Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ninety-Five

Green beans.  Green beans. 
Fucking green beans.
- Bruce Springsteen

Had WPK, Sr. lived to see this morning's sunrise, then he would have awakened on his ninety-fifth birthday.  He did not of course.  He fell a bit short of this goal - more than a little bit in fact.  He was just fifty-seven when, on May 31, 1981, he died.  

During the final year of our shared existence, my father and I did not like each other very much.  We spent most of the rather limited amount of time that we did spend in one another's company the final nine months in particular circling each other like two dogs in a cage.  It felt at times as if we had been at each other's throats forever - and would remain at each other's throats forever.  Then, suddenly, forever got a whole lot fucking shorter. 

If life proceeded according to Hallmark or Disney's grandest designs, then at some point presumably we would have hugged it out, reconciled, and shared a pitcher of Manhattans together.  It does not of course.  It did not for WPK, Sr. and me.  

For any number of reasons, Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams has long been among my favorite films.  One of the principal reasons I am so fond of it is the scene when Costner and James Earl Jones are driving back to Iowa with a young Moonlight Graham asleep in the back of the VW microbus.  Costner's Ray Kinsella tells Jones' Mann that in his final argument with his dad, he told him that he could never respect a man whose hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was a criminal.  He admits that when he said it to his father, he himself did not believe it to be true.  He said it simply in order to hurt his father, which it did.   He also admits to Mann that after some time had passed, he wanted to take it back, but his father died before he ever did.  A lifetime ago, I read somewhere that Field of Dreams, although ostensibly a baseball movie, is not a film about pennants.  Rather, it is a film about penance.  I agree wholeheartedly. 

Once upon a lifetime ago (OK, it was really only two years ago), when I wrote in this space regularly, I wrote of the first time I sat with WPK, Sr. and watched It's A Wonderful Life.  At its conclusion, he informed me that the film's message was "be careful for what you wish".  While I am less than certain that at the time I attributed his decidedly unsentimental take on what has become one of my favorite films to Dad simply being Dad, as I have grown from childhood to adulthood and, thereafter, became a husband, a father, and, now, a grandfather, I have come to appreciate that he was.  It turns out, in fact, to be the best piece of advice I ever received from him.  While it is not something that I wrote for his birthday, I think he would approve of its republication here...or at the very least, keep his complaining about its republication to a minimum.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  

...without ado, further or otherwise.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2016


The Art of Wishing Carefully

My father is dead a very long time.  If one wanted to use "A Christmas Carol" as one's frame of reference, this past May marked the "Fifth Marley" anniversary of his death.   

Not surprisingly, given that I was a couple of months past my fourteenth birthday when he died, WPK, Sr. and I had little relationship at all at the time of his death.  We spent the final eight or nine months of our shared time here circling one another like two dogs in a cage, a direct result of an incident that occurred the September before he died.  He did something to me that fourteen-year-old me considered to be unforgivable, which was of course something for which he never intended to seek my forgiveness. He never apologized.  I never forgave him.  And then, he died.  I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that at least a small part of me contemplated whether he did so to spite me - and never offer me the apology to which I felt entitled.  Sue me for such a thought.  I was fourteen and I was seriously pissed off.      

Irrespective of the evisceration of our relationship during what proved to be the final year of his life, we spent a sufficient amount of time together that I picked up more than a few things from him along the way.  In addition to my passion for the New York Rangers, I also inherited his love of "It's A Wonderful Life".  I cannot recall how old I was the first time I watched it with him but I recall him, at movie's end, telling me that Frank Capra's film taught an important message, which Dad informed me was, "Be careful for what you wish."  




For better or worse, being WPK, Sr.'s son has helped shape the prism through which I view the world and its inhabitants for the better part of fifty years.  The further removed I get from the relatively-brief time that we shared, the better understanding I acquire of certain things that he did and that he said.  

None better, perhaps, than what he meant about the importance of wishing carefully.  As a child, both when I still believed in Santa, and afterwards, when I knew that Dad was the overweight, white-haired gent responsible for delivering my Christmas bounty, my annual Christmas list was a massive undertaking.  Jill used to handle the prioritizing of requests for me.  There was at least one year when my list was more than fifteen pages, ranging from "Must Have" to "Could Probably Live Without, But Why Risk It".  And truth be told, other than my parent's refusal to buy me the Army Men set that was advertised on the back cover of every comic book I ever read as a child, I made out more than OK.  

