Photo of Bernard Goodman

Bernie Goodman in probably September 1948, which would have made him 45.


Click here to see his birth certificate

BERNARD GOODMAN
(June 16, 1903 - June 20, 1981)

Bernard Goodman, my father, was born in East Harlem on June 16, 1903, 100 years ago today. His family soon moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn and he spent most of his first 40 years in Brooklyn. He graduated from Eastern District High School and was on its track team. His mother's maiden name was Klezmer, so his love of music was probably inherited and he was a professional alto saxophonist as a young man.

Possessing considerable intelligence, he spent his 20's briefly digging ditches, as a bank teller and was fired from the Post Office for defying his supervisor. In January 1933, at the height of the Depression, he felt lucky to obtain a job as a change clerk for the four-month-old IND subway line of the New York City Board of Transportation. Totally miserable, fear made him keep the job for over 35 years till his 65th birthday in 1968. He was 15 when World War I ended and 38 on Pearl Harbor Day, so he managed to never be drafted. He married my late mother, when he was 40, on August 22, 1943 in Rockaway Park, Queens, a block from the ocean, and the newlyweds set up residence in the new, restricted Met Life housing complex of Parkchester in the Bronx, where he lived until his death. (For some reason, they did allow Jews.)

Soon after my late sister, and only sibling, was born in 1944, he began working 12-hour days, holding down two jobs. The other was for the New York Herald Tribune, which eventually offered him a full-time position and which he, naturally, rejected, due to his feeling safe as a civil servant. When the Trib folded, he worked for its successor World Journal Tribune until its demise in 1967. Ironically, he felt anything but physically safe working for the subway, but he did know every stop in the city and memorized the 15 times table (after the fare was raised to 15 and the token was introduced in 1953).

Money was something that he always wanted, but which always eluded him. He was an unhappy, angry man for most of his life and my most vivid memory of him is of his seemingly constant yelling. "Muhshuganuh, lunatic, idiot" was a frequent expression of his. I used to say that the only thing we could discuss without arguing was baseball, though he was a Dodger fan and I was a Giant fan. He loved listening to the music programming of WEVD (1330 AM), which was mostly a Yiddish-language station, and the most important thing in his life was being Jewish. He was quite bitter over my rejection of religion and hated rock music. He used to say that I majored in rock and roll, as I diligently prepared my weekly college radio show (while not yet possessing stereo headphones). Surprisingly, he did once mention that he liked the Byrds' version of Dylan's "My Back Pages." Ah, but we were so much older then.

His life drastically changed for the better upon his retirement. Suddenly, he didn't seem as angry and often told jokes. I could tell that he was pleased with my love of the Marx Brothers. He was immensely popular with our fellow American tourists in Europe, where my parents and I went in 1978 (one of the few times that I stopped running away from them as a young adult).

The last time I saw him alive was a month before his death, when I was about to move to California. Though his cancer hadn't yet been diagnosed, he apparently suspected something, as he cried terribly when we hugged good-bye. At least I knew that he loved me, despite our many disagreements.

He died in the Bronx four days after his 78th birthday. That day he told my mother that he doesn't have long for this world and to "make sure Lewis gets the watch" (an Omega that he purchased in Switzerland on his 75th birthday—fulfilling a lifelong dream). I cried so horribly at his burial that the rabbi held me while he said the prayer for the dead. Late in his life, my father loved watching "The Lawrence Welk Show." His favorite song was "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" and indeed he never found any.

I'm always chasing rainbows
Watching clouds drifting by
My dreams are just like all my schemes
Ending in the sky
Some fellas search and find the sunshine
I always look and find the rain
Some fellas make a winning sometime
I never even make a gain
Believe me
I'm always chasing rainbows
Waiting to find a little bluebird in vain