Friday, October 31, 2008

It's Money That Matters...

I would wager that Jackson Browne never saw this one coming. Over two decades ago, in a musical rant directed at the Reagan Administration, Browne lamented lyrically about the "for sale" nature of American politics, "They sell us the President the same way/They sell us our clothes and our cars" It turns out he did not know the half of it.

At 8:00 P.M. Eastern time on Wednesday night, less than a week away from Election Day, Senator Barack Obama did something extraordinary. He - thru his campaign - spent about $5 Million (money being no object when one raises $150 Million in the month of September) to broadcast a 30 minute infomercial. An infomercial that aired on every major broadcast network, which aired instead a show called "Pushing Daisies". which I have never seen but which I understand involves a lead character whose touch has the power to raise the dead. Hmmm - raising the dead. I knew there was a magical power that Senator Obama's promotional team had not suggested he actually possessed.

Having sat thru all three Presidential debates this fall - and having watched both candidates work tirelessly to limit the actual number of questions to which direct answers were actually offered - forgive me if the entire "Meet Mr. Obama" dramedy rang more than a bit hollow. Senator Obama's campaign has raised organization to the height of murderous efficiency. An apparent trade-off, sacrificed at the altar of efficiency perhaps, was intimacy. He is much admired but - presumably - realized on Day T Minus 6 in a campaign he has been engaged in for twenty months that many know little to nothing about him. While I do not doubt for a moment that the display of pseudo-intimacy that aired last night swayed some - and tugged at the heartstrings of others - it struck such a false note with me that it made my hair hurt.

The only positive from the debut night of programming on Air Obama? No pre-game show on Fox prior to the resumption and completion of Game 5 of the World Series. Fox's game coverage is tough enough to stomach without having to endure the thirty minutes of filler that serves as the run-up to first pitch. Thanks to the series premiere of The West Wing - The Second Term, none of us had to endure Zelasko, Kennedy and Karros.

Same time, next week? I suppose that all depends on how Tuesday's episode turns out.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Where The River of Doubts Empties Into the Sea of Dreams

We know what we know. And it is all the other stuff - that which we do not know and do not understand - that scares the crap out of us. Every time we are confronted with something we do not know and we attempt to wrap our heads around it, it scares us witless. And yet when we have reached the other side of the abyss and there we are - one whole piece with all parts accounted for and where the great Toymaker intended them, we breathe a sigh of relief. Often, perhaps more often than we care to admit and clearly more often than we should to be safe, we not only emit a sigh, we permit ourselves a smirk.

It is right about then that we realize we have overstepped. And once we do it, we close our eyes, clinch our teeth and hope. We hope like hell that our smirk is treated as a freebie. As an expression of relief and not as a sign of arrogance. For if it is treated - by whoever or whatever it is that serves as the celestial scorekeeper - as the latter and not the former, then we know not what we have done. You hurl the stone at the ogre's forehead and hope to catch more flesh than bone. If you knock him down, even if you do not kill him, then you have sufficient time to retreat to the safety of a safer place, or a far away place or if you are extraordinarily lucky, a safe, far away place.

But for those of us cursed with either erratic aim or less than ideal foot speed, sanctuary often proves elusive. We can see our safe place but it is where it is and where it is is always slightly beyond our grasp. Or is it slightly beyond our ability to grasp? Or is it possible that is simply a distinction without a difference?

When hope exists just beyond the outer edge of our line of sight - out beyond the point where the road meets the sky - it leads to both perpetual excitement and profound heartbreak. It is the unfortunate ability to anticipate the arrival of the latter - even while in the throes of the former - that is exhausting. And it is what ultimately may prove to be our downfall. Almost thirty years, Springsteen posed the question "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true? Or is it something worse?"

It is worse. It is much worse. Dreaming is not free. Never was. There always is a price you pay.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mudstuck Somewhere in the Jersey Swamps

Margaret permitted me to marry my love of Springsteen's music and my love of animals last September ('07) when we bought a new Shetland Sheepdog puppy to fill the void left in our family by the death - at age 13 - of Shelly, our first Sheltie. She allowed me to employ the name of a Springsteen song in naming our new addition. Rosalita is now 15 months old. And no, even though on the album - and on some old cassette copies - of The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle the song's full title is set forth parenthetically, we eschewed (Come Out Tonight) as a middle name. It seemed pretentious somehow.

Our little wunderkind apparently has one hell of a social life. What other explanation could there be for her charging to the front door at the peal of the doorbell like the tip of the spear of a thundering herd of rhinos? Clearly she thinks everyone who comes to the door is a friend of hers and the enthusiasm with which she runs to the front door to ensure an appropriate greeting is - in a word - frightening.

Apparently Rosie missed the intra-family memo I circulated last week reminding one and all that Monday was Margaret's birthday. Otherwise when the doorbell rang Monday night, Rosie would have reasonably anticipated that it was someone coming to visit my wife - and not her. She did not. Instead she charged to the front door and, apparently, as Margaret attempted to open it, Rosie somehow managed to catch her left rear leg under the door. I did not bear witness to it so I am not entirely sure what happened or how. And poor Margaret - who was there - did not expect that Rosie was going to try to hook slide around the opening door so she had concentrated her efforts elsewhere - like looking outside to see who was standing on the front porch - so even though she was standing there, she is not entirely sure what happened.

Dogs are remarkable because they are not only good companions and faithful friends, they are tremendously melodramatic and hammy actors. Within moments of the injury occurring, Rosie started channeling Dr. Gregory House (sans cane and - at least as of Monday night - painkillers) and limping around the house. In short order, she was either unable or unwilling to put any weight on her left rear leg whatsoever. When I came home from work last night, she was sitting in a spot on the kitchen floor where she could reasonably observe the comings and goings of our three cats but was not making any effort to join in any of their early evening insanity. Given what a bundle of energy Rosie usually is, it was a rather jarring image to process. She sat there stoically - rotating her head from one direction to the other - like an anti-aircraft gunner on a WW II ship moving in her machine gun turret this way and that to respond to the movements of enemy fighters.

Luckily, within about a fifteen minute drive of our house is a 24-hour animal emergency center. The good folks at Animerge did what they have done for us over the years when one animal or the other does something less than bright - they have helped fix the problem. They did so again last night. And it was not cheap and it was not easy but after spending a few hours there last night, the situation was remedied. While I suspect that Rosie shall be hobbling around for the next couple of days - if for no other reason than she is a total attention whore and is loving all of it that she is getting (I swear that last night I saw her flip off the cats as I was carrying her upstairs to go to sleep) - she is going to be fine.

And she'll remain fine as long as her experience this week has taught her one thing, which is that humans use the door too.

For us, Rosie, that is what it is there for.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hands of Time

It was the late great Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill who implored his fellow public servants to remember that all politics are local. That thought purchased some time this morning in the forefront of my brain as we are now but seven days removed from Election Day. Today is the last Tuesday following the last Monday in October. One week from today is the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. And it is the day in which elections will take place all across the nation - to fill offices large and small.

Here 'neath the snow globe two of our six seats on the Boro Council are up for grabs. For the past few years, all six seats on the Boro Council have been occupied by Democrats. In my notion of elective Utopia, the six seats are filled by a combination of Democrats and Republicans. I admire -as a general rule - those who take the time and give of themselves to seek elective office at the local level. These positions are after all essentially volunteer positions - with one notable exception. When one dedicates one's time to be a Big Brother or Big Sister, one infrequently gets held accountable for all of the ills of the community. That is not the case in local politics. At the local level, one gets the immeasurable reward of having the abuses of one's neighbors heaped upon them while getting the added bonus of not getting any financial remuneration for their efforts.

While the cause may be noble, the pursuit often falls far south of achieving nobility. Case in point - about a month ago - on a Saturday afternoon I was relaxing at home watching a little bit of college football when my doorbell rang. As someone who works on an average of 70-75 hours a week, I value my own time. And I have an appreciation of the value of other's time as well. I do my level best to not waste anyone else's time. And I ask for nothing more or less in return than a return of the same courtesy. It was on that Saturday afternoon that a rather earnest young man who is one of the two Democrats seeking a Boro Council seat breached the social compact of not wasting another's time.

I am a registered Republican. My status as a registered Republican is a matter of public record - including the voter registration book that Democratic Boro Council candidate Roger Sanchez had in his hands when he rang my doorbell on that mid-September afternoon. Once he introduced himself, I was almost compelled to tell him that I was a registered Republican - so as to keep him from wasting any of his time. It was then that I saw the book identifying me as a Republican was in his hand as was open to the page that includes my name. Momentarily impressed by his gumption, I decided not to summarily dismiss him from my front porch so that I could resume doing whatever I was doing before he appeared at the door.

For what seems in retrospect to have been an intrusion of at least twenty minutes - but I am quite confident was not more than half that - Mr. Sanchez and I engaged in conversation. During the course of the conversation, after asking me if there was any particular issue in the Boro that I would like the Governing Body to look into, Mr. Sanchez made what I considered to a rather attainable promise: he promised to send me an e-mail to let me know what had been discussed after he took up my issue during the course of the week to follow with the Mayor. That was all. Nothing more. Nothing less. While he offered to do more than that, I assured him that a simple e-mail telling me what he had discussed with the Mayor would suffice.

Setting a bar so low that he seemingly could not fail not to clear it, he managed to foul nonetheless. While expounding upon his experience as a member of the Zoning Board and the Planning Board - membership that he intimated to me would prove invaluable in presenting the issue about which I had expressed concern for consideration - he did not tell me that he had ceased actively participating on either Board in order to concentrate on his efforts to win election to the Boro Council. In other words, he suggested that he would use his influence on a couple of bodies on which he is no longer an active participant, which seems damned unlikely - regardless of the individual or the body involved.