I have not been a child for a long time and, long ago, to cite the great James McMurty, I put away childish things.  I no longer have an extended list of wishes, Christmas or otherwise.  Quantity is not important.  It matters not.  It never has.  It shall never be a substitute for quality.  Breadth shall never be a substitute for depth.

Choose wisely.  And, today, if fortune has smiled upon you and has permitted you to spend the day in the company of at least one of the people who you love most of all in the world and who, too, loves you most of all, then all that you need is already within your grasp. 

Squander it not. Never forget that while he had the most money, Henry Potter was not the richest man in town. 

Merry Christmas...

    

-AK 


  

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

So I Decided To Write A Book...

...and after a little less than two years of working on it, off and on, I finished it.  Once I finished it, I actually published it.  Thanks to Jeff Bezos' little creation, the publication part of the process proved to be not terribly difficult at all.  In fairness to Mr. Bezos, the ease of publication bears no relationship whatsoever to the quality of the writing.  


"Pop Pop Rules" 
(Front Cover)


"Pop Pop Rules" 
(Back Cover)


It is a little something upon which I started to work back in September, 2016, when Suzanne and Ryan told the Missus and me that Suz was pregnant, which pregnancy resulted in the birth of "the Franchise", Maggie, in early May, 2017.  While I am no genius, I was smart enough to know that what countless others are surely rooting for (you know who you are and, guess what, so do I) is overwhelmingly likely to occur, which is that I shall die years and years earlier than my eldest grandchild.  I wanted her to have something from me upon which she could continue to rely even after I am dead.  

A good indication of just how absurdly long it took me to write what is, truthfully, a short book, is this:  I began writing it in the fall of 2016 and did not finish it until the fall of 2018, during which time Maggie was born and thereafter celebrated her first birthday, Suzanne and Ryan celebrated the birth of their second child (my grandson, Callum), and Jess and Rob celebrated the birth of their first child (my first Colorado grandbaby, Abigail).  

If you want to check it out, then you can do so here.   Also, if you have one of those Kindle gadgets, then you can check it out here.  

Me?  I am going to now turn my attention to ghostwriting Maggie's application for admission to the University of Colorado, Boulder.  By my calculations, I have at least fifteen years or so to get it completed.  At the pace at which I write, I should be able to meet that deadline. 

Barely.  

-AK 




Friday, December 7, 2018

The Fab Five & the Ghosts of Decembers Past

Seventy-seven years ago today, on a typically beautiful Hawaiian Sunday morning, the Japanese viciously invited the United States to participate in World War II.  By the time the attack on Pearl Harbor ended, more than twenty-four hundred American soldiers, sailors, and Marines had been killed,including all but approximately three hundred crew members of the U.S.S. Arizona.

Today, men and women shall gather at Pearl Harbor for the annual memorial service.  For the first time since they started holding this annual gathering, no crew member from the U.S.S. Arizona shall be there.  Although roughly three hundred of them survived that terrible Sunday morning, only five of them are still alive.  Sadly, this year, none of the five is healthy enough to make the journey to Hawaii for the service. 

I know not whether Lou Conter, Don Stratton, Ken Potts, Lonnie Cook or Lauren Bruner shall be well enough to attending this event next year - or ever again.  Their passing, as will the passing of the other remaining members of what history calls (without a shred of exaggeration) "the Greatest Generation", shall mark an era's end in this nation's history.  It is because these persons - for all of their greatness - are constrained by the bounds of their mortality that it is incumbent upon those of us who shall remain after each of them has died to ensure that the lives they lived and the greatness they attained is never forgotten.  

Two years ago, on the occasion of the seventy-fifth anniversary of this historically somber day, I wrote what follows here and shared an absolutely exquisite photograph that Rob took at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial when he and Jess visited it while on their honeymoon...

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2016

In Furtherance of Our Righteous Might

There is a Land of the Living
and a Land of the Dead, 
and the Bridge is Love, 
the only Survival, the only Meaning.
- Thornton Wilder

As of today, the Bridge that connects Pearl Harbor to the present spans seventy-five years in length. Incredibly, it is a post that remains manned by more than one hundred nonagenarians.  Seventy-five years ago, these young sailors and soldiers survived an ambush attack that killed 2,403 Americans, an attack that brought an inexorable, abrupt, and irreversible end to their youth.  

For some of them, including then-sixteen-year-old Vito Colonna, the war that began at Pearl Harbor carried them through a tour of places that were figuratively Hell on Earth, including Iwo Jima. 

