Saturday, May 31, 2008

My Old Man

27 years ago today, my father died. He at age 57 and me at age 14 parted company forever on the 31st of May 1981. It would be disingenuous to create in death an image of him to which his walking, talking version bore little resemblance. I've not done it in 27 years and if I live long enough to mark 2 x 27 years or 3 x 27 years, I'll still not do it.

William Patrick Kenny, Sr. was an intensely intelligent man and he worked exceptionally hard. As a child I recall dinner time being part meal/part quiz show as my two sisters and I were drilled on the events of the day as well as on grammar, history and basic math concepts. He worked as hard as he could every day from feet on the floor at some ungodly pre-dawn hour until "wheels up" every evening, which usually occurred at some point in the 9:00 p.m. hour.

Perhaps by the time he reached child #6 - which I am - the "wicked intelligent" pre-set had worn a bit b/c while I can do 2 things at a time and don't need as an adult to wear shoes with Velcro where laces would otherwise be - I've never even had a momentary flash of the brilliance he displayed day in/day out. His "work ethic" made it thru unscathed however, which perhaps makes up for the lack of innate intellect. I love the ungodly pre-dawn hours, starting every day at 3:15 and getting to work by 4:30. It is from him undoubtedly that I secured the ability to work 16 + hours a day back-to-back-to-back.....I'm not the smartest lawyer I know - not even close - but I've not yet met one who'll out work me. For that I thank my father.

William Patrick Kenny, Sr. was - as we all are in varying degrees I suppose - a flawed man. His flaws were ultimately his undoing. He worked damned hard, which gave him the unfettered right in his view of the world to play damned hard - which translated into a pitcher full of Manhattans every night between dinner and pass out time. History is chock full of stories of the gregarious, friendly, life of the party Irish drunk. My father was not any of the above. He was a coarse, verbally abusive, vicious little prick when he drank. At one time in his life he apparently backed up the booze with the occasional "hands on" approach to parenting. By the time I arrived he was already 43 and a body for which he'd shown visible contempt for 4 decades was already starting to betray him. The only weapon he deployed upon me in the 14 years I knew him was the acid tongue - it was all he had left with which to fight.

Almost 3 decades after his death, while I can say unflinchingly that I respected him and I learned much from him - good and bad - I cannot say that I miss him and - for whatever it's worth - given the state of our relationship at the time of his death - that I loved him. It's hard to love someone who you do not like. When one of you dies in the middle of that period, the circle never gets completed. Instead it's left a work in progress, like a highway to nowhere whose completion is forestalled by a lack of funding. Would we have ever made it back to the point where we actually liked each other? I have no idea. Once upon a time I used to consider the question on a fairly frequent basis. Now, except for today - anniversary day - I do not.

Here in year 27 A.D. (After Dad) this date marks something else of significance in my personal history. Today is the day that Rob returns home from college. He's graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and has essentially lived in the City full-time since his freshman year. This morning, Margaret and I head to a happy meeting across the river to pick up his stuff and him and bring the whole kit and kaboodle (can one exist in the absence of the other?) back here to Tiny Town. He's not staying too long mind you - the next chapter of his life will take him to Georgia for 16 weeks - beginning in July - and then off to points unknown.

He started his New York minute 4 years ago in the throes of the Republican National Convention. I remember how worried Margaret and I were as to whether "our little boy" would be able to survive Manhattan - especially that first week - as he learned to navigate his way from Penn Station to Columbus Circle and then west towards John Jay. He's not only survived it - he's thrived in it. Whether he went off to college as a "boy" (as opposed to a young man) is likely a subject of debate. There is no debate however as to how he returns - he is a man of 22 poised to go off and make his mark.

I'm my father's son so I don't doubt that my children have been well-prepared to journey off into the great wide open. I'm my mother's son as well so I'm smart enough to know that most of that preparation came in the form of the loving environment in which they were raised - principally under Margaret's watchful eye. My greatest fear is that I've been no better a father to them than he was to me, which is to say we've forged a relationship heavy on respect, light on love.

I hope not. It's one of the things that gets my ass out of bed at 3:15 every morning - no sense lying there is you're not sleeping anyway. Where there's light, there's hope right? Today dawn breaks on the 31st of May and for the first time in a lifetime it is a day that brings a smile to my face. From this point forward, at the very least it'll exist in my memory as a "shared" day with the celebration of Rob's completion of his college career more than serving as a counterbalance to the anniversary of my father's death.

Twenty seven years later, if the circle remains incomplete - at least for the first time I'm homeward bound.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

In the marathon - or so we hope I suppose - that is the journey from cradle to grave there are innumerable "firsts" and "lasts". Presuming for present purposes that Tom Cochrane was correct and life is a highway, it's a highway in the truest "Jersey" sense of the word: chock full of traffic and a lot of on and off ramps.

Invariably, as the calendar peels thru the days that comprise May and June, a percentage of my idle time is occupied by the notion of "lasts". This is the time of year after all that our children of a certain age do a number of things for the final time. Time is easier to mark when we're young because it's broken up into convenient, single-serve units. School provides us an easy frame of reference - events occur in a particular grade, which gives us a ready tent post with which to mark a point in our history. Think for a moment of the number of times in your life you've told a story to your kids, your friends, your parole officer using the year you were in in school as your historical context - "when I was in 9th grade I played soccer", "as a 12th grader my buddies and I got arrested for cooking crystal meth in the chemistry lab" (merely intended as illustrations and not confessions). As an adult, stripped of that crutch I find it harder sometimes to place the date of occurrence for events in my life as I think back on them. I'm a lawyer. I earn my living defending well-intended but nevertheless negligent people and entities whose negligence lands them in court - having allegedly caused an injury to some poor, unsuspecting schlub. The cases I defend that end up having to be tried I remember in great detail but the overwhelming majority that go away by some means other than a jury verdict sit like half-submerged, rusting cars in the swampy morass of my mind - make, model and year rendered indistinguishable by the passage of time and exposure to the elements.

Once, about two or three decades ago now, in the incarnation of his life that existed prior to his treatment of Long Island's highways as his own personal bumper pool table and his incessant trading in of one beautiful woman for an even younger replacement ("Mr. Joel, tell the officer why exactly you're at the East Hampton High graduation with a gross of Clark bars please) Billy Joel offered the observation that life is but a series of hellos and goodbyes. A couple of days ago, one of the truly good human beings with whom I happen to work - bore witness to the simultaneous end of two things he holds dear: the conclusion of his son's high school baseball career and the end of his role as a parent of a high school athlete.

My law partner Arnold Gerst has been - as long as I've known him - a Dad straight out of central casting. He has always been an enthusiastic supporter of whatever his two boys have done and he practically beams from ear-to-ear discussing either of them any time you ask him how they're doing. My single favorite thing though about him as "Dad the Fan" is that he's not an obnoxious "little league" father - rooting hard for his kid and ready to dump on anyone else's kid. He's genuinely jazzed by the fact that his kids participate in sports and roots like hell for the teams on which they play to have success - irrespective of whether his son is an integral part of that success.

The older of his two is the same age as my daughter Suzanne, which means he's a year + out in the post-college working world. His younger son is a high school senior and the Livingston High School baseball team on which he played (3rd base I believe) ended its season under somewhat controversial circumstances this week - the single worst part of which (from my limited perspective) was that it deprived my friend Mr. Gerst of the opportunity to see his son's final high school game.

Tuesday here in Levelland was one of those "God, this is Noah - what's a cubit?" kind of days in terms of rain. It didn't start out that way, which is why most of the State high school play-off games in various spring sports began as scheduled. Livingston High played Tuesday afternoon and was losing 7-2 in or about the 4th or 5th inning when lightning and thunder arrived as precursors to a torrent. Apparently in high school baseball here in NJ we have a rule for play-off games - if 4 1/2 innings are not completed when rain causes a postponement, the teams come back on the next day (or sometime thereafter if the weather does not abide) and start over from scratch. If however that magic point is reached, then they return only to complete the game. Anyway, the Livingston fans - including my law partner Mr. Gerst - believed that lightning + metal bats and metal spikes = recipe for disaster and when the storm arrived in the top of the 5th inning (they were the visiting team) their side began petitioning the umpires to pull the players off of the field. The umpires were apparently not blinded by the light (ning, that is) (hopefully the original, first cut off of Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. and not the insipid Manfred Mann and His Earth Band cover) and did not call the game until that half-inning was in the books, which meant of course no "do-over".

All of us have less time that is our own than we want to have or wish we had. When the game was completed on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Gerst was not in his customary spot in the stands - he was in the office working. Outside of his field of vision, but not outside of his presence, his son's team wrapped up its season by playing the final 2 innings of what became a 8-3 defeat. In what turned out to be the final at-bat of his baseball career, Brent Gerst walloped a 400 + foot home run. It'll take a while I suspect for his dad to reconcile himself to the fact that he missed the final act of his son's high school sports career. It shouldn't but it will. Life is after all a series of hellos and goodbyes and Wednesday afternoon, irrespective of the length of the life he'll lead, Brent said "goodbye" to what had been - and perhaps will remain so in his memory - an important part of his life. It's probably safe to surmise that his memory of it and of his father's support of him as a player will not be tarnished by the fact that his dad did not bear direct witness to what turned out to be Brent's very own famous final scene.

We hear over and over of life imitating art. We'd all be better served I think if art better imitated life. The insufferable proliferation of pseudo-celebrity miscreants masquerading as parents whose exploits have landed them television shows is enough to make one grab the remote in search of Giuseppe Franco and his porcupine hair just to escape the onslaught. I'm enough of a betting man to wager that "Growing Up Gerst" will prove to have been a much better blueprint for success than "Growing Up Lohan".


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Calling David Chase - Is there Anybody Home?