Approximately one month after listening to Mr. Sanchez tell me that he would do something insanely simple, he has instead done nothing. I never received any e-mail from him confirming for me that he had any conversation with the Mayor. Remember please that all he promised to do was send me an e-mail. He failed miserably to keep his promise.

Curiously, however, in the month since Mr. Sanchez took my e-mail address, I have received multiple e-mails from the Middlesex County Democratic Organization - including several touting the Democratic Ticket for County Freeholder. While I am quite confident that the folks running for Freeholder as Democrats are nice human beings and capable of carrying out the responsibilities of their office, I had never received a single piece of campaign literature from them - IN ANY ELECTION - prior to Mr. Sanchez's request for my e-mail address.

It is a simple equation really - one's word is one's bond. In my limited experience dealing with him, Roger Sanchez's word proved to be worth nothing.

All politics are local. Thanks Tip - I shall take your advice to heart and proceed accordingly.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Over Dark Roads and Thin Lines

Today the love of my life is celebrating her 46th birthday. I have been lucky enough to be married to Margaret for at least one-third of these little shindigs. And I have been truly blessed to be part of her life for last 18 or so of them. Among the many truly spectacular things about my wife - other than the obvious saint-like patience she possesses (required for anyone who is married to an idiot) - is the way she embraces her birthday. She has never "not" celebrated the day. Instead she has relished it. She has cherished it. And she has enjoyed it.

This has been the roughest of years for my bride. Nanny died in August. Sue, my mother-in-law, continues to battle bravely against the ravages of cancer. Candidly, it is a battle that has had its good days and its bad days. And the worse that the bad days are makes it all the more difficult to remember the good days - although they are appreciated tremendously when they arrive.

In addition to all the stress that has been thrust upon her this year in her role as daughter and granddaughter, Margaret has also had to deal with enhanced stress in her role as mom and wife. Our children are not children any longer and while we have Suz still close at hand (I tell her occasionally "under foot" just to motivate her to stay focused on her own goals), Rob is only about six weeks away from taking up residence in the Mountain Time Zone. Her sense of pride in his work ethic, all he has achieved thus far and all he is positioned to achieve makes her heart burst with joy. The fact that the first stop on his career path shall be approximately eighteen hundred miles from home makes her heart burst as well - albeit with something less gleeful than joy. In the past few months, passing along the appreciation for the music of James McMurtry that I learned from my big brother Bill, every time she listens to "Lights of Cheyenne" her sing-a-long is choked a bit by her own tears. Old broken stars/They fall down on the land/And get mixed together/With the lights of Cheyenne. And she cannot see them from here, which means she will not be able to see him from here.

Today, Margaret begins the 46th year of her life. I am fortunate indeed that when it comes to sharing her life and her love, Margaret has permitted me to ride along. It has been a delightful ride thus far - one I am undoubtedly unworthy of. But if it is all the same with you, I would prefer that we keep that little nugget just between us.

Happy Birthday Honey- I love you. And I wish you nothing but happiness hopefully equal to what you give me.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hail to the Chief - He's The One We All Say "Hail" To....

If my math is correct - and I say "if" because I went to law school in large part to stay away from hard math (although I often think I practice law because I am a self-loathing bastard) - we are but nine sunrises from Election Day, which means we likely are but ten sunrises away from a new President-elect. I do not know why (well, sure I do - I can read after all) but I do not think we are looking at our 3rd consecutive photo finish in the Oval Office Breeder's Cup Classic.

The difficulty with campaigns is that the issue that is the hottest during the campaign may not be the only critically important issue that confronts the victor after the race has been run. Clearly, right about the time that the good folks on Wall Street revealed that their plan for investing our hard-earned 401(k) money was a combination of three-card Monty games and miniature chinchilla farms that "It's the economy, Stupid" became the principal focus of this election. With the Dow Jones average now teetering at or about seven or twelve or whatever the hell it closed out on Friday, everything else has appropriately taken a back seat to the salvage operation that our national economy has sadly appeared to become.

Yet if we believe in the ebb and flow nature of our capitalist system and our free-market economy, then we must believe that at some point the economy will rebound. The difficult thing for whichever one of our candidates fills out his change of address cards to ensure that his mail gets sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is that while all of our attention is being focused on the economy - or lack thereof - the other issues of the day that had demanded face time on the world's stage - have continued to percolate, irrespective of their level of resonance with the American electorate. War still rages in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The Russians continue to flex their muscles. And minor problems such as global warming continue to exist. The need to focus the white hot spotlight somewhere else for the past couple of months has not minimized those problems. It has simply taken the focus off of them.

Regardless of who wins on November 4, the continuing survival and success of all of us remains - as it always has - dependent as much upon one another as it does on the President. To the victor goes the spoils right? Perhaps then we would all be better served to tone down the rhetoric and remember that the process - while adversarial - is not supposed to be confrontational. In the end, regardless of who has the most votes, everybody plays. And everybody wins.

Or no one wins.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Coach Mac and a Cup of Soup

During the four years that I was an undergrad at the University of Colorado, Boulder I spent many an enjoyable Saturday afternoon in the student section in the stands at Folsom Field cheering for the home team. While I was there, CU was a school of approximately 25,000 students. While I consider myself to be a fairly alert and "with it" alumni, full disclosure compels me to admit that I do not know whether there are now more students, less students or - channeling the spirit of that pie-eyed optimist the baby bear - the exact same number of students since 25,000 was just the right number.

In the fall prior to my arrival on campus (wow, talk about overinflated self-importance eh?) CU was voted #1 by Sports Illustrated -the most beautiful spot in the United States to watch bad college football. The Buffaloes were actually beyond bad. They would have had to improve considerably in order to be considered bad. Then things began to change a bit. In 1985 the Buffs won 7 games and played in a minor bowl game. In fact, in the four years I was there the Buffs went bowling 3 times and the only time they did not - my junior year - they nevertheless finished with 7 or 8 wins. In the immediate aftermath of my graduation from CU, their fortunes improved on the gridiron as they played for the National Championship in back-to-back years, winning it on their second attempt.

I know not how it is - or how it was even - at other large-sized colleges or universities but I know during my four years at Boulder, I only had a conversation with one of my fellow schoolmates who happened to major in football on two or three occasions. My last semester in college, I took an elective course in Sociology called "Treatment of Criminal Offenders", which was taught by Roger Lauen. At one time Professor Lauen had apparently been the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections for the City of New York. One of my classmates was a massive kid named Mark Vander Poel, who was an offensive lineman for the Buffs. I do not remember him ever speaking in class other than to say "good morning" to Professor Lauen and to those of us who sat near him.

The only other times I actually engaged one of the football players in conversation both occurred during the 1988 season, which was the fall of my last year at CU. My older sister Kara got married that September and a week or two before the wedding Mom - having just about made it thru the critical first five years after her mastectomy with no recurrence of cancer- learned from her oncologist that a MRI or some other diagnostic test had revealed a large mass in either her colon or an intestine. Mom's fear was palpable. And mine was no less so.

I was contemplating Mom's fate - and cursing the notion of God - one afternoon while walking up the main stairway inside of Norlin Library. I paid no attention to where I was going or what I was doing and I walked into Kahnavis McGee. He was a linebacker for the Buffs and while his pro career with the Giants never amounted to anything, he was an exceptional college player. He had a reputation for having something of a temper - no doubt due to the fact that as a freshman he had jumped into a brawl at a Boulder bar to come to the aid of one of his teammates and left the other combatants in the fracas looking sort of like Tokyo after a visit by Godzilla.

Anyway, given his reputation, my initiation of the contact between us and my initial reaction of "What the F***?", upon my breach of whichever one of Newton's laws speaks of bodies in motion remaining in motion, our brief interlude could have ended with him hurling me over the banister and down onto the floor below. Instead, he looked down (as the top of my head had hit him about sternum-high), smiled and asked if I was OK before apologizing for running into me. I told him I was fine and pointed out that I was the horse's a** who had actually hit him and apologized for doing so. We continued on our paths and other than seeing him from the bleachers on Saturday afternoons for the remainder of that season, I never saw him again. And I never had any other conversation with him. If I had, then perhaps I would have explained why I was distracted that I failed to notice a 6'4", 260 lb man directly in front of me as I walked up a well-lit staircase. And I would have told him how relieved we had all been when we found out - the day prior to Kara's wedding - that the "mass" seen on the test was nothing.

A bit later that fall, in early October, I had the one and only conversation I ever had with a young man who, tragically, died of stomach cancer in the fall of 1990. By my senior year, Sal Aunese - a sophomore - was the Buffs' starting QB and under his good leadership, they started the season 4-0. On a simply gorgeous Saturday afternoon in mid-October, Sal and the Buffs got annihilated at Folsom Field by Barry Sanders and the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Sanders spent the afternoon - on the artificial turf of Folsom Field - doing something I had been unable to do on the staircase at Norlin Library a few weeks earlier: avoid contact with Kahnavis McGee (and the rest of his defensive teammates). By game's end, OK State had either doubled up the Buffs or come pretty damn close to doing so.

In college, I had a job at Abo's Pizza on the Hill and Saturday nights we stayed open till 2:00 A.M. - to attract the drunk, walking home from the bar crowd. At about 2:10 A.M. on Sunday morning, as I was cleaning up the joint, I heard a knock on the locked back door and when I looked up there was Sal Aunese standing in the alley. When I opened the door for him and told him, in response to his question whether we had any pizza left, that we had sold every slice and I had nothing for him, he looked right at me and said, "That's the story of my day. I've been just a little late all day." I remember trying to say something encouraging such as "You'll get them next time" and him simply shaking his head, whispering "thank you" to me and then disappearing down the alley.

I woke up this morning thinking of CU Football and the interaction between the kids on the team and the kids who make up the rest of the undergraduate population because today is a special day. Yes, it is the 22nd anniversary of the ball going thru Buckner's legs, allowing the Mets to win Game Six of the 1986 Series. But given that in the 22 years since, the Red Sox have exorcised the Curse of the Bambino and have won two WS titles, this Yankees fan will leave poor Bill Buckner alone.

