Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Empty Beer and Tired Tongues......

Oh what a year it has been. At times, this year felt as if it was interminably long. I know it was a Leap Year but it certainly seemed as if when the bottom of the tent flap was lifted up to permit Sadie Hawkins Day to get in, she snuck an indeterminate number of other days in under her petticoat. But being that the bus wheels do in fact continue to spin round and round, we have reached/arrived at/survived to (whichever you prefer) the end of Aught-Eight.

In this year of big and grand things - Barack Obama's election to the Presidency of these United States being first and foremost among them - it has been for me as it always is, the little things that count. Little not in importance, but in terms of discernible impact on the global seismic scale. This year was crammed full of them.

Sadly, there were a number of three-handkerchief moments during '08. Between us, Margaret and I lost too many beloved members of our extended family. Following the death of my uncle, Uncle Jim, in May, Margaret endured the back-to-back deaths of her grandmother, Nan, and Nan's "little" sister, Margaret's Aunt Meni, on consecutive Saturdays in August. It gave me a good feeling in November when Rob and I, during our Washington, D.C. sojourn, spent several minutes at the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery. We stood and watched the lone sentry as he guarded his post and I thought of Uncle Jim walking those very same steps a lifetime ago. It gave me an equally good feeling just this past week to be gathered with Margaret and our kids and Frank and his family at my in-laws' home on Christmas Eve, where all of us raised a glass in tribute to Nan - not present but not absent either.

Thankfully, there were a number of spectacularly terrific moments during '08 for me as well. Suzanne's pursuit of her Master's Degree began in (for Suzanne) typically brilliant fashion and she is enjoying what it is she is doing, which makes the pursuit all that much more enjoyable. While I am not thrilled by the fact that Rob's initial gig in the service of his country has taken him almost completely to the other side of it, watching what he done during these past twelve months has been nothing less than inspiring.

Personally and professionally, 2008 marks the end of an era for me. I have called the same law firm "home" for the past eleven years. In 2009, I shall (beginning in February) call a new law firm by that name. No great tumult precipitated the change. It was simply time for me to seek a new challenge. And in order to do that, I have to be someplace other than where I have been. Nothing more, nothing less. And while I hate change so passionately that I flee from retail establishments before the cashier can give it to me, I am embracing this one - pursuing it in fact. My inspiration? My kids. Both Suzanne and Rob have shown incredible courage in the face of adversity these past few years simply to put themselves in the position each presently occupies. Their faith is my courage.

Thankfully, 2008 did not bring about change in every facet of my life. For reasons known only to her, fifteen years into the grand experiment we call our marriage, Margaret has neither thrown me out nor attempted to smother me while I sleep. I do not pretend to understand what - if anything -she possibly gets out of this deal. I gave that up some time ago. I am just thankful that she continues to make the effort to save me from myself. And I think that thus far, she is doing a hell of a job.

Here's to innocence. Here's to now. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Forever Man

When we are young, we grasp onto with a certain firmness the notion of "forever". You have not endured the 7th grade if you have not either owned yourself - or at least had a neighbor in your 6th period math class - upon whose notebook was inscribed "TLF" either inside of or in immediate proximity to a heart bearing two sets of initials. Ah yes, age thirteen. An age at which we begin to embrace a concept such as "True Love Forever" - only to find that "forever" often times arrives much more quickly than originally imagined.

As we age, one could argue that we grasp less - and cling more - to the concept of "forever". No great romance was ever predicated on the notion of anything less than eternal love, right? One might think - given the divorce rate in this country - that the standard-issue wedding vows we exchange ought to omit "til death does us part" in favor of something more practical such as "'til something better comes along" or "'til you bore me to the point of wanting to kill myself or you" or some such thing. Hopefully, it will never come to that - although if such language were to come to pass, the role of designated objector at the service would take on heightened importance. The objector would take on the significance of the proprietor at the Last Chance Motel.

Often times it seems to me, "true love forever" is not only not an alien concept, it is not a unique concept. By that I mean simply this. As a boy, I might become smitten with a young lady who I know thru school and I might become so smitten that at age 13 or 16 or whatever I believe her to be "the One". I might lose sleep at night trying to figure out how we will ever be able to afford to get married and have kids of our own on the income generated by my paper route/grass-cutting and her job at the cineplex's refreshment stand - all the while successfully completing our high school education.

Then, with visions of my true love in my head and me in hers we might go off to college - different schools of course - where I meet someone with whom I have become so smitten at age 18 or 20 or whatever that I believe her to be "The One" and all prior incarnations of "the One" to have been merely apparitions or worse.

Thereafter, I might upon graduation venture off into the adult world - where I meet someone with whom I become so smitten - at age 24 or 29 or whatever that I know immediately she is THE ONE and all prior thoughts on the subject were not thoughts at all but merely the self-aggrandizing styling of an immature mind.

The funny, exciting and often frustrating thing about life is that I cannot become the man I am at age 29 without first being the boy of 16 and the young man of 20. If it turns out at age 29 that THE ONE is indeed "the One" who first caught my eye and captured my heart at age 16, then terrific. If it turns out that at age 29, THE ONE is someone I did not know at all....until age 28 at least and "the One" who first caught my eye as a boy is someone who I have neither seen nor thought about in a decade, then that's fine as well. It is what it is.

Life is an all or nothing proposition. But it cannot be lived all at once. It'll come to you. Allow it to do so.

-AK

Monday, December 29, 2008

So Many Shades of Grey

Someone much brighter than I (yes, I am aware of what a long list of people that is) once observed that nothing worth having comes easy. And it might also be said that nothing worth having - nothing that brings you pleasure - is achieved without a bit of stress and - often - a bit of pain. Today is an example of just such an event for me.

I have practiced law at the same firm for the past eleven years. I began my tenure at my present place of employment in January of 1998. The time I have spent here has been, generally speaking, pleasurable. Yet, it is time that has now reached its end.

This morning I shall have what I anticipate shall be a rather uncomfortable conversation with one of my partners, Howard, who manages the department of the Firm in which I practice. It shall be uncomfortable not because I anticipate him doing a lot of yelling or screaming at me when I tell him my news but because he is not just one hell of a good Partner but he is an even finer man. While I do not doubt that he shall be happy for me - eventually - and shall wish me well, I know that it shall not be easy news for him to hear. And that is shall be no solace to him that it shall be very difficult news for me to deliver.

It is difficult not because I am anything other than excited as hell to tackle this newest challenge and opportunity. After all, the decision to leave is mine. It is difficult because over the course of eleven years one puts down roots of indeterminate length - sometimes in spite of oneself. And those roots remain, even after whatever has been hogging the sunlight above ground (flower, tree - or dandelion in my case I suppose), has been excised.

Life is indeed a series of hellos and goodbyes. And today I say - if not goodbye - then "soon I shall be leaving."

-AK

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nobody's Kiddin' Nobody

I am starting to think that Margaret's family is imbued with the type of luck that no one family has enjoyed since it all turned to dust for the Joads in Oklahoma. My mother-in-law Sue has been battling gamely against a particularly insidious form of cancer for the past four plus years. During that time, her husband Joe - Margaret's dad, has been one of the tent poles of her support structure. Last night, they got to experience role reversal.

Margaret and I were out with friends when my wife received a call from her mom. There are times that all of us are able to glean what the essence of the other half of a particular phone conversation is even without a video feed. Last night was one such time. One minute we are chatting with Lucy and Joe about whatever types of innocuous things friends discuss over coffee and dessert and the next we were saying our goodbyes as Margaret and I headed to the hospital to meet her mom, her uncle and Joe as he arrived via ambulance.

If there is a health care facility that is staffed at all hours of the day and night by nicer, more caring and competent folks than the Somerset Medical Center, then I have had the good fortune of not yet encountering it. Perhaps, sadly, Margaret and her family get such great treatment there because the staff recognizes them from all of the time they have had to spend there over the course of the past four plus years? Candidly, based upon nothing other than observations made while I have been there visiting Sue over the years, it appears that everyone gets the same top-notch, attentive care that Margaret's family receives.

Last night - roles reversed - Margaret's folks spent yet another Saturday night in Somerset Medical Center. This time, in the Emergency Department. And this time, Sue sat in a chair reserved for a visitor while Joe was attended to by the medical staff. My father-in-law is a bear of a man, who looks fairly fit even at age 75 and who is so outgoing and gregarious that often one forgets that Joe is indeed 75. He never acts "old" so those of us around him often space the fact that he is. It is a testament to the manner in which he lives his life that when one hears him complain - as he did last night - that he could not breathe - one is forced to remember that he is not a thirty-five or forty year old man any longer.

I know less about medicine than I do many other things so while the explanation given in the Emergency Department of what had caused Joe's problems sounded eerily to me like "we have not quite figured it out yet", we shall see what today brings. My father-in-law will awaken this morning (being an early riser like me he probably is already up for the day) to find himself in a strange place and without the ability to follow his usual morning routine. I simply hope that by nightfall the good folks into whose care he has been entrusted have been able to identify the problem and to treat it so that he goes to sleep tonight in his own bed and in his own house.

I know this - a man got to do what he got to do. All Joe got to do for present purposes is get well. He had damn well better do it.

