Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Signs, Signs Everywhere A Sign.....

There may be no greater evidence of the perpetual economic woes plaguing us here in Levelland than the steady work that the sandwich-board guys have had.

I know not whether every other part of the nation advertises "Going Out of Business" sales in the same way as we do here in New Jersey. Here, the business pays folks to stand on the corner at any number of busy intersections either wearing sandwich-board signs or standing behind large wooden signs announcing the pending demise of some place or another. Out they are - regardless of the weather conditions - little, two-legged harbingers of doom.

It is a mystery to me where one finds the army of folks who man the front lines of the war against diminishing economic returns. Are there classified advertisements for these positions? Word-of-mouth? Does one develop a reputation within the community of portable, human billboards? "I saw what you did with Fortunoff. I must have you for Drug Fair" or some such thing, perhaps?

All kidding aside, one hopes that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the folks who own the human billboard business cease being the largest single retail employer in New Jersey. One hopes that eventually things turn around so that more people are working inside of stores rather than on street corners telling us of those that are about to be shuttered close forever.

If things do not turn around, eventually there will be no work left for any of us - even those in the business of advertising a business that is going out of business.

-AK

Monday, March 30, 2009

Freedom's Just Another Word....

It must be almost impossible for Anthony Coscia, Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to buy pants. One imagines that Coscia keeps a tailor on retainer in order to be able to get his custom-made, large in the inseam to accommodate those church bell-sized stones he has.

In the hole left in the Terra Firma and the heart of Lower Manhattan by the attacked of September 11, 2001 was to have risen the Freedom Tower. Not any longer. As we approach the eighth anniversary of that horrible day, the Port Authority held a press conference last week to announce that it has its first tenant for the high-rise building that shall rise out of the ashes of Ground Zero.

Among the things announced to the assembled media was that the Freedom Tower shall not in fact be known as the Freedom Tower. Instead, the building, which will finally be completed in 2013, shall be known as One World Trade Center. The rationale? According to Coscia, it's the building's legal name and "the one that's easiest for people to identify with."

It is almost inconceivable that it will take the Port Authority more than a decade to erect the building that shall stand on what is hallowed ground in New York City. Perhaps it should come as no surprise therefore - having jammed a pointed stick into the eye of those who lost a loved one in either the North Tower or the South Tower (including employees of the Port Authority) for the past eight years with the unceasing ineptitude displayed throughout the proposed reconstruction project - that the agency chose the press conference to announce its first signed tenants for its public declaration that the as-yet-to-be-completed building's name has been changed.

Mayor Bloomberg's point is well-taken. On Friday, Hizzoner said, "One of the things is we call things what we want to call them. So Avenue of Americas is a good example. It's Sixth Avenue to most people," the mayor said. "If they name this One World Trade Center, people will still call it the Freedom Tower." That may indeed be true. But it changes nothing. It does not absolve the Port Authority of its sins. It does not change the fact that on his watch, Mr. Coscia has failed to honor the legacy of those from the agency he now leads, including the families of the 84 Port Authority employees who died on 09/11, whose number included the Agency's Executive Director Neil Levin.

Yes, the name has been changed. But there are no innocents to protect. And one cannot spell the word coward without the letters C-O-A.

-AK

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An Endless Source of Stimulus....

Did you see the item on the wire last week? There is a move afoot - led by the Russians and the Chinese - to kick the U.S. Dollar to the curb as the "reserve currency" of the world. Who the hell knows what the Russians are thinking. Perhaps they have warehouses full of rubles still lying around that they are waiting to put into the stream of international commerce - to buy a loaf of bread or a roller skate or something. The Chinese prefer the checker perhaps? It is easy to carry and does have multi-purpose capabilities as well.

I think I might propose to President Twitter (for the love of God, can the Prez go 6 minutes without filling us in on his day-in-progress? "Had Kashi and black coffee for breakfast, it is going to be one regular day!"), while continuing to fight the good fight for the George, which he announced he would do during his Tuesday night press conference, his Wednesday morning press briefing and his thrice-daily "prepared remarks delivered with an apparent air of spontaneity", that he might consider a back-up plan. Let us propose to our fellow inhabitants of the Big Blue Marble that we simply permit stupidity to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency. We have an endless supply of it and everywhere I turn people are using it anyway. What the hell - let us get something out of it.

Yesterday, I did something that I do fifty Saturdays mornings a year or so - although thus far in '09 with nowhere near the same sense of enjoyment as I have done it in years past: I went to the office (once upon a time I would have referred to it as "my" office but not so much these days). The building in which the space is located where I am presently employed has five floors and, conservatively speaking, a couple of hundred parking spaces.

When I rolled into the pitch black parking lot at 4:30 or so yesterday morning, mine was the first vehicle in the lot -as it is six days a week. I parked in a spot I typically park in, which is roughly 250 - 300 feet from the building's front door. By the time I left the office at about 12:00 noon, there were about ten other vehicles in the lot. Unbelievably, three of the other ten drivers parked his/her vehicle in a space abutting my car. Unoccupied macadam being at a premium when only 99% of the building's available spaces are in fact unoccupied.

I did what any anti-social human would do. I scanned the area to make sure no one was looking and then I took a quick look-see at the vehicles to see which one appeared least likely to be owned by someone frightening (gun racks, NRA logos, NASCAR bumper stickers, etc.) and then bumped it on the way out of the lot. Look, I really do not give a rat's as# about my car and if you choose to ignore 11 acres of open space so that you can park right on top of me, I can not be blamed if I take a wide turn on the way out of the lot.

