. I kid you not. It was the flip side to a 45-rpm record on the Colpex label. He wrote the musical lyrics to a play called “A Joyful Noise.” It closed in two weeks. We used to call it the Bloom touch. Midas in reverse.
He had so many jobs some one once gathered all the business cards and created a collage. My brother has the actual cards in what we’re calling the Lenny Bloom archives. In those archives are some of his clips, thoughts and sheet music. He was proud of all those jobs. For a long time that collage hung on the wall of the apartment in Riverdale where he lived for 55 years. My mother and brother are still there.
Len Bloom could have a lovable — and not so lovable — pomposity to him, but he never took himself or his foibles too seriously. His sense of humor was legendary. How can any of us forget him taking over the mike at some wedding or barmitzvah? When he got the crowd going with his Sinatra-like singing and Uncle Miltie-like one-liners, he’d often tell everyone “we’re really davaning now.”
But his greatest legacy, and a doff of the yamuka to Gloria as well, are the sons he raised. Steve, what can you say about him? He dedicated the last two years as full time caregiver to both of them after Len had to move into the Hebrew Home, the same Hebrew Home where Saul spent the last years of his life. Steve nurtured him, shaved him, kibbutzed and engaged with him, even at times wiping his toushe. He said he did it for the most basic of reasons. “He was a good father to me and it was my time to give back.” Thank you for all your love and care Uncle Steven. We certainly couldn’t have weathered the last few years without you coming up so big.
And so it is so. I took the best from my mother and father in raising our two children, Raphi and Joanna. Alicia’s two children. She is a super wife and mom and like Steve and I, our kids are the obvious product of a lot of love and care.
My father taught me that you can always talk things out even if that talk sometimes followed a lot of yelling and screaming. A lot of yelling and screaming. Those talks went on well into our adult years. He was a sounding board and always had an opinion. A big help even a few years ago when I fortunately overcame two bouts of colon cancer as he began a serious decline.
When we were kids he was one of the guys, corralling us and assorted friends on weekends to play ball. He always told the story, and recalled it recently, about the time when we were already in college that he asked on some long ago Saturday if we wanted to go out and play ball. Sorry dad, have things to do. Cat’s in the Cradle. He knew life had inevitably shifted. That is the way life is. Sometimes sad and cruel. Just like this.
From Joe and Iris to Sarah and Saul to Murray and Arlene to Gloria and Leonard to Alicia and Barry to Joanna and Mark to Raphael and Ashley and on and on forever. The circle of life.
But I have no complaints. I was as close to my father as any son could be. Nothing in the end was left unsaid. I told him all of this in one form or in another as the days inevitably slipped to a simple few. The talks, the jokes. He was old school before there was old school. He couldn’t even program the clock on a VCR. He never wore a digital watch. He never went beyond cassette tapes and left an incredible self-assembled library to prove it. His last job was at a place that fixed typewriters. That was around 2000. He would have hated that I read this off my iPad just as he complained about me incessantly using my iPhone, which unwittingly sapped my attention. But we always spoke the same language, telling each other we loved each other. There’s no more you can ask than that.
In his last days he still wasn’t ready to let go. He wanted to play. One last ballgame. One last meal. “Where are we going to eat?” he asked. “Wanna go home.” And the last words I heard him say on that snowy Tuesday, “Please, take me out in the snow.” My only regret is that I couldn’t honor those simple last requests. I felt helpless. He was done. That long broadside slide into that cloud of smoke was about to end. It was a hell of a ride.
Good luck and all my love dad wherever you are. For whom the bell tolls? It tolls for all of us.
My eulogy delivered at his funeral, Jan. 26, 2014.
PostScript: As we buried him at Beth David Cemetery it started to snow. So he got his last wish. We took him out in the snow.