Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This Too Shall Pass...

Today is September's final day, which means that aught-eight is 75% of the way thru its journey to history's scrap heap. I wondered aloud this morning on my drive to work in the darkness where this year has disappeared to but I was unclear what made my more unsettled - telling myself that I did not know or admitting to myself that I was lying and I knew precisely where it had gone.

As I have noted here previously the notion of time in the abstract both fascinates and frightens me. It seems more often than not that my principal function on this planet is to generate time - time for which my firm, and by extension me, gets compensated. While I will leave the debate of how good or not a lawyer I am - although I think I bring some ability to bear - I can say immodestly and regrettably that there is no debate regarding my ability to "make time". If one is willing - or feels compelled - to work 14 and 15 hour days five days a week and to work 5 to 6 hours on at least one of the weekend's two days, then one accumulates a large pile of "made time". Someone, way back when, said something to the effect of hard work being its own reward. That may be true but I gladly continue to accept getting paid for it - thank you just the same.

My frustration level is palpable. I have created a situation that has grown beyond my ability to control. In my experience, no one is satisfied with what you have done for them. Rather, they look forward to being satisfied with what you shall do for them. In other words, it is often times a feeling akin to being a gerbil or a hamster on a wheel. I am running as fast as my little short, stocky legs can carry me and while I feel the burn real good, the scenery I am looking at has not changed in years. And change is not imminent.

Today closes the book on September, which means that my incredibly earnest, hard-working son - Rob - has made it thru a third month at FLETC. October is the last remaining full month on his agenda as he and his classmates shall graduate the week before Thanksgiving. The time he has spent in training thus far has been hard and it shall get harder still in the remaining seven weeks. But he is pursuing that which he wants to do - and not simply something he feels that he has to do - and that makes the time, while hard, incredibly rich and fulfilling. Suzanne, his older sister, is now one month into her Master's work. Her last month has been hectic, trying and exhausting. But it has also been educational, exciting and rewarding. And the promise of more to come awaits her as well.

As we all line up outside Costco's still-locked doors - pleading for entry so that we can buy the jumbo assortment of hand baskets for our seemingly inevitable trip south - I am resigned to my fate. Long ago I made decisions regarding the career path I would trod and I am long past the point in the woods where those two roads diverged. Going back is not an option. Starting over is not one either. At this point I shall simply press forward.

The best I hope for is that both of my children are pursuing a career doing that which they want to do. As far as I can tell, they are. And that brings a measure of peace to a part of my mind where there otherwise is none. And that is something, after all.

Time marches on. Let kingdom come I'm gonna find my way.

-AK

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Wink Of A Young Girl's Eye

If a more clearly defined point of intersection existed between romance and reality, then this Major League Baseball regular season would have concluded with both New York teams - playing their final seasons in their long-time homes (one of which is a national treasure, the other of which is Shea Stadium) making the postseason and thus extending the life of their respective ballparks just a little bit longer. Alas, while Walt Disney had quite a creative streak, he had no passion for non-fiction. Thus, in this sometimes less than wonderful world, when midnight arrives and Cinderella steps out of her glass slipper - she sprains an ankle, which causes it to swell. When the Prince arrives at her home on his Johnny Cochran-inspired "If the slipper don't fit, this girl ain't it" matchmaking tour, the slipper does not fit and he continues on -ending up with the sexy Brazilian flamenco dancer who lives three doors down. (Damn her and her bird-like feet!)

Although last night marked the official end of the Yankees season, which fittingly concluded with a loss, the Yankees had displayed such cavalier indifference to the task at hand for the first 135 games or so on their schedule that their season essentially ended almost three weeks ago. At least, Mike Mussina managed to win his 20th game of the season yesterday afternoon - an achievement that - despite having won 270 games in his career - he had never realized until this season. There has been much discussion among the press that covers the Yankees regarding whether Mussina (I would refer to him by his nickname but in the event that Governor Palin is up and alert I do not want her taking a shot at him) will return next season. Years ago - when he was a college kid - Mussina hustled his way thru Stanford University, earning his degree in three years while playing baseball for the Cardinal. If he is in as much of a hurry to begin his retirement as he was two decades ago to begin his major-league career, then I think we may have seen the last of M Squared in Yankee pinstripes.

In Flushing, Queens yesterday afternoon the New York Mets lost their final regular-season game, which turned out to be the final game ever played at Shea Stadium. Interestingly, the Mets scheduled the celebration of Shea Stadium for after yesterday's game. Thus, after players and fans alike had their hearts ripped out when the gentlemen who enter the game from the Mets from their bullpen (I would call them "relievers" but there was scant little evidence of that from any of them this season) blew up the game in the 8th inning, most of the people in the building hung around for a post-game ceremony that had the solemnity of a memorial service rather than the ecstasy of a celebration.

Here, unlike in Far, Far Away, happy endings are not guaranteed. This morning in the Bronx and in Flushing dawn will most certainly break. And life will most certainly go on. As it should. As it must.

It is a damn short movie. After all.

-AK

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oxford Blues

On Friday night, the long-awaited, much-anticipated and almost unconsummated first Presidential debate went forward in Oxford, Mississippi. After all of the chatter last week from the McCain campaign - that he would not appear unless the "Rescue Package" (I love euphemisms and this one sounds much better than "bailout designed to save certain folks from their own misdeeds") had been passed, in a move that surprised absolutely no one, appear he did. Senator McCain and Senator Obama - in spite of each owing royalties to the descendants of Marc Antony for the repeated references to the other - from the campaign trail - as "an honorable man" - really do not seem to like each other very much. At least Obama looked at McCain. I am hard-pressed to recall an instance during the 90 minute tete-a-tete when McCain looked at Obama.

Perhaps it is an unfair criticism but both men seemed rather stiff. And at times a bit deaf. I sat - like Jim Lehrer - for 90 minutes waiting for an answer to his question about whether either man would vote for the "rescue package" as well as for an answer to his question about which programs either man would delay enacting upon election given the ongoing economic chaos. From my den several hundred miles away, I heard and understood both questions. Apparently from 35 feet away neither man could. Unless they pantomimed their answers and I missed them because I was listening but I, like Senator McCain, was not making any eye contact.

It is unfair of me to split hairs I suppose. It was refreshing to hear each challenge the other's positions on substantive things - as opposed to calling each other out on non-issues such as lapel pins and the number of homes each owns. Every little bit counts.

-AK

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Mad Dog's Promenade

In his exceptional work - Downtown: My Manhattan Pete Hamill wrote, "There are simply too many people to ever know them all, to unravel all of their secrets. Nobody in such a vast and various place can absorb everything." I do not practice law in New York so while my office is relatively close to the City, I have probably made fewer than a half-dozen trips there for work purposes during the decade and a half or so (wow - it feels considerably longer than that, which begs the question "if time flies when you're having fun, then what does it do when....?" - I think I'll pass on finishing that thought just in case anyone who pays me to do what I do ever stumbles across this) that I have been an attorney.

Being an Irishman, I was not surprised of course that yesterday morning, when most of the region's 4-legged creatures were playing rock/paper/scissors for berths on Noah's big cruise ship, I was among the bipeds making the pilgrimage into Manhattan. I spent about five hours traveling back and forth - driving to Newark and taking the PATH to the World Trade Center station and walking between PATH and an office at 120 Broadway - to spend one hour taking a deposition. Another example of the "unproductive enterprise of the law"? Perhaps, Justice Scalia, perhaps.

I get into Manhattan infrequently and it seems as if when I go for work I always end up in lower Manhattan. There is something both moving and sad about arriving on the PATH at the World Trade Center station and seeing the open space that once was occupied by two skyscrapers, each of which contained thousands of people on any given day. The austerity of the site never ceases to to move me. I will confess however that it angers me a little to see the present state of the area and realize that to check on the progress of the work going on there - although we are more than seven years removed from the events of that morning - one still must look down.

Although Rob spent his 4 years in Manhattan north of where I was yesterday, being in the City always makes me think of him. I have a rudimentary understanding of Manhattan geography and am most comfortable in the area immediately surrounding Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. When I am in the midst of one of my occasional big adventures - such as yesterday - and I find myself walking 4 blocks the wrong direction in an effort to find my destination, I think of the ease with which Rob piloted himself all over the City for four years. And not just Manhattan either. He frequented Brooklyn and the Bronx as well and always seemed to know how to get wherever he wanted to go. He acquired a sense of direction and self-assurance more readily seen in a native.

And I realized as I did my own boogaloo down Broadway - thru the streets of lower Manhattan yesterday - back from 120 Broadway to the PATH station at the World Trade Center and marveling about how much shorter the walk back to the station was (funny how that works once you figure out where you are going, eh?) - that Rob will make the transition to life in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains as seamlessly as he made the transition from suburban Jerseyan to New York City resident. He is young and he has both a purposeful mind and a hopeful heart, both of which will always serve him well.

And I hope that both will always serve him well. And keep him safe and happy. Whether he is riding the subway in Manhattan, driving on a county two-lane in Laramie County or just hikin' the streets of the sky, may they keep him.

