Saturday, February 28, 2009

Money for Nothing

A little background first. My family has held season tickets to the New York Giants ever since the boys of Mara Tech moved across the river to the Jersey side and decided to make their home in our beloved swamps of Jersey. As far as I know, my sister Jill and brother-in-law Joe are the ones who renew them every season and while I presume that they shall continue to do do when the Giants move across the parking lot from Giants Stadium to the new stadium they and the Jets are building together, which I think is supposed to be open in time for the 2010 season.

I have not been to Giants Stadium to see a game live since my boy Rob - who shall be 23 pretty soon - was 7 or 8 - so if Jill and Joe choose to detach the albatross that is a really expensive annual purchase from around their necks, I shall not complain. I happen to enjoy the view of the field I get from my den much more than that from Row 8, Seats 8-9 in Section 327. Besides, the beer is better and much less expensive here than there.

While I prefer not to do it live an in-person, I watch the Giants and root for them every week. We were all in the den on AKB XLI when they shocked the Patriots in SB XLII (for the uninitiated, the former refers to the NFL-approved designation of my 41st birthday, which fell on Super Bowl Sunday '08) and I watched with disappointment this January when they lost in the playoffs to the Eagles. I am a fan.

And as a fan, I applauded the tough stance they took with one of the team's best players (and apparently the only receiver on the roster capable of getting open by means other than teleportation) when Plaxico Burress shot himself carrying his illegal, concealed handgun at a nightclub. I did roll my eyes a bit however when I heard Giants GM Jerry Reese say a couple of weeks ago that Burress is still a Giant and the club has not yet decided whether it was going to formally reinstate him. Nothing like going 1-5 without him Jerry to make the organization rethink its principles, eh?

The Free Agency season has apparently just started in the NFL and yesterday the Giants signed a free agent. A player who I must confess I have never heard of and could not pick out of a police line-up (more on that in a moment). A player who used to play for the Atlanta Falcons - a linebacker named Michael Boley. According to the New York Post, which appropriately used a photograph and not a cartoon as accompaniment to its text, Boley is a 26 y/o who has played in the NFL for four years. He and the Giants have seemingly agreed to a 5 year deal worth $25 Million, of which $10 Million is guaranteed just for signing his name. At twelve letters, that is a pretty damn hefty per letter payout.

The Post's description of the new guy makes one (at least this one) wonder how the Giants decided he was worth a $10 M guarantee: Boley, 26, gets upwards of $10 million in guaranteed money. The past four years, he played in all 64 regular-season games for the Falcons, but he lost his starting job late last season. He's just 223 pounds and is particularly adept dropping into coverage. One wonders how much they would have paid for a guy who actually was not a second-stringer on his own team. I know that since none of them are looking for bailout money, NFL owners will not be required to appear before Congress and explain their spending practices ("Step Right Up! See the Pot Calling the Kettle Black and Other Bad Words!) but as a Giants fan I would sure like to hear co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch explain exactly why it is critically important that they extract those obnoxious PSL fees from their season ticket holders (it's the money, stupid) while pissing away $10 Million on a player deemed not good enough to start on the last team for which he played.

And in light of the still-visible glow from the Plaxico Burress debacle, I was especially thrilled to read that even when relegated to the bench, Boley appears unafraid to mix it up. Last May, Boley was arrested in Georgia and charged with domestic battery after a verbal argument with his wife. It is sort of tricky business - this drawing of lines in the sand. Carrying concealed handguns is bad but allegedly terrorizing your wife is OK. How many days 'til the season opener.

Hey, I have a great idea. The Giants can invite Rihanna and Chris Brown to sing the National Anthem, duet style, on Opening Day. What better way to welcome their new part-time starting multimillionaire and his wife to the neighborhood?

The view from my den gets better and better each and every Sunday.

-AK

Friday, February 27, 2009

Time, Time, Time

See what's become of me, indeed. Today is the final official work day of February 2009 - a realization that came to me this morning on my way to Day #19 at my new gig (I am not certain how long one must refer to a job as a "new" job having most recently changed jobs prior to this switcheroo when Bubba Clinton was in the White House and the over/under on the continuing vitality of the American automobile industry was not being measured in days). The end of the month sort of snuck up on me. While that realization surprised me at first, I almost immediately rationalized a solution for why it had (lawyers are a tricky bunch are we not - give us a moment and we can figure out precisely who is to blame for something....and it is a pretty safe bet that it shall not be us).

February's end arrived unannounced in my mind because....well, because no one had announced it. For the past eleven years, the arrival of the month's end had been preceded by a memo circulated to all lawyers in our department by our managing partner - my partner Howard. As part of Howard's management duties every month he would pen a short memo to all of us advising us as to deadlines for submission of the month's final time sheets and final expense sheets. I must confess that I never thought I would miss receiving that little nugget of information, which typically contains a few cornball observations (deliberately so I long suspected) about current events as its lead-in to reminding one and all of the month's deadlines.

Revenue generation and receivables recovery are as important in the business of law as they are in any other business. Justice may be a pursuit but Law is a business. While it may appear self-evident that one who works not, receives money not, it also occurs where one works and receives no money for it. It is vital - and an unfortunate consequence of living in a place where the postmark at the local post office does not say "Candyland" - to make sure that one gets paid for the work one has performed.

Here at the end of Month #1 of the new adventure, no end-of-month memo from Howard. Such is life in my new world's order I suppose. Seasons change with the scenery/Weaving time in a tapestry/ Won't you stop and remember me/At any convenient time.

At the end of the day at the end of the month, perhaps?

-AK

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Thought They Said Hash Wednesday

In the wake of Tuesday's celebration of "National Pancake Day", boy was I excited to get up yesterday morning to get an early start on Hash Wednesday. I love corned beef hash. I know not what was more pronounced - the parish priest's quizzical look on his face (the whole "Hey are you?" reaction was priceless) or the angry look on his face when I asked what time the breakfast buffet started. Apparently what I thought was an "H" on my desk calendar was just a stain. Even worse, it turns out there is no omelet station.

I would have to become significantly more devout to rise to the level of being a "lapsed" Catholic. Ours was a Roman Catholic household and through the fourth grade I did the whole Catholic school thing. Then fortuitously I ended up at Wardlaw-Hartridge, which had no religious affiliation at all but lots of extra-curricular activities. It had enough extra-curricular activities in fact that I never made it to catechism class, which means that I never attained the sacrament of Confirmation. Egads!

Catholics lined up by the score yesterday and last evening in order to receive ashes on their foreheads - the kickoff event of the Lenten season. It weaves its way through "no meat" Fridays, which culminate in one particularly depressing Friday (unless you have tickets in Denver for Springsteen) and then a Sunday (or is it a Son-Day) full of rolling stones and chocolate bunnies.

I love the deliciousness of irony even more than that of chocolate. For eight years, President Bush's public declarations of his religious passion/fervor/zeal made certain elements of the American population very nervous. Yet on his first Ash Wednesday as Vice-President, there was Joe Biden with a big splotch of ash affixed to his forehead. Perhaps it was all part of the ecclesiastical component of the stimulus package.

Or perhaps he too simply could not find the omelet station.

-AK

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For Everyman

Margaret and I trekked to Union High School last night for the pre-quarterfinal round of the Region 3 Individual wrestling tournament. We were there to see Margaret's nephew, Frank, and four of his teammates participate in the "one and done" event. A victory last night guaranteed a wrestler a spot in Friday night's quarterfinal round - at which time the tournament becomes double-elimination. A loss last night guaranteed, sadly, only the rediscovery of eating with reckless abandon (an affliction not troubling young Frank - who is wrestling up a weight class, which means he is happily giving away twenty pounds to every opponent) as it signals the end of their season.

And for the seniors among the assembled grapplers, a loss last night marked the end of an era, which is the end of their high school career. Margaret and I have been hanging around at the periphery of the Middlesex High School wrestling caravan for the past several years - having spent four seasons watching Frank's big brother Joe kick butt and take names prior to Frank's arrival on the high-school scene. A few years ago, when Joe was a junior, one of his hard-nosed, young teammates was a freshman known to all the MHS fans as "Vinny D". Over the course of the past four seasons, Vinny's weight got bigger, his accomplishments got greater and his motor never stopped running full-bore. He has never been the team's star - simply a rock-solid contributor. The type of young man whose example is easy for younger athletes to follow: work hard, do not complain when things do not go your way and never, never give up.

