Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nothing Left But Lasagna

True sport is always a duel:
A duel with nature, with one's own fear,
with one's own fatigue, a duel in which
body and mind are strengthened.
-Yevgeny Yevtushenko

We have reached the point in the program relative to this year's New Jersey Marathon that, but for running the race itself, which the Blonde Bomber and I shall do tomorrow (in the company of several thousand friends we have yet to meet), all that remains unchecked on the docket is consumption of the night-before's dinner.  In years past, we have broken bread at Maria's in Manasquan.  I know not whether that is the appointed gathering spot this evening.  Irrespective of where we gather, bread shall be broken and carbohydrates shall be consumed.   

I shall spend dinner trying not to curse Gidg for being smart enough to have signed up for the half-marathon, no small undertaking in its own right, and having spared herself (to borrow a line from Pete Townshend) the "sweet ennui" that is Ocean Avenue between Long Branch and Asbury Park - a piece of real estate so nice that we shall run it twice.  

This is my fourth  and - barring a completely unforeseen development -  final New Jersey Marathon.  For someone who possesses no real skill to run this distance, I have covered it quite a few times over the past six years and shall do so again, in slightly more than six months, at the 2016 New York City Marathon.  I ran two marathons in 2015 and shall run two again this year.  Without intending to, I have morphed into the middle-aged equivalent of a hamster on a wheel in eternal, fruitless pursuit of the piece of cheese.  

Next year, I shall be fifty.  My goal - should I live that long - is to run one final marathon in 2017 as a fifty-year-old and then give up the ghost as it were.  If I am fortunate enough to win a place in the lottery for the 2017 race, then I would love for the final go-round to be one final jaunt through New York City.  If I am not, then I will put my back-up plan into action.  One must adhere to the 5P's.  Hanklin taught me well.   

The best part of this year's New Jersey Marathon for me has been Brooke, the aforementioned Blonde Bomber.  She has a contagious energy and an infectious spirit that has propped up this old curmudgeon on both of the long, on-course training runs we did together.  I have every reason - as does she - to expect that her debut tomorrow shall be a smashing success.  She has put in all of the hard work.  All she has left to do now is to run the race.  

Apparently, Mother Nature is working hard to ensure that hydration shall not be an issue tomorrow.  Rain is the dominant theme in the forecast for Long Branch and the surrounding area (a/k/a "the course").  It matters not.  It serves no purpose in any situation to worry about something over which you cannot exert even a modicum of control.  That is especially true when running a marathon.  It shall rain.  We shall get wet.  

It is what it is.  


Friday, April 29, 2016

Lessons Learned From A Three-Minute Record

The current CU-Boulder Alumni Association Calendar adorns a portion of one of the walls of my office.  It occupies sacred ground initially staked out by its ancestor when the Firm first moved to its present location in early August, 1999.  But for a brief four-month stint seven-plus years ago, the current inhabitant is stationed where its predecessors have been stationed in the almost-seventeen years since and where its descendants shall be stationed for the foreseeable future - or until the Missus and I make Lake Como our permanent, full-time home.  Once that happens, I foresee it occupying space on a wall in an office from which I can smell the ocean.  

I know from glancing at today's date on the calendar that this day is the final day of classes at CU-Boulder for Spring 2016 semester.  For the students who shall graduate early next month, if they do in fact have a class today - and if you are a second-semester college senior who scheduled a Friday class I know not whether to commend you or to condemn you - today marks the end of an era. Moreover, for any graduating senior who is not going to attend graduate school, including medical school or law school, today truly marks their final day of classes.  Forever.  And as an exquisitely-talented, diminutive Minnesotan educated all of us, forever is indeed a mighty long time.  

Too many years have passed for me to remember precisely what I was thinking and what I was feeling when I walked out of my final class at the University of Colorado in late April, 1989.  I know not whether that milestone struck me as carrying the same amount of weight as the completion of my last final exam did.  In 1989, graduation day was May 12.  My last final exam, which was in Professor Mapel's History of Political Philosophy (Poli Sci 439), was one week earlier - on the evening of May 5.   I absolutely crushed his final exam.  I had never been more prepared for an exam in my life.  I was the first person in our class to complete the test and when I handed my exam booklet/materials into him, I can still hear him asking me how I thought I did and me replying by telling him that I did not think I had answered more than one question incorrectly.  He smiled.  I told him that my college career was now over, I thanked him for being such an excellent professor (which he was), shook his hand, and headed out into a beautiful Boulder evening.  I was right, by the way, in terms of my self-assessment of my performance.  I got an "A+".  