I am kidding of course - I wanted to key one of their cars or bang one on the way out of the lot. But since life is not an episode of "House" - consequences for anti-social behavior actually exist - and I tend to be a bit of a bleeder I simply got into my car and cursed the nameless, faceless miscreants who had encroached upon my personal space.

On the way home from work, I stopped at a Barnes and Noble Bookstore to pick up the new Martina McBride CD for Margaret. As I was in the store, there was a father - about my age - attempting to negotiate with his own small son. At the point in time at which I encountered the "negotiation" father and child were standing about fifteen feet away from one another. Rather than close the distance to his child to emphasize the point of whatever it was he wanted his son to do, the father stood there repeating the child's name - with a slow but steady increase of volume (as if Junior's problem was acoustical and not attitudinal) - while standing fixed in his original location. I must confess that as I wandered through the store taking care of my own business I lost track of the Einsteins so I know not for how long the tree and the apple stood there talking at each other. For all I know, they are there still.

After coming home from my little slice of Hell in the morning the Missus and me wandered over to the Costco. Ah, there is nothing as exhilarating as Costco on a Saturday afternoon. We the people will not wait in line for 2 minutes at airport security checkpoints without bitching about it but for the chance to buy jumbo-sized packages of cashews, cough drops and suppositories at discount prices? Hell, we will wait in line all afternoon on the nicest day of the year. Incredible. Thus I was amused but not surprised to see a gentleman standing in line next to Margaret and me holding onto a single item - frozen salmon. Huh? One could have driven over to Effinger's Sporting Goods, bought a rod and tackle, driven to Newark Airport, flown to Seattle, taken a cab to Puget Sound, hiked into the woods and wrestled a bear for a fresh salmon in less time than it took him to get in and out of the Costco.

Stupid is as stupid does. And at the end of the day, as long as we get our box of chocolates we will just keep on keeping on. Just pass me a box of Gertrude Hawk's and shut up already.

-AK

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Past Is Just A Good Bye

There are times when I feel colossally old - much older than my age. It usually occurs when I am in the presence of teenagers. A few weeks ago, on the way home from the office on a Friday night, I stopped at the closest mall to our home - here in New Jersey one cannot drive 45 minutes any direction without encountering a retail behemoth - Bridgewater Commons in order to pick up something for Margaret. Upon entering the complex, it felt as if I had walked into some half-assed remake of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. There were little cliques of kids everywhere and much to what I would imagine is the unadulterated delight of the retailers and the mall management alike, they appeared to be congregating in public areas, simply hanging out, as opposed to doing any actual shopping.

I was their age once, albeit more than a quarter-century ago. I cannot however recall ever being a mall kid. While perhaps my memory is fading over time (especially when time's ravages were helped along at one point by copious amounts of alcohol and other chemicals) and the light in which I have remembered myself is more flattering in retrospect than it was in real-time, my own kids were "that" age within the past decade and I have no recollection of either of them having been "mall kids" either.

At some point in time, the shopping mall appears to have morphed into some sort of Super Baby Sitter - almost always available rain or shine and always willing to work for free. Thank God for the mall right? Otherwise the generation of parents who pack every child into their car sporting an I-Pod to listen to and/or a personal DVD player with which to watch movies would have artifice to which a child's care could be entrusted once Little Slowhead exits the vehicle.

This rant is not directed at the "kids today" generation. Nope. Our kids take their cues - be they good cues, bad cues or miscues - from us. Once we were implored to teach our children well. Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

One wonders if we the parents are still committed to the effort. I suppose in fifteen years, if we are required to speak Chinese just to renew our driver's licenses, we will know for certain.

-AK

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Curious Case of Brad Pitt

In the April 3rd issue of Rolling Stone magazine, there is a piece worth reading. Do what I did in these tough financial times. Save yourself the $4.00 or whatever the hell Rolling Stone costs these days and check out Matt Taibbi's missive on the magazine's web site. Then I suggest doing what else I did to save money - print it up at work. The sucker is 10,000 words. 10,000 words occupies a lot of pages. And since neither ink nor paper is free, the dime I want paying for them is not my own. Hey, do not be quick to criticize. I have read Taibbi's article. I believe! I believe!

I have had the good fortune over the course of the past few years to meet and work with a number of great folks who work on the insurance side of one of the businesses upon whom Taibbi set his sights in his article - AIG - and he points out something that has gotten lost in all of the hubris these past few months. It is not the insurance side of the business that has turned AIG into the corporate personification of Oliver Twist.

And Taibbi makes another excellent point - and one that has been lost in the hue and cry of the "kill 'em all" rants of the past sixty to ninety days. That is, while the fellows who were left to do the voodoo that they do so well at AIG were certainly no angels, they were far from the only sinners in the pew. While the bad boys from that particular outfit he names in the article were not charter members of Altruists International, there are some other familiar names in it as well. Huge surprise to see our eminently talented and capable Secretary of the Treasury, Tiny Tim Geithner, and his equally astute predecessor Hammerin' Hank Paulson there in the Rogue's Gallery as well.

Do not expect to finish reading and have a warm fuzzy feeling all over. Unless rage is the warm, fuzzy feeling to which you aspire, that is:

As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

And when you are envisioning your own little bald headed financial manager looking in the mirror and seeing Brad Pitt looking back at him, remember that the first secret of Fight Club is that there is no Fight Club.

And no Angelina Jolie either.

