Last night, Janna and I were rushing home after teaching in New York City, and in the middle of Times Square, I had a moment I hope I never get to repeat. I tripped — over my own two feet, or the curb, or a break in the sidewalk — and instantly fell long and hard on the sidewalk. I was stunned for a moment and didn’t quite know where I was. Janna was behind me somewhere and I remember one woman bending down to ask me if I was okay.
Today, I am pleased to announce the immediate availability of the Boles Books Tribute to Howard Stein, Volume 1 (1948-2013) from Boles Books Writing & Publishing and published on Amazon Kindle Direct!
As a graduate student at Columbia University, I recall one particularly challenging playwriting assignment from mentor, and teacher, Dr. Howard Stein: “Rent a Revenge.”
“Rent a Revenge” was one of the last, and most challenging, things for us to write because Howard would only give us the title of the assignment. You had to figure out the rest on your own. Many students would get stuck and whine and complain, but Howard would not budge with additional direction. Ask him any question about the assignment, and all he would do is yell back at you, “Rent a Revenge.”
One of my earliest, and most frightening, experiences in New York City was when I first met Dr. Howard Stein at Columbia University in the City of New York to decide if I wanted to attend graduate school with him or not. Howard was Chair of the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York.
I met Howard on a hot August day and he was in a mighty hurry. He was late for a meeting at the Shubert Organization in Times Square and we were at Columbia University at 116th Street and Broadway. If I wanted answers from Howard, I would have to ride the subway to the Shubert Theatre with him. I told him I was with him and we were off!
Today is the third day in a row I’m writing about the death of the great author and teacher, Dr. Howard Stein, because I just can’t get his life out of my mind. Every time we’d meet or speak on the phone, I would take copious notes because I didn’t want to forget anything he told me.
Every conversation was ripe and ready for memorialization in a blog post or in a future thinking endeavor. Howard Stein was always teaching, and when you had his attention, you were the most important person in the world to him. He was staunchly rational and fearless almost up to the end; and I say “almost” because during the last few months of his life, he confessed to me that, at night, he would get scared.
As we continue to mourn the death of Dr. Howard Stein, we are left to ponder the joy of knowing him and, in missing him, we begin the healing process by remembering the important lessons he taught us.
One of the most poignant conversations I had with him in the last few weeks of his life dealt with age and growing older. Howard reversed an important expectation for me, and I appreciate the reality of that sobering.
Yesterday, I received the one phone call I’d been dreading for over 30 years: “Howard Stein is dead.” It turns out Howard died back on October 14, 2012 after an eight-day hospitalization, but I didn’t learn of his death until yesterday. I knew he was deathly ill the last year, and when his surgeon recently refused to do a final operation, Howard told me his heart had finally turned against him and become a “ticking time bomb.”
As I paged back through my calendar for the last six weeks to memorialize the final events of my life with Howard, I reflected back on our final telephone conversation on October 1, 2012. He told me how much he appreciated the letter I wrote celebrating his 90th birthday. He said he read the letter every day. That meant a lot to me. He was my master.
One the first day of October, Howard and I left it that Janna and I would visit him in Stamford, and that he would check his doctor schedule and call me back to let us know what day would work best.
I never heard from him again.
A week later he was in the hospital — never to see the sky again.
As you can see in the graphic below, I tried to call him on October 5th and 11th to check on our visit date. There was nobody home when I called. On October 22 and November 13 I wrote him letters — our one, ancient, guaranteed way of always getting in touch when time and tide and humanity and the phones failed us — to inquire about the visit.
I had no idea was writing to a dead man.
Now I know how Bartleby really felt working in the Dead Letter Office.