-AK

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Things One Finds in the Cushions of the Couch

For merely a moment this morning, I got to ride in Mr. Peabody's Way-Back Machine. I came downstairs as part of the pre-departure ritual of getting the dog out for her "morning constitutional" and brewing up the day's first dose of the magic elixir known as coffee. As I crossed from the front hallway into the kitchen, I heard something I had not heard in quite a while in the pre-dawn darkness of my home - the sound of the television in the den. When I peeked my head in to see whether anyone was actually awake watching TV, I discovered Rob sound asleep on the couch with the lovely and talented Pam equally comatose right beside him. It is one of my favorite "the physics of furniture" phenomenon, which enables two average-sized adults - simply by adopting a position most usually seen in cigarette packs and sardine cans - to occupy a space usually big enough only for a soloist (even a slumbering soloist).

I was tempted to wake them up and send them upstairs to try to catch some sleep in an actual bed but all I did was shut the TV off and leave them to their snoring. All the while I smiled. I smiled because in the "old days" - a life that ceased for Rob more than six months ago, before he went to Dixie for more than four months of training, which upon its successful completion, enabled him to travel to the Great American West - it was not uncommon for me to find "the kids" zonked on the couch in the den. While I cannot recall specifically when it occurred, at some point while Rob was in college and in New York City far more than 'neath the snow globe, the decision was made to remove TV from his room. He was not home to watch it. We were never in his room and saw no point in continuing to pay for it. Because of both its inherent simplicity and obvious (upon further reflection) shortsightedness, I presume that I was the architect of this decision. Both Margaret and Rob possess more than sufficient common sense to have asked the question I failed to appreciate at the time, "When Rob does come home, if he and/or he and Pam want to watch TV, where do they?"

Apparently last night/early this morning, the answer to that question was - as it often was when he would pop home from college to visit and he/Pam would be out and about closer to our home than to her home - the den. Once I was able to place the source of the noise this morning, I was able to enjoy it. For just a moment, looking in at a couple of peaceful, sleeping faces, it was as if time had skipped backwards a bit. It was as if I was revisiting a moment that I had otherwise believed to be gone from me forever. And I could not help but smile.

I left them there sleeping as I headed off to work this morning because reverie notwithstanding they are not kids any longer. My adult son is at his childhood home for several days visiting from his new home in Wyoming. If he wants to fall asleep on the couch - and Pam has no objection to voice to the quality of the accommodations, then he shall. By this time tomorrow night, he might be doing just that....on his couch in his living room 2000 miles away.

-AK

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Morning After

When I was a little boy, this was the day of the year I loathed more than any other. I fervently believed that nothing good could ever come out of the day after Christmas. I railed against it - and the advertising for it that began in earnest in the newspaper the final Sunday before Christmas - and intensified by mid-day on Christmas Day. It was usually at some point after about 1:00 p.m. on Christmas Day when Harrow's Pools, which sold the full panoply of tacky Christmas decorations, would start to air its commercials for its annual After-Christmas sale. A few years ago, the Harrow's chain went bankrupt and closed all of its stores. The adult man in me cared not at all. The seven-year-old boy in me leaped for joy.

As childhood either gave way to - or was subsumed by the darkness of - adulthood I stopped viewing the 26th of December with the same level of ill will. I came to accept that it is what it is, a day on the calendar that thru no fault of its own happens to be placed on the calendar immediately after one of the biggest days of the year. It shares its fate of a somewhat ignominious calendar placement with its summer chum, July 5th, although the reaction to the 5th of July is often downright genteel by comparison.

Any adverse reaction to the appearance of "26" on our December calendar this morning is self-made. The fault of it rests not with the day but with us. The challenge is ours. Let us prove to ourselves and to those around us that the "holiday spirit" of which so many have spoken ceaselessly since mid-November was something more than crass commercialism. Let us prove that the good will towards men that fueled us in the run-up to Christmas was interwoven into the fabric of our lives and not merely something that flowed from like water from a faucet. A faucet that we have turned to the "off" position for another year.

-AK

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Adeste Fideles

I attend church infrequently - as the lapsed Catholic that I am - and I sing in public even less so, the former to the chagrin of the pastor and the latter to the relief of the congregation. One of my favorite things about church however at this time of year is the music. From as long ago as I can remember my favorite Christmas hymn has been "Adeste Fideles". While I am quite fond of its English version "O Come All Ye Faithful" I simply love the Latin. I suppose that is a by-product of my father's insistence on us doing fun things when we were young, such as learning Latin. It is strange one supposes how life works. There are certain that when I recall them from my memory vis-a-vis my father bring back a less than positive recollection. Yet, juxtaposed against them is him singing "Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes,venite, venite in Bethlehem. Natum videte, Regem angelorum. Venite adoremus,Venite adoremus,Venite adoremus Dominum."


Margaret's family is Italian. Last night we made the short jaunt over to my in-law's home for the traditional Christmas Eve gathering. Margaret has one sibling, her big brother Frank, who also resides here 'neath the snow globe with his wife Chrissy and their six kids (at least three of whom fit into the "young adult" category alongside Suzanne and Rob). Last night was significant for it was the first Christmas Eve celebrated since Nanny died at age 94 in August. The past few years, without fail, at some point during the evening Nanny would not only ask God to bless all of us who were gathered together as well as all of our loved ones not present under that particular roof and to remind all of us that she was happy for this year because she did not know if she would live to see the following Christmas. Several years ago, when I first recall her doing it, it seemed almost laughable. Although she was already in her late 80's when she made her first Doomsday proclamation she was so hale and so healthy that I was convinced she would outlive me.


Sadly, her '07 prediction came true and we gathered together last evening under a roof that she had called home for the final quarter of her life without her. But it did not seem as if we were without her.


In fact, she seemed to be a part of the evening from start to finish. I for one do not doubt that from her vantage point in the universe she looked down with that ear-to-ear grin of hers to see her eldest grandson, Rob, at the dinner table between his grandfather Joe and his cousin Joe. No one other than my son and me knew that he was going to be home for Christmas. Everyone had steeled themselves for a "double shot" Christmas - no Nan and no Rob. Having little ability to effect change upon the former but (at least for present purposes) significantly more to effect upon the latter, I did that which needed to be done to make sure Rob was here.


I am not a great person to whom one might give a gift. The whole process of receiving presents makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Yet last night it did not. For lost in the wake of Rob's journey home for the holiday and all it meant to Margaret, Suzanne and the rest of the family was what it meant to me and for me. It is a little elixir. A little pick-me-up for my soul. The best present I have ever received on Christmas - and not even any wrapping paper to clean up afterwards.


Show a little faith. The results of it just might surprise you. Here's to hoping that wherever you gather to celebrate Christmas, you are together with those you love - regardless of whether you are in the same place. At day's end, that is all that matters.

Merry Christmas.

-AK

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Son Also Lands.....

With apologies to Papa Bear Hemingway, it fits. It simply fits. Last night, unbeknownst to everyone in our family except for the two of us, I picked Rob up at Newark Airport. He is, for the next several days anyway, "home". I wanted for once to give my life's love - Margaret - a Christmas present that did not make her crinkle up her nose or skim furiously thru her in-head copy of Roget's Thesaurus for a phrase that sounds more hopeful than, but is equally damning as, "That's nice." I wanted for once to give her a present that she would not want to give back. With the deft skill of my son, I succeeded.

The next few days will pass at a maddeningly quick pace, no doubt. The good times never seem to last, right? It matters not. I will gladly trade the letdown that is coming by late Sunday afternoon, when Rob is jetting west again for the next several days of joy.

As I explained to Margaret and to Rob last night as we sat in the kitchen eating a late dinner together, I am frustrated on a daily basis by my impotence and my inability to effect meaningful change on any number of aspects of my life. However, having our little family all in the same place for Christmas was something that was within my control. I had the ability to bring a whole lotta happiness into our home - in a year when happiness has at times been in short supply. And I did not squander my opportunity. The ability to effect meaningful change sure felt good.

Faith will be rewarded. And in our little sliver of earth 'neath the snow globe, it has. 'Tis the season after all.

-AK

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Little Christmas Wishes

It is the day before the night before Christmas. While offices all over the place (including ours) shall be open for at least part of the day tomorrow, today is the de facto final work day of this week. I have had the chance the past several days to do a little bit of traveling, which is something I do infrequently. In the faces of children everywhere, I have seen excitement and anticipation. Little kids are recession-proof it appears. You cannot tell that times are hard from the gleam in their eyes and the smiles on their faces.

And maybe that is how it is supposed to be? '08 has been rough on everybody to varying degrees. And yet as the year comes to an end, hope remains - even if it is in smaller quantities than in years past. And from what I have seen in a variety of places over the course of the past several days - it is readily available in pint-sized quantities.

And it makes me smile - just seeing the faces and the looks of pure, unadulterated joy. And at the end of the day - and at the end of what has been a particularly trying year - it is a great gift to receive.

And it comes one size fits all. Just right for all of us.

-AK

Monday, December 22, 2008

If You've Ever Seen A One-Trick Pony

High school wrestling season started this weekend here in Levelland. A lifetime ago, for one horrible season (actually it would be more accurate to say "one season in which I wrestled horribly) I was a high-school wrestler. I was so poor a wrestler that it is not unfair to say that if wrestling was a fall sport rather than a winter sport here in New Jersey for our high school scholar-athletes, I would have been the Homecoming opponent of choice for every kid in my weight class.