My senior year at CU, we (Jay, John, Alex - and for one semester Alex's friend John Bradley - and me) lived in a shitty apartment building on Canyon Boulevard, which was north of campus.  I do not have any recollection what - if anything - any of my roommates had on his schedule that evening.  I remember simply that I was not in any particular hurry to get home.  It was almost as if from the time I walked out of the building where Professor Mapel's class met (it was either Hellems or Ketchum but I cannot recall which) and onto campus, my mind knew that I no longer really belonged there.  I was half an interloper.  There were no more classes to attend.  There were no more exams for which to study.  There were no more exams to take.  In a moment, everything had changed.  I had orphaned myself. 

Almost thirty years further on up the road, I marvel at the life that I have made for myself.  I do so, in no small part, because I am no less of a self-absorbed asshole at forty-nine than I was at twenty-two. To the extent that I have matured and not simply just aged in the not-quite three decades between then and now, credit for that metamorphosis belongs to my wife.  I have significant doubts whether - had I not met and fallen in love with Margaret when I was in my mid-twenties - I would have lived to see my late forties.  I am happy that I have done so.  

I assure you that you do not owe me an apology should you possess a different opinion.  

...and hear your sister's voice calling us home across the open yards.


Thursday, April 28, 2016 Fifteen Words

Monday afternoon, as I was sitting at my desk eating a bit of lunch and drinking the day's umpteenth cup of coffee, I scrolled through Twitter in search of articles from political pundits and their ilk regarding the unholy Cruz-Kasich alliance.  Unholy may be too strong a term but it has been more than three-quarters of a century since the world has been privy to quite such a well-publicized non-aggression pact...and based upon how well that one worked out for all concerned, you will forgive me if I favor the gentleman from Michigan over either the gentleman from Ohio or the gentleman from Texas. 

While I was engaging in my "Twitter catch-up" I came across a tweet the subject of which eludes my memory but which tweet was linked to a quote attributed to the late Kurt Cobain.  Not only was I totally unfamiliar with the quote but I am almost entirely unfamiliar with his music, including but not limited to that which he made with Nirvana.  I am fairly confident that I never heard a single bit of Nirvana's music (at least if I did I did not recognize it as such) until young Mr. Cobain took his own life, at which time his music was obsequious.  He was twenty-seven years old.  

Regardless of the depth and breadth of my knowledge of his music, or lack thereof, I nevertheless have found him - as I have read about him over the course of the past twenty-plus years - to be a rather interesting and principled fellow.  Flawed?  You bet.  But then again, who among us is not.  If you - on the other hand - raised your hand, then be advised that what you smell burning is the cuffs on your pants.  You might want to get a handle on that situation before the lyrics to Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" take on an entirely new meaning for you.  

Irrespective of whether the Seattle grunge scene was/is your "thing" musically, it seems to me that you are doing a disservice to yourself and to this life that you have been given the chance to live if these words do not speak to you philosophically...

A promise to one's self worth making, worth honoring, and worth keeping.  Not just today but every day thereafter.   


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

At the Point of Intersection Between Durocher and Dufresne

A long-time friend of mine attained a result last week that might have even given the great Leo the Lip cause to reconsider his assertion that nice guys finish last.  Having spent close to five years embroiled in a brutal, contentious feud with his one-time business partner, a gentleman who threatened his life, his livelihood, and his good name, Marc emerged victorious. 

On April 20, 2016, a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona awarded Marc (a/k/a "the Plaintiff") one hell of a win.  In the legal biz, any time the jury's verdict includes an award of damages and the amount awarded has eight figures and two commas to the left of the decimal point, such a result is recognized as a victory for the plaintiff.  Even by those of us blackhearted bastards on the defense bar.  And when such a verdict is entered in favor of someone who I have been fortunate enough to know - and to call my friend - for close to thirty-five years, well it is more than enough to bring a smile to the face of this blackhearted bastard.    

Marc sent me an e-mail on Monday afternoon sharing the news of the jury's verdict with me.  He is as avid a Springsteen fan as I am.  I have seen him just three times in the past thirty years and each time has been at a Springsteen concert here in New Jersey - although photographs he had one of the nice young ladies in Giants Stadium take of us prior to the August 28, 2003 show have been lost to the sands of time - including both nights on Springsteen's birthday party weekend at Met Life Stadium in September, 2012.  

Pre-show at Met Life Stadium
(09/22/12 - MW and AK)

Pre-show at Met Life Stadium
(09/23/12 - MW, MK, & AK)

A smile appeared on my face almost reflexively when I saw that his e-mail included an eminently appropriate Springsteen lyrical reference from "Land of Hope and Dreams" ("Faith will be rewarded").  I must confess however that when I read his spectacularly good news, the first pop culture reference of which I thought was not a Springsteen lyric.  