At some point after The Sopranos faded to black - while Tony gorged on onion rings, Meadow mastered the intricacies of parallel parking and Steve Perry urged us to not stop believing (what the hell happened to him anyway - Journey now tours with some lookalike, sort of soundalike guy as its lead singer) - we here in the Garden State began the long and torturous search for a new "Public Enemy #1". It took approximately a year but damn it we've got one - retiring Keansburg School Superintendent Barbara Treszkowski.

Candidly, I've never met Ms. Treszkowski and am hard-pressed to envision a scenario in which I will. For all I know she really is the Cruella DeVille of public education (it certainly take a set the size of church bells to arrive via rented limo at a public hearing on school funding). Her infamy shall stand as her legacy - if one accepts at face value all of the righteous indignation that's been foisted upon her for the past week. "Super T" (as she's probably called by no one) is retiring 30 June aught-eight from her 38-year career in public education in the Keansburg Public School District. While that in and of itself is nothing that would have registered above background noise on the public interest meter, what has captured the attention of folks out here in the middle is the going away gift she negotiated with the District. A gold watch? No. A year's supply of quarters to use at the Atlantic City gambling destination of her choice? No. A lifetime pass to attend sporting events involving school teams from the District? No. In their institutional largess the Keansburg Board of Education voted about two weeks ago to award Super T a severance package of $740,000.

For the uninitiated, a bit of scene-setting is necessary. Keansburg is a fairly hardscrabble little Jersey Shore town - think Asbury Park without the Stone Pony or its musical history and you've painted a fairly accurate picture of the Burg. Among the many jewels of the Jersey Shore, it's the cubic zirconium. It is a town whose public schools are classified as an "Abbott" District. Here in my home state, a number of years ago our Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom ordered that a number of poor school districts (31 in all) would receive a disproportionate amount of State aid to fund the operations of those districts. I'm all for every child receiving a good, "free" education but as soon as someone can prove me to me the causal link between money spent and quality of education, I'll object less to my State government deciding how best to redistribute my money. I have a person in my life who's in charge of "personal income redistribution" - I've been married to her for 15 years. She needs no help, trust me.

Apparently way back when in 2003 Super T, then approaching the end of Year 33 in the K-Burg District, negotiated a deal with the Board of Education that provided for her to receive at retirement (which arrives 06/30/08) her $120,000 pension - based upon 38.5 years of service in the District + $184,586 for 235.5 unused sick days and 20 vacation days + $556,290 - based upon multiplying her current monthly salary by the number of years she has worked in the District. The grand total? $740,000.

I'll not disagree with anyone's public declaration of the obscenity inherent in this deal. It would be obscene if Super T was the Superintendent of the New York City school system but the District she's led - for a long if decidedly unspectacular period of time - is comprised of 4 schools and 1800 students. Put another way, her severance package works out to roughly $411.12 a kid. Keansburg receives 81 percent of its school budget - as per the Star-Ledger - from State aid and candidly there is little evidence that all of that money has been put to good use improving the quality of the education received in the District.

While I found the deal objectionable, I find the post-disclosure hand-wringing even more so. Super T negotiated this agreement with the District five years ago. I'm an attorney and I'm inherently cynical. The cynic in me finds it impossible to believe that (a) the District didn't have an attorney who drafted, reviewed and recommended that the District execute the Agreement; and (b) given its dependence on State aid for its existence, the District did not disclose the existence of this Agreement to anyone at the State Department of Education between date of execution in 2003 and date of announcement of the package in 2008.

Sorry kids but having sat thru more than my share of double features here at the Theatre of the Absurd, it's "no sale" to this guy on any of the above. Is the deal distasteful? Absolutely. Is the lack of any evidence of an internal constitution (a/k/a "backbone") from our elected leaders as bad if not worse? Yep. For once can someone we've elected lead rather than follow. It's a District that receives 81% of its operating budget from State aid. Please, please, please don't ask me to believe that no one in the State Dept. of Education or anywhere else in State government knew this $740,000 shoe was airborne and waiting to drop. The suggestion to the contrary is outrageous.

Here in the Garden State we've taken to leading thru reading....opinion polls, that is. The whole "let me wet my finger, stick it in the air to see from which the direction the wind is blowing" preamble to action has grown tiring to watch. While it remains one of my all-time favorite scenes from what is likely my all-time favorite show, had every episode of Seinfeld included a scene in which Elaine walked in on Jerry doing something (such as fake smothering George in George's hospital bed) and Jerry turned to her to say, "Elaine what are you doing here?" it would have gotten very old, very fast. It's no funnier in real life.

Right here, right now in New Jersey we need a reason to "don't stop believin'" in the people we've elected to LEAD us. While we're waiting, ask A.J. to pass the onion rings.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Inferno or No Inferno? Just Kidding - they're all Inferno.

In the endless quest for smoothness and sleekness, do you think that we've lost a little something? In 21st Century America it appears at times as if looking cool is Job #1. I suppose there are worse things than that to put on the top of one's grocery list - but aren't there better things as well? Should how we look and how things look supplant how we are and what we are at this point in the history of the Realm? Has Billy Crystal's "Fernando" character from two decades ago on Saturday Night Live reached the status of guru - it's better to look good than to feel good and you Darling' you look marvelous....

'Tis the season for communions, confirmations, showers of every infernal kind, proms and graduations. Yesterday's mail at my house included 2 "Thank You" cards, both of which were principally and properly addressed to my wife - clearly recognizing that irrespective of the fact that both Margaret and I are charged with the responsibility of adding to the household income, the only one who assumes responsibility for its redistribution in the form of gifts for baby showers, communions, confirmations, graduations and weddings is Margaret. If it were left to me, then most of the "honorees" would receive cards (eventually) and hearty handshakes. Candidly, somewhere along the "we have a card for every achievement" obstacle course, I faked pulling a hammie and got the hell off. It's remarkable to me what masquerades as achievement - and an excuse for a card - these days. My wife sternly reminds me from time-to-time that this is what people do who live in a society - we congratulate one another for mileposts that we dress up as accomplishments. I did not "make" Communion as a child. My parents "made" me do it. It wasn't an achivement it was an inevitability. Invariably then i explain how much more I enjoyed "society" when I was too liquored up or hung over to really interact with it at all (Ah, the '80's - if I remembered more of them I'm sure I'd wax melancholic for them for a moment or two) and my wife then gets that "I'm about to visit bodily harm upon someone, wanna guess who smart ass?" look on her face and I abruptly and completely stop making any discernible noise whatsoever.

Anyway, I digress. One of the cards we received was from someone whose child had earlier this spring made "First Holy Communion". (Man I just love the whole notion of organized religion - which of the words in the official title of the sacrament are unnecessary? Do we really need the "First Holy" in there? As opposed to what - "the Unholy, Down n' Dirty, Ass-Slapping" Communion?) Once upon a time when I was young, givers of gifts learned that as if the parting with their hard-earned coin was not punishment enough, the other shoe dropped in the form of a handwritten "thank you" card from yours truly. It bears pointing out that I am a person whose handwriting is so bad that I was permitted to type my final exams the final 5 semesters of law school and I was required to type my New Jersey Bar Exam. And I like to think that my penmanship has improved over time.

Apparently society has progressed to the point where the handwritten card is passe'. In its place we the gift giver receive very slickly produced, glossy cards that are of quality your local public access cable station cannot hope to achieve. I know progress is important but I am a dinosaur. I enjoy the facade of believing that your little knothead sat at the dining room table - forgoing playing with their friends after school - just so she/he could write out thank you cards....even if in my heart of hearts I know you are the one writing them for the child. The whole Bruckenheimer-esque quality of the product notwithstanding, it just seems to be a contrivance - an artifice.

Generations ago someone created this ruse that it's not simply enough for your tot to thank Grandma or Uncle Adam for a card, envelope or package at the time the exchange takes place but that at some point in the not-too-distant future to send out some mass-mailing as if he or she had access to franking and wasn't paying for all of this crap. One would think that environmentalists would want to put an end to this practice - think of the Greenhouse gases it emits. Now the worm has turned and rather than abandoning the pretense that manners dictate you thank someone 114 times for the same goddamn thing, we've sucked the last bit of the marrow out of the carcass of sincerity. You'd of thought that we'd know better by now.

I can't wait until Hallmark produces a card for just this occasion. When they do, e-mail me and I'll give you an address where you can send mine.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Walk Like A Man

Being a parent is an experience that at times is akin to riding the really scary, fast roller coaster at the local amusement park: a lot of standing and watching, anticipating what's going to happen and then, all too briefly, your moment in the spotlight. Although he sang about it in the context of a different type of relationship, Tom Petty got it right in The Best of Everything - It's over before you know it/it all goes by so fast/the bad nights last forever/and the good nights never seem to last.

It's true that we're Parents For Life (wow, why do I feel for a moment there as if I channeled the energy of Dr. Dre and Ice-Cube [Compton for Life!]) so in theory my roller coaster ride comparison doesn't match up exactly. However, as parents we hope and trust that our kids will reach the point in their lives where there riding on the coaster without us. It's the war we wage inside ourselves between looking forward to that day and dreading that day that for a lot of us serves as the rudder by which we navigate our lives.

I'm 41 y/o, which means for me the attacks of September 11, 2001 serve as the Line of Demarcation similar to the way that the assassination of John F. Kennedy serves that function for those a generation older than I. Irrespective of whatever view one had of the world prior to 09/11, it was forever altered by what happened that morning.

In the Fall of '01 both of my kids were in high school. If memory serves me correctly, Suzanne was an 11th grader and Rob was a 10th grader. In the immediate aftermath of that horrible day, I remember my private thoughts being occupied by a recurring fear, which was that a call to arms would be answered by those among us with the most to live for and consequentially the most to lose - those of the generation of my children, and that there had to be a way in which I could swap me for either or both of them. Remarkably, given the strength of the commitment of the men and women who comprise our volunteer armed forces - and continued to volunteer after 09/11, the draft remains a generational memory only.