Today marks the 22nd anniversary of CU 20, NU 10. On October 25, 1986 - for the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States - the Buffs defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Boulder. Consider that as conference rivals who played annually - CU played NU in Boulder every other year - and CU still could not beat them. That Saturday afternoon, in front of a packed house at Folsom Field, the Buffs sprung the upset. For reasons not entirely clear to me, the Nebraska defense never quite figured out how to keep Coach Mac's "secret" weapon - Jeff "Soupy" Campbell from killing them on the flanker reverse.

At game's end, those of us in the student section spilled out onto the field. As a college student, the trek onto your own team's turf is an odd experience because although it is your school too, there is a little part of you (or there was in me at least) thinking "I'm not supposed to be here". And then , as we were milling about, jumping up and down like idiots - some of the players ran into the crowds of students and just starting jumping up and down with us. For a moment at least, the barricade between those who play and those who watch had been knocked down. We were all CU Buffaloes and the win belonged to all of us. It was the only time in my four years of college in Boulder that I ever set foot on the turf at Folsom Field.

For a week following the upset, the University left the final score up on the board at Folsom Field. From Farrand Field, where we would play touch football nightly after dinner, we could see the scoreboard. And looking at it that week never got old. And thinking about it still, all these years later, it still makes me smile.

CU 20, NU 10.


Friday, October 24, 2008

The History of the World (thus far)

This time two weeks from now, we shall be growing accustomed to our new President-elect. It is an amazing exercise really - for as much as it frustrates and annoys me. It never ceases to surprise me that for all of the ugliness that has seeped into the world of Presidential campaigns with a breadth and a depth unimaginable a generation - or perhaps two - ago, when Election Day comes and goes and a winner has been declared, the business of the Republic goes forward.

Such a transition might be more easily understood in a monarchy, where one stands watch outside the room of the dying monarch and upon receiving notification of Majesty's final waltz, bellows "the Queen [or King] is dead! Long live the Queen [or King]!" In an enterprise where about half of us - give or take 5 percentage points either way - disagree as to who should be given the keys to the Oval Office washroom, once the election is over we go about our business. And we wait for the next election cycle to roll around so we can roll up our sleeves and beat the living bejeebers out of one another again.

Is the system under which we operate perfect? Not hardly. Is it the best available system from which to choose? If it is not, then the best one has yet to roll off of the assembly line. There are a million things wrong with it - beginning with a process that overwhelmingly and perhaps unfairly favors incumbency and wealth. Not everyone, including those who have enjoyed notoriety and success here, is a fan. H.L. Mencken is noted for saying, among other things, "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good." It was also Mencken who observed that, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

Yet for all of Mencken's cynicism, and for the countless others who share his beliefs - irrespective of the ability to articulate them - the Republic has survived. It has survived wars - whether waged on native soil against a King's army sent here to quell a revolution or waged on foreign soil to keep a continent free from tyranny or waged on native soil against our own fellow citizens. Even then, in the darkest hours of the Civil War, the Republic prevailed and though fractured, our national house did not remain permanently divided.

Our Republic has survived periods of tremendous economic upheaval as well, including but not limited to the Great Depression. And if we keep our wits about us, we will survive the Great Regurgitation of 2008 as well.

Perhaps we have survived the past two hundred and thirty-odd years, which is admittedly nothing more than an eye blink in the History of the World, Part I - and no, Part II is not ever going to be made (take it up with Mel Brooks) - not only because we have had our share of good fortune but because we have worked hard for our success. Luck is the residue of design after all. We will no doubt - regardless of which candidate wins but especially so if Senator Obama is elected President - be bombarded in the election's aftermath with newspaper articles and Op-Ed pieces pointing out to us the historical significance of what has occurred and offering much educated guesswork, dressed up in the masquerade of informed opinion, as to what it all means. Candidly, what it all means is what it has always meant - nothing more and nothing less.

What it all means is that the President-Elect is now the individual to whom all of us, whether we voted for him or not, shall look to as the standard bearer for the dreams of the Republic. Our own individual dreams? For those we should look to the person we have always looked to in order to achieve them - the person whose look meets ours every morning in the bathroom mirror. We look - or we should - to the inhabitant of the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to lead us. We do not - and we should not - look to that individual to dictate to us what to do and when to do it. For we hope that our time here shall extend beyond the tenancy of the person we next elect to practice hands-free sit n' spins in the big chair behind the President's desk when no one is around to watch.

Hope is an ephemeral thing. It is 99% intangible and 1% tangible. We can have it without seeing it or touching it. When all is right in our world - and more importantly perhaps when all is far from right - it seeps out of us and into all we touch and all with which we come into contact. And it returns to us the same way.

Here's to a hope for all of us - regardless of for whom you vote on November 4. Here's to a hope that whether the next President of the United States prefers blue crayons or red, he uses them to design and color an environment and an atmosphere of hope for himself, for us and for the Republic. We the people demand no more than that and cannot settle for anything less.

Don't be saucy with me Bearnaise.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Which One Is Pink?

In a perfect world, I would pick up the phone tomorrow and call my older brother Kelly to wish him "Happy Birthday". I am the youngest of six Kenny siblings - and the third of our parents' three sons. Bill is both the oldest of the "sibs" and the oldest of the sons. Kelly, given my Mom's maiden name as his first name, is the third oldest child and the middle son. Kelly is also one of the two "bridge kids" in our family. My three oldest siblings arrived in fairly close proximity to one another. But after Kelly's arrival there was a gap of approximately five years before Mom and Dad got back into the procreation business. After the resumption of activity (or hostilities one supposes) Kara, Jill and I followed within approximately four and one half years of one another.

As the youngest child in our large family, I was spared a lot of the direct confrontations with our father that apparently haunted the childhoods of my two brothers. While Bill's time in the gauntlet pre-dated my ability to comprehend my surroundings, I bore witness to the incredibly strained relationship Kelly had with our father. There were times when Kelly sought refuge out of the house and there were times when Mom encouraged him to spend some time away in an effort to preserve a peace whose fragility owed nothing to that half a world away in the Middle East.

Kelly had already married by the time that our father died. He had already begun the process - along with my sister-in-law Linda - of building his own family. He and Linda are blessed with three beautiful kids - all of whom are adults in their own right and at least one of whom, Bo - their oldest daughter - has made my brother a Grandfather.

In a perfect world, a brother from whom I am separated geographically by hardly any distance at all is one from whom I would not be separated emotionally by an impenetrable divide. Yet I am. And we are. At one time it saddened me to realize that neither Margaret nor my children have ever met Kelly, given his failure to answer invitations for Christmas dinners and - in an unspoken gesture that spoke volumes - my wedding. It no longer does. At one time it troubled me to think that the next time I reasonably anticipate seeing him will be when Mom dies. It no longer does.

Life is what it is and it is, as well I suppose, what we make of it. Somewhere back there in the dust my older brother and I made a mess of our lives at the point of intersection between them. At some point in time, unmarked on any calendar or map, the opportunity existed to cure the breach. We chose not to. We pursued no remedy. We sought no cure. We simply continued on from the point of intersection - heading off on paths that have taken us different directions without once glancing at the rear-view mirror to check on the other. The warning that "objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear" does not apply to this circumstance.

Nor does the old adage exalting the curative properties of time. Whatever wound was caused, regardless of who caused it, did not heal cleanly. It festered for a while and then finally - after threatening to remain open forever - it scabbed up. And it left an ugly scar. Fortunately, if one combs one's hair just the right way it is barely detectable to the naked eye.

If it is true that the sins of the fathers bear fruit in the sons, then our father's sin of the inability to swallow one's pride has borne fruit in both Kelly and me. At one time in my life, I worried about it and the consequences of it. Then I realized, rightly or wrongly, I had more important things to worry about. Eventually it happened - the child was grown, the dream was gone. Numbness becomes numbness, comfortable or not.

Perhaps rather than "Happy Birthday!", it is better still to extol him to "Drive Safely!" and remind him not to ever look back? I have not. And it has always seemed to me to be sage advice. Presumably somewhere along whatever road he is on, Kelly has reached the same conclusion.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

In Living Color.....

We are rapidly approaching the end of October and - in these parts - autumn is in full bloom. The interesting part of this time of the year is the close relationship between light and heat. Whatever the day's high temperature is recedes into your memory as soon as the sun disappears in the west. It is unlike the summer here - where heat lingers deep into the night and sometimes dissipates not at all, carrying over from one day into the next.

The window of opportunity to enjoy autumn's splendor is closing fast. And soon enough the attention of the world at large will shift from the sublime to the ridiculous as stores clear their shelves of unsold Halloween candy and other assorted paraphernalia in order to prepare for the onslaught of Christmas merchandise. Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like shopping the after-Halloween sales, eh? One wonders whether, in retrospect, had the Pilgrims had it to do all over again, they would have simply remained at anchor off of the coast of Massachusetts until after the New Year. Thanksgiving in November? It has been downgraded from a stand-alone holiday to a milepost on the Road to Christmas. Thanksgiving in February? It would be a panacea to tide us over during the downtime between Super Bowl Sunday and reporting day for pitchers and catchers. Note to home buyers: never buy real estate from a Pilgrim for he or she will have no appreciation for the first rule of real estate - location, location, location. They are the founding fathers of what is accepted as the first American holiday and while their routine was solid from start to finish - they screwed the pooch on the landing. Twelve months in which to land and they pick December's on-ramp.

We hurry thru life - more often than not out of necessity than out of choice it seems. The older we get, the more we see the bleed thru of black into white and the creation of permanent shades of gray and the more pressure we place upon ourselves to keep pace with what goes on around us. It is inevitable it seems and to the extent that we lose a little piece of ourselves along the way it is a little sad.

