Sunday, November 30, 2008

Marley and Me

These are somewhat complicated times here in my little sliver of the universe 'neath the snow globe. Rob has relocated two time zones away to begin the adult swim portion of his life, which for n0 reason other than the timing involved cut a large swath thru Thanksgiving and might make Christmas something less than merry as well. And because she was not going to allow her little boy to move 1800 miles away - to a state she had never visited and had heard mentioned in conversation only infrequently - Margaret rode shotgun on the not-quite transcontinental road trip. She has been away since Tuesday morning. And she shall not return home until Monday night.

Margaret and I are married a long time - almost fifteen and one-half years. This week - as she has been somewhere other than here - I have missed her quite a lot. I realized this week what I suppose I have known for years but have simply not given much thought to before. When I do not have my wife around to speak to and with whom to share the events of the day, I tend to not really talk to anyone or to have any plan for what to do once I arrive home. I have also come to grips with the realization that while I lack the skill set to achieve much beyond mediocrity on the Ralph Kramden Scale of Husbandry (animal and otherwise), I have been married for so long that my bachelor skill set has eroded to the point where all signs point to rust being an eternal insomniac.

Before anyone rings up Raoul Felder for the lovely and talented Mrs. Kenny, the skill set to which I am referring is the one principally comprised of knowing the answer to questions such as: "I am home from work, what should I do now?" or "It is 8:53 p.m., is it too late for me to eat dinner and if it is not, then what should I eat?" At work I am perpetually structured - I attack each day with a plan of action, which of course often times get impeded or interrupted or blown to smithereens altogether by the day's events as they unfold around me - but the structure invariably holds together and permits me to complete that which I need to complete on a particular day. I had long suspected that Margaret is the creator of the structure in the non-work universe of my life. My suspicions have been confirmed these past few days.

I am far from helpless on the domestic level. Laundry is getting done, mail is getting brought in, dirty dishes are getting cleaned and put away, the kitchen floor is getting Swiffered and the animals are getting fed. Yet there is an inescapable sense of emptiness around me this week. I know that a significant portion of that feeling is attributable to Rob's relocation to the home state of Joseph Conrad's prototypical Vice-President. The overwhelming percentage of that feeling, however, is attributable to the fact that Margaret is not here. There is a palpable sense of absence in our home this week. And if I were a betting man I would wager that sense arises from the fact that it is not my home or her home but OUR home.

At least I can take comfort in the fact that her absence from the home has an expiration date - unlike Rob, who in all likelihood has left on a lifetime pass - and that she will be home late tomorrow night (one more sleep, as it were). I know no Tiny Tim and I have never heated my work place by coal. Still, this week I have been visited by the spirit of my past - before Margaret - and by the spirit of my future - had there been no Margaret - as I have struggled thru the present without her.

Jacob, I believe. I do indeed.

-AK

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Lifetime's Supply of Coal in the Stockings Is Not Nearly Enough

Yesterday in this space I prattled on about the retail establishment's annual lament about lesser sales during the Holiday shopping season and the apparent plan this year to appeal to something other than our basest human instincts to get us to spend, spend, spend. Tragically, while I was writing what I was writing, a mob of "have to be the first ones on the block to buy heavily discounted crap for Christmas" knuckle-dragging miscreants stormed the battlements (oh, sorry it was only the front door) of a Wal-Mart store on Long Island and stomped to death the Wal-Mart employee who was attempting to open the door.

Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year-old newly hired, seasonal employee, was trampled to death by various members of the mob of more than 2000 who gathered at the Wal-Mart Store at the Green Acres Mall (who would have suspected that all those years ago Zsa Zsa was right) in Valley Stream. The apparent attraction was one of those "early bird" specials that retailers run on Black Friday - this one was for "steeply discounted electronics". Apparently the store was to open at 5:00 a.m. and when it did not (Mr. Damour's sin apparently was unlocking the doors at 5:03 a.m.) the crowd became unruly and started yelling at the personnel inside to open up as they - the early morning mob clearly moved by the spirit of the season - banged on the doors in an apparent effort to get into the store.

Mr. Damour - by all accounts - had no chance to escape the onslaught. According to the New York Post, the crowd stampeded into the store with such force that the store's doors were blown off of their hinges. Eventually, when emergency personnel were able to push their way thru the crowd to get to the fallen man, their efforts to revive him and to use CPR to save his life were unsuccessful. At 5:03 a.m., on his fourth day as a seasonal Wal-Mart employee, Mr. Damour opened the door so that the customers could come in and begin their Christmas shopping. Sixty minutes later, he was pronounced dead at Franklin General Hospital.

Nothing gets our competitive juices flowing as Americans quite as much as the chance to buy something (a) before anyone else can; and (b) for less money than the next guy will have to pay. We are a nation of people who within about ninety days of September 11, 2001 had already grown weary of the longer lines at airports nationwide, which were necessitated by heightened security measures. It takes a certain type of jackass to be unwilling to wait 20 more minutes in a line whose very existence is designed to increase the likelihood that his or her flight will be a safe one but be willing to sleep out all night in a mall parking lot just to be one of the first people on line to buy Dora the Explorer DVDs or the latest Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana CD. And it takes a really, really enormous jackass to be so callous as to willfully risk the life of another just to be the first one on the block to own whatever garbage is for sale at a discount at 5:00 a.m. (and Yes, ornery prick of misery that I am, I include the 28 year-old woman who WHILE EIGHT MONTHS' PREGNANT was there to shop before dawn yesterday morning and who was also trampled by the crowd - fortunately she and her unborn child escaped without suffering serious injury.)

The police will likely be unable to bring charges against anyone, given the difficulty identifying who did what off of the store's video surveillance cameras. It seems as if the best that Mr. Damour's family can hope for is that those who participated in causing his death will at some point engage in a period of self-reflection that - at least - forces them to acknowledge what they did. And tortures them for the rest of their miserable lives.

It would be nice to see Wal-Mart - in what would be a departure from their public corporate persona - join the fray here and make certain that if Mr. Damour left behind a family (whether parents, a spouse, siblings, children) then his family is compensated for his death. Methinks the good folks from Bentonville, Arkansas are preparing to do the wrong thing however - given how quickly they pointed out yesterday that Mr. Damour was a "temporary employee" whose services were procured thru an agency.

The statement from the home office about, "The safety and security of our customers and associates is our top priority," rang just a bit hollow in light of the statement from one of Mr. Damour's co-workers - a young man named Steven Manning - who told the Post, "Last year, they only bent the door. People are insane." Presuming that it true, one cannot help but wonder which members of this year's murderous mob were present during the Aught-Seven onslaught and what if anything Wal-Mart did during the past twelve months to guard against a repeat performance.

A man trampled to death by a mob of people is a tragedy - seemingly irrespective of the set of circumstances. Yet, here it is not simply tragic. It is infuriating. The mob of killers did not rampage because they were fleeing in panic from rising flood waters, a fireball or a building collapse - where perhaps the panic or frenzy would be more readily understood. This mob of killers swarmed the door to get "stuff" at a discount. Ladies and gentlemen - your attention please - this way to witness the lowest common denominator of human behavior. As we give the monkey yet another reason to curse the very presence of his under performing thumb.

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers in Valley Stream: All of you who were there yesterday morning and participated in the '08 Store Rush are responsible for what happened. Whether your shoe was one of the countless ones that made contact with Mr. Damour once he had been knocked to the ground, whether your elbow or your shoulder was one of the ones that put him there, matters not at all. Each and every one of you - whether the police can identify his killer or killers - is guilty of having made the decision that some THING you wanted was more valuable than the LIFE of another.

Here's to hoping that Emerson, Lake and Palmer were right - and that this Christmas and every one to follow for the rest of each of your lives - Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell The Christmas you get you deserve.

-AK

Friday, November 28, 2008

Is Black Friday a Black-Tie Affair?

As I made my typical pre-dawn trek north on Route 287 this morning, exchanging the warmth and relative comfort of my bed (with Margaret away our Shetland Sheepdog has taken up residence on my wife's side of the bed and, well, Rosie is a bit of a blanket hog) for the solitude of the office, I passed by the same retail establishments that I pass every day. Of course, today is "Black Friday", which in spite of its ominous nomenclature (the stock market crashed on Black Tuesday in 1929 - and then just for fun took another historical tumble on Black Monday in 1987 and in Black Sunday really, really bad people threatened to wreak havoc on the Super Bowl not seen since the Buffalo Bills seemed to be annual bridesmaids) is lauded as the start of the Christmas shopping season. This is the "make it or break it" time of year for retailers. Between now and Christmas, their most fervent hope is that you will have to park on the grass and in other less than legal spots in mall parking lots due to the lack of available spaces - and they believe that you will.

In this climate-controlled, no-contact version of Field of Dreams it is money that they hope we all have and their crap that they know we all want. This year may be different. We hear annually from the retail establishment how the holiday season was not quite as good as had been hoped and how sales were down from years past. Being a natural born cynic I usually cast a jaundiced eye at the annual "Woe is Us" report from the good people who run Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor, Williams-Sonoma and the rest of the high-end stores. Every year it seems they express chagrin and disappointment at the number of people who wrested overpriced merchandise off of their shelves. Me? I usually take it as affirmation of the fact that intelligent life really does exist in this universe and that, for example, after further review Aunt Sally realized that Grandma - having lived the first seven decades of her life using a knife to cut butter could live without the limited edition "Butter Guillotine" - even at the low, low price of only $69.95.