One of the ancillary consequences of the attacks of 09/11 was the suspension of sports in this nation for a period of time, which suspension resulted in the World Series leaking into November for the first time. As Yankees fans, Rob and I enjoyed one hell of a post-season that year as it was the autumn in which the 3-time defending World Champs came within an eyelash of being swept out of the Division Series by the Oakland A's. It was there by the Bay however in Game 3 that Posada smacked one into the left-field bleachers, Shane Spencer missed the cut-off man, Derek Jeter made the option pitch home and Jeremy Giambi didn't slide. Suddenly the Yankees weren't eliminated but were only down 2-1. About 10 days later, they were facing Arizona in the Series.

In my lifetime the '01 World Series was the most exciting I've seen. In a world where life imitates art, the defining moment of Game 7 would have been Alfonso Soriano's home run off of Schilling that put the Yankees up a run in the 8th inning, and not Luis Gonzalez's bloop single into center field that put them forever down a run an inning later. It's moments such as that in which it's helpful to remember that Frank Capra didn't make documentaries and Shakespeare didn't write non-fiction. Sometimes life gets in the way of the happy ending.

My single most vivid memory of the '01 World Series is this: Rob and I were sitting in our den watching Game 7 on Fox with the sound off so that we could listen to the radio call by the Yankees broadcasters. As one might expect, when the winning hit fell harmlessly into the outfield at the B.O.B. it was as if all of oxygen in the broadcast booth was taken with it. One of the radio guys (if I had to bet I'd bet it was John Sterling) went to the book of sports cliches and described the loss as "tragic". As I sat myself listening to this unbelievably gross exaggeration and anticipating the explanation I was about to unfurl on my 15 y/o son as to why it so absurd, Rob turns and looks at me and said, "Tragic? This isn't a tragedy. What happened on 09/11 was a tragedy. The Yankees lost a baseball game." With that he said goodnight and headed off upstairs to bed.

I'm reminded of that incident this morning because of something Rob did yesterday. It was nothing "big" I suppose. He simply sent an e-mail to a number of folks, including his mother and me, sharing in about 250 words the significance of Memorial Day. In part he wrote the following:

I am enjoying a Springsteen concert, enjoying a beer, enjoying starting a career with the best government in the world, enjoying freedom. How can I do this? These are my brothers, my peers, guys my age fighting and dying. They volunteered so I didn't have to. They're not coming back to their favorite band, their favorite beer, their families or the state they grew up in. Their children will not know their fathers, they will only know their sacrifice and some stories their mothers will tell. They sacrificed for someone they will never meet, you and me. Remember them today.

Pete Hamill, in his magnificent Downtown-My Manhattan wrote, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man is far too short." As a parent, you hope you've done right by your kids so that as your time ebbs and you're no longer waiting in line with them for the roller coaster; rather they're there holding the hand of their own child, they're equipped to conquer the ride as well as anyone can. You don't always know for sure. Every so often, however, they do something that lets you know that everything is going to be all right - even the stuff that takes place after you're no longer around to see it.

And if that can't bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye, you're just not trying hard enough.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Everybody Drive Real Slow

It's relatively early yet - it's a bit past 6:00 a.m. but it's late enough to see the dawn has broken on another simply glorious-looking day. Today will have its work cut out for it to top yesterday, which I think was the most beautiful day we've had since the calendar flipped from aught-seven to aught-eight. It may not end up wearing the crown at year's end (one never knows how the interview is going to turn out "I'm May 24th and my goal is to eliminate poverty....and the use of sunscreen worldwide.") but I have to believe it's made the finals.

It's Memorial Day - the day that we set aside for honoring those who died while serving their nation in one of our seemingly ever expanding list of conflicts. In truth we don't set aside this day to honor their memory- if the war dead are lucky we set aside enough time to attend a parade or a wreath-laying ceremony. By mid-afternoon the focus will have shifted to picnics and barbecues. As night falls, our energy will be centered on the logistics of the journey home - what route to take, what time to leave, whether we should sedate the kids with Benadryl. It's a commentary upon our society, whether good, bad or indifferent, that we often gauge the "success" or lack thereof of a holiday by the amount of aggravation we are forced to endure on the return trip from wherever we've spent it.

Andy Rooney said it best on "60 Minutes" last night - we aren't honoring those who "gave their lives" for their country, we're honoring those whose lives were taken from them. He noted that his hope for the best possible way to honor his fallen brothers from World War II and all of the other men and women whose lives have been ended by the violence of war was that at some point perhaps someone will understand that war is absolutely good for nothing.

It's Memorial Day in America, everybody drive real slow.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Other Side of the Reservoir

If my language skills were better, then I'd better understand the difference between irony and coincidence. My entire life, grasping which is which has always eluded me - yeah, as if that's the one thing I've not been able to figure out. On Friday afternoon, upon returning to my office from the wake for the husband of one my fellow employees, I get a phone call from another colleague telling me that he has to fly to Florida because his grandfather died. that morning. I can't figure out whether learning of the death of Brad's grandfather upon returning from the wake for Sharon's husband was ironic or coincidental. I do know that my eternal struggle with the vagaries of English was nowhere near the forefront of either of their minds.

No better example of "relativity" is found in our human existence than one's reaction to the death of a person who - because of the decedent's age - is deemed to have been in the listener's mind "age-appropriate" to die. Brad's grandfather was in his mid 90's. I'd never met the man but in the few minutes we spent talking about him, his death and Brad's last-minute arrangements to fly to Florida for the services - on Memorial Day weekend mind you - he provided me with a loving profile. We talked by phone but from the sound of Brad's voice, I could see the smile on his face as he discussed his grandpa. Brad told me that until very recently (within the past couple of weeks apparently) his grandparents lived in their home in Florida. Granddad's health had started to fail recently so he'd been placed in a facility (sounds like a care facility/home) so he was not living at home any longer, which means that he did not die at home. Granddad was 96 years old. Brad's grandmother still lives in their "marital" home as she is apparently in reasonably good age 92. Granddad died less than a month from celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.

I didn't say it during our conversation but I'm enough of a betting man that I'd love to have had the action this weekend on the number of people who will utter the "I don't know what else to say" space filler of "Well, he lived a good, long life" while paying their condolences to Brad's Grandma and the rest of the family. Note to mourners: if you're really not sure what to say the tried and true "I'm very sorry for your loss" works nicely. There will be a time/place to start editing copy for the historical retrospective on Granddad's life, but that is simply not it. Think of it this way - regardless of what prize you'd give him for 96 years of life on this planet, his widow awoke on Saturday for the first time in 75 years (or since at or about the time Americans stopped waiting for fowl to appear in their heretofore chickenless pots and decided to take a shot on FDR and his New Deal) not as a "wife". At this moment in her personal history, the length of her husband's life is immaterial save for this thought - he lived one day less than she'd wished.

At day's end when someone we love dies, that's always how long they've lived isn't it? One day less than we wished they would have. It's an account into which we make our daily deposit in the hope that because we're paying as we go, our marker will never be called and the repository of our payments will never close out our account. Sadly neither is true. And we know it.

Certainly as Brad's Grandma knows it. Somewhere in the future, she'll reach that point of understanding. That point is ill-defined however and it's not visible to anyone else so while she'll know it when she gets there, you can't tell her where it is or what path to take to get there. It'll just come to her. It's just a slow turning.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Bubble Headed Beach Blonde Comes On At 5

Waiting for the day's first cup of coffee to finish brewing this morning at 4-something so I could pour it into my nifty travel mug and head off to work, I flipped on ESPN NEWS. I love sports but nothing makes me laugh more heartily than when TV folks who report on sports - probably in a knee-jerk reaction to being made fun of by their colleagues who report on "hard news" ("Are Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie BFF's once again?" "Will eating McDonald's food 4 times a day for 30 days make you fat and possibly kill you?" These and more scintillating stories live at 11:00) - wrap themselves in the amazing technicolor dream coat of self-importance and become "anchors" reporting on "sports NEWS".

When I was younger and ESPN was in its infancy, I enjoyed watching it. Somewhere along the line - perhaps it was the decision to unleash Chris Berman on the world of baseball play-by-play, perhaps it was the occasionally humorous (think Lance Armstrong pedaling the stationary cycle in the basement to power the entire facility and causing the lights to flicker when he tired) but more often than not irritating promotional spots featuring various members of their look-alike broadcasting crew, perhaps it was the decision to get into schlocky original programming - I stopped enjoying it. On occasion I contemplate going "back, back, back, back, back" to watching it but then some "anchor" yells out "BOOYA!" while reading the scores from Game 43 in the 900-game NBA regular season and I ignore my love of all things Zevon and I don't reconsider the decision.

Anyway, coffee takes a bit of time to brew (maddeningly enough my standing next to the machine glaring at it and repeating "Damn it brew faster" has no discernible impact. Perhaps it's because the coffee is Colombian and the machine is Swedish - it's a Gevalia so I'm spit balling here that it's from somewhere Scandinavian - although it's probably made in a factory in Weehawken - and I'm barely fluent in English. Maybe it's not defiance at work here but merely a language barrier?) This morning I occupied that time watching some drone on ESPN News blather on for 3 minutes of "highlights" from a basketball playoff game last night, in which game the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs by 30 points. ESPN News realizes apparently that its viewing public has the attention span of Minute Rice - don't take my word for it, read the future bird-cage lining, fish-wrapping piece of tripe they put out as ESPN - The Magazine - so while nameless, faceless bobble head "anchorman" is doing the voice over thru the chronology of highlights - including the opening tip (apparently b/c the lights went out for a couple of minutes. Forgive me here but would not that actually have been newsworthy if and only if the lights did not come back on?) asking the viewer to buy into his manufactured melodrama as he builds up to the big finish - beneath the highlights the network runs its crawl..........which of course gives the final score in huge type: LOS ANGELES 101, SAN ANTONIO 71. Who decides that it's important to show a highlight of a shot that makes the score 11 - 8 in the 1st quarter from a game that was decided by 30 points? Note to programming: if I gave a damn about the game, I'd have watched it. Just tell me the score. I'll figure out how they got there later...although I'm surmising that it somehow involves an extraordinary development such as one team scored more points than the other.

