Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mr. Braveman | A True Story

The Lovely Chestnut Hill at Holiday Time
Mr. Braveman.

He was our next door neighbor in the charming Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia in 2009-2010.

I moved to Philadelphia to work on M. Night Shyamalan’s film, The Last Airbender. Prior to arriving, I researched the neighborhoods online, seeking a quiet, beautiful, and perhaps historic place away from the city to call home. Chestnut Hill proved to be the perfect spot; a quaint village of parks, shops, and cozy cafes.  

My rental home was directly across the street from the stunning Pastorius Park where neighborhood dogs would convene and make plans to take over the world. I watched the seasons change there, for the first time. I grew up in California and had never watched the snow melt with daffodils peaking up from under it. I’d never experienced a real thunderstorm. I’d never shoveled snow. It was exciting. And I miss it now. So in my nostalgia tonight, I pulled up my old address on Google. Who lives there now? Does it look the same? Is the house for sale? How’s Mr. Braveman?

Mr. Braveman had cats. A republican, he had a large American flag displayed in his front porch window and a McCain sticker on his front door (let’s just say, I didn’t vote for McCain). He was a lawyer. He smoked sometimes, and when it was cold out, he’d smoke in his basement and the smell would seep in through my vents. I’ve always hated smoke. It was annoying, but I never said anything about it. He loved to garden. His backyard was something to envy, attracting birds of all sorts. He had his very specific routines, and was completely predictable. In fact, whenever I hear the song “Well Respected Man” by The Kinks, I giggle, as certain words in the lyrics always make me think of him.

Cause he gets up in the morning,
And he goes to work at nine,
And he comes back home at five-thirty,
Gets the same train every time.
Cause his world is built round punctuality,
It never fails.

And he's oh, so good,
And he's oh, so fine,
And he's oh, so healthy,
In his body and his mind.
He's a well respected man about town,
Doing the best things so conservatively. 

[ . . . ]

And he likes his own backyard,
And he likes his fags the best,
Cause he's better than the rest . . .

I was afraid of Mr. Braveman, at first. I had made up a story in my mind that he surely found me to be a commie or a dirty hippie as I’d play Ravi Shankar through the house and attempted to learn to play the sitar. And I’d better not mess up or he’d complain. “Keep it down!” I’d tell myself. I’d scold the dogs if they made even a tiny peep.

He never once complained.

And then, somehow, little by little, we began talking. About cats. About dogs. My dogs loved him. He loved them back. He loved that we rescued them. We spoke of gardening and how he purchased the house in 1975 for only $15,000. How he’d hiked the Appalachian trail. How he’d served our country while in the Marines. We spoke of his travels to exotic destinations. He had some amazing stories to tell. 

He took the train to work and would walk to the station both ways, every single weekday. We had a horrible winter (at least, that’s what all the east coasters were calling it. I called it ‘fun’), so the tall steps to our homes would have a few feet of snow on them at times. When we could, we’d shovel Mr. Braveman’s steps for him so he wouldn’t have to do it when he returned home from work. He became a wonderful friend.

Just before we headed back to California, Mr. Braveman had just finished a highly anticipated addition to his home. One wall was exposed brick and he asked my boyfriend (now husband) and I to come over and “autograph” it. It was a beautiful wall signed by others with loving and humorous notes. We felt honored that he’d include us in this piece of history. He’d become such a sweetheart, such a gift in our lives there. I found it hard to leave him. I cried. I hoped the new renters would befriend him as we had. 

We missed the place so much, we returned in November of 2010 to take a stroll around the park, poke about the neighborhood, and pop in to say hello to Mr. Braveman. There he was, on his front stoop, doing a bit of gardening, as usual. We didn’t have his phone number, just showed up. And we asked if we could take a photo with him. He agreed to it, thankfully. 
Nov. 7, 2010 - Future hubby and I with our dear friend and neighbor, Mr. Braveman.

So, in my sentimental Google search this evening, I pulled up the street view of our place. Yep, looks the same. Same blue door. Oh, how I loved eating spaghetti out on the porch during thunderstorms. Wow, I can’t believe that plant survived. Then I panned over to Mr. Braveman’s house. Hmmm. No flag. Where’s the McCain sticker? That’s odd. I then put his address in a Google search. Zillow. For Sale. What? Mr. Braveman would never sell that house! He’s been there since the year I was born . . . 

Obituaries. Chestnut Hill Local.

David Braveman, lawyer
David Braveman, 72, a lawyer who specialized in trusts and estates, died Jan. 5 [2011] at his home in Chestnut Hill.
Mr. Braveman had focused recently on health care litigation in his work with the law firm of Pepper Hamilton.
Raised in Corning, N.Y., he was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School.
He had served in the Marine Corps for three years.
He was an avid gardener, hiker and camper and had been an active member of the Friends of Pastorius Park.

I’m crushed. Was he alone? Was he ill? 

And at the same time, so happy to have known this incredibly kind man. 

I found another article, on, an interview with his son, William, which revealed details about Mr. Braveman I never knew.

He was a devoted Quaker; he was attracted by its philosophy of peace. He maintained a longtime correspondence with jurist and philosopher Richard Posner since their days at Harvard Law School. They spoke mainly of their love for cats. He started college at the young age of sixteen. He was a total smarty pants. 

Imagine if I’d allowed the story I’d made up in my mind to win? An entire rich piece of life would have never existed. We are often too quick to believe our own stories, even though they prove time and time again to only get us into trouble. Our own stories are what keep us from loving others, and especially loving ourselves.

I’m grateful, so grateful, to have had the wonderful Mr. Braveman as a friend. I’m grateful, so grateful, I didn’t let the story win. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Intelligent Worldy Humor

Mensa (English): The largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. 

Mensa (Spanish): Stupid.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

*A Brow, Unfurrowed

[That night . . . ] Mum’s face had drastically begun to change. This woman who started out a gorgeous model (often mistaken for actress Farrah Fawcett), a David Bowie impersonator, then famed paranormal investigator, lived her last years with a face hardened by the guilt she held within and affected by the substances she used to try and forget it. She’d gone full circle.

“Look. Her face has no wrinkles at all, it’s totally smooth,” my younger sister Kelli said. I agreed, although I didn’t particularly want to as I was reminded of the only detail Mum had revealed to me of my grandmother’s death the day she had passed many years before. I hadn’t seen that brow un-furrowed since I was five.

We decided to tell her these details in case she could hear us. We spoke aloud to her the entire night. Sometimes I’d look up above me so that if her soul was hovering over us, as I’d heard from countless accounts of near death experiences, she could see my face and could know I loved her and that I really was smart and paid attention to what folks said about the afterlife (a last-ditch effort at impressing the unimpressionable).
“See Mum, see. I do love you.”

Excerpt from chapter one | wild horses |Everything’s Hunky Dory: A Memoir