On December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Address to Congress requested a  Declaration of War upon the Empire of Japan.  From that day forward through the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945, America was at war.  It was a war fought - as wars inevitably are - by young men.  Rare is the statesman or leader who - upon instigating a conflict or being drawn into one by an enemy - actually does the fighting, the bleeding, and the dying.  

Seventy-five years after one of this nation's darkest days, we find ourselves mired in a national state of gloaming as the amount of heavy gray in the skies above us depends upon one's political point of view - perhaps more than at any time during the past half-century.  Slightly more than one month ago, this nation elected a new President of the United States, an event that prompted (among other things) the cancellation of classes, the postponement of exams, and the scheduling of appointments with grief/crisis counselors at college campuses across America.  

On December 8, 1941, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, countless thousands of American college-aged kids went to war. On November 9, 2016, in response to the results of the Presidential Election, countless thousands of American college kids went into the fetal position...and did so with the blessing (and in some instances, at the direction) of their professors and instructors.  

Really? 

It seems to me (one man, one opinion) that among the lessons to be learned from Pearl Harbor and all that followed after it for the next forty-four months is that Americans responded to that horrific event - not by tucking our tails between our legs, wedging our heads up our asses, or running away towards Canada as fast as possible - but by backing up President Roosevelt's guarantee ("No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory").   

If we are no longer that America - a nation of people willing to sweat and to work and to fight like hell for that which is right and that which is just - then not only did 2,403 Americans die in vain seventy-five years ago today, Vito Colonna and the other one hundred-plus Pearl Harbor survivors have lived in vain every day since that terrible December morning.  

Personally, I refuse to accept that is who and what we have become and, furthermore, to allow it to become so.  I intend to man a post on that Bridge and invite you to do the same.  

There is plenty of space on it for all of us.

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial 
Photo credit:  Robert J. MacMaster 
(June, 2014 - taken while on his honeymoon)

-AK 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Fifty-Seven Seconds

Happy Thanksgiving.  Wherever you are spending this day, however you are spending it, and with whomever you are spending it, may you have at least one of the someones you love most of all in this world and someone for whom you are such a person in your company for at least a part of it.  If you do, then you have something for which expressing thanks should come easily to you.  For your sake, here is to hoping that it does.

A couple of Thursdays ago as I was at my desk working, my cell phone buzzed.  The number calling my phone was one that I did not recognize.  It also might have been from some exotic locale such as Bangor, Maine or Ypsilanti, Michigan, both of which are wonderful places I am sure but neither of which is a place in which I know a single soul.  Long story short, I did what I do when I receive a call from an unknown number:  I did not answer it. 

Shortly after the call ended, the icon popped up on my phone (perhaps it is an iCon since it is, after all, an iPhone) informing me that I had a new voicemail message.  Sure enough, the Chinese telemarketer who had hoped to talk to me directly had opted not to waste his or her dime altogether and, instead, left a thirty-plus second message.  I still do not know what was funnier, my attempting to understand the spoken word or my phone's attempt to transcribe the message into written form for me to read.  Let us call it a "draw" and allow all contestants to go home happy. 

Having listened to the voicemail message, I immediately moved to delete it.  As I did, I discovered that I had four or five other voicemail messages stored on my phone.  Two or three of them were telemarketers.  One was an adversary from a long-settled case.  Each of those was deleted without a second's hesitation.  

Once I had cleared the brush, as it were, only one voicemail message remained.  It is slightly less than one minute in length, fifty-seven seconds to be exact, and it is from Mom.  

A lifetime ago, in perception if not in reality, on November 17, 2016, Mom had called me and having not been able to reach me, she left a voicemail message. The call's purpose had been to talk about some rather bad health news she had recently received.  In typical Mom fashion, she spent the overwhelming majority of the fifty-seven seconds exhorting me not to worry, to tell Margaret and the kids that she loved them very much and, last but most assuredly not least, to tell me that she loved me too.

That tough old Irish broad, who was and who is the great hero of my life, said all that needed to be said.

She always could.

She always did.  And on this particular occasion, she did it in fifty-seven seconds.  The uniquely Mom thing about it is that while I am confident that a few days later she and I actually did get to speak to one another directly about the very same health news that had been the subject of her voicemail message, I am equally confident that she wrapped up that conversation in fifty-seven seconds or less too.  

