Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rumbling Through This Promised Land

I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen, the man and his music, for more than four decades.  Throughout the entirety of our relationship, there has been one Springsteen song that has resonated with me more than any other.  Darkness on the Edge of Town is for my taste, the single finest album Springsteen has ever made and its high-water mark for me has always been "Racing in the Street".  

Although I have been fortunate to see Springsteen perform live in one form or another probably close to one hundred times (or approximately 40% of the number of shows that Lynne has seen), I have only seen "Racing" performed in concert a handful of times.  To my memory, the last time I saw it performed in concert was Friday, October 2, 2009 at Giants Stadium.  On that evening, as Springsteen and the E Street Band wound down their extended world tour - and helped say goodbye to Giants Stadium - they played one of their older albums in its entirety from start to finish in every show.  On that particular evening, Darkness on the Edge of Town, the songs from which have served as the backbone of countless Springsteen shows over the course of the past forty years, was the album that he and the E Streeters played in its entirety.  

We were lucky enough that night to have secured places in the General Admission Pit down near the front of the stage.  By the time the band finished playing "Candy's Room", the night sky was dark.  An early autumn chill was in the air.  It mattered not.  As Roy Bittan played the first lonesome, almost mournful notes of "Racing" on his piano, summer accompanied him...

Summer arrives today in the Northern Hemisphere.  May it be a good one for you and for yours...

"Tonight my baby and me we're gonna ride to 
the sea and wash these sins off our hands." 


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Everyone Dreams Of A Love Lasting And True...

It was twenty-five years ago - on this very day - at or about 12:00 noon - that Margaret and I were married.  By the time the late, great Judge Raymond DeMarco pronounced us "man and wife", I had completed my transformation from a twenty-six-year-old bachelor to a twenty-six-year-old husband and father of two, small, school-age children.  Those few seconds have proved to be - without exception - the most important, the most rewarding, and the most fulfilling of my life.  

Margaret and I have been married for just about one-half of my life.  I suspect from her point of view it often feels much longer.  I married "up".  The intervening quarter century has done little to nothing to bridge that gap.  I suspect that during our next quarter century, I shall do precious little to close the distance.  Once an irredeemable asshole, always an irredeemable asshole.  

As a man of many shortcomings - and some rather significant ones at that - I have yet to solve the mystery of what benefit it is Margaret derives from this grand experiment.  I am old enough - and wise enough - to know better than ask that question aloud.  

She is an extraordinary woman, my wife.  She is - without exception - the great miracle of my life.  I do indeed love her with all of the madness in my soul.  May that be more than enough to carry us through the next twenty-five years...

...and the twenty-five years after that as well.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Hail to the Chief...

...she's the one we all say "Hail" to.  

I do not shoulder all of the blame for my ignorance regarding the song's complete lyrics.  The only lyrics I have ever heard sung to the tune are those I learned from Kevin Kline.  

But I digress. 

This evening, Margaret and I are privileged and pleased to be among those in attendance when our great friend, Lynne M. Kizis, is sworn in as the President of the New Jersey Association for Justice for 2018-2019.  Lynne is not simply an exceptional attorney, she is an attorney who is a credit to the practice of law.  Moreover, she is an even finer person than she is an attorney.  I am hard-pressed to think of a more gracious, generous soul with whom I have ever come into contact.  She does not merely give lawyers a good name, she gives people a good name.  And here, in the dying days of the 21st Century's second decade, both groups (lawyers and people) can use all of the help that we can get.  

Congratulations, Madam President!  


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Moynihan's Theorem

Mom died last summer, ten days shy of her eighty-ninth birthday.  Were she still alive, today we would be celebrating her ninetieth birthday (and, parenthetically, I would owe her one hell of an explanation for that first sentence).  

What appears here, today, is what I wrote in honor of her birthday last year.  I had thought that with three hundred and seventy-five days between her death and today, something would come more readily to me than it had just ten days after.  It turns out I was wrong.  

Without ado, further or otherwise...

TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017

A Toast to the Leader of the Band

Two Saturdays ago, my mother died.  She was eighty-eight years old.  This past Friday, Adam West ("Batman") died.  He was eighty-eight years old.  Mom was eighty-eight years old at the time of her death. Batman was eighty-eight years old at the time of his death.  Only one conclusion can properly be drawn from that evidence...

...Mom was Batman.  

Today is Mom's birthday.  Sorry, it turns out that it might take a bit longer than anticipated for me to convert my way of thinking to "today would have been Mom's birthday" and the like.  It will come, I suppose. It shall not come today.  Mom was ten days shy of her eighty-ninth birthday when she died.  What follows here, today, is what appeared in this space under much happier circumstances on this date last year and in 2015...

...although in the interest of full disclosure, the artwork to which I referred in these two pieces accompanied me home from Florida.

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2016

The Rock of Joanbraltar

Today, the hero of my life, the bravest person I have ever known, celebrates her birthday.  The indomitable Joanie K is eighty-eight years old.  

The warts that I have accumulated over the course of close to a half-century on the planet belong to me and to me alone.  I own my mistakes, my shortcomings, and my failures.  She does not.  However, but for her example - including but not limited to her refusal to succumb to panic when her world imploded first in May, 1981 when Dad died and then again in March, 1983 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and was required to undergo an immediate radical mastectomy, my life would have followed a far different trajectory.  She was scared. I knew it.  She knew that I knew.  

Yet she never crumbled.  Everything I ever needed to learn about the distinction between fear, which can energize you, and panic, which can paralyze you, she taught me in those couple of years.  It was a lesson that I have carried with me every day since.  It is a lesson that I have tried to impart to my own two.  

It has been my pleasure and privilege to call myself "Joan Kenny's son" for almost fifty years.  I know not whether I have always proven myself worthy of that title.   I sure as hell hope that I have.  

She deserves nothing less.  

Happy Birthday, Maj!  



Candle Power

Hold on to your rosary beads
Leave me to my mischievous deeds
Like we always do...
-James McMurtry

It is an exaggeration to say that in the dozen and a half words that close out "Copper Canteen", which is the exquisite opening track on his latest CD Mr. McMurtry described the approach that Mom and I took to getting through my high school years, which happened to be the first four years following Dad's death.  An exaggeration?  Yes.  But not much of one. 

The incredible Joanie K. is celebrating a birthday today.  Presuming my arithmetic is correct, today is the eighty-seventh such celebration.  I cannot think of Mom and not smile.  She is without exception the strongest, bravest person I have ever known.  Qualities that are well-matched by a bottomless reservoir of humility and modesty.  

I suppose that it is at the very least an inconvenience to be a child and endure the death of a parent.  That was certainly my experience when it happened to me at age fourteen.  Had it had to happen however, I was fortunate in that had Mom died and left Dad and I to find our way together during my high school years, I have grave doubts that either of us would have survived the experience.  Dad was hard.  Mom was strong.  A distinction that is imbued with a considerable difference.  

For forty-eight-plus years, she has made a marked, considerable difference in my life.  Joanie K.  My mother.  My hero. 

And today, the birthday girl...

...and still the proud owner of the piece that represents the high-water mark of my career in the arts. 


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Everybody Hurts

In the interests of full disclosure, when it comes to all things fashion I have a level of knowledge somewhere between Bazooka Joe and Alley Oop, which is to say I possess little - if in fact I possess any at all.  So, while Kate Spade is a name I had heard on any number of occasions prior to this past week, and I knew she was a designer of some sort, I had no idea that (a) her mark was made in the world of handbags; and (b) David Spade was her brother-in-law and not her brother.  

Not knowing very much at all about Kate Spade's career matters not very much at all these days.  Earlier this week, in the bedroom of her New York City apartment, Ms. Spade hanged herself.  She was fifty-five years old.  She is survived by her husband, Andy, the couple's thirteen-year-old daughter, Frances Beatrix, her father, a number of siblings, and countless friends and admirers.   

