Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Short Day's Journey Into Night

If you happen to run into my brother Kelly today and you catch him in an ear-to-ear grin, then (a) consider yourself lucky for the Kennys are not known for our effusive displays of elation; and (b) wish him a "Happy Winter Solstice".  

Today is the Winter Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is the first full day of Winter and it is also the day on the calendar in 2014 that contains the least amount of daylight.  

Here in the State of Concrete Gardens there are certain things we consider to be true unless and until proven otherwise.  Among them is this:  The first day of Winter will not be the coldest, shittiest day of the season.  After all, if it was then what purpose would January and February serve?  

Today is, thankfully, the day that while serving as the gateway to Winter also serves as the springboard to...well, to Spring.  Every day from this one forward for the next six months will carry with it the gift of one or two additional minutes of daylight.  Sure, for the immediate future that light will seem illusory, as it shall not carry with it a single stitch of warmth.  But in a world where time is measured in discernible units such as days and weeks and months, it is useful to carry April's promise of warm, breezy afternoons and ever-lengthening evenings with us to blunt the effect of Winter's miserably cold days and nights.  

How many days until pitchers and catchers report?  'Tis a fair question to ask because - as the song says - Spring will soon be here...


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Before You Say Anything...

The college football "Bowl Season" kicks off (pun intended!) today.  Although there are close to 1,937 bowl games to be played between today and the National Championship Game, which will not be played until January 12, 2015 (NO I'M NOT KIDDING), my beloved Alma mater shall not be a participant yet again this year.  When the University of Nevada Wolf Pack and the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns clash at 11:00 am Eastern Time this morning in the New Orleans Bowl, theirs shall be the first of thirty-nine such get-togethers.  

Some of the contests might capture your interest.  A considerable number of them - and perhaps all of them - might not.  But the fact that neither you nor I has any rooting interest in the outcome of the "Roto-Rooter Raw Sewage Bowl" from Camden, New Jersey or some such thing does not diminish the experience of the game itself for the young men who shall play.  Nor does it diminish the experience for the families of the aforementioned young men, including those of whom are hopefully able to be present to cheer for their favorite player in person. 

It has been said that an athlete dies twice with the first time being the final time he or she puts on the uniform and participates in a game.  A percentage of the kids who are suiting up for their respective schools shall, when they run out of the tunnel and onto the field - whether in New Orleans, Louisiana, Boise, Idaho or the Bronx - do so for the final time.  A game that each has played since perhaps he was too young to actually remember when he first played it, which game has been an integral part of his day-to-day for most of his life and which (He says hopefully) has afforded him the chance to go to college, which chance might otherwise have not been available to him, is about to move from the present tense to the past tense.  For the rest of his life.  

I played varsity sports enthusiastically - if not especially well - in high school.  Although it was thirty autumns ago, I still remember the final soccer game of my senior season.  We lost at The Hun School in Princeton.  It was a regular season game, played after we had been eliminated from the State Tournament by Morristown-Beard.  My coach, Howard Freeman, did what he should have done in the second half of that last game, which was play the underclassmen who would form the backbone of his team the following year.  

Doing so, however, meant that those of us who had played essentially every minute of every game - which I had done - spent the final few minutes of our competitive soccer career on the bench adjacent to the field rather than on the field itself.  A seventeen-year-old high school senior, I was less than enthralled at the manner in which my time spent playing the sport I loved to play far more than any other drew to a close.  I was plenty pissed off about it that day and for a number of days that followed.  

I am far from smart.  Yet, even I was able to appreciate that the door that swung closed on that cold, miserable November afternoon was one that was not subject to being reopened.  Not ever.  

The moral of this story?  I suppose it is this:  Unless and until you officially replace the Sun as the center of the Universe (and here is a tip - I am the heir to that particular throne), the mere fact that these sporting events are insignificant to you does not mean that their purported insignificance is a universal truth.  Opinion and fact are not - surprise, surprise - the same thing.

You are certainly within your rights to express your opinion as to their relative lack of meaning to your life.  You are to do so, however, without shitting on the kids - and their families - to whom they mean significantly more.  


Friday, December 19, 2014

Of Debts and Payment

And remember what I said.  
Being a father, it lives up to the hype.
- Charlie Skinner

Had he lived, WPK Sr would be marking his ninety-first birthday today.  He did not.  He fell just a bit short of the mark.  He died, on May 31, 1981, more than half a year shy of his fifty-eighth birthday.  

Dad - Christmas 1980 playing with the Coleco
"Electronic Quarterback" hand-held game I'd received.

Truth be told, my father had as much chance of living to age ninety-one as I do of being signed as the New York Rangers' 4th line center tasked with the responsibility of defensive zone face-offs on penalty kills and as my older brother Kelly has of ascending to the Papacy.  

He died far too soon to have ever made the acquaintance of Charlie Skinner.  Or Aaron Sorkin for that matter.  Whether he shared Mr. Skinner's sentiments or not was just one of any number of private thoughts he took with him to his grave.  

