Saturday, March 28, 2015

Catch As Catch Can

There have been too many times to count during this winter here in the Northeast when the weather was so bad that it felt as if Spring might never arrive.  Today is March's final Saturday.  Snow is in the forecast for at least some parts of the State of Concrete Gardens.   "March:  In Like a Lion, Out on a Snowmobile"?  

This time next month my running partner Gidg and I will be doing our final preparations for the New Jersey Marathon.  For me, my "eve of" ritual consists of banging my head repeatedly against a wall, sobbing softly while repeating "Why? Why? Why?"  Her pre-Marathon ritual is something akin to figuring out the right playlist for her iPod.  

She received very cool news earlier this week.  After not being drawn in the New York City Marathon lottery, her name was picked for the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.  October 25, 2015, Gidg will join a whole lot of other runners in what is often referred to as "the People's Marathon".  Great race.  I am very happy for her that she is going to be part of it.  I wish only that our lottery luck had been synchronized so that the first-ever Fall marathons for each of us would have been the same race.   Next year, perhaps.  

A truly awful story dominated the news cycle for a lot of this week.  Truth be told, it was an awful story before it was revealed that it was the result of a deliberate act.  Learning that it happened because someone made it happen ratcheted up the "AWFUL" meter a notch or two.  

Apparently, and something that candidly in my mind's eye brought back images of United 93 on September 11, 2001, Captain Patrick Sonderheimer valiantly tried to gain access to the cockpit including using an on-board ax in an effort to break through the reinforced door.   In the words of Ambrose Redmoon, "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."  



Friday, March 27, 2015

And Not In A Shy Way...

My father-in-law, Joseph Bozzomo, is a force of nature.  

Joe - Lucaya Marketplace, 2014

Today, he is eighty-two years old.  

"Giusep" (as I - and only I - call him - my homage to his given name of Giuseppe) is a remarkable man.  He is as comfortable in his own skin as any human being whose acquaintance it has ever been my pleasure to make.  Much like Horton, he says what he means and he means what he says.  Every now and then, what he says gives you pause to scratch your head or reach for an adult beverage.  But that only happens every now and then and when it does - and someone calls him on it - he acknowledges it and laughs it off.   

Joe's Retirement Party, November 2013

I describe him as a simple man.  I mean that as the highest of compliments.  I do not mean "simple" intellectually, emotionally or mentally.  I mean "simple" as in "straightforward, no-nonsense, easy to read".  His family is for him now - as it has been for the close to three decades that I have known him - the single-most important part of his life.  If and when a member of his family does something with which he disagrees or something that disappoints him, he is not shy about making his feelings known - including sharing his belief that a better effort should have been made.  But those feelings are transient.  Those moments are fleeting.  At day's dawning and at day's end, his tribe is his tribe.  They belong to him.  His willingness to protect them, both from themselves and from the outside world, never wanes.  It never ebbs.  The Poet Laureate of Freehold sings of taking care of our own.  Giusep lives his life by that code of conduct.  

He has been forced, during what he sometimes jokingly refers to as his golden years, to soldier on alone.  Suzy B., his wife, Margaret's mother and my mother-in-law died on June 2, 2009 after a long, brutal battle against cancer.  Her loss took a lot out of him.  It did so for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that he was powerless to stop what was happening to her from happening to her.  The feeling of impotence that washed over him was as powerful as it was misplaced.  He felt - ridiculous as it sounds and as it is - as if he had let her down.  

I have never asked him about it, as it is not my place to do so, but every now and then when he tells a story about her and about something they did during their life together, a small yet palpable tinge of sorrow is detectable in his eyes.  I reckon that even if today's birthday marks nothing further up the track than the halfway mark that small tinge of sorrow shall always remain.

But it shall never grow beyond its present size.  Its growth is stunted permanently and irrevocably by the memory of the love that joined the two of them in the first place...

Summer of '62

...and all that happened simply because two people fell in love.  