The cruelty that is interscholastic athletics claimed Vinny D. among its victims last night. Wrestling as hard as he could for the full six minutes, he dropped a tough 6-4 decision in the pre-quarterfinals. And when the buzzer sounded, his high school career was over. And among the assembled members of the little "here 'neath the snow globe" wrestling caravan, the reaction was palpable sadness.

All of us dream of the happy ending for ourselves and for those we love and those for whom we cheer. It is a fiction we create for ourselves of course - and it is OK I suppose - that day's end always brings good news for us. No one - with the possible exception of Stephen King - ever dreams of an unhappy ending. As we saw again last evening, not dreaming of it and not thinking about it does not keep it from showing up.

A bad thing happened to a good kid last night. But having seen him scrap and fight and battle non-stop for the past four seasons, it seems to be a safe bet that while the result has no doubt disappointed him and bummed him out, it shall not break him. He will do what people do. He will pick himself up, dust himself up and keep moving onward with his life. Wrestling to the bell - just as he has done every match for the past four years.

I'm not trying to tell you that I've seen the plan. Turn and walk away if you think I am--But don't think too badly of one who's left holding sand. He's just another dreamer, dreaming 'bout everyman.

-AK

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sunday Night at the Improv

I watched just a small portion of the broadcast of the 81st Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night. While Margaret and I actually made a couple of trips to the movies recently, neither of the films we saw - Gran Torino and The Wrestler - made the short list of Best Picture nominees and other than Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei in The Wrestler, I had not seen any of the work for which the other folks were nominated in the 4 big acting categories. Not too long after host Hugh Jackman risked complete and abject embarrassment in the opening number, Margaret and I were channel-surfing in search of alternate programming.

We stopped on the Oscars just in time to see the presentation of the award for Best Supporting Actress. Candidly, it took me a moment to realize that the individual on stage who appeared to be a cross between a drinking straw and the Bride of Mr. Limpit was Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her work in Michael Clayton. Actually it was not Ms. Swinton's presence on stage that confused me - it was that of Whoopi Goldberg until I recalled that a generation ago she actually won one of these statuettes herself for her work in Ghost.

These year's winner (or the money portion of the politically correct sentence that begins, "The Oscar goes to...." because too many of the Hollywood prissies complained that "and the winner is" suggested that those not named were not in fact winners) of the prize for Best Supporting Actress was Penelope Cruz. Ms. Cruz won for her work in a Woody Allen film, Vicky Christina Barcelona. While it is but one man's opinion, it remains mine that once Mr. Allen committed incest in spirit if not in the eyes of the law with his pseudo-adopted daughter, he ceased saying anything I would ever pay to hear or see performed. Rather, I wish he would take his pipe - and his clarinet - and wander off with Soon-Yi somewhere.

Nevertheless, Mr. Allen continues to write and direct films and judging by the bald-headed little man she was cradling against her bosom on Sunday night, this year Ms. Cruz gave a pretty fine performance in one such film. She seems like a nice enough woman (Hell - she did survive being the object of Tom Cruise's affection a while back) although she was almost impossible to understand at times during her acceptance speech. She was a tad nervous I suppose.

Unfortunately, I heard her clearly when she reached the portion of her remarks that suggested to me she believed she had just been crowned Miss America. You know the piece to which I am referring right? When she told the story of how as a little girl she would stay up to watch the Academy Awards and how the Oscar ceremony always made her think of "unity" in how it brought the world together. Huh?

I had never thought of the Oscars as a globally-unifying phenomenon...unless one considers that the broadcast is annually and universally reviled for taking too damn long and being too damn tedious (did anyone need the explanation of what an "Adapted Screenplay" was as they read through the nominees and did anyone need Ben Stiller?) I half-expected Ms. Cruz to tell us that during her year as the reigning Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner she was going to work hard for global peace and clean drinking water for children everywhere or some such thing. Simply amazing.

Here's a thought for next year - and I am just throwing it out there. Have all the cats who get nominated for best "Adapted Screenplay" write the acceptance speeches of all the nominees in the acting categories. It will allow the 'in front of the camera" performers to play to their strength, which is saying the words of someone other than themselves.

-AK

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sailing My Cart Through The Sea Of Fools......

Yesterday morning I performed the weekly ritual of grocery shopping. I drive a little more than ten minutes from home to the A&P store in Warren Township every Sunday morning to shop. I have been making the trek up the mountain for about the past six or seven years - since A&P shut down the store that had been located about 2 minutes from our home right here 'neath the snow globe.

I actually enjoy the grocery store. I prepare for every trip by checking out the store's weekly circular on-line and cross-checking the weekly specials against my cache of coupons. Suzanne has lamented the fact for years that if it is not on sale and/or I do not have a coupon for it, then she goes without it. And she only knows the half of it. What my soon-to-be doctoral candidate daughter knows not is that while she was on her "must eat Red Berries Special K" for breakfast - and cereal being absurdly overpriced was selling for $5.00 a box - more often than not she was eating "America's Choice Red Berries kinda-sorta Special K" cereal. The "AC" brand, which is A&P's house brand, was about 60% of the price of Kellogg's brand name attraction and looks enough like it that even my big-brained child could not tell the imitator from the original when her economically responsible old man poured the contents of a freshly-purchased box of cereal into a Tupperware container. I suppose if she ever starts reading my daily missive, my jig will be up but it was damned fun while it lasted.

I wonder about product placement in the store as I careen up and down the aisles behind my cart every Sunday morning. I do not mean which brand gets placed where - although I do find it annoying when my favorite brand of coffee or seltzer water gets treated like some type of corporate re-lo refugee and moved from its appointed place to make room for something cooler of hipper. No, the product placement that fascinates me is that between different products within the store's various departments.

Certain marriages make sense. For instance, in Aisle One - on the wall across from the deli counter - one finds all of the non-fancy boy salad dressings and all of the various types of mayonnaise, which apparently is a salad dressing of some sort. In Aisle Two, the store has assembled all of the various types of candy and gum that it offers. My teeth hurt just wheeling my way down Aisle Two.

However the location of certain products vis-a-vis their neighbors confuses me. For instance, not only are home pregnancy tests and condoms available for sale in the same aisle - they are next to one another on the shelf. It is as if the store is saying, "If Product A does not work, then might we suggest a little bit of Product B?" One wonders how many users of condoms find themselves back in the store six weeks or so after sending their helmeted boys into action walking a bit further towards the back of the store learning the intricacies of the urine stream.

The proximity of prophylactics and pregnancy kits would be my favorite combination but for the presence in the adjoining aisle of the neighborhood in which stool softener and anti-diarrhea medicines live side-by-side. Here, it is as if the store is saying, "If Product A works too well, then might we suggest a little bit of Product B?" One wonders if a purchaser of the stool softener buys the anti-diarrhea medicine at the same time just in case. Success can be a tricky proposition in the stool-softening game.

A wonderful world where all you desire and everything you've longed for is at your fingertips. And if what you desire turns out to be less than all that you need, you can find just what you are missing simply by moving down the aisle just a little distance and reaching out your hands.

-AK

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Shadow Cast By Every Grain Of Sand

By this time next week, we will have discarded February and have commenced our annual 31-day March. The rapidity with which time progresses, which I swear increases in direct relationship to my age, never ceases to amaze me.

This time last year - only twelve short months ago - the older of my two kids (sorry - "young adults") was still in gathering up her energy mode to commence her assault on graduate school. Now? Suzanne is halfway through the second semester of her first year, fully immersed in it and giving every appearance of having taken to it with the ease that she has surmounted every academic challenge that has ever presented itself to her.

In the late winter of '08, the younger of my two was still in college - finishing up his final semester of college in New York City. Since then, Rob has lived a hell of a lot of life - moving first to Georgia for four and one half intense months and almost immediately thereafter to Wyoming, which shall be his place of residence for the next three years. I do not know how often he stops to think that this time one year ago, he was going to school in Manhattan, working and entertaining himself by going all over New York City and now - in an eye blink - he is living as a single, self-sustaining individual almost 2000 miles from home. I think about it a lot. And while I am saddened by the geographical distance between him and home (and I shall consider it to be home for him - at least in my mind's eye - until and unless he tells me otherwise) I am heartened by the fact that often he seems not very far away at all.