I had spent the past seventeen-plus months believing that the last time in my life that I would ever hear Mom's voice was when she told me she loved me during our final telephone conversation.  A final conversation that happened mere hours before she died.  A final conversation, the sound of which, I pretty much drowned out with the sound of my own sobs.  A sound that would continue for the better part of an hour following the conversation's conclusion.

As it turns out, it is not.  

I have never been more happy to be wrong.  I have, in the two weeks since I stumbled across it, listened to it multiple times.  Each and every time I do, I feel a catch in my throat.  I shed a tear or two.

But I also smile.  I smile because something that I feared had been lost to me forever was not.  It was, in fact, exactly where it had been without fail each and every day since I had left Mom's home to make my own way in the world.  It was on the other end of the phone.

Not the same as it ever was.  It can never be so again.  But, at the same time, as close as I can ever come.  It makes it, therefore, more than good enough. 

Fifty-seven seconds.




This year, it is for them that I am thankful most of all. 

-AK    

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

May Neither The Rivers Be Too Deep Nor The Woods Too Dark

As I understand it, today is the busiest travel day of the year here in the United States.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  Apparently the only three places in which this uniquely original American holiday is not viewed as a road apple on the eight-week dash from Halloween to Christmas, are this nation's train stations, airports, and roadways.  Whether going a short distance, a long distance, or no distance whatsoever, today is, annually, a day on which far too many people dial up the pace to frenetic and the dash to mad in an effort to exchange their point of origin for their destination.  

May one and all make it to their respective destinations safely, soundly, and happily. 

Moreover, may your Thanksgiving be spent in the company of at least some of those whom you love most of all and in the company of at least some of those who love you most of all.  Remember - even if just for a moment - that today, and every day, for every Neal Page, there is a Del Griffith.  

Today, and every day, if you are fortunate enough to be a Neal Page, then try to keep a place in your heart for a Del.  At day's end, each is simply trying to find the way home.  

There is no greater quest that one can undertake.


"Planes, Trains & Automobiles" 
(Final Scene)

Happy Thanksgiving...

...and be careful out there. 

-AK 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Word or Two from the Master Baster...

As you may or may not be aware, I do not come around this way very often any more.   

You're welcome.

Once upon a lifetime ago, when I used to spend time here, I wrote a word or two a time or three about one of my favorite events, the Manasquan Turkey Run (f/k/a "the Manasquan Turkey Trot").  This morning, at 11:00 a.m., several hundred of us running birds of a feather shall gather not too far from Leggett's front door, awaiting the gun that signals the start of this five-mile annual tradition.  

At varying times thereafter, many of the aforementioned several hundred shall gather inside of Leggett's front door to enjoy hot food, cold adult beverages, and (I suppose) each other's company.  If you are going to be among the runners or the revelers this morning, then good luck and enjoy! 

-AK

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2017

The Healing Power of Vitamin Sea

The Missus and I woke up this morning, for the first time since mid-October, in our little Paradise by the Sea.  Granted, we have only owned our little piece of the Jersey Shore since May, 2015 but this break represents the longest continuous stretch of time since we purchased it that we had not spent any time there.  

Understand that in the weeks since we were here last, we have been some places and had some fun: Washington, D.C. the weekend of October 21 and 22 for the Marine Corps Marathon; Colorado (after an oh-so-fun driving tour of America's Heartland (a/k/a "part of America best seen out of the window of an airplane from 37,000 feet")) the weekend of October 28 and 29 to visit Rob and Jess; New York City the weekend of November 4 and 5 for the NYC Marathon; and (for me) New York City again this past Saturday to see "Springsteen on Broadway" - courtesy of our great friend, Lynne Kizis.  

Having shaken off our travelin' Jones, for the time being at least, it is awfully good to be home.

Today is the annual Turkey Run in Manasquan.  Once upon a time this event was known as the Turkey Trot but, a few years back (2014 I think), a group of Monmouth County-based turkeys got together and hired a lawyer to represent them in a class-action suit, which suit's prayer for damages included changing the name of this event from "Trot" to "Run".  The turkeys argued that it is bad enough to have human beings jam our hands up their asses, roast them for our consumption, and then fall asleep within eighteen minutes of eating them, without us implying that they are slow-footed birds.  The court found their case compelling and ruled in the turkeys' favor.  Not only did they receive their much-sought-after name change but, also, each received a voucher redeemable for one Thanksgiving dinner.  Oddly enough, all these years later, no word from the victorious plaintiffs regarding the voucher portion of their award.  

But I digress. 