-AK

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Ghost of Mississippi

Here's to hoping that tonight we do not live thru what could be one of most singularly awkward moments in the history of American politics - an uncontested debate. I admire and respect Senator McCain a great deal and I know less than I would like - even at this relatively late date - about Senator Obama. Thus, I have been looking forward to watching tonight's debate - not to see who wins (I'll leave that to the perpetually breathless brigade of Olbermann, Matthews, O'Reilly, Hannity and the like) - but to hear what each has to say.

Candidly, the recent upheaval in the nation's financial markets has heightened my interest in the get-together. We have heard for the past couple of weeks thru their respective campaigns how (and I am over simplifying here of course) that everything bad is the fault of either (a) Obama and his fellow Democrats; or (b) McCain and his fellow Republicans. Methinks that truth be told there is probably ample blame to go around. But I also think that is an issue for another day. Recognizing how we got into the mess we got into is important. It provides a blueprint that we can follow - presuming we choose to - of what never, never, never can be permitted to take place again. For present purposes, fixing the problem should be Job #1. Assignment of blame can wait a while.

That being said, as much as I admire and respect Senator McCain - and would have voted for him had been the Republican nominee in 2000 - I find his "I may or may not show up" position regarding tonight's debate ridiculous. I understand that at some point - way down deep in the underbelly of the troupe that runs his campaign - this might have seemed to be a good idea - for a split second. But someone internally needs to do a better job of vetting these ideas. I read somewhere that his campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, is a "student" of the Karl Rove approach to handling a candidate. Once upon a time that might have been a good thing. Steve - a bit of friendly, albeit unsolicited advice - from one Jersey boy to another: remember these two words - "Mission Accomplished". The political consulting high priest at whose altar you pray is the same genius whose fingerprints are all over that stunt. 'Nuff said.

We the people of these United States would get a much warmer, fuzzier feeling I would wager if we felt that the candidates for the presidency seemed able to multitask (and no I'm not speaking to those inane advertisements the Obama campaign ran intimating that McCain only recently learned of the merger of Smith and Corona and could only release press statements once he finished preparing them on his wax tablets prior to running them thru the mimeograph machine but rather, actual critical thinking multitasking). Crises have a pesky habit of arriving unannounced and keeping irregular hours, which understandably creates all sorts of scheduling problems - even ones worse than dealing with Letterman and Couric. If Senator McCain appears flummoxed by that now, then is it not fair for the electorate to wonder if he will be able to handle the job itself if and when it is actually his?

Here's to hoping that at some point last night or perhaps this morning, John McCain had an epiphany - and remembered who he is and all that he has done to get to this point in his life. And here's to hoping that he forcefully reminds those managing his campaign that they work for him and not vice versa. And here's to hoping that he remembers that the nation he hopes to lead has the right to hear what he has to say to assist all of us in making an informed, intelligent decision 39 days from now.

John McCain is a man who, for years, has made his personal ethics - his commitment to do that which he believes is right regardless of its popularity - the centerpiece of his politics. If at 9:00 p.m. tonight Jim Lehrer welcomes us all to Oxford Mississippi and the camera reveals but one candidate on stage, then for this member of the electorate at least, Senator McCain will have to go shopping for a new centerpiece.

His current one will have wilted and died.

-AK

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Now Who's It?

Recently the basis for this daily discourse of ideas (or idle ramblings of a crazy man, whichever suits you is OK with me) was the observation of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia regarding the excessive number of lawyers in this country. As far as any of you know, I practice law for a living. I tend to share Justice Scalia's point of view on this particular subject although I have friends who are also members of the Bar who view Scalia's public comments on this issue to be a betrayal somewhere along the time-space continuum between Judas' sale of his soul for 30 pieces of silver and Sammy "The Bull" Gravano's sell out of John Gotti.

It is a truism of course that lawyers - particularly those of us involved in litigation - would not exist without our clients. To that end, I offer the story that appeared on http://www.nj.com/ yesterday "Hunterdon grad sues school over freeze-tag injury" A lawsuit was filed recently in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hunterdon County (the same venue where Bruno Hauptmann was tried for and convicted of the kidnap and murder of the Lindbergh baby) in which the plaintiff, identified in the paper only as "a recent graduate of South Hunterdon Regional High School" claims she was pushed into a commercial lawn mower while playing tag during a cheerleading practice in the school's courtyard. A quick review of our State's Judiciary Web Site this morning revealed but one lawsuit in Hunterdon County in which the South Hunterdon Regional Board of Education is a named defendant, which is the matter of Alexandria Nalbone v. South Hunterdon Regional Board of Education, et al., a personal injury suit that was filed on July 10, 2008.

It is a truism as well that one should not judge a book by its cover. I do not know any of the litigants. The Judiciary Web Site does not list the names of counsel so I do not know whether I know - to any degree at all - any of the attorneys involved. Presumably there is more merit to this claim than one might view thru a jaundiced eye such as mine. On its face however this is the type of action - as described in the paper - that tends to breed derisive comments about our civil justice system and those of us who earn our living in it.

The unproductive enterprise of the law indeed.

Two - Four - Six - Eight
We Just Wanna Litigate!
Go Eagles! Go Eagles!

-AK

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Closing Time

On the heels of Sunday night's farewell to the Stadium, its principal inhabitants (no, cynical reader - not the rats, the baseball team) bade farewell to their season on Tuesday night. While joy is apparently still a commodity that can be found on certain store shelves throughout the greater Mudville metroplex, it is far more difficult to find in the rarefied air of the Bronx. the Bronx's best apostle may inded stand with his hand on his own hardware but this season that hardware will most certainly not be a World Series trophy. Although the Yankees have treated the month of September as if they thought the season started for real on September 1st - going 14-7 thus far - their jig is officially up. When the Red Sox defeated the Indians last night, their victory eliminated the Yankees from the playoffs. Thus for the first time since the players came back from the 1994 strike, the Yankees shall not participate in baseball's post-season.

While it is too early to tell - and I am speaking now practically and not metaphorically (it is still dark out) - one presumes (the hysterical callers and equally hysterical hosts on sports talk radio notwithstanding) that the sun shall indeed rise in the Eastern sky this morning. On the grand scale of calamities, this really does not rate. I am a Yankees fan and I root like hell for them every season. But since I am not on their payroll, while their success and failure is measured in terms of its emotional impact, neither has any practical import in my day-to-day. In other words, my livelihood is not dependent upon their success. Thus, I expect that I shall come through this just fine, thank you very much. And I suspect that the overwhelming majority of the team's fans shall as well.

Us regular folk will leave it to the pundits and to the experts to dissect the carcass of the 2008 Yankees season and explain to us why what happened did in fact happen and - most important of all - at whose feet we can pile high the blame. At least it will give us something to read between now and Thanksgiving.

While I hoped at one point to be able to fill the space that I realized 30 days ago was going to appear on my October calendar with time spent listening to the two national tickets campaigning for the Presidency discuss the substantive issues confronting our nation and each side's plan for addressing them, that seems more remote with the dawning of each day. We were promised an issue-dominated campaign and instead we have been subjected to incessant coverage of lipstick-wearing pigs and other such nonsense.

If my math is correct (excuse me while I try to stick the landing on this leap of faith), then as of tomorrow we are but 40 days from Election Day. Memo to Messrs. McCain and Obama: the time to start discussing the issues and dispensing with the fluff and the bullsh*t is NOW. Each of you has been less than forthright with all of us - to this point - about the manner in which you pledged to seek this office. Cut the crap and get down to business.

It gets late early out there. And 'round here too. You don't have to take my word for it. Ask Yogi - he'll tell you.

-AK

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Big Jim and the Angel of the Lake

Often in this space I have noted both my deep-seated appreciation for the music of Bruce Springsteen and its genesis - my oldest brother Bill, who introduced me to a number of things when I was a small child, including Springsteen's music. All three of us: 2/3 of Joan and William's 3 sons and Adele and Douglas's only boy are a tad bit further on up the road then we were when our three life arcs intersected. A fact I am reminded of today, which is Springsteen's 59th birthday.

At 59, the front man for one of the most successful live acts - and one of the best rock and roll shows you shall ever see - is among the youngsters in his traveling band of brothers. Offstage, each of them - Bruce and the component players who make up the E Street Band - looks his/her age. On stage, it is as if they are dipped nightly in the cool waters of the Fountain of Youth as neither their words nor their deeds betray any indication of their age. I have had the opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen perform live on dozens of occasions. Never have I not been able to close my eyes and be transported to a place in time when I was so much younger than I am now and than I feel on too many days to count. To a time when the world still seemed black and white - before we all started to lose little pieces of ourselves in the work that had to be done and the bills that had to be paid in our day-to-day. If you do not think that the ride of life has the same effect - albeit to varying degrees - on each of us irrespective of where we come from or the means we have at our disposal to make it to the journey's next leg, then you have either not heard a single Springsteen song at any time in your life. Or, you have simply not listened.

Twenty-three years ago on this very day, before Rob made his appearance and began his lifetime's dance across the mortal coil, I stood in the cold of Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado (the "old" Mile High Stadium) with my sister Jill, her then-boyfriend / now-husband Joe and a couple of other friends watching Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band play one of the final shows of their 18+ month world tour in support of BORN IN THE U.S.A. At one point in the show, a birthday cake was wheeled out on stage and Bruce - turning to Clarence - expressed mock horror at the fact that he was 36.

