Thursday, July 31, 2008

This is Radio Nowhere

This morning I woke up with aches and pains where I didn't used to. A consequence no doubt of back-to-back nights playing softball in the suffocating heat of Jersey in late July. It is OK - I'll survive. I know the old saw about whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. I simply object on principle to the regular omission of them never telling us that on the road to making us stronger, it beats the hell out of us first.

Being my father's son, I am a fan of AM Radio. I don't mean to convey the impression that between 8-tracks in my '79 Vega I am a slave to the AM dial. I do however rely upon his old staple - WCBS NewsRadio 88 - in New York City for both Yankees games and news/weather/traffic information. I swear that I could see him sneering from across the ether the day I pre-set it on my car radio. I also listen to the sports radio station in New York - WFAN.

If life does not present you with as many opportunities to get to large bus stations or carnival side shows as you'd otherwise like and you need a fix of free entertainment - as well as free reaffirmation of own worth in the universe, then allow yourself about 25 minutes a day to listen to any call-in show on a sports talk radio station. Apparently WFAN receives a lot of calls - principally from the same 3 to 4 dozen rabid guys (Ladies I am not being sexist. Over the years I would say, conservatively, that women comprise less than 5% of all of the calls I have ever heard). My single favorite staple of the sports talk listener/caller is that he will (apparently forgetting that the on-air host has just given his name and where he's calling from) declare for the listening audience the length of time he has been on hold - waiting to share his little nugget of information with the rest of us. As if a medal and not a mental evaluation should be given to anyone who spends 45 minutes on hold waiting to talk to the host of afternoon drive about why the Yankees should have sacrificed in the bottom of the 2nd inning or some other such thing. This is the same rocket scientist - believe it - who would file a complaint with the State Medical Board if he was on hold for more than 3 minutes by someone at his doctor's office. Yet, he will spend his leisure time on hold - on a call that he is paying for by the way (no 800# at 'FAN) - all for the chance to tithe at the Temple of the Obvious Observation.

If you have never experienced it, then you owe yourself this treat. It is free, it is easy and, believe me, after only 20 minutes you'll find yourself saying "there but for the grace of God go I" more often than you ever had at any other time in your life.

As a consequence of "lowest common denominator" programming, I expect and am not surprised to hear that a significant portion of WFAN's ad time - particularly on their overnight show - the 1/3 or so of which is on-air during my morning commute - is purchased by fairly inane commercials. My favorite is the series of spots featuring "Andrew" that some outfit called Boston Medical Group has been running for the past year or so. In each spot, "Andrew" breathlessly tells the audience of his embarrassment and frustration over his "sexual performance" issues and his inability to find relief until he went to......you guessed it - Boston Medical Group - Home of the Magic Magazine Rack.

I had forgotten that WCBS and WFAN are - and have been for several years I guess - owned by the same company, which I now believe operates as CBS Radio. One of the consequences of that joint ownership apparently is that the same dreck that 'FAN sells ad time to (Andrew and his not-so-magic flute) has now popped up (yes, pun intended) on the "more serious" news station. Boy am I happy that Andrew's little pea shooter is doing the job for which it was intended although I am fairly certain that I do not need to hear about it right after the latest Wall Street report. Hey wait a minute - maybe CBS Radio could make Andrew and his buddies from BMG the sponsors of its business updates. Andrew is an expert on ups and downs and on stress-created performance fluctuations. The hell with that talking head from the Wall Street Journal! Give me Andrew and his (um, I'm at a bit of a loss to describe it) head instead!

As banal as those spots are, they are not nearly as offensive to my ear as the ones that have now cropped up on both 'FAN and on 'CBS for the Canterbury Institute. Silly me. I had forgotten that in present-day America, nothing we do is really ever our fault. If we look hard enough and search high and low we can find someone or something (or if we are really, really lucky - one or more from each category) to affix responsibility for what we do or fail to do. This outfit has a radio spot - featuring a female voice (Andrew's long-suffering wife perhaps) - in which she tells the audience in her most soothing tones that she is a good mom and a good wife and that it is not her fault that she started stealing her mother's pain pills and trying to figure out ways to get more of them. After all, as she explains, she has an "addiction". And, after all, what is an addiction but a sickness - similar to diabetes.

I have members of my family who deal with one form of diabetes or another on a daily basis. I also have some firsthand experience with the concept of addiction. A lifetime ago, when I was in my early 20's, I became convinced that the way to defeat the Soviet bloc, end the Cold War and restore the Russian Royal Family to their throne was to consume my body weight in Russian vodka on a nightly basis. After several years, at the end of which my campaign was no more successful than either Napoleon's or Hitler's Christmas vacations had been, I stopped. Other than being tired of looking at myself in the mirror every morning after, I do not know what prompted me to stop. But I damn sure know this. I was not "sick" in the sense that I had not caught anything. I was engaging in behavior that I had foisted upon myself. No one made me do it. My cure? I stopped drinking vodka. Almost twenty years later, I remain "cured". Why? Because I have not had one drop of it during that time.

My mother has battled various, insidious forms of cancer over the past quarter-century. My mother-in-law is waging her own war against it right now. I have various of my siblings fighting their battles against any number of ailments - including diabetes - that they did not bring upon themselves. Rehabilitation centers provide an invaluable service for any number of folks on a regular basis and you get no argument from this quarter as to their continuing efficacy. Much in the same way I would ask you not to do #1 in my ear and tell me it is raining, do not advertise your alcohol and drug addiction treatment facility by telling me that "addiction is a sickness just like diabetes". It is a sales pitch that I find particularly obnoxious. Little Miss "Don't Blame Me, It's Not My Fault" has now replaced "Andrew" in the pantheon of fictitious characters upon whom I wish bad things.

Gee, I wonder if that is an addiction (sorry, sickness) for which I can get treated at Canterbury? I can hear my radio spot now: "It is maniacal rage, it is not my fault. It is a sickness - just like polio."

-AK

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Of Mr. C, Brian Culp and Marty Lane

Apropos of nothing, I awakened this morning thinking of each of the three men mentioned above. At one time in the course of our common existences here on the big blue marble - (OK it is a bit more charcoal-y in places such as Beijing but how important is clean air anyway? Oh wait, those pesky Olympic marathoners might prefer being able to breathe. The hell with them - eat some kung pow chicken and be quiet.) our lives were intertwined. As the song says, "so many faces in and out of my life. Some will last, some will just be now and then." At one time, I thought all three might have been the former. All ended up being the latter.

John Chandler was an amazing man. In his youth, he was a Lightweight All-American football player at Rutgers University. As an African-American sportsman, he played a number of sports exceptionally well in his youth, including not only football but tennis, track and field and basketball. Later, when his playing days were over, he became the coach of two rising African-American tennis stars in the world of tennis: Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. I got to know Mr. C. - as all of us called him - when he came to work at Wardlaw in the twilight of his life. He was the Athletic Director of what used to be known as the Lower School at Wardlaw (Kindergarten thru 7th grade). I knew Mr. C. thru my father and their mutual employment at Wardlaw. I know not whether either of them realized when they first met that they would never leave their respective jobs there.

In addition to his Athletic Director duties, Mr. C. coached the basketball team for 5th and 6th grade boys. My first year at Wardlaw was the 5th grade. I entered a school at which my father was "the Associate Head of the Lower School" (which is private school-speak for "Vice-Principal" I think). When fall ceded the stage to winter, I did what every other boy in the 5th and 6th grade did - I tried out for the basketball team. I had - with very good reason - little expectation of making the team. First , because in the good old days at Wardlaw any team that drew its members from two grades was typically populated by players from the higher grade, which meant of course that the 5th and 6th grade basketball team was going to be made up principally by 6th graders. Second, because in the good old days at Wardlaw - I was not much better of a basketball player than I am now. I was the type of basketball player that any GM not named Isiah Thomas would run from in horror.

In fairness to me, as a kid I suffered from epilepsy, for which I took phenobarbital. As a 5th grader, still waist deep in the big muddy of the illness as it were, I was taking 2 tablespoons of it daily. Epilepsy is not fun. It can be an incredibly frustrating and embarrassing illness with which to deal - particularly as a child. I caught one tremendous break in that it affected me in such a way that my mind went about 10 times too fast for my body, which was great when we were picking teams for Spelling....but less so when choosing sides for kickball. I was picked last so often for teams as a kid, my nickname was "Who's Left". Between my gynormous-sized head and my seemingly effortless ability to conjure up a grand Mal seizure on a moment's notice, I did not consider my school chums' unwillingness to pick me out of anything other than necessity as cruel or unkind. It struck me as logical. It made damn good sense.

When I arrived at Wardlaw, the dominant athlete in the Lower School was Brian Culp, a 6th grader. Brian was one of those guys who was simply outstanding at every sport - particularly football where his knack for making your whole person feel "tackled" regardless of where he actually hit you was simply uncanny. He was also one of the 6th grade stars on the basketball team. It's funny but as I sit writing this, this morning, I cannot recall one other 6th grader on that team. It was "Culpy's" team. As was every team at Wardlaw.

To ensure that the tryouts went as well as they could for me, Dad told Mom to buy me a new pair of sneakers. Once upon a time, when we lived out in the first exit beyond the middle of nowhere, Mom used to shop at the Foodtown on Route 206 in Hillsborough. Everything she needed, in terms of groceries, she was able to find there. And I do mean everything. In an era before society recognized the power of The Sports Authority and no one, nowhere, ever had the urge to go to Modell's, Mom used the Foodtown as her sporting goods emporium. Foodtown had a "sneaker tree" - a little wire rack that hung from the corner of a display at the end of one of its aisles.

Commissioned to "buy Adam a new pair of sneakers", Mom - without wasting time on niceties such as bringing her young Larry Bird along to try them on - plucked me a pair of kicks from that tree on her very first try. A lot of guys on the team wore Adidas, some wore Converse All-Stars and one or two wore Puma. I wore "MSB" - Money Savings Brand. For $3.99, they were pretty damn snazzy sneakers. You see, Mom was moved by the spirit - school spirit that is - and bought me low-top sneakers that matched our school colors......green with gold stripes.