Their children... 

Christmas Eve 2013

Meg/Adam's Wedding, June 2009

Florida, February 2013

Their grandchildren...

Christmas Eve 2010 

Fort Collins, Colorado November 2012

 Meg/Adam's Wedding, June 2009

...and their great-grandchildren.

Christmas Eve, 2013

Happy Birthday Giusep.  Keep on wishing big and keep on doing things in the only manner that you know how...



Thursday, March 26, 2015

A By-Product of the Night's Magic

Show a Little Faith,
There's Magic in the Night...
- Bruce Springsteen

In the event that you do not accept as true each and every musical proclamation that the Poet Laureate of Freehold puts forth (and after - in my estimation at least - the less than satisfactory product that was the High Hopes CD your faith might well in fact be a bit shaken), then your faith in the mystical powers of the night's magic might not be now what it once was.  

For you, Good Sirs and Madams, I offer a sip of all-healing elixir, and I offer it to you in nothing more complicated or complex than three simple words.  Three words that identify, by name, a man: Delmer Clarence Kallberg.   

A man who was born in Minnesota at a time when most of - if not all of - World War I had yet to be fought.  A man who served his country as a member of the United States Navy in World War II and survived, as a member of the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, an attack by two Japanese kamikaze pilots, which killed one hundred and forty-four members of that vessel's crew and injured two hundred more - including Kallberg.  A man who attained a law degree and then made the principal focus of his career in the Los Angeles, California area working for the Veterans Administration and taking care of the legal needs of his fellow veterans.  A man who married, in 1960, a woman who had a young son, Jeffrey, who Kallberg adopted.  A man who, at age ninety-eight, died in Los Angeles, California in 2013. 

His son, Jeffrey, described his father as "[not] a man who made friends easily."  Jeffrey knew of which he spoke - having been exiled by his father from the older Kallberg's day-to-day for a period of close to twenty years and having only gained re-entry into that day-to-day a few years ago when his father recuperated at home following a fall that had landed him in the hospital.  Father and son made the most of their second chance and in what proved to be the final few years of Delmer Clarence Kallberg's very long life the two found peace with one another that had heretofore eluded them. 

Delmer Clarence Kallberg had a reputation among those who knew him for being frugal.  Actually, his reputation was one of extreme frugality.  He lived simply and very modestly.  So much so that when he died and the responsibility fell to Jeffrey to settle up his father's affairs he was surprised to discover that his dad had amassed a fortune of several million dollars, courtesy of a number of very smart, very successful investments. 

He soon discovered that his father, the attorney, had prepared his own typewritten will, apparently banging it out himself on his own battered Smith-Corona (as off in the distance, somewhere, Warren Zevon smiled).  His will provided for his only child.  His will provided for the West Los Angeles VA.  And his will also contained a rather interesting, albeit somewhat non-specific bequest.  In the will's final paragraph, Delmer Clarence Kallberg directed that: 

"If there are any funds remaining they shall be distributed to
 the various charitable organizations on the so called skid row."

As it turns out, there were in fact "funds remaining" in the Estate after all debts had been settled and specific gifts given.  There was more than $3.3 Million in "funds remaining".  Consistent with his client's direction, Kallberg's attorney, Ted Wolfberg, researched that there are approximately thirty  organizations doing charitable work on "skid row" in Los Angeles.  Each of those organizations has received and/or shall receive a gift of roughly $100,000 from the Estate of Delmer Clarence Kallberg.  One man's life has indeed profoundly and beautifully impacted the lives of others.  And the fact that neither he knew them nor they knew him matters not.  Not one bit. 

Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote the piece that introduced me to Delmer Clarence Kallberg, which piece I vigorously recommend to everyone, described Kallberg in it, "as a reclusive, cantankerous soul with a generous heart."  

A reclusive, cantankerous soul with a generous heart.  Eight words.  In the case of Delmer Clarence Kallberg, eight is enough.  