-AK

Thursday, March 26, 2009

And I Ain't Done Nothing Wrong

For comfort and company at work, I have a never-ending number of photographs of Margaret, Suzanne and Rob that pop up as the screen saver on my laptop. I have, somewhat pathetically I suppose, taken to bringing my laptop with me to my office to use it as my link to the outside world. Never-ending photos of my wife and kids are quite a help in that regard.

The flip side of comfort some days though is distance. I find myself looking at a couple of hundred of photos, all of which have been taken within the past year, and struggling to remember when I was that person. When I was that man - at peace in my own head, in my own home and in my own life, surrounded by the family I am more fortunate just to have than I deserve to be. I see photos from Labor Day, from November and from Christmas. I recognize my own face and yet it seems as if I am glimpsing a life I lived so long ago that I cannot find my way back to it. And I cannot recall how exactly I lost my way.

I know when but I do not know how. And unless and until I figure it out, I am here but not anywhere in particular.

I am adrift. And while I know not where I am or what it is I am doing, I know that I am a long, long way from home.

-AK

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's the Journey, Not the Destination

I am surprised to find out just how much I - a middle-aged, white, registered Republican - have in common with President Obama. No, I am not talking about the fact that we are roughly the same age or that neither of us has skills to match our hoop dreams.

Rather, our commonality arises from our mutually apparent discomfort attempting to settle into our present jobs. Sure, I hold fewer Press Conferences than BHO does but I do have this vital, indispensable media outlet, which saves me so much on catering costs that I feel stimulated already. Besides, I cannot simply send a text message and have all major media outlets show up on my front porch just so I can control what is on television for the evening. Margaret cedes control of the remote control - the "TV box" as she refers to it - to me but being able to flip back and forth between the Yankees and whatever non-Yankees programming is on another station is a far cry from being able to call on Helen Thomas and bypass David Gregory and to call on folks, listen to their questions and then - say any damn thing I want.

The Prez and I have each been at our new gigs for just about two months. He got a bit of a jump on me. He started work where he is now in late January. Me? I got where I am on Groundhog Day - the significance of which grows greater in my mind's eye daily. Yet neither of us has settled in yet. And speaking for "my brother from another mother" I am not entirely confident that either of us shall. I know that I have my own issues. And while I struggle to come to grips with them - some days with a greater degree of success than others, I look at the Prez and see the same look of consternation looking back at me through my television screen as I see in my bathroom mirror every morning.

He wears the look of one thinking, "Now that I am here, why did I try so hard to get here?" Life was easier for the Prez on the campaign trail than it has been now that the trail has ended at its destination. It is as if the elimination of his status as a hyphenate has changed everything for him. Those who worshipped him during the race now stand back in slack-jawed disappointment at the fact that after they promised all of us that once Candidate Obama morphed into President Obama he would lead all of us on three-times-daily water walks, it turns out he does not even know where the rocks are.

Margaret made a great observation last evening regarding the Prez. He is spending too much time telling us all what he is doing....or at the very least trying to do. We elected him to lead us. We did not elect him to provide us with an all-access pass to his daily activities. We do not want to go all-ESPN Insider with you Mr. President. We simply want you to do your level best.....and solve all of our problems if you would not mind.

For present purposes, the man presently residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue looks as out of sorts as a fellow I know rather intimately who has just finished filling out his own change-of-address cards. Maybe he needs to get that puppy we have been hearing so much about since Election Night? There is no guarantee that all will end well for either of us.

There ain't no storybook story.

Stay tuned. We will be right back......right after these messages.

-AK

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Max's Theorem and the String of Pearls

Unless you are a James McMurtry fan, the reference above to Max's Theorem shall soar over your head like a puffy white cloud on a summer's day. Unless you are a McMurtry fan who has either purchased or at the very least familiarized yourself with the "Live in Aught-Three" collection, the reference shall likely be lost upon you as well. It is an excellent live record highlighting the work of an artist whose work should sell far more widely than it does. Do a service to yourself and find a copy of it and buy it. You shall thank me.

I would apologize for the snarky, insider's reference - and perhaps at an as yet to be determined time in the future I shall - but today is not the day for it. No apology on the menu, kids. Sorry. Today I am awakened on the "long on rage, short on time" side of the bed.

All I shall say today is simply this. In the eyes of Richard Nixon, the resemblance between Barbara Bush and me is uncanny.

-AK

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Ballad of the Stubborn Man

Not everyone is a fan of music. Candidly, I cannot fathom a life without it. I heard Andy Rooney on Imus in the Morning recently say that he does not listen to music and I found his comment stunning. I have derived much pleasure from, gleaned comfort from and found solace in music throughout my life. My appreciation in music is among the things that I have been imbued with courtesy of my oldest brother Bill.

While Springsteen's music has filled most of the available slots in the jukebox of my life, his music does not occupy all of them. Among the other artists upon whose music I have leaned for any number of things throughout the years is John Hiatt.

Hiatt is actually someone who reminds me more of my big brother than even Springsteen does. There are not many who aptly fit the word somnambulist into either conversation or verse - both of them can. I have enjoyed Hiatt's music for years for many of the same reasons that I have enjoyed talking to Bill for all of my life - both are exercises that permit me to derive a lot of pleasure from using my head. Thinking is not always work. Nor should it be.

Through no fault of either Bill's or Mr. Hiatt's, I have been a bit skewed recently in my thought-making process. I have prided myself on living life by a simple code of conduct - the Five P's (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance) but for reasons that I have not been quite able to figure out, the past couple of months of my life have not been from the 5 P's playbook. The more I have struggled to figure a way out of it - or work my way towards a solution - the deeper and darker the hole in which I have positioned myself has become.