Whenever I hear the phrase "the fix is in" I think back to tryouts for the 5th and 6th grade basketball team for when it was over, only 2 fifth graders made it. My friend Marty Lane was one of the two 5th graders. It was a no-brainer. Marty was such an incredible player that - as a 5th grader - the school newspaper (written for all grades thru 12th grade) named him its Athlete of the Month one month during that season - an honor reserved exclusively for the high school athletes. I was the other 5th grader. What's the value of friendship? For Mr. C. and my father, it was a spot at the end of the bench with my funky, glow-in-the-dark green/gold sneakers.

Mr. C. played me a couple of minutes in every game - whether the opposition asked him to or not. I did what I could to not interfere with the flow of the game, which was easy. Our team was exceptionally good. In fact, we finished the season undefeated. Somewhere buried in a box in my basement I have a Polaroid photo of all of us that was taken on the court immediately following our final game - a rout of The Peck School in Morristown, New Jersey - and a trophy that we all received for being undefeated. At least I hope I still have that stuff socked away someplace.

I played a lot of sports in school - from 5th grade thru 12th grade. I was lucky in that by 9th grade or so, the epilepsy that had afflicted me from my youth had run its course. I no longer experienced seizures. And I stopped having to take the pheno. My motor skills caught up with my mind and my athletic prowess improved considerably......all the way to mediocrity.

By the time basketball season rolled around the following year, Brian Culp was off to the world of 7th and 8th grade sports. Marty and I were the only returning players from the undefeated team of the previous year and only one of us was any good so we did not have similar success. And worst of all, Mr. C was dead. Cancer got him at the beginning of that school year. Wardlaw hired a guy (whose name is burned into my memory but who I shall not permit to be the recipient of any free ink here) to fill Mr. C's position. The new guy was the anti-Mr. C, which is to say he was a classless, clueless boor who, while working in a school, appeared to genuinely hate children. About a year after he arrived to do a job for which he was ill-prepared, he had run his course. He was shown the door at Wardlaw (by my father I do believe) and he left Wardlaw to go spread his particular brand of venom somewhere else.

I thought of Mr. C, Brian Culp and Marty Lane because all these years later and all of the various teams on which I have played in any number of sports, the 1977-78 Wardlaw-Hartridge 5th and 6th grade basketball team remains the only unbeaten team on which I have ever played. I hope that wherever life has taken Brian and Marty that they are both doing well and are happy. I hope that Mr. C. has rested peacefully all of these years too. For just a moment when we were much younger than we are now, we shared an experience that was insignificant - except for the memories it created and the stories we can tell.

Undefeated. Everybody goes home. If only in our memories and for just a little while.

-AK

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Mystery Uncovered....

Thank whatever celestial deity whose presence you acknowledge (for me the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man leaps immediately to mind) for former Vice-President Al Gore. But for Prince Albert of the Valley and his creative genius, we would not have the Internet. And without the Internet, we would not have the ability to communicate with practically anyone, practically any time we want and practically at any place in the world.

I give props to Tennessee's one-time favorite son (though it's unclear whether he's yet come to grips with the fact that irrespective of however many chads got caught hanging around in FLA in '00, had he simply won his home state he'd have won the election - maybe the fine folks in the Volunteer State simply wanted him to move home and they did not want to share him with the rest of the nation any longer).

While I am more than a bit slow on the uptick (any or all of my five older sibs are available at your convenience to provide confirmation) I have finally embraced his information superhighway as a means for interacting with people whose heads and faces had long ago dropped below the tree line in my mind's eye and, as a result, faded to black. And let us not forget that but for Mr. Gore's magic carpet none of us would ever know how many singles in the Dover New Jersey area were waiting to chat with us right now! Oh the stories we could tell, eh?

I do not pretend to know how far apart in the Crayola 64-color variety pack "ignorance" and "indifference" are situated. But I am relieved (I suppose) to have learned that my abject failure to maintain contact with any old friends was attributable more to not knowing how to do so, once we had lost contact, than not having any interest in the maintenance. Equipped now with the tools for re-initiating contact, I have been able to do so. I tell myself that the reaction to any effort I undertake is something akin to "WOW! Lucky day! I just heard from Adam Kenny for the first time in [fill in the blank] years!" although I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that more than one such effort has likely prompted something more like "Are you kidding me? I hated this A##%$LE when we were kids. How the hell did he find me?" as a precursor to e-mail addresses being changed and fingerprints being altered.

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins I think - with Bashful, Doc, Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy and a player to be named later filling out the roster. I do not envy Margaret's lifetime friendship with Lynne and Carolyn and the offshoots from it - such as her friendship that has grown up over time with Gidg. But I most certainly admire it. As a group they have known one another for so long and lived thru one another's shining moments and....well moments that were glaring but not quite shining. The strength of the bond is such that respect and affection occupy seats of equal stature at the table.

Candidly, their bond, its strength and its vitality, is not something attainable thru the process of re-connecting some dots from bygone days, as I have been doing lately. And that is of course fine. One cannot manufacture nostalgia - no matter what you might have been told to the contrary by Steiner Collectibles. Nostalgia is about real things gone.

Margaret and her friends have worked damned hard at maintaining their bond over the course of its life. And they know, as insiders, what is sometimes lost to the rest of the world: it is never easy, the secret is making it appear to be.

The stars are burning bright. Indeed they are. Long may they burn.

-AK

Monday, July 28, 2008

In the Cool of the Evening Light.....

The rain came and the winds as well. And for a couple of moments yesterday afternoon out in Parking Lot 13A at the field office of Mara Tech in East Rutherford, things looked more than a little bleak. While our tailgate survived unscathed, there was some concern that the purpose for which we had gathered - the first of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's three-night stand on their home turf - would have to be cancelled. Thunder and lightning are funny things in that their presence often prompts responsible officials to postpone events....especially when one such event calls for 55,000 individuals to gather outdoors in a fairly confined, contained space.

As quickly as the weather assault arrived, it vacated the premises. It was as if the entire month of March (in like a lion, out like a lamb) ran through the belly of July like a fast-moving, painful but ultimately harmless virus - the only visible remnants being mussed-up hair and dirt on what were once clean clothes. In the wake of the departing storm front, the skies lightened and the sun peeked thru from time-to-time, not actually making its presence felt but reassuring those of us on the ground that it was there if we needed it.

Yesterday, as is often the case, we really did not need it. While I know it is a fool's errand to attempt to thwart the onward progress of time, I cannot escape the feeling each and every time I immerse myself into the enjoyment of a Springsteen concert that even if I have not turned time's hands backwards, I have frozen them in place for just a little while.

And the place where I have frozen them is a place that more than a little part of me - and a little part of each and every one of us I'd suspect - wishes they could remain for at least a little while longer. It is a place in which the age in my bones cedes its authority to the joy in my heart and allows me to feel as I once did - a lifetime ago - when I was a boy.

The feeling is not one of youth. Rather it is one of innocence. And one of limitless possibility. Courtesy of the teachings of my big brother Bill, Springsteen has occupied the heaviest rotation in the soundtrack of my life. His music has forever been the accompaniment of my journey through the land of hope and dreams. The older I get, the more jaded I become and the more disaffected I feel by what I see and I experience, the more I need it. Hell, the more I crave - the more I actually seek it out to bring me some inner peace, even if for just a little while.

As someone who has had the pleasure of seeing several dozen Springsteen shows, I would place last night's offering in the pantheon of truly great live performances. For three hours and fifteen minutes, his band of merry revelers - led by their 58 years young ringmaster - played the hell out of Giants Stadium. It was simply an outstanding concert.

Often, it is about so much more than the show. It is about what the show enables us to do. For me, yesterday it enabled me to reconnect with one of my oldest friends, Cesar. Once upon a lifetime or two ago, when we were both boys we were close friends. We attended Wardlaw together, we played soccer together, we ran track together and dealt with the pitfalls of teenage life together - including but not limited to the ever-popular "who did what to piss off his girlfriend this week?" (If memory serves me correctly, Cesar was the champion in that particular competition but not for lack of trying on my part. It was more due to the fact that the then-love of my life realized far sooner than did his that high school romance really was not worth all of the drama.) Before yesterday, I had last seen him approximately twenty years ago. And considering how gracefully he avoided pointing out that I have significantly more gray hair than he does, I hope that another score does not pass into posterity before I see him again.

I am kidding of course. I hope that another twenty years does not pass before I see him again because it was so nice to see him yesterday. And to meet the friends of his who came with him to see the show. And to introduce his friends and him to Margaret and to our friends. And to spend a couple of hours hanging out together and talking. Talking not about high school days gone forever, confined to the dustbin of history and the yellowed pages of a twenty-five year old copy of Tempora Et Mores but instead about our lives today. It was as if the distance between conversations closed in an eye blink and closed so naturally that no one needed to work to bridge the gap.

I smile this morning as I write this because writing about Springsteen makes me think, as it often does, of Margaret. Last night, in the encore he performed Girls in Their Summer Clothes from the MAGIC CD, which includes a lyric that never fails to make me think of my wife:

Hello beautiful thing, maybe you could save my life
In just a glance, down here on magic street
Loves a fool's dance
And I ain't got much sense, but I still got my feet

I never had much sense. And I suspect that often times I make little sense. Yet there she is - as she always is - the beautiful woman who truly did save my life. For the most part, the friends with whom we attend Springsteen shows and with whom we tailgate were Margaret's long before they were mine. My wife has been the key to the kingdom as it were. Without her, I would not know them. And without her, I would not be able to enjoy their friendship. And without her, I would not have been able yesterday to connect disparate elements of my existence - to link together the "me" I once was with the "me" I am now.

Here in the land of hope and dreams, we the sinners sit right beside the saints. It is a big train and there is always room for at least one more. Climb on board. I promise you that no matter where we end up, you shall enjoy the trip.

-AK

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Waiting on a Sunny Day

The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? Tonight 55,000 people (give or take a few hundred) shall gather at Giants Stadium - or as we like to call it now "The Old Ballpark Where They Did Not Screw Season Ticket Holders With PSLs" - for the first of three "home" dates by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. In Hollywood, such an evening would be accompanied by 70 degree temperatures, clear skies and soothing breezes. In Jersey? The evening's forecast calls for 80 degrees, ominous black skies full of rain and gale force wind gusts. Will it make a damn bit of difference? To a few, perhaps but not to the many. It is what it is. We're from Jersey. We can take a little rain.