And as the darkness encroaches upon us, the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, let us do what we can to hold onto the light. And the color.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Here's to The Hustler

Monday is a tough enough day of the week to handle without having to include among the day's activities the funeral and burial of a loved one. Consider what a sequel-driven world in which we live. We have seen six incarnations of Rocky Balboa, four of Indiana Jones and three of High School Musical. Yet Sir Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats, whose initial wide exposure here in the United States came on the success of "I Don't Like Mondays" penned no follow-up attacks on the remaining days of the week - in spite of the fact that one easily envisions them having gotten all the way thru Thursday before the rant would have lost its credibility.

Yet yesterday brought just such a gauntlet home to bear for one of my partners, Howard Brechner, and his family. I never had the pleasure of meeting Howard's dad, Stanley Brechner, who died on Saturday at age 89. However, having had the honor of being part of the congregation who gathered for Mr. Brechner's funeral service yesterday morning and having had the chance to listen to his two adult sons - each of whom is a father himself - talk at length about the Dad they loved and the million different things he had done for them during their lives, I not only wished I had met Mr. Brechner but by the time the service had ended I felt as if I had known him.

Howard - who I have had the pleasure of knowing for close to eleven years now - and his big brother Irv - spoke eloquently and emotionally about the man who is the hero of each and exactly 50% of all of the inspiration any person would ever need to succeed. Each spoke of a story or stories about Dad that live still in the mind's eye of the teller and shall remain there forever. Neither repeated the other's stories although it was great to hear each of them tell a story about their father's seeming ability to channel Fast Eddie Felson at the mere sight of neon lighting, a felt-covered surface and the aroma of chalk. And each appeared to stop speaking - in deference to all that the family had left to do yesterday upon completion of the funeral service - long before running out of things to say about Mr. Brechner. It was an amazing moment to bear witness to and if I live to be 89, as Mr. Brechner did, I shall not forget it.

As mentioned above, Stanley Brechner was exactly 50% of the all of the inspiration anyone would need to succeed. The first speaker at his funeral yesterday - his widow Frances - is the remaining half. In a move that was among the simplest acts of bravery I have ever borne witness to, Mrs. Brechner gave the service's first eulogy. She began by expressing regret over the fact that she and Mr. Brechner had looked forward to celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary on December 24, 2008 but had fallen short of that goal. At that moment, not only did I not expect her to be able to continue, I was less than certain of my own ability to continue listening without breaking down. Continue she did. And she did so eloquently and beautifully. She effectively summarized - for those assembled - fifty-nine years spent as spouses, partners, parents and best friends in remarks that lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. It was utterly remarkable.

Bernard Malamud, the author of The Natural is noted for writing, among other things, "Without heroes, we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." The unspoken flip side to that is - in the case of the Brechners - when inspired by heroes, we can go further than we ever would have imagined possible. It was obvious yesterday - even to a man who has known only Howard, who never met Mr. Brechner and only met Mrs. Brechner for the first time at the funeral home prior to the service - that regardless of the heights they have reached thus far, Howard and Irv have much more soaring ahead of them.

And neither will ever have to guess who to thank for the clear skies and the favorable wind at their back. They will know who is responsible. As they have always known.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Home Sweet Homecoming......

Not too often do I have occasion to think of either Mark Hatcher or Bill Schultze. But Sunday was just such a day. When I was a sophomore at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Hatcher was the starting QB on the football team. My sophomore year, the football team lost its first four games - including one particularly brutal effort against in-state rival Colorado State University.

If memory serves me correctly, Mark Hatcher was a year ahead of me at CU. The only time I saw him on campus other than from my seat in the the student section at Folsom Field was during the first month or so of the fall of 1986. He and I were students together in Bill Schultze's Macro-Economics Class - at least at the beginning of the semester. Apparently, Hatcher was on the list of students attempting to add Professor Schultze's class - a fact that I became aware of thru a singularly odd experience.

As I recall it - and time being the ravager of recollection that time is - my recollection may be less than 100% - Professor Schultze's class met on Tuesday and Thursday. The "drop/add" period was still going strong thru what was - I believe - at least Week Three of the football season. At the end of class one Tuesday Professor Schultze announced the names of students who had been added to the class. Among the names he read was "Mark Hatcher". In a room of approximately 75 students, more than half of them started to boo. Started to boo a kid in the middle of Macro-Economics class because they were unhappy about his performance on the football field.

Professor Schultze's class met relatively early in the morning - it was either a 8:00 a.m. or a 9:00 a.m. class - so it likely took a moment or two for what I heard from my classmates to register in my brain. It took considerably less time for Professor Schultze's response to what he heard to register. He immediately silenced the boo birds and did so with controlled rage. Without moving from behind his lectern, he threw himself over Hatcher as if he was shielding him from a live grenade. He challenged those who would dare attack a fellow student in the relative peace and quiet of a Tuesday morning Econ class to have the courage to join Hatcher on Folsom's turf on any given Saturday afternoon.

Bill Schultze was a wonderfully articulate, good-natured and very funny man who made the otherwise dry world of economics accessible and enjoyable. But in one moment on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday morning he assumed the role of protector of a kid in his class who found himself under pressure not from another team's front four or blitzing linebackers in the middle of Folsom Field but from his fellow University of Colorado students in a first-floor lecture hall in the Economics Building.

I thought of Mark Hatcher and Bill Schultze only after reading Steve Politi in Sunday's Star-Ledger and his column regarding the reaction of the Rutgers University Homecoming crowd to the travails of RU's fifth-year senior QB, Mike Teel. Politi's read on things to me rang true. No one - including Mike Teel - offers an excuse for the less-than-satisfactory manner in which Teel has played thru the season's first seven games. But does it make it OK to boo a kid every time he walks on the field - particularly in a game in which he played marginally better than he has most of the season - simply for who he is and not for what he is doing or failing to do? Illegal it certainly is not. Arguably paying the price of admission allows one the opportunity to boo when it seems justified. But is it justified to do it to a college kid when the booing is more reflective of the fan's frustration of the season-to-date than it is of the kid's performance during the game in question?

College campuses are replete with folks sporting "beer muscles" and on home football Saturdays all across this country, the ones sporting the beer muscles are not simply the drunk kids wearing college paraphernalia and sweatshirts bearing Greek letters. They are joined in the bleachers by the alums and other fans of the home team, a lot of whom are there to support the kids wearing the home team's jersey but some of whom, unfortunately, are there hoping for three hours in the Way Back Machine, capturing a moment of long lost glory or - more likely - a sniff of glory never actually realized firsthand.

I know not what has become of Mark Hatcher or Bill Schultze over the time span of two decades. I do know that a couple of Saturdays after being booed from the cheap seats in Macro Economics class, Hatcher led the Colorado Buffaloes to a 20-10 upset of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on our home turf at Folsom Field. It was the first time since Dwight Eisenhower had been President of the United States that Colorado had defeated Nebraska in Boulder.

Perhaps the Tuesday following the upset would have been the time to congratulate Mark Hatcher on his incredible achievement - as we were all settling in for Bill Schultze's class to begin. The opportunity did not present itself. Mark Hatcher - after being heckled in an environment where he likely never expected it - decided not to subject himself to any more criticism from his fellow future economists. He dropped Bill Schultze's class. And other than on the field on Saturday afternoons for the remainder of that season, I do not think I ever saw him again.

Saturday afternoon Rutgers will play the University of Pittsburgh on the road in Pittsburgh - a place where they have had legendary difficulty winning. Any bets as to whether Mike Teel is looking forward to this road trip?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lessons Learned......

Today is the 19th of October. This is the final 19th of any month that Rob shall spend as a trainee way down upon the Swanee River. By this time next month, Georgia shall no longer be on his mind. He will be on his way to the great American West. From our northern vantage point, the time he has spent away has seemed too long. From his first-person perspective, whether it has been too long is irrelevant - it has been well spent. And that has, as they say, made all the difference.

Parenting is a full-time job and it is - or should be - a lifetime commitment. And the neat thing about it is that the longer you are at it - and the older your children are - the more chances you have to reverse roles with them. As the song says, if you teach your children well, invariably the ebb and flow of life will create a scenario in which you witness just how closely they paid attention to those lessons. You see in them the manifestation of the things you taught them, the crazy ideas and wacky dreams you shared when they were little and you were off on a family car ride someplace. For the uninitiated - once upon a time no one gave a rat's ass if the family station wagon (remember those) had a rear-seat DVD player with surround sound. Time spent together in the car was spent in (wait for it).....conversation.

And the truly neat thing about being a parent is that Inspiration Avenue is not a one-way street. Your children can inspire you as easily as you can inspire them. In the wee small hours of the morning, there are days when the alarm clock's peal is not answered by Yours Truly with a resounding "All right!" but with a markedly lower level of enthusiasm. Today for instance, I did not leap from bed at the prospect of going for my morning jaunt thru the neighborhood. But go I did. I went because I know the exercise is good for me, which by extension makes it good for Margaret and for the kids because they shall have me around a bit longer (Lucky them, I know.)

And I went, as I go 6 mornings out of 7, because in my mind's eye I see my son's face and I can see on it - from all these miles away - the fatigue and the pain that are the inevitable and inescapable residue of being a participant in a training program whose deliberate design is to push those who are in it to their breaking point.....and then saluting them as they make it beyond that point over and over. And even from all these miles away I can see the pride on his face at the million little things he has accomplished every day - just by winning today and preparing to win tomorrow.

And from fairly far away, without even realizing he is doing it, he inspires me. His inspiration has given me the encouragement I needed to push myself to do something that I have long needed to do but that as little as two months ago I lacked the motivation to do.