Twenty-three years further on up the road, I am monitoring the progress of my two supremely gifted (yes, it is something they have inherited from their mother - thanks for asking) young adults as they embark on their post-college paths. The Springsteens dropped their oldest child, their son Evan, off at college to begin his freshman year. I wonder if as he pulled away, watching Evan wave to them perhaps as he got smaller and smaller still in the car's rear-view mirror, if Springsteen thought what I think every time I think of what either of my kids (sorry! "young adults") is up to. Glory Days? We did not live them then. We are living them now. As long as we do not simply try to sit back and recapture a little of the "glory" of bygone days, we will continue to have the opportunity to enjoy days that are simply glorious.

Today, more than halfway past 41 and steaming hard towards 42, I think quite a bit about not only where I was twenty-three years ago on this very day but the journey that my life has been from that point in time to this one. While it may be true that with every wish there comes a curse, it is also likely true that if good fortune smiles upon you, that for which you wish may indeed come to fruition:

These days I sit around and laugh/
At the many rivers I've crossed/
But on the far banks there's always another forest/
Where a man can get lost/
Well there in the high trees love's bluebird glides/
Guiding us 'cross to another river on the other side/
And there someone is waitin' with a look in her eyes/
And though my heart's grown weary/
And more than a little bit shy/
Tonight I'll drink from her waters to quench my thirst/
And leave the angels to worry/
With every wish.....

-AK

Monday, September 22, 2008

From the Fire Roads to the Interstate

If life were a better imitator of art then it ever really proves to be, then all of the vehicles of all of the hot rod angels - including at least one '69 Chevy with a 396, would be covered up today. Summer is not here anymore. In fact, from this particular map point we stand further away from summer than at any other time. For today is the first official day of fall.

Summer's passing always seems to sap a little of Margaret's spirit. The past couple of weeks, the love of my life has been immersed in a funk - the depth and breadth of which have seemed sufficient to land my Italian bride an honorary membership in the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Much always seems to be on Margaret's plate and try as I might to help clear some of the stuff off for her, my failure rate embarrasses the crap out of my success rate. Quick - show of hands by all who are not surprised by my lack of competency in this particular area? Put your damn hands down, will you? It is not as if I can see them. By the way, thanks for the vote of confidence.

This was a particularly trying summer for my wife. It appeared for a while in August that we could not make it thru a weekend without a death in her family. Her beloved grandmother, Nanny, who lived with Margaret's parents about a mile from us died on August 2nd. Funeral suits were still at the dry cleaners when exactly one week later Nanny's little sister Meni (younger by about 18 months) died. Within a span of eight days, Margaret said goodbye to 187 years of persons she loved. That is a hell of a lot to lose in a far too short time span.

The structure of my wife's family is such that Sue, Margaret's mom, is - and has been for the score in which I have known her - been its matriarch. Yet, the past few years have been unkind to Sue in terms of her own health. Her body and her spirit have been savagely attacked by cancer. To date, she is holding her own against it. Yet the fight is exhausting and debilitating. As Sue's ability to do all she can do for herself and for her household has been diminished by this infernal disease, Margaret has assumed the responsibility of being her mother's principal caregiver and being more involved in the day-to-day of her parents' household. Is it exhausting emotionally and mentally even more so than it is physically? Absolutely. Is there any chance that she would stop doing what she does - even for a moment and even if for no other reason than to catch her breath? Absolutely not.

At its deepest, Margaret's pall sometimes seems impenetrable. She is prone to melancholy that would make a Gael stand up and take notice. I have faith however that it shall lift - as it always does.

Today is autumn's coming out party, which means of course that summer is officially not here any more. It matters not. There is nothing that shall prevent my baby and me from taking another ride to the sea - if for no other reason than simply to wash these sins from our hands. And to start anew again.

And out of our way Mister, you best keep.

-AK

Sunday, September 21, 2008

One Last Chance to Spend Some Time with the Mudville Nine

At 11:00 p.m. or thereabouts tonight - on the East Coast of course - the final out will be recorded in what shall be the final game ever played at this incarnation of Yankee Stadium. Yes, I am aware as I write this that the Bombers remain mathematically alive for the AL Wild-Card so a possibility exists - one that ain't as big as a minute - that October baseball will be played in the Bronx this year. Choose your delusion, right? I opt not to adopt this one as mine. Thanks anyway.

As the nostalgiathon reaches its climax tonight - on ESPN where it should be right given how much knowledge Messrs. Miller and Morgan have of the Yankees (although they try really, really hard to hide it well so as to not make lesser men feel too bad about themselves) - little will be written or spoken that the move across the seat to the "new" slightly smaller, significantly more expensive to buy a ticket for Yankee Stadium is one made as much out of choice as out of necessity. Yes, I too have read for years that the big ballpark in the Bronx is practically falling down around the ears of its occupants. It's a deathtrap, it's a suicide rap. It is most fortuitous then - I suppose - that for most of this decade the Yankees have had to deal with the possibility of having more than 4 million potential plaintiffs cross their doorstep annually and as of yet have not had the Stadium kill any of them.

That the move from this stadium to the new version of it across the street is driven by money is self-evident. Grasp this concept: they are making its seating capacity smaller than the present stadium and shall make more money from ticket sales than they can presently. The economics of it notwithstanding - although being the little pr#ck of misery that I am I wish just one person from the ball club would speak the truth aloud when discussing the pending implosion of the House that Ruth Built - it is true that this stadium has provided a lifetime of memories for fans of the Yankees - and others, which will transcend the move across the street.

Perhaps it is serendipitous that the new Stadium shall open for business in April '09, which is when my son shall celebrate his first birthday on Wyoming's Front Range. Rob has been a Yankees fan since he was a little boy - his coming of age as a baseball fan mirrored the arrival of Mr. Torre and his band of merry men in the Bronx. Rob was 10 when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996. In his lifetime of watching baseball, aught eight represents the first season in which the baseball playoffs will go forward without his favorite team. The playoffs shall go on, as shall the Yankees and as shall Rob.

I am excited to see the new Stadium and I am sure at some point in '09 I shall make the trek to see a game. I am more looking forward to September '09, which is when the Wyoming Cowboys travel an hour or south on US 36 to Boulder to play my Alma mater in football. I shall be at that game -with Rob - doing something I did not think I would actually ever get the chance to enjoy: watching a Buffs game at Folsom Field with my son.

Once a memory is made, it is ours to keep and to cherish. One does not need Chris Berman imploring us to take a trip "back, back, back" in time to pluck certain events out of the ether (and if you do not think that a moment or ten will arise today during ESPN's coverage of the final game at the Stadium where you did not wish ESPN still had Sunday Night Football so Berman could be anywhere other than on your TV, then you simply have not been paying attention to "Boomer's" MO all these years) in order to manufacture a memory. No one can suggest them. And they are damned hard to take from us - although sometimes the ravages of time and disease appear to do so - once we have them.

Me? When I think of the big ballpark in the Bronx I think of baseball and its relationship to the rhythm and flow of fathers and sons. I never went to the Stadium with my father - who hated the Yankees with every fiber of his being (that each of his three sons is an ardent follower of the team says something I suppose - but I went to law school to stay away from the heavy sciences, specifically anything ending in "-ology") and who I cannot imagine - unless forced to do so at gunpoint - would have given up most of a day to transport his child into and out of the Bronx to watch a game. I know not - to this day - if he ever took Bill or Kelly to a game. I have never asked either of them - suspecting perhaps that I knew the answer or fearing perhaps that my suspicion was wrong.

My father's mistake was not one that I repeated (well, at least not that specific mistake) with Rob. He and I had the chance over the past twelve seasons to spend some great days and nights at Yankee Stadium. His first game was Fan Appreciation Day in 1996. A rookie shortstop named Jeter (he has done OK since then I think) defeated the Red Sox with a single in the 12th inning. I remember that day as well for the fact that Rob and I went to the game with two of my closest friends (talk about being members of a small yet prestigeless organization) Dave and Diego and we took the ferry from the Jersey side. In addition to a great ballgame on what was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in late September Rob got to see the Statue of Liberty from the water, Manhattan's lower tip and, once we made the turn up the East River, the United Nations Building, among other items of note.

On the Sunday afternoon of the weekend early in the 2001 season honoring the release of Billy Crystal's movie 61* we watched a rookie lefthander named Ted Lilly battle hard against the Red Sox and then Paul O'Neill and David Justice win the game in the bottom of the 9th by hitting solo home runs. We were in the ballpark together on September 11, 2002 when the Yankees and Orioles played on the first anniversary of that horrible day and the Yankees dedicated a monument out in Monument Park to the victims and the heroes of the September 11, 2001 attacks. We sat together in close to the last row in the upper deck on June 13, 2003 when Roger Clemens defeated the Cardinals to win his 300th game - and in the process of winning the game recorded his 4,000th strikeout - and we were there as much to see Clemens try to make history as we were to see two of our favorite members of Torre's championship teams return to the Stadium as members of the Cardinals: Joe Girardi and Constantino Martinez. We were so high up in the stands that at some point in the middle of the game Rob got up to go to the bathroom. When he returned to our row he shared a bit of news with the rest of its inhabitants: it was raining and apparently had been for most of the game - a fine, misty rain that really was undetectable in the Stadium lights but - judging by the level of wetness of those ten rows closer to the field than we were - wet nonetheless.