At some point last week, courtesy of a bit of fraternal inspiration and advice, I decided to stop digging and simply start trying to claw my way out. I know not what shall become of the effort because while the hole is not so deep that I have lost contact with the source of light illuminating the ground above, it is deep enough that I cannot see what lies on the ground above.

For the first time in quite some time these past few days, the selection of choice from the jukebox of my life has been from Mr. Hiatt's catalog. It serves as both food for thought and reason for hope? Well, certainly the former. As those in the trade say, the jury is still out on the latter.

Well I'm out here on my own
Followin' a star
Asking on my knees, for some direction, please,
And, God, you know that's hard

Cause I'm such a stubborn man
Lord, I'm stubborn as a mule
Even though I struggle some, I believe a change will come
And I hear you love a fool
I see a road and a flash of lightning
Let me tell you it's frightening


It certainly is frightening. But where there is light, there is hope. And these days, I will take whatever I can get.

-AK

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Man in the Monkey Suit Swearing to Do No Evil

Margaret and I have been together for so long that at times it feels as if we were high-school sweethearts. We are not. My wife went to school right here at NTSG High whereas her hubby, not being from here, went to school somewhere else altogether. I do not even bother to speak the name of my alma mater to most of my fellow snow globe denizens. Not only is the hyphenate by which the school identifies itself so cumbersome that it evokes imagery of either a reform school or a school to which all of the students are transported on a bus of less than full-size (We do have one hell of a bowling team, Mr. President, thanks for caring), but because it is not THE high school, it matters not.

Last night, we attended a black-tie affair. While normally it is not the way in which we spend a Saturday night - especially a Saturday night during March Madness - we were guests of a dear friend. And in spite of the fact that while adorned in a tuxedo I half-expect those around me to hand me valet tickets and direct me to retrieve their vehicles, it was a wonderful evening. I could not help but wonder, looking around at the other attendees, who among our number were the "beautiful people" - the men and women who attend such affairs on a regular basis, whether the affair is tied to a charitable endeavor (as this one was) or not. I wondered as well, of course, how many of them were guys like me. While I do not think I am a shlub or a complete social misfit, not even a blind person (Oh wait - memo from the White House! I did not mean to say "blind" person, I meant person whose visual acuity is not acute) could mistake me for one of the beautiful people. All dressed up, I am a cross between a penguin and a movie usher on the panache scale.

We had a wonderful evening - Margaret most of all I think. I wondered driving home how our prom compared to her others. I hope she enjoyed it even more than she had enjoyed those high school productions. I am happy to report at least that I did not pierce her while attempting to affix the corsage.

The flowers of romance exert their pull indeed.

-AK

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Love Is A Two-Way Trail

There was a great piece on the front page of Friday's Star-Ledger - telling a story arising out of an event one does not typically see reported upon here 'neath the snow globe: the Iditarod. This year's entrants in the 1,131 mile dog-sled race across Alaska (starts in Anchorage, ends in Nome and includes a leg across Governor Palin's famous "Bridge to Nowhere") included a woman named Kim Darst. Darst is a 40 year-old Jersey girl of the highest order. A helicopter pilot by profession, she and her team of dogs went west to the Great White North in an effort to become the first Jerseyan to complete the event.

Apparently there is a rule in the Iditarod against accepting "outside assistance" once the race has begun. One wonders - given the brutal conditions in which the competitors race (good God, they race a trail that takes them north and west in Alaska in the winter) - if communication with the mental health professional of the musher's choice is exempted from the rule. At some point during the Iditarod to Shageluk leg, which is approximately halfway through the race, one of Darst's dogs became very sick. The pooch in question, Cotton, was hypothermic. And Darst, so far out past the edge of nowhere that it is two buses and a ferry ride back to the middle from where she was, had to decide whether to mush on or do what she deemed was necessary to save her dog's life. There is no rule in the Iditarod disqualifying a musher for having a member of her team die in route, apparently.

Darst, whose Iditarod adventure cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to mount, hesitated not at all. She made the phone call to her Mom - a member of her support team - to get Cotton immediate veterinary care (which was provided and Cotton is now feeling fine), a call that put one big old frozen, slushy kibosh on her dream. A dream that, given its expense to mount, Darst may never undertake again.

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true or is it something worse? In the case of Kim Darst, it is neither.

-AK

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lucky Charms and Hard Luck Bones.....

Today we herald the arrival of Vernal Equinox and all of the little equinoxes (except Autumnal who always arrives about six months later than the rest of the clan) and tomorrow - according to the calendar on my desk - we celebrate Benito Juarez' Birthday. Well, in the interest of full disclosure, according to my calendar only Mexico celebrates the birth of Mr. Juarez. Although now that I am aware of it, just try and stop me from getting jiggy with it on this side of the Rio Grande.

While a small but enthusiastic crowd is anticipated for the birthday festivities at the Juarez compound, the arrival of good old Vern E. is celebrated on a far grander scale. The NCAA Hoops tournament kicked off yesterday. Opening Day in Major League Baseball is approximately two weeks away. Those two events suggested to us here in this hemisphere that Spring was about to.....well, spring. Vern E.'s arrival today confirms it.

I am counting this year more than most on the curative powers of brightening weather. For a number of reasons, not the least of which was one wholly of my own creation (taking a p*ss at fortune's sweet kiss if you will), this was one of the longest winters of my life.

I know not what the coming season holds for me but I am looking forward to finding out.