Yesterday afternoon, after having spent the morning at the "new" office (I think the quotation marks stay on for 30 days or 1000 miles, whichever comes first) I came home and actually had the chance to watch my alma mater's simply dreadful men's basketball team get drilled by Missouri. It is scary to me how much the adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same" applies to Colorado basketball, which was awful a generation ago - and in spite of Chauncey Billups' best efforts to make us relevant for a couple of years slightly more than a decade ago - remains awful.

I was able to watch the game hear 'neath the snow globe courtesy (well, not exactly "courtesy" as I write them a nice fat check every month to pay for the privilege) of the good folks at Direct TV - a service that provides me with Altitude TV, which is a regional sports network based in Colorado. The part of the broadcast that seemed most compelling to me was not the game - but rather was a PSA cleverly put together by the Mormon Church - and no, it did not feature "Octo-Mom". It was a spot emphasizing - none too subtly - that life should not be all about the Benjamins by focusing on the relationship of a father and his child. Perhaps it is because I carry around a fair amount of guilt for anything I missed doing with them while my kids were growing up that a spot such as that one - while a bit ham handed - resonates with me.

And even when your children grow up to be smart and strong and well-grounded adults, you feel the effects of time. For while Time may heal all wounds but Time will steal you blind.

-AK

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Famous Final Scene

Life is a process of indeterminate length for all of us. Its beginning is fairly standard-issue and its ending - hopefully for most of us - is as well. But all the good gooey stuff in the middle is the great unknown. We know neither its contents nor its shelf life.

But we have practice in the art of dying, which practice we likely live through unaware. It is likely not an exaggeration (OK, it is most assuredly a bit of an exaggeration but it is early and it is a Saturday morning so.....) to note that we die a million different ways and times before we hit the grand stage for that final act.

Life is not lived all at once. Rather, sort of like a well-planned, elegantly-staged feast, we work our way through it a course at a time. It is indeed a series of hellos and goodbyes, spoken to not only people we know and perhaps love but entire phases of our life.

Last night, the Missus, the mom-in-law and I made the trek over to South Plainfield High School to watch the first night of the District 12 wrestling tournament. The evening's feature attraction - from the admittedly selfish perspective of our little family unit - a certain 10th grader who grapples for his hometown high school - won his match and shall continue his quest for a trip to Atlantic City later today in the semi-final round of the Districts- along with eight of his teammates.

The first round of the Districts is a single-elimination affair: lose in the quarterfinals and your season is over. And if you lose in the quarterfinals as a senior, your high school career is over. Last evening, in the 160-pound quarterfinals two seniors - neither of whom I know nor have ever spoken to - put on quite a show. Actually, given the stakes for which they were playing - win and live to fight another day vs. lose and wake up this morning as a former high school wrestler - both of them appropriately left nothing in the cupboard. They took all they had out on the mat with them.

For six minutes (high school wrestling is 3 periods of 2 minutes each - although when I wrestled for one dreadful season a lifetime ago I have only a vague recollection of ever making it to the mystical land known as the 3rd period) these two kids, both 12th graders, traded shots. With less than 30 seconds remaining in the match, the Watchung Hills wrestler led 7-6. And with less than 20 seconds remaining, his opponent from Colonia took him down to claim an 8-7 lead. For the final ten seconds of the match the boy from Watchung Hills fought valiantly to gain at least the tying point while his Colonia adversary battled with equal ferocity to prevent that occurrence. When the final horn sounded, Ahmed Bachir of Colonia prevailed. He defeated Adam Laird 8-7.

Post-match each kid's reaction was predictable - jubilation on the part of Bachir and numbness on the part of Laird. We do all we can do, we give our best and, sometimes, in spite of all of that we fall short of our goals. It happens. Since it is the result we cannot control, one wonders why we spend so much time and effort concerning ourselves with it and agonizing over it.

But then we look into the eyes of a teenage athlete moments after the door has been slammed close forever on an integral part of his day-to-day and the question answers itself.

-AK

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Two-Way Street

You find strength in unusual places. And yesterday I did. Across the miles I received a much-appreciated assist from my son. Sensing a disturbance in the force that surrounds the old man, Rob stepped into the rapidly-rising waters and tossed me a lifeline.

At about 3:30 in the afternoon, an e-mail popped up in my in-box from my favorite Federal employee. And in it, he said things that sounded eerily familiar to me. They reminded me of the sort of things I have said to him from time to time since he commenced the great migration West. And they made as much sense coming from him to me as I hope they have made to him when I have said them to him.

For the past few months I have reminded him on more than one occasion that the lifeline he needs extends from here 'neath the snow globe all the way out to the lights of Cheyenne. And yesterday, he reminded me that the juice that powers the line runs both ways.

Neither of my kids is a child any longer. Both of them are full-fledged adults. And while I have never doubted the type of adult each has grown up to be, it brings a smile to my face each time an example of it presents itself. Yesterday was such a day. And in an instant, I was reminded yet again just what a fine young man my son has grown up to be.

And I can say that with a smile and without straining my rotator cuff in an effort to pat myself on the back. For he is the man he has grown into in significant part due to his own hard work and that of his mother. Me? I drove the car when he needed to go someplace when he was young and - when he was not quite so young any longer - cosigned the student loans.

Miles away from one another and yet not very far away at all. Thanks, Rob for reminding me. And for picking me up. I needed it.

-AK

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is This An Intelligent Design?

Life works - at least in my experience - as a perpetually unfolding narrative. The ebbs and flows of life's stream go on whether you pay particular attention to them or not. You may stand alongside on the shore for a while, waiting for a particularly advantageous time to enter the stream but whether you are in the water or not, flow it must. And it does.

I have been matriculating to the building where my new work-home is located for three weeks now. I was spoiled by the fact that over the past decade, since my employer was the only occupant of the space I invaded daily in the wee small hours of the morning, I never needed keys once I exited my car. I had a swipe card to get into the building and one to get into my part of the space on the 3rd floor of the building. Once one stepped through the door and into the office, all of life's needs - well OK, all of a worker's daily needs could be met without exiting it.

Here, we occupy space on the 2nd floor of a five-story office building. As far as I can tell - doing my "Holy Crap there is no place to park!" analysis when I return from someplace during the middle of the day - most of the space here appears to be occupied. What our neighbors do I know not and - if possible - care even less. I arrive at the office before sun rises and leave after 5:00 p.m., while using the stairs as my preferred method of ingress to and egress from our little slice of heaven on Floor #2 so I see scant few other occupants of the building at any time during the day. And if you do not think that thrills me, then this is the first day you have ever stumbled upon this space isn't it?

There is a men's room on our floor but not within the four walls of our space, which means to use the bathroom one must exit our space and walk down the hall. Apparently theft of over sized toilet paper rolls is a problem so the men's room door requires a key to open. There is nothing quite as humiliating in an office environment as having to wrest the key to the bathroom off of someone else's desk. It has helped me reduce my coffee consumption. I got tired of the quizzical glances I got my first week here when I made a half-dozen trips to the bathroom during the day. Less coffee in, less coffee out apparently. Who knew?

Better than the journey to the men's room is the destination itself. There is more signage in the 2nd floor men's bathroom than I have ever seen in any bathroom - anywhere - in all of my life. There is the obligatory "No Smoking Area" sign, which is not only a legal necessity (smoking in public buildings in NJ is a no-no) but also is just smart, given the readily combustible mix of methane and butane. But that sign pales in comparison to two others, neither of which I had ever seen posted in a bathroom used by adults - of any species - prior to my arrival here.

The first is posted directly above the urinals and implores the user, "PLEASE FLUSH WHEN DONE", which seems to me to be the type of restroom etiquette that the male employees of the various offices here on Floor #2 should have learned at some time prior to acing the interview that landed each of us our current position.

It is the second sign, handwritten and taped to the inside of the middle stall that really is a head-scratcher, not because of its content but because of its necessity. It says, "PLEASE PUT USED TOILET PAPER IN THE TOILET AND NOT ON THE FLOOR!" The first time I saw it, I literally did a double-take. Because I am an inquisitive fellow I checked to see whether the stall on either side had a similar warning notice. Neither did. It started my little brain wondering. I started wondering things such as what breed of miscreant needs to be reminded not to place his used toilet paper anywhere other than the.....wait for it......toilet. I wondered as well how many violations it took to prompt creation of the note. Was it a one-time only transgression or a pattern of behavior? While the former would be wholly understandable I am willing to wager it was the latter - given both the ferocity of the note and the fact that it is a soloist and not merely the "just right" option here at the Three Bears Latrine.

