Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Off & Running Again...

Try not to become a man of success
But rather a man of value.
-Albert Einstein

I am a lucky man in that I have women in my life willing to teach me - the dictionary definition of an "old dog" - and to patiently restate that lesson as often as necessary for it to pierce the gynormous boulder-sized ornament atop my shoulders. 

Slightly more than five years ago something truly shitty happened.  Margaret's mom - Suzy B. - died in the wee small hours of June 2, 2009 - after having fought a valiant and ultimately unsuccessful war against cancer.  My pocket-sized mother-in-law - to steal a phrase from William Wallace - fought like a warrior poet for the final five years of her life.  It was a struggle that was heart-wrenching to watch.  It was equally so for me watching my wife serve as her mom's primary care giver and head cheerleader.  Margaret spent the final five years of her mother's life telling Suzy B. things - in terms of the latter's own condition - that neither of them believed when Margaret said them nor when Suzy B. heard them - but that both nonetheless needed to hear uttered aloud.  Do not believe anyone who tells you there is no such thing as a good lie. 

Out of the blackness that was the death of my mother-in-law, something beautiful was born and continues to flourish.  The two elder stateswomen in the Grandkid Corps - Suz and Meg - sprung into action and created the entity known as "Sue's Crew".  Its purpose is simple:  Honor the life of the grandmother they loved dearly by helping to do all that we can to help raise money to battle breast cancer and other equally insidious offshoots thereof in an effort to help at least one other family avoid walking a single step in the shoes Margaret's family was forced to adorn. 

Each and every Autumn since Suzy B.'s death in 2009, Sue's Crew has participated in a breast cancer 5K Run/Walk somewhere in the State of Concrete Gardens.  For four of our first five years, we matriculated south to Great Adventure for the Central/South Jersey Chapter of the Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure.  Two years ago, we headed over to Union County to take part in the wonderfully-titled Race for Mom.  This year, we are lending our legs and our hearts to an event a bit closer to home...well, to my home anyway.

On Saturday, September 20th, Sue's Crew VI shall participate in the Janice Garbolino Memorial 5K Run/Walk, which honors the legacy of a woman who served as the Health & Wellness Director for the Metuchen, N.J. YMCA until she, herself, lost her battle with breast cancer in 2002.  While it should go without saying that we invite any and all who pop by this page to join us, subtlety has never been my strong suit.  So, it shall not go without being said aloud:  PLEASE COME BE PART OF SUE'S CREW VI @ THE JANICE GARBOLINO MEMORIAL 5K RUN/WALK, SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2014, LAKEVIEW SCHOOL, ROOSEVELT PARK, EDISON, NEW JERSEY. 

Subtle enough for you?  Here is the link to register:  I would apologize for my lack of subtlety except for two things.  First, breast cancer is a bully.  If you are a man fortunate enough to have (a) a mother; (b) a wife; (c) a daughter; (d) a female friend or relative; and/or (e) all of the above, then unsnap your skull cap and wrap your head around this concept.  Breast cancer may come after each and every one of the women you love.  It is a great non-discriminatory killer.  It cannot pretend to give a rat's ass whose home it wrecks and whose life it ravages.  You do not fight back against a bully with little flitting blows.  You stand squarely in front of him and punch him in the larynx, knocking him down over and over, until he finally stops getting back up. 

Second, see Reason #1...



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

File Under Professional

The gentleman actor who brought to life Bret Maverick and, thereafter, James Rockford died over the weekend.  James Garner was eighty-six.  I pretend not to know whether it was irony or coincidence that he died on the same weekend that the world marked the forty-fifth anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's walk on the Moon.  I do know that about fifteen years ago, Garner starred with Donald Sutherland, Clint Eastwood and Tommy Lee Jones in Space Cowboys as four "geezer" astronauts who save NASA's bacon:

Was this film the best one in which Garner ever worked?  Nope.  But just for shits and giggles - if you were someone who ever watched Garner ply his craft then try to name the movie or TV role in which you watched him do his work in which you thought he was anything less than a professional.  I thought about that as I was on my run Sunday morning.  I could not come up with one.  

A million years ago - when I was in law school - I was required to read "Barbarians at the Gate."  It turned out to be an extraordinary read.  I have read it cover to cover on at least two other occasions since. Garner starred opposite Jonathon Pryce in the HBO movie based on the book.  Garner portrayed F. Ross Johnson, the CEO of RJR Nabisco.  