-AK

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Other Side of Life

A lawyer's most precious commodity is his time. In a decade and a half of practicing law, other than the occasional mess, I have never made anything. I build nothing. I create nothing - save for the occasional chaos I suppose. I simply "do" things. And the ability to do is wholly dependent upon having the time in which to get things done.

Time is in such extraordinarily short supply that there is likely no greater gift one attorney can give to another than his time. A minute spared is a present. Many, many minutes spared are a treasure.

Generosity of spirit is a commodity that does not fit comfortably on most DETECTO scales, be they the jumbo-sized "Weigh Your Big Rig Here" variety or the small, home "Hey Adam Tell The Other Guy to Step Off Will You?" variety. But the inadequacy of a method by which to measure it does not equate to an absence of value in it. In fact, the opposite is true. Its value is immeasurable.

Regardless of the path down which my life takes me from this point forward, it was critically important for me on any number of levels to have had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the concept of generosity of spirit. And courtesy of an old friend, I have.

-AK

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Even Though I'm Heavy.....

I occupy the caboose in a large family. I am the tail gunner I suppose. I have five older brothers and sisters. And in what might be considered a marriage between the Bunch of Brady and the Family of Manson, Mom and Dad had an even distribution of boys and girls (although two of my sisters are rather diminutive so in terms of total size they equal but one person).

I have been fortunate my entire life that the sibling at the front of the train - my oldest brother Bill - has taken it upon himself to keep an eye (regardless of geographic remoteness) on me and for reasons never clear to me, has always seemed to have more faith in my ability to do things than I have ever possessed. Mine is not to reason why I suppose.

On Sunday, while trying to recuperate a bit from the pure unadulterated joy of a total knee replacement five or six days earlier (having defended personal injury matters for the past decade and a half I have heard countless stories as to the TKR as the single-most painful orthopedic surgery one can endure) Bill, channeling his inner Yoda (him being Yoda enables me to be Obi-Wan for purposes of this hypothetical, which is important because I could not be Anakin Skywalker for my over sized head would not fit inside Vader's sleek black helmet) sensed a disturbance in the force around the snow globe and reached out to lend a hand to his youngest brother.

And not being an idiot, I listened to what he told me during our chat and I have not only taken the advice to heart, I have formulated an action plan that consists of something more concrete than crying into my beer. I know not how this little episode of my so-called life shall play out but for the first time in a few months I feel as if I am actively doing something - as opposed to standing on the sidewalk and watching the parade pass me by.

Brother, where art thou? Sometimes, as close as the other end of the phone.

-AK

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Infinite Sadness.....

On the final Saturday of February, Anthony Casselli of Roselle Park High School captured the Region 3 wrestling championship at 135 pounds. By winning the title, the 17 y/o senior earned his way to Atlantic City to compete in the NJISAA individual wrestling championships.

On the first Saturday of March, Anthony Casselli's high school wrestling career came to an end at the State championships. While his senior season ended short of the medal platform, his senior season put the bow on a terrific career.

Tragically, on the second Saturday of March Anthony Casselli sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident that on Sunday claimed his life. At 17, a life that seemed so full of promise only two weeks earlier was over.

Stories have already been written -and more are most certainly on their way - about the circumstances under which this young man died. We in New Jersey have witnessed an unfortunate spike in the sad marriage between young drivers and serious car accidents over the past few years. And regardless of what happened on Saturday night, we will certainly see more in the months and years to come.

It is too easy to take a step back as adults of a certain age and preach to our children as to certain evils. They shall continue to do what they do not because they are bad, disrespectful or stupid. They shall continue to do what they do for the same reasons we did then what they do now when we were the age then that they are now. And in spite of events such as this most recent fatal accident, each of them shall continue to believe he or she is unbreakable and indestructible.

And we shall continue to hope and pray that ours is, knowing that all of them cannot be. And while we pray for ours, these days we pray as well for the family of Anthony Casselli.

-AK

Monday, March 16, 2009

When A Green Field Looks Like A Cold Steel Rail.....

I have been so awash in self-absorption recently (well, OK for slightly more than a month or so) that I have been even less of a good parent than usual. If one knows how perpetually low the bar has been set for me throughout the maturation process of both of my kids then one knows exactly how significant an admission this is. I would love to proclaim that it is a dizzying height from which I have fallen but that is a whopper not even my conscience-less self can tell with a straight face.

The problem about using all of one's energy to worry about one's own self is that it keeps one from keeping abreast of all that is more important in one's own life. In my case, I have two kids who are doing great things - one close to home and one quite far away. And to neither have I been any God damned use at all. Suzanne is dealing with her combination platter of work and graduate school and Rob is dealing with his nascent career while living in a strange new world. Life on Mars indeed.

Life has not gone according to Hoyle for yours truly the past few months. But then again, does it ever? If it is indeed preparation that permits spontaneity then it is incumbent upon me to be prepared to do something to address my situation. And it is my obligation to be there for them. And my recent history of doing so is, candidly, less than stellar.

For better or worse, I did apparently exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage.

Now, all I need to do is find the key.

-AK

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Twilight Zone

In a desperate grasp for reestablishment of my own internal equilibrium, which has been somewhere far, far away from here these past few months, I shall do again this year what I have done for the past decade or so, which is run the "office" March Madness pool. The wrinkle this year is that having voluntarily removed myself from the office that had been my own for the past decade, this year there is an inherently through the looking glass feel to it.

Forever the home base of operation of this annual lunacy had been Point A and had included among its participants some folks from the much smaller island of Point B. Now, while the base of operation has flipped from A to B, it appears to be very much an undertaking more closely intertwined with A's inhabitants than B's. Any coincidence in that regard is, I assure you, intentional, which I suppose eliminates it from contention in the Miss Coincidence 2009 competition.