When I am in the men's room during the day, I cast a suspicious eye at the other guys I see coming in and out of it - wondering if one of them was the idiot who succumbed to the part of his soul that is indeed part primate and started tossing his "business" all over the floor. I have compiled a preliminary list of suspects, which grows every day.

Did God make man in a breath of holy fire or did he crawl on up out of the muck and mire? Here on Floor #2 the question is very much open for debate.

-AK

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suction of the Soul

If I still toted my big 64-crayon box of Crayolas around with me everywhere, like I did when I was a kid (OK, until I was a teenager but back off will you?), then the color of choice this month would be "surprise", which I think was located in the box between Burnt Sienna and Sierra Leone. Yes, I am aware that Sierra Leone is not really a color but if Crayola could sell "Orange-Brown" and "Brown-Orange" as two separate entities then I shall entertain no griping from you on this point. Actually, maybe more in keeping with the Crayola spirit of hyphenated colors, it would be a combination of surprise and something else. The latter half of the combo platter is diner's choice. Fill it in as you see fit.

I am not what one would call a rash man (although I dated a girl in college who called me any number of unflattering things including a "plague upon her life" but I think that is something entirely different) and recently - after a considerable amount of reflection and soul-searching - I made a decision to change one of the pillars of my day-to-day existence. And thus far, it has not proven to be a change for the better.

Margaret - my significantly better half - implores me to give it time. To let it come to me as it were. And while in my head I understand the cool logic of her advice and do not doubt its value or its veracity, I know not if I can wait. I cannot recall when else in my adult life that the thing I looked forward to the most at the start of every day was its end. And considering that I have been blessed with Margaret as my tag-team partner for the entirety of my adult life journey and I have always had her to come home to at day's end, I think my point is well-made.

My fundamental problem is two-fold. First, a sense of loss greater than I anticipated. Loss in the sense of "loss of familiarity", "loss of routine" and "loss of place". Second, the disruption to my routine has been greater than I anticipated and it is a permanent loss. No amount of familiarity shall permit certain elements of it to reappear. It is not so much that there is a new sheriff in town as much as it is that I have relocated to a new town. And now that I am here, the rules of the old sheriff - while new to me - have long been the laws of the land and shall remain so.

February has become the winter of my discontent. And it has started to infect all elements of my day-to-day. I have gone running but one time in the past two weeks - in spite of some delightfully unseasonably warm weather - because my heart is simply not in it. And it is not in much these days.

I know not from whence the expression "look before you leap" comes but I do know this. Sometimes you can look long and hard. You can examine the wind currents and study the trajectory. You can map out the terrain to select an ideal landing spot all before you take that fateful first step. And it turns out, you simply should not have leaped. But once airborne, there is no getting back to the ledge.

The best you can hope for is to stick the landing.

-AK

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Where the Sands Turn Into Gold

I am certain that a significant part of the fascination I derive from watching high school wrestling finds its genesis in my own failure to conquer the sport a lifetime ago. I wrestled for but one season in high school - in spite of the protests of my opponents that I stay with it - and would have had to perform at a level significantly higher than I did just to have been awful at it. Other than developing an encyclopedic knowledge of gymnasium ceiling tile patterns throughout northern and central New Jersey and a healthy appreciation for how little I enjoy the taste of my own kneecaps, I was never quite sure that anything positive had come from the experience.

But I have realized as I have spent time over the course of the past six winters - with two more lying squarely ahead of us - watching Margaret's two nephews wrestle for the local high school team - that I did get something out of it. And it seems to me that every kid who does it, regardless of the level of ability brought to bear on the exercise, gets something out of it. All who participate display tremendous courage. For whether you are the best kid at your weight class or someone considerably less talented - such as me - you have to muster up the courage to lay yourself out there for public examination every time you take the mat. There is nowhere to run to and there is also not a place where you can hide. Your success and your failure is marked and viewed publicly.

One can be the worst player on the best basketball team and still wear the title of "Champion". When the sport is team-first, individual-second then the lesser-talented individuals have a safety net or a cushion. Radar exists under which that player can fly. When the sport, however is individual-first, team-second there is no "below the radar". There is just the constant chatter of anti-aircraft fire being fired at you.

This week, countless hundreds of New Jersey high school wrestlers will begin their quest to make it to Atlantic City, which is where the Individual State Championships will be contested on the first weekend of March. The winnowing down process is fairly drastic. The State is divided up into 32 districts, from which the top 3 finishers at each of the 14 weight classes will advance to wrestle next week in the Regions (of which there are eight). The top three finishers at each weight class in each of the eight Regions advance to Atlantic City to compete for the State championship.

At journey's end, only fourteen kids will wear the title "State Champion". Fourteen. Yet all of them - regardless of whether their season ends with a gold medal draped around their neck on the medal stand in Atlantic City or someplace short of that destination - have already accomplished something worthy of applause and admiration.

-AK

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hoop Dreams

Saturday was an anomaly for me. It was a Saturday on which I did not go into the office in order to work. Conservatively, fifty out of fifty-two Saturdays annually for the past eleven annums found me spending at least part of my day - usually the A.M. portion from 4:30 or so up until about 12:00 noon - working. Two weeks into my new adventure and there was simply not enough for me to do, yet, to justify the trek into the office.

I had the treat therefore of spending the entire weekend in the company of my wife, which rarely happens. And among the things we did during our weekend of leisure was take in not one - but two - basketball games. Both games involved the grammar school alma mater of both of our kids, Our Lady of Mount Virgin School in Middlesex, and the school's 7th and 8th grade boys' basketball team. Margaret and I went to cheer for her godson - Ryan - who played his final home game on Saturday as an OLMV hoopster. He is not retiring. He is matriculating on to high school in September so he was one of the fifteen kids honored on "Senior Day". If you are scratching your head trying to figure out where the title "Senior Day" comes from, scratch it one time for me as well, would you? Apparently somewhere along the line, someone decided that "8th Grade Day" sounded less hip than "Senior Day" (or perhaps it is harder to purchase Mylar balloons with that inscribed upon them) so the great conversion of 8th graders into seniors was launched. Candidly I anticipate this "conversion" to have about as much success as the much-hyped conversion to the metric system and the much-feared conversion of George Costanza to Latvian Orthodox.

On Saturday afternoon Ryan's team won a rather exciting game, which result was not terribly surprising to either the kids or the parents. Apparently, through Saturday the team was undefeated. On Sunday afternoon however the dream of an undefeated season died on the floor at St. Ann's School in Raritan. The kids dropped their first game of the year, losing in heartbreaking fashion at the buzzer to St. James of Woodbridge - after battling back from a 20-point deficit early in the second half.

Both games were well-played, exciting affairs that featured a lot of end-to-end action. While there were a number of players on the floor on both days who will likely not play competitive basketball beyond this season, there were a number of boys on all of the teams who one easily envisions playing competitively for seasons to come. Regardless of the skill level of the individual kids on the floor, both the OLMV kids and their two opponents played tough, hard nosed, team-oriented basketball. And as a grumpy old man, it was an absolute pleasure to watch.

I must confess that thus far I am finding the adjustment to my new gig to be less than seamless and I have had more than one conversation with the voices in my own head questioning whether the bells I rung to get here are ones that I should seek to unring. And as a result of my frustration with work, I was not thrilled by the fact that I was going to have a Saturday "off". Yet in retrospect, I am happy that I did. Margaret and I did a lot of great stuff together this weekend, simply running around from place-to-place and getting accomplished things that she wanted to get accomplished, going to see "The Wrestler" on Saturday night, having dinner with her folks to help celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary and - for about 75 minutes on Saturday afternoon and 75 minutes again on Sunday afternoon - sitting and watching kids playing basketball.

Sometimes you really just have to take time to stop and smell the floor burn. Trust me, you shall be happy you did.

-AK

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Dance of the One-Legged Man

Margaret and I went last night to see what I considered to be simply an extraordinary movie - "The Wrestler" - although truth be told I think Margaret's reaction to it was less enthusiastic than my own ("Interesting" was how she kept describing it on the trip home from the theater). It was extraordinary - to me - because for about two hours you were exposed to the inner workings of a fundamentally flawed human being, Randy "Ram" Robinson, as vividly portrayed by Hollywood's poster child for fundamentally flawed human beings, Mickey Rourke.