By all accounts, Kate Spade was a terrifically successful individual.  She was very good at what she did and she made an excellent living from it.  Yet, for whatever reason, neither the sounds of applause nor the roars of approval, apparently were enough to drown out whatever voices of self-doubt, of depression, of anxiety, and of insecurity that plagued her.  And that is a terrible, terrible thing.  Worse than that, it is a tragedy. 

I went to law school - in part - to avoid math and science as much as I could and this morning's bowl of Frosted Flakes did not include a medical degree with a concentration in psychiatry as its secret prize.  I am not a shrink.  I never even had the chance to play one on television's Law and Order. I do not pretend to know what it was that she dealt with on a day-to-day basis and what it was - presuming it was just one thing - that ultimately made her make the decision to take her own life.  Her husband, referring to her as his best friend for thirty-five years, released a statement that struck me as both beautifully eloquent in its praise of his wife and profoundly sad about her decision to take her own life.  

Suicide is, akin to cancer, something that honors neither class nor color, neither pedigree nor politics, neither race nor religion.  Among the many problems plaguing these United States is the suicide rate, which according to a report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released yesterday, has risen 30% since 1999.  According to the report, suicide has increased among men, among women, among people of all ethnic groups, among people living in urban areas, and among people living in rural areas.  It occurs to me that the report might have taken less time to type had it simply listed all groups in which the suicide rate has decreased in the past two decades.

I have had the great good fortune in my life to become acquainted not merely with extraordinary individuals but with a number of extraordinary families, including several families that have been affected by a family member's suicide.  I have great empathy for them.  I have also read in various places over the past several years that our Veterans commit suicide at the rate of twenty-two men and women per day.  I have great empathy for them as well.   

Each of us is a stranger to every other person in our life, irrespective of the intimacy of the relationship, as they are in return to us. Inherent in understanding that fact - and accepting it - is understanding that regardless of how well each of us knows one another, none of us ever put on and laces up another's shoes.  We never walk a step in them, let alone a mile.  We never know who among us, in our day-to-day, is doing well and for whom life is a struggle, day after day after day. 

Maybe, just maybe, in spite of having a plethora of tools at our disposal that empower us to vitiate persons known and unknown on social media (Question:  Why is "Industrial Park" an oxymoron and "Social Media is not?), we can use those tools, as well as those with which hopefully we were born (compassion and common decency), to keep one another from falling through the cracks...

...or enough strength to hold on until help arrives. 

Just hang on.  



Saturday, June 9, 2018

Joining Our Program Already In Progress...

Joanie K. and WPK, Sr.
June 9, 1951

My father was already old when I was born.  At the very least, he seemed old.  He was just past his forty-third birthday when I arrived on an early February day in 1967.  By the time I really got to know him, his hair had turned completely white.  He was as smart a human being as I have yet encountered, which is why I find his refusal to take care of himself utterly incomprehensible.  He knew everything about everything.  He knew, therefore, it not only was not funny when he would declare himself to the "perfect weight for someone nine feet tall", knowing he topped out at 5'7", it was hazardous to his health.  Yet, he did nothing to cure it or to correct it.  

During the process of cleaning up Mom's home in Florida last summer in the days following her death, Kara, Jill, and I came across a number of photographs that I either had never seen before or had no memory of ever having seen.  Included among them were photographs from their wedding day, which was sixty-seven years ago.  Having not known Dad as a young - or even young-looking - man, I was particularly intrigued by his appearance in these photographs.  I remain so.  In the photograph above, he not only has a head full of black hair on his head but he also has a gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face.  Is that a combination worthy of consideration as a Triple Crown or, at the very least, a trifecta?  I shall defer to my great friend, Tom Swales, for that answer.  

Whether it is or not, it is a combination that one did not see with any sort of regularity in what turned out to be the final few years of Dad's life.  The strain and stress of his day-to-day, coupled with what I presume was a recurrent, if not constant, level of physical pain and discomfort, wore on him.  How could it not?  He was simply human, after all. 

Margaret and I are married twenty-five years.  Our anniversary is later this month.  While I do not have a very specific memory of our wedding day, I am relatively confident saying that in the quarter-century since we have weathered days together in which our relationship has not come close to approaching the level of happiness  we felt on our wedding day.  How could it not?  