Is a little rain and wind in the middle of one's tailgate a bit of a downer? Sure. Is it something worth more than a momentary gripe? Nope. On the larger scheme of things, it is a non-event. Those of us who are going are going as much for what something as innocuous as the opening chords of a familiar song mean to us as we are for the chance to take a step out of the whirling dervish that is life - just for a little while - and communicate with one another face-to-face. No text messages, IMs, or e-mails. Honest to goodness conversation - just like when we were kids. And we lived in a world without all of the gadgets that make our lives so simple.

Everything is relative. Irrespective of today's weather forecast, or tomorrow's for that matter, there is a household about a mile from my own where there is nothing but sunshine ahead for as far as the eye can see. One day last week the family unfurled a sign on their front lawn - welcoming home one of their one, safely, from his military service in Afghanistan. I do not know the family. And I'm a bit embarrassed to say that while I pass the house twice a day, and I know the member whose safe return home they are celebrating is John, I cannot recall the family's name. No matter. His service is honored and his return is celebrated by those who love him. And by those of us who do not know him and who will, perhaps, never meet him. His has indeed been a long walk home. He has made it. And that is, in and of itself, cause for celebration.

Later today Margaret, our Springsteen tailgating com padres and I will join the great migration north to the great football orifice positioned atop the famous "swamps of Jersey". While all of us gathered tonight would prefer that there not be a cloud in the sky, if our wish is not Nature's command we will be just fine thank you very much.

It is, after all, the little things that count. And one family's soldier's safe return from war is one damn big "little thing".

-AK

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Holding Back the Flood

Last night was a hell of a night for the home team. And no, although I am a devout Yankees fan and am hopeful that the July 17th wake-up call they received to finally begin playing baseball this season carries them thru to October's end, they are not the home team of which I speak.

I have been interacting with Margaret's family for about two decades now. We are married fifteen years and together for seventeen. My wife has what can fairly be described as a "tight" relationship with her family, especially her immediate family. From the roof of our home, one can see the home of Margaret's only sib - older brother Frank - and his family and the home of her parents, which is of course the home where she and Frank were raised. While I'm not from here, Margaret has always been. While she's moved around inside of the snow globe - to get a better appreciation of its dimensions no doubt - other than a brief period of time when she emigrated to Bridgewater (7 minutes away and an era we have chronicled as "The Lost Years" in all albums and journals) she has been from here forever.

While I jokingly refer to the denizens of our particular little tiny town as folks living "under the snow globe" - having always been more of a "chasing the great herds" guy who still has trouble answering the "where are you from?" - type of question in one hundred words or less because of all of the different places in New Jersey I hung my own hat between my date of birth and my wedding day, there are times when I am reminded that familiarity breeds things significantly more wonderful and important than contempt.

Margaret's mom - Sue (for whom our daughter is named) has been battling cancer for the past four and a half years. It would be an egregious understatement to identify my mother-in-law as the cornerstone and the rock of Margaret's family, but I am at a loss to find a word that more fairly approximates who she is and all that she does. She is in her mid 70's now and while waging her own valiant struggle against a relentless and merciless foe, she has not only continued to do all that she does for her husband, her brother, her children and her gaggle of grandchildren, she continues to be the principal care-giver and care-taker of her own mother - who is 94 years old and who lives with Margaret's parents.

Having had the unfortunate pleasure of securing a ringside seat for my Mom's sabre dance with cancer these past two-plus decades, it has been painful and sometimes excruciating to watch the hell through which my mother-in-law has gone. There are times when one thinks that she cannot be expected to endure one more thing - and then she has to. There are moments - just brief glimpses really - when she doubts her own ability to conquer this thing, to vanquish this bastard because the fight is so draining and so all-consuming. Yet, even when she has to momentarily take a knee, she is up again before the referee has begun the count, looking across into the neutral corner and snarling "bring it on, you son of a bitch" before resuming hostilities.

Through it all, Margaret has assumed the role of principal care-giver and care-taker of her Mom, doing all that she can do - while working full-time, being the emotional centerpiece of her own family and making sure that the damage wrought by her idiot husband on a daily basis is minimized. Both my wife and my mother-in-law are physically small women. And both remind me daily that I too have seen living proof of Bob Lilly's adage about the amount of one's fighting spirit bearing no relationship whatsoever to the size of the person.

The battle exhausts my mother-in-law, worse than it would have perhaps had this enemy first assaulted her when she was 50 and not when she was 70. Some of her days are bad. And some of her days are worse yet. Still she keeps battling. And on occasion faith is indeed rewarded. Yesterday was one such occasion.

Margaret, Sue and a small group of rowdies - including at least one long-time friend Connie who has known both my wife and my mother-in-law for (I think) most of, if not all of, Margaret's life (see Mr. Smart Ass, living under the snow globe does have its advantages) - went out to do some responsible martini-drinking. And what Margaret originally hoped would be an event that her mom - presently in a cycle of chemotherapy - had the energy to enjoy for an hour or two morphed into an all-night affair. It lasted well into the night with Margaret arriving home after I had watched Mo put an end to the Sox's hopes in the bottom of the 9th and started drifting off to sleep.

In the darkness of our bedroom, lit only by the light of the TV screen, Margaret's ear-to-ear grin was unmistakable. It said more eloquently and poignantly than I ever could what a success the evening was. And what a tremendous time Sue had enjoyed and all of them had enjoyed, basking in the glow of Sue's happiness.

It is true and unfortunate that the good times never seem to last. It is also true - and most fortunate - that once embedded into our memory they exist there forever. They fortify us and give us what we need to survive the bad times. When you are immersed in a good time, you worry not about how long it shall last or what may be coming around the next bend. You simply enjoy it. It is a self-contained triumph. And nothing that follows will diminish it or detract from it. Last night was such a moment.

Even while the Bronx Bombers are wearing their stately road grays at the Fens this weekend and I am cheering for their success, I am rooting, as I always do, harder still for THE home team. They pulled out a big one last night.

Raise your glasses please. Here's a toast to their continuing success.

-AK

Friday, July 25, 2008

Hair Rollers, Satellite Dishes and a Clear View of the Sky

If further evidence was needed that my old nemesis Murphy was in fact a charter member of the Royal Order of the Hibernians, he paid a little visit to us, here under the snow globe, in the middle of Wednesday's thunderstorms. With the mercury on the north side of 90 and rising and the relative humidity at a level where spontaneous liquidity occurs, lightning apparently either hit or struck close enough to the compressor for our central air conditioning unit that it rendered it useless.

Applying the same rationale that dictates that you'll either run out of gas or break down miles from any service station, our central air conditioning unit was slain in the middle of a heat wave. At the risk of really seeming to have embraced a persecution complex, ours was the only one on the block so destroyed, which suggests to me that perhaps whoever is the Pit Boss at the Great Celestial Casino (no Mr. Trump I'm speaking not of Taj Mahal) reads this space from time-to-time.

Among the greatest devices for measuring the efficacy of Mr. Einstein's favorite theory is the introduction of a variable that makes all concerned truly uncomfortable. Sweltering heat works nicely. Time passes no more slowly than when an element such as extreme temperature is introduced into the equation. It was either because the heat was fraying her final nerve or - perhaps - because of her sincere concern for my safety - that in the crock pot that was our den last evening my long-suffering bride suggested that during the next thunderstorm I should spend some quality time outside standing guard over the central air conditioning unit. She's thinking maybe that if there is even a kernel of truth to the old axiom that lightning does not strike in the same place twice I could be in no safer place? Perhaps, but I would be more convinced that was the underlying basis for the proposal had she not suggested that I also stand in a metal tub - ankle deep in water - while manning my post.

Apparently at some point last evening - before I arrived home from work - Margaret had a guy at the house surveying the damage and reporting - with an ear-t0-ear grin no doubt, what our options are and how much each would cost. After giving some consideration to simply lying prone on the driveway and having him run me over with his van - a service he would perform gratis apparently in exchange for assurances that Margaret would not prosecute him - it appears as if we are either going to have to replace the compressor or bite the bullet and replace the entire unit. While I appreciate everyone's entitlement to make a living and I know that in my world it is not optional equipment, I cannot escape the feeling upon hearing his quoted prices to do this particular deed that there is no romance left in the world. Timeless art of seduction? I think not.

We shall find out at some point today precisely how much this is going to cost us and - more importantly - when it shall be done. If I had the courage of my convictions, then I would conjure up the nerve to check the weather forecast. If we are expecting unseasonably cool weather, then we shall be his first stop this morning (Hell, he may even be there as I write this). If however, July shall continue to be like....well, July, here then I will be turning the calendar page to August before Mr. Freeze completes his work and moves on.

.....Unless, of course, the calendar pages are stuck together by the heat and humidity.

-AK

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Postcards from Points Unknown

I am not and have never been - much to the chagrin of my long-suffering bride - much of a vacation guy. I'm not too good with too much free time - it makes me anxious. As a consequence of my firmly entrenched, completely inane life approach, we do not travel much.

Every rule has its exceptions of course. Once upon a time - or perhaps it was in law school and I am simply wishing it was make-believe - someone much wiser than I am (feel free to take your numbers lining up by height shortest to tallest as you go, thank you very much) said that it is the exception that proves the rule. That sounded pretty cool to me although it was like an ever-increasing amount of information that passes thru my mind on its way to some better time zone down the line in that I was not then - and I am not now - absolutely certain that I understand it.

Perhaps it means that it is OK for me to suspend all work-related activity for the vacation that is a Springsteen concert. Margaret and I have a tremendous group of friends with whom we have had the pleasure of attending a sizable number of shows. Whether we all end up sitting scattered throughout the venue, which often happens, or we all end up together, which happens less frequently, we always try to spend as much time as we can together beforehand tailgating and simply enjoying one another's company.

Sunday evening Springsteen and the E Street Band kick off the first of 3 nights at Giants Stadium. In 2003, on the Rising Tour, they played 10 shows at Giants Stadium - including a handful of weekend shows, which lend themselves quite easily to tailgating thank you very much. Our little collective traveling band of Springsteen fans spent so much time in Parking Lot 10C at Giants Stadium that summer that we still all refer to the summer of '03 as "The Summer of Bruce".