In fact, it was not a lyric at all.

But rather a scene from one of my all-time favorite films extolling the virtues of a man who, much like Marc, crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side...

Andy Dufresne, a nice guy who ultimately finished first.  An exception to Durocher's rule.  

And now there are two.  Each one not merely an exception but exceptional as well.   


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Candle Power

In the Kenny Sextet of Siblings, there is space enough between the first-born and the final-born that the latter was in kindergarten the same year as the former graduated from college.  For years, Mom used to tell people she and dad had six children using the Catholic Church's recommended method of birth control.  Then she would laugh a little - I think at least in part at just how much havoc the two of them might have unleashed on the world had they liked each other just a little bit more.  Under that scenario, they might have had a dozen children.  

They did not.  Rather, they stopped at six.  I have spent almost a half-century now as our group's tail-gunner.  My brother Bill has spent even more time than that as our group's trailblazer, an achievement we recognize today in the celebration of his birthday.  

I am forever in Bill's debt.  No matter that I could never know all that he endured dealing with the full-fledged fury that was WPK, Sr. at the height of all of his "powers", not having experienced it myself, Bill never shied away from teaching me and from pushing me to learn. As a little boy,  I was a big-headed, phenobarbital-chugging epileptic who was far more likely to trip and fall at some point between here and the end of this sentence than I was to be picked anything other than last on any team, in any sport, in any gym class.  

Bill recognized that in spite of my spectacular physical limitations - and they were quite spectacular (nothing clears a hot lunch line quite as fast as a grand mal seizure) - I had the capability of digesting copious amounts of information, usually information intended for those considerably older than I. He taught me how to read before I reached my second birthday.  While he was an undergraduate, he made the Rutgers Library my safe place - a place where my mind guided me and where my body could not betray me.  I spent countless hours there with him and cherished it.  I still smile at the memory of the time spent there. 

Happy Birthday, Bill.  May it be more than for which you wished and everything that you deserve.  

And thanks.  Almost five decades after you first showed me their power and their promise, between the pages of a book remains my favorite, safest place.  


Monday, April 25, 2016

Long May Purple Reign

On Saturday night in Brooklyn, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened their concert by paying tribute to Prince.  Springsteen and Prince never collaborated with one another but speaking of Prince, Springsteen offered that, "Every time I saw him perform, I came away humbled."  

And so, on Saturday night, prior to taking his fans on a musical trip down to the river, standing on the center of a stage in an arena that was bathed in purple light, Springsteen paid tribute to Prince in the best way he knows how.

Somewhere, I suspect the diminutive Minnesotan, hearing Springsteen's voice and Nils Lofgren's electrifying guitar solo, smiled at least a little.  At least I hope he did.  


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Next

The will to win means nothing
Without the will to prepare.
- Juma Ikangaa, 
1989 NYC Marathon winner

We have reached April's final Sunday. The good news is that May is right around the corner.  Of course that also means that the New Jersey Marathon is also right around the corner.  Seven days from today, a number of hardy souls  - including the Blonde Bomber and her middle-aged, graying sidekick who bears an eerie resemblance to Yours truly - will toe the starting line at Monmouth Park in Oceanport and begin an invigorating adventure that shall eventually deposit us on the Boardwalk in Long Branch some 26.2 miles later.  An equally hardy but intellectually superior number of souls - including Gidg - shall depart from Monmouth Park as well under the cover of dawn's early light on a 13.1 mile jaunt that culminate for them on Long Branch's Boardwalk.  

The training cycle for this year's New Jersey Marathon began for me on Sunday, January 10. Between that Sunday and this one, I have run distances on Sundays ranging from five miles to twenty miles.  My experience is similar to that of almost every other man and woman who shall run the Marathon next Sunday.  Training programs vary but their goal is essentially the same:  Build up the miles so that on race day when you call upon your body to hold it together for 26.2 miles, it does not respond with an unequivocal "You have got to be shitting me!"  

On this final pre-Marathon Sunday, I shall travel south from our 'home' beach (17th Avenue Beach in Belmar), through Spring Lake, and into Sea Girt before curling my way north and, finally, home.  Once upon a time the prospect of running eight miles on a Sunday might have terrified me.  It no longer does.  

Today, it simply serves to remind me that the hard work needed to be able to compete effectively against the race's distance next Sunday is almost complete and that all that remains to be done is the race itself.