I was thinking about wrestling yesterday and this morning, reading about the good start that Margaret's nephew Frank got off to yesterday as he begins his 10th grade season. He won two of his three matches yesterday and his only defeat came in a match where he 'wrestled up' a weight class. He is the starting 171-pounder for his high school team and he lost 3-0 when - for one match - he wrestled at 189 pounds. Against boys his own weight yesterday, he went two for two. Damn nice start.

His Saturday victory total for the 20th of December aught-eight was equal to my victory total.......for the entire 1981-1982 season. Against too many defeats to count (well it was either too many defeats or not enough fingers and toes) I had but two victories. The worst part about them was that I lucked into one of them in my very first match, which took place two days after the kid who was supposed to be the starter at my weight class quit wrestling. With nine practices or so under my belt, which represented the totality of my wrestling experience at that point, it would be an understatement to say that I did not take the news well.

Anyway, as luck would have it our first match was against one of our arch-rivals, The Pennington School, which had the distinction that year of being one of only two teams in the state who had a 108 pounder on its roster who was worse than our school's 108 pounder. When the match started, I stepped towards my opponent who in his effort to either get away or try to make a move, tripped over his own two feet. As luck would have it his momentum took him directly to the mat - and to his back. I had the good sense to allow gravity to be my guide. I fell on top of him, the referee counted three and voila - a new legend was born.

Some legends - Loch Ness, Jesse James - stand the test of time. Some legends - such as Milli Vanilli and Bagger Vance- have a much lesser shelf life. The Pennington match was about ten days before Christmas break. By the time school reconvened in early January, my legendary status had run its course. The first Saturday or so after the second semester began, we traveled to Roselle Catholic High School for a match against them.

The night before the match I had slept over a friend's house and for whatever reason - maybe it was because we stayed up most of the night talking to his older sister about whatever stupid nonsense we talked about, eating junk food and watching soft porn-caliber movies on cable - I did not arrive at Roselle Catholic feeling ready to wrestle. Thankfully one of the pre-match rituals in high school wrestling is the weigh-in. It is not quite as dramatic as a weigh-in before a boxing match - when chairs may be tossed and punches thrown - but it serves the purpose of letting you see prior to taking the mat who it is you shall be rumbling with once hostilities commence.

As we stood stripped to our underwear in two lines waiting to get on the scale - in the bowels of Roselle Catholic High School - I scanned the enemy for anyone who might have been their 108 pounder. There was only one kid in line who appeared to weigh less than 115 pounds and I predicted (accurately as it turned out) that he was their 101 pounder, which meant he was my teammate Jimmy Fabricatore's problem and not mine. Suddenly I felt less guilty about staying up half the night looking for Shannon Tweed movies to watch on HBO. I was going to be OK.

I tried not to be too cocky as I dismounted the scale after weighing in. No one likes a poor sport - especially when one is celebrating a forfeit victory. I tried to smile only internally as I worked thru in my own mind the pace at which I would traverse the distance from our bench to the center of the mat so that my arm might be raised in triumph. I was in mid-reverie when I heard what I did not want to hear, "Roselle Catholic 108 - Ryan - Good". I scanned the Roselle Catholic line of guys again and I saw him as he walked away from the scale and back into their locker room - a kid who was wider thru the shoulders than I was thru the hips. A kid who - unless the scale measured his weight in kilos instead of pounds, appeared to the naked eye to be nowhere near 108.

In the thirty minutes of so between the weigh-in and the pre-match introductions, I ran thru the possible ways in which I could injure myself severely enough to allow me to escape certain death but not so severely as to mess up the rest of my weekend. Nothing seemed plausible. When the teams lined up for the pre-match introductions and upon hearing his name called, Liam Ryan of Roselle Catholic SPRINTED across the mat and then slid to a stop in front of me while simultaneously shaking my hand and smiling at me in a way in which I envision psychopaths smiling at a soon-to-be victim.

My pal Fabricatore was disposed of quite quickly in the 101 match, which meant that I was the next lamb heading off to slaughter. As I walked towards the center of the mat to meet him my mind raced with a thousand different thoughts, including how much I hated the kid on my team who quit wrestling two days before our first match, how much I hated the kid from Pennington and his abject lack of balance and how much I hated my friend Mike's parents for having HBO. I lived out in the middle of nowhere and had he slept over my house the night before, we would have been lights out at a normal hour since we had no cable.

We reached the center of the mat and we shook hands for a second time. As the referee blew the whistle, I remain certain almost thirty years later that my first movement in the center of the mat was towards my opponent - as the rules required - and I had the one and only great moment of my scholastic wrestling career. My bigger, faster, stronger and significantly better opponent - smelling blood - had come charging in with his head down and I had caught him perfectly in a move called (I think) double under hooks. I flipped him quickly onto his back and when I heard the whistle blow again and felt the ref tapping me on the shoulder, I leaped up and unsnapped my headgear - waiting for my hand to be raised in victory.

It never came. The ref ruled instead that my first step was backwards, away from my opponent, which was stalling. The whistle blew again for certain and the ref had been tapping me on my shoulder but not in congratulations but to admonish me to get off of Liam Ryan, who was by now very embarrassed and very pissed off as he laid on his back in the middle of his school's gym.

When we started for the second time, he completely destroyed me. For good measure, in route to pinning me in less than one minute, he almost broke three of my ribs. Fortunately for the kids who were left on my schedule, it was not a season-ending injury but merely one that laid me up for three weeks.

I think about Liam Ryan every now and again. I wonder where he is and what he is doing. And I must admit, in my most shallow, evil moments that I hope it is at least 12 1/2 to 25 in nothing more hospitable than a medium-security facility.

-AK

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taking Solace in the Solstice

If you live - as do I - in the Northern Hemisphere, then today is the Winter Solstice. It is the first day of winter (feel free to sob softly as I do when I think that all of the snow and other "wintry mix" crap that has slowed down life the past forty-eight hours were the results of an autumn storm). It is also the shortest day of the year - not in terms of its actual length (it is of the 24 hour variety just like its co-tenants on the calendar) but in terms of the amount of daylight. The celebration of Hanukkah (instead of one day of presents there are eight crazy nights) begins tonight at sundown. Talk about adhering to the 5P's (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance). It is a stroke of pure genius - and a source of joy for little Jewish kids everywhere one would think - to have an eight-day holiday that begins at sundown begin at sundown on the day of the year on which sundown comes the earliest.

Presuming we see a sunrise this morning - it is a heavy sky spewing snow as I write this - and do not simply make the observation that daylight has occurred - we will note that the sun has risen this morning later than any other morning. And when darkness falls tonight - or this afternoon - it shall arrive earlier than it shall any other day. From this day forward - regardless of how cold it gets in January and February in these parts, we begin the slow, steady march towards spring. We squeeze a minute or two more of daylight out of every day than we did the day before until we reach the Summer Solstice in June.

So if you awaken this morning in this hemisphere depressed, angry, hung over or working through a combination platter of all three - hang in there. For the day is almost over already. And as that little redheaded minx used to remind us, the sun will come out tomorrow.

And it will be a minute or two earlier than it came out today.

-AK

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Post Time

It occurred to me this morning that not only is this daily regimen good for what masquerades as a soul inside of me - and a financial boon as well since it saves me wads of dough that otherwise might have ended up in a shrink's pocket (I am kidding of course) - but it is also an effective marker of time. Candidly, I am not at all sure how I feel about the latter.

I am an attorney who does liability defense work, which means my "legal services" (quick - call the Estate of Fred McMurray to find out just how far one can stretch FLUBBER) are billed by the hour. That means of course that a significant portion of my day is spent documenting time spent on a particular task in a particular matter. If you do that long enough, and I have been doing it at the firm where I am presently doing it, and you work a lot, which I do, years cease being the compilation of moments in time. They are transformed into stacks of green sheets - green being the color of my time sheets. And while their worth is measurable - it is their value that concerns me. Or more appropriately the potentially diminishing return on their value. Is it sad? Perhaps. Is it inevitable? Most assuredly it is.

When I signed on my computer this morning and accessed my daily rant I saw that this effort is the two hundred and forty-third in a series whose end date I know not. I do know that the sum means that I started this exercise two hundred and forty-four days ago - having skipped one day when traveling to Maryland in May for my Uncle Jim's funeral. How time flies, eh? Even in a fairly compressed period of time, much can occur. Between Post One and Post Two Hundred and Forty-Three much has happened in my little patch of grass 'neath the snow globe.

Some good: Rob's graduation from college in May; Rob's graduation from FLETC in November; and Suzanne's completion of her first semester of work (at the top of her class) towards her Master's just this week.

Some bad: the death of my Uncle Jim in May; the death of Margaret's grandmother, Nan, on the 2nd of August; and the death of Margaret's Great Aunt Meni (Nan's younger sister) on the 9th of August.

Some inevitable: the battle between good (my mother-in-law Sue and Mom) and evil (cancer and the other joyous health-related complications it brings with it) that has consumed a great deal of both of them but has defeated neither of them; and the relocation of my son from the Garden State to the Great Wide Open to begin his career.