Sunday night's show will be the first Giants Stadium appearance they have made since August 31st of the Summer of Bruce. Margaret and I are going. And while not all of the traveling circus is going to Sunday's show, a significant number of us are. The weather for Sunday is still very much of a crapshoot (we've spent the last 24 hours here in Levelland watching the animals play rock, paper & scissors for spots on Noah's Carnival Cruise) the company will be fantastic and the evening's entertainment will be tremendous as well.

Hell of a way to spend a vacation, don't you think? And it knocks your postcard expense down to next to nothing.


-AK

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Baby Steps....

The Glimmer Twins were right after all. Time truly waits for no one. Today is the 23rd of July, which means that it has already been fourteen days since Rob went out into the great wide open, alone, and headed south towards the first day of the rest of his life. We received the update last night, which was that all is well in Dixieland. His voice, momentarily tinged with tension upon his arrival, has resumed its relaxed cadence. Fatigue has overtaken fear - which had poked its head above the tree line for just a moment or two way back when (eleven or twelve days ago). Whether time is flying in Georgia due to all of the fun Rob and his training mates are having, I know not. I would be willing to wager that this is an experience that shall be remembered more fondly as the distance between him and it grows. As the song says, "Someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny."



For me the second piece of truly splendid news out of Georgia is that Rob will actually have the chance to pop home for a couple of days over the Labor Day Weekend. I have been relentlessly seeking opportunities to change my learned behavior and this gives me a splendid one. I usually work on Labor Day. The office is quiet and there is always something that has to get done. Well, this year there is something more important that has to get done. While arguably there has been every year prior to this one as well, it bears pointing out - in my defense - that any journey of self-discovery begins with baby steps. I am by no means cured but I am trying.



And it is getting better all of the time.



-AK

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sure as the Ticking of the Clock on the Wall

It is shaping up as another really brutal day here in Levelland. I was going to bitch about the weather. And then I remembered Adam Frey. I stepped on the scale this morning as I do every morning to discover that I was a pound heavier than yesterday. I was going to bitch about the seductive nature of cheesecake. And then I remembered Adam Frey. I got to work at 4:30 this morning to discover that between 6:30 last evening and 4:30 this morning, my computer had become the corner office of Virus Central. I was going to bitch about Bill Gates and his plans for global domination. And then I remembered Adam Frey.

Adam Frey is a 22 year-old college student. In March of this year, while apparently doing something as innocuous as heading off in his car to buy something eat before his first class, he was involved in a very serious car accident. The news accounts indicate that another car pulled out in front of Adam's car when it should not have, which caused Adam to take evasive action in order to avoid a collision. He half-accomplished his goal. While not colliding with the other vehicle, he lost control of his own vehicle, which flipped over twice and smashed into a tree.

Adam Frey wrestles collegiately at Cornell University - having completed his scholastic wrestling career at the wrestling juggernaut that is the Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. His is not a tale of a young athlete cut down in his prime by a paralyzing injury. In fact, his is a tale of something even more potentially tragic and more undeniably inspiring.

Being a highly-conditioned athlete might have helped young Mr. Frey as he escaped a car wreck that might have killed or maimed someone less fortunate with a case of whiplash. As part of the cautionary protocol followed at the local hospital, a CT scan was taken, which confirmed no spinal injuries. Unfortunately, the scan also revealed the presence of three cancerous tumors: on his lung, his liver and his kidney.

For one inglorious year when I was in high school - a lifetime ago before I grew my beard and began losing the inevitable war against the relentless enemy that is gray hair - I wrestled. Again, something of an "abuse of Einstein's theory of relativity" disclaimer is likely needed at this juncture. What I did was "wrestling" only in the broadest sense of the word. Suffice it to say that by the end of one season on the mats, I had a working knowledge of high school gymnasium ceiling configurations that was the equal of anything Dustin Hoffman ever conjured up in Rainman. Upon my decision to retire from wrestling rather than compete again as a 10th grader, there were pleas from other wrestlers to continue. Granted, the pleas that I reconsider my decision came solely from kids whose schools were on Wardlaw's 1982-83 schedule.

My wrestling coach, Doc Rud, had a plaque on which Rudyard Kipling's "IF" was inscribed and it was a tradition that as you finished warming up before your match, you would read "IF". Upon it being time for you to go out on the mat and wrestle, you would pass the plaque to the teammate who was "on deck". Poor Tom Byleckie. I was so bad and got pinned with such brutal ease by practically all who opposed me that I do not think he ever had the chance to get much beyond Kipling's by-line. I probably should have bought him a copy of the poem at season's end simply so he could have seen how it turned out.


While my own career was less than outstanding - actually as far from outstanding as one can get without falling off of the Earth altogether - I remain a high school wrestling fan. My interest in the sport has been rekindled by the exploits of Margaret's two nephews, Joe and Frank. Joe - the older of the two - has continued his wrestling career in college. Having had the opportunity to sit in the bleachers for the past half-dozen years or so and watch kids have at it on the mat, I am consistently impressed by the courage each of them displays, whether they are talented enough to win championships such as Adam Frey and my nephews or whether they are somewhere further down on the talent scale, such as yours truly.


It is perhaps that courage and that dogged determination that serve young Adam Frey most faithfully in this winner take all contest into which, against his wishes and without any advance knowledge, he was entered. I have never met him and likely never will. But he is simply an extraordinary young man. He is waging the battle every day and how he is continuing to live his life - not simply stay alive - in the face of long, daunting odds.


Whether Bruce Springsteen has ever met Adam Frey I know not. Nonetheless it seems as if Adam was the type of soul about whom Springsteen sang -


Hard times/
Baby, well they come to us all/
Sure as the ticking of the Clock on the Wall/
Sure as the Turning of the Night into Day.

Adam Frey is waiting on his sunny day. Grey clouds be damned. Cancer - be careful. This young man just might spadle your ass.

-AK

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wayfarers, Dead Head Stickers and Cadillacs

I make my morning commute at least an hour prior to the sun's daily ascension into the sky high above the Garden State so I've never actually noticed whether any of the vehicles that I see on my way to work is - in fact- a Cadillac adorned with a Dead Head sticker. I don't need visual acuity however to let me know that it is certainly summer here in Levelland. While I've never actually attempted to breathe with a dirty sweat sock pulled over my head (and if you'd ever seen the size of my head you'd know why - right after Dumbo starts wearing socks will that proposal sneak a toe across the border into the Realm of Possibility) the weather the past several days has certainly approximated that sensation. When the 11:00 news tells you that this week's forecast is "BRUTAL" and gives no further details, you go to sleep still feeling as if you know all you need to know about tomorrow's offering on the other side of the darkness.

For pretty much every summer for the 15 years or so since I graduated law school (Yes, I did actually graduate so those of you who have been contacting the NJ State Bar Association seeking confirmation please stop), I have played softball in one league or another. There are several of us in our little traveling band who have played together in the three or four different leagues in which we have participated. Diego Navas, the Rubino Brothers (Dave and John) and I have played together since the Union County Lawyer's League in '95. Along the way, we have picked up others - such as Diego's brother, Christian. In an effort to keep ourselves in shape to play - and because it's simply a nice way to spend a couple of hours on a Sunday morning - we try to get together every Sunday morning during the season to practice. Take some batting practice, shag some fly balls, take some ground balls in the infield, etc.

Yesterday admittedly was a day in which it was a bit difficult to appreciate the "nice way" aspect of practice inasmuch as it was about 97 degrees in Nutley @ 9:30 in the morning, when we all made the difficult (and somewhat insane) transition from our air-conditioned vehicles to the less pristine air-quality of Yanticaw Park. We'd been out there for about 90 minutes when something happened that thankfully - and probably surprisingly - does not occur too often. One of us got hurt. Dave Puteska, a guy who is front and center in the group picture of "others picked up along the way", a fellow Springsteen fanatic and a truly good human being, broke and dislocated a finger on his right hand while making a running catch on a rapidly-sinking line drive in the outfield.

Thankfully, while the injury will likely have little impact upon Dave's actual calling - the practice of law on behalf of the good people here in the Garden State - it may have effectively ended his season. So what? Well, while the various cinematic incarnations of life make it seem as if life presents us both with copious amounts of time and numerous enjoyable ways in which to fill it, neither is true. Pete Hamill said it well in "Downtown - My Manhattan" when he wrote "Time itself is long even if the time of man is far too short."

One of the reasons that all of us who play together play together is that - while there is the occasional flash of anger on a hot summer's night during a game - we enjoy playing together. In the non-stop cavalcade of insanity in which each of us participate simply by buying our ticket and participating in this life, those of us who have played softball together for a decade plus' worth of summers have done so not solely because we like the game but because we enjoy the company of those with whom we we play it. Dave's injury yesterday means that, in all likelihood, he will not be able to play again this year, which means that for all of us who derive a percentage of the enjoyment of what we do out of his participation in it, yesterday was a bad day for all of us.

Way back when - in the beginning (of when we started playing together, not in the history of mankind) I was an anomaly in that I was married and had children. Most of my teammates are younger than I am and at that time very few of them were married and fewer still had kids. Now, most of us are married and most of us have been blessed with kids. While my two are transitioning out into the real world, many of the guys with whom I play have ever-burgeoning families of little ones - ages 10 and under. As we get older, our commitments - both personal and professional - to things more substantial than Summer League Softball continue to grow. And we all know, although we never say it aloud, that our time for chasing this particular ghost from our youth is growing short. It is not so much the glory days long since past that we are after, it is the pursuit of something that existed for each of us then - before the end of the innocence.

And at least one of us wonders whether when this common connection is no more - when we no longer share humid summer nights and blazing hot summer Sunday mornings - whether it shall simply be replaced by something else seamlessly or whether the bond we have forged will be broken.

Given my genetic predisposition for keeping the world at arm's length, I suspect that I already know the answer to that question. It is a question that I prefer not to think about often or dwell upon because while it is surely out there along the horizon line, it is still apparently far enough way that I cannot make it out.

It is inescapable however - the conclusion that something as jarring as an injury to one of your friends - can make something in the distance seem closer than it ever had been before. Soon enough, the boys of summer will be gone. And we will have to put away this wonderfully childish thing forever.