This year, however, there may actually be a kernel of truth sprinkled atop the usual bucket of lies. Economists and financial wizards of every ilk, irrespective of their political affiliation or school of thought, appear to agree that we are in the midst of less than rosy economic times. The wolves may not be at the door just yet but that sound you heard very well may have been their car pulling into the driveway. In recognition of the harsh times in which we are living, the retailers have adjusted their strategy - and it has been done so deftly and so subtly that you may or may not have even noticed.

The plan this year is to reduce the number of "in your face" type of advertisements and - instead - take a more homespun approach. The rationale seems to be that since we cannot appeal to your "we simply have to buy this" part of your brain this year, we will get you into the store to buy our stuff by appealing to the "getting and giving gifts is part of Christmas and reminds me of how life was when I was just a child" part of your brain. This year we have traded the "DON'T BE THE ONLY ONE ON YOUR BLOCK NOT TO HAVE IT" sales pitch in for the "Buy Stuff for the Ones You Love - Just Like Mom and Dad When You Were Young" tag line. Kid Rock is out and Norman the Rock is in.

Have we reached the point in the program where "L-O-V-E" is spelled "L-O-O-T"? I hope not. And I certainly wish financial hardship on no one -even people for whom I have no love or affection. But I think it will help all of us in the long run if we remember that love is not about stuff and it is not about "what can you buy for me?" It is about the person or persons for whom we feel it and who feel it for us. It is a reflection of who we are and not what we can buy.

This Christmas more of us may receive less from those who love us than we have in years past and we may give less to those who we love than we have in years past. It matters not. Love is gauged by the giving of all that one has to give and whether "all" is a lot or something less than that, as long at it is everything, it is enough. It has to be. For without it, there is nothing.

And you cannot buy it at the mall. Not even on "Black Friday". And not even if you are the first one in line waiting for a door to open at 4:00 A.M.

-AK

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Pilgrim's Progress

At some point today, Rob and Margaret shall arrive in Cheyenne, Wyoming and as Rob begins to assess his new surroundings - his new home - Margaret will mark the time between their arrival and her departure on Monday (it is the difference in the pronoun that shall be the source of her sadness) with her game face on as she helps her baby boy establish his first permanent residence that shall have his name and not her name on the mailbox. She will keep her game face on - thru Sunday night at least - as in the splendidly compartmentalized way in which her mind works she will simply shut Monday out.....until it is right on top of her impossible to ignore.

This is simply a non-traditional Thanksgiving in my little family unit, scattered as we are much like little grains of sand across this great land of ours. It is a day on which, candidly, I am finding joy in short supply. I must remember, as must we all I think, that the overriding theme of this day is to express thanks for what we have and not to bemoan what we never had or, worse yet, what we once had but has now been taken from us.

While I am saddened by the miles between us this year, I am thankful for Margaret. I am thankful that almost two decades ago, for reasons that make as little sense to me now as they did then, our paths intersected and rather than running away screaming as fast as she could, she stayed. And in staying, my bride saved me from the most destructive force I have encountered in more than forty years of life - me.

Not only did she save me, which is and of itself something for which eternal thanks are not nearly enough, but she gave me Suzanne and Rob. Yes, it is true that I have no biological or genetic link to either. And it is also true that when I arrived on the scene they not only were already here but were little humans of six and five respectively. But it is indisputable that our relationship is one of parent/child, which means that now that my two kids have grown thru childhood and into adulthood I learn significantly more from each of them than either ever learned from me back in the day.

It is a simple equation really. Without Margaret, I would not have Suzanne and I would not have Rob. Without Margaret, Suzanne and Rob, I would not have anything. With them, I have all I could ever want or hope to have. And a damn sight more than I deserve, no doubt.

And for them and all they have done for me in the course of our life together, I am and shall remain forever thankful.

-AK

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This Too Shall Pass.....

It is Thanksgiving Eve. There are any number of things for which I am thankful - not the least of which is the blessing of the extraordinary woman to whom I am married and the two truly spectacular children (sorry guys I keep forgetting - young adults) we have raised. Yet I cannot tell a lie (well, that is not entirely true either. Hell, I do practice law for a living). I am thankful but today I am not happy.

I am not happy simply because I am sad. I am sad that one of my two shall live approximately 2000 miles from home for at least the next three years, which will make visiting a bit difficult and - God forbid he needs it - the provision of immediate assistance a practical impossibility. I shall not be sad forever. While I am far from the sharpest knife available for purchase in the Williams-Sonoma cutlery catalog, I am not wholly devoid of intellect. I understand that in time, probably sooner than I even can fathom this morning, my sadness will abate and my happiness about Rob's success and his pursuit of what lies before him will again carry the day.

We employ the use of all sorts of euphemisms and we engage in all types of evasive behavior to try to make it thru our lonesome days, don't we? Much to Margaret's chagrin, I said good-bye to Rob Monday night before heading off to bed for while I knew they would be getting up and heading out Tuesday morning at some point after I did, I knew that my spine lacked the steel necessary to be there at the time of departure. I simply could not do it. I am not embarrassed - well just a little I suppose - to admit that I laid in bed crying for a while Monday night in anticipation of Rob's departure. And I am not embarrassed (OK, just a tad perhaps) that I had to keep rubbing the tears out of my eyes yesterday morning on my drive to work....and for hours after I arrived. I could not be present yesterday morning when he backed his vehicle out of the driveway for the last time - for a little while anyway - because I did not have the strength necessary to keep wearing my brave face while I was looking at my son's.

And I think that either because he has grown accustomed to my paternal failings over the course of his lifetime or perhaps because it would have been too much for him to bear (on top of saying good-bye to his big sis and to his girlfriend at the same time), Rob understood why I did what I did. I suppose I could be engaging in rationalizing to the Nth degree but I think not. When he and I said our good-byes on Monday night, which was tough enough to do, he would not say "good-bye". Instead he kept saying, "let's just say I'll see you later", which is ultimately what we did.

Thru the sadness left unspoken was the realization that later is an undefined term. It could get late early - just ask Yogi Berra - and it could be as soon as Christmas or it could mean several months. I, who lack the talent to play a single musical instrument (unless the kazoo has achieved legitimacy while I was sleeping), am now playing it by ear.

By midday tomorrow, Margaret and Rob should reach his new home. And tomorrow night he shall for the first time go to sleep under the lights of Cheyenne. Me? I am taking a mulligan on Thanksgiving this year. I simply cannot spend the day in the presence of a large group of people - even when that group is comprised of folks of whom I am incredibly fond - when two of the three people on the planet whose presence in my life gives me the most reason to be thankful will be 2000 miles away.

Let kingdom come, I'm gonna find my way. And I shall get there in due course.

-AK

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trying to Stay Positive

There will be a time in the future when I will look back on today and it will all seem funny. Unfortunately, today is not that day.

Today is the day on the calendar that has been staring me down from afar for the past several months. From the day Rob graduated from college in May, I knew today was coming. And there was nothing to be done to prevent its arrival. For while it is a day that is crushing me for present purposes, it is a good day. It is a wonderful day in fact. It is the most important day to date of my son's life. For it is the day that he begins in earnest the journey that will take him from the world he has occupied to date to the adult world, which is the world he shall occupy from this day forward.

The difficulty of today is that while my heart is heavy because the first steps on his journey will take him far from here, it is also bursting with pride and with joy for him and for the opportunity that his hard work and earnest effort has provided him. There is nothing more exciting than watching your kids as they grow and as they experience success - particularly when they experience that success in what it is they want to pursue as their life's work. Conversely, there is nothing sadder than watching them grow up and move away - in Rob's case almost 2000 miles away - in order to achieve that success.

You know when your kids are little that a time will come when they will no longer be around day-to-day. You look forward to it from the time they are young - not because you long for the time when the nest is empty (no matter how often I tell precisely that to Suzanne) - but because your principal job as a parent is to do what you can to provide your kids with the tools to succeed and a happy, peaceful home environment in which to grow up. When they are young, the date when they shall trade in your home for their own is so far of in the distance that it not even discernible at the point of intersection where the horizon meets the sky.

The older they get, the closer it draws. Until the point of intersection moves from somewhere out there to.....well, to right in your face. And so it is this morning. Rob is going and while he shall come back here to visit - and perhaps three years down the line he will move back to this part of these United States - his home shall likely never again be this home.

And that is enough to make me more than a little sad this morning. But it is stiff upper lip time. I certainly do not want to spoil my son's day by bringing him down. 'Cause I am one of those kids at the show who now has kids of its own and yes, the sing-along songs have become scriptures.

And off he goes - out into the great American West. Out chasing a tornado or two while I keep living out my time here in Never Never Land.