And never, not once at any time during the unfurling of his story, did the film compromise. Not once did it begin to push the envelope - in terms of examining the warts upon the Ram's soul - and then pull back. While the film is fiction, its characters felt real both in terms of handling of their own struggles and in their often stilted efforts to relate to one another.

The story's center, the aging professional wrestler barely able to make ends meet, is more like you and me than one might either imagine or be willing to admit. He is because, like any number of us - including yours truly, he is more comfortable doing what he does to earn his living than he is living his day-to-day life. Inside of the ring, he is still the main attraction on his wrestling circuit, the star of the Main Event, the dispenser of solid career advice to his younger cohorts and the deliverer of the "Ram Jam" as his finishing move. Outside of the ring, he is a societal misfit who lives in a broken-down trailer park where he often is padlocked out of his own trailer because he cannot pay the rent, the loser who takes whatever odd shifts he can scrounge and more abuse than he deserves from the manager at the local Acme supermarket just for the promise of a paycheck and the absentee father who knows little about his long-estranged daughter except for her name.

The comfort he feels within the ring comes not only from the fact that the outcome is scripted and the process meticulously choreographed, which are significant factors of course, but also from the fact that life inside the ring is much simpler than life outside of it. All he has to do to make the paying customers happy is the same thing he has always had to do: his job. It is all he knows how to do well. Outside of the ring, that which he must do is forever changing. And Ram, like his moniker suggests, is far better suited to knock a wall down - or to die trying - than he is to adopt a strategy that would enable him to go around it. And in the end, it makes all the difference.

These things that have comforted me I drive away. This place that is my home I cannot stay. My only faith is in the broken bones and bruises I display. And if you have never felt exactly the same way on at least one occasion in your own life then Mister you are a better man than I.

-AK

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Watching The Moon Trace His Arc With No Regrets

Anyone who knows me even a little - and who has had the distinct pleasure of meeting Margaret - knows immediately that she is the best part of me in every sense of the word. As far as I can tell, with almost eighteen years together in the bank, even Mom has long since come to the realization that her daughter-in-law raises the level of her son's game to levels it would not otherwise have sniffed. I say it often -but never self-effacing or in jest - that I succeed to the extent that I do because of her and in spite of myself. Yet, here we are.

We are not an overly "mushy" couple. Were we celebrities - and I do not believe we are anywhere other than perhaps Mauritania (I am kidding of course, I was merely looking for an obscure country with a cool-sounding name to use as a reference point) - the paparazzi would not make any money capturing "PDA"s. And we do not wander around the countryside stopping strangers on the street, bursting into places of business, interrupting lectures at institutions of higher learning and renting advertising space to declare publicly our undying love for one another. Yet here we are.

Often we laugh when we think about the fact that ours is arguably not the most exciting life. I work long hours. She works long hours. And more often than not, nights during the work week end with at least one of us dozing off downstairs in the den while watching TV prior to making the trek upstairs to bed. It is rare for us to do any sort of socializing outside of the four walls of our house during the work week - save for trips to watch the high school wrestling team in action (our four years of watching Joe having been followed up - thus far - by two seasons of watching his little brother Frank in action) and a one-time only (I hope) trek to the Verizon store to switch our cell phone service from T-Mobile, which trip lasted almost as long as the contract we had to sign. We joke often about the fact that we do not do a lot of "couples" things with other couples because we do not have very many friends. Candidly, I suspect that Margaret could do quite a lot of socializing on her own - were she not dragging the two-legged anti-social anchor with her. Yet here we are.

We are where we are because Margaret is simply incredible. Incredible in terms of her faith in me to accomplish things. Incredible in terms of her ability to recognize my shortcomings and to not simply choose not to hang me for them but to actually make sure that we can succeed in spite of them. Incredible in terms of her stubborn refusal to recognize that she deserves far better than she got in terms of life companion - trust me, I know him and he is no catch. Yet here we are.

And I count my blessings that you're mine for always. We lie beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays. Here we are. This is indeed our Kingdom of Days.

-AK

Friday, February 13, 2009

Triskadekaphobia or Treat?

Today is Friday the 13th and as luck would have it - this being a year in which we look but do not leap - we will have the opportunity to enjoy another one this time, next month. (Do not get giddy in look ahead to April hoping against hope for a trifecta. It gets even scarier then - the 13th is a Monday.)

Friday the 13th evokes memories for me of certain events from my youth Beginning in the 5th grade, I went to school where my father was a teacher and an administrator. Either when I was a fifth grader, or perhaps when I was in Grade Six, Dad and the the school Booster Club organized a basketball game to raise money for the Club, which helped fund our school's Athletic Department. The game was between the faculty and a team of Major League baseball players. (It was the pre-steroid era so none of us feared "roid rage"). The hook to the touring band of players was Jeff Torborg. Mr. Torborg was a Westfield native, a star player at Rutgers and had - in fact - for one season while he was between big league managerial and/or coaching gigs served as our school's Athletic Director and Varsity baseball coach. On what turned out to be a miserably cold and rainy winter's night, he brought his gang of ball players with him to Inman Avenue to "throw down" against the W-H faculty.

I still smile thinking of the event because it was an unqualified success. The players were not stars, although their roster included one future star - Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals - who might just be the greatest high school athlete we have ever produced here in Levelland, but they were all great sports. All posed for pictures for a long time after the game and signed autographs for whoever wanted one. Somewhere Rob has my autographed baseball that Mr. Torborg signed along with Willie Wilson, Glenn Borgmann, Johnny Briggs and the rest of their team.

The weather was a non-factor of course as the game was played at W-H's gym. Post-game however it became an enormous factor. On our drive home - with Dad behind the wheel, Mom riding shotgun and Kara, Jill and I across the back seat of the station wagon - we went thru a lake-like puddle and Dad's car died. We could not get restarted. We were but 5 minutes from school, which meant we were about 40 minutes from home. It was late. It was the pre-cell phone era. We were screwed.

Dad (if I remember correctly) found a nearby pay phone and had the audacity to call one of the teachers who worked for him and who had the misfortune of living nearby. And because she was the absolute salt of the earth, on a night not fit for man nor beast, in response to the call from her boss Helen Brown - my History teacher - and her husband, Art, came out to where we were to rescue us. And by "rescue" I mean not only get us out of our stranded car but put us up in their home for the night.

Mrs. Brown was a bit of a character. She was an incredibly good history teacher but she was generally considered to be a bit odd by most of her students. She had a Code of Conduct by which her life was lived that I could not get a whiff of on my best day. It was more than a bit mortifying to a "trying so hard to be so cool" 12 or 13 year-old to spend the night at a teacher's home and I was prepared to take to my grave the fact that I had been there. Unfortunately I failed to adequately communicate that fact to Mrs. Brown.

In History class on Monday, which as I recall was an afternoon affair, Mrs. Brown spilled the beans. She began innocuously enough by asking who among us had been at school Friday night for the basketball game and about autographs we had been able to collect and then - without warning - she gave up the fact that our family had spent the night at her family's home. Having kept that potentially embarrassing piece of information to myself all day up to that point, it was hard for me to pretend as if I had forgotten about it when, as soon as the bell rang signaling the end of the period, my friends descended upon me like fat guys looking to carve up the last hot dog.

In my pre-teen mind, I was incensed that she had "humiliated" me in front of my friends - especially when between my still-oversized head, daily dosages of medicine to combat my epilepsy and the fact that my old man ran the joint I needed neither her help nor anyone else's to accomplish that goal.

In relatively short order - and I do not know why or when specifically it happened - I realized that she had not sought to embarrass me. And more importantly, I realized just what an extraordinary gesture she had made on that cold, rainy Friday the 13th. She and her family had opened up their home to take in not one or even two stranded travelers but five of us.

A lucky day indeed on the unlikeliest of days.

-AK

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Heroes

Yesterday morning I was listening to Imus in the Morning and heard him speak to a man named Bill White. Bill White is the President of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and a member of the Fund's Board of Trustees. The IFHF is a relatively new entity - having been founded in 2003 for the purpose of supporting those who wear the uniform of this nation to protect folks like me as well as to provide support for the families those soldiers leave here prior to embarking on their trip to harm's way.