-AK

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Man in Me

It has been an odd couple of weeks for me at work. Not in terms of quality of work done - just in case either of the names on the Firm's masthead or a representative of our legal malpractice insurer read this I wanted that disclaimer on the record immediately - but in terms of the pace at which the work is being completed. Is this something that would qualify as a problem in the life of a normal human being? Admittedly no. But when your DNA skill set comes with a very limited set of skills and the number of things you know how to do well - as opposed to know how to do - is even more attenuated, it is cause for pause when the only thing you do well seems not to be doing it for you at the moment.

Confidentially, reports of my work ethic, which notably I have never authored, edited or been cited as a source for, have been blown out of proportion for years. I think that I've been transformed by my partners into some sort of two-headed monster they wheel out to show to new hires as they exaggerate the willingness to work hard that the Firm shall expect from them. I have had young lawyers - some who have ended up just been passing thru our Firm (on the way to a better place somewhere down the line perhaps) and some who have stayed with us - backtrack to my office outside of the presence of whoever was leading them on the tour - and ask me if it's true that I only sleep 2 hours a night, work 18 hours a day and have never taken a sick day or been on vacation. I smile politely....and tell them that only 3 of those 4 things are true and if they don't get the hell out of my office they'll never find out which 3.

"You dance with the girl you brung to the prom" my grand-daddy used to say - or maybe it was Don Meredith who used to say that, my memory is not what it once was. It's a bit late in the game for me to complain too vigorously about a persona that has been - at my present place of business - eleven years in the making. Truth be told, I'm not an enormous fan of people and I am an enormous fan of peace and quiet. So, when I arrive at my office at or about 4:30 every morning, I enter an arena devoid of people and chock full of serenity. That's my kind of place. Same rationale applies for me to Saturday morning excursions to the office because unless the legendary "work ethic collective" we advertise in our brochure comes equipped with stealth technology applicable to both individuals and machines or everyone else has decided to go as the Invisible Man to this year's masquerade ball....well, you get the idea I'm sure.

The past few weeks however, while I've not deviated from my path in terms of work, I've simply not been firing on all cylinders upon getting there. I'm not moving at the pace or with the zeal that I typically move. I'm not sick and I'm yet so old that I suddenly cannot move as quickly as I used to (just two weeks ago, I legged out an infield single on a little squib shot I hit about 10 feet from home plate so don't tell me I don't still have wheels). I'm simply not all there.

I had it awfully easy in the parenting department as my kids were growing up. I'm married to a woman who is an absolutely amazing mother. Margaret works full time while simultaneously keeping track of where everyone is, what everyone is doing and who needs what and when for all of us. My role was simple: be the primary wage-earner. Her role was infinitely more complex: be the cornerstone. I'm embarrassed to say that she's handled her multi-faceted, immeasurably more difficult role with much more ease and grace than I have mine. When the kids were little, they were the three Amigos. I learned more of what they did thru the telling of the story about it after the fact than I did from witnessing it firsthand.

Maybe it was that sense of cool detachment that has made my response to Rob's departure so surprising, to me at least. It is as if the light inside of the little fridge atop my shoulders has finally gone on. And it has revealed to me what has been long known by the rest of the world from time immemorial: there's more to life than just working and dying.

I'd been very frustrated the past couple of weeks by my seemingly terminal case of distraction but I'll not be any longer. Now that I know its origins, I know it is neither a problem nor a bad thing. It's a good thing when you wake up - albeit a bit late in the game - to realize that it those you love the most and not that which you do for a living that are the most important.

And that when for one of those who you love the most the Garden State has given way to the real world and fallen away in his rear view mirror, it's OK to have a piece of you there with him - down across the Delaware.

-AK

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Biting the Hand that Feeds Him....and Kissing it Thereafter

Down the Shore these days, everything may not be alright. Apparently the residents of the Borough of Staten Island who migrate to the town of Belmar every summer are quite upset with Belmar Mayor Ken Pringle. It seems Mayor Pringle used a recent issue of the Town's newsletter to take issue with some of the less-than-sterling behavior that goes on out in the streets of Belmar every summer. The newsletter's stated purpose, as per Hizzoner, is to let summer renters know that Belmar is going to enforce its noise ordinances and other town ordinances aimed at curbing the type of idiotic, alcohol-fueled behavior that ends up on Girls Gone Wild!, Cops or both.

'Twas not the Mayor's message that struck an angry chord with his town's visitors from the other side of the reservoir - or more precisely the Fresh Kills landfill - it was his language. He had the gumption to call folks - among other things - "guidos" and "Bennys" - in the narrative of his recitation of events that he apparently did not make up - but rather took from the police blotter. The newsletter was a somewhat botched satirical discussion of the Borough's statistics re: summonses for noise complaints, arrests for disorderly conduct, etc. His "sin" is not that he made it up - it is that he called people out for it. I'd say "he named names" but I do not want to be faced with my own Staten Island embargo.

Did Mayor Pringle shoot himself in the foot by saying what he said in the manner in which he said it? He certainly did. Is the hue and cry really proportionate to the alleged affront? Not even close. It remains one of my favorite characteristics of human behavior that the response to anyone, especially an "outsider" (I'm guessing here that Ken Pringle is not an Italian-American and I read in the newspaper that he was born and raised in Belmar), commenting upon the type of inane, "look at me!" behavior that reinforces stereotypes, is to attack the commentator as opposed to challenging the members of the community who are perpetuating the stereotype to change their behavior.

One needs to look no further than today's New York Post and its "YO GUIDO, I'M SORRY, AWRIGHT" piece to see evidence of this phenomenon. There are several residents of Staten Island quoted in the article, all of whom express their outrage at the Mayor for what he said. None of them - not a one - is quoted as to the veracity of what he said. That's been the tenor of the response thus far. Not "Hey how dare he say those things about some of the people who rent summer places in his town, it's untrue, that's not how we act!". Rather it is, "Hey how dare he say those things. I resemble that remark! And what's it to you?" In America in the 21st Century, how dare you tell me when I'm behaving badly. I live in the Nation of "Entitlement without Accomplishment", the Land of "I Can't be Responsible for How I Behave" and within the geographical boundaries of what is fast dissolving into a Banana Republic - (man, I hope they have the cargo shorts in my size at the Bridgewater store).

The searing light of self-examination eludes us from time to time, I suppose. Perhaps that's why the reaction to what Hizzoner wrote has been what it has been - and it has been angry enough and swift enough that he has issued an apology in the latest edition of the newsletter. Perhaps it is also due in part to the fact that Hizzoner wrote what to his ear sounded like humor - and for what it's worth significant portions of it sounded damn funny to this man's ear as well - and was not received that way. The thin line that separates love and hate has an equally gaunt cousin who forms the often ambiguous border between biting satire and meanness.

Ken Pringle may or may not take solace in the fact that criticism of the type of behavior - of a few - that tends to reinforce negative stereotypes about the community - as a whole - is not any better received by the community when it comes from "an insider". Do not take my word for it, ask Bill Cosby.

Will all end well on the streets, boardwalks and beaches of Belmar? I suspect it shall. I suspect that in spite of her threatened exploration of another place to spend a week in August, Samantha DiGiodanni and her fellow 18 y/o Staten Islanders will be there - hanging out on the beach and playing beer pong in someones front yard. Here's to hoping all ends well for the warring factions.

But here's to hoping that anyone who descends on anyone else's town for their summer vacation remembers that while you're just stopping by, there are folks who live there. Your "right to have fun" and their right to the quiet enjoyment of their town - which by the way is one of the reasons (whether consciously or sub-consciously) that you choose to spend a bit of your life there every year - are not, and should never be viewed as, mutually exclusive goals. Would it have been less of an affront to the world if Mayor Pringle had simply written that Belmar is going to post a sign at its boundary lines:

"WELCOME VISITORS AND GUESTS TO OUR TOWN. WE HOPE YOU ENJOY YOUR STAY. WE THANK YOU FOR COMING. WE ASK ONLY THAT YOU DO NOT BEHAVE LIKE IMBECILES WHILE YOU ARE HERE."

Even if they use really fancy type-face it has to cost less to produce than that damned newsletter, don't you think?

-AK

Friday, July 18, 2008

Looking to the Cookie

The pre-dawn assault on Route 287 North fortunately passes most mornings in an entirely uneventful fashion. Today was no exception, save for the presence of Keebler's Cookies delivery truck in one of the neighboring lanes. I've often wondered if tractor-trailer drivers whose rigs are adorned with cartoon images - such as little tiny men wearing pointed hats and short pants - get made fun of by their long-hauling comrades when they encounter one another at rest stops and the like. In my head, I don't envision anyone screwing with the guy who drives the gasoline truck or the truck carrying skids of "GUNS AND AMMO" magazine. But the Keebler's guy? He's fair game, I'd think.

The Keebler elves have always been a mystery to me as well because I have never been able to figure out how exactly Ernie keeps finding workers for the tree factory. Unlike their blue buddies, the Smurfs, there is no female talent hanging around either the tiny water cooler or the observatory. Perhaps the tree factory is somewhere within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Like the Bat Cave, its location is closely guarded.

Regardless of the staffing issues and other assorted mysteries permeating from the Keebler crew like the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, what they have the rest of us seem to be in desperate need of I fear - a little bit of elfen magic.

The crow's legs that now occupy the window seats adjacent to my eyes tell me that no matter how fast I try to retreat from time's advances, they are still a-coming. What I see in the mirror in my bathroom every morning - while a bit frightening and a bit depressing no doubt - is not the single most frightening or depressing thing I see every day.

Years ago, Elvis Costello predicted that one day we were going to have to face "that deep, dark truthful mirror." Looking in it, is it possible that we actually like what we see? We've spent the past 18 months winnowing down the field of possible successors to the Presidency to the chosen two - Senator Obama and Senator McCain. We heard throughout both parties' primary fights that this was the year of "change". The year in which they stopped pandering to the lowest common denominator in all of us, stopped distilling ideas in 30-second sound bites and stopped acting as if adversary and enemy were interchangeable terms. Thus far, if the times they are a changin', we've seen scant little proof.