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Self-Consumed Cannibals

On this very day of the week, next week, we shall herald the arrival of April.  Perhaps its appearance on the calendar shall bring Spring to the forefront of the seasonal stage.  Either way, it shall bring us just that much closer to summer.  

Irrespective of the temperature outside (and perhaps appropriately so given his status as one of three or four adult humans in the Western Hemisphere who apparently knows less about science than even I do), Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas by way of Calgary, Alberta, officially kicked off the commencement of the "Silly Season" by declaring his candidacy for the nomination of the Republican Party for the office of President of the United States.  

His grasp of hard science notwithstanding, I shall not debate the Junior Senator from Texas's educational bona fides.  He earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton University, his J.D. at Harvard Law School and thereafter served as a law clerk for Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court of the United States. I cannot however, each and every time I see a news clip of Senator Cruz in action - energizing his base - help but close my eyes and see the face of this wannabe President instead.   Fortunately, the United States never had to actually spend a day living life under the Stillson Administration.  I, for one, hope that life imitates art in that respect. 

Senator Cruz's Alma mater was in the news earlier this week.  Princeton University's women's basketball team completed an undefeated regular season en route to capturing the Ivy League Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Women's Tournament.  The Tigers captured their first round game on Saturday against Wisconsin-Green Bay before falling to top-seeded (and home-standing University of Maryland) in the second round on Monday night.  Prior to Monday night's game against the Terrapins, it was disclosed that a death threat had been received against Princeton freshman forward Leslie Robinson.  

Leslie's dad is Craig Robinson, whose sister is Michelle Obama, whose husband is...well if you do not know to whom Michelle Obama is married then there just might be room for you on the Climatologists for Cruz Committee.  It takes a particularly cowardly type of douche bag to threaten to injure or kill a young woman for any reason but as an expression of one's disapproval of her uncle's job performance?  Despicable does not seem to be an adequate expression of just what type of behavior that truly is.  Not even close.  

While I was cleaning out my e-mail the other afternoon, I came across an e-mail I had received from "Team Upworthy" in April 2013, which shared with me (and countless others) the thoughts that comedian/actor/writer Patton Oswalt had offered in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.  

There are days on which I am less than certain that Mr. Oswalt is right in his analysis.  But there is never a day on which I do not hope like hell that he is.  

Irrespective of the weather.  

Irrespective of the silliness of the season.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pictures and Stories

I have never been accused of speaking too little.  "Have mouth, will open it" appears to be my unwritten  - but far too often spoken - mantra.  Today, however, shall serve as the exception that proves the rule.  

I took only a few photographs during the week that the Missus and I spent sunning ourselves in the Bahamas.  Of the few that I took, the overwhelming majority of them were ones that I took of the beauty that I was fortunate enough to bear witness to all around me.  The people of the Bahamas are simply terrific.  I have yet to encounter one of them who appears to be "wealthy" as we might consider that term to be defined here in these United States.  Yet, I have met only a few who appear to be anything other than happy.  A quite contented lot are they.  

As was I during the time that I was there...

Sunset:  March 16, 2015
Beautiful End to Day One of Vacation

Early Morning Sun - Grand Bahama Island
March 18, 2015

Jetty approximately one and one-half miles
West of our beach:  March 18, 2015

Westward view from the Jetty:  March 18, 2015

The Lizard of Lucaya:  March 19, 2015

Cemetery approx. 1.25 miles West of our beach. 
Less than 100 yards inland from the water.

Haitian Shipwreck Memorial:  July 19, 1978
21 Haitian Men & Women Drowned off of Grand
Bahama Island when their ship wrecked

Haitian Shipwreck Memorial Cross
Top portion of Memorial. Words "Peace Be With You"
are handwritten.  The lower-case "i" is my favorite part.