Over the course of the past three-plus decades that we have lived without him, I feel as if I have come to understand Dad much better than I ever did in the decade and a half or so that we spent together.  For better or for worse, I am my father's son.  A badge that I carry with me - as do both of my older brothers.  In the absence of him, I am lucky to have had both of them.  Each experienced things with him that I never did and given the disparity in age between each of the three of us, Bill and Kelly were each at different points in the road as it were in their respective relationships with him at the time of his death.  

I spend scant little time in the exercise of expressing regret.  As a relatively wise man once wrote, "I cannot undo what I have done."  In a perfect world, perhaps he and I would have spent more time during what turned out to be the final two years of his life enjoying each other's company than we did making each other's life difficult.  I have no WABAC Machine.  If Life has taught me one thing, it is that one rarely has access to it.  

We live the life that we live.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  It shall be for me as it was for my father.  I have the advantage - not of hindsight but rather - of knowing the manner in which certain decisions he made colored the course of his day-to-day.  He was a brilliant man.  Whether it was an inability to gauge the reaction to certain actions or a lack of interest in the reaction I know not.  I have come to recognize in myself - occurring with a frequency not as high as it once was but still higher than it should be - that same tone-deafness.  My experience with his has helped me immeasurably in my efforts with my own.  Although - truth be told - the rest of the world is a far better assessor of that statement's veracity and accuracy than I.

For the past quarter-century or so, Field of Dreams has been among my favorite movies.  I have a particular affection for it not simply because of its infusion with all things baseball.  My fondness for the film has far more to do with the examination of Ray Kinsella's relationship with his long-deceased father, John, and things not said while both parties were alive, which things became incapable of being said once that dynamic had changed.  Art imitating Life?  Perhaps.  

Oscar Wilde once observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."  Even so, all debts end up paid in full.

There's no age at which you're
OK with your dad dying.
-Charlie Skinner

If you live long enough though then maybe, just maybe, you end up OK with the way the two of you lived the life you shared.

Happy Birthday Dad.  

Dad at Wardlaw

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Phuck You Very Much"

The title of today's piece is a paraphrase of the message that soon-to-be-retired United States Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma - a living testament to the fact that one cannot spell the word "Jerkoff" without an "OK" - sent to this nation's veterans late Monday night.  Coburn blocked the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act , a piece of legislation that was unanimously passed through the House of Representatives (let that wash over your mind's eye for a moment) and was sponsored in the United States Senate by a bi-partisan group including Sen. McCain (R) from Arizona and Sen. Manchin (D) from West Virginia.  

Tom Coburn will not be in Washington, D.C. when the new session of Congress convenes in January, 2015.  At that time - without this obtuse asshat acting as an impediment - it is hoped that the Act - named for a 28-year-old highly decorated United States Marine who - after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - ended up taking his own life after a protracted struggle to get the proper treatment through the VA for his PTSD.  

The Act, a labor of love of the IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and the object of far-reaching, bi-partisan support in both halls of Congress, will have wide-reaching positive effects on this nation's veterans and the system upon which they rely and depend for assistance.  It will, that is, if it ever becomes law.  And thanks to Senator Coburn's actions on Monday night, it shall not become law in 2014. 

It has been reported in many places that twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide.  Twenty-two - the same number of players who square off on opposing sides of the scrimmage line on a football field. Except in the case of the veterans, the twenty-two who are out there today shall be replaced by twenty-two new members tomorrow.  In this setting, tragedy begets substitution. Again and again and again. 

Senator Coburn - who blocked the passage of the Clay Hunt Act, which is designed to assist those service members who stood in harm's way on this nation's behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan - voted "No" on three separate occasions between June, 2006 and December, 2007 on measures involving re-deploying our troops out of Iraq.   Apparently, he has no objection to men and women who wear the uniform of this country standing up for their fellow citizens.  His objection centers on us standing up for them when they return home.  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The World According To Coop...

Margaret and I are rather faithful viewers of The Big Bang Theory, along with countless millions of other people if the Nielsen ratings are to be believed.  Among my favorite scenes from the show's run is one from its third season.  

The premise of the episode is that Sheldon has reached an impasse in his attempt to solve a particularly vexing equation or some such thing.  In an effort to clear his mind, he decides that he needs to spend his time doing something that - while keeping him busy - will require no thought whatsoever, which leads him to work as an unpaid bus boy at Penny's Cheesecake Factory

On Sunday morning, Margaret and I experienced firsthand just what the esteemed Dr. Cooper was speaking of vis-a-vis his "refusal to contribute to the devaluation of the word genius".  For the first time in my life, I entered an Apple store.  We popped into the store located at the Bridgewater Commons Mall so that I could buy an adapter permitting me to play my iPod Nano in my car.  Although we were there before 11:00 o'clock there were already a considerable number of people milling about, including the easy-to-identify employees (a/k/a "the Apple Geniuses") who were adorned in their matching red t-shirts.  

