Thursday, July 31, 2014

As The Footsteps Lead Us Home...

I would be remiss if I did not mention that today is the birthday of one of my favorite people, Gracie.  I like to think that had the first six of us not scared the prospect of a seventh Kenny child out of my parents' loins entirely that she would have been the younger sister I never had.  A good human being she is.  I see far less of her these days than I would like, which means that I probably see more of her than she would like (if history is any guide).  I know however that she is doing well, which is something she most certainly deserves. 

Speaking of good people...

Tuesday evening the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation sent me the e-mail confirming that when Margaret and I registered for the 2014 Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City, which shall take place on Sunday, September 28, part of our entry fee covered a ticket to the August 23 game between the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox.  There may be no family in the annals of recorded history who has more completely transformed something horrific - the murder of their brother Stephen, 342 other members of the FDNY and countless other first responders and civilians at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 - into something incredible.  The work their Foundation performs is - if I may be permitted to raise understatement to dizzying heights - inspiring.

Anyway, I must confess that I had been mostly ambivalent about the notion of making a trip into the Bronx on a Saturday afternoon in late August.  That is until the Yankees announced that August 23 shall be Joe Torre Day at the Stadium.  It is on that day that the Yankees shall pay homage to the manager of baseball's last dynasty.  His #6 shall be retired and he shall be enshrined forever in Monument Park.  A well-deserved tribute to the man whose twelve Yankees teams won 406 more games than they lost as he compiled the second-highest regular season win total of any manager in Yankees history, trailing only Joe McCarthy (not the "Red Scare" Joe McCarthy, the other one who was an actual human being).  His post-season resume, which included four World Series championships and six American League pennants was not too shabby either. 

Linking a good man with a great cause seems to me to be one hell of a fine way to spend a late summer Saturday afternoon. 

And so we shall. 

Tunnel2Towers NYC 2013 Sand Sculpture


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Conversion Therapy

For me, the summer running season is drawing to an end.  I have two more races on my calendar between now and Labor Day:  the Sea Girt 5K this Saturday in - you might have guessed - Sea Girt, New Jersey and the 10th Annual (and final) Jimmy D 5K in New Brunswick.  The final edition of the Jimmy D 5K shall take place on August's final day.  I am happy to be able to take part in both of these events this year as both are among my favorites.  I am more than a little saddened by the fact that this year's Jimmy D shall be the last.  Deputy Chief D'Heron's family - led by his daughter Erin Vargas - has done incredible work these past ten years turning a personal tragedy into a communal triumph.  I say with no small measure of pride that this year shall be my fifth Jimmy D.  

Running is - for me anyway - a solitary pursuit.  Even as a kid, I was not much of a bicyclist.  My preferred method of transportation prior to be old enough to drive was simply to walk.  Never owned a ten-speed as a boy.  "Fanciest" bike I ever owned was a Columbia three-speed Mom and Dad bought for me when I was eight or nine.  That is - I believe - the last bike I ever owned.  

This past Sunday morning as I was running through the streets of 'NTSG I encountered a small pack of cyclists.  Seeing them all clustered together in their matching "bicycle boy" outfits (including the built for speed helmets) reminded me just how much I loathe cyclists.  It takes all of the restraint I can muster to simply not push one over as he or she pedals by me in the opposite direction.  Cyclists are almost as obnoxious for runners to deal with as they are for drivers.  

As a general rule, they travel in clusters.  Moreover, since bicycles are modes of transportation they travel in the same direction as motor vehicles whereas runners/walkers travel against the flow of traffic.  NOTE:  If you are a runner and/or a person who walks for exercise and you run and/or walk WITH the flow of traffic, then you are walking on the incorrect side of the street.  You are to run and/or walk AGAINST the flow of traffic.  In New Jersey, it is not simply recommended that you do so, it is in fact the law.  N.J.S.A. 39:4-34 ("On all highways where there are no sidewalks or paths provided for pedestrian use, pedestrians shall, where practicable, walk only on the extreme left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing approaching traffic...Where sidewalks are provided it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along or upon an adjacent roadway.") 