-AK

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Garden State Has Given Way to the Real World

This time tomorrow, my son shall be wheeling his way West, inspired by the oft-repeated words attributed to Horace Greeley and driven by his desire to begin his career and his adult life. He is beginning what shall be his life's next great adventure. And while I wish I may and I wish I might, I simply cannot conjure up the magic needed to enable that adventure to unfold somewhere closer to home than far, far away.

Thus, what I am left with is this. A simple farewell from father to son - conveyed by someone who hopes and prays that his son's relationship with him is substantially better than my relationship was with my old man. And it is a simple farewell conveyed by someone who never had a similar conversation with his own father - who died when I was age 14 and before I began high school. I wrote something for Rob in my own horrible handwriting on a card I tucked into his stuff, which at some point in time he may attempt to read, but I wanted to reproduce it here so he can view it without risking eye strain. Anyway, without further ado....

And so it goes, eh? It seems as if it was yesterday that you, Mom and me sat in the Open House at John Jay, which of course was many yesterdays ago.

Time flies and before you know it, one of your kids is off into the world to make his mark. I am sorry for anything that I might have missed doing with you or saying to you. Truth be told, I do not think that I am much good at the whole Dad business. I am happy that thanks to your good efforts and Mom's, you have excelled.

I shall miss you more than I can tell you but being extraordinarily happy for you and proud of you will ease the pain.

Remember your promise to Mom at the Wall and never break it. I do not want to have to come to Wyoming to Tase your ass!

Safe journey, my son.

I love you and I am very proud of all you have done and are going to do.

-AK

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two More Sleeps

Today is the official "Bon Voyage" party for Rob. At some point in the wee small hours of this coming Tuesday morning, he and Margaret shall commence the great migration West and while my bride is riding shotgun on the outward leg, when she herself is homeward bound a week later, she will be traveling as a solo act.

Tuesday morning will put the cork in what has been an extraordinarily exciting and emotional nine-day period in my little piece of Terra Firma 'neath the snow globe. Just one week ago, we were traveling to Georgia to see Rob for the first time in almost three months and to see him graduate, which he did on Tuesday. Then he gave me one of the truly great experiences in my life by asking me to drive North with him from Georgia. He and I spent a couple of days on a "road trip". We walked all over the Mall area of Washington D.C., we ate in little restaurants, pubs and diners and we stayed in hotels of varying quality and curb appeal. And we talked - about a million different things. And for me, the experience was not only exhilarating but enlightening.

Somewhere along the line, when I was not paying nearly close enough attention, my son grew up. Shame on me to have either slept thru - or more likely to have worked thru - the process. I am happy however that I am here to bear witness to the fruit that the process has borne.

Today is the final Sunday Rob shall spend - at least for the next several years - as a resident of the Garden State. And at some point this evening, when we are cleaning up the remnants of today's little shindig, I will become more fixated on that fact than I am now - hours before the sun appears in the Jersey sky like a red ball rising over the refinery towers.

Margaret has a deliberately silly metaphor she employs to calculate the time between the present and a pending event of significance. She poses the question "how many more sleeps?" - meaning of course how many more nights. We are but two sleeps from Rob's departure from the life he has known - and that I hope he has loved - for the life for which he has worked so damn hard and that he is looking forward to with all of his heart and all of his being. Just two.

Perhaps next week - after she has returned home - I will break the news to my bride about the inherent flaw in her favorite turn of phrase. For while night shall most certainly fall - darkness is, of course, as relentless as the rain, sleep is far less certain. At least, for this old man.

-AK

Saturday, November 22, 2008

From Here, We Can Almost See Eternity

I will be forty-two in February aught nine, which means of course that there was no point of intersection between my life and that of John Fitzgerald Kennedy - murdered forty-five years ago on this very day as his motorcade wheeled its way thru Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Having been born after JFK's assassination - an event that sadly for the Kennedy clan served not as a high water mark for family anguish but rather a portent of things to come - I have no firsthand knowledge of it.

My knowledge of it - and its impact upon those who were alive and who recall it - comes thru archived news footage, such as the famous footage of Walter Cronkite - near tears - turning to look at a clock on the wall so that he could accurately report to his audience the time at which the President's death had been reported to him from those on the ground in Dallas. My knowledge of it also comes from listening to those who lived thru the experience - the experience of discovering that Camelot had been ripped away from them. I was a junior in high school in the Fall of 1983 and had the great pleasure of being a student in Dr. Les Rudnyanszky's Advanced Placement American History class at the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison. Doc Rud - as everyone I know who has ever met him calls him - was a real treat as a teacher - blessed with the essential gift of a great teacher: the ability to combine his respect and love for the subject he taught with the ability to make it fascinating for those to whom he was teaching it. I had a lot of fun in Doc's class as twenty-five years later I have vivid recollection of everything ranging from strikes and crashes to Monday morning quizzes following a Notre Dame loss on a football Saturday (as someone who had Doc during the Gerry Faust era we were quizzed often...even on the Monday following the Air Force game!). More imporantly of course is that a quarter-century after I completed Doc's class and sat for my A.P. American History exam, much of what he taught my classmates and me has remained with me - engrained in me.

Among the things I recall learning from Doc - in a year when this nation marked the 20th anniversary of President Kennedy's death - was his stark recollection of where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news on that awful November day. As someone born two generations after Pearl Harbor and a generation after President Kennedy's assassination, I hoped against hope that no like event would occur during my lifetime - or that of my children - to serve as a point of reference such as those two national tragedies had. And then the sun rose on the morning of September 11, 2001 and before we reached 9:00 a.m. here on the East Coast of the United States, my hope was forever grounded into the dust.

Just seventy-two hours ago my son and I spent a significant portion of our afternoon visiting Arlington National Cemetery and paying our respects to those who are buried there. It was his first visit so we visited the Eternal Flame, which marks the grave of President Kennedy. I took a photo of Rob standing at the grave site and as we walked from it afterwards we spoke a bit about what I learned - from teachers and from invaluable other resources such as my father and my brother Bill - about the life and death of President Kennedy.

In the forty-five years since an assassin's bullet brought Camelot to an abrupt and unexpected close, this nation has endured a great deal of tumult. We have unfortunately spent too much of that time waging war with one another as our country has become increasingly fragmented and factionalized. Perhaps that is what so many Americans see in President-elect Obama: hope. Hope that almost one half century after a young Irish Catholic Senator from Massachusetts spoke to his fellow Americans of the promise of the future, a young African-American Senator from Illinois can help us all realize that promise.

Sun shines thru the rain? Perhaps, it shall.


-AK

Friday, November 21, 2008

Justice - Integrity - Service....

Yesterday I made the somewhat joyous, somewhat sad return home from my Southern adventure. Margaret and I had the pleasure of being in Georgia earlier this week for Rob's graduation - a truly moving event at which we were joined by Rob's girlfriend, Pam. In the almost forty-two years of my life - much to the chagrin of all who know me - I have never been rendered speechless. Yet Monday morning, courtesy of my son, his fellow graduates and one of their instructors, provided me with just such an opportunity. Suffice it to say, if I live to be more than twice as old as I am now I shall never bear witness to anything more moving than that which I witnessed on a chilly Georgia morning.

The following morning we watched Rob and his classmates take an oath that eliminated in the eyes and ears of all who were there any doubt as to whether any of the members of his class were prepared for the task awaiting them. It was an awe-inspiring sight and one that I will never forget.

Upon the conclusion of Tuesday's festivities, Margaret and Pam flew home to New Jersey. Rob and I spent the past forty-eight hours driving North. Our road trip took us principally thru Washington D.C. - where I got to show my son - who is not only no longer a child but now is less than two weeks from starting his career 2000 miles from home - sights and sounds that I remembered from my lone childhood visit to our nation's capital and where the two of us got to see sights together for the first time. We spent two days visiting Arlington National Cemetery, the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the WW II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Capitol, the United States Supreme Court and the White House among others. I am thrilled to have had the chance to have spent these past couple of days with Rob - just enjoying the time together and doing nothing of real significance. Yet I am saddened by my own infernal stupidity. I am saddened by the fact that I waited so long to do this with him that it is the final father/son thing we shall do together before he begins his long drive West on Tuesday morning.

I hope that he knows that he takes a little piece of me with him when he goes. I hope he knows as well that I carry a big piece of him with me everywhere that I go.

And always shall. Congratulations my son and safe journey. I love you and am proud of the work you have done to create this opportunity for yourself. And thank you for taking a couple of days out of your busy final week at home to spend a little time with the old man. It is better than I deserve and the best gift I could ever receive. And I shall cherish it always.

-AK

Thursday, November 20, 2008

All The Right Moves

This weekend, Margaret's nephew Frank and his Middlesex High School Blue Jays teammates will do something that our local high school has not done in a generation: play in the second round of the State football playoffs. Until they avenged their lone loss of the season to date by defeating Highland Park in Round One, no incarnation of the high school gridders had won a post-season game since 1984. For historical reference - while I did not attend Middlesex High School (a fact of which I am reminded repeatedly by the other inhabitants of real estate 'neath the Snow Globe) - the program's last playoff win before this year happened when I was a senior in high school. The era I like to refer to as "BTG" (Before The Gray).