Teach your children well and then sit back and wait. Soon enough, they return the favor.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Long Walk Home

At some point this afternoon - if only for a brief period of time and if only because I have made a promise that I would - I will make the simultaneously short and long journey over to the campus of the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison for the annual Fall Fair and Homecoming. I spent eight years of my young adult life as a student at Wardlaw-Hartridge - joining the two sisters closest to me in age, Kara and Jill, as a graduate. The Kenny kids popped up as regular as the rain I reckon with Kara being part of the class of '81, Jill a part of the class of '83 and yours truly a member of the class of '85.

In the era in which my sisters and I attended school there - having all begun in September 1977 - W-H was more than "the school we attended". It was an institution that had ingratiated itself into every layer of our family's life. Mom - having not worked outside of the home for a number of years (a tad difficult to do when one has a houseful of kids and unlike Ms. Jolie-Pitt or some other celebumom does not have a full-time army of aides to care for them) - had re-entered the work force as a secretary for the school's Director of Development.

And Dad? Well, suffice it to say that W-H was not a part of my father's life. Rather, it was his life. It was where he lived and what he breathed, day in and day out. The perception of the man he was and how he conducted himself, which was formulated by those with whom he dealt at - and on behalf of - W-H always trumped his concern about the thoughts and feelings of those with whom he actually lived. I would say "those of us at home" but, with a nod to Elvis Costello, if home truly is anywhere you hang your head, then "home" for my father during the final decade and a half of his life was the school where he worked. I was fourteen when he died so I cannot speak intelligently regarding his behavior prior to that period of time but I suspect - being that he was an old dog and all - the manner in which he elevated his public role to a position of significance over his private role while he was at W-H was behavior that was a mere echo of behavior displayed at earlier stops along his professional course.

I smile, though sometimes thru clenched teeth, when I read an e-mail I receive from an old high school friend or acquaintance with whom I have only recently re-established contact thru the glory of Al Gore's invention, and the man or woman sending me the e-mail shares some warm or funny story about my father. I smile because most of the old chestnuts are funny - or at the very least humorous. I do so sometimes with my jaw locked and my teeth clenched however at the thought of him having chosen to share more of himself every day with those he saw from 7:30 to 3:30 than with those of us he saw 24/7. And every so often after reading such an e-mail I remove myself to the closest mirror and take a long, hard look at the face staring back at me as I try to fairly measure the degree to which I am my father's son. Some days the confrontation with the deep, dark truthful mirror leaves me happier than others.

The weatherman has done the good folks who run W-H these days a solid and the forecast, which a few days ago appeared a bit threatening, is now benign. It will be a beautiful, clear, crisp mid-October Saturday here in Levelland. So at some point later today - with adverse weather having been stripped from my list of possible alibis or excuses - I will make my irregular pilgrimage to the place that my father called home for the final quarter of his life - the place where I attended school for eight years and from which I graduated high school. Both the ravages of time and the school's unintended (by it anyway) role as the tipping point in an eternally unresolved conflict between father and son make every trip back - regardless of the occasion - a bit hard for me. I come back to visit the old town, as it were, but I do not return.

Margaret is going to sit this one out. She accompanies me from time-to-time as she enjoys the various booths and items for sale - as everyone does or should because throughout the generations of parents who have sent their children to W-H they have never failed to make this day anything but spectacular for their community - but today she is begging off, which is fine.

An exorcism is personal anyway.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Angels and Red Shoes

In the run-up to the Presidential election - with news of the strife and passion of the campaign dominating the news and leaking thru into our day-to-day - it is sobering to be reminded of certain truisms. For instance, if you are a parent then it is a truism - irrespective of your age, gender, race, religion and/or political inclination - that among the fears you hold most paramount is this one: outliving your child.

While it happens less frequently than does its reverse - parent pre-deceasing child - it still happens frequently enough to be unspeakably sad. I spend much time in this little space of my own creation speaking of my young adults and among the things that my little charcoal briquette of a heart wishes for daily is that there is a point of time in the future when they shall speak of me in the past tense and not vice versa. One cannot fathom - at least this one cannot - the enormity of the hole left in the parental heart by the death of a child.

On Monday morning 16 year-old Ryne Dougherty of Montclair High School presumably awakened, went about his business, which may or may not have included going to school (Columbus Day was Monday) but which presumably included getting ready for that afternoon's Junior Varsity football game against Don Bosco Prep - at DBP's field in Ramsey. In these parts, Bosco has morphed into the 800-pound gorilla of high school football. Hell, in September Bosco played two road games: one in Ohio and the other one in California. The Varsity football program at Bosco is currently ranked #21 in the nation.

As someone who played a number of interscholastic sports during my high school years, I am sure that Ryne Dougherty's excitement - and that of his teammates - preparing for their game against Bosco was palpable. Is there anything more exhilarating, more anxiety-provoking and more exciting as a high-school athlete than to take your turn in David's sandals and slingshot a stone or two towards the forehead of the over sized Philistine? Nothing that I can remember.

On Monday afternoon, while playing linebacker for his beloved Mounties, Ryne Dougherty tackled an opposing player, abruptly collapsed, then got to his feet briefly before collapsing again, officials said. He was immediately taken to Hackensack University Medical Center where he remained - on life support equipment - until Wednesday evening at which time he died, tragically leaving his family with a "to do" list none of them could have imagined when Ryne took the field on Monday afternoon.

A live well-lived - even for far too short a period of time - leaves an indelible mark. Pete Hamill wrote - in Downtown: My Manhattan, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man is far too short." Ryne Dougherty's time was far too short. Yet the mark he made during the too-brief time he was here, is being felt and experienced by his classmates, his schoolmates and the young men from Don Bosco Prep to whom he shall now be forever linked. His mark, made with love and in it, shall be felt as well forever by his family. Their love for him - and his for them - shall not fracture in the echo and sway.

Ryne Dougherty shall not get any older. Damn the angels and their rusted wings.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

One More Time....With Feeling

In hindsight, the now-concluded cycle of Presidential debates might have been more informative - and more illuminating in terms of their ability to shed some light on the principal combatants - had they eschewed the various formats and, instead, employed a single, multi-part question format. The Commission could hire either Jim Lehrer or Bob Schieffer, or both, to moderate. No disrespect intended to Tom Brokaw but he demonstrated as much ability to control the candidates' behavior during PD II (Presidential Debate II for those scoring at home) as Great Uncle Jed typically exerts over the little ones on Thanksgiving - none.

Anticipating that the campaigns shall spend days negotiating things - such as who shall speak first - especially since the format is set for them and not by them, might I suggest using time-honored favorites such as "once, twice, three Shoot!" or "rock, paper & scissors" to determine the order. Or perhaps a trip to Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs on Coney Island for an off-season wiener eating contest. Whether the image that cooks up in your mind's eye personifies or mocks the state of American politics, I shall leave to you for contemplation and consideration.

OK - let us presume for purposes of my delusion that Obama sucks down more fully loaded dogs than McCain and McCain has to speak first. The backdrop to the one question that I would love to see McCain answer directly goes into the first big decision he made - on the eve of the Republican Convention - which was his selection of a running mate. A cynic (or a guy who looks suspiciously like the guy who looks back at me from the bathroom mirror every morning) might think that McCain selected his running mate based upon the attractiveness of the package without bothering to open up the box and check out the contents. A cynic (OK - me) might consider the choice of a VP for a Presidential candidate who is 72 NOW to be somewhat important.

Thus the McCain single, multi-part question would be: You selected a young, conservative Governor as your running mate. Presuming Governor Palin, while embracing the same positions on various issues that she presently embraces and bringing to the table the same family dynamic that she does (child with Down's Syndrome, pregnant teenage daughter, etc), was a man, would Governor Palin have been your choice for VP? And if your answer is "Yes", then please explain the rationale for making that particular choice. And if you answer is "No", then please explain the rationale for selecting her.

With respect to the single, multi-part question for Senator Obama, the backdrop for it would be as follows: Your campaign's central themes have been "Hope" and "A Time for Change". Hope is good and after the past eight years, I think both candidates agree that change is needed. Hell, McCain has talked himself hoarse during this campaign reminding people he is not President Bush. No duh. Everyone knows that Josh Brolin is President Bush. But what does all this "time for change" stuff really mean? It makes for nice t-shirts and bumper stickers but at day's end, is is all just political jive?

Thus, the question to Senator Obama would be: In 2000, the Republicans nominated Governor George W. Bush from Texas as their candidate for President and it was well-settled at the time that other than his two terms as Governor of Texas he brought little experience to bear. To balance the ticket, Bush selected a consummate Washington insider Dick Cheney as VP. The question therefore Senator Obama is this: in light of the limited experience you have governing and/or acting as a chief executive (which appears to be even less than Bush had back in '00) and your selection of a consummate Washington insider, Joe Biden, as your VP, should we the people reasonably anticipate a change in the manner in which business is conducted in the Executive Branch? And presuming your answer is "yes", then please explain whether you anticipate that change will arise from the aptitude of you/Biden as opposed to Bush/Cheney, the character of you/Biden as opposed to Bush/Cheney, a combination of the two or something else altogether?

There will be no PD IV of course prior to this election, which as we have been told repeatedly "is the most important election of our time" (boy I cannot wait until 2012 when we will be told again "Any idiot can do this job") but that does not prevent us from asking ourselves the type of multi-part questions laid out above. Although as a betting man, I would wager that few will ask and that fewer still care at all what the answers to those questions might be.

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." So wrote H.L. Mencken. I suppose we shall find out in nineteen days precisely what we wanted this year.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And This Too Shall Pass.....

I anticipated using this space this morning to vent about the continually infuriating state of American politics - an arena where substance fell by style's wayside a generation ago and where sound bites that can be cut into audio carts for audience-participation talk radio (be it Air America or Rush Limbaugh) supplanted substantive discussions at or about the same time - in anticipation for tonight's third and final Presidential debate. But the preceding fifty-odd words or so notwithstanding, I am not.