I have heard Bill White on the Imus program on several occasions and he has always struck me as being a sincere, straight shooting individual. He seems less prone to hyperbole to underscore or to illustrate his point than many advocates are. So when he told Imus yesterday that one of the areas in which the IFHF is working to increase its activity level for our troops returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq is in the area of stress/mental health counseling to try to stop the epidemic (his word, not mine) of soldiers retuning home from war and thereafter taking their own lives, it got my attention. According to Mr. White, in the month of January 2009, twenty-four members of the United States Armed Forces committed suicide upon returning home from either Afghanistan or Iraq. Twenty-four.

I understand that without knowing all of the facts surrounding each of the two dozen it is naive - and perhaps even dangerous - to point the finger of responsibility entirely at each individual's war-time experience. And candidly, Mr.White did not attempt to do that yesterday. He did point out however that through the various programs the IFHF already has put in place to provide medical assistance to service members, he was aware of the number of members who had reported profound difficulties re-adjusting to "normal life" after a tour of duty in a combat zone.

And the thing he said that was the most interesting - and perhaps most troubling - is that fighting the issue of post-combat suicide among our service members is not principally a financial issue, it is a communication issue. Too many of the men and women who serve all of us find it difficult - if not impossible - to ask for help and if no one asks, it is simply not possible to ascertain who is in need of it and to try to make sure that he or she receives it.

I do not know any of the twenty-four service members who committed suicide last month after completing a combat tour. But it appears to me that steps should be taken to help those burdened by their experience to unburden themselves by discussing it with someone - whether a loved one or a professional. A generation ago, when one or two high-school kids killed themselves after listening to Twisted Sister or Judas Priest, Tipper Gore hopped onto her high - and stoutly built one hopes - horse and tried to save all of us from recorded music. Two dozen dead service members should be more than enough statistical evidence to at least ratchet up the level of discourse to a level that can be heard over Dee Snider's vocals.

Now, with a critical component of our society - and one that reaches across gender, ethnic and socioeconomic lines - confronted by a legitimate problem, those of us who have benefited from their selflessness cannot forgo the opportunity to help them.

Even the strongest among us needs a hand from time-to-time.

-AK

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Little Bit of God's Mercy

If one accepts the idea that our life is an accrual of the decisions made - and not made - then one can more readily accept the idea of life's doors swinging but one way. P.T. Barnum would be proud. Once one passes thru the portal of a particular egress - "Great" or otherwise - there is no going back. It simply seems to be the way it is. At least in my experience.

The consequences of action and inaction attack us and challenge us in any number of ways. For reasons I am entirely sure of but not entirely comfortable voicing aloud, such consequences have been first and foremost on my mind for the past couple of weeks. And there has been more than one occasion in the past couple of weeks when I, the grand agnostic, have invoked the name of Springsteen in a plea for help. Thus far, while the answer seems clear the relief seems, unfortunately, far away.

Life is a journey - not a destination. And when a misstep appears to have been taken - when it seems to us as if we zigged when perhaps a zag was in order - it can be disappointing, it can be disheartening and it can be disconcerting. But it is what it is. And we pick up ourselves up, dust ourselves off and hope for a good result to be born out of what might at first glance appear to be less than ideal circumstances.

And we hope and fight and scrap to make a good result out of an adverse set of circumstances wherever we can. And at day's end, it is all we can do. Whether it is enough is not entirely up to us. But then again it never has been, has it?

-AK

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ought to Prove That One Cannot Spell Adroit Without the Letters A R O D

One wonders if - presuming they had it to do all over again - Carl Pavano and David Wells would have taken Alex Rodriguez's side in the "Was Joe right?" debate that percolated all over the talk radio airwaves in the New York area in advance of Joe Torre's latest book. It was only about one week ago or so that A-Rod's former Yankee teammates were covering his back in light of the revelations contained in Torre's new book that - egads! - some of A-Rod's other mates used to call him "A-Fraud" and assailing Torre for his attack on Rodriguez.

On Saturday the story broke that A-Rod had tested positive for steroids while a member of the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003. Yesterday he sat down with Peter Gammons of ESPN to confess his sins. Well, kinda, sorta anyway. He either did not know what he took when he allegedly took it or he took what he took because everyone was doing it. "Back then, [baseball] was a different culture," Rodriguez said. "It was very loose. I was young. I was stupid. I was naive. And I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth being one of the greatest players of all time. "I did take a banned substance. And for that, I am very sorry and deeply regretful."

For a man who has grown up in the white-hot spotlight of the public eye, Alex Rodriguez has an ineptitude for public relations rivalled only by Chemical Ali and Dick Cheney. It is as if the talent he possesses for playing baseball disappears utterly and completely as soon as he steps across the white lines and off of the baseball field. He is the inverse personification of Archie "Moonlight"Graham in that none of his magic transcends the white lines.

A week ago, the discussion on sports radio in NY was how relentless fans would be on the road this season, chanting "A-Fraud, A-Fraud". He should not have to worry about that any more.
"A-Roid! A-Roid!" seems to have a lot more curb appeal.

Memo to MLB: Do not put away those asterisk stamps just yet - you know the ones you have applied to every HR record Messrs. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa set during their careers - because as Alex Rodriguez continues his assault on the all-time home run record, the need for them is going to grow and grow.

How many days 'til pitchers and catchers report?

-AK

Monday, February 9, 2009

Keeping the Fires Lit.....

On an unseasonably warm February Sunday afternoon, I bore witness to a father having to endure something that - as a father - I know not that I would have the strength to endure. I attended the funeral of one of my old high school friends and classmates and I watched as his father grieved for the loss of one of his boys. Sadness does not do justice to capturing the emotion of the moment.

I know not whether there is any greater fear that us parents have than having to bury our child. I recall that when I was young - out of college but before I married Margaret - my mother telling me that was her greatest fear. As she described it to me twenty years ago - there is simply something unnatural about it.

Yesterday marked the second time in the past couple of years that my friend's father had to bury one of his sons. Where once there were three, there is now but one. On the near side of forty, the young man who was born the "youngest" is, almost inexplicably, now the oldest.

While we had been good friends as kids, our lives had simply taken different directions in the two decades or so since we had graduated from high school. While out with my wife and some friends on Saturday night the thought occurred to me when I had last seen my friend. It was approximately ten years ago - on the opening night for a sports bar that he and his dad had opened together in Roselle, New Jersey. It was quite a nice little joint and it was a success. Until slightly less than two years after it opened when a fire in one of the other businesses located within the same strip mall complex spread like....well fire - thru the entire complex and gutted all of the various businesses, including the bar. While the endeavor into the world of bar ownership ultimately did not end well, I will never forget how happy my old friend Stu looked on opening night. Stu was a big fellow - a solidly built man whose body filled out ever inch of his 6'6" frame - and his smile that night stretched from one side of his broad face to the other.

Yesterday was a day to mourn the all-too-soon passing of a father's son and of an old friend. And to say a prayer or to keep a good thought for the father and for the brother who survived him. All they have is one another. And I suspect that they will find out that is more than enough to get by, to go on and to honor his life by continuing to live their own.

Safe journey, Tiny, on your way north to Pleasant Stream.

-AK

Sunday, February 8, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different....

An amazing variety of people inhabit the big blue marble that I call home. My preferred way to engage most of them is at arm's length. One of the things that makes writing my daily missive such a pleasant and necessary exercise is that it serves as my preferred means for conversation - I talk now and if you read it and have an opinion as to its content, then you talk. But we never actually hear or listen to one another. I am not certain but I think mastering that skill is Step One on the journey to a career as a United States Congressman.