Frank and his comrades have a tall task this weekend. As the #4 seed in their Group and Section (please do not ask me to explain the system of playoffs for high school football here in the Garden State. Suffice it to say that we annually end up with as many "State Champions" as the FDNY has "Chiefs") they must travel south on the Parkway to Asbury Park to play the #1 seeded team, Asbury Park High School. While it is doubtful that in November, any fireworks will be hailing over Little Eden at game time, there will be plenty of them on the field.

The romanticized version of Asbury Park, captured forever in the music of Springsteen, Southside Johnny and countless others, has been a long time gone. Efforts at revitalization have been made several times thru the years but none has been a raging success. The Stone Pony lives as do several other notable attractions at or about the Boardwalk - Paramount Theatre, Convention Hall and The Wonder Bar just to name a few. And while progress has been made, it would require an embrace of delusional thinking that I am not prepared to embrace to think that glory days are on the horizon for this once brightly polished jewel of the Shore.

Against this backdrop, the success of the Asbury Park High School football team is something to behold and to applaud. They won their sectional State Championship in 2007 and after dispatching New Egypt (not to be confused with either Old Egypt or plain old "Egypt" I suppose) in Round One, the Blue Bishops have won twenty consecutive games. In a town where large portions of the populace have had scant little to applaud since Sally left the alley, the kids who wear the uniform of their local high school have given all of the people of their hometown, whether connected to APHS or not, something to cheer and something in which to take pride.

As have the youngsters, including Frank, who wear the blue and white of Middlesex High School. The results on the field have been excellent and equally impressive has been the manner in which they have gone about their business. No taunting, no excessive behavior and no nonsense. They have played all season as if they expect to defeat their opponent and when they do, they react with the measured response of one who has done his job well - and nothing more.

This weekend, regardless of how well both teams play, only one shall prevail. That is the nature of sports. But those of us who applaud the efforts of the young men on both teams and the adults who coach them need to remember that failing to prevail and losing are not the same thing. There will be only one winner. But there will be no losers.

-AK

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Call Me Ishmael

In spite of the proliferation of channels available on DirectTV, there are as many evenings as not when - in the not quite immortal words of Bruce Springsteen - there are 57 channels and nothing on. Last Friday evening Margaret and I were channel surfing - I was in the traditional crouched position trying to stay low and within the curl while she - honoring the name of Duke Kahanamoku - hung ten on her long board. We came across the Animal Planet channel and a bizarre little piece of unscripted drama called "Whale Wars".

The concept of the show apparently is this: years ago, an international law was enacted regulating how much whaling - and for what purpose it may be done - is permitted to be done in and about Antarctica. Japan whales aggressively in that area, claiming that they are complying with the law because they are catching and slaughtering whales in the name of research, which is the only legally recognized basis for doing so. On the other side of the argument is a group known as Sea Shepherd. The founder of this quasi rag-tag, fugitive fleet of eco-warriors (or terrorists - as there appears to be sufficient evidence to support either point of view) is a guy named Paul Watson. The narrator reminds us once every four minutes of so that Watson is one of the co-founders of Greenpeace and that he was eventually expelled from that organization due to his "extremist views". Given that this particular unscripted drama is a tale told from the perspective of Watson and his crew, the none-too-subtle implication of his life in retrospect is that he is the true champion of the environment and that Greenpeace is a second-rate (at best) bunch of pansies.

After watching the first two episodes of the show I must confess that while I found myself wanting to root hard for Captain Watson and his crew, it was almost impossible to do so. First, for a guy who has been at sea for the past three decades he seems to have about as little mastery of not only the ocean but the boat in which he is sailing upon it as Joe Hazelwood did of the Exxon Valdez. In the first episode, the First Mate - a weaselly looking little dude named Peter Brown - whose credentials for being the ship's #2 in command appear to consist entirely of being Watson's best friend (a/k/a biggest sycophant) - almost killed four of the volunteer crew members. The four were being lowered into the ocean in a small boat (either a Delta or a Zodiac) and Brown's job was to hold a line taut as the boat was lowered. He completely disregarded what he was supposed to be doing, which appeared to be the principal reason why upon making contact with the choppy, freezing cold waters, the boat capsized. Apparently - and not surprisingly - extended exposure to the ocean in that part of the world is not recommended. The four crew members were rescued and were thawed out. In the aftermath of the incident, Brown (the clearly responsible party) not only denied he had done what the video footage plainly showed he had done but he also - for good measure - blamed the entire incident on someone else. Watson, knowing that a good "Yes" man is hard to find - especially when on maneuvers in the waters off of Antarctica - blamed the entire incident on the same guy who Brown had fingered. Nothing like fair, impartial and wise leadership to inspire confidence among the troops eh?

In the second episode, Watson became even more difficult to root for. He decided that a statement would be made if two members of the crew would get on board one of the Japanese whaling ships and force the Japanese crew to detain them. The purpose of his plan was that it would allow him to call international media outlets as well as the Australian government to report this "kidnapping". Not surprisingly none of his all-volunteer crew wanted to go and Watson - again showing the true colors of a bully - essentially forced two of them to do so. Margaret and I sat watching the episode thinking "If going aboard makes a statement, then wouldn't the most recognizable member of the crew going aboard make the biggest statement?" Apparently Watson does not subscribe to that type of thinking as there was little indication that he ever considered himself a likely candidate for part of this amphibious assault.

When Episode Two ended, the two crew members had made it on board the whaling boat and had been roughed up a bit by the crew - including one sequence when the two eco-warriors were tied to the ship at or about the level of the water and then the ship was steered in such a way that it tilted down towards the side on which they were restrained. It was some sort of macabre dunk tank and while it appeared as if the Japanese crew might have actually contemplated drowning these two trespassers, it turned out that they only wanted to screw with them a bit. After about a minute or two, they were untied and taken up to the bridge.

After watching back-to-back episodes of this show, I genuinely felt worse for whales than I ever have at any other time in my life. Not because of the Japaneses insistence in harvesting them and slaughtering them, which appears to be fairly gruesome business irrespective of its legality. Rather, because their leading champion - Paul Watson - appeared far more concerned about making his own name than about actually saving them. He comes across as such an unrelenting horse's ass - an arrogant pr*ck in every sense of the word - that if he and his crew are the best friends these whales have, the whales are in deep. Too deep.

-AK

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Graduation Day

Today is the day. It is the reason Margaret and I have come to Georgia. It is the reason why Rob has endured 17 and a half weeks of hard work, stress, physical strain and mental exhaustion beyond what he had previously believed to be his ability to endure. Today is Graduation Day.

As a parent, you hope that you have done enough to provide your kids with the opportunities they need to succeed - to "live a good life" - whatever that might mean. When our kids were little, Margaret and I sent them to Catholic elementary school and then to Catholic high school. When they were in high school - at Bishop Ahr High School - each of them (during their 10th grade year if memory serves) participated in a program called "job shadowing". Suzanne did hers at the Office of the Middlesex County Medical Examiner (she was then contemplating a life of service to those who were deceased - she has now decided to get involved in assisting others much earlier in the life process). Rob did his at the United States Marshal's Office in Newark.

And from one day there, he saw a life path he wished to travel. And so he has. He attended and graduated with honors from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the course of his studies at John Jay, he completed an internship with the Marshal's Service and thereafter completed the Co-Op Program with the Marshal's Service. The life's pursuit that led him first to the mean streets of New York City and then to the infernal heat and humidity of a Georgia summer have led him to this point. And to this day. And far too soon (for this old man anyway) it will take him to Wyoming and to the lights of Cheyenne.

And I will sit today in an audience of people who are impossibly proud of their loved ones, as each and every one of us should be. It is not possible for a parent to be more proud of a child than I am of Rob today. I am proud of him for having the courage of his convictions - for being brave enough to risk failure in order to pursue something he loves.

Well done Rob. Well done and well earned. Congratulations.

-AK

Monday, November 17, 2008

Twas The Night Before The Fortieth Day Before Christmas

Among the many things that I find exasperating is the way that Thanksgiving has been neutered as a holiday. I have sworn at the encroachment of Christmas into retail outlets before the last piece of Halloween candy has been eaten - a process that has become part of the holiday season retail strategy for the past decade or so. I have chafed at the ever-earlier arrival in the Sunday newspaper of the Toys R Us Wish Book and all of the other early Christmas sales circulars - the sole purpose of which appears to be to have the kick-off of the push to sell Christmas stuff moved up earlier and earlier on the calendar.

A few years ago one of the radio stations on the FM dial in New York - the easy listening station WLTW 106.7 - sold a little piece of its immortal soul when it decided to switch formats from Thanksgiving thru New Year's Day to "all holiday music, all the time". Thus for a period of about 45 days - beginning on Turkey Day - listeners of this particular station hear Holiday music 24/7. After all, nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Alvin and The Chipmunks' Christmas tune at least once a day for a month and a half.