Two hundred and forty-four days. Not time enough to take the full measure of a person but enough to get a glimpse, perhaps? You know the people you love and the people with whom you work. The rest is glimpses.

Pete Hamill's magnificent "Downtown - My Manhattan" is magnificent - did you not read the beginning of this sentence? - for any number of reasons. Among them is the manner in which he describes his city - the City - set against the backdrop of various events. One such example is when he talks about how New Yorkers reacted on September 12, 2001 to the events of the previous day. While he wove the language to cite a specific occurrence, every time I read it, I am struck by its easy applicability to countless other things in our lives:

The New York version of nostalgia is not simply about lost buildings or their presence in the youth of the individuals who lived with them. It involves an almost fatalistic acceptance of the permanent presence of loss. Nothing will ever stay the same. Tuesday turns into Wednesday and something valuable is behind you forever. An “is” has become a “was.” Whatever you have lost, you will not get it back: not that much-loved brother, not that ball club, not that splendid bar, not that place where you once went dancing with the person you later married. Irreversible change happens so often in New York that the experience affects character itself. New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie.

Every day - no matter who we are, where we live or what we do - we leave something valuable behind us forever. If we get hung up on that part of the day-to-day, then we will bargain away the strength to keep moving forward. However, if we remember - even for a moment - that it is an eternally repeating transaction, which will continue to go on for as long as we do and that it adds something valuable to our balance sheet as it deducts something that was in the new item's place the day before, then we will be just fine.

-AK

Friday, December 19, 2008

Father Christmas.....

In the spring of 1981 - on Memorial Day Weekend - my father died in our home. He died in his sleep. He was fifty-seven years old. Had he lived, which he did not (but one supposes you figured that out by now - having read this far) he would have turned eighty-five years old today.

When I was still young, having been fourteen when he died, I used to measure the percentage of my life for which he had been alive. Obviously, when I turned twenty-eight, he had been dead for as much of my life as he had been alive. Now, as I head into the home stretch of my 41st year, he has been dead for twice as much of my life as he for which he lived. How time flies, eh?

As I trip and stumble my way thru early onset middle age, my two kids (sorry - young adults) are coming into their own in their early 20's. Rob is already almost a full month into his career and Wednesday of this week, Suzanne put the bow on the first semester of graduate school. To perhaps their mutual surprise but certainly not to mine or Margaret's each is doing exceptionally well thus far.

I am lucky. I have seen much more of Rob's life and Suz's life and they much more of mine than my father and I ever saw of each other's. Truth be told, his dying was not the cause of the blindness. We had ceased seeing each other for quite some time before he died.

All things considered - on balance - it has been a pretty good last twenty-seven years. I see far more clearly now than I did then. And the road ahead looks just fine.

-AK

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Where the Edge of Insanity Meets the Abyss

Somewhere along the line, the train of logic went off the tracks. It is true the annals of history are strewn with odd, strange and downright unusual names. While it might appear to be a new phenomenon, it is not. This generation's Pi or Apple or Jam was an earlier generation's Hester or Methuselah or Dweezil.

Inane names are a constant. Their presence in the world is as relentless as the rain. While they may seem to be an irritant to those of us who are not the parent of the unfortunately-named child, they are nothing more or less than that. Nothing more than an appellation that makes us shake our head, smile wistfully and thank our parents for the name they gave us - even if our own name is fodder for Biblical jokes, cartoon character name drops and best-forgotten awful 1970's television shows.

Every so often though, something so wicked and so singularly awful is done by a parent to his or her child that it appears to be meanness for meanness sake. Such as naming one's son Adolf Hitler Campbell. A.H. Campbell is a little three-year-old boy from Hunterdon County described in wire service reports as cute, cuddly and, for now, blissfully unaware of the shock value conveyed by his first and middle names. Master Campbell is the unwanted center of attention these days courtesy of his parents and their decision, again, this year to attempt to order a birthday cake for him from their local Shop-Rite.

Apparently this is the third year in a row that the Campbells have been unable to secure the desired birthday cake from their local Shop-Rite, which has annually exercised its right not to decorate a cake with anything it considers "inappropriate". Shop-Rite has made clear - to everyone apparently other than Mr. and Mrs. Campbell - that it considers writing "HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADOLF HITLER" on one of its cakes to be inappropriate even when a surname follows the first and middle names. Shop-Rite's inability to communicate its position to the Campbells is presumably not for lack of trying on the store's part. According to Shop-Rite spokeswoman Karen Meleta the Campbells had similar requests denied at the same store the last two years and, apparently for good measure, Heath Campbell previously had asked for a swastika to be included in the decoration. This year simply appears to be the first time that the Campbells have decided to milk a little bit of free media exposure out of it.

If there is a time of year that makes us naturally think of children, it is the Christmas season. Our thoughts turn to them not only because of their excitement over the arrival of Christmas but what Christmas reveals about them. It reveals in them what appears to be lacking in us by the time we have ascended to - or descended into depending upon one's point of view I suppose - adulthood: the existence of faith. The faith they place not only in the magic of Christmas but in us, their parents. It is when a parent callously disregards that faith - squanders it - that the system breaks down.

It is inconceivable that at no time prior to burdening his child with this name did the man purporting to be his parent consider what he was doing. One would hope that no human could possess that combination of innate meanness and abject ignorance. But we know better do we not?

The only hope is that it is a combination that has no legs in this little boy's family. And it dies with his parent's generation. The generation that either gave no thought to naming a little boy for a monster or thought about it - for a second - and decided that they gave not a damn about what they did or, worse yet, to whom they were doing it.

-AK

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R U Ready To Rumble?

It has been quite the autumn of upheaval along the banks of the old Raritan. The football team overslept. Instead of starting play on Labor Day, which would have conveniently coincided with their nationally televised season opener against Fresno State, they practiced group somnambulism until after Columbus Day. While it took them half the season to awaken from their slumber, once they woke up they bludgeoned the final six opponents on their schedule. From the ashes of an atrocious start, they reached.......mediocrity. Mediocre or not, after more than a century of ineptitude, their 7-5 finish earned them their fourth straight winning season and a fourth consecutive bowl bid.

Within mere moments, however, of the 63-14 annihilation of Louisville to close out the regular season, Rutgers President Richard McCormick announced the resignation of Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy, effective December 31, 2008. I am not a Rutgers alumni. I am not now and have never been employed by RU. My only contact points with the school are (a) I am the brother of an alum although (forgive me for this Bill) I cannot recall the exact year of his graduation; and (b) for the past two seasons I have been a football season-ticket holder. Even from afar, however, the announcement that Mulcahy, whose energy level and enthusiasm for his job always seemed to run laps around those half his age, was stepping away from an athletic department whose growth he had overseen, seemed incongruous. It turns out that sometimes innate cynicism can be the real-life equivalent of "Spidey Sense" as Bob Mulcahy did not ask to get off of the bus. No, President McCormick and the Board of Governors gave him a helpful shove. Thus, in spite of the initial official pronouncement that Mulcahy had resigned, it turns out that the resignation was of the involuntary variety. In the real world, we call it a firing.

Almost immediately upon giving up the ghost with respect to his rather ham-handed slight of hand, President McCormick announced that Mulcahy had been asked to step down in light of revelations contained in a report that a Special Review Committee, which committee had been formed for the purpose of examining the goings-on in the Athletic Department, submitted criticizing those goings-on and laying the responsibility for them squarely at the feet of Mr. Mulcahy. According to the Star-Ledger, President McCormick informed the University's Board of Governors and Trustees that he had asked for (a/k/a "a demand" when made by a person who outranks you in the organization in which you both work) Mulcahy's resignation and then fired him when Mulcahy refused to tender it because, "Recent events have convinced me, with reluctance, that this is the right course of action."

In view of McCormick's statement, it is worth the downward scroll in the same article to check out the following synopsis of events:

The university's review of Mulcahy's department followed a series of stories in The Star-Ledger that detailed hundreds of thousands of dollars in off-the-books spending that never appeared in the Rutgers budget, secret contract enhancements given to head football coach Greg Schiano and a no-bid contract with a sports marketing firm hired after it put Mulcahy's son on its payroll.

The group's report found no wrongdoing, but it is not the last examination of the school's athletics program. The state comptroller has sought hundreds of documents from the university.

Mulcahy's departure comes amid a football season of extremes. The Scarlet Knights got off to a miserable 1-5 start, then staged a remarkable turnaround to win six straight games and earn their fourth consecutive bowl bid under Schiano.

Rutgers will play North Carolina State on Dec. 29 at the Papajohns.com Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
But it has also been a season of jarring disclosures in which successes on the football field were shadowed by controversy. Problems began in 2007 when Mulcahy decided to eliminate six varsity teams in the name of cost savings -- including men's swimming and diving, men's tennis, and lightweight and heavyweight crew.


Records show much of the money was shifted to football.

Over the past year, a series of revelations raised questions about spending under Mulcahy and secret deals that allowed the athletics department to do business off the books.