We pulled another day's page off of the calendar this morning to reveal that we're speed dialing our way thru July. Here on the 18th we sit about six weeks or so from both parties' conventions. The summer campaign season to date has been dominated by substantive discussion of big ideas hasn't it? No. It hasn't. Instead it's been dominated by those "on the left" whose principal rallying cry is that John McCain is too old and too white and by those "on the right" whose principal rallying cry is that Barack Obama is too young and too "racially diverse". Kudos to all of the geniuses in the far rings of the circus for having uncovered the truth of those two critically important positions. Without the hysterical rants of Chris Matthews and Rush Limbaugh, of Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly preaching to us nightly from the pulpit at the Rev. Billy Soul Harkus's Church of the Obvious, how the hell would we have ever figured that out for ourselves?

Both candidates are, by all accounts, good men. Both of them promised - way back when in the spring - that the general election campaign would be issue-driven. It has not been and it likely will not be. Shame on them for lying to us? Perhaps. But perhaps shame on us for not wanting an issue-driven campaign. Time is short and we're busy. If you'll point out to me in 30 seconds that McCain is too old to be President and that he just might be a little crazy - he did spend multiple years as a POW during the Vietnam War right? - or point out to me in 30 seconds that Obama is too....well "non-white" to be President and that he just might be a little Islamic - he does have a name that sounds awfully close to that bad guy we've been chasing after (well not really) for the past seven years - then you've allowed me to learn all I need to know to vote for the President. Hell, with all that free time I have, I can make plans now to attend a viewing party for The Hills or The Real Housewives of Irvington or some such thing. I can watch Access Hollywood and read People Magazine and immerse myself in learning all I can about the first few days in the lives of Brangelina's twins. In other words, I can focus on what matters.

From this corner, the single most depressing - because of its lack of surprise - element of the polling thus far is the percentage of white people who have stated they will not vote for Senator Obama because he is black. In all fairness to Senator Obama, his racial background is mixed. However for ease of reference in the media he's morphed into a "black" candidate. Perhaps, the second most inane comment - again just to this man's ear - is that McCain at 71 is too old and a significant percentage of voters will not cast a ballot for him - solely for that reason. There's more than a little part of me - fan of chaos and poking people in the eye with pointed sticks that I am - that hopes Senator Obama selects as his running mate a completely repugnant racist such as David Duke and that Senator McCain's VP slot is filled by a much younger minority such as JC Watts. I can easily envision the meltdown that will occur all over if a wrench is thrown into the works of our superficial analysis. Suddenly we will have to make a decision based not upon something other than what we see when we look at the two candidates - but what we see when we look into them.

The wishful thinker in me - while not hoping of course that David Duke or anyone else from the Klan of White-Hooded Cowards ever finds a spot on anyone's national ticket- hopes that if confronted with such a circumstance, we the people would hunker down, do our due diligence and examine the candidates in depth prior to making a decision for whom we'll vote. The cynic - nay the realist - in me anticipates that, instead, we will all go deaf from the chorus of "TAILS" being called out across the land.

Is there really magic left in the night? Here's to hoping that there is. Otherwise, someone get Charlie Daniels on the line. We're going to be in need of a fiddle player right quick.

AK

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We Play Today, We Win Today...

Rob has completed his first week of training. He is missed not one scintilla less back at the home office under the snow globe - as the best engineers here in Levelland still try to figure out how he's escaped (they suspect he somehow broke thru the glass as we were all watching the pretty flakes fall) - the folks back home have accepted the silence and the void left by his absence. We have not embraced it just quite yet but we have accepted it. Acceptance comes easier than it would if his absence was occasioned by something unpleasant. Of course it is not. Our boy is simply off and running to take his opportunity to pursue what he wants. The process he must follow to achieve that opportunity, a process that takes him far from his childhood home, is difficult, about that there is no doubt. Unpleasant? No.

The frustrating thing as a parent about a process such as this one is that your child - who is no longer a child I know - has to take this step and has to complete this process alone. Whether that's fair or unfair is irrelevant. It's the drill. It is, to steal from Bruce Hornsby, "just the way it is. And some things will never change."

I worry - as a parent - that the extended and sometimes harsh nature of the process might wear Rob down. When he telephoned Sunday night his mother - who has a significantly better nuance detector than do I - picked up some tension on the line, which arose out of the first couple of days of training, during which the instructors were somewhat in the face of their fresh new crop of trainees. Rob told Margaret that the instructors made a point of telling the new recruits that a number of them would prove not to have what it takes to complete the training and that they would not successfully complete the program. As Rob described it to his mother, "they scared the hell out of us."

I enjoyed junior high and high school a great deal - some might say they were the best dozen years of my life - and while they are objects in my rear-view mirror that most certainly are not closer than they appear to be, I recognize the time-honored approach of "reinvention thru destruction". You can't be who I want you to be - and who the organization you are training to join needs you to be - unless and until I can reshape you. Page One in that playbook is an all-out blitz - "the scare the hell out of you" technique. If I scream and you fold up, then you are not the person the organization needs.

I offer no opinion as to the sagacity of such an approach but its popularity seems undeniable. The counterbalance to it, which my son is now employing, is to concentrate solely on "winning today". Time and distance are daunting, especially when you are a 22 y/o young man in a setting in which you are among the youngest members of your training class. Four years of living in NYC did not prepare him as well as he might have anticipated for the twin enemies of time and distance because even when he was there, he was not very far from here - either geographically or practically. He could hop on a train in Penn Station and be home 90 minutes later.

Now the open lines to the folks back home are long-distance lines. I think the realization of that fact, as the rush of adrenaline that carried him to Georgia began to recede a bit, overwhelmed him just a bit. For just an eye blink, he worried about his ability to complete 17.5 weeks.

It's a common error. And we all make it. We worry about the whole, not the parts. 17.5 weeks is nothing but a lot of single days, stacked back to back and belly to belly. You cannot complete all of them at once - so do not worry about trying. Today is what is on your agenda. Win today. With all apologies to Stevie Nicks (who I must confess I've always enjoyed looking at far more than listening to) and the good folks of Fleetwood Mac, do not even bother thinking about tomorrow. Win today. It is the only day over which you have any control.

Today is Day 1 of Week 2 for Rob in Georgia. Has he completed all that has been put on his plate thus far to complete. He cannot do anything more than what he has done. He will get up today, concentrate on winning the day, and go to bed tonight prepared to do it all again tomorrow. Who would have suspected that the former Yankee 2nd baseman - Mariano Duncan - who played for the '96 World Champions was such an adept student of the human condition? It was Duncan who, in 1996, gave his teammates t-shirts that they all wore (some every game) under their uniforms on which it was written:

WE PLAY TODAY,
WE WIN TODAY.

No mention anywhere about what should have been done yesterday or what was hoped for tomorrow. Simply focused on the task at hand. Exquisitely simple, don't you think?

I wonder if I can still find one of those on Amazon.com? If so, maybe I'll ship it to Georgia for Rob.

-AK

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Beat Up Hat & My Homemade Glove Are Here. Where Did I Put My Brand-New Pair of Shoes?

Had I known that the Major League All-Star Game was going to end right about at the time I get up in the morning - I'd have stayed up and watched. OK, I'm lying. Had I known that and had I given a rat's ass who won (although Joe Buck tells me incessantly "This time......it counts!" I don't buy it- '04 BoSox sweep Cards, '05 ChiSox sweep Astros, '06 Cards beat Tigers in 5 and '07 BoSox sweep Rockies so I don't think home-field advantage means a whole hell of a lot) I'd have stayed up to watch.

I used to love watching the All-Star Game as a kid. The greatest thing about being at the tail end of a large family whose membership upon your arrival includes 2 brothers and 2 parents who are all maniacal baseball fans is that they hook you on the game immediately. Baseball is a sport that lends itself to storytelling and I was truly blessed that in my big Irish family, there are no shortage of those who can tell a story well. I got hooked on baseball as a kid as much because of what I heard about players I'd never seen play live as I did because of the games I watched on TV or listened to on the radio.

When I was a little tyke the NL won the All-Star Game every year - or so it seemed. The best thing about it though was that because players didn't move around then as they do now and didn't change leagues with the frequency they now do, the same guys played each other every year. Forget the whole "this time it counts!" jive - since it only really counts for one team from each league right? In the old days, Thurman Munson's AL All-Stars faced off vs. Johnny Bench's NL All-Stars every year and you'd see Seaver, Sutton, Garvey, Morgan, Perez, Rose, Parker, Concepcion and Bench on the NL team annually opposing Palmer, Hunter, Brett, Jackson, Grich, Carew, Yaz, Lynn, and Munson. Although it was an exhibition game, it really seemed to me as if losing every summer wore on the AL players. An experience made worse by the fact that they all knew that - the following summer - they'd have to face off against the same group of guys in the NL dugout.

Once upon a time it was a game. Now it's an EVENT. I know this because Fox began running promos for this year's game in the top of the 2nd inning of the '07 All-Star Game. I know this as well because in typical "let's screw the future audience for our game" fashion, MLB and Fox figured out how to turn an 8:00 p.m. broadcast time into an 8:47 p.m. first pitch. I enjoyed watching the Hall of Famers who attended the game standing on the diamond at their positions. Well, I did right up until the camera focused on the most miserable of them all - the Say Hey "What the Hell Are You Looking At?" Kid - Willie Mays. I'm not sure where Joe DiMaggio has gone but it appears as if wherever he is now, he took Willie's joy with him. He certainly took his smile. Mays stood there alone in CF glowering at the camera. He seemed underwhelmed by meeting the NL All-Star CF who plays for the Cubs. And the entirety of the time that the camera remained on him, he never made eye contact with Josh Hamilton - the AL CF. This was in spite of Fox showing Hamilton's efforts to engage Mays....or at the very least to get him to turn towards him and acknowledge that he was standing there with him.

I understand as well the rationale behind introducing the Yankee Hall-of-Famers at each position last in order to milk the largest response from the New York crowd. Although I'm curious to know how many Yankee season ticket holders were there last night. I know that my nephew Pat, my oldest brother Bill's son, told me that he and his friends sold the All-Star tickets they had purchased thru their season ticket subscription. Given the going price for the seats, I'd wager that other season-ticket holders did the same.

Anyway, accepting the notion that the seats in Yankee Stadium last night were filled by a large percentage of the folks who fill them on any other Tuesday night for a home game, I understood the structure of the introductions. That being said, hasn't baseball put Hank Aaron through enough already? It was bad enough that he had to bear witness last year to HGH Barry Bonds breaking his career home run record. Last night, he had to be introduced before Reggie Jackson among the HOF right fielders? Kudos to the crowd, which to my ear gave Hammerin' Hank an ovation equal to that of any other HOF with the exception of Yogi Berra. It was as if he received last night what he won't in the record books unless they prove Bonds cheated - the respect and adulation due him as the all-time home run hitter.