The morning was rescued by the segment's 2nd story. Last night in Arizona a pitcher for the D-Backs Doug Davis picked up a win over the Atlanta Braves. A win for this young fella is not entirely surprising as he is apparently a fairly accomplished major league pitcher (sorry, I have the myopia of a Yankees fan - I pay little mind to the National League). It was news b/c he is battling cancer. I do not know what form of cancer has attacked him but I know that he's already been on the disabled list this season b/c he had surgery - I believe to have a tumor removed.

His performance last night was as remarkable as it was inspiring. Coming as it did at the end of a week that saw the 24 y/o kid who pitches for the Red Sox, Jon Lester - who is waging his own war against cancer (I think he has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) - throw a no-hitter vs. Kansas City - it bookended This Week In Baseball wonderfully. Those are the type of TWIB notes I want to read.

"Sports news" is at its core an oxymoron - like "legal brief" (I actually had the experience in court about 4 months ago of hearing a judge ask my adversary how he could have called what he filed with the court his "brief" when it was 71 pages long). News is (or should be) the "adult swim" part of the day. Real things happening to real people - any number of which are really bad. Sports is the "swim fins" part of the day - where we can stick our faces into the water and make motorboat sounds and other silliness. We don't really risk getting hurt or drowning b/c Mommy, Daddy or some other responsible adult is there in the role of lifeguard.

Life imitates art and inevitably life infiltrates sports. This week, just for a moment or two, a couple of books of life whose endings are still hopefully years away from being written, gave us each a serialized chapter that was a delight to read. I can't wait to see what happens next.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The parking lot outside the 7-11 store

In my heart, I got a '69 Chevy with a 396. In my driveway I have a Toyota Corolla w/a 5-speed that gets 30+ miles to the gallon. Reality meets reverie where the rubber meets the road I reckon. My office will be a ghost town today as about half of the firm's attorneys and staff get an early start on the Memorial Day holiday weekend. To me, there's a loose thread of insanity inherent in any plan of action that calls for an "early start" to a long weekend "in order to beat the crowd". It seems like an awful lot of work trying to get an upper hand on taking it easy.

I'm 41 y/o. For most of my life - at least the pieces of it that I can remember (which eliminates the first 18 months or so and, pathetically, about 60% of the time I spent in college [although the underlying bases for the spottiness of my ability to recall events from those 2 eras have little to do with one another]) I've been a Bruce Springsteen fan. Among the many Springsteen songs I love and know by rote, my single favorite song of his is "Racing in the Street", which appeared originally on Darkness on the Edge of Town. "Racing" tells the story of a guy of an indeterminate age, whose day-to-day life is candidly ill-defined. What does he do for a living? Who knows. The narrative centers on not what he does for a living but what he does to make him feel alive. It's a sad tale at its core and the lyrics in the final verse will likely forever be to me the most powerful Springsteen has ever penned:

But now there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes/And she cries herself to sleep at night/
When I come home the house is dark/She sighs "Baby did you make it all right"/
She sits on the porch of her daddy's house/But all her pretty dreams are torn/
She stares off alone into the night/With the eyes of one who hates for just being born.

Let that roll over your mind for a moment - "the eyes of one who hates for just being born." Much is made by rock n' roll folks about the fact that Springsteen created his opus - Born To Run - at age 25. Less is made of the fact that 3 years after Mary danced across the porch like a vision as the radio played she sat on the front porch awash in the tatters of torn dreams, no longer dancing in the dark but now simply sitting in the darkness with "the eyes of one who hates for just being born."

What makes Springsteen Springsteen though is that the story told in "Racing" doesn't end with the now not-so-young girl sitting quietly in the darkness ruing her existence. Lyrically the scene shifts back to the teller of the tale and his action plan - intended more as a prayer than a plan perhaps - to get them off of the road to perdition:

For all the shut down strangers and hot rod angels/Rumbling through this promised land/
Tonight my baby and me we're gonna ride to the sea/And wash these sins off our hands

When we're young, hopefully life is easy enough - in terms of daily stresses - that we can see things in black and white while embracing the many colors of our world. When we're young, going to school is our principal focus, and unlike the adult world where the work year rolls on relentlessly, in the school world there is an oasis at the end of the long march thru the desert - summer. It's the time in our youth typically associated with leisure, freedom and opportunity - to do that which we don't have time to do during the school year, etc. As adults it's considerably more difficult to declare yourself closed for the summer - unless you're the French I suppose.

41 years on this planet has provided me the opportunity to see and experience a lifetime's worth of good and a lifetime's worth of bad. I've experienced events in which my abilities have prevented truly bad stuff from happening to those I love and about whom I care. Sadly, I've experienced events in which all of my abilities and hard work have been useless in protecting those I love and about whom I care from the really awful shit that is out there in the world. Through it all though I keep working it. I do for the reason that we all do - b/c it's what we have to do. We work our way thru the winters - thru the metaphorical storms and rough weather - in the hope of making it to the summer.

Like the narrator of "Racing", we've all seen and had to deal with the reality of what happens when our life and our expectations don't necessarily match up on all fours. Like him and his "baby" we need to keep at it anyway. Where there's light, there's hope:

Tonight tonight the highway's bright/Out of our way mister you best keep/
'Cause summer's here and the time is right/For goin' racin' in the street


Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Woman I Know....

In Pete Hamill's exceptional work Downtown - My Manhattan he observed that "there are simply too many people to ever know them all, to unravel all of their secrets...You know the people you love and the people with whom you work. The rest are glimpses."

This week a woman I know, a hell of a fine woman named Sharon Scheck, experienced the unparalleled tragedy of the death of a loved one - her husband Michael. Sharon I know solely because we work in the same law firm. Mine is a fairly simple assignment relative to hers. I practice law. Sharon does everything. She assists the folks who manage the firm in every regard - from making photocopies to answering phones, from picking up packages to dropping off the mail at day's end, from making coffee to providing supplies for all of the attorneys and secretaries. I'm lucky that I have a finite number of bosses. Sharon has an seemingly infinite number of bosses - all of whom need whatever it is they need no matter how important or how trivial sooner than any human - even one as hard-working as Sharon - can provide it. Candidly, the use of "they" is more than a bit snarky on my part as if I'm viewing the world around me from my pedestal. Sadly, I'm embarrassed to say that "they" is actually "we" as I'm part of the unappreciative mass of humanity who makes impossible demands upon her daily.

I'd never met Michael Scheck and the opportunity for doing so is forever gone. No matter. I've glimpsed him on a daily basis. I've glimpsed him through the incredibly good woman to whom he was fortunate enough to be married. I know her. I take on faith therefore that he'd earned it - the love of a good woman. I take on faith that he appreciated it and never abused it. She deserves nothing less.

Forty plus years ago, speaking about the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know the world is going to break your heart." Twenty-seven years ago - at or about this time of year - I watched my mother bury her husband. It was hard at age 14 to deal with the death of a parent but it always seemed to me that it's harder to lose a spouse. As a kid, our parents aren't our choice - they're the humans who drive us home from the hospital shortly after we get spanked (which may or may not be the last spanking we receive for which no money changes hands). It's different for husbands and wives. We've chosen one another. We hitch our little metaphorical wagons together and wade off into the great unknown to battle with life, to experience its joys, frustrations and its beautiful rewards. Sharon's partner - the one she chose - has been taken from her, without her permission and against her wishes.

It's a damned unfair thing to do to anyone, yet it happens every day somewhere in the world. This week it's happened to a woman I know.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

We've got Starbucks now - what else you need?

2008 could end up marking the end of the run for 3 American political dynasties - one of which is admittedly a "dynasty" in the mid-90's Dallas Cowboy sense of the term (unprecedented success over a fairly compressed period of time and perhaps, now, no second act).

On the Republican side of the ledger, aught-eight brings to a close the reign of the 2nd President Bush. Love them or hate them, the Bushes have been an American dynasty - placing a father and son in the Oval Office with the Dad (#41) having served 2 terms as Veep prior to his one terms as President and having two sons serve as two-term Governors of large, politically significant states. It doesn't appear that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush aspires to national office and candidly it doesn't appear as if the the Republican National Committee would welcome that aspiration if he did have it. President Bush has been essentially in lame duck mode for what seems like most of his second term, which appears as if it will come to a close in the same manner in which it began - American troops in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan with either an ill-defined or a well-defined but poorly articulated to the American public mission.

The news out of Boston this weekend was irrespective of one's political viewpoint sad regarding Senator Edward Kennedy. The disclosure that the seizure he suffered several days ago was due to a malignant brain tumor in his parietal lobe added another scoop to the ice cream cone of misery the Kennedy clan has been working on the past half-century or so. Among the children (now adults) of the post-Camelot generation of the Kennedys none has shown the political ambition or skill of the 3 brothers who grew up to become United States Senators, President and national leaders. While there is time of course for a Kennedy, removed by a generation or two from his/her uncles and their legacy to move to the fore, it appears as if their run has ended.