It may be as good a measure of a man as any other - the things that others say about him when he dies.  I half wish that I could be brought back after I kick only for a day or two just to read what I hope shall be the starkly honest - and likely unflattering - things said about me.  The people who worked with Garner - irrespective of at what point in time their two careers intersected - were universally laudatory in their comments.  

Case closed...


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Beat of the Summer

The Missus and I spent quite an enjoyable Saturday afternoon and evening at the beach.  Our pilgrimage began in Bradley Beach.  Our search for a place to allow this old man to live by the sea took us there.  We extended no offers but we did see a couple of homes that intrigued us - including one for which the term "move-in condition" appears to have been invented.  

After scoping out prospective resting places for Yours truly, we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the hospitality of one of Margaret's customers.  Joe and his wife Ricki own a condo that is right across Ocean Avenue from - well, as its name might have hinted at - the Atlantic Ocean.  Quite a peaceful way to spend a summer's Saturday afternoon.  

Then, later on, we made the great migration south on Route 71 to 'Squan.  Saturday night was the Annual Edition of "The Kennys Being Bennies" that Margaret and I enjoy so much.  One night every summer for as long as I can remember we go to Point Pleasant Beach for the sole purpose of spending a couple of hours on Jenkinson's Boardwalk - soaking up the uniquely Jersey experience that is a Shore Boardwalk on a Saturday night.  Several years ago - most likely against their better judgment in a manner akin to which it has always been against my wife's - the Sisters Kizis began accompanying us.  Then once Jeff joined the travelling party he seemed to sense that I needed a wing man in my campaign to make us all continue to engage in this silliness annually and he has embraced the role with gusto.

So, off we went again on Saturday night, over to the parking lot behind the Kohr's stand ($20.00 to park your chariot) and then up into the maelstrom.  We ate cheese steaks and French fries at Little Mac's (save for Lynne who dined on a veggie burger).  We played Whack-A-Mole where once again this year my wife emerged victorious.  We played twice.  She won twice.  She was awarded a stuffed Dalmatian that she dutifully toted around with her until she found a little boy she deemed worthy of her trophy at which point - with the blessing of his Mom and Dad - she gave it to him.  

It took some detective work but we were able to locate Frog Bog.  For years, a Frog Bog game has been located next to Joey Tomato's Pizza and across the way from the entrance into Jenkinson's Bar.  However, it is there no longer.  When it appeared as if Frog Bog may have been vanquished from the Boardwalk entirely I was one unhappy human being.  Courtesy of the nice young lady working the imitation game "Lobster Flop" we learned that a Frog Bog is now up and running at the Boardwalk's south end - adjacent to the rides.  We all played.  We all lost.  Such is the way of the Bog. 

Once we tasted defeat (channeled our inner fly if you will) at Frog Bog we did battle on the Bumper Cars and then jammed ourselves into one car on the Tilt-A-Whirl in the hopes of generating maximum whirling action.  In that regard we were only partially successful but it mattered not.  We laughed and laughed.  As did the people standing around the ride who watched four adults cram themselves into - and then pry themselves out of - a car that fits three adults uncomfortably.  Lynne who soldiered on in spite of still recovering from a broken ankle recently sustained at one of Atlantic City's soon-to-be former casinos, wisely sat out the Bumper Cars and the Tilt-A-Whirl.  

Finally, as we always do, we ended our sojourn into the American experience at Kohr's.  There is no ice cream that is quite as delicious as Kohr's boardwalk stand ice cream on a summer Saturday night.  Our evening's romp completed and with Aurora rising behind us we trekked back to Lynne's in 'Squan, feeling a little queasy due to the combination of greasy food and stomach-flipping rides but feeling more than a little happy at having yet again enjoyed one another's company in a place we love to visit. 

Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night...


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Original Whew Tang Clan

Aldrin and Armstrong on the Moon - July 20, 1969

It was forty-five years ago on this very day that two American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, became the first and second human beings to set foot on the Moon.  There is no truth to the rumor that as Armstrong and Aldrin strolled around on the Moon the third member of the Apollo 11 team, Michael Collins circled the Moon in search of a place to park.  

Collins was the Command Module Pilot and in doing so, while his two teammates were on the Moon stepping and leaping, he orbited the Moon more than once while he was entirely by himself - including forty-eight minutes during each orbit when he was completely out of communication range with NASA or anyone else on Earth for that matter.  In his 2001 autobiography, Collins described how he felt as a feeling of  "awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation".   