In the Summer of 2004 we went to Old-Timer's Day. The Yankees honored the 25th anniversary of the death of Thurman Munson pre-game and in addition to seeing that ceremony, we got to see the return to the Stadium of Sweet Lou Piniella and his Tampa Bay Devil Rays (these were the pre-exorcism Rays so the Devil was still very much a part of them), whose roster included.....Constantino Martinez.

Earlier this season we made a final trip to the Stadium - on a Wednesday night in April to see them play the Red Sox. It was a fairly innocuous early season game that the Yankees ended up winning 15-11 or something along those lines. While the game was far from memorable, the evening was great. I had the chance to spend a few hours hanging out with my son and listen to him tell me all that was happening in his world, news that he was excited to share and I was very happy to hear.

Yankee Stadium has faithfully served its principal occupants and all of us who have visited it very well throughout the past eight and a half decades. Memories made there will last a lifetime.

I know for certain that mine shall. And I hope that Rob's shall as well.

-AK

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday Night Lights

Last night Margaret and I accompanied her mother, Sue, to the 2008 home opener of the Middlesex High School football team. I know what you are thinking - is there nothing I will not do to avoid watching Carl Pavano pitch for the Yankees - (Stop snickering, the Prince of Imaginary Ailments won his 4th game of '08 last night, which is 4 more than the dynamic duo of Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy has managed to win thus far) - ? I am kidding of course. We went to watch Margaret's nephew Frank - who from my wholly objective perspective had one hell of a game again last night.

I was profoundly disappointed by the fact that it was warmer and drier last night than it was a week ago Friday sitting on the visitor's side at Bernards High School (because God knows how much fun it is to watch high school football in the pouring, bone chilling rain) and equally upset that the sphere of influence of the offspring of erudite blue blood Connecticut Yankees who populate the Bernardsville Neighborhood Preservation Committee (our motto is "Light a Candle and Curse the Darkness? How 'bout you light a candle and kiss my a$$!") does not extend beneath the snow globe. It was really distracting last night to sit at a night game and watch kids play on a field that is actually lit by something with slightly more power than Evinrude the dragonfly has the ability to muster.

That being said, I do not think I feel older at any time during my day-to-day than the time I spend in the presence of high school kids. Last night's game brought out a fairly good turnout of MHS students. Most of them - positioned in the section of bleachers directly to the left of where all of us old folk had parked our carcasses - spent the game loudly socializing with one another and paying little to no attention to what was going on out on the field. Apparently Friday night, a place to be seen is the bleachers at the football game. A boy walked past our seats who, judging from his appearance, is campaigning to be the first Caucasian American featured in a cultural piece in National Geographic magazine. He had inserted in each ear - presumably because a simple earring would not ratchet up the HEY EVERYBODY LOOK AT ME! phenomenon to a suitable level - flat silver pieces that appeared to be the size of silver dollars. Two questions leaped to the forefront of my mind: 1st - what could you possibly be thinking of when you sit down to allow someone to do that to you; and 2nd - what species of idiot is raising this kid? I love Rob absolutely but had he ever come home - as a high school kid - sporting matching Wham-o Frisbees in the lobes of his ears, either the inserts or him would have left as quickly as they arrived. Memo to saucer boy's mom and dad: parenting happens occasionally in the few odd moments that take place between the moment of conception and high school graduation. Try to get in the game, OK?

You know you are old when you applaud one of the 913 assistant coaches we have on our sidelines and his tirade directed to the Class of 09's incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins (who for reasons as unclear to me as why a teenage boy would sport coffee service for two in his ears, were set up directly in front of the bleachers - between the fans and the cheerleaders) to stop playing music. For a moment last evening, I thought I had gotten out of my car not at the high school but at the Izod Center, which is a venue where every stoppage of play during a sporting event creates an opportunity for loud, obnoxious noise to be emitted thru the P.A. system. For the first three and a half quarters last night, the little group of wannabe rock and rollers churned out loud, almost indecipherable and wholly irrelevant snippets of long ago and best forgotten rock anthems and did so at a decibel level that made it difficult to have a conversation with the person directly next to you. Other than noise, their presence appeared to add nothing to the game. All of us oldsters applauded when the coach launched into the tirade that effectively pulled the plug on them. Predictably, all of the kids in the next section booed lustily.

At evening's end, it was a successful season opener. Frank and his teammates - including a couple of young fellows who play running back and who I would not step in front of even with an offer of cash money on the table - won 42-26. It turned out to be a gorgeous night for high school football.....and for a rock concert. Who knew that my ticket covered the admission price to two events?

Next game - I will know better. I will buy a seat away from the mosh pit.

-AK

Friday, September 19, 2008

Joust at the Windmills with that Old Fender Guitar

Before calling it a day last night at or about 11:00 p.m. I spent some time flipping back and forth between the Yankees game (I hold out hope until the moment of mathematical elimination I suppose) and the Colorado v. West Virginia college football game, holding out hope for a good outcome both near (the Bronx) and far (the Front Range). While saying that my prayer was answered presupposes the existence of some sort of celestial arbiter - and one with sufficient free time on his hands to give a rat's a$$ about the outcome of something as trivial as a sporting event or two - and I am not prepared to go there, suffice it to say that the results for which I was rooting happened.

Mike Mussina won his final start ever at "the present incarnation of" Yankee Stadium and the home crowd - with whom Moose has had a somewhat uneven relationship during his eight seasons in pinstripes - gave him a standing ovation when he left the game during the top of the seventh inning. Meanwhile in thin night air of Boulder, Ralphie V led Cody Hawkins and his mates to an overtime upset of West Virginia. Full disclosure dictates this admission. While the Yankee game ended while I was still awake, the CU game did not. I never thought I would live long enough to utter the words, "Thank You Al Gore" but I did when his invention - the Internet - enabled me to find out the result of the CU game in about 30 seconds this morning.

I spent four very enjoyable years as an undergrad at CU-Boulder. The campus was beautiful, the weather was consistently excellent and the whole environment was simply tremendous. I had a bit of an advantage when I arrived to begin my freshman year because my sister Jill - the youngest of my five older sibs - was a junior there as was her then-boyfriend and now-husband Joe. CU Boulder is a big school - with about 28,000 students on campus when we were there a quarter century ago - and it was nice to get a heads up about places, people, etc from people who you knew and trusted who had significantly more knowledge of the campus and of the town. It was also nice to know that in a sea of unknown faces, I could always count on a friendly face - Joe -and if I had not pi$$ed my big sister off for any reason (as if I could!) - Jill.

It may be apropos of nothing at all but excluding law school, I spent 13 years being educated - from Day One of kindergarten in Mrs. Spaeth's class at St. Paul's Catholic grammar school in Princeton to Graduation at CU Boulder on May 12, 1989. Of those 13 years, I spent 9 of them going to school with Jill. The only years we spent apart educationally were my final two years of high school and my final two years of college. It is an easier journey no doubt when you do not have to walk the entire distance alone.

I do not get back to Boulder very often. In fact in the 20 years since I graduated I have been back four times - and three of those were within the first fifteen months after graduation. I last went to Boulder in October 2001. Margaret had heard me speak of CU so often that she wanted to see it for herself. We went out for Homecoming Weekend. While we had a wonderful time, I remember having an odd sense of feeling in limbo while we were there. Almost more like a trespasser than a visitor because I was returning to a place where I had once belonged wholly and now I belonged really not at all.

I had that same sort of feeling last night watching Ralphie V lead this year's version of the CU Buffaloes onto the field at Folsom Field - although the combined effect of remoteness and television mutes it significantly. The CU that I experienced with my great friends Alex, Jay, John and Loku and that I shared with Jill, Joe and their friends no longer exists. While it is a bit sad to realize that, I suppose, it is certainly not a bad thing. It should not exist in the present tense. A piece of it lives forever in my mind, my heart and my memory. But while a part of me will always belong to CU Boulder, no part of it ever belonged to me. It was mine to enjoy and to savor and then to pass on to those who came after me - just as those who preceded me had passed it on to me.

You can keep on chasing what used to be there. But it is certainly not the only option. I prefer to acknowledge the fact that once I stepped thru the door on which the sign promised, "This way to the Great Egress" the door pulled shut and locked behind me. I can gaze thru the glass from time-to-time but I cannot step back inside. There is no room for me there any longer. I stepped away from the counter and someone took my stool.

And it is OK. In fact, it is more than OK. It is as it should be.

-AK

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Big Payloads and Restless Roads

Last night when I arrived home from work, Margaret and Suzanne were looking at the photos Suzanne took on Labor Day weekend when we three and Rob were all in the same place - home - albeit just for a couple of days. It never ceases to amaze me how time goes by in an eye blink. A visit that we looked forward to for more than a month seemed to end seconds after it began and already feels as if it was 1 million years ago. In reality, it was less than 21 days.