Yesterday, for a variety of reasons, my interaction-o-meter was set at a far closer range than usual. On my way home from the office I stopped at one of those truly bizarro "guy" specialty stores - a sports memorabilia shop. The one I visited is located in the Bridgewater Commons mall and while I was there less than 24 hours ago, at gunpoint I could not tell you the establishment's name (although I am quite certain it had some sort of clever sports-themed word play in the title - something more subtle than "Smells Like An Old Athletic Supporter" of course). Margaret's godson either just had or is about to have a birthday - and no do not ask me how old he is (going to be....whatever) - and happens to be in the midst of redoing his bedroom as an homage to his favorite team. Luckily for him, his favorite team is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With the Steelers' victory in this year's Super Bowl (and is it just me or does anyone else delight in the irony that a sport competed in principally by men who - as a general rule - have spent more time reading playbooks than, well, reading real books - identifies its Big Game by Roman Numerals?) luckily for Ryan, the store was awash in Steeler-themed treasures. And this is a store not for the faint of heart, because while all of the usual suspects were there for the taking (hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, framed photos and pennants) there was an array of merchandise - for a million different teams, which I could not fathom the circumstances under which I would ever bring into my home. Apparently, and I know what a shock this appeared to be to my own system, I am in the minority - given that one of the kids in the store was restocking the shelf that contained the "official replica helmet snack bowl" (which is as terrifyingly tacky as it sounds, believe me), which at $59.99 struck this conscientious consumer as being a tad overpriced. Let's say, by $59.99 or so.

After spending a little while in the mall's testosterone kiosk and making a purchase or two for my fellow Aquarian, I had a chance yesterday afternoon to spend some quality time with Margaret on the "distaff side" of the world of retail. I accompanied my wife to Bed, Bath and Beyond because now that the seemingly-eternal closet renovation project - the one that rivaled only the Aswan Dam Project in scope, breadth and length -has finally wrapped, Margaret is on to Phase Two of the bedroom renovation. I do not pretend to know what will be entailed in the remaining phases of the project and I suspect that Margaret knows - by this point in the program - that I do not and she no longer feels the need to fill me in as to the details.

We spent about twenty-five minutes yesterday afternoon standing in line at the "Customer Service" desk at Bed, Bath and Beyond - as Margaret was returning something she had bought earlier in the day and exchanging that treasure for whatever we had in the cart presently - and I realized that the "Beyond" is short for "beyond my ability to comprehend". The display that the store has erected next to the Customer Service desk was stocked to the gills with the "Flexible Flyer Snowball Making Kit", which apparently is a device that appears to be a cross between a small shovel and an over sized ice cream scoop. Its purpose? Why - to enable your little knot head to make snowballs of course. Funny, but as a child I recall coming equipped from the womb with my very own snowball making kit - my hands.

The Flexible Flyer "kit" comes with two, which I suppose endears its maker to the "let's all hug" element of our society that zones out and tunes in to TV psychobabble in the person of Dr. Phil and the rest of the purveyors of hokum. It would be unfair for your kid to have a kit to make snowballs while the little neighbor boy has only his hands to rely upon. God forbid that your child possess a firepower edge, right? In the world of the galactic snowball fight, we all appear before Frosty as equals I reckon.

It was not only beyond my ability to comprehend the need for such a product but it was also beyond me to grasp exactly what the hell one "B to the 3" employee was doing (and yes, Sandi, I am talking about you) while half of central New Jersey waited in the store's woefully inadequate check-out lines. As her fellow employees hurled themselves behind their registers like so few sandbags trying to hold back the onslaught of so much flood water, there she stood directing traffic and speaking into her walkie-talkie to communicate with HQ I suppose - as if she was Field Marshal Rommel planning an attack in the North African theatre.

Quite a trip to the Multi-plex of the Absurd - all in one day no less. Perhaps, the kernel of good to be taken from the nugget of stupidity though is this: there were lots of live bodies in both stores yesterday and they were not just browsing, they were shopping. We have landed in a pretty scary place here in these United States in Aught-Nine and even the hardened cynics among us should take good news wherever we can find it.

Even if it is in a snack bowl carved out of another's cranium and in a conveyance used for making something that has been made for centuries by hand.....

By the way - the kit was only $12.99 so I bought three of them. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

-AK

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Fine Art of Self-Destruction

What a short strange trip it has been thus far. After eleven-plus years in one place, I began work at a new law firm this week. Having not been the "new kid" for some time, I will admit that it was more than slightly humbling to be standing there wondering how to do things such as make a copy, make a cup of coffee, print a document or - hell - turn the computer on. Practicing law I know. How not to be something akin to a bull in a china shop in terms of learning my way down a new path, I know not quite so much.

Everyone I have interacted with thus far at my new firm has been wonderful - both the folks with whom I have face time on a day in/day out basis in the office and those I communicated with on daily basis this week from the firm's main office in Boston - a Yankee fan working for a Boston-based firm, who'd have thunk it? But if a change of job in one's early 40's constitutes growth, then there have been pangs this week of what can fairly be described as growing pains. And I do not know when they shall subside completely - if indeed they ever shall.

This was a week of fairly complete self-absorption for me. In my quest to not get off to too horrible a beginning among my new comrades, I sort of tuned out most of the rest of the world. I missed all of controversy here in Levelland involving Ticketmaster's sale of Springsteen tickets on Monday. I missed most of the initial fallout from Michael Phelps' photograph with the big bong pipe. Maybe it is just me - and judging by the reaction of the rest of the world perhaps it is - but is it news that a 22 or 23 y/o kid has smoked pot? And why exactly is it news again? Did this story get great play to further embarrass the loud-mouthed French Olympian swimmer who had chattered on before the Games about how his relay team would destroy Phelps' team - only to get passed as if he was swimming with Swimmies on his arms by Phelps' anchorman, Jazon Lezak? "Hey Froggie - even with our best guy smoking dope and eating brownies (munchies happen you know) - he and his team still kicked your a##es!"

I saw on TV last night that the good people of Kellogg's - who in previous incarnations have embraced the free-gambling styling of Pete Rose and Michael Jordan on their Corn Flakes boxes - have dumped Phelps as a spokesman. That'll teach him.

I always thought he was better suited for Star-Kist Tuna anyway.

-AK

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Handsome Billy

A bit of sad news crossed my path yesterday. I was called by a long-time friend of mine who informed me that another old friend of both of ours - and a fellow who sadly I had lost contact with as time went by - had died. Early yesterday morning, Stuart Solomon died - mortally injured as the result of a one-car accident. He was all of 41.

While we were friends when we were young, Stu and I drifted apart long ago. No great schism in the relationship - just the selection of different paths that diverged through those great woods I suppose. Learning the news of his far-too-soon death last night though caused me to think of two images of Stu that will lock him in my mind's eye forever.

Stu was a big man. While I am working off of memory here, my recollection of his was that he was at least 6'4" and 300 pounds. He was also an incredibly gentle, benevolent soul. As a high schooler he was recruited hard by the coaches of our school's football and wrestling teams. I remember him as a 12th grader wearing the gold medal he had won in the Hun Wrestling Tournament - no small accomplishment for a guy, while large in stature, small in experience. His smile as they took pictures of him wearing the medal he had earned was ear-to-ear and an expression of genuine joy.

The summer after graduation, Stu, Dave Joy and I went to see a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert at Brendan Bryne Arena. During the show, the young mom sitting in front of us and her little boy temporarily vacated their seats to go down to the stage - her husband was on the band's road crew or some such thing - and when she attempted to return to their seats, the seats had been poached by two drunken idiots. When she asked them politely to leave and they refused, Stu leaned forward in his seat and told the two kids that they had taken her seats, to which one of the pair advised Stu he was best served minding his own f****ing business. After Stu told him politely he was making this "his business" the kid finally started to get up out of the seat so he could turn around and engage Stu. As he turned, Stu leaned further forward and with one great big hand, snatched him up off of the ground by either his throat of the thin layer of t-shirt immediately beneath it. All he wanted from the kid was two things - an apology to the woman and the little boy for his rude behavior and for the kid and his friend to get lost. Both happened without further incident and the rest of the show went off without a hitch.

People should not die at forty-one. It is not a natural thing - or at least it should not be. Natural or not, Stu did. I am very sorry that long before he and I hit our forties, we lost touch. And I hope that wherever he is right now, he is well.

Sundown, sundown/Empty are the fairgrounds.

-AK

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Last Call

A nice evening. While I was not entirely certain going into it what it was going to feel like coming out on the other side of it, the "going away after you have already left" get-together that my former secretary (and all-around good human being) Theresa organized last evening was a nice evening indeed. It is interesting what and who are attracted by the lure of free alcohol and all the bar pretzels one can eat, I suppose.

All kidding aside it was nice to see in one place a group of people who it appears I made more of an impression upon (and a positive one at that) than I had ever realized. As they did with me - to my surprise as well. It was an odd night at times, saying "see you soon" to lawyers and other folks when I know - and I suspect they did as well - that "have a good life" or "goodbye forever" would be more appropriate.