At the time Dad died, he and Mom had been married for twenty-nine-plus years.  He died ten days prior to their 30th anniversary.  To my recollection, not every day of their married life to which I bore witness appeared to rival June 9, 1951.  How could it?  Seeing the photographs of their wedding day not only always makes me smile, it reminds me that as a child, we pick up the story of our parents as a program already in progress.  It is, however, a story - like all stories - that has a beginning.  

And this was theirs...

Joanie K. and WPK, Sr. 
June 9, 1951

Anyway, what follows here is something I wrote on this very date one year ago.  Without ado, further or otherwise...

FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2017

Joan and June

Today is June 9. On this very date, sixty-six years ago Mom and Dad were married. They were ten days shy of their thirtieth wedding anniversary when he died on May 31,1981. Tuesday next, June 13, would have been her eighty-ninth birthday.  Born in June. Married in June. Died in June. That was Mom, a modicum of efficiency. 

In the six days since her death, I have felt her loss more keenly than I have ever felt Dad's, which occurred more than thirty-six years ago. That stems from, no doubt, that I had an incalculably closer relationship with Mom than I ever did with Dad. It also stems from the fact that Mom moved through this world with grace. She never sought to bend everyone's will to suit her purpose. She gave and she took, never unfairly and never more than she needed. It is for that reason that people who knew her not only respected her but admired her and loved her.  

As did I.  


Friday, June 8, 2018

Image vs. Integrity

I presume that the opportunity shall never present itself for me to meet Ben Bowling.  If I did, I think that my first inclination - upon introducing myself - would be to congratulate him for the impromptu object lesson that he worked into his graduation speech a couple of Saturdays ago.  Mr. Bowling was the valedictorian of the Bell County High School Class of 2018.  As such, when he and his classmates graduated on Saturday, June 2, 2018, he spoke at the ceremony.  According to news reports I have read, Bell County High School is in Pineville, Kentucky, which is a town located in the southeastern part of the state. In the 2016 Presidential election, Donald Trump received approximately 80% of the votes cast in Bell County, including presumably Pineville.  It is not an understatement to say that Bell County, Kentucky is Trump Country. 

It was for that reason that Mr. Bowling chose to include a President Trump quote in his graduation speech.  He told his classmates, their parents, and the assembled crowd (when he reached the part of his speech where he shared inspirational quotes he had found on Google) that he was quoting this nation's 45th President when he told them, "Don't just get involved.  Fight for your seat at the table.  Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table."  Deep in the heart of Trump Country, Mr. Bowling's speech - and Mr. Trump's quote - received a warm response

And then suddenly and seamlessly he dropped the other shoe.  Mr. Bowling came clean with his audience.  He told them that the American President who had said those inspiring words was not our 45th President but was, instead, our 44th.   The quote, in fact, came from the keynote address that President Obama gave at Barnard College's Commencement in 2012.  The sound of applause was replaced by the unmistakable sound of stunned silence. 

Imagine that?  A group of people whose opinion regarding the substance of something they had just heard was altered and affected by the speaker's after-the-fact identification of its source.  Ah, the superficial us.  I wonder whether the principal factor in reshaping the audience's reaction after the actual source of the quote was identified was its source or each listener's concern that not changing one's reaction after the source was identified would affect the way the listener was perceived by those seated in the immediate vicinity.  I reckon it does not speak very well of us either way. 

Do not misunderstand me.  I am not looking to single out for ridicule or to otherwise have fun at the expense of the good people of Bell County, Kentucky.  I have little doubt (OK, I have zero doubt) that were Ben Bowling the Class of 2018 Valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School and he had flipped the script on his joke (cited President Obama as the source of a President Trump quote and then identified the latter as its source), the crowd's reaction would have mirrored that of the Bell County, Kentucky crowd.   

For here, in the dying days of the second decade of the 21st Century, we the people of these United States far too often sacrifice our integrity on the alter of self-image.  That is neither a red thing nor a blue thing.  It is an American thing.  

Worse yet, it is not actually a "thing".  It is a problem.