The pack of cyclists I figuratively ran into on Sunday morning was less obnoxious than several others I have encountered over the course of the past couple of years.  Cyclists enjoy attempting to bully runners as our paths intersect - relying upon their numerical advantage and their apparent absence of an understanding of the basic laws of physics (specifically the rather significant effect a well-placed foot in the path of a bicycle wheel can have on the old adage regarding the tendencies of "bodies in motion").   Thus, as this pack approached me on Beechwood Avenue I was prepared for the worst.  It never made an appearance.  Instead they moved to their left, which put them further out into a travel lane on a road of which we were the only users, and nodded "Good Morning" to me as they whirred past. 

They were so pleasant in fact that I almost regret having kicked the rear tire out from under the last guy in their group...


Next time he is in the woods he shall be certain to thank me for having introduced him to running.  In fact, as he bit asphalt on Sunday morning "Thank you" might have in fact been the very words he uttered.  I was moving away from him at a pretty good clip so I could be mistaken.  The second word he yelled out was - I am sure - "You!". 

I am, however, less than clear as to the first one.   


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

House's Call

A sentiment that has likely never been more true than it is presently.  In this, our not quite-so-brave yet bright-shiny-new world we have morphed into the Land of the Artifice.  It has been said that luck is the residue of design.  Perhaps then lying is the residue of virtual communication.  I can be the person I want to claim to be whether I am or not just as long as I can keep all of those over whose eyes I am efforting to pull this whole sheep's worth of wool from paying attention to the man behind the curtain. 

Here is the thing though - and there really is no way around it.  When you are full of shit, you know it.  Even if it is impossibly hard for you to accept, you know it.  The virtual universe that you inhabit - the one occupied by Facebook friends and other nonsense - might be beyond impressed by the life you represent to them that you are leading but to what end.  Does it matter what the rest of the world believes to be true if and when you know that what you have been feeding them is a steady diet of bullshit?  Or does it matter only when you, yourself, have created such an effective artifice that you believe your own bullshit? 

If - for you - the answer to the latter question is "Yes", then you need to take a step back and start examining your life decisions with a far more jaundiced eye than you are doing presently.  For at day's end, if you cannot be honest with the reflection you see in the bathroom mirror every morning, then the one who will ultimately end up feeling most betrayed by the lies you have woven is you.  Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once observed that, "You are what your record says you are."    

Tis true whether you earn your daily bread in the NFL or not.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Joey From The Block

Yesterday was enshrinement day at the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  Among the men whose name was called was Joe Torre.

His greatest achievement in a life spent in baseball, which as a player included being named an All-Star multiple times, winning the 1971 National League MVP and retiring with a .297 batting average, was being the leader of baseball's last dynasty.  The New York Yankees of the second half of the 1990's appeared in the World Series in 1996, 1998 and 1999, all three of which they won and during which they won twelve consecutive World Series games (coming back from two games down to defeat Bobby Cox's Atlanta Braves in 1996 and then sweeping the San Diego Padres in '98 and Cox's Braves again in '99).  They then won their fourth and final World Series on Torre's watch in 2000 when they blasted the Mets in five games to capture the only Subway Series played in my lifetime.  

Torre's Yankees made it to the World Series twice after 2000.  In 2001, when the September 11th attacks pushed the World Series into November for the first time his Yankees lost an all-time classic in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game Seven against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Two years later - after besting the Red Sox in an epic ALCS - the Yankees lost to the Florida Marlins.  They would not make another trip. 

After the 2007 season, Torre and the Yankees went their separate ways.  The Brooklyn boy had one more managerial stint in him - going West to manage his once-upon-a-lifetime ago hometown team, the Dodgers.  Under his guidance, the Dodgers made it to the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 but lost to the Phillies both times.  Had his Dodgers defeated Philadelphia in 2009, then he would have managed in the World Series against the Yankees.  

In yesterday's New York Daily News, Anthony McCarron wrote a beautiful profile of Torre and his journey from the stoops of Brooklyn to Cooperstown's hallowed Hall.  If you are - as I am - a Torre fan it is worth reading.  

Congratulations to a good man on receiving his due.  


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Water 'Neath The Ferry

A lot of water has been run under and around the hull of my ferry since then.
And while Life is undoubtedly meant to be lived forward,
Occasionally it is nice to take a moment
To peer backwards through the glass
At a moment that meant something to you then and, to discover,
That is still means quite a lot to you presently...

...Something neither time nor memory can fade away.