Collins also disclosed - in a 2009 interview with The Guardian - that he was very concerned for Armstrong and Aldrin's safety when they were on the Moon.  He was also concerned that, in the event of their deaths on the Moon, he would be forced to return to Earth alone and, as the mission's sole survivor, be regarded as "a marked man for life".

Armstrong was apparently as much of a pie-eyed optimist as his crewmate Collins.  In a 1983 Esquire Magazine interview with George Plimpton, Armstrong disclosed that his famous "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" line was something he thought up ONLY after "the Eagle" (the LEM) touched down on the surface of the Moon.  He explained to Plimpton that "I always knew there was a good chance of being able to return to Earth, but I thought the chances of a successful touchdown on the moon surface were about even money—fifty-fifty ... Most people don't realize how difficult the mission was. So it didn't seem to me there was much point in thinking of something to say if we'd have to abort landing."  

Aldrin, New Jersey's contribution to the Apollo 11 mission, followed Armstrong down the ladder and onto the Moon's surface.  He may have been the second human to walk on the Moon but he was the first to eat there.  Surprisingly, the first Moon meal was not pork roll, egg and cheese on a hard roll.  It was a Communion host.   Hell of a long way to go for a dry piece of wafer but to each his own I suppose.  

Forty-five years ago today, we the people of Earth placed two of our own on the Moon.  Now, it appears as if far too often we cannot get the hell out of one another's way (Hello - we shoot down passenger airliners now for F*ck's sake).  It makes their accomplishment seem perhaps all the more remarkable when one compares how far they went with how far we have failed to go in the four and one half decades since.  

Rather than one small step followed by one giant leap, it is one step up...

...and two steps back.  Get Houston on the line.  We most assuredly have a problem. 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Staring Out Upon The Unbreachable Sea

A mother prays, "Sleep tight, my child, sleep well
For I'll be at your side
That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell,
Shall pierce your dreams this night."
- "Jesus Was An Only Son"

Twenty-three-year old rookie Jersey City Police Department Police Officer Melvin Santiago was laid to rest yesterday. 

Officer Santiago was killed last weekend while he and his partner responded to a report of a burglary at the Walgreen's Pharmacy on the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Communipaw Avenue.  Officer Santiago was murdered - having been ambushed by his killer who laid in wait for the arrival of the police apparently so that he could kill one or more of them. 

There is no more unnatural phenomenon in the universe than for a parent to bury a child.  It simply runs afoul of the natural order of things.  It is a phenomenon that every parent, including Yours truly, hopes like Hell we never have to endure ourselves.  And it is a phenomenon that is so singularly heartbreaking and gutwrenching that whenever another parent is forced to endure it - as Officer Santiago's mother was yesterday - the empathy that the rest of us feel for the affected parent is palpable.  It matters not whether we know the parent or the child for whom they mourn. 

Much has been said and much has been written this week about Officer Santiago being "Jersey City's Son".  This gallant young man has been appropriately lauded for the life he lived.  Yesterday, his brothers and sisters in the law enforcement community - including countless ones who had never met him and many who had never been to Jersey City, New Jersey before - stood shoulder-to-shoulder paying their respects to Officer Santiago and to the family that mourns him.   At some point however - not today perhaps but sometime in the not-too-distant future - the attention of the media and the world at large will be drawn to other things.  That is not intended as a criticism.  It is simply a reflection upon the way in which life proceeds.  For most of us, an event such as this is a loss.  But for the family of Melvin Santiago, it is a Loss.
They shall deal with it forever... they stand on the shore and look across a sea whose distance cannot be breached.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Tuxedo Junction

On this very date, twenty-two years ago, two of the finest people I know, the former Christine Hoffman and the now (and always) David Joy were married.  They were married on a historically hot day in a historical (code for "non-airconditioned") little church in Vermont.  Had Doc Rud been aware of this place's capacity to hold heat and to induce perspiration he would have made his wrestlers in need of rapid weight loss spend their summer months there. 

It has been my great privilege and pleasure for too many years to count to have both of them refer to me as 'friend'.  It was my great honor to have stood up next to Dave as his Best Man.  In the interest of full disclosure given that he is almost a foot taller than I am, one had to not only look to Dave's right but also cast one's view downward perceptibly to see me. 