A suggestion if I may to the caretakers of the House that Jobs Built:  If you are going to insist on identifying your retail sales staff members as "Geniuses", then you must employ men and women who are not only friendly but who actually possess the ability to answer a customer's question.  I would further suggest that this is especially so when the customer in question has the technological savvy of Alley Oop and the question he asks of a Genius is not one that should require a genius-level IQ to answer. 

Margaret and I asked the young Genius who assisted us (giving that term the broadest possible definition) where the adapters are to permit the iPod Nano to be played in an automobile.  He responded by asking us, first, whether what we were looking for was a car charger and when we told him "No" and that what we wanted was simply an adapter, he told us that he was not aware whether Apple made such a product.  He then motored off towards a gaggle of fellow Geniuses to ask one of them whether such a product existed. 

In the three or four minutes that he was gone, Margaret found the item that had been the object of our inquiry.  When our designated Genius returned, he was relieved to tell us Apple does in fact make such a product but - in spite of Margaret attempting to show him the adapter that she, herself, had located on the shelf and we were ready to check out - he was unable to, himself, identify it on the shelf.  

At some point, he recognized that what my wife was doing waving her right arm back and forth was not in fact trying to land a jet on an aircraft carrier and was, rather, simply trying to get him to acknowledge that she was holding the product about which we had asked him.  After asking us if we needed any more help, to which we answered in the negative, he thanked us for shopping at the Apple Store and took us over to the area of the store where customers pay for their items. 

Is such an area called "the cash register"?  No.  Not in the Land of Apple.  It is called..."The Genius Bar".  You know what precious commodity is apparently not stocked at the Genius Bar - in addition to not having alcohol?  Money.  We paid cash for our purchase, which transaction required the Genius who was handling the transaction (the Bar Tender?) to step out from behind the Bar and motor across the store to the same gaggle of Geniuses with which our first Genius had interacted.  Several minutes after he started his trek,  he returned carrying our change.  After he added his voice to the ever-growing chorus of Geniuses thanking us for our business, we matriculated our way to the exit.    

And as we walked through the parking lot to the car I thought that perhaps - all these years - I had been far too hard on Wile E. Coyote.  If any person willing to wear a red t-shirt and earn minimum wage plus a nickel an hour can call himself a genius, then maybe, just maybe, he was entitled to call himself a "Super Genius"...

...then again, maybe he was just dumb.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Triumph of Light Over Darkness...

I am not a man of Faith.  While it is a notion with which I have wrestled vigorously for most of my adult life, I respect that for many - including any number of people for whom I have great love and respect - it is not.  I do not understand their position.  I do, however, respect it. 

Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown - a time of day that is traditionally observed (for holiday purposes) at the Firm by my partners and our staff members who are Jewish as shortly after twelve noon.  Among the many reasons I am eternally grateful to my parents for having sent Kara, Jill and me to W-H was that after having spent from kindergarten through fourth grade in Catholic school, coming to W-H starting in fifth grade allowed me to meet and become friends with kids of various religious faiths.  

But for having transferred from a Catholic grammar school to a non-denominational school I would have missed out on the opportunity to celebrate a Passover Seder with Mike Koplowitz, his sister Jennifer and their parents.   Also, I am quite certain that the Immaculate Conception School choir sung neither "Hava Nagila"  nor "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" as part of its annual concerts.  At W-H, under the leadership of Maryann MacKenzie, we sung both songs.  

And may it also be just a little silly.  A little silliness is never, ever a bad thing...



Monday, December 15, 2014

"We Didn't Scare So Easily"

While I know that not everyone who I know and respect shares this sentiment, I shall miss Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which wrapped up it far-too-short (for my liking at least) run on HBO last evening.  Only in America can 2 Broke Girls survive to (at least) a fourth season while Sorkin's creation bites turf after just three - and calling this third, six-episode go-round a 'season' is akin to calling the New York Knicks a professional basketball team.  

Was The Newsroom perfect?  Nope.  Far from it in fact.  But - again speaking solely from my perspective - it was never boring.  It afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit more time with one of my favorite actors - Sam Waterston, introduced me to a talented actress who I had recognized solely from her having graced magazine covers - Olivia Munn and to enjoy an actor whose work I have always enjoyed, Jeff Daniels, playing a "benevolent misanthrope" - a paradoxical character who exists far more comfortably in the world of scripted fiction than he does in the real world.   Not to mention that the just-concluded seasonette included multiple appearances by one of Wardlaw-Hartridge's finest thespians, Mary McCormack.   

Above all else, I shall miss it for Aaron Sorkin's ability - and willingness - to do this: 

If you never watched a minute of The Newsroom, do yourself the favor of at least watching the 4:50 of it provided for your convenience above.  And before you dismiss it simply as dialogue coming out of the mouth of a fictional character, Will McAvoy, do this:  Cue the video back to the beginning, click "PLAY" and close your eyes.  Do not simply hear the words but listen to them.  Will McAvoy may not actually exist but it did not keep him from speaking the truth.  

And in art, much as is the case in real life, it was not a truth that everyone wanted to hear.  

Which does not mean that it did not need to be said...

...and still shall need to be even with something else occupying the 9:00 PM time slot on HBO on Sunday nights.