Rozner: Grief, a mug and search for absolution

  • Jay Rozner, right, and his buddy Dave Prince entertain the crowd at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla.

    Jay Rozner, right, and his buddy Dave Prince entertain the crowd at the Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. Courtesy of Dave Prince

Updated 9/9/2019 1:49 PM

Scary thing to be stuck on the wrong end of a peninsula with a Category 5 hurricane heading straight at you.

Luckily for me, I got out of Florida before the embassy was overrun, to borrow from an image that adequately describes how it looked racing the masses -- and Dorian -- from the Southeast.


The storm turned out less threatening to Florida than the initial and feverish broadcast coverage suggested, and whatever the case it was hardly the most difficult thing I encountered while tending to my late brother's apartment -- and meeting with his many musician friends -- week before last.

Now, I must say that even with losing my father and brother in a matter of weeks this year, I've had worse years -- or at least equally bad. So have you. So has everyone. The circumstances are not unique.

That's why I was reluctant to go down this road again -- to write about it -- as you've been more than generous with your time in 2019, until a friend strongly suggested I was neglecting my job, that there's something important here I shouldn't keep to myself.

It's really about regret and absolution.

One begets the need for the other. To avoid seeking the latter, it would be wise to avoid the former.

It's the phone call you must make before you can't.

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Not exactly breaking news.

Of course it's a cliché. But most of the time you don't know it's urgent because the end comes quickly and unexpectedly, as was the case with my brother Jay, who passed away in early May.

And this failure hit me between the eyes when I did one last check of his apartment, the final dusty kitchen cabinet that contained in the back corner a suspect item.

A relic from another century, this plastic mug from the 1990 All-Star Game at Wrigley Field was discovered in the back of a kitchen cabinet.
  A relic from another century, this plastic mug from the 1990 All-Star Game at Wrigley Field was discovered in the back of a kitchen cabinet. - Barry Rozner | Staff Photographer

For some reason, he had stashed in there -- or used recently for all I know -- a plastic mug from the 1990 All-Star Game at Wrigley Field, cracked near the bottom on the outside, but still in working order on the inside.


One man's trash, right? I wonder what caused him to keep it.

This is a question I thought aloud as I met night after night with his friends in South Florida, amid so many tears, so many laughs and so many wild stories.

So much I didn't know, like -- for instance -- that he was a better horn player than I even knew. He was world class with a trumpet and had an ear to match, the ability to write and chart with the best.

To say it was complicated would be insulting to all that happened to us, but our family was broken and disintegrated many decades ago, and my brother and I lived very different lives, very far apart, the close bond we shared as children having disappeared with the departed.

There were times we communicated a lot, especially during the NHL postseason, and it was strange in May and June when I kept forgetting he was gone, kept expecting a text to light up my phone during games.

It did not.

Like most musicians, after gigs he would stay up all night driving a cab or delivering pizzas, trying to make ends meet, and that was an opportunity for us.

Probably the longest we spoke since we were kids was on my drive home from Cleveland after Game 7 of the World Series, at least two hours on the phone as I approached morning rush hour in Chicago.

There weren't enough of those.

I would have known that he jammed with The Stones and Johnny Depp and traveled with so many of the greatest jazz, blues and rock stars of all time.

Instead, I learned much of this from his mates.

I could name drop until the cow bells come home, but it didn't change the reality that like nearly every other musician on the planet he was broke and alone at the end.

Still, his Florida friends want to give him a traditional send-off, a musical bash to say so long. Seems appropriate so I will return, though that will also be difficult.

I've never really been the crying type. More like the break-sticks-over-the-crossbar type. And I don't have a great explanation for what has been so different this year.

It all goes back a very long way, really not wanting to admit that what occurred so long ago has caused me to avoid any thought of it.

Talk about coming home to roost.

Now, I go back to that "Cleveland call" frequently, wondering why there wasn't more of that. I suppose the simple answer is you think there will be time later, that you have too many jobs and are too consumed by your family's travails.

Regardless, it's too late now.

So I travel in search of absolution, an impossible journey. I am told that in time I will realize my brother wouldn't want me to feel this way, that he knew I had plenty on my plate 1,400 miles away, that he was grateful enough as his only kin that I arrived in time to secure his DNR and save him more suffering.

But I wish I could ask him why he kept that All-Star mug, what it meant to him all these years later.

It baffles me. And it pains me.

The point is you have to make the phone call while you can and say the things that must be said.

It's a cliché, sure, but like most clichés it's simple and true.

Make the phone call.

And save yourself the regret.

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