I was saddened a bit as well by George Steinbrenner's appearance. Because the Boss is out of the spotlight these days - leaving Hal and Hank to Indian wrestle for the set of silver spoons - my mind had tricked me into picturing Mr. Steinbrenner as he'd always looked, which was never like a sickly old man. When the golf cart that brought him out on the field made its way near the mound so he could deliver the balls to Goose, Whitey, Reggie and Yogi for the ceremonial first pitch, the look I saw in each one of their faces was not joy - it was concern. It made me wonder if Mr. Steinbrenner will be alive to enjoy Opening Day in the "new" Yankee Stadium in April '09. One cannot be a Yankee fan and not have a love/hate relationship with Mr. Steinbrenner. While he is the guy who brought Reggie Jackson and, almost twenty years later, Joe Torre and his gang (O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Knoblauch, Boomer and Brosius) to the Bronx - and championships followed with them - he's the guy who brought Ed Whitson, Ken Phelps and Roger Clemens there as well.

Is it because I was so much older then and I'm younger than that now or is it something else altogether that has me looking through the looking glass - from the opposite direction - on this whole "this time it counts!" promotion? I know not. In the long run, it matters not. As much as history is in the mind of the teller, what "counts" is in the heart of each of us.....regardless of how many times Joe Buck tells me otherwise or how many exclamation points Bud Selig inserts in the advertisements.

While I've tried with all my might to put away childish things, I see Yogi Berra standing at home plate grinning from ear-to-ear, waving to the crowd and I'm a little kid again listening to my brothers and my parents telling me baseball stories and I can't help but smile. This time it counts? Memo to MLB: it's always counted. You've just been too blind for too long to see for what and to whom.

-AK

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Man in the Mirror

Presumably, at some point this morning shortly before my alarm clock's 3:15 a.m. peal, the Home Run Derby concluded at Yankee Stadium. I get the whole "chicks dig the long ball" thing but, memo to MLB, when the First Round takes more than two hours to complete....and there are 2 more rounds to follow, it's time to blow up the format and start over. Why can't there be just one round to the Home Run Derby, anyway? Memo #2 to MLB: when the rules for the Derby fill up my entire TV screen and take longer than 8 seconds to explain, you have too many rules. Here's an idea for you, Commissioner Selig. Ready? The eight combatants take their hacks and whoever has hit the most bombs wins. Under the inane structure presently in place, Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers breaks Hank Aaron's career HR record in the first round (sorry, I don't recognize records set by steroid- and HGH-popping cheats) and still loses the contest because in the 3rd go-round he hits fewer home runs than Justin Morneau of the Twins. That's beyond crazy. We're now traveling at ludicrous speed.

One suspects that Josh Hamilton will handle the "adversity" of not winning the Home Run Derby. Anyone who's wandered by a TV while a baseball game has been on or who has thumbed through the sports page of a paper in the past two years has heard the Josh Hamilton story. To me, the most remarkable and commendable thing about him is not that he's cleaned himself up and rebuilt his life out of the chaos he wrought upon it. Rather it's that while apologetic to those who love him who he hurt on his journey into Hell, he foists the responsibility for what happened to him on no one's shoulders but his own. I've not seen or read one interview with him where he lays the blame for his addiction at the feet of anyone other than himself.

Being able to look squarely at the face in the mirror in the morning and assign to it the responsibility for the bad as easily as you heap upon it the praise for the good is no easy feat. We live now in a world dominated by disorders, diseases and syndromes. We have ADD, ADHD, PTSD and thankfully a bouquet to express your sympathies for each and every condition - available by calling 1-800-CALL-FTD. Hell, we even have Restless Leg Syndrome now - what else do you need?

I know not whether Josh Hamilton is a 12-stepper but I pick up the vibe that he is at least a two-stepper. I have an intimate knowledge of the two steps that I know for certain he's taken. When confronting certain of my own demons in what now seems to have been a life separate from the one I'm living, I adopted the 2-step system. After being willing to make any half-baked excuse for my own miserable behavior, and drifting off to sleep at night on a river of Smirnoff vodka, I finally looked at myself squarely in the mirror. Not liking what I saw looking back at me, I opted to (a) stop feeling sorry for myself; and (b) get my head out of my ass. Upon doing those two things, and working at doing them every day, I punched my ticket out of my own personal Hell.

According to all I've read and seen, Josh Hamilton fell to depths that make a return to normalcy seem unexpected and make his ascent to a spot in the baseball heavens simply stunning. When the Rangers played the Yankees earlier this season, the YES announcers mentioned that Hamilton does not walk around with more than $20.00 in his wallet. He carries just enough money on him to buy a can of soda or something to drink and a candy bar or chips or something else upon which to snack. He knows that once one is an addict, one is never a former addict. One just fights the fight every day. Is there anyone alive out there who is not rooting for him to keep fighting and to keep winning the battle?

We've seen as well the past several days that fame is as addicting as crack cocaine. Don't take my word for it, just ask Brett Favre. During the past several months, since he announced his retirement from the Green Bay Packers, Favre has apparently reversed his field so often he has made Gayle Sayers appear to have run with all of the finesse of Larry Csonka. Someone call Dylan Thomas please and let him know that we can add #4 from the Pack as one who will not go gentle into that good night.

From where I'm sitting, Favre has diminished his own stature immeasurably in the past several months. He's gone from retired gunslinger, destined to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer (funny how no one seems to harbor any lingering memories of his 6 INT game vs. the Rams in the playoffs several years ago - in a game played indoors in St. Louis. Jets fans ran Richard Todd out of town on a rail for a 3 INT performance vs. the Dolphins in the playoffs in a game played in a monsoon in south Florida) to petulant old cry-baby. Now not only does he not want to be retired, he does not want to be a Packer either. He wants the team to release him so he can make a deal with whatever team he wants. Keeping in mind that his inability to distinguish Corey Webster's white road uniform from his teammate's green Packers jersey last year in OT in the NFC Championship Game is what led directly to the Giants going to the Super Bowl, Favre told the Packers he wants to play for a team that "has a chance to win it all."

Presumably - all though one can't readily tell from the omnipresent 3 days' growth on his face and the buzz cut on his head - Brett Favre has at least one mirror somewhere in his home. He'd be well-served to have a face-to-face chat with the man he sees staring back at him and ask him "what the hell are you doing?"

James McMurty hit it squarely on the head - Life and legend are an awkward pair/And there ain't much magic anywhere. These days on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field - it can't really be frozen in July can it - it's in damn short supply.

Brett - Josh Hamilton called. He said any time you want to take a good, hard look at yourself, the mirror in his house is available. Just be careful, its reflection is powerful and true. It'll show you what's really there....whether you want to see it or not.

Take a look for yourself, why don't you?

AK

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Hero by Any Other Name is Simply Just a Sandwich.

Is valor a quality whose merit can be measured on the "Handy-dandy! Order it now while our operators are standing by! Not available in any store!" Einsteinian scale of relativity? I know not. But I know that if it is, all of the truly valorous acts I've performed in my life - such as not eating the last slice of pizza, not drinking the final beer out of the fridge, taking out the garbage without being asked - if stacked one atop another or side-by-side (your call but as someone who's probably as wide as he is tall, to me it makes no difference) - they'd not rise in height to 1/1,000,000th of the singularly amazing act Chrisopher Doto performed on the morning of July 11, 2008.

Mr. Doto apparently earns his living as a truck driver. On Friday morning while traveling south on the New Jersey Turnpike - a hot, sunny morning on which the sun likely appeared in the sky bearing a striking resemblance to a red ball rising over the refinery towers - he saw something bad happening. From the cab of his truck he witnessed another truck beginning to flip over as its driver attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate an exit ramp. Mr. Doto's understanding of physics being what it is, he knew it was highly unlikely that the truck - having started to flip over - was going to simply stop in mid-air and hang there for an indeterminate amount of time. No, as he correctly surmised, seconds after beginning its Triple Lindy, this truck hit the ramp with quite a beautiful thud.

Mr. Doto's eyesight being excellent and his English comprehension being even better, apparently, he recognized that the truck whose driver was engaging in some unnecessary acrobatics @ 6:44 a.m. was one carrying gasoline. As it turned out, it was carrying 85,000 gallons of gasoline. Upon the parts of the truck that are not supposed to make contact with the highway making contact, something not entirely unsurprising happened - the truck exploded.

85,000 gallons of gasoline throws a hell of a lot of heat and even more flame and in short order both - working in unison - set about engulfing the truck. Witnessing this incident, Mr. Doto did something that was both stunningly simple and incredibly brave: he stopped his truck, got out of it and ran into the fire in order to rescue the driver. And he did. The driver of the gasoline-toting truck survived the crash. Bagrat Tskhadaia, identified in the newspaper as a 27 y/o man from Philadelphia apparently sustained a puncture wound to his back that required treatment at an area hospital - but he lived to tell the tale.

A man's life was saved by the valor of another man. These two men who are complete strangers to one another are now inexorably linked to one another. Was Mr. Doto's action the smartest thing he could have done? No. One is typically safer when running from 85,000 gallons of blazing gasoline as opposed running towards it. Was it the right thing to do? While it's hard to argue against that I suppose, one certainly would not have heard criticism from this corner had Mr. Doto called "9-1-1" and kept driving south. It was unquestionably a selfless thing to do. To place one's self in harm's way in order to save the life of another - someone you do not know and about whom you know nothing.

Ambrose Redmoon wrote, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." Whether Christopher Doto was familiar with those words or not, prior to 6:44 a.m. on Friday, July 11, 2008, he acted in accordance with them.

And for that, he should be congratulated.

-AK

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Farewell to The Captain's Friend

Having battled in vain for the past eighteen months against an unnervingly relentless foe, Bobby Murcer lost his battle to brain cancer yesterday. At age 62, he died in a hospital room in Oklahoma City. Murcer is a man whose early career I learned of by listening - to my older brothers - and by reading - baseball almanacs. I was born in '67 so the "next Mickey Mantle" hype that preceded Bobby Murcer's arrival in the Bronx pre-dated my own existence. And the way he became the only thing to cheer about on some truly dreadful Yankees teams during the last half of the 1960's and the early 1970's occurred so early on in my life that I have no contemporaneous memories of them.