Depending upon who you choose to believe, you either can or cannot ever go home again. While my heart may be leaning towards believing in the latter, my brain firmly believes the former to be true. Perhaps I would believe more in the possibility of the existence of human boomerangs if it were publicly expressed by someone with more depth than Jon Bon Jovi. Do not misunderstand me - from afar he appears to be a very nice man and he has earned enough money in his career to spend in a month on Paul Mitchell hair care products what I spend annually on my mortgage. Yet he has been long noted for his perpetual use of the cliche as lyric. On the gravitas scale alone, he appears to be out of his depth in view of who is carrying the mantle for all doors swinging but one way.

The odds are long and the time is short. But who knows. It is after all the month in which Madness rules and normalcy cedes control of the proceedings - at least for a little while. David may indeed have his day but if it comes at all, it shall come before the Field of 64 has been pared down to its final eight combatants. Today, the kids from Binghamton - celebrating their first trip ever to the NCAA Tournament - awoke with the same chance of winning the whole thing as their more celebrated counterparts from Louisville. As the line of demarcation where the rubber meets the road becomes more clearly delineated, the odds against Binghamton's successful completion of the journey ahead will as well.

Home may indeed be as close as the light of day - just around the corner. The trick in getting back there successfully is in making it to the light of day before the clock strikes midnight. Whether it can be done, I know not.

When I fill out my own bracket this week for the pool I am quite certain that I shall not pick Binghamton to win it all. That does not mean that I will not be rooting for them however.

Go Bearcats. One might say that you give college hoops a good name. I shall wait to hear from Mr. Bon Jovi as to whether he wants to share the songwriting credit.

-AK

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls.....

At the beginning of the 90's - having broken up the band of brothers with whom he rose to prominence, made a number of outstanding albums and boatloads of cash - Bruce Springsteen wandered a bit, both personally and professionally. He pulled up his New Jersey stakes and relocated to California where he began his family. Another corporate relo refugee in need of love? Perhaps.

Having grown restless musically, he decided to reshuffle his outfit of musical compadres. Out went the E Streeters. He put together a new backing band, released two records simultaneously - one that was very good and one that was less well-received - and took his 'new' band on a world tour. Perhaps had the new unit played only songs from their two albums with him, reaction to them would have been less "passionate" than it was but they did not and it was not. Even having the Professor Roy Bittan on vinyl and on stage with him did not tamp down the reaction of some fans that a bunch of interlopers were playing with Springsteen.

Then in the middle of the decade, he drifted back towards more familiar ground - seeming to revisit the same stark musical landscape that he had initially explored in Nebraska with The Ghost of Tom Joad. The highway may have been alive but Springsteen acknowledged that no one was kidding themselves about where it was taking them - and the destination was not a happy one. For a man awash in riches, success and acclaim he was very much a troubadour filled with doubt and an apparent pinch of self-loathing.

By the end of the decade, having engaged in slightly less than ten years of musical exploration apart from his E Street Band companions, Springsteen reunited them. And I think now, as I get ready to enjoy yet another "full band" tour, which is at least the fourth in the past decade and the third in support of a new "full band" album, that while the work he did without them may have been that which he could not done had they never parted company, the time apart from them was more something that he endured rather than something that he enjoyed.

Perhaps you can get used to anything and sooner or later, it just becomes your life. But making straight time is not the same thing as living. And making it does not necessarily make life something enjoyed. Rather it may simply make it something endured.

Clarence, can you save me? I believe, I do indeed.

-AK

Friday, March 13, 2009

Luck be a Lady Tonight

Important life lesson for the day, boys and girls (and important life lessons take on an added sense of importance on a day as fraught with danger as Friday the 13th). Ready? Change is a dice roll. One hopes of course that a change is one for the better. We know however from a rational perspective that change cannot always be for the better, for everyone. Such a result would defy logic.

Even that pie-eyed optimist Sheryl Crow, who sings about the inherent qualities of change, has been bitten on the rump by it a time or two. If you do not believe me, ask her how good the change felt when Lance Armstrong decided to change his Facebook status from "engaged" to "looking to score with any hot chick". One presumes at least it made her rethink the summer of her life she wasted (sorry - "spent") following him around France as he rode his bicycle.

Home isn't where it used to be. And leaving home to go out and pursue life's adventures does not necessarily mean that the place where you land is "home". It may be nothing more or less than the place you have ended up. Think if you will about the old adage distinguishing a house from a home. The former is a structure. The latter is where you want to be, safe and sound.

And I guess time don't mean nothing, not nothing at all. Armed with a reasonably good view of the point of intersection between the horizon and the sky, one can mark time in any number of ways. Days bleed into weeks, weeks into months and so forth. Mere units of measurement - nothing more, nothing less.

Moral of the story: listen to the wise old master carpenter Norm Abram. Measure twice and cut once. One ends up with far less waste that way.

And a better fit all the way around. At day's end, that is all that matters. It is then that you know you are home.

-AK

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Buy Me Some Cracker Jacks and Some Coke "Classic"

Forgive the cynicism but throwing the word "Classic" into the title of something does not elevate the event or occurrence to such lofty status. Case in point is the World Baseball Classic. A hodgepodge of games in which only some of the best players in baseball participate (such as those who are the most likely recipients of pressure to play such as Derek Jeter for the USA and Ichiro Suzuki of Japan) during the first couple of weeks of spring training with Pony League rules - such as pitch counts on the starting pitchers and the "mercy rule" (Jim Fregosi - Where are you?) really cannot be considered a classic can it?