"In Loving Memory of Our Twenty-One Haitian
Brothers and Sisters Who Died at Sea on 
19th July 1978 

Westward view down beach towards Jetty from path
that connects Cemetery to beach:  March 20, 2015

Final Bahamian Sunrise of Vacation:  
March 20, 2015

I have no idea whether our travels shall ever take us that way again.  I am very pleased to have had the chance to spend a bit of time in this simply beautiful and beautifully simple part of the world.  Even if I never see it again in this lifetime, I shall remember the beauty of what I saw for the remainder of my days.  



Monday, March 23, 2015

Turning the Pages

One of the best parts of spending five days doing absolutely nothing of consequence in the Bahamas with the Missus - other than spending five days in the Bahamas with the Missus - was having the opportunity to read a lot of books.  Better than reading all five books that I had brought along to keep me company was the fact that all five of the books I read were, I thought, worthwhile reads.  

The first of the five that I read was the book that St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny released earlier this year, entitled The Matheny Manifesto.   The original "manifesto" was not a book but rather a lengthy letter that Matheny wrote to parents of prospective players on a youth baseball team that he had been asked to coach.   I am not a fan of the Cardinals but, after reading this book, I am a fan of their manager.   While the original target audience of Matheny's words and thoughts were young prospective baseball players and their parents, they apply with equal force and effect to any number of us.  If you are a parent of a youngster who plays sports or - as my sister Kara is - an adult who oversees a youth sports league, then an argument could be made that this book should be required reading.

I am more than slightly embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar at all with Bryan Stevenson or his legal career.  I bought his book, Just Mercy, because it appeared on the New York Times List of 100 Best Books of 2014.  It is extraordinary.  While it chronicles a number of significant cases in which Mr. Stevenson has been involved as an advocate, its centerpiece is his defense of Walter McMillian, an African-American gentleman in Alabama who was sentenced to die after he was convicted of a murder that he did not commit.  Worse yet for Mr. McMillian was the fact that local law enforcement in Alabama knew he had not committed the crime.  They could not have not known - considering the extraordinary lengths to which they went to frame him for it.  Just Mercy is an emotional roller coaster for it exhilarates as often as it angers.  It vividly illustrates the point that not only is bigotry obnoxious, when it is institutional it is extremely dangerous. 

The third of my five reads for the week was The Things They Carried, written by Tim O'Brien.  It is a collection of short stories featuring characters based upon the men of Alpha Company with whom O'Brien served in Vietnam.  It was stunning.  It is not an extremely long book and I was so engrossed by it that I could not put it down.  I devoured it in less than one morning's time.  As someone who was born shortly before O'Brien was drafted into the Army in 1968, the fact that most of my knowledge of Vietnam (other than that which I absorbed through my brother Bill and his friends at Rutgers University) comes from reading history books mattered not at all.  It is accessible to all, irrespective of the reader's age. 

Upon my completion of O'Brien's work regarding the Vietnam War, I read Phil Klay's Redeployment, which Klay wrote after he served in Iraq as a United States Marine.  This book was - as was the case with Just Mercy - a book that I decided to buy after seeing it included on the 2014 New York Times 100 Best Books list.   I cannot recommend this book heartily enough.  Do not read it expecting to wade through a lot of "rah-rah" nonsense.  If that is what you are searching for, then look someplace else.  On second thought, if that is what you are searching for, then buy this book.  It will save you not only purchasing the tripe you otherwise were intending to buy, it will ensure that you never waste either your time or your money buying it.  

The week's final read was A Drinking LifePete Hamill's memoir.  Hamill is one of my literary heroes.  His frank and often times unflattering examination of his own life as a drinker, which being a good Irish boy started rather early and lasted for several decades, during which it exacted a significant toll on his personal life (and to a far lesser extent his professional life) until he walked away from it in 1972, resonated to me and with me on a number of levels.  I had deliberately positioned Hamill's book as the last one of the week because of my familiarity with his work.  I anticipated that I would enjoy reading this work as much as I have enjoyed everything else of his that I have read.  I was not disappointed.  