The photos are just terrific. Suzanne captured a lot of great, candid moments throughout the course of the day - including the prolonged evening session of Rock Band, which featured a rendition of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" in which the vocal was so outstanding that the surviving members of The Clash are contemplating a reunion tour behind their new lead singer. It was nothing really. After all, I was the title character in Oliver! when I was in the 8Th grade. It is nice to see laughter and smiles on familiar faces - particularly those faces such as Rob's that we see far too little of during the day-to-day.

At a couple of points during the day, Margaret must have directed someone to take photos of the four of us because there are several shots of us - some taken in our kitchen - and some taken in the backyard - for which we posed together. Those photos are wonderful as well. I have photos on the walls of my office of my kids doing things such as riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at Point Pleasant (in the summer of '93) and hanging out with Uncle Bill, Aunt Sig and their cousins in Mystic, Connecticut (in the summer of '94). It will be nice to supplement those vintage photos with some from this side of the Y2K divide.

There is one photo of the four of us that, for me, captures the essence of our little family unit better than any other. It was taken in our kitchen. Me, notoriously uncomfortable being photographed, acting like an idiot while Rob and Suzanne laugh and Margaret - while smiling herself - chides me a bit in a vain attempt to maintain some semblance of order. And that is how it is for us. Margaret is tiny but she is the resident adult in charge. I know that I do not make things easier for her by doing any of the seemingly endless number of asinine things that I do. Such as goofing in front of a camera, which makes what should have been a 30 second project, morph into a 10 minute project. Or carrying the TV from the living room out onto the patio (actually if I recall correctly I gave permission (as if I have that authority) to Rob and crew and one or more of them carted the set outside) so that we could all play Rock Band while still enjoying the night air. I have a wife and two kids. Margaret? She has two kids and an idiot. I would say that I have definitely gotten the long end of the stick as it were.

The little mental blueprint I had in my head for my life, which I started scribbling and sketching in my youth, likely bears little resemblance to the life I actually live. And you know what? For better, for worse, for whatever reasons you might think of, I have ended up in a far better place than I ever envisioned. I'm certainly content to be where I am and staying in touch with the one I love. I am here - where I am - courtesy of the love and understanding of a truly spectacular woman. Margaret is more than simply my wife. She is my rock. She is my little font from which all that I have and all that I am capable of doing flows. Without her there would be no Suzanne and no Rob. Without her, living would continue but life would come to a screeching halt.

I know not what there would be left standing - presuming that there would be anything at all. And I hope like Hell that I never have to find out. I much prefer to continue living here - beyond my wildest dreams.

-AK

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pony Boy

I am Day Three into the grand experiment of "Physical Fitness in the Wee Small Hours of the Morning". So far so good although yesterday morning at the end of my little circuit thru the neighborhood, I thought a team of horsemen was approaching. I heard what sounded like the pounding of hooves on the pavement, growing ever closer. When I realized the sound I heard was my own heart I was at once relieved (who wants to be trampled by the son of Secretariat @ 3:15 a.m.) and startled (having not remembered turning the amplifiers near my heart up to 11). Eventually the pounding subsided and I went about the business of preparing for my work day. Today while I heard the sound - it seemed to be more distant, which means it either was a lesser sound than the same time yesterday or I have already learned to block it out so as to avoid scaring the snot out of myself. As Pete Townsend once observed - either way, blood flows, which in this case means either way is OK with me.

There is something both invigorating and relaxing about running thru the neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours. The most invigorating thing about it - other than the exercise itself - is that I am able to do something at which I am not very good under the cover of darkness, which minimizes the embarrassment to which I might otherwise be subjected. While I have no difficulty whatsoever laughing at myself (remember kids that I am the only one who sees me when I step into and out of the shower in the morning and I am not being self-effacing when I say that I was NOT the template for Harnick and Bock's "The Body Beautiful"), running under the cover of darkness minimizes the opportunities for others to do so. Other than the guy who delivers the Courier News - whose masthead does not read "Sure our paper stinks but at least we deliver it bright and early!" but could without running afoul of any truth in advertising laws - and the rabbit who hangs out in the grassy strip between sidewalk and street in front of the first house on the right after I make my left turn from Delaware onto Osceola, I encounter no other animate beings. In the darkness it is easy for me to imagine my running style evoking the memory of the legendary Boston Marathon champion Bill Rodgers. By the light of day, I fear to the discerning eye, I would more likely evoke the image of everyone's favorite cardigan-wearing neighbor, Fred Rogers. Although I would point out I have seriously cooler-looking shoes than did he.

The best part of the route I have picked out for myself on my run is the final right turn - from Mohawk back to Delaware. Its greatness is self-evident - it is close to home and it is the final turn I make before returning to my starting point. In the silence I can hear my lungs shouting "HOORAY!" as my body makes that final right turn.

But its greatness is also multi-layered and subtle. You see, in the driveway of the house that is located on the right at the corner of Mohawk and Delaware sits parked a silver Toyota 4-door pickup truck that looks identical to the truck Rob bought shortly before he left for Georgia. This fuel-injected, carbon footprint-leaving doppelganger is one of the last things I see on my way home. And while it is not my boy's truck and it not our driveway, it is an acceptable substitute for present purposes. It reminds me of him when I pass it. And that truck and the thought it evokes never fail to bring a smile to my face.

Today is the 17th of September. Two months from today, Margaret and I shall travel to Georgia to see Rob and to watch him graduate from FLETC the very next day. He has been gone more than two months already and he has now but two more months to go. He is at the point in his training where he has now spent more days there than remain to be spent there. He is just like the neighbor's truck at the corner of Mohawk and Delaware - not quite home but close enough so we can feel his presence. And hopefully close enough that he can feel ours as well.

Hell, if he listens close enough he can probably hear my heart beat. It is either that or those damn horses again.

-AK

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Please Return Your TV Trays to the Upright and Locked Position

In the Parade Magazine that accompanied the Sunday Star-Ledger on September 14, 2008, I saw the damnedest thing. Tucked away among the "HOWARD HUGE" cartoons, the "Personality Parade" and the "Ask Marilyn" column was a rather brief interview with Antonin Scalia. Since His Honor does not have a hip-hop record on the charts and has never been seen in public with Lindsay, Britney or Paris it is likely necessary to identify him by job as well as by name. He has a pretty cool job. Antonin Scalia is an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, which position he has held for more than two decades. There are but eight other people who have the same job - seven other associate justices and the Chief. All in all, a pretty exclusive club.

Justice Scalia was asked to explain the reasons underlying his stated belief that there are too many lawyers in the United States. He did: I don’t mean to criticize lawyers, just the need for so many lawyers. Lawyers don’t dig ditches or build buildings. When a society requires such a large number of its best minds to conduct the unproductive enterprise of the law, something is wrong with the legal system.

Candidly, I agree with him. In New Jersey alone there are approximately 85,000 lawyers admitted to the Bar. The practice of law has served me well. It has served my family well also. It has enabled us to pay a mortgage, pay to send the kids to a private/parochial high school and to help pay for their college educations. I am a man of limited skills so if I did not do what I do to earn my living, I would have little to no ability to provide similarly for my family doing something else. I pursue the only professional path that permits me to fulfill my role as provider and while I do it willingly, I do not always do it happily. Thus, as noted above, I think Justice Scalia's point is well-taken and I agree with him that the "enterprise of the law" can fairly be described, at least occasionally, as "unproductive".

And perhaps it is because I was at the K00l-Aid stand in the back of the room when I first read his comments - though I do not think that is the reason - but I did not interpret his comments to be a slam on his fellow lawyers. Rather, I interpreted what Justice Scalia said as a critique of - and perhaps to a degree at least an indictment of - our society. Lawyers have not created the need for lawyers. Society has created the need for lawyers. And has done so in record numbers. And maybe, just maybe, that is not a good thing.

I earn my living representing people, places and entities sued for money damages due to their allegedly negligent action (of failure to act) being an alleged cause of someone else's harm. There are undoubtedly righteous lawsuits for money damages filed every day in the courts here in New Jersey. The overwhelming majority of matters I have defended over the course of the past fifteen years fit within that category. Rare is the case in which, upon receipt of it I will call the attorney representing the person(s) doing the suing and ask why exactly my client is being sued because the cause of action seems tenuous at best. That occurs so infrequently that I can remember by name the cases in which I have had to make such a call.

It is not propriety - but perhaps perspective - that has abated in importance today in determining whether to litigate. I recall any number of transgressions being visited upon my parents when I was a boy - including a vivid memory of riding with my father on too many occasions to count to a Korvette's Department Store so that Dad could hear an excuse from a man who worked there to whom - for reasons I never understood and an amount that was never disclosed to me - my father had loaned money about why the man could not pay him whatever he had agreed to pay him as of that particular date. My parents never sued the man. I doubt highly that the loan was ever repaid in full. And when my father died, the obligation owed to him was buried right beside him.

Once upon a time - a generation or two ago - we were a nation of creators, of builders, of manufacturers whose ideas and products dominated the world stage. Now we are significantly less so. Is that because the world has gone to school on the American example and started beating us at our own game? Is it because we have given up the pursuit of what is rewarding - but difficult to achieve - and replaced it for that which is far less rewarding but far easier to obtain? Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Perhaps it is a combination of the two plus one million other things. Perhaps it is none of the above.