Is it just me or did anyone else notice the coincidence between A-Rod's admission of prior use of his special Dominican concoction and the first round departure of the Dominican team at the hands of that lowlands baseball juggernaut, The Netherlands? "They go together where Hans Christian Anderson is played by Danny Kaye/Baseball, Soccer, Heineken and Silver Skates."

Venezuela has a team in this event but the best Venezuelan pitcher - who also happens to be perhaps the best pitcher in the majors - Johan Santana is not playing for it because his employer - the New York Mets - would not permit him to play. If the Wilpon family paid as much attention to all of its investments as it does Santana then perhaps Bernie Madoff would not have swindled Papa Fred out of several hundred million dollars. I suppose Hugo Chavez has had a successful enough winter - with his favorite actor winning an Academy Award already - so that failure to participate in the "Classic" is not a hanging offense.

What is the prize for winning the WBC? A big fat helping of "Who gives a damn" I think. It is as "classic" as a split-squad game on a hot Arizona or Florida March afternoon.

And worth about as much in terms of admission price.

-AK

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Have Seen The Enemy......

February has now rolled over into March and, candidly, while the temperature of the world around me has warmed perceptibly, internally not so much. As time passes and my view of things around me remains static, I am starting to wonder more and more about many things. Not the least of which is whether I fully appreciated the ramifications that one change would have upon all facets of what I do and, for better or worse, who I am. I tend to think now that I under thought it then.

The times they got too clear/So you removed all the mirrors/Once the family felt secure/Now no one's very sure.

If only that were not so very true indeed.

-AK

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If it weren't so damn dark in here I'd see where I laid that black kettle

Home from work last evening in time to see a TV commercial courtesy of America's bank - the good folks from Citicorp. Notice I said America's bank and not Bank of America. I mean of course the bank that all of us now own, courtesy of the "economic stimulus" plan.

It is quite an odd concept thus far - how "stimulus" has not to date actually stimulated anything - unless rampant depression and abject panic were what the new Administration and his crackerjack economic team were hoping to stimulate. Maybe the stimulation does not kick in until the stock market breaks through the 1,000 point mark on its way to single digits? (Or the third week of April, whichever comes first.)

The greatest thing about the Citi commercial is the message our friends at the new Bank of the United States are using our money to tell us - "spending is good". Classic, is it not? We the people are paying to be told by the bank that we all involuntarily now shareholders in due to their colossal incompetence and inherent greed that spending money is good and we should seek their advice in how to spend it.

Really? That makes a lot of sense - about as much as having a Treasury Secretary who failed to pay his income taxes because his accountant told him he did not have to pay them. No wonder he has been such a sterling success so far. Having completely failed to solve the intricacies of his own 1040EZ form, he was a logical choice to oversee the nation's entire financial system.

And now the good folks from Citi have decided to "reinvest" some of our money by making an inane, obnoxious commercial telling us to look to them for advice in how to spend money. It is almost as humorous as Chrysler's "employee discount" advertisements. You know the ones in which we the people who own little pieces of the company are offered the opportunity to buy vehicles at the same price a Chrysler employee can buy one? As if they are doing us a favor. For my contribution to the company, I want a free Crossfire or Jeep Cherokee. Employee discounts are for employees. I own the company. I am entitled to free stuff.

After all, it is my money and Citi tells me I can spend it any way I would like. It is either a new Chrysler or a new tea pot. I still have not decided.

-AK

Monday, March 9, 2009

There Has Got To Be Another Way To Earn A Merit Badge....

Never knowing whether the juxtaposition of events is irony or coincidence is one of my many, innumerable failings as a human being (it is buried somewhere deep in the bowels of Volume III of "The Failings of Adam Kenny" so if you have not made it there yet you are forgiven). But yesterday morning as I was getting ready to exit my car at the A&P to do the weekly grocery shopping there was a blurb on the radio discussing President Obama's declared change of tactics in Afghanistan ("embrace the Taliban", who'd have thunk it?) and while I was mulling that item over in my little brain, I encountered the first line of shock troops who I would send to Afghanistan to deal with those elements of the Taliban we elect not to hug.

On Saturday afternoon, buoyed by the 70 degree weather, our neighborhood was awash in activity. And unfortunately we were waist-deep in a very well dressed, roving band of religious folks going door-to-door inviting residents to bear witness to Jehovah and to hear the word of God. Funny, but after hearing the word of Adam and Margaret, which sounded an awful lot like, "Get the hell off of our porch!", the meandering do-gooders went off to bother some of our neighbors. I thought this group of two-legged gnats would be the most obnoxious group I encountered throughout the weekend. I found out Sunday morning just how wrong I was.

While President Obama's proposed "Kumbaya" duet with the Taliban was still ruminating around in my noggin, I approached the entrance of the A&P. Manning a post outside of each of the store's two entrances was a platoon of Girl Scouts - whose position was fortified by a pair of adult women - presumably one or two of the mothers of spawn - hawking their infernal cookies. They have been outside of the store for five or six Sundays in a row, (which is slightly less obnoxious than where they were last Sunday - inside of the store), intercepting shoppers on the way in and out. While their collective cuteness blows that of the hucksters selling God door-to-door off of the charts, their underlying obnoxiousness is just as palpable.

It is not bad enough that, seemingly in perpetuity, the Girl Scouts send their little pint-sized stormtroopers through suburbia in search of Thin Mints sales but at the Warrenville A&P they simply wait for the lambs to be led right to the slaughter. Is there something this organization is teaching the little girls of America other than how to be annoying shrill little sales people? The elves in the Keebler tree are significantly less so than their real-life competitors.