I have lived in better fortune than I deserve.  Each of us has a Day of Reckoning coming I suppose and I harbor no delusions about the general tone and tenor of mine.  Margaret is to cremate me when I die.  I want my body to have a chance to adjust to the temperature where Eternity shall be spent.  I cannot undo the things I have done.  None of us can.  It is an option that - candidly - were it available to me to pursue, I would not.  The great Oscar Wilde once observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."  It would appear I have amassed a small fortune in S&H Green Stamps, then, for no discernible reason whatsoever.  If only they were redeemable at Skee Ball.   

Even the black hearted among us fall into it every now and again.  To that rule I am certainly no exception.  Among the pleasures I have derived from this life is being able to share my love of Springsteen music - and more specifically the love of Springsteen's live performances - with Rob.  There were not a great many interests I shared with my father - at least not during the fourteen overlapping years in which we were both alive.  I did not develop my fondness for alcohol until after he died.  Perhaps had he not died when he did, as I grew older we would have developed a shared love for something other than the New York Rangers - and sarcasm.  Such is life.  

It is one of the great joys of my life that from the time Rob was little, he became a fan of Springsteen's music.  And I do not mean a "fan".  I mean A FAN.   Case in point, while there are a couple of people who normally stop by this space who not only recognize "So Young and In Love" as one of Springsteen's songs but who can also sing a lyric or two, in all likelihood a considerable percentage of you cannot.  Rob had it on the play list for the DJ at his wedding reception.  'Nuff said. 

Fifteen years ago this summer, Springsteen and the E Street Band played a fifteen-night stand at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford.  Earlier this week on the web site Stan Goldstein had a piece I enjoyed very much providing the happy recap of all fifteen shows.

Truth be told, that particular venue has changed names so often in its lifetime it likely was not known as the Byrne Arena by the Summer of '99.  It was by me.  Still is.  Springsteen had just put the Band back together after having spent, essentially, the decade of the 90's separated from them.  Most of them anyway.  Roy Bittan being an exception who proved the rule.  

Thus, it was on the "Reunion Tour" that I took Rob to see my musical hero for the very first time.  I scored two tickets each to two of the shows, both of which came towards the end of the run.  I had no idea what to expect - either in terms of his reaction or their performance.  I had last seen them play together almost fifteen years earlier - in Denver's snow-laced Mile High Stadium on Springsteen's 36th birthday in September, 1985.  

The first of our two shows was Show #13 on August 9, 1999.  We had terrible seats.  We were almost all the way up in the very last row directly behind the stage, which did little to tamp down my anxiety level.  They opened with "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and about ten seconds into it, Rob was hooked.  If "Darkness" as the opener drew him in, it was the inclusion of "Frankie" in that night's set list that assured he never left.  Rob was markedly younger than most of the people seated around us in the nosebleeds but he knew his Springsteen music better than all of them.  Having listened to Tracks repeatedly in the months since its release, his thirteen-year-old ear recognized "Frankie" immediately and he sensed - even without knowing - that hearing it performed in concert was a decidedly unusual experience. 

Two nights later we returned for the penultimate show, which was a classic.  They opened with "Night", ended the encores with "Sandy" and in between played (among two dozen or so others) "Trapped" and "Freehold" (referred to in the set list as "In Freehold").  They also played a simply exquisite rendition of  "New York City Serenade", which they had not played in concert in close to a quarter century.  Our seats for the August 11, 1999 show were slightly better than those for our first show.  We were still up in the nosebleeds but now we were not directly behind the stage but rather in the neighborhood of Clarence's 3 o'clock.  Perhaps we were closer to his 3:20.  The shittiness of the seats had zero effect on our enjoyment of the evening. 

As we were leaving our seats at show's end, the two male halves of a pair of young couples who had been seated a couple of rows behind us were commenting upon they had just witnessed.  One remarked to the other that while he had enjoyed the show he was disappointed that neither "Born in the USA" nor "Dancing in the Dark" had been played.  As if sprung from his very own cage on Highway 9, Rob spun towards the two men (both considerably younger than I but considerably older than he) and lit into them for their lack of musical appreciation, asking them both how either of them could have felt let down at not hearing those songs in consideration of what we had all just heard.  One of the two of them looked towards me as if expecting me to intervene.  I just laughed and told them that I was as surprised as he was.  Thus endeth the interaction.  