I know this to be true for me. I have two bright, articulate, college-educated children (sorry guys "young adults"), both of whom are pursuing hard to attain, immeasurably rewarding careers. Neither of them has attended or intends to attend law school. And neither has any interest in a career as a lawyer. Am I the only one who hears the screams and the strangled cries? In my family, yes I am.

And I could not be happier.

-AK

Monday, September 15, 2008

Off and Running

I am notoriously lazy when it comes to personal maintenance. If my workout regimen was as well-developed and adhered to as my list of excuses and alibis seems to be, then I would be able to run a marathon without breathing heavy. As it is, by the time I make the end of most sentences I feel the burn. It seems every day when my alarm clock rings I hear the voice of Dean Wormer in my ear - "Fat, dumb and lazy is no way to go thru life son" (he has modified his tirade to make it more age-appropriate), to which an inner voice I recognize as my own replies, "F*** off old man" and off I go to take a shower, get dressed for work and make my way downstairs to enjoy the first of the day's dozen or so cups of coffee.

About two years ago, I caught a hell of a break. I was probably 15-20 pounds overweight and too lazy to make the time on a regular basis to exercise, which would have perhaps helped me shed some of the weight and - equally likely - converted some of the "bad" fat into "good" muscle. Sometime between the end of the summer and the middle of October I developed what felt like a stitch in my gut - more right than left - and figured it would go away on its own. Well, as it turns out, I was partially correct. Go away it did but only after surgery. Apparently a couple of stones had become embedded in the wall of my gall bladder and when the pain finally became unbearable - about a week before Christmas - I went to the hospital to have my gall bladder removed.

While losing an organ may seem to be a bit of a buzz kill, given that the gall bladder appears to be one of those organs that is on the outside looking in with regard to the list of "vital organs", its loss had no negative impact upon me. To the contrary, it helped me considerably as within thirty days of its demise, I lost twenty pounds. Apparently gall bladders are really heavy suckers - akin in size and weight to old 13" black and white televisions. I am kidding of course (although anyone under the age of 30 who reads this just asked someone on the other side of the dividing line what the hell a black and white television is) but given the list of items I was not permitted to eat any longer and the orders from my surgeon to make a "significant change" in my diet, off came the weight.

Sadly, if I were a children's toy I would be a yo-yo. Having the self-discipline reserved normally for those early arriving brides-to-be at the Bridal Event at Filene's Basement, my eating habits have declined somewhat over the course of the past nine months. Thus I have managed to reacquire about half of the weight I took off - and there is no truth to the rumor that I would have gotten back all of it but the weight insisted on Ian Kennedy in the deal and just like Brian Cashman I think Kennedy has a bright future and thus refused to move him.

I play softball from early April thru September but while that is fun and good exercise, it is not consistent exercise. We do not play every day. I realize that I need to do something - other than talking about doing something - to work my way back towards being in shape. Yesterday I went to Modell's and bought a pair of running shoes. While I have no objection to spending money on Margaret, my kids, our home, etc, I am notoriously self-directly frugal. I loathe spending money on myself. I realized therefore that to make the commitment to working towards better health I would have to break down and spend a little coin. Being cheap makes the purchase of running shoes as much a cost-benefit analysis as a commitment to improving my physical well-being. Thus, having spent the money on them, I shall now use them if for no other reason than to avoid berating myself for having spent the money.

I know little to nothing about running shoes - although there are names I recognize as being good such as New Balance, Asics and NIKE. I bought myself a pair of NIKE AIR MAX ASSAIL running shoes and I did so for three reasons (I shall leave it to you to determine whether they are set forth in any particular order of importance): (1) they have black and gold colored parts, which means they contain the colors of my beloved Alma mater the University of Colorado, Boulder; (2) the name - how friggin' cool is it? AIR MAX ASSAIL. One might think I am preparing to invade something or someplace with those unbelievably aggressively-named shoes; and (3) they were only $29.99 - marked down first from $74.99 to $54.99 and then again to $29.99.

This morning when the alarm clock went off at 3:00 a.m., I wept softly for a moment or two as I do every morning and then - with my soul on empty and my face to the wind - went for a run. I took the time yesterday to clock off a route thru my neighborhood that is 1.2 miles (My sister Jill is a marathoner so if she ever reads this, she will spend months laughing her ass off), which I figured was a good starting distance. And this morning, off I went. While I am confident that my technique will not surface at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as the definitive "How To" teaching tool, it works for me. And I am pleased to report that my maiden voyage went smoothly. I am confident that to a passerby (of which there are scant few at 3:00 a.m. under the snow globe) I looked quite ridiculous - with my flashing red light affixed to one hip (at Margaret's urging so that passing cars can see me) and my cell phone affixed to the other (at Suzanne's urging just in case I need to call 9-1-1 for any reason) as I went bounding thru the neighborhood in the wee small hours of the morning. It matters not because I felt good doing it.

The mind is a powerful tool. Thus, while I am certain that it is in large part a game played internally - between my own two ears - I feel better this morning than I did yesterday morning at this time. And I am looking forward, already, to tomorrow morning and feeling the pounding of my feet on the road's pavement beneath me. I don't know when that road turned into the road I'm on but it has.

I am off and running. And so long as it is not the road to nowhere, I reckon I shall stay on it for a while and see where it leads me.

-AK

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Buying Whiskey For The Gypsy

The news has been peppered the past several weeks with stories of this year's Storm of the Century. Unfortunately while we have quite some distance to cover before we will be able to see this year's Hurricane season solely in the rear-view mirror, thus far Gustav, Hanna and - now - Ike have all stepped up when their name has been called to show us what each is made of (maybe that is how we temper these tempests - we tell them that we know what they are made of (extreme wind and rain) - and they go away happy).

Thus far while the damage these storms has wrought has been significant and, sadly, each has taken lives, it appears as if the governmental response (or absence thereof) that doomed so many of the Gulf Coast's residents three years ago when Katrina came a-calling, has been significantly better on the local, state and national levels. Three years ago, Michael Chertoff's presence was as soothing as the Grim Reaper's but this year people on the ground have apparently stopped recoiling in horror at the mere sight of his jet taxiing towards the terminal. The improvement in the manner in which those in charge have come to assist those in dire need does not excuse or forgive the shameful manner in which officialdom in this country three years ago helped create the first wave of American refugees in this century. And likely the first such wave since the Dust Bowl. Mistakes were made and from initial reviews it appears as if those who made them then and who needed to learn from them, now, did.

Hurricanes are not unexpected occurrences. We know they are coming and apparently are actually pretty good about predicting when they will arrive, what path they will take and just how much hell they are bringing along for the ride. Yet as one approaches landfall - be it New Orleans, Miami or Galveston Texas - the news includes stories of people who have for one reason or another moved from some other place on the map into a place where - just like the ticking of the clock on the wall - one of Mother Nature's fierce warriors is likely to visit. It is a phenomenon of the human condition I do not pretend to understand - the decision of those who have the means and the ability to live in any number of places choosing to pitch their tent stakes in the flight path of hurricanes. Maybe it is some inherent desire to tempt fate? Maybe it is simply human nature - we remain tied to the idea of chasing the great herds and mostly going where we have to go.

Or maybe we just fear being alone. Whether there is indeed strength in numbers - even when it is 1,000,000 humans vs. 1 hurricane - seems to me to be a strained proposition at best, but perhaps on some subconscious level we take something from the phenomenon of living through some really bad sh*t as long as we do so with the knowledge that we are not flying solo. We will gladly go thru Hell. We simply do not want to go it alone.

Even though we know - at day's end - we shall. There is just no one to talk to when the lines go down.

-AK

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Darkness on the Edge of Town

While I am not from here, Margaret is. And so is her brother Frank. Frank and his wife Chrissy have six children and among the half-dozen are two sons. The younger of Frank and C's two boys, Frank (not named for his Mom), is a sophomore linebacker on the Middlesex High School football team. Last night, in the misty rain, Margaret and I accompanied Sue, Margaret's mom, to Bernardsville for the MHS football team's season opener against Bernards High School.

Last night's game was not only the opener for both of the evening's combatants but also the maiden voyage of the new artificial turf playing surface of Olcott Field - which I learned during the course of the evening is the name of the principal field at Bernards High School, which the school apparently puts to excellent use for a number of its athletic teams. Given the wear and tear that a grass surface can take with the type of use it gets from a high school that uses it for football, field hockey, lacrosse, soccer or whatever other field sports the school sponsors, the investment in a surface that will be more durable, more consistent and safer for all of the children - be they yours, mine or someone else's altogether - who play on it is money well-spent in my opinion.

A report in Thursday's Courier-News said that the installation of the new synthetic surface cost approximately $687,500 and the overwhelming majority of the funds spent on the project were raised privately. That of course means that the school district did not have to pay for most of it, which means that property tax-paying residents of the district did not have to pay for most of it. Again, a commendable project. And having seen the field in all of its debut glory last night - even if I spent the evening peering out at it from under the visor of the baseball cap I wore to keep my eyes from drowning - it appears as if the company who did the work did an outstanding job.