Death of a political nature has seemingly appeared at the doorstep of the Clinton dynasty (OK, it's a mini-dynasty). Taking a page from the Al Gore '00 campaign, Senator Clinton stands on the doorstep of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The way in which the French has historically had a habit of fighting the last war ("Pardon moi, Monsieur Maginot but how again does your uni-directional ground level fortification protect us from enemies who go around it or over it?") she has been cursed by her tendency to run the last campaign. She underestimated her opponent. Senator Obama has proven to be a better politician than his rivals thought he'd be given his relative lack of experience running for office. How badly has this campaign gone for the Clinton dynasty? It's gotten so badly that Senator Clinton is now extolling her appeal to the "uneducated" members of the Democratic party - her ability to win votes among them has propelled her to victory in states such as West Virginia and Kentucky.

Consider this for a moment - a woman who has won praise in her professional life for her sterling academic credentials and her own smarts and intellect is now pinning her hopes on winning her party's nomination on the fact that those who she long perceived as being too stupid or too disinterested to understand the ins/outs of the process consider her to be the Sweetheart of Lambda Chi. It's mind-boggling. It's more than a bit sad and it smacks of an inherent inability to recognize that the light flashing in the corner of your eye is the "Presidential Campaign Dissipation Light". It's been a hell of a fight for the Democratic nomination but it's over. It's time for her to remember what she/Bubba danced to in victory in '92 and don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

Out here in the middle, to whom tomorrow belongs remains very much in doubt. To whom it does not belong is a much clearer issue. It does not belong to 3 families whose names are familiar to any American over the age of 10. The University of Colorado library in Boulder, Colorado has inscribed over its west entrance part of the charge that U. President George Norlin gave to the school's first graduating class more than a century ago. Quoting Cicero, President Norlin told his graduates that "who knows only his own generation remains always a child." Whichever direction the nation leans in November, an opportunity for continuing growth is presenting itself to us. Growth is awkward, sometimes clumsy and often unsightly - at least for a little while. But it's necessary and it should be welcomed.

Tonight when the ghost of William Jennings Bryan comes preaching, those of us out here in the middle - where the center's on the right - will be all ears.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Just Live Here, I'm Not From Here

Among my favorite devices to employ to drive my long-suffering and wonderful bride completely insane is the "snow globe". We live in Middlesex Boro, which is located coincidentally enough in Middlesex County, New Jersey. Margaret was born here, raised here, married (the first time around) a fellow native, has lived here essentially forever and shall likely - at some point in the distant, distant, distant future - die here. It never ceases to amaze me how many people she runs into now in town who are lifers just like her - folks with whom she graduated from "the high school" more than a quarter-century ago - lost touch with - and then reconnected upon learning that this blast from the past married some other member of the Class of '80 and they live a mile from us. It's a town so small and so generational that "the high school" doesn't need the formality of a reunion. Former classmates who want to see one another simply wander by the Quick Chek, Pizza Center or - to eliminate chance completely - Ellery's.

I've lived here for the past 17 years. That means of course that I'm a "newbie". You're either from here or you're not. I'm not. It's as simple as that. It's a good thing for me b/c since my favorite sport is "observation of human behavior" and I didn't know the mailman when he was the 17 y/o lead singer of the hottest punk band in town or the morbidly obese chick who lives a block away when she was the homecoming queen and tortured all lesser-looking girls, I'm painting on a clean, uncluttered canvas. It's a delightfully liberating experience.

As luck would have it, my brother-in-law Frank - Margaret's brother - lives in town (of course he does as no one has yet been able to break thru the snow globe encircling "Tiny Town") with his wife Chrissy (high school sweethearts) and their six children. Frank is among my favorite people on the planet b/c there are only a few folks who occupy the list of "people who outwork me consistently" and he's on it. It's always a neat experience to go to Frank and C's for a graduation party for one of their kids and see the # of people who are there. I'm not certain that between the two of them, they don't know every person who lives in Middlesex Boro. I on the other hand can count perhaps 2 dozen who I know by both name and face.

It's OK though b/c while my wife's hometown has not ever formally embraced me - and most likely will not ever do so - I do my best to do what I can for it. I served for several years on the Municipal Court's Community Mediation Program, which was designed to keep neighbor vs. neighbor private complaints out of Municipal Court. It was a great program and I enjoyed participating in it b/c since I didn't know anyone who was a litigant, I was free to treat all of them equally. I'm not sure I made any friends while I was a mediator but then again life's not a popularity contest, so I really wasn't trying to. I also spent a couple of years on the Boro's Economic Development Committee - a brainchild of the Boro Council for the nanosecond that the Council was under Republican control. Once the Dems took the Council over again, the EDC was disbanded - the Dems claimed in part that it served no useful purpose - and then attempted to pawn off as their own every useful idea the EDC had....well "developed" during its run. Again, the nice thing about not being from here is when our then-Boro Council President and now-Mayor D'Angelo lied in his campaign literature and in the self-congratulatory quarterly newsletter the Boro publishes, I wrote to the local paper blasting him. My letter to the editor ran in the Courier-News calling him a liar and challenging him to refute my claim and reminding him - if he chose to pursue that option - that I had minutes from the EDC meetings (which took place 12-18 months earlier) at which "his" ideas were formally proposed and put into action. I received neither a response to my letter nor a summons advising me that I was being sued for defamation. Surprised? Not really.

The past couple of months have been particularly bizarre here under the snow globe due to an issue surrounding the high school's wrestling team. An incident apparently occurred at the season's last practice in late February in which one of the rookie wrestlers ended up being tied up by his older teammates and having water dumped on him. The purpose of this ritual? Who the hell knows. Apparently the team does it two times a year - on the season's first practice and on the season's final practice - to two different rookies. Apparently the coach has been permitting it (some say encouraging it) since he arrived at the high school several years ago.

This ritual apparently passed without incident in years past but not this year. The young boy who was the "victim" on the season's final practice went home and told his parents, who did what we do these days in America - telephoned the Superintendent of Schools and allegedly threatened to bring charges against the boys involved and the coach and thereafter to sue the kids involved, the parents of those kids, the coach, the high school and the district. The Superintendent apparently had a conversation with the coach in which the parent's threat was communicated to the coach - allegedly with no recommendation from the Superintendent as to what the district wanted the coach to do. Nevertheless, this incident happened on a Tuesday evening and by Thursday morning, the coach had tendered his resignation, which stopped the "threatened litigation" freight train. (Kids, our Latin phrase of the day is 'Quid pro quo'.) This all occurred in late February and here we are in late May still searching for a replacement for the coach. Although high school wrestling season in New Jersey begins after Thanksgiving, apparently there is a concern that the kids on the team are already behind for next season b/c no coach is in place presently.

It's an ugly incident that has turned up a lot of passion on both sides (pro-coach and pro-family) in town, most of which have been expressed in the delightful anonymity of cyberspace. The coach has been attacked on-line but with neither the venom nor the viciousness that has been directed at the 14 y/o boy who reported the incident to his parents nor the boy's father who spoke with the Superintendent. At one point some of the parents of kids on the wrestling team were circulating a position to get the coach reinstated but he, the coach, asked them to withdraw it. He's ready to move on. Perhaps at some point in the not-too-distant future, everyone else will be as well.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Long Walk Home

May is starting to fall away into June. We've entered the week that leads to the "unofficial start of the summer season" - the Memorial Day weekend. Here in New Jersey the unofficial start of summer means principally that people will sit in extraordinary amounts of traffic to get from Point A to Point B...particularly if Point B is located anywhere south of Point A and reaching Point B from Point involves using the Garden State Parkway. Shakespeare once posed the question "what's in a name?" Here in New Jersey, from Memorial Day through to Labor Day - a bit more than simply a kernel of truth.

The whole "unofficial start of the summer season" stuff is fine I suppose. Memorial Day used to also be the "unofficial start of the summer movie season" but given that this year Iron Man hit theatres a week or two after Groundhog Day (actually it was the first Friday in May but it seems as if it was about 3 months ago) it appears as if that tradition is honored in the breach.

It saddens me however that between the barbecues, Little League games, trips to the beach and fireworks displays that little attention is paid to what Memorial Day is designed to commemorate and to honor - those who have died in the service of their country. Two weeks ago, attending the funeral of my uncle, a U.S. Army Honor Guard presented my cousins with the American flag from his coffin. In doing so, the soldier presenting the flag did so "on behalf of a grateful nation." I loved my Uncle Jim absolutely and while his in-service time was during the Korean War, unlike his brother John who fought at and was injured on Pork Chop Hill, Unc's tour of duty consisted of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

If an Honor Guard can express the gratitude of a grateful nation to the adult daughters of a 78 year old veteran whose tour of duty ended more than a half-century ago, then is it too much to ask for all of us gearing up to "celebrate" Memorial Day and the 4 day work week it has created to really celebrate the day by taking a moment to remember those who have given their lives for this nation...and to keep a good thought for those currently in service.

At some point between this morning and when your head makes contact with your pillow at the conclusion of your upcoming long weekend, take a moment or two to remember what Memorial Day means and whose memory we are honoring. Sure, it'll slow down that trip to the beach a bit or might even mean that you'll risk someone else arriving at Wal-Mart or Target's 40% off sale before you get there and snatching up the green plastic tablecloth with the watermelon chunks all over it on which you'd set your sights - no one can have a picnic without an easy-to-clean plastic tablecloth can they? Drive, walk or ride past town hall or the local courthouse and take a look at the flag flying over it. It does mean certain things are set in stone including who we are, what we'll do and what we won't.