One of the most controversial was a report that showed Mulcahy had made side deals through a vendor that boosted Schiano's salary by $250,000 and paid for other department spending, including charter flights for the coach. Under Mulcahy, Rutgers also undertook a $102 million expansion of its stadium, but the project is now stalled for lack of funding.

Mulcahy's hard-charging style eventually drew the attention of the school's auditor, who issued a report in February criticizing department spending. The state comptroller's office announced its own investigation of Rutgers after Star-Ledger stories in July. And late last month, McCormick's own hand-picked commission delivered a report that found the athletics department had been allowed to operate like an independent entity.

One wonders - in view of the conclusions reached by the President's own hand-picked commission that the athletics department had been allowed to operate without having to answer to anyone - whether the President and and the other fine folks who have been entrusted with a fiduciary duty to the University, its students, its staff and us taxpaying residents here in the State of Gardens are going to be allowed to escape unscathed. And furthermore, whether they should.

Presuming Mulcahy was the back-room dealing, duplicitous snake oil salesman that the seemingly endless series of reports the Star-Ledger has filed over the course of the past year or so suggested he was or he is something less sinister than the devil incarnate, the Institutional response (Yes, Mrs. McMullen the use of the capital "I" is intentional) "he was out of control and his whole department was out of control" begs the question of what the hell McCormick was doing and what the hell the Board of Governors was doing while Rome - or at least Piscataway Township - was allegedly burning. One cannot be a leader while running around repeating the mantra of "I know nothing! Nothing!" It did not work for Sgt. Schultz at Stalag 13 and it should not be permitted at Rutgers.

Apparently President McCormick has installed plexi-glass in his own home, which emboldens him to throw stones at Mulcahy. In view of his own less than glorious history for full disclosure and forthrightness, which he expressed only upon being confronted with evidence from his own less than stellar moments, I would beg pardon of anyone troubled by my insistence on taking his recitation of anything he tells me with an artery-clogging helping of salt. Human beings are members of the animal kingdom. Animals are creatures of habit. As soon as someone provides me documentation of a leopard indeed changing its spots, I shall accept it as possible. Til then? Not so much.

While it is too little, too late for Bob Mulcahy, it is worth noting that one of this state's journalistic heavyweights, Jerry Izenberg, has joined the fray and has taken up Mulcahy's cause. Izenberg, who is now a "Columnist Emeritus" for the Star-Ledger, has spent most of his lengthy career being held in high regard - and with good reason. His writing is never short of excellent and as frequently as not it is extraordinary. One wonders if he tired of reading the aforementioned seemingly endless series of "SPECIAL REPORTS" his former full-time employer has run probing, investigating and attacking Mulcahy, Greg Schiano and the RU football program? Perhaps he was troubled by the fact that it was the Star-Ledger - way back when in 2006 - that not only drove the RU Football bandwagon but washed and waxed it as well - going so far as to sell a coffee table book commemorating the season - and the Ledger's wall-to-wall coverage of it - for the bargain price of $40.00 before falling out of love with the 800-pound gorilla it had helped nourish?

Irrespective of the reason, in Sunday's Star-Ledger, the great Columnist Emeritus wrote a piece entitled "From any angle, numbers don't add up in Mulcahy firing" in which Izenberg recited a few facts and figures of his own, all of which had been conspicuously absent from the Ledger's news reports on the story:

The primary way the NCAA measures a university's ability to educate its athletes is called the Academic Progress Report, which deals with graduation rates. In apportioning the results of the APR, the athletic director is -- or should be -- the main responsible source. That report puts Rutgers third in the country behind Navy and Stanford and among six teams that made the top call. That made it first among state universities.

But last week the athletic director got fired.

The tail-that-wagged-the-doggie logic was filled with politics and was self-serving, with even a little cowardice from the president and the Board of Governors.

So the athletic director got fired.

The recent investigative report on the athletic department authorized by the Board of Governors was a compendium of correct, partial and contradictory facts. The report said spending was out of control, and you could make that case. But what the report did not say, but was true, was that the school's president, Richard McCormick, constantly agreed with what Mulcahy was trying to achieve, and never set guidelines for Mulcahy to follow.

One must assume that the president, if he gave any of this any thought (until prompted by people with scores to settle and ad hoc agendas) must have been waiting for guidelines to appear through prayer and osmosis. The president couldn't grasp the fact that, as Pogo would say: "I has met the enemy and he is me."

And then, just for good measure, the heaviest hitter in any of the lineups of any of the newspapers that call New Jersey home, exposed McCormick for all to see in the starkest manner possible - the side-by-side comparison:

Whatever mistakes Mulcahy made, he is the one who cleaned up an academic mess when he got to Rutgers and who never let the worst in college athletics surface on his campus. It wasn't the president who was proactive for his students when the Rutgers women's basketball team was verbally assaulted beyond belief.

It was Mulcahy.

He stood with coach C. Vivian Stringer's young ladies after Don Imus' disgusting radio rhetoric (he called the team "nappy-headed hos") and the whining apology Imus offered in total panic. Mulcahy was their counselor and their protector and their guardian. And he trusted them enough to let them speak for themselves. Ask them and they will tell you. So will their coach....

It wasn't the athletic director who failed in his obligation. It was a president who is a far more naked emperor than charismatic leader. The emperor has no footprints that even begin to lead toward a legacy. The emperor has no clothes.

So the athletic director got fired.

Izenberg's biting observations, which followed on the heels of a critique authored by Paul Franklin that appeared in the Courier-News a day earlier (subtly entitled "McCormick's explanations border on absurd") are not enough to save Mulcahy at RU. His tenure as Athletic Director is over. But reading Izenberg's column on Sunday I could not help but think of Brian DePalma's "The Untouchables" and, specifically, Sean Connery's Oscar-winning turn as Irish beat cop Jimmy Malone. It was Malone, who upon getting the drop on one of Capone's thugs who had been sent to Malone's home with a knife to kill him, pointed his gun at his would-be assassin and mocked him for "bringing a knife to a gun fight."

Malone did not live to see the end of the picture. Neither shall Mulcahy. Although he certainly appears to have brought the biggest gun in town to this fight, hasn't he? We shall see who - if anyone - joins him as one of its casualties.

-AK

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Soul Food in Lieu of Figgy Pudding

Truth be told, I know not exactly what figgy pudding is and given that in the past decade and a half I have embraced sobriety as more than an occasional exercise, I cannot envision the scenario under which I would increase my level of familiarity.

Times are hard. One needs look no further than the mirror's reflection to see evidence of that fact, right? The stress and strain of less dollars chasing more necessities is being engraved into each one of us - right into the lines on our face. And while we might be trying as hard as we can, we very well might be finding it difficult to be jolly, irrespective of what season it 'tis. It is as if the Brothers Miser have triumphed and we are all living through the year without a Santa Claus.

Tonight, the 8th annual Operation Santa party will take place on the campus of Kean University in Union, New Jersey. Operation Santa is an undertaking of a group, Democrats for the Soul, whose principal and founder is one of the senior partners of the law firm where I have practiced for the past decade. It matters not to him nor to the organization that I am a Republican and that the whereabouts of my own soul are less than clear. It matter solely that I am, joining with many of my colleagues here and countless others in other places, willing to just give a little something in order to get a whole lot of something in return.

The little something that we all give who take part in Operation Santa we give with the hope that it will blossom into a big something to the child to whom we give it. Every year, a list of names is circulated of children - ranging in ages from infants to teenagers - who through no fault of their own have been cuffed around by life under circumstances one would not wish on one's worst enemy, let alone on a child. And those of us who sign up to participate in Operation Santa do nothing more or less than try to bring just a bit of merriment into Christmas for our child by getting him or her a present. Does unwrapping something nice and shiny and new tonight take away all of the dreadful yesterdays? Nope. And to believe to the contrary would be foolhardy - if not naive. But is it possible that showing a youngster that in spite of what he or she might have been led to believe, there is at least a little bit of love in the world, might make that child dread tomorrow just a little less? Absolutely.

And therein lies the rub, as they say (whoever the hell "they" are). Each of us - regardless of our lot in life, our economic circumstances or our level of education - possesses the ability to be an agent of change. We possess the ability to effect a change on the life of at least one other human being. The ability is innate. The decision to act and to effect a positive change is conscious. It is willful. And it is nowhere near as difficult to do as you might have talked yourself into believing it to be.

So show a little faith. There is indeed magic in the night. And tonight, for a group of children in Union County and for those of us who have been fortunate enough to participate in this year's edition of Operation Santa that faith will be rewarded. For this evening, for them and for us, there is a Santa Claus.

We need to look no further than our mirror's reflection to see him. He is the face staring right back at us. And it turns out that he has been there the entire time.

-AK

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sweet Home Chicago....

We are still a month away from President-Elect Obama's completion of his metamorphosis and his assumption of the responsibilities that come with being simply the President of the United States (candidly, I have never understood all of the noise and bother associated with the creation of "the office of the President-Elect" immediately after the election. Do they (whoever they are) think that we do not recall for whom we voted and how things turned out?) One suspects that he is going to find out in relatively short order that life gets a wee bit harder once the hyphenated artifice is removed.