In everyone's life of course more than a bit of rain falls, both literally and metaphorically speaking. And Mick and Keith were right of course when they noted that you simply cannot always get what you want. One of the things that presumably Bernards High School wanted as an accompaniment to its new, sturdy playing surface was permanent lighting. However, permanent lights apparently were the sand in which a group of people who live near the school drew their own imaginary line. The neighbors, once awakened to the fact that there was something in the neighborhood worth preserving (darkness presumably), banded together and formed the "Bernardsville Neighborhood Preservation Committee". One of the concessions the BNPC was able to extract from the district, to ease its opposition to the field renovation project, was a prohibition on the installation of permanent lights at Olcott Field for at least five years.

Thus last night's game, under a starless, cloud-filled and rain-producing sky was played under the illumination provided by six or eight sets of temporary lights, which were affixed to the top of what appeared to my eye to be twenty to twenty-five foot high extension ladders and lined up on the track that circles the field, which is to say not entirely adequate illumination. While it was not an experience akin to watching something in the dark, it was pretty damn close. One could not help but wonder if the preservation of the neighborhood is worth the safety and well-being of the kids who use the field. One cannot help but wonder as well, if the issue of lights is so critical, why is the initial ban on permanent lights only for "at least five years". Perhaps the members of the BNPC anticipate all being deaf or blind by then and therefore immune to the destructive forces of light and sound?

It is true that I do not live in Bernardsville - and I suppose that if anyone from the BNPC reads this, the long hoped for ceremony in which I receive a key to the City (although a lantern might have more practical application) will be put on the back burner forever. But under the snow globe we have survived just fine thank you with fields for our scholastic athletes (as well as our Little Leaguers) being illuminated by permanent lights.

Through the rain and under the lights - or the reasonable facsimile thereof courtesy of the concerned citizenry of the BNPC - Frank and his Blue Jays teammates won their season opener 24-13 over the Mountaineers of Bernards High School in what was a very spirited, hard fought game. The kids on both teams - on a night when holding onto the ball was no easy chore - played one hell of an entertaining game and judging from the sound that consistently came out of the darkness and across the field from the home team's side - one that was well-attended by the students at Bernards High School.

Teenage kids on a Friday night hanging out together at their high school, supporting their friends and classmates by watching them play a game, which in the case of last evening was football. Now there is something worthy of preservation, wouldn't you agree?

-AK

Friday, September 12, 2008

Whatsamatta U

I have been a Rutgers University fan ever since my big brother Bill roamed the banks of the old Raritan himself. I have a memory - one part vivid and one part wonderful - of being allowed to traipse around the University Library with Bill and his friends while he was an undergrad and I was a preschooler. In my system of celestial accounting, Bill gets considerable credit for honing my desire to learn and to educate myself but none of the blame for "harnessing" that desire into a career as an attorney. The latter was a self-inflicted injury and since it turns out that "big boy pants" do indeed come in "Extra Smart Ass" as well as a variety of other sizes I have no difficulty admitting as much.

RU was a different animal when Bill was there as a student - and I was there as a newspaper-wielding pseudo-toddler padding along behind him - in the realm of intercollegiate athletics than it is presently. The Big East Conference was still a glimmer in Dave Gavitt's eye, Phil Sellers, Mike Dabney, Hollis Copeland and "Jammin'" James Bailey had yet to lead Dr. Tom Young's 1976 hoops team to a 31-0 record and a Final Four berth and football had yet to embrace "big-time" status - content to compete against Princeton, Colgate and Delaware as opposed to Penn State, Fresno State and West Virginia. It mattered not to me. I remember as a little boy watching JJ Jennings run all over the opposition, whoever that opposition might have been, on what seemed to be every Saturday.

It took approximately three decades for "big-time" college football's embrace of RU's program to become more of an affectionate hug and less of a submission hold. After being one of the doormats of the sport for the better part of the first quarter-century it operated under its "big time" banner, the past few seasons at Rutgers have been consistently good - with the 2006 season of 11 wins against only 2 losses even scaling the heights of exceptional. However, thus far this season has been one in which expectation and realization have passed one another like two ships in the night - one oblivious to the other's existence. The first two games of the season, which have been played at home in the "we are remodeling it as fast as we can" Rutgers Stadium, have been on national TV, which has turned out not to be such a good thing. One cannot look good to the nation when one is getting pulverized to the tune of 68-19 by the season's first two foes.

Last night - on the 7th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 - the young man who plays QB for Rutgers - Mike Teel - had a singularly brutal game. Teel is a senior and it is not unreasonable to think that the weight of expectations thrust upon him is thus far a bit heavier than he had anticipated and he is struggling a bit to keep his balance. On his home field last evening - in a Stadium jammed with his fellow students and other members of the season-ticket holding public (folks such as yours truly) and before a national TV audience - he played poorly. The crowd reacted predictably. It booed Teel repeatedly. And loudly.

I suspect that booing aside and last night's performance notwithstanding Mike Teel is going to be just fine. As they noted during the game last night, September 11, 2001 is a date of significance in this young man's life. His father, Mike, Sr., is a Police Officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. On 09/11, while completing his investigation of a fatal accident on the George Washington Bridge, Mike Teel, Sr. received word of the disaster at the World Trade Center and did what so many police officers and fire fighters did that morning - headed to it as fast as he could.

In the chaos that ensued, father and family could not contact one another. And on the Jersey side of the river, having seen horrors they could not have imagined when they woke up that morning, the family feared the worst. Mercifully for them, their worst fears were not realized. Mike, Sr. was alive and well. As Lenn Robbins wrote in yesterday's New York Post, "Finally, around 8:00 that night, Teel heard his father's voice. It's a cop's voice - strong, authoritative and clear without being loud."

Last night did not go according to Hoyle for Mike Teel and his RU teammates. Thus far, his senior season has been wholly unsatisfying. Yet neither his coaches nor his comrades should concern themselves with their senior QB running away and hiding or caving in under pressure. Nor should they worry about him giving in to the hysteria of talk radio and the blogosphere and elevating college football to a matter of life and death.

It simply is not in his DNA. And all of the booing and all of the clapping will not change this simple truth: there are things the importance of which dwarf college sports - even "big time" college football. A lesson Mike Teel learned well as a young man. And is reminded of every day, no doubt, when he sees or talks to his dad and thinks of the men and women with whom his dad worked whose families lost them forever on September 11, 2001. College football? It is just a game. A lesson all of us would be well-served to remember.

-AK

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And This Is Our Glory

Last night, on the eve of what is for me the most unbearably sad day on the calendar, I had the chance to spend some quality time with members of the City of Newark New Jersey's Fire Department. A gorgeous early September night spent on one of what seems to be an endless supply of fields tucked into every nook and cranny of Newark playing softball with a group of men and women who earn their living serving and protecting all of us is time well spent. When standing around on the field after the game, shooting the breeze and having a beer, it is almost possible to forget that when Hell breaks loose and logic dictates that you run from Point A to Point Wherever as fast as you can, these are the men and women who pour in to Point A to try to tamp out the fires of Hell. None of them does it for the money. Read "Report From Ground Zero" by Dennis Smith if you doubt that for a moment. And I would wager that far fewer than one might think do it for the "glory". All of them, I would wager still, do it because they cannot envision themselves walking away from the opportunity to help someone else who needs it. I drove home last night happy for having met the men and women I met and thinking as well about this morning - and this day on the calendar. There is more than a little part of me that wishes September 11 remained what it had been prior to aught-one, which was the reliable bridge between September 10 and September 12. Life is not lived backwards of course so no matter how many candles I can blow out in a single breath, 'tis a wish that shall not come true.

Towards the end of the film Radio Flyer, Tom Hanks tells his two young sons, “history is in the mind of the teller.” I give this nod to an otherwise forgotten little nugget of late 20th Century American cinema in order to place the following observation in its proper context.

I am the youngest of six children born to Irish Catholic parents. My father was the first person in his family born in the United States, his parents having taken the boat over so that he could be born here, then returning to Ireland almost immediately thereafter. He is dead. He has been dead for a long time, since May 31, 1981. At the time he died, he was fifty-seven years old. Contrary to the globetrotting nature he displayed in the womb and in his life’s first year, my father was not a traveler. When he died, his passport picture was that of an infant, the last stamp upon it having been affixed when he was two or three years old, when the family returned to the United States permanently.

I was born late in my father’s life. He was forty-three when I arrived in 1967. He was a teacher and school administrator most of his adult life, including the period of fourteen years during which our lives overlapped. All during my childhood I heard stories of, and saw photos of, my father’s career in New York City, teaching at and running several private schools for boys. I learned just a few years ago, courtesy of his being featured in the best-selling book "Praying for Gil Hodges" that during the time he taught at The Browning School in New York City, he apparently possessed a fairly engaging personality. Who knew?