On Saturday morning as I was driving to the office in the pre-dawn rain, I made the mistake of not having anything in the CD player, which meant I defaulted into the radio as my source of music. Machine-gunning around the dial in the vain attempt to stumble across something worth listening to I stumbled across WLTW. Unbelievably, the Thanksgiving Day barrier has been broken. WLTW is already playing nothing but Holiday music. Saturday was the 15th of November, which means that at least 40 days prior to Christmas (presuming I heard the Day One of the Apocalypse broadcast) it was already Christmas. Maybe the Catholic Church passed an edict combining Lent with Christmas? I am the dictionary definition of a lapsed Catholic so it is possible that that particular memo was discussed at a mass I bothered not to attend.

Worse yet than the programming choice made by the powers that be (I think it is a Clear Channel station) who run WLTW is the fact that they are not alone in making it. As I continued my channel surfing I came across a local station from New Brunswick - WMGQ 98.3 - that is doing exactly the same thing.

Perhaps I am a bit overly sensitive about this particular holiday season - seeing as it will represent Rob's first Christmas in Wyoming and that this year we will not actually all be spending Thanksgiving together as a family. Rob and Margaret will be in Cheyenne getting him settled in while Suzanne and I are here in New Jersey. I am not yet convinced that at any time between today and the 25th of December it shall begin to look anything at all like Christmas.

I know without hesitation however that it damn sure does not look like it in mid-November. No matter how many times a radio programmer permits Mariah Carey to croon that all she wants for Christmas is me. The feeling simply is not mutual.

-AK

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sweet Georgia Brown....

Today is the day. It is the day that Margaret and I shall travel south to Georgia - accompanied by the lovely young Pamela - for Rob's graduation from FLETC. I wondered as I was packing my bag yesterday whether the time has passed quickly for Rob, slowly for him or perhaps a combination of both. I know from the perspective of this parent, there were times as if it seemed he had been in Georgia forever. And yet there was also a bit of surprise for me this week when I realized at the alarm clock's peal on Monday morning that we were within one week of seeing him again.

While every week is of the same length, we do not really measure time in simple 24-hour increments do we? The external circumstances that press down upon us sometimes make one day appear to be thirty six hours long while the one after it - when things are humming along for us - seems to pass in an eye blink. It follows logically therefore that not every week passes with the same pace. This past week seemed to fly by - the by-product to be sure of anticipation of today's trip and the excitation of trial. I must confess that I am a shallow enough person that in most weeks, getting a unanimous verdict of "no cause of action" in my client's favor would be the peak of my week in whose shadow all other events would compete for space in the valley. Not this week. Not even close.

For a long time I have had Georgia on my mind. Today I will have its soil 'neath my feet. It is a trade-up in every sense of the word.

-AK

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The In Box is Full.....

The depth of my own obtuseness (or perhaps it is its width) never ceases to amaze me. I am doing something wholly uncharacteristic next week - I am spending every day of it not working. I do not mean to risk a labrum tear attempting to pat myself on the back. The truth is not an elastic concept. And the truth of the matter is that I am not a vacation guy. I do not take them and while I do not begrudge anyone who does and their right to do so, I choose not to.

The consequence of my admittedly myopic and likely indefensible lifestyle choice has been visited over the years not only upon me but upon Margaret and the kids. Happily as the kids grew up, opportunities presented themselves for them to go places - including "away" (wherever that is) with their friends. And as they got older, opportunities presented themselves for me to pack my Three Amigos up and watch them head off to the beach together for a long weekend or some such thing. Margaret loves the Jersey Shore and during the summer she spends a fair amount of time in the company of two or three of her closest, long-time friends - I refer to them affectionately as the Cosmo Girls - at the Shore. I infrequently join her there. I have a Rolodex of excuses so wide and so varying that if it were my Rolodex of client contacts would enable me to hire associates to do all of my work while I learned how to play golf or drive race cars or some other trivial pursuit.

Truth be told - I am afraid not to work. I have not much talent for anything - and I say that not at the risk of being labeled falsely modest but rather because the truth is what the truth is. It is a constant and we do not get to shape it to suit our purposes. It may be true that history lies in the mind of the teller but the truth does not. And truthfully, while I am fairly skilled at my profession, I am a fundamentally flawed human being - as I suppose we all are to a degree. I am more comfortable in a work setting than in any other. And it is principally for that reason that while I do not feel happiest when I am at work - it is the safest place for me to be and the safest activity for me to be engaged in.

Apparently on our office e-mail system (we use Microsoft Outlook) there is a way to set up an "away" message. Who knew? I presume one can make it as date and event-specific as one wants it to be. Upon discovering its existence, I wanted to use it to make those who would otherwise bombard me with e-mails daily next week aware of the fact that I shall not be here. Having now discovered its existence, I suppose I could use it daily if I wished - to let people know when I am out of the office at a deposition or on trial and even when I am in the office but not in my office ("I'll be right back, I am in the process of redistributing my most recent cup of coffee") although I suspect the latter reeks of either Too Much Information (TMI) or just showing off.

Besides, I did not actually "use" it myself. One of the computer savvy youngsters who works in our firm - Danielle - happened to be available yesterday afternoon to do it for me. I told her what I needed it to say and she made it happen for me. Danielle is about the same age as both of my kids and has their none-too-subtle but nevertheless humor-laden disdain for dinosaurs like me and the technological limitations of the "over 40" crowd (or at least this member of it). For my plan of perpetual updating to have any chance at success she would have to be willing to guide this old goat thru the process the two or three dozen times needed to make sure I understand how to do it.

Maybe I shall ask her about it when I get back. If you are not going to take a lot of vacations then you should at the very least make them count. I will be away from here because I will be in Georgia for the next three days watching Rob complete FLETC and to cheer him as he graduates and for the couple or three days thereafter I will be riding shotgun as he drives north to the Garden State from Georgia. He and I are going to take a little road trip to celebrate what he has accomplished and to look forward to all that lies ahead of him.

Shoot me an e-mail if you need me.......I will respond to it as soon as I get back from vacation.

Wow, does that look weird.

-AK

Friday, November 14, 2008

The EIB and The Temple of Doom

I had been on trial most of this week - and last - defending a client in a civil matter in the Superior Court in Essex County (Newark for those of you who slept thru your "Where Everything Is Located in the Garden State" review class), which concluded yesterday with a verdict favorable to my client. While I am typically not someone who listens to political talk radio, on my trek back to the office from court these past two weeks, I would listen to WABC - picking up the beguiling styling of Sean Hannity, in an effort to decompress a bit from the events of the day.

Let me throw this disclaimer out here up front: I am a registered Republican. I voted for John McCain on November 4th. And I am pleased to report that for the first time in a long time, I voted FOR the candidate who I preferred out of two diametrically different yet almost equally appealing choices as opposed to voting AGAINST the option I viewed as the greater of two evils. Thus, while in casting a vote for Senator McCain I was - obviously - hoping for him to win, I did not contemplate packing all of my family's earthly belongings in big plastic garbage bags and heading ROTC (Right Over To Canada) at or about the time that then-Senator and now-President Elect Barack Obama was announced as the winner.

And having had the opportunity that night to watch Senator McCain's concession speech - my faith in the vote I cast and in the outcome of the election was vindicated. Moments after he had been defeated, John McCain observed that, " Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that." And a few minutes later he said, "I would not — I would not be an American worthy of the name should I regret a fate that has allowed me the extraordinary privilege of serving this country for a half a century. Today, I was a candidate for the highest office in the country I love so much. And tonight, I remain her servant. That is blessing enough for anyone, and I thank the people of Arizona for it. Tonight — tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama — whether they supported me or Senator Obama. I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here."

Listening to Hannity on several occasions during the course of the past couple of weeks, I could not help but get the feeling that he did not get the McCain memo - the one that a pseudo-learned eye could detect fairly readily from not only the content of his remarks but the obvious sincerity with which he delivered them - that the race was over, a winner had been declared and it was not time to get back to the serious business of governing this nation. Nope. As far as I could tell, from the laughably absurd introduction to his program, featuring Scott Shannon in his best DJ voice declaring to the audience that "The Radicals have taken over!" and that "This is the Voice of Conservatism in Exile" to the "I Have Stacked All The Canned Goods That I Can Fit In The Bunker" callers (the ones who commence the call by kissing the host's fanny and reminding him that he is the smartest person ever and the caller has been blessed by God with the chance to finally get off of hold and on the air) the whole thing has the air of a carnival sideshow.

More power to Sean Hannity - and to Rush Limbaugh and to all of the talking heads on either side - including the increasingly more virulent Bill Maher who expresses the same nonsensical BS (masquerading as humor) weekly on HBO - a show that in my opinion would be considerably funnier if on occasion the host would STFU and let a guy such as P.J. O'Rourke talk more. I would gladly represent any of them if their right to say what they say was threatened by the government. That being said, any time one is in a position of influence one not only enjoys the spoils but also assumes the responsibilities brought to bear by that position. At their core - I was going to say soul but let us not push too far beyond the edge of the envelope OK - all of them are in the "let's manufacture controversy and nonsense" business for the same reason: ratings. Yet none of them possesses the intellectual honesty necessary to speak truthfully to that point.