It is becoming more apparent by the day that the most exciting variable of the Obama Presidency is not his race or ethnicity. It is his zip code. Here in Levelland we have no shortage of interesting and somewhat ethically challenged elected officials. If you do not believe me then wait until former U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie announces his intention to seek the Republican nomination for Governor. One suspects that somewhere within the first paragraph of his official candidate statement he will somehow manage to mention that during his time as U.S. Attorney his office compiled an undefeated record in its prosecutions of public officials, irrespective of party affiliation.

Yet, just when those of us who reside here think that it is in the swamps of Jersey where all of the waste water flows, the good folks of Cook County, Illinois remind us that when it comes to the fine art of corruption they are the true masters. It is a foot race is it not as to what is more difficult to fathom: the ham-handed manner in which Governor Rod Blagojevich is alleged to have shaken down everyone from area hospitals to the Chicago Tribune - not to mention his efforts to sell his appointment of an individual to step into the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois left vacant by Mr. Obama upon his ascendancy to the Presidency or the Governor's matter-of-fact description of what he is alleged to have done as "business as usual".

In Illinois, the State's Attorney General Lisa Madigan- who like Governor Blagojevich is a Democrat - is quoted in wire reports this morning as saying that she had spoken to the governor only once this year, and perhaps not at all last year. The Illinois State Legislature will convene this morning to take up the issue of whether impeachment should be the order of the day. President Bush (you remember him, right?) called the charges against Blagojevich "astounding", which may be an understatement but considering Mr. Bush spent his weekend dodging size-10 shoes, he can be forgiven it.

There is zero indication thus far in this little passion play that President-Elect Obama knew anything about Governor Blagojevich's for-profit operation he was allegedly running out of the Illini executive branch. In fact, Mr. Obama has stated that neither he nor anyone on his staff spoke to "Hot Rod" about who to select to fill the vacant Senate seat. One suspects - given the Gov's obvious lack of dexterity - that had anyone from Mr. Obama's office had any contact with this chuckle head, Blagojevich would have made a record of the communication. There has been no report to that effect.

Here's to hoping that all of us have to endure just a little bit longer the excitement that Cook County's politics bring to the national stage. And here's to hoping that when the smoke clears, what happened in Chicago stays in Chicago. And that Governor Blagojevich enjoys his stay in whichever Federal penitentiary he may be calling home for the next several years.

-AK

Sunday, December 14, 2008

One Step Up

Yesterday morning I broke my maiden. Proving that this old dog is not yet too old to learn a new trick or two, I started and completed my first-ever 5K run. It is not an exaggeration to say that I would not have completed the final K or K and a half without the help of one loved one who was in my line of sight and another who was firmly implanted in my mind's eye.

My sister Jill - who I swear gets tinier every time I see her - runs marathons. Yesterday morning, as we assembled at the College Avenue Gym, which once upon a time was the home court for Rutgers University basketball - and was affectionately known as "the Barn" - in an era when the dividing line between the visiting team's bench and the home team's hostile fans was marked in the blood and gold. According to the information available on-line prior to the event, approximately 3500 people signed up to participate. Whether all who signed up in fact showed up on a seasonably chilly December morning on the banks of the Old Raritan, I know not. If I had shown any affinity for arithmetic I would have pursued my M.B.A. like so many of my smart friends. Instead, I went to law school to take a law degree. I have spent the past decade and a half or so practicing law to what I would consider - at the risk of sounding immodest (a lawyer sounding immodest, who'd have thunk it?) - to be a fair degree of success. I am fairly good at what I do and I think in the manner in which I conduct myself I have earned the respect of colleagues, adversaries and judges. I earn enough money that although I would respectfully disagree with PEBO (President Elect Barack Obama) as to whether I am "rich", the career path I have chosen has enabled me to do my part to provide for my family as one of the incomes in a two-income household.

The career path I have trod however is not one that provides a lot of "give back" opportunities - and the ones it provides I have been reticent to pursue. I owe my sister Jill a great debt for opening my eyes to this particular opportunity, which was both exhausting and exhilarating. The Big Chill is an event that has a wonderful purpose - it asks its participants to provide a new, unwrapped toy for a child (ages 3-14). There is no entry fee. The toys are then distributed by the New Brunswick Housing Authority to kids in need who, without the efforts of the good people who stage this event, would otherwise not have any Christmas.

I had never attempted to run 5K (or 5Ks - among the many things I know nothing about is the singular/plural usage in the metric system) until yesterday morning. I know not how much a K is - although I learned that 3.2 miles equals 5K. I do know that it was the final 1.2 miles - the indeterminate K for those of us who fail miserably at the whole conversion process (I am to non-metric / metric conversion what George Costanza was to the Latvian Orthodox religion) that represented uncharted territory for me. I run no more than 2 miles when I take my morning constitutional and from mile 2.1 to mile 3.2 my feelings vacillated between "I cannot do this" and "Holy Shit I am going to die right here".

Jill did not let me give up. Not only did she not let me give up - she spent the whole race running with me - as opposed to shouting "later Hansel, follow the breadcrumbs back to the car" - and running at what is her "usual" pace of 7 minute miles or so. By laying in the weeds with her little brother - a/k/a the anchor - and helping me thru a 1o minute per mile pace, she assured that her time on the course was quite longer than it would have been had she not invited me to participate. And during the last mile, when I played little games with my own mind (you know what I mean - the "if I can make it as far as ..... then I'll be OK"), she got me home. She spent most of the final mile running anywhere from 50 to 100 feet ahead of me because she would have been forced to start running on her hands to accommodate my "pace" (bending the acceptable definitional limits of that word to - if not beyond - their breaking point) and I fixed upon her - running ahead of me - until we made it back to College Avenue. At that point, we were .2 miles from the finish (I know not if that even qualifies as a partial k or is perhaps a 'c' or an 'e' or something) and she dropped back so we could finish together.

While I had Jill fixed in my line of sight to help me find my way home, I had Rob fixed in my mind's eye. There I played on a continuous loop the sight of Rob and his mates completing their final PT assignment - a ten-mile run. And knowing that while running the ten miles they were called upon to perform a variety of other physical activities and knowing that at stake for them was nothing other than their hoped-for careers. No pressure right? Finish or go home.

And knowing as well that at the ripe young age of 22 my son had spent 17 and 1/2 weeks on his own working without a safety net and successfully completing one "do it or go home" assignment after another. And knowing also that the first rung on the ladder of his career has taken him far away from his home and his family and the only part of the world he had ever lived. And knowing that he has done it all because it is what he has been required to do.

He has sacrificed much more at his still young age than I have - even with two extra decades of living to fall back upon. And given how many reasons he has made me unbelievably proud of him, I thought it was about time the old man got on the board and gave him one back.

I spend every Saturday morning in the office, working. Not this weekend. This weekend I spent Saturday morning with two people who I am damned lucky to have in my life. And in the process I got to do something that I do far too infrequently - something good for someone else.

With my soul on empty and my face to the wind, I'm off and running. I'm off and running again. Indeed I am. And maybe I am not as barren a soul as I had thought and feared.

AK

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Paging Glenn Close and Kevin Kline to the Big White Courtesy Phone

This day dawns - or it shall in another couple of hours I suppose - as something of an anomaly. I work six days a week, which puts me in league with an alarming number of "my fellow Americans" (cheesy I know but I've calculated the odds of me ever being elected President of anything - let alone POTUS - and I figured if I did not employ that turn of phrase now, I might never), most weeks. This week is not such a week. No. Instead today I am combining two activities I typically spend less time doing than I should: I am spending some time with my sister Jill and I am doing something for a good cause - not to be mistaken for my favorite cause, which should be self-evident to anyone who has read anything in this space prior to the 100-odd words presently here.

About 3 months ago, I started a morning exercise regimen. I run and I use the "Total Gym" we have in our basement (although neither Chuck Norris nor Christie Brinkley has ever come over to work out with me) in the morning prior to leaving for the office. When I started running, I was going every day. I am on an every other day program now - principally due to the fact that running causes a searing pain in the back of my left leg. When I was doing it every day it was a constant presence. Now that I have cut back to every other day, the "after the run" effect on my leg has lessened perceptibly. At some point - if Advil cannot keep it in check for me - I shall have a doctor take a look at it for me. Unless and until that happens, self-diagnosis and self-medication are the keys to victory.

Jill is a runner. She has run in multiple marathons - including in Chicago, New York City and Boston - although as far as she has ever told me, no one has actually ever chased her on foot for twenty-six miles. Apparently she derives some sort of pleasure out of running really, really long distances. Russ, who is my sister Kara's husband, is the same kind of crazy as Jill. He too competes in marathons and has run in (at least) New York and Boston on multiple occasions. Not me. My idea of a marathon is back-to-back-to-back-to-back episodes of HOUSE on USA.

This morning, big sis and I have forged a bit of a compromise. I am joining her at Rutgers University to take part in "The Big Chill", which is a charity event whose purpose is to provide a little bit of Christmas to children who would otherwise go without. All participants are asked to bring an unwrapped toy suitable for a child ranging in age from 3 to 14. It is a "5 K" event, which Jill has cautioned me does not empower me to scream "KILL ME NOW! KILL ME NOW! KILL ME NOW! KILL ME NOW! KILL ME NOW!" once we pass the 1.5 mile mark regardless of how appropriate I might believe it to be.