By the time I was old enough to walk that career was in the past tense. My parents, both of whom were New York City kids, sought refuge with their gang of six kids in New Jersey’s suburbs. My father stopped working in New York City and began working for a private school, the Wardlaw Country Day School, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Apparently, while teaching and running private schools in Manhattan, my father had had the opportunity to teach the sons, nephews and cousins of some noteworthy and even famous men. A considerable portion of my youth was spent listening to my father’s stories about his New York City experiences. One of the few things that ever seemed to bring him true enjoyment was telling stories about the students he had taught and the notable parents whom he had met through his teaching.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were constructed and opened for business at or about the same time that I was venturing out into the world located on the other side of the playpen wall. We were born and grew up at the same time. I vividly remember the first time I ever saw them with my own eyes. I was traveling with my father, riding in the front passenger seat of his station wagon when he pointed them out to me. “You see those two towers”, he said. “I taught the sons of the man who built those towers.” If memory serves me correctly, he was referring to the owner of Tishman Construction, a company whose projects are located all over the world and many of which are still fixtures in the New York metropolitan area. What has always struck me whenever I have thought about that conversation in the past seven years is something that never occurred to me at the time. That is - my father's ability to make himself - in a very small way - a part of the Twin Towers. He managed to make them part of his resume, part of his history - as "the teacher of the sons of the man who built them". Whether he did so to fuel his own ego or simply to feel a sense of belonging to something and to someone I know not. And it matters not at all. In the manner in which he recounted his history and their history to his youngest son, the two were inextricably linked.

Remember that “history is in the mind of the teller.” Before the sun set on September 11, 2001, my mind turned - I regret to say - away from the combination of grief and dread that the families of those who knew their loved ones had died and those - worse still perhaps - who feared they had but had not heard anything definitive yet - and to my father. I recall now what I thought then: "Boy my old man must be really pissed off right now that some a**holes destroyed the Twin Towers." They had stood as his self-appointed link to cultural significance for more than thirty years. Yet in the span of one beautiful, deadly September morning, they were gone. My father has been dead for a long time. The passage of time has decimated the number of connections between him and my life, most of which were of questionable durability to begin with. The Twin Towers and his charmingly inane, pathetic way of describing them to his then-young son were among the few remaining connections. They, like he before them, are gone forever.

As I noted earlier, I am the youngest of six children. The child closest to me in age is my sister, Jill, who is roughly two years older than I am. She has two daughters. Neither was even a gleam in her parents’ eyes when my father died. Not too terribly long after the events of September 11, 2001 Jill and I were speaking on the telephone one evening when the conversation turned to the events of September 11th. I told her of my thought after the Towers collapsed of Dad and the “I taught the sons of the man who built them” story. She told me that, in teaching her daughters about the grandfather who died before they were born, she had told them that same story. I told her that I presumed that Dad must have been pissed off when the Towers were destroyed. She told me that when she told her daughters what had happened in New York, her younger daughter Julia told her that she thought Grandpa Bill, up in heaven, would be mad because someone had destroyed "his" Towers.

Two generations, miles apart, made the same observation. The somewhat eerie “déjà vu” element of what my sister told me notwithstanding, I smiled when she told me what my niece had said. History is in the mind of the teller. A story whose roots are found in a casual conversation, in an automobile, between a father and his son, had survived to reach a third generation. Its survival assures, at least in a small way and at least to one family, the lasting memory of the events of September 11, 2001 and the loss of all those who died that day and all that was lost as well - including of course the Twin Towers. Perhaps its survival assures, as well, the survival of at least one connection between my father and the day-to-day existence of his children and grandchildren.

The title of this little missive I lifted from one of the singularly most moving pieces of music I have heard that came out of the morning of September 11, 2001. Mark Knopfler watched the coverage that morning. And in the days and weeks that followed he read the countless stories in the days and weeks that followed of people trapped in the Twin Towers, knowing that while help was not coming, death most certainly was, who made their final phone call home to parents, spouses, siblings and children to say goodbye. "If This is Goodbye" is a conversation between one such couple, confronted with an ending neither would have imagined in the most horrific of nightmares.

It is a song beautifully sung by Knopfler and Emmylou Harris and it serves as a reminder of what is important - even on a day so horrible that we wish it had never come and that it would go away and leave us - which is, of course, our love. None of us knows whatever might be waiting for us but it matters not what lies ahead. For it is what lies within that will pull us through, even on this day. Especially on this day.

Who knows how long we've got/
Or what we're made of/
Who knows if there is a plan or not/
There is our love/
I know there is our love

-AK

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Measuring Progress In a One Horse Town.....

Driving in a car, walking across a parking lot, watching television, going to the bathroom, it makes no difference. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I look up and try to find it. Directly into the sun’s light sometimes, it matters not. It also matters not that my effort is not always successful. As often as not my frantic, hard target search of the skies above my head comes up empty - I can hear the sound but cannot find its source.

Tomorrow marks seven years since the murders of several thousand people on the streets of lower Manhattan by a group of cowards using jet planes as weapons. In the seven years since that day, not a single jet has passed over my head that failed to attract my attention. It flies over. I look up. Perhaps Pavlov was right and it’s all “stimulus/response”. Is it evidence of my insanity? Or, on the other hand, is it evidence of the natural evolution of Dr. Pavlov’s experiment? I have learned to respond to a stimulus that was not really a stimulus at all.

The cruel irony of it all is that on September 11, 2001, I heard nothing. I was not in lower Manhattan. I was not in New York City. Hell, I was not even outside. I was in court in Hackensack, New Jersey in a courtroom with approximately thirty other lawyers participating in the weekly calendar call of civil cases pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Bergen County. I did not know of the attack at the time it happened. I learned of it only after the second tower had been struck. I did not even hear the noise of the planes the first time I saw video of the attack. My first exposure to the attack was watching pictures, with no sound, broadcast on a Spanish language television station. The television set on which I watched it was in the chambers of the Hon. Peter Doyne, who was then the Presiding Judge in Bergen County. It was also on that television that, in addition to the replay of the airplanes striking the Twin Towers, I watched, on live television, in the company of Judge Doyne and in muted horror, the collapse of the second tower.

All of my life, I have resisted labels and participation in any type of group. Always comfortable being out in front on something, always loathe of becoming a joiner or a “me too” kind of guy. I was born too late to be a baby boomer, and too early to be a “Gen X-er”. The closest my age group ever came to a label or a tag, at least to my recollection, was during the Ronald Reagan years in the White House. I am an American who came of age in Ronald Reagan’s America, graduating high school less than six months after his second inauguration and college less than six months than George Bush’s - #41, not #43.

Instantly, everything changed. My nameless, faceless demographic of Americans belong, for the first time, to a generation. I belong to the generation of Americans whose adult lives will forever be separated into “pre-September 11th” and “post-September 11th” arcs. Funny thing, though, having resisted fervently any prior effort to be roped into a group, I have embraced my inclusion in this hastily thrown together generation. I spent a portion of my summer of 2001 devouring Tom Brokaw’s two books, The Greatest Generation and The Greatest Generation Speaks and found myself choking back tears on several occasions. Unspeakable atrocities were visited on human beings all over the world during World War II, including but not limited to those brought upon the Jews by the insanity of Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, as I read both books, I wished that I could have experienced this country at that time. The frank, straightforward manner in which ordinary men and women described the extraordinary sacrifices they made on this nation’s behalf seemed to be so far removed from late August/early September 2001 America. It was as if the people in both books described a land and a people I had never experienced or met. I found myself seeking solace in history because its comparison to the present-day made the present seem so damn depressing.

Remember for a brief moment the state of this nation in the days and weeks prior to September 11, 2001. We had become a nation of titillation. Arguably the two most vilified men in America were Gary Condit and the coach of Danny Almonte’s Little League team, both of whom disgraced themselves in a most public manner. I fell asleep on Monday, September 10, 2001, watching the New York Giants struggle mightily but ultimately fail to win the NFL’s first Monday night match-up against the Broncos at the new Mile High Stadium in Denver. My arrival in court on Tuesday morning was punctuated by conversations among a number of attorneys regarding a critique of the Giants’ performance the previous evening. At that moment, the major issue in our lives was whether they would rebound in time to earn a win against the Green Bay Packers on September 16, 2001.

In an eye blink, everything changed. One might have hoped that out of that unspeakable tragedy it might have changed - for the better and forever. Sadly, seven years later the jury remains out on those issues. For a while, our collective mourning led to cohesiveness - grown out of sadness certainly but existing nonetheless and not simply in politics and government but throughout the country. Somewhere along the line we apparently made the transition from a nation described by President Bush in his September 20, 2001 speech to Congress, as having been "awakened to danger and called to defend freedom", whose "grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution" and which was committed to the principle that "whether we bring our enemies to justice, or justice to our enemies, justice will be done" back to a nation chided by the President that if we do not continue to purchase consumer goods, "the terrorists win." I suppose someone had to purchase The Bridge To Nowhere once Governor Palin and her fellow Alaskans turned it down, right?

Tomorrow all of us will remember - vividly and sadly - where we were and what our life was like exactly seven years ago. Take this simple test - ask yourself that same question today and use not 09/11/01 but - instead - 09/10/01 as your reference point. And ask yourself are we the people of the United States very far at all now from where we were then - the day before everything changed? And the next time you are in Lower Manhattan, take a tour of what promises to be - someday - the World Trade Center Memorial, which is now projected not to be completed until 2013 or 2014 - a full two to three years later than originally promised.

Sometimes you think you have come so far only to find that you have not in fact even left the parking lot. It is at best a slow turning - if one at all.

-AK