And I never worry about my ability to see thru their smoke - and to realize that contrary to their claim of "FIRE" behind it all is really is there is hot air. They are expressing their opinions and trying to do so in such a way that brings the maximum number of ears to the radios and eyeballs to the sets. Yet I am concerned that in this age of instant access - where perhaps the ready availability of everything has blunted our innate senses of discovery, exploration and investigation - we are a nation of folks too damn lazy to distinguish between opinion and fact and to distinguish between political talk radio rhetoric and real news.

We are a nation in which political talk radio has been elevated to the point where it has become a new religion. We should worry therefore - should we not - how many of our fellow Americans accept the noise emanating from their radio as the Gospel?

-AK

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don't Do Me Like That

Who would have guessed that the grumpy old Gator was right? The waiting is the hardest part. Actually at times - on trial - getting to the point where you can start to wait - can be damned difficult at well. I had optimistically predicted the cessation of hostilities by day's end on Wednesday. Well.....the best laid plans of mice and men I reckon.

On this very morning my adversary and I shall be back at "it" as it were (whatever it is) before the judge and the jury. By lunch time we should know their thoughts, which conveniently get communicated in the form of their verdict. When you try a case in front of a jury, by the time you find out what they are thinking, your relationship with them is over. (I had to go back and re-read that last sentence to make sure I was still talking about jurors and not about women. For all I understand about either group - I suppose I could have been.) And if the relationship ends badly, then not only is reconciliation impossible but getting relief from the havoc it has wrought is expensive and not easy to accomplish.

We choose the life we lead, I suppose. And I most certainly chose mine - although as a man of limited skills it would be a stretch to say that the sky was the limit in terms of my possible pursuits. Something closer to the upper floors of a 3 to 5-story building would be more appropriate. I am ecstatic beyond words that this life shall not be the life of either of my wonderfully talented kids. Having drive and smarts that they clearly inherited from their mother - and a ceiling for success immeasurably higher than my own - they are pursuing lives far removed professionally from the old man's. And I could not be happier.

-AK

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Trial....hold the errors

As of this time tomorrow - I think anyway - the case I have been trying since Monday of last week be over. The jury will have completed its deliberations and will have returned its verdict. And my adversary and I will know which one of us has lost, which won of us has won and exactly what spoils belong to the victor. Me? I am the evil, hardhearted defense lawyer so victory for me equals a no cause of action. For my adversary, the spoils would be in the form of money damages. Who shall prevail? Candidly I have no idea.

Trying cases is equal parts exhilaration and anxiety. There is nothing as exciting as standing before an assemblage of total strangers - whose participation you have compelled through the process of jury selection. And there is nothing that can be as terrifying....and as humbling - as the time spent during breaks in the day, whether at lunch or at day's end trying to assess how your arguments have been received by those strangers.

I love the stress and strain of trial. At this point in my adult life, with my creaking knees, graying hair and ever-deepening crow's feet, it is the most competitive thing I do - notwithstanding my annual participation in summer league softball.

Unfortunately trial is sometimes like softball - all the hard work and sweat you put in does not guarantee triumph over the best efforts of one's adversary. By this time tomorrow, I should know whether or not this one ends up in the "win" column.

-AK

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More Than Words....

Last week we the people of these United States - neither blue nor red but both black and white (and every other conceivable ethnicity and color) elected an African-American to be the 44th President of the United States. Barack Obama's right to seek that office, John McCain's right to oppose him and the right of those on both sides of the political debate to challenge and to speak out in favor of the candidate of their choice and against the candidate of the opposing party are all rights guaranteed under the Constitution of these United States.

One of the invaluable and too often under appreciated things that keeps the Constitution - and the rights of those of us who are Americans - viable is the service of the men and women who wear the uniform of this nation's armed forces. Irrespective of branch, irrespective of area of specialty and irrespective of whether service is during a time of war or during a time of peace, it is a service in kind for all of us. A service performed without fanfare and without ado. A service that helps assure my ability as an American to go to bed at night and sleep protected by the blanket of freedom and thereafter to rise the following morning and even while shaking the sleep out of my eyes to take that blanket with me - to protect me wherever I go.

Bernard Malamud said it far more eloquently than I ever could, "Without heroes, we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." On the shoulders and on the backs of the men and women who have served this nation faithfully, proudly and honorably - and who continue to do so today - we have made considerable progress on our journey in the first two hundred plus years of our existence. And we have much work to do and much more ground to cover. Here's to them, their strong shoulders, their tireless backs and their churning legs - moving ever forward.

Thank you for your service to your nation, my family and me -both service given at some time prior to today and that which will be given today, tomorrow and beyond.

-AK

Monday, November 10, 2008

If Only It Could Be Bottled......

One week from this very day, Margaret and I shall be in Georgia to celebrate Rob's graduation from FLETC. Two weeks from this very day, I shall be standing in either our driveway or in the living room of our home, hugging my boy goodbye and wishing him well as he heads west to the lights of Cheyenne. I think I would be more excited about the former if I could suppress the latter for just a moment or two and not continue to consider them as a combination platter. The best I can do is enjoy the former, endure the latter and keep a good thought that everything comes out OK on the other side - wherever that may be.

Last night I did something I try not to do too often. I stood in Rob's room and looked around. Clearly, it is a work in progress - this transcontinental moving thing - which makes the moving boxes and cardboard cartons scattered throughout readily explainable. But it is also a little bit of a time capsule. One can scan high and low and to all four corners of the room to see little snapshots and mementos of what - at any particular time in Rob's life - caught his eye and piqued his curiosity. There are books from his childhood, yearbooks and photo albums from his high school days, memorabilia from Manhattan "acquired" while he was a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and living at the New Yorker Hotel on 8th Avenue and 34th Street and magazines, DVDs and compact discs that are cross-generational. It is a good room. It is a room that reveals just a bit about its inhabitant to the visitor's eye but comes not close at all to revealing too much.

And the thought hit me last night as I stood in the vault that is my son's room in his familial home that he will likely not call our home his home again. He will crash here now and then - when he comes East from Wyoming - or home from wherever his life's journey takes him thereafter. But his room will forever be transformed into "my room when I was a kid" shown off to children who had never seen grandma's house before and who want to see where Daddy slept when he was a child.

Those are days that I will enjoy when they arrive. But they are not even a mirage on the horizon line at this point. For the short term, all I see is an empty room. And stark reminders of time gone by. Time that I hope I did not merely squander.

Time that cannot be bottled. Not now. Not ever.

-AK

Sunday, November 9, 2008

WABAC and Full Speed Ahead

It is amazing is it not. The difference that seven days on the calendar make is an amazing thing - especially during an election year. If we could all hop into the WABAC Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peabody for a quick trip back to this time last week, would the noise level seem as jarring to us now as it seemed innocuous then? This time last week we were in the final days of the longest, most expensive Presidential campaigns in American history. If memory serves, Hillary Clinton declared her intention to seek the nomination of the Democratic Party at or about the same time President Bush finished reciting the oath in January 2005.

From the moment that the first "I am pleased to announce my candidacy for the Presidency of the United States of America" shot was fired (and I for one am always relieved when the candidate confirms that it is the Presidency of the USA he or she intends to seek. I would be embarrassed as hell if I spent 18 minutes watching a media event announcing Dennis Kucinich's intention to seek the Presidency of the Arena Football League or some such thing) until the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November aught-eight, the race was on. And where there were candidates, there was media coverage - unless you were Kucinich or Ron Paul perhaps - which meant that there was the inevitable proliferation of stories on the 24/7 cable news networks about every item of minutiae from the candidate's life. It is a concern of mine that we have elevated form over substance in the manner in which we choose our elected representatives as we have in many other aspects of our day-to-day life.

That being said, the first few days of the era of President-Elect Obama have tended to support the hope that regardless of the flawed nature of the process, we have elected ourselves a President who is earnest, intelligent and committed to the mind-numbingly daunting nature of the task at hand. I will have the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Washington D.C. in the next week or so as Rob and I make the trek north from Georgia. And I cannot wait to see and to feel the pulse of the place as all aspects of our government prepare for a historic transition.

Perhaps it is better for us that we never get to ride in the WABAC Machine. No time to waste going backwards and living life in reverse. There is too much work for all of us to do straight ahead.

-AK

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Hole in the Heart

Children. It is impossible to protect them from every danger. Unfortunately it is impossible to stop worrying about them every moment of every day - even if it is just a nascent flicker of concern buried far back there in the corner of our parental mind. A special part of them always belongs to us, as parents, even when they outgrow us. Even when they grow up and move out and chart a course in life that is uniquely their own. Even when they add on to our family thru marriage and when they grace our lives with children of their own - our grandchildren. No matter what they do or where they go, a little part of them always belongs to us.

One of the keys to raising a child - without making yourself sick with worry 24/7 and without making your child grow to dread the very sound of your voice or sight of your face - is to accept the weakness of our position as parents. Josey Wales was right - a man has got to know his limitations. There are too many things out there, some inconsequential and fleeting and some, tragically, consequential and permanent, capable of inflicting harm on our children to be able to protect them from all of them. We teach them and we have faith in both our method of teaching life's lessons and the attention they paid to them. And we tell ourselves the "little lie". You know the one I mean. The one that sounds something eerily like, "nothing like that could ever happen to my child".