I am not because last night when I arrived home from work something simple - yet extraordinary - occurred. Suzanne smiled. And then she laughed. And then she told Margaret and me that at some point yesterday morning as she was getting ready to leave the house for school (she is in pursuit of a Master's Degree at Seton Hall and yes, smart a$$ reader, she gets it from her mother) her big, beautiful mind threw rock - smashing the scissors that her big, aching heart had thrown - and regained control of the whole enterprise. As one who spends a great deal of my time listening to people speak to me (contrary to what you might think, in litigation a lawyer's listening skills are as important as a lawyer's oratorical skills) I kept an ear tuned - not to the roar of some metal-tempered engine on an alien, distant shore - but for a note of self-doubt and for a note of "I am really trying to convince myself and my audience of something". I heard neither. And that of course made me happy.

And it made me happy as well to not hear in her voice the resigned, flat intonation of one whose feelings of betrayal at the hands of her heart threatens to shut her down emotionally. Rather, her voice conveyed the spirit and the feeling of one whose heart and mind have now successfully worked in concert to strike the appropriate balance and appreciation for the fact that while what she has recently endured is a big deal, it is not a BIG DEAL. At the point in the sky where the road ahead meets the horizon line, being able to appreciate the difference in degree between the two is not easy. And it is not a skill set acquired by all. Suzanne has it and shall carry it with her from this point forward.

My little girl who is not so much so anymore is going to be OK. She is most certainly going to find her way. And that is most certainly all right.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Child-Proof Caps and Safety Gates

The most maddening part of being a parent is confronting on a daily basis all those things from which you cannot protect your children. Their age matters not. Your effort matters not. While being earnest is indeed important, it is frustrating - and in the case of us Dad folk emasculating - to come to grips with the fact that earnestness may look damn impressive on your resume but may do scant little to assuage the wounds that life's savagery can inflict upon your kids.

My older one - Suzanne - is not only a beautiful young lady but she is whip-smart. If you suspect that I am guilty of parental bias on either count, feel free to check out my profile picture (she is to the left of the frame) for confirmation of the former or to consult the 97.5% of her classmates from either high school or college who graduated behind her for confirmation of the latter. She has a big mind and an equally big heart. Unfortunately for about the past two weeks or so, damage sustained by the latter has knocked the former's wiring for a loop.

Among the many things that one cannot protect one's child from is heartbreak. This is particularly the case when dealing with their affairs of the heart. As a father - and for better or worse as my father's son - I have always had an arms-length relationship with the young men who have come calling on my daughter. At some point fairly early on in the relationship, I have found it worthwhile to spend a quiet moment or two with the young fella to ensure that he understands and appreciates the thin, frail thread of life - particularly his - and the consequences of his crossing the line that separates permissible and impermissible behavior as it relates to Suzanne. Whether 'neath the snow globe or in Atlantic City, one doesn't want to get caught on the wrong side of that line. To date, there have been no problems in that regard, which I attribute as much to Suzanne's own ability to regulate her own day-to-day life as to my fireside chats with the flavor-of-the-month.

While I will gladly prep the toe tag for the miscreant who would deliberately do something injurious to my little girl, there is no way to protect her from natural born heartache. Within the past couple of weeks, she ceased dating the young man she had been dating for slightly more than the past year. Sometimes I think for kids - and for purposes of this conversation my 23 y/o daughter and her 23 y/o beau qualify as kids - it is better if the romance ends in some sort of dramatic final scene. Hurl an "I hate you!" or two at each other, throw a picture, slam a door - all of which helps exorcise the demons of a failed romance. As far as I can tell that is not what occurred here. There was no blow up. The romance simply ran out of steam.

And she is experiencing a loss. Margaret and I can tell her that it will all work out, that everything will be OK, etc. We can throw every cliche into the crock pot in the hopes of producing a recovery goulash. We can do all of that and more and it will change absolutely nothing. She has been hurt and it is a hurt that will take time to heal. The time spent in the healing process? Who knows. Certainly not I. I know that my little girl - who is not so little anymore - has a steel-trap mind. And as soon as her heart stops hemorrhaging, her mind will be able to gain a toe hold in the battle for control of the whole Suzanne enterprise. But until that occurs, her mind is just left to wander, left to remember and left to wonder.

And Margaret and I are left to watch and to console. If you have ever for a moment mistakenly believed that consolation is a remedy, then might I suggest that you have a daughter. And might I further suggest that you be present in the room at the moment when the first great love of her life ends at a place somewhere other than at the chapel's altar.

You shall never make that mistake again.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Tempora et Mores

This Saturday - meaning the one approaching on the horizon line and not the one immediately now in the rear-view mirror - is the annual Fall Fair/Homecoming at my high school Alma mater. A week out, I think the plan is to wander by for a little while to check out the day's events and to see if anyone I know but have not seen in a number of years has chosen this day to wander by as well.

Once upon a time I thought I would grow up, have children and send those children to W-H to walk thru the hallways that my sisters and I walked thru as students. To be part of a place that was part of not only our lives but also the lives of our parents - each of whom worked there. And a part of the place that - without meaning to - provided my father with the outlet he needed to concentrate (or fixate perhaps) upon something at which he was significantly more comfortable than he was dealing with his own family.

At one time I thought that however many children I had, all of them would have ended up on Inman Avenue. Margaret and I have two. Neither did. Suzanne took the entrance exam for high school when she was in 8th grade - completely tested off of the charts - and then decided she wanted to go to Bishop Ahr with her friends. Considering she graduated from Bishop Ahr with honors, blazed thru Seton Hall undergrad to graduate magna cum laude and is now working towards her Master's Degree there, it appears that her decision was a sound one.

More often than not I do not make it to Homecoming. I do not think it is a conscious decision not to attend. It just seems as if more often than not something comes up that prevents me from making it. Or maybe it is just that for years I have been taking the wrong approach to the whole day.

Forever, there has been in me what I suppose there is in all of us - a sense of what might have been with regard to the effect of decisions made and decisions not made. And for the past two plus decades I have struggled with my relationship with the place that was my educational home for eight years. A fair percentage of the struggle arose out of things of my own creation. A significant percentage as well arose out my response to behavior by those who were entrusted with the stewardship of a place that meant a great deal to me and who abdicated their responsibility.

Those in charge who I despised are no longer there. And in the wake of their departure I have ceased creating barriers to my own relationship with the place. Why? My brain has finally won the war with my gut. I realize now that which I have known for the past quarter-century: the place I knew and loved as a kid still exists but it exists only in my memory. And only in my ability to recollect and remember. And that is fine. It is how it should be one supposes.

We have enjoyed a remarkable October thus far, weather wise, here in the Garden State. I hope that the weather gods continue to smile upon us - at least for seven more days. Fall Fair/Homecoming at Wardlaw-Hartridge is a wonderful day. And it is even more so when the campus is drenched in sunshine.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wings to Wheels

I may not be in the best position to assess this - living as I do in a state that ceased being a 'battleground' shortly after General George's Christmas surprise for the Hessians back in the day - but I get the sense walking and driving around my home state that the interest level in the Presidential election has plateaued. Again, that may or may not be a reflection of how things are nationally. Here in New Jersey, every four years, irrespective of who the candidate is, the Democrat atop the ticket wins all of our hardscrabble electoral votes by a comfortable margin. Working off of memory, I recall that even though Al Gore failed to win either his home state of Tennessee or President Clinton's home state of Arkansas in 2000, Prince Albert of the Valley won New Jersey by more than 10%.

This year Senator Obama is comfortably ahead of Senator McCain - recent polls I have seen in the news or on-line place his lead at anywhere from 9 points to 13 points. While I suppose it is not impossible for the McCain/Fey (sorry, Palin) ticket to make up that gap it would require at the very least an expenditure of serious money they do not have. I would be surprised to see a surge in the polls here. I anticipate that at some point between now and the fast-approaching first Tuesday after the first Monday in November the McCain campaign will fold its tents here completely so that it can better concentrate its efforts in a state where victory seems to be something better than highly unlikely. Presuming that such a place can be found to park the Straight Talk Express when we flip the calendar from October to November....other than Alaska and Arizona.

We the people are promised change but when it does not arrive we do nothing. We whine a bit and then we do indeed go gently into that good night, consoling ourselves with the fact that we have told pollsters how much we dislike negative campaigning and how we think the campaign drags on for far too long and they have listened to us. And when the first candidate announces in the Spring of '10 that she or he is running for President in 2012 and the fur starts flying shortly thereafter, there we shall be - listening to stump speeches at which ideas about how to solve problems that confront all of us shall be interspersed with attacks on potential opponents' failure to place a hand over the heart during the playing of the National Anthem, to own more homes than "regular" people do and all of the other nonsense that masquerades as substance during a campaign. When complaining about all of that dreck remember - fellow citizens - that the dreck is included to hold our interest, since the substantive discussions never seem to do so.

The Obama campaign has leaned heavily on the themes of "change" and "hope" throughout and while the message is a bit ambiguous and more than a bit light on substance, it resonates throughout the electorate. It serves all of us well to show a little faith does it not? As long as there truly is magic in the night, then our faith serves us well. If there is no magic in the night air? Then we are left to ponder whether an unrealized dream is a lie or something far more sinister altogether.

We the people are the critical part of the equation - the "X" factor as it were. We get out of government - hopefully - at least that which we put into it. Thus in order to get something more than nothing out of the great experiment we call the American Republic we must contribute something to the process. Simple lesson plan folks - the person most likely to save Me is Me. Ditto for you and for all of those fine folks you and I know. And the scores more neither of us has ever met. We sit waiting for a miracle, looking out the windows through pulled back drapes, anticipating its arrival. We are looking the wrong direction.

We the people have the unalienable right to waste our lives praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets or we can realize that all we have is ourselves and each other. No one is coming to lead us to a better place. There is no need. Redemption is right here - 'neath this dirty hood. There is no reason for failing to to redeem ourselves - only an excuse. And regardless of what we have been told, courtesy of Dr. Phil, Oprah and Ricki Lake, they are not the same thing.