Over the years, Rob and I have seen Springsteen in five different states:  New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Colorado.  We have seen him in venues as gargantuan as Giants Stadium and as intimate as the Tower Theatre.  We have seen him play solo shows, shows with the Seeger Sessions Band and, of course, shows with the E Street Band (both the iteration that included the late, great Clarence Clemons and Phantom Dan Federici and the ESB in its present composition).  

To paraphrase another of my favorite American songwriters, "Fifteen years now.  Where'd they go?  Fifteen years now.  I don't know."     And I really have no idea.  The once thirteen-year-old boy is a twenty-eight-year-old man, husband to a beautiful young woman with whom he is making one hell of a life for himself a couple of thousand miles or so away from the swamps of Jersey.   

We journey onward.  We move upward.  But as a wise man once observed there is nothing at all wrong with taking a glance backward every now and again.  Knowing as we do that when we turn back around again that boy will be gone... 

...some times you just gotta walk on. 


Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Night Unlike Any Other

I spent Wednesday night in one of my favorite places - Westfield.  Friends, too many for me to name (and sadly at this point in my existence far too many names for me to ever hope to remember), called it home a lifetime ago when I was matriculating my way through high school at Wardlaw-Hartridge.  It is a town for which I have always had a particular fondness.  Truth be told, I spend very little time in it, much to the relief of its residents.  In a good year, I might be there on two or three separate occasions.  More often than not, it is just one. 

And for the past five Julys that one has been the Downtown Westfield 5K.  It is held annually on a Wednesday night in late July.  Thus far, with the exception of the 2013 edition, the rule regarding the weather for this event appears to require a marriage of heat and extreme humidity.  This year's race was no different.  Thunderstorms were in the forecast and while they held off until I was halfway home their presence in the area was felt.  Happiness is not necessarily running in air so thick that you can cut it with a chainsaw.  I never know for certain where the line is drawn between "healthy" and "unhealthy" air quality.  However as a betting man, I would wager we had at least a toe on the wrong side of that line Wednesday night. 

It takes a special kind of evening to make one feel as if the weather conditions in which the Belmar Five Mile Run was contested were something akin to a crisp October morning.  Wednesday night was just such an evening.  The experience was not unlike what it would feel like running inside a sweaty sock...with the wearer's foot still inside and with his toes jabbing you in the face. 

But in spite of the really tough conditions it was - as it always is - one hell of a good time.  The people of Westfield come out in force to support this race.  As a "ham and egger" who runs for the feeling of satisfaction that comes with accomplishing a task and not for first place (or for eight hundred and first place for that matter), it exceeds my limited ability to put into words the feeling associated with heading towards the finish line and seeing hundreds of people standing on the sidewalks and in driveways on either side of the street cheering as if every person who runs past them is their own family member or friend. 

A terrific evening spent in a terrific town.  I know not for how long my body shall permit me to run and I know not for how long the Downtown Westfield Corporation shall put on its Midsummer Night's Dream but for as long as I am able and they are willing I shall spend a Wednesday night in July right where I spent this Wednesday night...

....standing on East Broad Street looking up at the marquee of the Rialto Theatre.  And being happy that I am there to do so.


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Rough-Knuckled Knock of Opportunity

Opportunity is missed by most People
Because it is dressed is Overalls
And looks like Work.
- Thomas A. Edison

This time next week it shall be August 1.  Summer shall cease to be measured in months but instead in ever-diminishing increments starting with weeks.  Look backwards briefly to see how many of the opportunities you vowed to avail yourself of this summer as you stood sucking down a Summer Shandy at a Memorial Day picnic you have in fact followed through on now that Memorial Day and Independence Day are images in your rear-view mirror that are not in fact closer than they appear to be.  Look ahead to the weeks and days that remain available to you to accomplish them.  Determine what you must do in order to ensure that they, too, do not become fodder for Whittier's saddest words of tongue and pen.  

More than ever look inward.  The person most responsible for your success and your failure in this life is you.  Among the many things that sometimes makes me want to go door-to-door punching those among our number who have raised "Victimization" to an art form is the failure - or perhaps the refusal - of those who love to groan aloud, "Why me?" to never pose that question to themselves.  Ask the reflection in the bathroom mirror at whose feet the responsibility for that should be placed.  Keep your head up straight and your eyes fixed straight at the glass in anticipation of the answer. 

Try to do it without flinching.  It may be tough medicine to take but that does not mean that you should not swallow it.