Yesterday, the weather here was miserable. This morning promises to be cold (and why shouldn't it be - it is the 13th of December after all) but clear. As someone who is used to running in the anonymity and solitude of the wee small hours of the morning, participating in an event where more than 3500 good-natured souls are also taking part is a bit of a departure for me. While I anticipate both of my legs and both of my lungs screaming full-throat at me for the remainder of the morning, I am looking forward to having earned that feeling - if not the feeling itself.

'Tis the season indeed.

-AK

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Question Remains How the Fool and the Money Got Acquainted in the First Place

One cannot help but love a sport in which the "Winter Meetings" begin and end more than one full week before the Winter Solstice and at which free agent contracts are doled out as if the member teams are playing their employees in Monopoly money. I wish I had a talent for anything - any single gift - that would permit me to sit comfortably in my own home while a potential employer groveled before me, not put off one bit by my non-response to his mere pittance offer of $140 Million to throw a baseball about 100-130 times....once every 5 days. To sit there and know what all in the room that night knew - groveling is nice but sweetening is better and after an additional $21 Million of sugar, CC Sabathia deigned to become a member of the New York Yankees. It is not true that Brian Cashman also agreed to babysit the Sabathia children on Saturday nights in order to get CC to agree to sign with the Yankees. Everyone knows Cashman spends his Saturday nights acting as nanny and nursemaid for the Steinbrenner children, Hank and Hal.

My beloved Bombers might have dropped the biggest single wad of cash at the feet of Mr. Sabathia, but the single silliest signing (it's fun to say aloud - go ahead, I'll wait......) of the week belonged to the Kansas City Royals. For reasons known to no one but the baseball brain trust in America's heartland, the Royals signed ex-Yankee relief pitcher (no one but the opposition was actually ever relieved to see him enter a game) Kyle Farnsworth to a two-year contract. According to ESPN.com the Royals shall pay Farnsworth $9.25 Million over two years, which works out to a tidy $4.675 Million a season. For Kyle Farnsworth? Surely you jest. Farnsworth was terrible for the Yankees but if one reads the back of his baseball card one quickly realizes that was not personal. He pitches to ugly numbers regardless of which city's home fans boo him. Again, courtesy of the good folks at ESPN.com: In 10 seasons and for four teams, Farnsworth has posted a 30-48 record with a 4.47 ERA. Primarily used as a set-up man in his career, Farnsworth moved between roles with the Yankees last season but managed a 3.65 ERA in 45 games. He struggled with the Tigers, posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 games.

Memo to the Big Three Automakers and anyone else coming a-begging for a bailout: do not drive east to DC. Listen to Horace Greeley (or to whoever he stole his signature charge from) and go west! OK, you need only go as far as Missouri apparently - to the baseball offices of the Royals. Do not worry about getting chastised for arriving in private jets or being criticized for poor results in your recent past. The Royals clearly give not a damn about those things.

I get the whole "small market" jive and understand that, perhaps, because they have less revenue streaming in than do the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Dodgers or the Mets that they may not have money for a full scouting staff. But they cannot shake the couch cushions or check the stalls in the men's rooms in the ballpark for enough loose change to purchase the MLB Extra Innings package from DirectTV?

New rule for the Royals and for every other ineptly run professional sports franchise, regardless of sport or league. If you are too stupid to make informed decisions re: personnel and talent, then you forfeit the right to complain and whine about how the big guys are kicking sand in your face and you cannot compete against them. When July gives way to August and the once-proud franchise that now marks time in Kansas City playing its home games before 7100 people on its way to losing somewhere between ninety-five and one hundred games has been officially eliminated from the post-season again, I for one will be able to readily conjure up 4.675 million reasons why I feel ZERO sympathy for them.

Welcome to the Theatre of the Absurd where there is always something playing, whether you want to see it or not.

-AK

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Einstein's Theory of Crime and Punishment

There is not an industry on Earth that believes more ardently in the concept of closing the barn door in just enough time to whack the horses on the ass as they dash out into the great wide open than the world of big-time college athletics. The latest incantation of this "Where The Hell is that Way-Back Machine" approach to doling out justice was brought to bear this week on the Hornets of Alabama State University.

Alabama State University is a member of the Southwestern Athletic Conference - a/k/a the SWAC. Apparently from 1999-2003 the Hornets' football program broke a number of NCAA rules - 17 in all - including changing grades, allowing ineligible players to play and practice, conducting off season workouts that are not allowed by NCAA rules and members of the coaching staff making illegal contact with recruits. In 2003, the university fired its football coach, L.C. Cole, who was the inmate in charge of the asylum during the period of time in which the football team's adherence to the NCAA's rules and regulations was - to state it mildly - casual at best. Thus neither the coach nor the players who were the beneficiaries of the institutional largess are matriculating their way across campus any longer. For them, Montgomery Alabama is in the rear-view mirror.

In its infinite wisdom, the NCAA has decided that the punishment for the sins of those who roamed the campus during L.C. Cole's Wild West Show shall be visited upon those kids who play there now and those who might decide to attend 'Bama State in the next few years. The football program was placed on five years' probation and was barred by the NCAA from competing in the 2009 playoffs. So in other words, due to the misdeeds of those who played football at Alabama State and those responsible for running the football program that occurred up to ten years ago, kids who attend Alabama State over the course of the next five years will be forced to do without.

Nothing solves a problem quite like punishing those who did not do anything wrong, right? According to the story on ESPN.com, L.C. Cole just got hired, last week, by Stillman College in Tuscaloosa as its head football coach. In 2009, when he is on the sidelines for the first time for his new school, his former school will be serving the first year of its 5-year punishment.

Memo to any parents of Pee Wee football players in the Tuscaloosa area. If your son is between 8 and 12 now, do not let him attend Stillman College when he is of college-going age. I cannot put my finger on it but I got a feeling that it is just not the way you want to go. If you listen really closely, you can hear the sound of the other shoe. It is up there now, but it will drop. It most certainly will.

-AK

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Sea of Love

A relationship that I am learning my way thru as I get older and Rob gets older is that of father and adult son. I was fourteen when my father died. Our relationship had soured more than just a bit by the time my father died. And I suppose that had he lived to see his youngest son become an adult, we might have reconciled. The light at the end of the tunnel might have been an actual light - and not the front of an oncoming freight train.

Based upon the trajectory of his relationship with both of my older brothers - each of whom was a married adult man at the time Dad died - I hold out little hope that there would have been a Capraesque ending. In my mind's eye I used to envision something a bit closer to the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella tells Terence Mann that Ray's father died before the two of them made amends. An ending of course. Happy? Matter of perspective I suppose.

This has been an extraordinarily tough year for adult male sons who also happen to be partners of mine. Not too very long ago, one of my partners, Howard, buried his dad. This morning the ritual shall be repeated by my partner Lou and his family. Lou's father, Lou Masucci, Sr., died on Sunday morning. A WW II veteran and a Navy man - who served as an aerial photographer in the Pacific, peering out (and apparently often hanging out to get a better view) of the plane's bomb bay to document the target's condition before and after the bombing - he died on the 67th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.

If I had a better sense of language and its propriety, I would more readily understand whether the death of a Navy man, whose WW II service was in the Pacific theatre, on the 67th anniversary of the Japanese sneak attack in the Pacific that prompted the United States to formally declare war, is an example of irony or coincidence. A man whose son lovingly shared with some of us at the wake the fact that he had an abject fear of heights yet overcame it to serve his nation in its darkest hour. The greatest generation indeed.

I know that whether the date of his death was ironic or coincidental matters little. His life was neither. It was blessed. Having survived combat as a young man in the Pacific, he lived to see the sixty-seventh anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Along his route, he lived long enough to celebrate fifty-three years of marriage, raise four children and spoil eleven grandchildren.

And given his experience as an aerial photographer, looking down on all of those he loved from his new posting should prove to be not too difficult at all. One can easily overcome one's fear of heights when fear of falling has been removed from the equation. For him it has. And deservedly so.

-AK

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deck The Halls? I Don't Even Really Know Them.

Try as I might I simply cannot seem to locate my "Christmas spirit". Whatever the hell it is exactly. Perhaps Christmas spirit is something akin to hard-core pornography (get the vision of sugar plums dancing - and other things - out of your mind for a moment) and I shall simply know it when I see it. Or perhaps this year I shall simply not be able to find it at all - buried among the various and sundry boxes of Christmas bric-a-brac we have accumulated throughout the years, which occupy an ever- expanding section of our basement.

I have no great explanation or rationale for my holiday hum-druminess (Quick! Call Dr. Seuss! I have just coined the title to the long-awaited sequel.) I tend to think it is a combination of things - most prominent among them is the health of Suzy B. - my mom-in-law. She has struggled mightily against the ravages of cancer for the past four and one half years. In the all-too-familiar resurrection of the battle between the unstoppable force and the immovable object, she has traded shots with - and done damage to - a bigger, supposedly superior foe with such vigor and such heart that Manny Pacquiao would gladly embrace her as a sparring partner. Yet there are days when the effort seems to be overwhelming - when the chemotherapy program in which she is currently taking part seems too eager to prove the old adage about the fine line between that which kills us and that which makes us stronger. She is little, she is frail and she is tired. She cannot help but be tired. One cannot dare expend one moment more than necessary on pleasantries such as sleep or rest when one's arch-enemy is ceaseless in its assault and unrelenting in its attack. And she is tough and she is determined and she presses on, doing all that she can to keep the wolf from knocking on her door.