Turkey Run Day is one of the highlights of the Fall calendar in 'Squan.  It is a wonderfully well-attended event, both by those of us who run in it - including those of us who are fucking thrilled to run five miles after back-to-back marathons - and those who line 'Squan's streets supporting our efforts.  NOAA predicts a bit of a windy, drizzly day in the greater 'Squan metroplex today, which will likely have little effect on the enthusiasm of the runners or their comrades holding down bar stools at Leggett's for the post-race party. 

And tomorrow, irrespective of the weather, I will go for an early-morning run with the sounds and smells of the ocean to keep me company.  There are any number of great places in this world to spend one's time...

...and I would not trade a single one of them for mine. 


Lifeguard Stand - 17th Avenue Beach
Belmar (07/30/17)

-AK 

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2015

Gobble Gobble Goo



To borrow a phrase from Prince, if I may, "Forever is a mighty long time."  It proved to be too long, in fact, for the Turkey Trot.  The Trot was a fixture in Manasquan for three decades, held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and serving as the unofficial kickoff of the "holiday season".

However, shortly after the 2014 Trot, the couple who organized it annually informed the local governing body that they were no longer interested in doing so.  In the words of the American pop philosopher Jackson Browne, "All good things got to come to an end."  The Trot, as it turned out, was among those good things.  

Thankfully, much like nature, the Manasquan Borough Council abhors a vacuum.  Thus, while the Trot is no more, the Manasquan Turkey Run has ably filled its space on the calendar.  Last year's first edition was a terrific event.  This morning, at shortly after 11:00 o'clock, the streets of "Squan shall be filled with runners of all ages and abilities, fueled by a common desire:  Completion of the five-mile course before Leggett's runs out of bar stools upon which to sit and enjoy an adult beverage, post-race.   




-AK   


SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2013

We Got To Trot....

Last November Hurricane Sandy - that bitch - put the kibosh on what was to have been the 30th Annual Edition of the Manasquan Turkey Trot, a 5-mile jaunt through 'Squan that is held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  This morning, in the chill of a late November morning on the Shore, several thousand of us shall gather on the streets of 'Squan to celebrate where we are at "Sandy + 13 months" and to run in the 2013 Edition of the Trot. 

Even more remarkable than the number of people who shall run in the race is the number of people who shall gather at Leggett's and other establishments afterwards to celebrate the Trot.  As a general rule the post-race festivities are always better attended than the race itself.  As my great grandpa Phineas used to say, "I don't give a rat's ass what sort of shape you are in.  'Tis always easier to drink a pint of Guinness than to run a mile."  Smart old coot Phineas was.  Smart as hell.  

Here's to hoping that being able to have their beloved Trot going forward as scheduled from its appointed place on the calendar is a harbinger of good things ahead this winter for my good friend Lynne and the rest of her neighbors in 'Squan.  The Shore has been through a hell of a lot in the past thirteen months or so.  Truth be told it will likely take another few years before the places that Sandy inundated are back up and running as it were.  But after months of feeling fortunate just to crawl, the good folks in Manasquan are at last back up and walking.  

Nothing like a great little 5 mile race to help them all quicken their pace just ever so slightly.  


My Estimated Finishing Time

-AK    

Saturday, October 27, 2018

No Encores For Old Men


I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I'll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I'd be without you...
-Brian Wilson
(The Beach Boys)

My wife celebrates a birthday today.  By my count, this year marks the twenty-seventh consecutive one of these occasions for which I have been part of her life and - far more importantly (not to mention unbelievably) - she has been part of mine. 

I do not exaggerate when I identify Margaret as the person who saved my life.  Truth be told, if I am guilty of anything, then it is understatement. I have no idea - none - where my life would have taken me - and what it would be like now - had I not met and fallen in love with her almost three decades ago.  I do know however that however it might have turned out, whatever poor imitation of a life I have might have been living (undoubtedly alone - other than accompanied by a dog) could not have ever measured up to the one that I am privileged to live every day.  

It remains one of the universe's great mysteries - Margaret's voluntary and deliberate coupling with an unapologetically unrepentant asshole - but I long ago learned to not question its origin and, instead, to bask in its ongoing existence.  For at day's end, having seen this movie before, quite a long time ago, I do in fact have a fairly well-established idea just what I would be without her...


"God Only Knows" 
-The Beach Boys


...and I am in no particular hurry to sit through it again.  

Happy Birthday, Honey, and thank you.  For everything.  All of it. 




-AK