It becomes our mantra. We ignore its self-delusional components. We gloss over the fact that (hopefully) in every household - those both known and unknown to us - a parent is saying those very same words at the very same time about his or her very own child. We pay no attention to the fallacy underlying our universally parental-approved position, which is that we cannot possibly all be right.

The death of a child is a heartbreak. The death of a child directly due to the stupidity and selfishness of another, especially when the actor purportedly is an adult is nothing short of an outrage. I am a lawyer so I know, for instance, that the New Jersey Criminal Code (codified at N.J.S. 2C:1-1, et seq.) has added a few wrinkles and elements that Hammurabi never considered. As an attorney I know that vengeance is not an acceptable substitute for justice.

As a father however I remain less than convinced by the propriety of my position. On Monday night, serial miscreant William Bebert, a 42 year-old man, decided that all of those M.A.D.D. leaflets and anti-drunk driving PSAs he had ever seen were jive. He apparently slid himself behind the wheel of his Dodge Daytona pickup truck and while driving - allegedly while intoxicated - he plowed his pickup truck into the rear of a Volkswagen Jetta that was backing out of a driveway. The impact gravely injured one of the passengers in the Jetta - a 15 y/o Old Bridge High School student named Jackie Gavares, who died early Tuesday morning of the injuries Bebert inflicted upon her. Bebert - after striking the Jetta - did what any mouth-breeding coward would do - he ran away. He allegedly ran into the woods and ended up at the home where he was staying, which is where the police found him several hours after the accident.

News reports written subsequent to his arrest claim that as of Monday evening, Bebert was driving with 10 points on his driver's license. He apparently has a long and colorful relationship with our State criminal justice system, including an acquittal at age 17 on a charge of aggravated manslaughter. The charge arose apparently out of Bebert's running down and dragging beneath his car for several blocks a man who Bebert claimed had attacked Bebert shortly before the incident happened - an incident Bebert successfully argued was a by-product of a combination of fear and panic.

What happened between William Bebert and his assailant/victim 22 years ago is not relevant to the crimes with which he is presently charged. It is relevant however to have a full appreciation for what occurred Monday night for this reason. Bebert was 17 years old in 1986 when he beat the aggravated manslaughter rap. Jackie Gavares will never be 17.

"Nothing like that could ever happen to my child." If only it were true. There would be one less family in Old Bridge this morning trying to figure out what to do with the hole in its chest where its heart used to be.

-AK

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mercury Poisoning.....

For reasons entirely unclear to me, the weather this week 'neath the snow globe has been unseasonably warm. At 4:00 a.m. this very morning as I backed my little red Japanese chariot out of the driveway and off on the pursuit of this day's daily bread, the little temperature gauge inside of my car informed me that the temperature outside was 60 degrees. Considering we are fast approaching the center of November here in the central part of the Garden State, it was a reading that struck me as quite surprising. And according to the weatherman on the radio this morning, it is supposed to remain in the 50's and 60's into the early part of next week.

Temperature is one of my favorite phenomena. Better said, a human's reaction to the temperature is. Running this morning, it not only felt warm (making the sweatshirt I elected to wear seem to be a truly inspired choice - inspired by what, I know not) but muggy. It felt more like early June than mid-November. And in my mind's eye the vision formed quite rapidly of the countless number of people I might encounter today commenting upon how warm it is.

The accuracy of such an observation is indisputable. Hell, it is dark, it is pre-dawn, it is November and yet, it is 60 degrees in Middlesex New Jersey. Nevertheless I wonder when I hear such an observation how much of what we feel is reflective of the fact that we are all simply victims of mind control, which perhaps is not a bad thing since it is our own mind that is exercising the control. Presumably it is our mind that controls our reaction to a 60 degree November day, which may lead to people (depending on upon the amount of sunshine that graces us today) walking around outside in t-shirts and shorts, as well as it controls our reaction to a 60 degree July day, which 'round here inevitably leads to people breaking out light jackets, sweaters and long pants. One would think that 60 degrees is 60 degrees. Not even close. It is as if the size of the chasm between reality and expectation has a direct effect on the reaction we have to it.

One further presumes that the spatial relationship between reality and expectation exists in addressing things other than simply the temperature. For instance, among a certain percentage of the electorate, President-elect Obama has risen to dizzying heights in the game of expectations. (look I rolled a 12! Gumdrop Swamp awaits!) While that passion and that ardent support were critical to his stunning and historic electoral success, the danger exists that those who have foisted him high upon the Altar of Great Expectations may be doing him a disservice. He is taking over the day-to-day control of a ship of state which has been piloted with the acuity once found only upon the decks of the RMS Titanic and the Exxon Valdez. Yet the bar may be set so high for him that regardless of his approach and form, he has simply no shot of clearing it.

It will be interesting to see and to assess the reaction of those whose adoration for him led the wave and whose apparent complete faith in him suggest that it is a coronation and not an inauguration for which our nation is preparing on January 20, 2009, when (as shall inevitably occur) the cold hard truth of the job decides to dip its toe in his sea of political tranquility. Disappointment is a hard nut to crack. You never know how a person is going to react when confronted with something that is both unexpected and somehow less than they had hoped for.

Here's a bit of free, unsolicited advice: dress in layers. You shall be prepared, regardless of how often the temperature changes. Preparation - the best-kept secret in the West.

-AK

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Gospel According to the Apostle John Kendrick

It seems to me as if we are speed-dialing thru November. Perhaps it is the fact that at least five days a week now I do not see my house in the light of day - though I know as I draw near it is just around the corner. Perhaps it is the fact that this week I have been on trial. While trying cases is the single most entertaining and anxiety-provoking part of my job, it is also the most disruptive. It is disruptive because unlike all those earnest lawyers one sees on TV, neither I nor any lawyer I know has only one case. It is a business after all. So, while devoting the 12+ hours a day required to be on trial one day and prepared for the next, one must not lose sight of the work on all of the other matters, which continues to accrue while I am off doing my best to emulate the courtroom styling of Lt. Daniel Kaffee.

Ten days from now, Margaret and I shall make the happy trek to Georgia to bear witness to Rob's graduation from FLETC. A day that has likely seemed impossibly far away for my son on more than one occasion during the past seventeen and one-half weeks is now almost here. I have had the great pride - to this point in my life- of witnessing the graduation of each of my children from high school and from college. I look forward to at least two more such events - Rob's on the 18th and Suzanne's from the Masters program at Seton Hall next year (and she's making noises now about showing off that big brain of hers in the Doctorate program thereafter so maybe a third playing of "Pomp and Circumstance" is in my future). My father - with whom by the time of his death I endured a relationship with that could fairly be described as contentious (only because it is worth more in Scrabble than "none"), did not live long enough to see me - the youngest of his six children - graduate from the 8th grade. At this point in time, I am not sure that I have any documentation to support my contention that I did so graduate but one can presume that at some point before I was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States of America someone would have uncovered my fraud upon academia had I committed one.

The downside to attending the graduations of one's children is that moments after the final notes of the recessional march trip off into the ether, the rest of that child's life begins to take shape. Today we are twelve days away from Rob's graduation, which means we are about nineteen days away from him pulling out of the driveway of out little house 'neath the snow globe and going west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. He will be there, working and living, within two weeks of his graduation.

We have now reached the point in the program that I both looked forward to and dreaded way back when in the summer - before he left for Georgia. This is the point in time where my brain rips the protective gauze off of my eyes to allow me to see the future, bold and stark. A future that includes a home for my son far from the one in which he was raised. He is far better prepared to make the journey than I am to watch him go. But go he shall, as he must.

-AK

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Meet the New Boss - Same As the Old Boss?

We have reached the morning after. The morning after a history-making evening in these United States. The morning after a nation that less than 150 years ago fought a civil war precipitated at least in part by the divergent and mutually exclusive notions of race and equality that were held by people on opposing sides of the Mason-Dixon Line elected an African-American man to be our 44th President.

Barack Obama, a man who is light on experience but chock full of hope and promises, shall now indeed get his chance. While I cast my vote last night for John McCain, I cannot help but look forward to the Obama Presidency. There were stories all over the various news channels last night - both the broadcast channels and the cable channels - of people of all races, ages and ethnicity gathering in spots such as Times Square to celebrate the news of his election. From my limited and admittedly selfish perspective, we have endured a campaign in which two capable, honorable Americans - each with a distinctive set of ideas as to how to fix what ails us and how to keep us humming along in the area in which we are already humming - fought hard for the right to be elected. At day's end, a majority of my fellow Americans - including a significant number I call my family and my friends - voted for Barack Obama. While their choice was not my choice, it is a choice I can certainly abide.

The greatest thing about this political mishmash first set in motion by the Founding Fathers was back when in the 18th century is its survivability. It is durable. And, yet, it is fluid. This nation has been engaged in a great, spirited and too often mean-spirited debate for the past 24 months winnowing down the field of perspective candidates for the soon-to-be vacancy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If, on November 4, 2007, anyone had wagered on November 4, 2008 that the last two standing would be the block's new kid from Illinois for the Democrats and the old, cantankerous maverick for the Republicans, then that person could have parlayed those winnings and his or her winnings from having wagered on the 2007 NY Giants winning the Super Bowl and the Tampa Bay Rays winning the AL pennant into a Wall Street-proof nest egg.