Running a close second in the category of "Underlying Bases for the Christmas Blahs" is separation. It simply does not feel as if we are gearing up for a holiday when I know that one of my two kids is going to wake up by himself on Christmas morning - 1800 miles from here - in the place where he now lives, which I am still having difficulty referring to by its name: his home. I miss him absolutely and that pain is heightened by the anticipation of him "celebrating" Christmas alone - in a town where he will have lived (as of Christmas morning) for less than 30 days.

In most years, we decorate our house to the ramparts with Christmas stuff - some cool, some cheesy (I shall leave it to you the reader to deduce which portion is Margaret's contribution and which is mine) - inside and out. Not this year. On Saturday afternoon, Margaret and I put up our 16 y/o artificial Christmas tree, which we purchased at Caldor in November of 1992 (I would love to have a live tree but I simply cannot breathe in the continuing presence of evergreens. There's irony for you: only I could suffocate in a National Forest) and she strung lights on the banister leading upstairs while also hanging stockings there as well. We did no other decorating. Nothing made its appearance this year. And it shall not.

I loathe problems I cannot fix. This December, I am staring down the barrel of two of them. No figgy pudding for me thanks. I simply do not have the appetite for it.

-AK

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Question Never Asked Leaves Much To Imagine....

On December 8, 1980, which was a Monday as I remember, after school I joined a number of my classmates - and schoolmates - on a trip into New York City to see a Broadway musical. I think it was Evita but all these years later I could be wholly mistaken. I remember that it was the first such trip I had taken thru my school - Wardlaw-Hartridge - and I remember as well that it was a trip on which my father served as one of the adult chaperons.

While the thought never occurred to me then - and actually had not occurred to me until I started to write this - my father probably agreed to serve as a chaperon to save himself an extra trip from our house to our school in order to pick me up. In the fall of 1980, we lived about ten miles beyond nowhere, in Neshanic Station, New Jersey, which meant that we lived about 40 minutes from school. Given that the NYC theatre trips did not usually get back to school much before 11:00 p.m., in retrospect Dad likely went on the trip so that he would not have had to come back to school and pick me up at what would have been the end of an extraordinarily long day. I am my father's son in at least one significant respect - my pre-dawn commencement of each day is an inherited trait.

I recall to this very day that we were parked in back parking lot on the Inman Avenue campus, with his car facing down the hill towards the rear entrance to the locker rooms and the gymnasium - although we were parked in the upper half of the lot - near the fence that marked the boundary line between the school's property and the family's next door. It was an early December night and it was cold. Dad turned on the heater in his car - a Chevrolet Malibu Station Wagon that three and one half short years later I would destroy while attempting to marry two seemingly disparate activities - driving and sleeping - and turned on the omnipresent sound of WCBS NewsRadio 88. If you did not know what day of the week it was, you could easily tell by what was on the radio in my father's car. On Saturday afternoons, it was Notre Dame football. On Sunday mornings, it was big band music on WCTC 1450 AM out of New Brunswick. Every other day of the week it was WCBS NewsRadio 88.

I remember we had just gotten in the car and were in the process of getting warmed up when the newscaster announced that John Lennon had been murdered by a lone gunman, Mark David Chapman, in front of his apartment building - the Dakota - in Manhattan. John Lennon was a figure with whom I was not intimately familiar as a boy. I knew that he was 1/4 of what my big brother Bill considered to be among the preeminent rock and roll bands who had ever cut a record - The Beatles - but that band had broken up a decade or so earlier. I remember that Lennon had just released a new album "Double Fantasy" that featured a song, "Starting Over", which seemed to be in heavy rotation on every station in New York.

At 13, I did not fully appreciate what Lennon's murder meant and the extraordinary number of people who were affected by it - as they had been by his life. I do recall however my father, sitting in the cold darkness of his car in a deserted school parking lot in Edison New Jersey, speechless and motionless upon hearing the news. And thereafter, looking to my left at him in the driver's seat, watching him shake his head from side to side before he put the car into gear and we began to drive. Candidly, I do not recall any conversation with him at all during our ride home. I simply remember the sound of the radio, fixed to the live updates that WCBS News Radio provided.

I do not recall any conversation upon arriving home either - other than to say goodnight. And I cannot accurately remember whether upon waking up the next day or any day thereafter, I ever spoke with him about it. I wish I had. I wish I had ever learned the significance of the slow, methodical head shake and whether he was expressing sadness for Lennon's family at the loss of their loved one, whether he was expressing sadness for my brother Bill at the murder of one of his heroes or whether he was expressing sadness at all. Six and one-half months later, my father took the answer to that riddle and the rest of the ones he had woven over his fifty-seven years of life with him to his own grave.

December 8, 1980. It was twenty-eight years ago today.

-AK

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baptisms of Fire

It was just about two weeks ago that Rob and I drove north from Georgia to New Jersey and - in an effort perhaps to make amends for at least one of the "we have to do this" trips that I never seemed to have the time to take with him while he was a child - we spent the better part of two days prowling around Washington, D.C. Among the many moving and chilling sites we visited was the National World War II Memorial. I had last been to D.C. when I was a boy of either 13 or 14 - making the trip there with Mom, Dad, Kara and Jill while we were on Spring Break at Wardlaw-Hartridge. Among the many things that troubles my mind is that I cannot recall for the life of me if that was a trip the five of us took when I was in 7th grade or when I was in 8th grade - a distinction of nominal significance I am certain to most normal-thinking folks. It is significant to me solely for this reason - my father dropped dead in our home on Memorial Day when I was in 8th grade and I cannot recall almost three decades later whether our little sojourn to our nation's capital was something we did sixty days or so before he died.

Regardless of whether I had made my only previous sightseeing trip to D.C. in the spring of '80 or the spring of '81, I would not have seen the National World War II Memorial, which has only been in place for the past several years. In a city where reminders abound of the countless events and individuals who have shaped history both here and throughout the world, the Memorial struck me as being among the most impressive.

The Memorial is positioned on the National Mall at the east end of the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Having had the opportunity to stand at it and look at both memorials that book-end it, it is impossible for me to conceive of a more appropriate location for it. On the Announcement Stone, which is located at the Memorial's entrance, is inscribed: HERE IN THE PRESENCE OF WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN, ONE THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FATHER AND THE OTHER THE NINETEENTH CENTURY PRESERVER OF OUR NATION, WE HONOR THOSE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICANS WHO TOOK UP THE STRUGGLE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND MADE THE SACRIFICES TO PERPETUATE THE GIFT OUR FOREFATHERS ENTRUSTED TO US: A NATION CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY AND JUSTICE.

Today is the sixty-seventh anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Sixty-seven years is a long time. The world we inhabit today is far different than that inhabited by our grandparents and our parents (who if alive at the time were probably school-age children). And while technology has made the ability to do any number of things easier than those who came of age in the early 1940's ever could have dreamed, it is an open question whether it has made the world a better place. Convenience and quality are not interchangeable concepts.

It is incumbent upon all of us to take to heart the words inscribed at the Memorial and to honor those who took up the struggle then and there confronting them and made the sacrifice - including for far too many of them the sacrifice of their own life - that has enabled those of us who have followed them to reach this point. There would be no "us" without "them", who really were always "us", were they not?

Above the western entrance to Norlin Library on the campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder is inscribed "Who knows only his own generation remains forever a child". Its placement there is a result of the efforts of George Norlin, who was a CU professor for a number of years and who served as President of the University for twenty-two years. Norlin, whose academic background was grounded in Greek language and literature, proposed the words that now grace Norlin Library’s west entranceway, drawing on Roman orator Cicero: “Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.” (To not know what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.)

Sixty-seven years ago today, this nation was brought to its knees. But on its knees it did not remain. Thru the sacrifice of all, we did not splinter but rather rose up as one. And as I sat yesterday afternoon and watched the annual Army-Navy Game from Philadelphia, I was reminded of how closely linked are our past, our present and our future. Young men on both teams, opponents on the field of football, but brothers in arms on the field of battle if and when they are dispatched to one, exchanging post-game handshakes with the knowledge of ones who know that whether they win or lose on the football field, more challenging days await them. And armed with the knowledge that they shall rise to face the challenge. Young men such as Doug Larsen and Ronnie Winchester.

And more than sixty years ago, young men such as Pat Barbato. "Uncle Pat" to Margaret's mom, Sue and her younger brother Mike, who was killed in action on July 25, 1944. Uncle Pat never had the chance to grow old. He never had the chance to see the Memorial that has been erected in his honor in our nation's capital. And yet, he is honored there presently and shall be so honored forever.

And when measured against forever, sixty-seven years does not seem to be that long ago, does it? And remembering and honoring the sacrifices made by Pat Barbato and all of his brothers in arms - including those who followed him in subsequent conflicts such as Doug Larsen and Ronnie Winchester does not seem to be too much to ask of those of us who have never been called upon to make that sacrifice ourselves.

-AK