Here's to hoping that all of us add to the "what we won't" list this year that we won't forget those who've fought and died in the service of this nation.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Life in a Small Town

It's a weekend in suburbia, which means that in place of "work for money" time, it's "work on the home" time. Irrespective of the condition of one's home, there is always something (or ten things) that demand attention - including of course the lawn. We live in what I consider to be a fairly nice neighborhood of well-kept upper middle class-ish homes. Our lawn is bad however. The good news is that when we moved into the neighborhood eight years ago, it was atrocious so the trip to bad has been a steady, upward progression. Nonetheless it's a recurring concern of my wife's that our grass doesn't look as....well, much like grass I suppose - as the grass festooning the yards of our neighbors. Me, I agree it could look better but right after I bother to learn the names of any of my neighbors, I'll start giving a rat's ass about who has better-looking grass. I do enjoy cutting my grass however and otherwise puttering around outside. I'm handy like Captain Hook was the guy you wanted baiting your fishing line for you or offering to pin a corsage on your prom date's chest. I enjoy the relaxation of being outside working a great deal. The world does not exist over the buzz of the mower or the edger or the blower and for 2 1/2 hours a week, I'm permitted to be lost in my own thoughts. I think about any number of things but one thing about which I never think are the folks who live here with us in our 'hood.

In my experience the notion of the "neighborhood" has always been euphemistic at best. I work 30 miles from where we live and for reasons that apparently remain a mystery to my wife and those around me, I begin my work day at 4:30 a.m., which means that as a general rule I get up at 3:15 a.m. at least six days a week (OK-there are days I sleep in until 3:30 but only if I've been up late - after midnight - the night before). I don't typically return home from work much before 7:00 p.m. or so, which mercifully limits the amount of time I spend in the same zip code as my neighbors to a minimum. Our kids were in high school by the time we moved onto this block and neither attended the local high school so we didn't meet any of the neighbors at school functions. I can say honestly that their presence here had no impact one way or the other on our decision to buy this home 8 years ago. Neighbors are of as much moment to me as is the guy who occupies the seat next to mine on a transcontinental flight - we're not bonded together or anything. It's mere coincidence, nothing more.

Actually, it's unfair to say anything critical of the folks who live in the houses in the immediate proximity of mine. They all seem very nice. I know but two of them and one of them - Joe - I knew before we lived where we live now b/c our daughters went to grammar school together. The rest of them aren't known by name to me but rather by some characteristic of their home or themselves. Please don't tell Dick Cheney but in this respect I've seriously dropped the ball regarding all I can do to keep America safe. Do the terrorists win b/c I don't know the names of the folks who live at my eleven o'clock - across the street and diagonally to the left? I don't know but if the Veep is that concerned about my largess he can always have the FBI look up their names on some Internet database.....and then invite any "persons of interest" whose existence he might uncover to go pheasant hunting with him. Rumor has it it's not as tough a ticket as it used to be.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Got Sunshine In My Stomach

After a Friday in which it rained long enough and hard enough that trios of animals were playing "rock, paper & scissors" just in case there was only room enough for two on Noah's boat, this morning has dawned bright and beautiful. The morning after a rainstorm - presuming it's not the precursor to another day of rain - always seems to begin in spectacular fashion. The sky seems clearer, the air smells fresher and even in dawn's first light the sun seems to shine a bit brighter than it did the last time you saw it - as if it's looking to make amends for having been missing in action the day before. ("So sorry folks, the concierge forgot to make my 5:42 a.m. wake-up call. My bad.")

The singularly most intriguing element of the next day's dawn is the paradox it appears to reveal between earth and sky. It's as if the sky is a time zone or two further east than is the earth. All of the surfaces of everything at ground level are still wearing yesterday's clothes - wet and in in some cases pock-marked with puddles. The sky has moved on - yesterday is in the past and the promise of today is ready to burst all across the horizon line. Yesterday is forgotten. More days await no doubt when the sun will be nowhere to be seen in the sky in my little corner of the world. No matter b/c the sky knows what we sometimes forget, which is that we can't go back and change what has already occurred.

Oscar Wilde was right - No man is rich enough to buy back his past (although one imagines with all of the money at his disposal a gent such as Paul Allen, Warren Buffett or Bill Gates could make one hell of a run at it if he was so inclined). Life is hard enough and requires your full-time attention just to keep moving. You take your eye off of the ball for a moment and things may not be so good for you any longer. It is pointless to engage in the torturous and ultimately time-wasting exercise of playing the "What if?" game.

Some days are rainy. Some days the sun shines brightly. Either way, the mission is the same: get all you are able out of this life before you run out of days in which to do it. It turns out Benny Hill was right too - Live every day as if it could be your last because one day you're going to be right.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Glory Days

I've lived my entire life in New Jersey, which means that in addition to growing up listening to a litany of pseudo-humorous jokes and jabs directed at my birthplace and watching the endless march of Wooden Soldiers masquerading as elected officials (who said Chris Christie lacked the suitable criminal justice background to be U.S. Attorney?), I've enjoyed the 4 seasons per year that we have here in the Garden State. Admittedly there are years when summer seems particularly brutally hot and humid and winter seems to last forever while fall and spring have been reduced to cameo roles - with some bit player I've befriended perhaps.

For the past decade or so May has meant the beginning of softball season. I'm a lawyer and I've been invited to participate on a team run by two of my closest friends with whom I graduated from Seton Hall's School of Law. I am of the belief that my annual invitation has three bases: (1) friendship; (2) reliability; and (3) water. Diego, David and I have been friends for a considerable amount of time - fast approaching 20 years - and they both have some misplaced sense of loyalty when it comes to their slightly older, significantly less talented friend, which necessitates finding me a roster spot each season. I am reliable, which is to say that I don't miss any games and I've probably attended 95% of the practices we've had during the past ten years - including more than one "Iron Man" practice at which only three players have participated. Finally, I'm the guy who brings the cooler full of bottles of water and ice to every game. Candidly, given my limited skills, which likely reached their zenith - using that word in a way that lends new meaning to Einstein's theory of relativity - several years back, I figure that making sure none of the guys with whom I play pass out from dehydration is the least I can do. Sadly, it may be the most I can do.

I enjoy playing not solely b/c every one of us who played sports as a kid and had any measure of success at it can still hear the faint echo of the guitar chords from "Glory Days" emanating from the far corners of our brain. I enjoy playing because for 14 nights or so every year, for 90 minutes or so, I'm not engrossed in the day-to-day stress of life. I'm just a guy playing ball. Do we do what we can to win? Certainly. Most seasons Dave and Diego put together a damned competitive team and this year appears to be no exception. We've had seasons though when we've stunk. One season in the City of Newark League our team finished 1 and 13. We still had a lot of fun and for me, the same momentary return to childhood was there in all 14 of those games just as it is now.

I'm not an old man but my body is older than it should be. It was Mickey Mantle who said that if he'd ever expected to live as long as he did, he'd have taken better care of himself when he was young. I can understand that sentiment. I didn't meet the love of my life, my wife Margaret, until I was 24 y/o and up until the moment I met her I had no intention of marrying and having children. Two years after I met her I had a wife and 2 kids. If I'd been able to see far enough down the highway when I was young to see that point where the road meets the sky then maybe I'd have seen them there in the distance waiting for me - even before I was close enough to make out their faces. If I'd known at ages 18, 19, 20, 21 or 22 what treasures were waiting for me at age 24, I'd have taken better care of myself than I did.

As a consequence of the litany of stupid things I did to and for myself in my youth, my shelf life as a "player" ("tell Mr. Einstein I'll call him back and no I don't want to hear him explain his theory of relativity again.") is shorter than it should be. That's OK. I'll enjoy it while it's here and when my playing days are over - whether due to my inability to do it any longer or perhaps b/c my younger teammates have gradually transitioned from solo acts to players in ever-expanding ensemble casts - I'll look back on the time I've spent doing it and I'll smile.

Put me in coach - I'm ready to soon as I wrap my ring finger on my glove hand, tape my ankle and put on my knee brace.....


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Like Your Dad Did....Maybe Not Exactly

There is an advantage to beginning one's day at 3:15 a.m. - it provides ample time to get done all that needs to get done within the inflexible constraints of that day's length. It also affords little snippets of time - vignettes if you will - in which you can focus on that which / those who you love without feeling like you're cheating "the man". I don't know who "the man" is exactly although I'm fairly confident I'm not the "man" and that neither are Daniel Caffey or Sam Weinberg. Perhaps the "Man" is Hank Steinbrenner a/k/a "The Baby Boss". Perhaps not. Can one be the "Man" and the "Baby" anything simultaneously? Is it just me or does it make you smile as well to hear a middle-aged man with a haircut that makes him resemble the bastard offspring of Pete Rose and Moe from the Three Stooges and teeth that shine brightly from having had a silver spoon jammed in the mouth they occupy for the past half-century lecture the players on Daddy's baseball team [who unlike Hank have reached this point of their professional lives on merit and not on genealogy] on the merits of "hard work"?

I spend a bit of time in the quiet of my office each morning - not as much as I'd like or probably should -thinking about my kids and my wife. A disproportionate amount of that time I've spent lately thinking about my son, Rob. It's not because he's much lower maintenance than his mother or his older sister, which he is. It's because he's closing rapidly on one of the big tent posts moments of his life - the completion of college and the immediate transition into his career.

We live in suburbia, about an hour's drive from New York City in Middlesex County, New Jersey. I'm not employing a Pete Hamill-esque geographic device by identifying our surroundings as "Central" Jersey. It's generally accepted by everyone (and authorized by the "Man" no doubt) that Middlesex County is Central Jersey. Our family home remains Rob's permanent address though he's not lived there full-time, really, in four years. He's attended college in New York City and has lived on 8th Avenue while going to school. He's worked in the City as well summers and during the school years so once we moved him back to school to start his second year at the end of that summer, we've not had to make a trip in to load up the car.

Luckily I see enough of him to appreciate the metamoprhosis from "boy" to "man" that has occurred. He's not simply grown older in four years of life in the City, he's grown up. He has interests now that outstrip my own. He has experienced things, people and places that I never have and never will. He started college as a boy of 18. He leaves it as a man of 22. I couldn't be happier for him or prouder of him.