In less than a month's time, we have the opportunity once again all throughout this land to prove that we know the difference. I will hold up my end. How 'bout you?


Saturday, October 11, 2008

All The Roadrunning

I am pleased that my commitment to my running program has not abated. While I have only been doing it for the past four weeks, I started it with the understanding that I was going to run six days out of seven. And I have stuck to that plan. I wonder though if I should simply bite the bullet and go every day for the morning after the morning off feels eerily like the first morning for about the first half of the trek.

I do not listen to music when I run. For starters, I am inherently frugal. That fact, combined with the fact that I have the technological capabilities of Alley Oop renders me one of the 36 remaining people in these United States who does not own an iPod. Since I cannot figure out a way to run effectively and in such a manner that the needle on my turntable will not skip that is really not an attractive option either. Also, I run every morning at 3:00 A.M. and given the apparatuses that my daughter and wife have insisted that I affix to my person (cell phone to call 911 at the first sign of heart attack and blinking red light to inform motorists of my presence - it just occurred to me that running in the pre-dawn hours on Christmas morning may really confuse the bejeebers out of the neighborhood children) it strikes me as counterproductive to listen to music. Why wear something that hopefully assists passing motorists in seeing me while simultaneously wearing something that compromises my ability to hear them as they pass?

The principal reason why I run without music though is I neither want nor need a soundtrack for my train of thought. For me, running is not easy - even though I cover a route that is slightly less than 1.5 miles and not some extreme distance - but it is important. It is important psychologically as much as it is physically. I feel better in both respects for doing it and for keeping up the commitment to do it.

We have had a couple of bitingly cold mornings already 'neath the snow globe - the type of morning that freezes your lips, the inside of your mouth and your throat as the air travels downward into your lungs - and I reasonably anticipate that within thirty days from now, "cold" will be as constant a presence in my early-morning running forecast as is "dark". On those couple of occasions thus far, the painful sensation of inhaling freezing cold air could have been a sufficient basis for cutting the route short. Or for simply staying home. Neither has occurred.

We draw strength for those people who we love and who love us and on mornings when it seems too damn cold to go, I think of Rob. I think of my 23 y/o son, the youngest member of his class, and the incredible manner in which he has conducted himself since heading south to Georgia in July. I am certain that at some point during the training - and probably more than just on one occasion - Rob has contemplated for just a moment "What the hell am I doing here?" before reminding himself what the task at hand is and getting back at it.

There are mornings when my alarm clock goes off that I really do not want to put on my running shoes (AIR MAX ASSAIL! - sorry, the name is just so damn fun to say. I actually say it aloud (in my Buzz Lightyear voice) every time I type it). But I put them on. And there are mornings when I start to run and I do not want to go the entire length of my route. Yet, I do it. I do it not only because it is good for me but because I do not want to fail to keep up my end of the bargain - to disappoint my son. If he can endure all that he must on a daily basis, then cannot I endure a little fatigue and muscle ache? Of course I can.

I want not for a source of inspiration - I have an excellent one. And one who needs no musical accompaniment.


Friday, October 10, 2008

High School Girls with Bourgeois Dreams....

'Neath the snow globe I live my life with a fair degree of disconnect. I leave for work by 4:00 a.m. six mornings out of seven and do not return home - typically - on five of those six days until some time after 6:30 p.m. I am quite confident that a lot of living goes on in my neighborhood and elsewhere in my wife's hometown. I simply am not here to bear witness to it.

I used to be more active here than I am currently. In the past I have volunteered for a number of committees, which were the brainchild of either the Municipal Court or the Boro Council (our local governing body) and when my children went to the local catholic grammar school, Our Lady of Mount Virgin, I spent time as an assistant coach on basketball and softball teams and did other things to help out around the school. My children are long since through the secondary school portion of their education and it has been years since I have set foot in OLMV. It has also been a number of years since I was last involved in any type of municipal committee - having ceased being a member of the Economic Development Committee more than three years ago.

What drove me from being an active participant in our little village's effort at participatory democracy was the attitude of the governing body. In the several years since I last participated actively, I have seen scant little to suggest that the institutional repugnance that emanated then from the Office of the Council President and the Mayor has dissipated to any discernible degree.

I am likely in the minority here but I believe that at the local level, irrespective of how well-intentioned (or not) the candidates for elected office are, a balance must always be struck between them. I happen to like dissent and to think that disagreement is a healthy thing - if it has an actual basis in fact as opposed to being disagreement simply for the sake of having something to do. I worry about unanimity on any local governing body. My primary concern is that without a voice in the room to argue from a different point of view, the chosen idea often time gets vaulted to status of "the right idea" when it is really nothing other than the only proposed idea.

Here beneath the snow globe we lack diversity on the Boro Council. All members presently are Democrats. About five or six years ago, for one brief moment, the local Republicans wrested control of the Council from the Dems and ended up with a 6-0 majority themselves. While it makes it fairly easy for the two parties' candidates to take shots at one another during each election cycle to have such a clear dividing line, I have not yet seen the evidence as to how it actually does those of us who do the living, working, tax-paying and dying here. Perhaps it is because I am not looking hard enough? Perhaps here in the village it is I who am the idiot? (Stop nodding your head - it will make it too difficult for you to read) I suppose either is possible although I do not think either is true.

I do know that in November two of the six Council seats are up for grabs. Two Democrat incumbent council members elected to not seek re-election so the Dems are running two new candidates in an effort to retain those seats. And in what strikes me as a bit of an oddity, one of the two Republican candidates is actually the wife of one of the two Democratic council members who is not seeking re-election. I suppose I should vote for her if for no other reason than to avoid having to pay my share of the signage costs at Boro Hall. After every election, if any Council seats change hands, some poor bloke from DPW has to make and paint a new sign to adorn that Council member's parking space. If the wife wins election, then we the people 'neath the Snow Globe will save 50% of our post-election painting and renovation costs.

And perhaps we can put that money to good use? I know! We can use it to attract more developers who will build duplexes in every 50 x 100 vacant lot throughout the Boro. Our property tax rate continues to skyrocket in significant part due to the lack of rateables in our commercial and light industrial areas. Our solution is to continue to encourage the construction of duplexes - not much more than a cinder block cell/just like the one next door/and the next one as well - to be occupied by multiple families, some of whom will likely have children to send to the Boro's schools, which are funded in significant part by my property taxes and those of my neighbors. The second part of our solution is to encourage viable retail space to be occupied by dollar stores, Chinese food take-out places and nail salons. We are - it seems - graduates of the Jose Feliciano School of Vision (actually his vision far outstrips that of those who govern 'neath the snow globe - his physical limitations notwithstanding.)

Here 'neath the snow globe, the seasons change. But the view? It never does. If you will excuse me, I am off to Home Depot to buy a new hand saw and a paint brush.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beyond Thunder Road

The Gallup Organization this morning reports that in its latest poll - taken prior to Tuesday night's masquerade (sorry, as someone who actually has participated in real debates I find it harder and harder to affix that title - or an air of legitimacy - to the televised spectacles to which we are subjected each and every campaign season.) that the Obama/Biden ticket has opened up an 11 point lead over McCain/Palin. Of course, if this was an NBA game and not a presidential campaign, the current margin would be of no moment whatsoever to either ticket as each knows that the deficit would undoubtedly be whittled down to 4 or 5 by October's final week before both side really start playing hard the last few days of the campaign.

Since it is not, the folks who run the McCain campaign should be concerned. One suspects that a Presidential election, which way back in those crazy days of the early Spring promised to be both substance-based and ultra-competitive will be neither. You know those Miller Beer guys who pop up, now, in the TV spots? The ones who deliver lots of Miller Beer to those bars where "folks are living the high life" and remove lots of it from places of which they disapprove? Rumor has it they have been spotted all over the country, delivering kegs of whoop ass.

Less than 30 days out, it appears as if the old adage of "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know" is being turned upside down in American presidential politics. I mention that merely as an observation, not a criticism. It is also not a criticism to say that it appears as if those who are ardent supporters of Senator Obama are so ardent in their support not because of what he has done - his limited experience in all things pertaining to government is undeniable - but because of the promise of what he can do. At its core, it is a philosophy grounded in hope more so than substance.

And there is nothing wrong with it. I have noted here previously that I am an enormous admirer of Senator McCain and shall remain so whether he wins the Presidency or takes up residence in the McGovern-Mondale & Goldwater-Dole Home of the Pummeled. Losing an election should not diminish an individual. It is a result - not an indictment of a life. Presumably Senator McCain will continue to serve the people of Arizona in the United States Senate. Or perhaps at age 72, financially secure (I heard Keith Olbermann say that he owns 7 homes and has 13 cars for crying out loud! Just curious - does anyone know how Messr. Olbermann spends the $ he 'earns' (using that term as loosely as possible) acting as an all-knower on cable TV?), he will retire.

It seems to me that once upon a time the person who lost the presidential election was called "the person who lost the election". Now, the rules have changed and the one who is defeated has not simply lost - he is a Loser. Perhaps we would all be better served if we still operated by the old-school set of rules. I fear, sadly, that we crossed the Rubicon years ago from wanting to defeat our opponent to wishing to destroy our enemy. And we did so without paying any attention at all to the fact that the former never should have been morphed into the latter. We did it. It was a transformation of self-creation. Winning was no longer enough. Winning - and hating the one you were defeating - became the new religion.

On the road to the White House, Senator Obama is being hailed as the first "African-American" candidate for President, which apropos of nothing is a bit misleading given the fact that he is a child of racially mixed parents. Be that as it may, if he accomplishes his goal, I hope he is prepared for what lies ahead. And that he is prepared for the job that he has so zealously pursued for the past 2 1/2 years.