Reading is one of the great joys in my life and has been since way back when Bill taught me how to read before my second birthday.  A week's worth of reading such as the one I just enjoyed reinforces just how much joy I derive from keeping the company of a good book.  


Sunday, March 22, 2015

They Can't Revoke Your Soul For Tryin'

The Missus and I completed our Bahamian adventure yesterday.  We arrived home to Newark Airport at or about 1:15 PM and were home 'NTSG by shortly before three o'clock.  By all outward appearances, the day's events unfolded according to Hoyle.  

Except they did not. 

Grand Bahama Island has fast become one of my favorite places.  But for the sound of music emanating from various places, there is scant little ambient noise.  Margaret and I made it a nice habit - during our week in the sunshine - to walk on the beach every day.  But for the sound of the waves introducing themselves to the shore, there was little to no sound.  It was simply terrific. 

However, Grand Bahama Island is not the easiest place to reach from the United States.  Its name notwithstanding, there is nothing at all "grand" about the island's airport.  It is too small, apparently, to accommodate full-sized jet airplanes.  Thus, in order to get to it from New Jersey, we flew this year (as we did last year) into Fort Lauderdale on United Airlines and then took a flight on one of United's "travel partners", Silver Airways, from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport.  Silver Airways is not what one might describe as a consistent performer in the service department.  Thus, it was not a complete surprise when our 5:04 PM flight out of Fort Lauderdale last Sunday night actually took off at closer to 8:30 PM.  

At some point in the wee small hours of yesterday morning, Silver Airways decided to cancel its 7:50 AM flight from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale.  Their decision would have been of little consequence to us but for the fact that we had seats on that particular flight and - even better - flights on a 9:56 AM flight from Fort Lauderdale to Newark.  Upon our arrival at the airport yesterday morning, I had a concise, terse and almost (but fortunately not quite) life-altering conversation with the little douche nozzle manning the Silver Airways counter.  He told me - with more than an air of smug "Fuck You Very Much" in his voice that we had limited options available for getting from the Bahamas to Florida, by which he meant we had just one option - a 7:25 AM flight into Miami - and that if we missed our 9:56 AM flight out of Fort Lauderdale we were completely screwed since (as he put it so eloquently) "all flights to Newark are zeroed out".  

The Missus and I landed two seats on the 7:25 AM American Eagle flight into Miami - and paid American $50.00 for the privilege of checking our bags on the plane.  Our flight touched down in Miami shortly after eight o'clock.  By the time our bags made it off of the plane, we were staring at 8:20 AM.  We exited the terminal, told a cab driver that we needed to be at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport in order to make a 9:56 AM flight.  He smiled and assured me that he would get us there.  

And get us there he did.  We disembarked curbside approximately thirty-five minutes and $100.00 (including tip) later.  The Sky Cap with whom we checked our bags curbside not only got them onto the plane before the flight closed but he also got us our boarding passes.  Into the terminal we went as the clock flashed 9:04 AM - and into a crowd of what appeared to be several hundred waiting to get through the TSA Security Checkpoint.  After the high we had felt in actually making it to Fort Lauderdale in time to make our flight, the sheer volume of people needing to get through security was deflating.  

As we made our way through the line, we reached a point where two young TSA agents were stationed.  Margaret decided to trade upon her innate cuteness by sharing our tale of woe with one of them and telling him that through no fault of our own we were facing the very real possibility of missing our flight.  His face never betrayed his intention of assisting us but assist us he did.  He and his colleague funneled us out of the line we were in and into a route that had ZERO people between us and the security checkpoint.  We were through in less than five minutes.  

Murphy being an Irishman, our 9:56 AM flight did not leave Fort Lauderdale on time - in spite of United's representations to the contrary.  Although it left approximately twenty minutes late, it touched down in Newark at or about 1:00 PM, which meant that it landed fairly close to right on time.  Yesterday, all things considered, "fairly close" turned out to be more than good enough. 

It was great to be away.  It is equally great to be home.