The great thing about it, from my selfish perspective, is that his college experience has been unforgettable for him as mine was for me while bearing no resemblance whatsoever to mine. I went to college in the latter half of the 1980's in Boulder Colorado. He's gone to college in the latter half of the first decade of the 21st Century in New York City. He's studied hard enough that he's earned his opportunity to pursue his professional dreams in an organization he's aimed to join for several years. Me? I drank too much, partied too much and studied just enough to end up pursuing the law as my career.

Life begins in a similar manner for all of us. Life ends in a similar manner for all of us. It's the journey we take that defines us. It's a journey that as a parent you watch your children make with a combination of hope, fear, pride, anxiety and joy. It can make you cry. It can make you smile. Me? I'm grinning from ear to ear and loving every damn minute of it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Is That a Pledge Pin on Your Uniform?

As spring days disappear from the calendar faster than the non-gray hairs from my beard, the news on the school front all over the Garden State the past couple of days has been a bit troubling.

First, in Newark a former student at Barringer High School decided to steal a police car, which he then allegedly rammed into two parked cars - injuring two students. What was Arturo Reyes - described euphemistically in the Star-Ledger as a "former student" (a/k/a "not a graduate") doing at his former school but never his alma mater? He was drawn there apparently by the intimate gathering of 100 BHS students milling about in the street after school in anticipation of a fight. The Newark Police were called to break up the fight, which they did, and as a reward for their good efforts young Mr. Reyes decided to test the fluorocarbon output on one of the police vehicles by taking it for a joy ride. Alas, Mr. Reyes apparently is no better a driver than he was a student - making it but a half block before crashing into a parked car ("But officer I honked and the car wouldn't get out of my way!"), which caused the parked car to hop the curb and strike a couple of kids who were on the sidewalk.

Normally, Arturo Reyes would be the front-runner for the "Class of '08 Least Likely to Succeed Award". Sadly for Mr. Reyes he committed his act of banality on the same day that the other shoe fell on Garrett Green of Hightstown High School. Mr. Green, an 18 year-old senior who apparently is a "classified student" due to unspecified behavioral disabilities, decided that a school fire drill was the perfect opportunity to check the local fire department's response time. Thus, he took advantage of the drill to light the turban of a 16 y/o fellow student on fire. Had the 16 y/o Sikh boy not been wearing the turban at the time, perhaps Mr. Green's willingness to go beyond the expected and to think outside the box might have been applauded as extraordinary. However, because his 16 y/o fellow HHS student was wearing the turban at the time that Garrett Green "Science Guy" lit it on fire, the school district and the local police have taken an appropriately dim view of what he did. Thankfully the student who faced potential immolation while wearing his own clothes escaped the incident without serious injury other than singing the hair on the back of his head.

It turns out that Mr. Green bought himself (a) dismissal from the school - which the District explained means that he can't attend the prom or graduation (here's to hoping that they listed those events in that order - which they did- in chronological order and not in order of importance); and (b) charge of arson and criminal mischief.

Additionally, the District is going to have a statement prepared by the Sikh Coalition of New York that shall be read in every homeroom class explaining to the students "how serious this was and what the turban means to the Sikh religion", according to District Superintendent Ronald Bolandi. Huh? There is no debate regarding the criminal nature of Mr. Green's action and the propriety of the District's response to it vis-a-vis its punishment of him. Absent a history of attacks by this boy or other kids in this District against Sikh students, the whole "educational statement" smacks of political correctness and "please don't sue us" to me.

Candidly, it might be a reflection upon my own degree of narrow-mindedness here but I don't see that the issue of the day involving this incident is the importance of the turban or any other head gear for that matter. I'd have expected the District to react the same way in terms of its punishment of this kid if he'd taken a lighter to the back of my unadorned, over sized Irish Catholic head. In our post 9/11 world however, people often refuse to view anything other than through that prism, which apparently is what is happening here. It's one size fits all administration and it permits those in charge to have a warm fuzzy feeling all over, which at day's end is all any of us are hoping for anyway right?

I may not have learned more from a 3 minute record than I ever learned in school but no 3 minute record ever tried to run me down in a stolen police vehicle or light my hair on fire during a fire drill. School's almost out for summer and Alice Cooper isn't the only one for whom the final bell of the year can't arrive soon enough.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Irreconcilable Differences

Our great state's entry into the "Corrupt Chief Executive" competition is a hybrid candidate - and no I'm not trying to give Mr. McGreevey grief over the "in the 47th year of my life I've come to the realization that I'm a gay American" (and was it me or did your mind flash back as well to Hulk Hogan's theme song in his WWF glory days "I am a real American/I'll fight for the rights of every man" as soon as McG uttered that line?). I mean simply that where Rowland of Connecticut proved himself to be a sleaze on all matters financial and Client No. 9 - sorry Spitzer 0f New York - proved himself to be a hypocritical sleaze on all matters sexual - McG pulled both off neatly. Did he wrap himself in the veneer of homosexuality in order to avoid being pursued criminally for his allegedly improper financial dealings? There was some talk of that at the time although 3 years later with his tell-all autobiography and his life in Sleepy Hollow with his male paramour, I think his commitment to his newfound cause has proven legitimate.

For the past several months McG and Lady McG have been engaged in everyone's favorite type of battle - the divorce battle. Irrespective of whether one had sympathy for her position or for his position at some point early on in this fracas, at this juncture the only folks who fail to grasp the fact that this matter needs to be resolved quietly and privately are the combatants and their respective attorneys. Talk is cheap? Not in the Family Law Bar I assure you. For 2 folks arguing over money it's mind-boggling how much of their respective (and allegedly tiny) bankrolls they've been willing to spend waging war over such topics as "When She Knew He Was Gay", "How She Found Out He Was Gay" and "I Believe the Correct Pronounciation is Menage A Trois".

Every salacious word has been captured and preserved for infamy no doubt by a t00-hungry press corps. One can't blame the media though - like the rest of us, reporters have to eat. This saga has all the earmarks of a Lifetime Television for Women Movie of the Week. Perhaps Cheryl Ladd is available to play Lady McG and maybe Patrick Duffy or John Stamos - if he's not too busy playing drums for the Beach Boys - can portray McG?

At some point here's to hoping that McG and Lady McG remember "the good old days" - those days in the time after they became man/wife and before they became litigants - when their daughter was born. The slings and arrows hoisted back/forth at one another damage not only the two of them but, sadly and perhaps even tragically, their little girl. Their daughter lives now in the information age and it's reasonable to presume that from this day forward it shall be easier to root out and disseminate information about an individual than it is presently. Once the hue and cry surrounding their divorce trial is over, the press will move on to its next story. History will live to tell the tale however. It's a sordid, banal history that either of them would be embarrassed by and ashamed of - if they possessed a fully formed personality and brain.

While the conscience free existences her parents live are by their own choice, the littlest McG has no such luxury. She's not an actor in this American Gothic but rather a prop or at best an extra - a scene-filler. As a parent, it's unfathomable to me that two individuals who brought a child into this world - each of whom holds college degrees and advanced degrees - would be so utterly callous in their lack of regard for their child. If the law permitted it, I'd be rooting for the court to award custody of the little girl to neither of them.

Any idiot can create a child - it's a matter of biology. Irrespective of your belief as to when life begins, it most certainly shouldn't end at child birth. The decision to bring a life into this world is one of great weight and responsibility - and it's a lifetime commitment. The manner in which these two soon to be uncoupled adults (sorry boys and girls but one has to do more than put on big boy pants, shave and be taller than the minor child standing in the photo with you to earn the appellation "parent" from this guy) have trampled upon the rights of this little girl is reprehensible.

Sadly, sometimes it's not just the sins of the fathers for which the child is made to pay. It's mom's sins as well.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Further on up the Road

Nineteen years ago today I graduated from college. I'm not a huge picture guy but one of my favorites is one of Mom and me standing on the field across the road from the C.U. Events Center in Boulder posing for an "after graduation" photo. Graduation at C.U. is (was - I can't speak with confidence as to whether the schedule has remained the same for the past two decades) an early morning affair, which meant that my great friend and roomie Alex Schreiber were still trying to clear out the cobwebs from the previous evening's "Holy Crap tomorrow we're college graduates!" gala when we put on our caps and gowns for the ceremony.

Graduation at C.U. is a small, intimate affair. Alex and I were joined in graduation by a mere 5400 or so other degree recipients. Thus, to make ourselves visible to our moms we each used white tape to write on our that we were visible from the higher elevation across the Events Center where parents were seated. Alex with his "SCHNEEDS" and me with my "ADSEY" must have made for quite a sight in the sea of our fellow future alumni.

Not only did our Moms have an easy time spotting us at the ceremony, having written something seemingly inane on our caps lent itself to some great "after" pictures. Mom and me with the mountains behind us, me with my arm around her shoulder and Mom clutching the "ADSEY" cap in her right hand is simply a great photo as it correctly captured her combination feeling at that moment - pride that her youngest son had graduated from college and chagrin over the fact that he elected to preserve the moment by writing his nickname in tape on his graduation cap. As she has done my entire life, Mom subjugated her thoughts about my style choices to my own and didn't comment at all on my customized cap. She simply held it up for the camera while smiling broadly.

Nineteen years down the road from college graduation and I wonder often whether I've made the best use that I could have of the past two decades. Personally I have little to nothing about which to complain. My wife is the love of my life and both of my kids - the younger of whom will graduate from college this Spring - are happy, healthy and simply terrific. I wonder constantly though about the career path I've trod. While some times it appears as if something of consequence is being accomplished, more often than not it seems as if I have a job akin to the guy on the assembly line in the donut factory whose sole responsibility is to provide the filling.