If elected, he is nothing more or nothing less than all of those who have gone before him have been and all those who come after him shall be - the President of the United States. He will be measured, once in office, by his ability to do the job. His campaign themes center on "Hope" and "Promise". And Americans, unhappy at all that has transpired over the past eight years, have grabbed onto those themes like lifelines.

This "promise" business can be tricky stuff - especially when playing for the highest imaginable stakes, such as we are this November. Both men running for President have made them and both are relying upon the electorate's faith in their ability to deliver on them - as well as the other guy's inability to deliver on his - to help win an election. A promise made, if it ends up as a promise broken, can devastate the one betrayed by it. When the promise is broken you go on living, but it steals something from down in your soul. Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference, something in your heart goes cold.

We have suffered thru enough cold-heartedness these past few years have we not? Here's to hoping that a little warmth is on its way, whether it is dressed in red or in blue.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Standing in the Sky with His Feet on the Ground

We learned a couple of days ago from Rob that his "report date" in Wyoming is December 2. For one who is right so infrequently you might think I would enjoy it more when it occurred. But I do not. Way back when, when Rob was still situated on the victorious side of the Mason-Dixon Line, all of us had discussed when we thought he was going to have to report for duty post-FLETC. My wife and son are both pie-eyed optimists. Me? I am 100% Irish - so I know better. I firmly believe in the truthfulness of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation that, "I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know the world is going to break your heart." The subtlety of life eludes us sometimes I think. And it is that subtlety that permits it to, on occasion, break our heart not in one fell swoop but rather by the accumulation of a thousand little swoops. Damage is inflicted and consequences visited upon us without a single alarm being raised.

Anyway, prior to Rob's departure to Georgia in early July I had weighed in with my belief, which was that contrary to Margaret's best Mom-ish hope, he was going to be required to report for duty not later than two weeks after graduation. Lucky me - I am all-knowing. Two weeks after graduation is his first day on the job in Wyoming. He found out a few days ago and called home to share (or break - all depends on your perspective) the news with Margaret and me.

I shall wait a few days before engaging her directly on it - we have been married long enough that I have developed at least a little bit of a feel for how my wife emotionally processes information. I know that already her mind is racing in regard to packing him up, loading up his truck and relocating him to the badlands of Wyoming. She is going to drive cross-country with him to help him get moved into his new home. She is also going - of course - because she is "the Mom" and he is - irrespective of the commendations he earns and the goals he realizes - her little boy. It is an anathema to Margaret's approach to life to allow her baby child to move 2000 miles away and not see where he is moving to with her own eyes before the first box is unpacked. Her own young corporate relo refugee needs love too.

His report date follows hard on the heels of Thanksgiving weekend, which means that on the Sunday prior to Turkey Day, while all of the rest of the nation is watching 60 Minutes we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. Shortly after the dishes are cleared and the leftovers are put away, the countdown will begin in earnest. The two of them - my wife and my son - will roll out of the driveway together, heading off to help him get a start on his brand new life. This is one of those push-pull moments as a parent about which no one ever bothered to write a how-to book. Your heart leaps with joy at the promise of his future and of the opportunity being presented to him while it also breaks with sadness at the promise of walking past his empty room in your home. You come to grips with the fact that - while a part of him will always be there contained within the four walls of a house where he grew up - any future references to his home and to your home will not be speaking of the same place.

A mother prays, "Sleep tight, my child, sleep well, for I'll be at your side. That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell, shall pierce your dreams this night." We fathers simply add, "Amen."


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

'Tis the Season for Snakeskin Suits and Detroit Muscle

Today is the first Tuesday following the first Monday in October, which means that we are but one such first Tuesday away from Election Day 2008. Anyone who has read or listened to anything written about this election has seen or heard that this may be "the most important election of our lifetime". If that is so, then when will it start to feel like it? Is it just me or has this campaign - for all of the one-time promises of town hall meetings and substance over style - denigrated into Election 2004 - Part II....or maybe it is Election '00 - Part III....or Election '96 - Part IV...or, well you get the idea.

It is as if Shakespeare was merely a few centuries ahead of his time when he penned "sound and fury signifying nothing" and here is to hoping his descendants have not left any marketing opportunity untapped in their effort to link that slogan to every candidate in every campaign. We the people are subjected to ever more shrill and louder diatribes being hurled between the competitors with the passing of each election cycle. Perhaps if we told the hostiles that we had stopped listening long ago, they would reduce the decibel level at which they talk at one another. When everyone has turned the sound off, the difference between a whisper and a scream is one of semantics - not of substance.

One place where the screaming never seems to stop during the Fall campaign season is on E Street. While it is true that the sparks fly on E Street when the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot it is also a fact that the sparks never seem to fly quite as high as they do during a Presidential election. I am - and have been for the overwhelming majority of my life - an enormous fan of Bruce Springsteen and his music. I must confess that his personal politics are a tad left of my own. That being said, given that I have several very close friends who are also avid Springsteen fans whose personal politics are far more closely aligned to Springsteen's than they are to mine and we have no difficulty co-existing (including attending Springsteen concerts together), it is of little concern to me.

Springsteen's personal politics have been anything but mysterious for quite some time. If one was alive during the decade of the 1980's then one easily recalls his initial surprise, which quickly reddened to anger, when Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party attempted to co-opt "Born in the U.S.A." as some sort of party-first jingle. As someone who was in high school at the time, I remember wondering if anyone in Reagan's campaign ever bothered to read the lyrics or listen to anything other than the chorus. One would think that the first verse - "Born down in a dead man's town/The first kick I took is when I hit the ground/End up like a dog that's been beat too much/Till you spend half your life just covering up" would have eliminated the need for any substantive discussion on the jingoistic applicability of the tune. Then again, in the 1970's and early 1980's Carol Miller - a New York FM radio DJ - expended much time and effort trying to get "Born to Run" adopted as the New Jersey state song. Yep, nothing screams tourism mecca quite like - "Baby this town rips the bones from your back/It's a death trap/It's a suicide rap/We gotta get out while we're young"

If anyone in Reagan's camp had ever listened to a copy of the ACR (audience created recording) made from the November 5, 1980 show Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Tempe Arizona, then he/she would have known better than to seek to rip off one of his songs for the candidate's benefit. For it was from that stage - on the night after the Carter Presidency officially got its notice to quit - that Springsteen described the election's results as "frightening".

In recent years, as he has gotten older - and crankier perhaps (oh wait I am projecting again. I knew one of us had gotten crankier) and his children have continued to grow towards adulthood, Springsteen's personal politics have remained steadfast. It is his willingness to share them with one and all that has changed dramatically. And his willingness to exercise his right to speak freely and to use the heft of his fame to publicly support a candidate - John Kerry in '04 and Barack Obama this year - has grown dramatically as well.

Nature abhors a vacuum. In the universe of rock and roller fandom there are those who abhor an artist who dares to express his personal beliefs that are different from our own and conversely there are those who elevate the artist in question to God-like status upon discovering - not only is his music exceptional - but he shares the same world views as we do.

On Saturday October 4th Springsteen gave an acoustic performance in Philadelphia on behalf of a voter registration drive that apparently the Obama campaign had sponsored. He minced no words - which should not have been surprising since he endorsed Obama back in the early Spring, "After the disastrous administration of the past 8 years, we need someone to lead us in an American reclamation project. In my job, I travel the world, and occasionally play big stadiums, just like Senator Obama. I've continued to find, wherever I go, America remains a repository of people's hopes, possibilities, and desires, and that despite the terrible erosion to our standing around the world, accomplished by our recent administration, we remain, for many, a house of dreams." And just in case the point was missed by any deaf, dumb and blind kid who might have wandered into the rally, he added, "One thousand George Bushes and one thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down."

Over the course of the past five years or so, I have been a member of a group that bills itself as one of the oldest and largest on-line communities of Springsteen fans anywhere - It is my kind of group. I pay no membership dues and I never had to attend a meeting. I enjoy the few minutes a day I spend there and have had the pleasure of meeting at shows some of the fellow fans whose acquaintances I have made on-line as well as exchanging CDs with them and helping one another out buying and selling tickets. There is a very vocal component of the community that is very invested in their own personal politics. And there are times - sadly it seems to me that sometimes it happens too frequently - when the debate disintegrates into invective, directed as much against the person posting an opinion or a thought as against a particular candidate.

There is nothing that really stokes the fires of the folks on Backstreets who are politically active quite like a Springsteen appearance at a Vote For Change event. Do not feel compelled to take my word for it. Check out the index of thread topics on BTX, which is the "forum" portion of the Backstreets site. Some of the discussion runs hot and heavy and a portion of it, some of which is very personal and very pointed, is directed at Springsteen.

Me? I am inclined to believe that while each one of us is entitled to her or his own opinion, the mere fact that someone of who I am a fan - whether a musician, an actor or an athlete - has an opinion that differs from my own - does not impact the weight of that opinion. Celebrity - to me - neither enhances not detracts from the opinion offered.

Whether you are a Springsteen fan or not. Whether you are a fan of his music and of his politics or love the former and loathe the latter matters not at all to me. It matters not to me - truly - for which candidate you vote in November. What matters to me is that each of us, beginning with me, takes our responsibility seriously. To me that means we do at least two things: (a) we gather enough information about a candidate to enable us to make an informed choice about him or her; and (b) we vote. On Saturday afternoon in Philly, speaking of our "sacred house of dreams", Springsteen told the crowd that, "it needs us. You and me. To build that house with the generosity that is at the heart of the American spirit. A house that is truer and big enough to contain the hopes and dreams of all of our fellow citizens. That is where our future lies. We will rise or fall as a people by our ability to accomplish this task. Now I don't know about you, but I want that dream back, I want my America back, I want my country back."

Irrespective of your political persuasion (or lack thereof) or religious affiliation (or lack thereof), all of us would like to live for as long as we can in the land of hope and dreams. But to get there, each of us has to be willing to pay the price and to sacrifice.

After all, nobody rides for free....nobody.