Christine and David's wedding remains the only one at which anyone has ever asked me to stand as the Best Man, a disclosure that I presume is of as little surprise to you as it is to me.  In my defense, I would point out that today is their 22nd anniversary.  Clearly, I did one hell of a job.  Then again, I suppose that they have had at least a bit more to do with their own success than I did. 

All these years later  I smile still at the memories of that day - and really of that entire weekend.  I think of David's mother, Mary, who had morphed effortlessly into the role of "Surrogate Mom" for me and for the third member of our little triumvirate of terror - Andy McElroy - when David and I were matriculating our way through our college years.  David lost his mom not too terribly long ago, which loss I am certain stings every day.  I hope that today though he can think of not only how great a day his wedding day was for him and for Christine but for their parents as well.  The ratification of a job well done on both parts if you will.  As a father who has lived that moment not one time - but two - within the past twelve months I can state with some confidence that it is as special a feeling as a parent can have.  

My congratulations to Christine and David on the journey they have made together to date.  My best wishes to them for continuing success on the journey to come.  They have earned it.  And they most certainly deserve it. 


I see my friends these days considerably less than I would prefer - and given my effect on most other people probably just about as little as they would like to make them perfectly content.  I am happy, though, to have had the opportunity to have seen them on that blazing hot July Saturday 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Hollow Sound Of One's Own Steps In Flight

And at the moment
That my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow
In your eyes...
- Fountain of Sorrow
Jackson Browne

Tuesday night I did something that I have not done in too many years to remember - I watched a bit of the MLB All-Star Game.  I did so not because I buy into the faux proposition that "This time it counts", which I do not.  I care not that home-field advantage for the World Series is predicated upon the outcome of the game and I surmise that if MLB really cared - and expected its managers and players to do so as well - it would tweak the game in two ways. 

First, the managers of each squad would not be the men whose teams played in previous World Series.  Rather, the managers of each team would be the two men whose teams - at the All-Star Break - have the best record in their respective leagues.  Second, not every team would have to be represented.  If the skipper of the AL All-Stars wanted to fill out his roster and his pitching staff with the roster of his "Best in the League" squad, then he would be encouraged to do so.  After all, this time it counts. 

But I digress.

I watched bits of the game because I am a Yankees fan and I have spent the past two decades or so watching Derek Jeter play with equal parts admiration and respect.  He has not only faithfully manned his position with aplomb since 1996 but has done so while representing his family, the sport in which he earns his living, the city in which he earns it and the franchise that has written him every professional baseball paycheck he has ever earned with dignity.  Derek Jeter has been a great player for the New York Yankees.  More than that, though, he has been great - not only for his sport  - but for sport.  The business of athletics needs men and women like Jeter, who earn the respect of their peers because of the free manner in which he has given it to those who have earned it from him. 

I smiled when he got his two hits - and I care not at all whether Adam Wainwright grooved one to him during his first at-bat.  I loved that Wainwright left his glove on the mound and then stood behind it when Jeter came to bat in the bottom of the first inning not only encouraging the protracted ovation Jeter received but ensuring that it could go on for as long as the voices of those quenched in the water of 10,000 Lakes could sustain it. 

I smiled more than just a little watching him play in the field.  I think what I enjoyed most of all was not the leather he flashed out there but that he got to do it while playing alongside Robinson Cano.  I have been a Yankees fan long enough that Cano's departure via free agency this past off-season awakened in my mind's eye the image of Andy Pettitte pulling on a Houston Astros cap shortly after the 2003 World Series.  Halfway through Cano's first season away from the Bronx his absence in the middle of the infield and the lineup is felt with a resonance akin to Andy J.'s absence from the rotation in 2004. 

But I smiled most of all watching Jeter take his "victory lap".  Kudos to John Farrell, the skipper of the Red Sox, for sending him out to play the field and then sending the White Sox shortstop out to replace him, which enabled yet another extended ovation from the crowd.  As Jeter made his way through the dugout, exchanging hugs and congratulations with his All-Star teammates and coaches, he did so in the business-like, brisk manner in which he does most things baseball-related. 

It was when he emerged from the dugout to once again acknowledge the crowd's ovation and to pay his respects to them that his eyes betrayed him - just a little bit.  For a brief moment it appeared as if the solemnity of the moment, which right up until game time last night he sought to dispatch with nonchalance, landed squarely on his shoulders.  It was as if at just that moment in time it occurred to him that maybe, just maybe, this was an event worthy of a little bit of fuss.  And that maybe, just maybe, he is as well...

...He would have been right on both counts.