Campaigns often expose the warts in the candidates. It is inevitable perhaps, given the combination of always trying to sway whatever audience it is you are speaking to and the 24/7 nature of the coverage that we the people shall see you the candidate in a less than flattering light occasionally. I prefer to think that it was not during the heated exchanges on the campaign trail but rather in the classy manner in which President-Elect Obama claimed victory and the gracious manner in which Senator McCain acknowledged defeat that we saw the true measure of each man.

I fell asleep last night - as I do every night - grateful for the fact that I live in what I still am naive enough I suppose to consider the greatest country on this particular planet to live. I awakened this morning - as I always do - feeling the same way. For the past 24 months, President-Elect Obama exhorted his supporters that their dream could be realized as chants of, "YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!" filled halls and parks and stadiums across the nation. He shall now have his chance.

Here's to hoping that indeed he can. And here's to wishing him well in the effort.

-AK

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This Way For the Oranges and Cigarettes

Regardless of how things turn out this evening, today is one of those days that appears ready to exceed its considerable hype. While typically more Americans vote on "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars" than vote in Presidential elections - an abrogation of our Constitutional right and privilege that appears particularly galling in view of the men and women wearing the uniform of this nation and in its service who awakened on this November 4 in a neighborhood far removed from where Sam "May Day" Malone and the gang used to hang - all indications are that by the time the final votes are counted here in aught-eight, a record number of us will have participated in the process.

For whom you vote is neither my concern nor my business. I suspect - unless John McCain completes a comeback that will make Truman over Dewey seem like it was a chalk pick - that Barack Obama shall at some point this evening become the first African-American President-Elect of these United States. Whether your vote is cast for Senator Obama, Senator McCain, the professional gadfly Ralph Nader or one of the other candidates whose names appear on the ballot, it matters not once the results are in. The winner is elected President of all of us and is charged with the duty and responsibility of being the Commander in Chief of the United States - not the "red" states or the "blue" states.

The "Road to the White House" is paved over and resurfaced so fast and so far in advance of the next election now that one suspects that mere moments after today's winner takes the oath in January '09 someone (most likely suspect a high-profile member of whichever party whose candidate loses today) will declare for 2012. Even if that occurs, let's declare a moratorium on Presidential politics for a while after today, OK? Let us take a collective deep breath, get our bearings and refocus our attention on the hard work that awaits all of us...and not just the poor SOB who actually wins this thing today.

Regardless of your preference, which may or may not be mine - make certain that wherever you live in this fine Republic, today you vote. As a fine Jerseyan once observed, "it ain't a liberal thing, it ain't a conservative thing. It's an American thing." This year's version of the long and winding road should end today. We have made it to the chillout tent. Let's enjoy the company and the refreshments shall we?

-AK

Monday, November 3, 2008

Chopping, Reaping and the Gathering of Corn

Rob's extended southern adventure is entering its final phases. Today is the 3rd of November. Less than two weeks from today, Margaret and I shall be in Georgia for Rob's graduation from FLETC. I wonder when I think of my son, which I do often, whether his time in Georgia has seemed to pass quickly or to pass slowly. Or whether his time there has been - as time often seems to be irrespective of our particular situation - both fast-moving and excruciatingly slow.

Time has the potential of being both our best friend and our most relentless foe. One needs to look no further for an understanding of the vagaries and the ever-changing nature of our relationship with time than the catalog of the Rolling Stones. It is after all Mick and Keith who extolled both time's loyalty and its fickleness - no favours has he.

We do what we can with the time we have. And unfortunately, even though all of us can easily think of time we have wasted - waiting in line at the Motor Vehicles Commission, watching a truly awful TV show, writing (or reading) a blog - it seems that none of us has enough time. We spend so much of our time doing what we must, that which is expected and required, that the time spent doing what we would choose to do seems to be at a premium. And like anything else that comes at a premium, we pay a hefty price for the opportunity to do what we enjoy. We pay for it by doing what we must and doing what is required.

My children are no longer children. In fact, if forced to acknowledge it I would acknowledge that courtesy of the exceptional job my wife did raising them, they have not been children for quite some time. People mistake candor for self-deprecation when I point out that while they were children my two principal functions were (a) earn as much money as possible to make ours a financially stable home; and (b) drive the car. Even grading on the curve, I have been at best a mediocre parent. I laugh when people congratulate Margaret and I in tandem for the "successes" that Suzanne and Rob both are - and the limitless future each possesses. Each is - in substantial part - a walking testament to Margaret.

This has not been the best of the weeks for us in our little slice of life 'neath the snow globe. It has in fact been a week in which I have seen scant little of Margaret - as she has spent more time than she wishes she had to and more time than my mother-in-law Sue wishes either of them had to tending to some rather unpleasant business. While we hope for the best and angle to negotiate a resolution somewhere short of the worst, we know not how this business shall resolve itself. And we know not how much time we have. We know only that it is impossible that we shall have all we want. And we know that it is equally unlikely that we shall have all that we need.

We know not what we have but we shall strive not to waste whatever we might have left. Time can tear down a building or destroy a woman's face. Hours are like diamonds, don't let them waste.

-AK

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Color Purple and Saracen's Last Jam

Friday Night Lights is the best show on television - in the opinion of this guy anyway. Candidly, even allowing for the fact that reasonable minds can disagree over certain things, if FNL is not the best show on TV, its spot on the medal platform is indisputable. Being a hater of James Dolan and the crooks who operate Cablevision, I have subscribed to DIRECTV ever since Cablevision initially said "No" to carrying the Yankees and the YES Network. It is a decision I have not regretted for a moment- perhaps because I have still been able to see the sky since we got the satellite dish.

NBC - in a desperate attempt to clear more hours of programming for "Deal Or No Deal", "1 Vs. 100" or my personal favorite "Which Hand Is The Bean In?" intended to kick FNL to the curb at the conclusion of last season. Into the breach stepped DIRECTV, which has been airing first-run episodes of the show this fall, which episodes NBC will air beginning in February '09. And you thought it was only in the realm of otherwise thought to be live sporting events that NBC could "tape delay" a broadcast, eh? If you've not seen an episode of the show, then you have deprived yourself of the opportunity to watch some of the most intelligently written, best acted television on television.

We are rapidly approaching Election Day. And if the polls are to be believed then Wednesday morning Barack Obama shall awaken as the President-elect of these United States. And for those keeping score at home, he will govern all of us. Not simply those of us who live in blue states. Nor those of us who live in red states. Nor those of us whose hearts are red but who live in states that are blue. Nor those of us who are blue bloods living in states dominated by red necks. The race for the Presidency is a winner-take-all contest. And to the victor - that lucky son of a gun -among the "all" he wins is "all" of us, whether we like him or not and whether he likes us or not.

I do not know whether to find it humorous or simply further evidence of the dumbing down of this country that colors now dominate the political landscape where once upon a generation or two ago, issues did. Candidates campaign by color - "Obama is winning in key red states while protecting the blue states" and "McCain is trying to pick up some states that voted blue in 2004 while fighting off challenges in traditionally red states" are representative of the story lines that have been all over the media coverage of this campaign. And it is not new. Color has become such a dominant theme that one suspects that astronauts orbiting earth no longer see the traditional satellite view of the United States - one featuring the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the Plains of the Midwest, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River - but instead something akin to a bi-colored quilt. And candidly - at day's end - it is idiocy.

It is simply idiotic to think that you are blue and I am red - or vice versa - and that one way of thinking must dominate the other. The United States of America is a Republic. The only way for a Republic to survive is to remain true to something akin to a moral compass while soliciting the best ideas for its people and for its society from all sources - not simply from the blue ones or the red ones. Partisanship is too often a small-minded, shortsighted thing. Bi-partisanship is a good thing. When all of the campaign hubris has been cleared away, let us hope that both the victorious and the vanquished remember that. Let us hope that both remember that contrary to what the competing Towers of Babble - Messrs. Olbermann and O'Reilly and their shock troops - might tell us, there are no BLUE Americans and there are no RED Americans. We are all Americans. And for lack of a more clever idea - such as Lex Luthor's earnest attempts in the Superman movies to essentially jackhammer California away from the rest of the continental United States - we are all in this together. Come what may.

On last week's episode of FNL, young Matt Saracen - a high school senior - was trying to explain to the mother from whom he had been estranged for most of his life the significance of the errors she made in doing the grocery shopping for the household, which includes Matt's grandma who is battling dementia and for whom Matt serves as the guardian and principal care giver. At the store, his mother had purchased jelly. But she screwed up. Instead of buying strawberry, she bought grape jelly. Grandma reacted "poorly" and when Mom sought Matt's assistance in making her feel better about her jelly choice, he said simply, "Why would you buy grape jelly? No one likes grape jelly."

Grape jelly is purple, is it not? And what is purple? It is a color created by combining two colors: red and blue. Here's to hoping that we all develop at the very least an appreciation of it - if not an affection for it - starting on or about November 5th. The color at least - if not the spread.

-AK