In the endless pursuit of all things vain, I've added "reconnection". Yes Elwood it's time to put the band back together. It's time to reach out to Schneeds and the crew who have slipped thru the cracks of time over the course of the past 19 years and see if we can't all get together again in the only place where arguably we all existed for one another. Is it a fool's mission? Perhaps. But I don't want another drink, I only want the last one again.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

For Mom

If we are nothing more or less than the sum of our life experiences, then we are truly blessed if we are able to factor the love given to us by a truly exceptional person - our mother - into the equation.

In my case, my mom is worth more than simply a couple of points. She is a truly amazing woman. Life has been difficult for her and more than merely trying at times. She is the 2nd oldest of six children and is about one month away from her 80th birthday. Sadly, within the 41 years of my lifetime she has buried both of her parents - perhaps not very surprising - and 4 of her 5 siblings, including 3 of whom are younger than she. Just this week she laid to rest her brother Jim - her "Irish twin" born 366 days or so after she was - and one of her closest friends on this Earth from a moment or two after he made his arrival almost 79 years ago.

Twenty-seven years ago my father - my mother's husband and the father of her six children (the Irish are like little bunny rabbits ain't we?) - died in his sleep in their bed. Being a fool and being a fool with really bad health and inanely stupid personal habits, he died with no will and no life insurance. One might have suspected from afar that my old man could not have possibly been more selfish in death than he was in life. One might have been wrong.

Battling a crazy little thing called poverty - Dad earned (conservatively speaking) 80% of the household income - Mom decided that just for shits and giggles nothing could be more fun than breast cancer. Less than 2 years after my father died, she was attacked by that hateful, insidious disease, which at the time came damn close to killing her.

She battled hard and beat it back and has gone on to live, this past quarter-century, a fabulous and full life. Now however, on this Mother's Day she finds herself under attack again - this time from colon cancer. It took all the strength she had at age 55 to beat it the first time. Candidly, I doubt seriously whether her body can withstand the battle this time around - at age 80.

Nothing is more emasculating than being confronted with a problem that I lack the means to fix and watching her being attacked by an enemy that I am powerless to stop. There are people who talk themselves blue in the face arguing about the existence of God - whichever incarnation or manifestation you subscribe to, I care not - but I don't buy it. Either "God" is an artifice akin to the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus or, worse, he's an uncaring prick whose arbitrary nature is nothing to which I pray and nothing for which I'll ever drop to my knees and give thanks.

Either way, he's the son of a bitch who has decided to kill my mother. The bastard who has decided that although she's endured suffering that makes Job seem like a whiny baby, she's not going to go gentle into that good night. Nope - 25 years after coming after her the first time, he's back with a vengeance to finish her. Unreal.

I love you Mom. Always have, always will.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Slow Turning

It's a hell of a thing - this life, isn't it? It took me a long time to grasp - probably longer than it should have but I'm inherently lazy and not very bright - that "Life" is not composed of principally of "BIG MOMENTS". Perhaps my learning curve was stunted somewhat by my own intellectual limitations. Perhaps the era in which I came to age had something to do with it as well. I'm a child of the "Summer Blockbuster" generation. No, not the silly tripe like Speed Racer or Godzilla but the original - the first generation models like JAWS and Grease. I was there at the creation of the "let's not make them think b/c after all it is summer time and the livin' is easy" model of movie-making.

There are problems with the model of course - chief among them perhaps the way in which real life is so detached from what happens on the screen. I'm not talking about the obvious stuff either - like T-Rex munching his way thru the streets of Los Angeles or wherever in Jurassic Park I thru IX or Bill Murray and company vanquishing the Sta-Puf Marshmallow Man ("he's a sailor in town for a few days. Let's get him drunk and get him laid.") in Ghostbusters. I'm talking about the subtle stuff. With 120 to 140 minutes in which to tell a story, which story cost more than the GNP of most of sub-Saharan Africa to bring to the screen, and which story needs to be seen by more than $150 Million worth of movie-goers to ensure that the studio's claim of having not made any money isn't simply some "let's screw the shit out of Art Buchwald" accounting scam, movie makers feel compelled to take their audiences from BIG MOMENT to BIG MOMENT. Subtlety no longer exists for fear of it being transcribed into BOREDOM in newsprint from coast-to-coast in every review.

Maybe celluloid heroes never feel any pain and never really die but here in 2-D we're not quite as fortunate. Life'll kill ya - just ask Mr. Zevon....oh wait, perhaps not. From check-in time until the time of departure, the approach needs to be to conquer the bad stuff the best that you can and to savor the "little moments". When one approaches life as a one-punch knockout artist - looking to land the big shot - one runs the risk of having time run out without an opportunity to land that shot having become available. Listen champ - when the fight is over and we go to the judge's cards, you're losing the decision anyway, got it? Be smart- pile up some points along the way and score at every opportunity. To mix bad metaphors from sports for a moment - play "little ball" and don't wait around for the 3 run home run.

Enjoy what you have. Don't bitch about what you don't have. Understand that whenever you begin a sentence by telling the listener "I need...." you've set the bar pretty damn high. There is a difference between wants and needs although somewhere along the line - perhaps as far back as when Ray Parker, Jr. was ripping off Huey Lewis in order to ask "Who you gonna call?" when "you got a dose of a freaky ghost" - the distinction between the two blurred. What once seemed black and white turned just so many shades of gray.

The things we need - more time with those we love and hold dear and more patience to come to grips with the fact that while we love them there are times we simply cannot agree - are in short supply. While the latter appears to be a need we have the ability to fill (the question becomes whether we want to fill it), the former isn't.

John Hiatt hit it spot on perfectly in "Slow Turning" - Time is short and here's the damn thing about it/you're gonna die, gonna die for sure/and you can learn to live with love or without it/But there ain't no cure.

Embrace the small stuff. Remember as you're sitting in the theatre when the lights come up feeling let down b/c you didn't see any goddamn "BIG MOMENT" that it's all of the "little moments" that really are the big moments. It'll come to you or it won't but it'll happen to you anyway - whether you're paying attention or not.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Where the Road Meets the Sky

To begin with, let me confess something up front - as an Irishman I have what can fairly be described as a Yeatsian philosophy. It it Yeats who wrote, "being Irish he had an abiding sense of tragedy which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."

I'm not now and never was a "momma's boy" but I hope like hell that I've lived the 41+ years of my existence to date as my mother's son, which is to say that I've strived to do the best I can for those around me and for myself and that I've never deliberately or maliciously done a bad thing to someone. I hope I've lived that way though I'm not sure I've always hit that mark.

Someone long ago, much wiser and much more articulate than I, noted that the sins of the fathers take root in their sons. I suppose that means that in the give-and-take of dark v. light that inhabits the soul of each of us, it is the virtue of our mothers that saves us from ourselves and from self-destruction. Mom as super hero? A stretch perhaps but with the cineplexes this summer being visited by Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Batman, isn't there room for Mom at the table? Doesn't she have more to offer than a guy whose metal costume hides the pacemaker he needs simply to live, a guy who turns green and splits his pants every time he gets pissed and a guy who lives alone - with his man servant and puts on a mask and a cape just for kicks?

If only life truly imitated art. If so, then Mom as super hero could write her own ending. She could craft her own famous final scene. In the words of Elvis Costello - even in a perfect world where everyone was equal, she'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel.

Life doesn't imitate art though does it? Life's a destination whose starting point and whose ending point for most of us lie tantalizingly beyond our control. The further we are from the meaty part of life - the part that for most of us lies between becoming an adult and retirement - the more we are at the mercy of life b/c the less autonomy we have and the less strength and resources we have to fight off its efforts to shape us as it sees fit.

Yesterday I saw again in the distance the point on the horizon where the road meets the sky. It's closer than I'd hoped.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Father Time and the Clock Watchers

"So anyway…you get a little older now, you get those crisp fall days that come in September and in the beginning of October. My friends and I we slip into that cold water of the Atlantic Ocean. These days, you take note that there’s a few less of your friends swimming alongside of you as each year passes. But something about being in one place your whole life they’re still all around you, in the water. And I look towards the shore and I see my son and my daughter pushing their way through the waves and on the beach there’s a whole batch of new little kids running away from the crashing surf. Like time itself." - Bruce Springsteen, NJ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - May 4, 2008.

One year ago today, the older of my two children (sorry guys, young adults) graduated from college. A year ago, I couldn't believe I was old enough to be the father of a college graduate. Wow, how time flies. She's now one year further on up the road and her brother is set to follow her in about a month.

I love what Springsteen said in his induction speech about time. We never seem to have enough of it and try as we might it seems that we always regret at least a bit how we spend a portion of it. Between doing what we "need" to do and doing what we "have" to do, we seem to run short of time for what we "want" to do.

The trick it seems is to measure time qualitatively and not quantitatively. An hour well spent is the quickest 60 minutes you'll ever enjoy. An hour wasted in tedium is seemingly endless. When people die we discuss the length of their life but never the breadth. Why not? A life that ends at a relatively young age may have been significantly shorter than that of an octogenarian but it may nevertheless have been fuller and richer. Life is a journey, not a destination. Irrespective of the flavor of one's pie-eyed optimism, this much we know is true: the end is certain. It is the means to reach that end that are the variable.

Don't stand up on the dunes and watch the waves crash over the sand from afar. Let the cold water slap up against your legs and your back. Let it scare you a little, let it heighten your senses a little, let it excite you a little.

Hell - let it do all of those things to you more than just a little. Let all of them happen a lot! Life isn't a dress rehearsal boys and girls - it's not as if you're saving the really good stuff for the next time around - unless you're crazy as Shirley MacLaine.

Enjoy your time in the water and the company you keep while there. Next year the guy on the neighboring wave might not be there swimming next to you.

Goodbye Uncle Jim and may a safe journey await you. "May the Lord keep you in his hand and never close His fist too tight."