I have a couple of vivid memories of Murcer the player - including of course the one that all Yankees fans alive and able to comprehend what they were seeing in 1979 have of him. In the terrible days of August 1979 it was Murcer who honored his good friend Thurman Munson by eulogizing him at his funeral in Canton Ohio during the day and then driving in all of the Yankees runs against the Orioles that night. It was a dreadful evening on which to have to play a game and among Munson's two dearest friends - Murcer and Lou Piniella - only Murcer was in the line-up. The story has it that Billy Martin wanted to let both men sit the game out as he know their bond with Munson was more fraternal than friendly but Murcer insisted on playing. As the capacity crowd roared its love and its approval, Murcer stroked a two-run single into the left field corner in the bottom of the 9th inning to win the game. Network TV has seen a proliferation of the "unscripted drama" over the past decade and not a single moment on any of them has come close to equalling that moment.

My first trip to the Stadium as a kid came when I was 13 years old. It was May 1980 and if memory serves correctly it was either the Friday night of Memorial Day weekend or the weekend prior to Memorial Day. I remember the event for a couple of reasons. First, because while most boys make their first trip to the ballpark with Dad or Grandpa or a big brother, my first trip to the Stadium was in the company of my older sister Kara and two female friends of hers - Libby and Diana. My dad had gotten tickets from a parent at school - extraordinarily good box seats - two boxes in (so we sat essentially 3 rows from the field) and right at the 3rd base bag. How it came to be that this was the variation of Sir Robin and his Band of Minstrels who embarked on this particular quest for the Holy Grail, I neither knew then nor have learned since although I suspect that it had a great deal to do with my father's own hatred of the Yankees and his lack of interest in driving into the Bronx to watch them play. As a traveling group of baseball fans, we were not quite the Dream Team but we were certainly in the ballpark.

The Yankees were a very good team in 1980 - they would ultimately win 100+ games on their way to winning the AL East title - before getting swept by the Royals in the ALCS. And on this Friday night, they rallied from behind to beat the then-inept Toronto Blue Jays. It was one of the longest amounts of time that - to that point in my life - I'd ever spent in one place. The game was ultimately resolved in extra innings. Reggie Jackson hit a tracer into right-field bleachers in the bottom of the 10th. En route to extra innings, we made two pit stops at rain delays, each of which lasted between 30 and 60 minutes.

The night would have ended in the 9th inning but for Bobby Murcer. With the Bombers down a run and opportunities dwindling down to a precious few, Murcer hit a bomb to tie the game. Whereas Jackson's winning HR was a laser, travelling not one inch higher than necessary to land above and not atop the outfield fence, Murcer's was sweet majesty. Upon contact the ball rose high above the playing field, disappearing momentarily into the darkness before emerging high in the sky over the right field seats and thereafter landing well back in the bleachers. Well before John Sterling began applying his "one size fits all" home run call of "It is high, it is far, it is gone" to every Yankees home run, Murcer's was all that and then some.

Bobby Murcer is the only Yankee to have played with both Mickey Mantle and Don Mattingly. Sadly, like Mattingly while his career as a Yankee was long and successful, he never won a World Series ring - having been traded away prior to the 3 consecutive WS appearances and back-to-back championships in the latter half of the 1970's. Murcer returned to the Yankees in June 1979, too late to celebrate any WS championships but, as it turned out, just in time. The Yankees needed him more in August 1979 than they needed him in either of the previous Octobers and he delivered.

Bobby Murcer never became the "next Mickey Mantle", which means of course that on the field he did not become one of the true legends of the game, a Triple Crown winner, an MVP and a Hall-of-Famer. And it means also that off of the field he cut a far less destructive than did the Commerce Comet. Often in the post-mortem discussion of athletes, the conversation concerns itself with solely what he/she did on the field, which is unfortunate. Bobby Murcer was a man far longer than he was a player. And by all accounts he was an All-Star.

-AK

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What's in the Icebox?

I'm not a farmer and could never be one. Can't take a life that moves so slow, I suppose. I have lived the entirety of my life - except for my collegiate excursion to Boulder Colorado - here in the Garden State so among the small handful of things I take on faith is this - someone around here is in fact doing some farming.

It's been somewhat of a non-traditional spring and summer weather wise here in Levelland - at least to my recollection. While we've had a few concentrated outbursts of rain, we've had significantly more sunny, dry days than not. The sound you hear is not me complaining - although it may well be what's left of my grass dying. In my lifetime, I've smoked a bit of grass and I've cut a lot of grass but I'd never pretend to know a damn thing about it - other than green is better than brown.

That being said, it's not one of life's great mysteries to me why my lawn and everyone else's lawns look so worn and parched this summer - we've not received steady, regular doses of rain. There are few things that bring a chuckle from my throat as quickly as seeing one of my neighbors crouched down over his lawn - like Tiger Woods lining up a putt - peering down at his dead lawn intently as if he's waiting for the CSI team to show up and start processing the crime scene to aid his understanding of this particular riddle. Here under the snow globe the lawntopsy is performed at least one time a week by someone. I'm relatively confident that if grass grows where you live, then you could observe one under your own snow globe as well with the same frequency. If you're really lucky or you've been good - you've kept the mutterings under your breath as you've stood in line (as 1 of 3 customers) at the QUICK Chek watching the clerk "help" a customer by taking a minute or two shy of forever to ring up a copy of the newspaper and a gallon of milk (although if the customer also is involved in some transaction involving lottery tickets, then all time estimates given herein are hereby withdrawn) - then perhaps you'll see the lawntopsy consult....as the other foot soldiers in Asthon Ritchie's lawn army descend on the scene from their respective operating theatres to offer assistance and, ultimately, solace.

Fortunately, while some crops might be struggling in the mid-summer's heat, here in the Garden State we have a bumper crop of gall that has already ripened on the vine and is ready for picking. Because variety is nothing if it's not the spice of life and we want to do our best to make you - our adoring public - happy, we don't simply have "one size fits all" gall. Nope, no cheesy adjustable Cap Day for you - you can have your gall customized to your particular taste.

Perhaps your preference is the unrepentant professional. A couple of weeks back, the space here was devoted to the surgical wanderings of Dr. Perera. He is the doctor whose adherence to the Hippocratic oath - particularly the part about doing no harm to one's patients - was a bit shaky. Dr. Perera is the fellow who operated on his patient's cancer-free lung - removing two of its lobes - rather than the lung ravaged by cancer and thereafter lied to the patient in an effort to cover up his mistake. His patient died a few years later - because not being the bastard offspring of Aquaman and Submariner he'd not been able to adapt the gills necessary to breath after his lungs were rendered useless by the Barber of Kinnelon. Dr. Perera recently was the recipient of the Medical Board's disciplinary action - which included the suspension of his license to practice medicine. His suspension is for "up to" two years but he is free to apply for reinstatement after six months. He was fined as well $80,000.

One would think that six to twenty-four months of quiet reflection to contemplate what you'd done and the unbelievable lies you'd constructed thereafter to save your own ass would be considered a gift when one kills another human being. Not if the "one" is Dr. Perera. He has filed an appeal from the Board's decision arguing apparently that the punishment imposed is too harsh. Hmm. Perhaps an alternative form of punishment would be more to his liking? Might I suggest that the surviving members of his now-dead patient's family be permitted to draw lots and using only their consciences as their guides and the game OPERATION as their source material, be permitted the chance to attempt one procedure of their choosing on Dr. Perera? What do you say doc? Is that palatable alternative? No, then how about you pay your fine, serve your suspension and shut the hell up.

Dr. Perera is not even this week's gold medal winner in the Gallathon here at the Garden State Games. If you prefer your gall with a more overt criminal overtone, then might you consider a young murderer named Jonathan Zarate. Mr. Zarate, who is in his early 2o's, is awaiting trial for the murder of a young girl. The young woman in question was not a stranger to Mr. Zarate. She was his neighbor. One evening, as the story goes, Mr. Zarate's younger brother - who attended high school with the young girl - invited her over from next door to hang out. At some point, according to Mr. Zarate's confession, while he was in an upstairs bedroom with her - just talking - he became enraged about something she said. He struck her multiple times with his closed fist. Thereafter he beat her to death with a pole. Finally, for good measure he dismembered her - in his home - loaded the pieces of her into a trunk and put the trunk into his car.

He was arrested while attempting to throw the trunk that contained the young girl's body into the Passaic River. Apparently when he was seen by the police, they did not know who he was or what he was trying to throw into the river but since one is not permitted to simply toss trunks of goodies into the Passaic River, he was arrested for doing that. He initially told the cops he was throwing out garbage but later changed the story to tell them that it was her dismembered body but he didn't know what had happened to her - she was already in the trunk and in that condition when he discovered the trunk on his front lawn.

Mr. Zarate committed this heinous act in Morris County. Now, preparing for trial in Morris County his attorney has filed a motion to change venue - to move the case from Morris to another county. While his attorney has not only the right but the duty to do all he can for his client, it seems more than a bit incredible that in light of all he has done Mr. Zarate is now claiming that it would be fundamentally unfair for him to be tried in Morris County - the media coverage of the case having unfairly prejudiced him in the eyes of the potential jury pool and, for good measure, the difficulty that he will have getting a fair trial in Morris County due to the fact he is Hispanic.

If one believes that history truly is in the mind of the teller, then one perhaps can consider Mr. Zarate's position for a moment or two without (a) laughing out loud; and (b) feeling confused over whose residents should be more outraged - those of Morris County or those of every other county since he seems to think he'd get a fairer shake anywhere but Morris. Then however one (at least this one) returns to the narrative of Mr. Zarate's own confession as to what he did - hit her repeatedly with a closed fist....before beating her to death with a pole....before cutting her body up into trunk-sized pieces....before stuffing the pieces of the body into the trunk and....before getting caught while trying to dump the trunk into the Passaic River - and then I cannot do anything but regard his position as untenable and more than a bit offensive.

It's a bumper crop of gall all right. And it's hardy stuff too. Weather has no effect upon it whatsoever.

May I take your order?

-AK