It was an evening that lasted longer than I presumed it would, which again perhaps should not have surprised me as it was eleven years in the making. Eleven years. Slightly less time than it took me to jog the educational track from kindergarten thru high school. A quarter (or so) of all of the years I have spent to date bouncing around on the big blue marble.

And off I go now.........to Day Four.

-AK

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Long Goodbye

I am now a week removed from my "old job". And tonight, because weather wreaked havoc on Theresa's best-laid plans for the big Au Revoir event that was teed up for the evening of my final day last week, we shall try, try again. Given the odd vibe that I emitted and picked up from the place of business that I had called home for one hundred and thirty-two months during the final one that I was there, I cannot determine whether it is ironic or appropriate that the "going away" party will take effect after I have in fact already gone away.

The timing of my move from my former job to my present job was such that yesterday was my birthday. In a move that truly surprised me - but perhaps should not have - I was the recipient of a rather humorous group birthday card from my new co-workers. And in a move that did not surprise me - although I am certain that it made her feel a bit chagrined - I spoke with T regarding tonight's festivities and thereafter she shot me a quick e-mail to wish me "Happy B-Day!" and to tell me that she had forgotten momentarily that yesterday was my birthday. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose.

I hope that T did not beat herself up too much about the momentary faux pas - it actually made me smile. It made me smile because in an eye blink we both received an invaluable life lesson. No matter how close the relationship is, when the common denominator - the glue that keeps us together - is removed, the relationship gets a bit attenuated. It seems as if we are all just passengers on the plane after all.

Tonight we take one final flight together. And then off we shall go to our different destinations.

Wheels up at 5:30......

-AK

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From Mother With Love

I was born forty-two years ago on this very day. My memory of the event is sketchy - but forgivable I suppose - I was just a baby back then. I have actually always been more than a bit confused regarding at whose feet the credit for one's date of birth is laid. It was after all a process in which I had limited involvement - including no say whatsoever about date of birth or (for that matter) destination.

I have never asked Mom where she thought her youngest child would be as I kick off Year #42. I suspect that she has a Mom-ism at the ready. Me? I do not know what I think about where I am. I think that personally I am a damn sight luckier than I ever had any right to be. I know not whether what I am and where I am professionally is where Mom might have expected me to be. Hell - I know not whether what I am and where I am professionally is where I might have expected me to be.

Wherever I am, there I am I suppose. And none of it would have been possible without Mom. Happy Birth-of-Me Day Mom. I hope that to date I have earned all of your hard work and best efforts. And I hope that I have done nothing during my first forty-two laps around the track to make you regret it.

-AK

Monday, February 2, 2009

Only The Shadow Knows

In what might have very well set the record for the shortest-feeling 72-hour period on record, I have completed my (almost) cross-country trek to see Rob in Wyoming. Today is a big day for me. Not only am I drawn as always to the silliness in Pennsylvania to see whether a certain groundhog views his own shadow but I begin my first day at a new job.......since January 5, 1998. 

I am not smitten with change I suppose. Perhaps that is why it happens to me - professionally - once a decade or so. And as I looked over at my still-sleeping wife this morning as I hopped out of bed to begin my day - I hope like hell that the change I have decided to make, which is of course a change that affects not merely me but Margaret and the kids (sorry - young adult offspring) as well is a change for the better. 

Groundhog Day has always fascinated me - and has always made me smile - because it always makes me think of my mother. I am the youngest of six and I was to be born (as Mom's "History of the World") tells it on Groundhog Day. However, Joan Kenny - the world's toughest old Irish broad (and I mean that in the most complimentary sense of the phrase) told the doctor, "No." As she tells the story, she told him that, "No child of mine is sharing a birthday with a groundhog." She hung tough thru the 2nd of February and - then for spite apparently - she locked her knees in the full and upright position thru the early evening hours of the 3rd before expelling the demon the world has known for (not quite yet) forty-two years. 

Me and Phil could have been soul mates. Instead we are just neighbors. And for that Mom gets all the credit. And today, while the world crowds around Phil and hangs on his every (shadow?) I will begin my new adventure several hundred miles away in splendid anonymity. 

Thanks Mom. The first steps on a new journey are best taken far away from the spotlight's glare. Well done. 

-AK 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Wind in the Black Elms

Today is Super Bowl Sunday. This year's Super Bowl has significantly less excitement for me than did last year's. In Aught-Eight, the Giants were in the game - so I had a rooting interest - and they shocked the world of professional football on my birthday, which suggests that Coach Coughlin indeed read the "All I Want for my Birthday" letter I sent him prior to the game.

I shall spend a considerable portion of today airborne, jetting East from an all-too-brief visit with Rob in the Great American West. Kickoff is out of the question for me for even if my flight leaves Denver and arrives in Newark as promised on the ticket, we are wheels on tarmac on the arrival end at 6:15. Not even I - with my somewhat casual relationship with local speed restrictions - am capable of covering the distance from Newark Airport to home in the fifteen minutes or so between touch down and coin toss.

My hope is to be home in time to watch Springsteen at half-time. Courtesy of my big brother Bill, I have been hooked on Springsteen's music for the overwhelming majority of my life. While I am less than thrilled that he is playing the Super Bowl Halftime Show - with its "Up with People" nitwits charging the stage in some sort of "so well choreographed that it almost seems life-like" formation - I went to a store on Tuesday evening and purchased he and the E Streeters' latest CD, Working On A Dream, and candidly I cannot get it out of my car's CD player.

The advance buzz on this disc was - among the Springsteen diehards who dominate sites such as Backstreets.com - mixed at best. Having listened to it both in my car - and in Rob's vehicle (courtesy of his copy of the disc) almost non-stop since Tuesday evening, I cannot understand from whence any of the nay-saying came. I get it - he has not written the linear descendant to Darkness on the Edge of Town, which thirty years or so after its release remains my favorite of his discs (buoyed in large part I know by the inclusion among its tracks of my favorite Bruce song - Racing in the Street) But why would he? Thirty years ago, he was a single guy in his late 20's having just rescued his own recording career from the clutches of his ex-manager Mike Appel. He did not know then all that he knows now about the world. And he did not then have his life's true love and their three children with whom he could share it all. Thirty years ago, I was in either in 6th or 7th grade. And while I was convinced then that it was Margarita Reyes who was my life's true love - experience has proven otherwise.

I am too young to know anything about bands such as The Birds other than view the prism of looking back upon them. I experienced their music after it happened and not while it was happening - a perspective that can made a great deal of difference. However, there are to my ear on this record echoes of sounds that I have always associated with musicians such as Roger McGuinn or Brian Wilson. Their inclusion on a Springsteen record is both a surprise and a delight.

And this disc reminds me of how well the troubadour who waited so very long before finding his soul mate - and then struck out on the first attempt - writes love songs for grown-ups. And one can track the course of Springsteen's own adult life right along with one's own from the songs themselves. A little more than twenty years ago, in the aftermath of the sensation that was the Born in the USA album and tour and in the early stages of what proved to be his first marriage, Springsteen released the "Tunnel of Love" album (it was an album too and I still have mine!). The first single from that LP was "Brilliant Disguise", a song that closes with a lyric draped in an ominous tone, "Tonight our bed is cold/I'm lost in the darkness of our love/God have mercy on the man/Who doubts what he's sure of"

Twenty-plus years further on up the road, his latest disc includes a simply extraordinary love letter to his wife - and for those of us less adept with a turn of phrase than Freehold's favorite son - a love letter we can co-opt for our own wives as well. In "Kingdom of Days" he sings not of the search, but of what is waiting for us - if we are truly lucky - at the rainbow's end. Now, the bed is no longer cold. Rather it is a place of warmth and of love, "And I count my blessings that you're mine for always/We laugh beneath the covers and count the wrinkles and the grays" And every time I hear those lines, I smile for I think of Margaret.

And that is the point I suppose and it is why Springsteen has been for me (as my big brother Bill calls it) "the soundtrack of my life". These are strange days indeed for me, having decided to pull up my work roots and replant them in a new garden for the first time in more than a decade. These are times that are both exciting and frightening. I am more than thrilled that I have the love of a good woman to keep me company and to protect me.

What will happen? Tomorrow never knows. And who else cannot wait to find out?

-AK