And the responsibility for the relentless marketeering rests not with the little pixies who are required to give up a piece of a Sunday morning to push cookies on the shopping public. It rests with the organization itself and the adults atop the pyramid.

I cannot wait until next Sunday - running the gauntlet is great exercise. It helps me burn off the calories I take in as the result of my cookie consumption.

I do love my Vienna Fingers.

-AK

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Carpe Diem

Explain the phenomenon to me that allows the clock in my Sony VAIO laptop (hey, times are tough and I am hoping for some sponsorship dough) to automatically leap forward to Daylight Savings Time but requires me to manually change the clock on my stove, my microwave oven and on my Gevalia coffee maker (I am starting to sound like John Sterling on the Yankees' radio broadcasts - dropping product placement into every second or third sentence).

I love the "time change" days that occur twice yearly. I love them because at some point today Margaret will tell me that she is unusually tired and will diagnose the time change as the cause of her undue fatigue. As regular as the rain, once in the Fall and once again in the Spring my bride blames the good people of Timex for her sleepiness. She has a whole rap she gives me explaining how and why the time change has screwed her up and how it shall take her a few days to get her time mojo back, as it were. And every time she explains to me her theory on time travel (the principal selling-point of her theory being that we do not have to search high and low for a second-hand DeLorean (a/k/a "the Pride of Northern Ireland manufacturing"), I find myself chuckling. At this point, after all of these years and Margaret's somewhat cutting-edge theories on the concepts of "added time" and "body clock adjustment", while I remain convinced of the inherent silliness of her position, she believes in it with equal fervor. Hell, for all I know she is right. I know that she believes herself to be so.

The attack on time argument will come from a different angle this Spring simply because Rob is not home to flank his mother's position. While I must confess that I think her entire theoretical construct is silly, Rob not only understands it and agrees with it, he is prepared to buy time on national cable TV so she can make the infomercial selling it to the world at large. All three of us typically descend into laughter once the issue gets joined in full because...well having the silly conversation is for us a rite of spring and something that - perhaps on a subconscious level at least - we look forward to each year.

Or do we look back to it? Or if we moved back in the fall and now are looking forward the same amount of time are we not back looking at what we were looking at this very same day last year?

I am starting to understand Margaret's point. I do feel a little tired. I am glad this day is almost over - already.

-AK

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Second-Hand Emotions Store Is Now Open

I am not exactly manning the ramparts on the front lines of musical hipness. One is far more likely to hear Springsteen, McMurtry, Hiatt, Cash or Sinatra being played in my car than one is to hear the latest flavor of the month. That being said, even I know who Rihanna is. I may not be able to name, by title, a single one of her songs but I am aware of her. Wow, one can imagine the palpable relief in her home this morning, right? Being acknowledged by a nobody - now her career is complete.

In the spirit of true confession, I had a significantly less well-developed understanding of who Chris Brown is and what exactly it is that he does (or has done) that has allowed him to activate the egg timer on his fifteen minutes of fame. At least, until the weekend of the Grammy Awards. Now, I know well who he is. He is a 19 year-old cretin. I hope that his medicine cabinet at home is well stocked with Band-Aids. I would imagine they come in handy to cover the perpetual bloody knuckles he sports - both from dragging them when he walks and from engaging in America's most unfortunate contact sport - the beating of a woman at the hands of (God help me) "the man she loves."

On Thursday, Mr. Tough Guy made his initial appearance in criminal court in Los Angeles to answer charges of assaulting Rihanna and making criminal threats against her. Sounds bad, right? It gets better. According to an affidavit submitted by a LAPD Detective in support of an application for a search warrant, Brown allegedly punched, bit and choked Rihanna until she nearly lost consciousness. A real prince of a young man, eh? Given his fame and economic status, it appears as if his principal line of defense will have to be that he is an a##hole since he will not be able to argue with a straight face that he was driven to it by financial hardship or any of the other tailor-made excuses that the miscreant members of the male gender offer when they do something as despicable as lay their hands in anger on a woman.

Pathetically but predictably, when the 19 y/o singer made his first appearance in court on Thursday he was on his best behavior. Apparently he has been since this incident. He issued a statement a week after the incident, saying he was "sorry and saddened" by what had happened. He politely answered a court commissioner's questions during his brief appearance Thursday, but did not speak to reporters afterward. "Sorry and saddened" by what? His failure to get away with it? The fact that he did not actually kill her? If I were a betting man - and I am - I would bet that he is most "sorry and saddened" about the potential impact being this generation's Ike Turner shall have on his record sales. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rihanna is someone's daughter - and if her father is as annoyingly paternalistic as I am regarding Suzanne - she is someone's little girl. Sadly, there was a story in the media about a week ago showing Rihanna and Brown frolicking in the sand and surf together - apparently reconciled - and her father was quoted in the paper as saying, essentially, "I wish she wouldn't but what can I do?" I can think of any number of things he could try to do - and for starters - ripping Slappy Brown's arms off at the shoulders seems to be an excellent jumping off point. Standing by and watching his daughter dash back into the arms of the little piece of crap who has already revealed his true colors to her is not an option.

Actions speak louder than words - even when those words are being sung into a microphone and amplified for all to hear. Human beings are animals. Animals are creatures of habit. Young Mr. Brown has actually already provided this young woman with a glimpse of their future. All she has to do is open her eyes, which will be easier to do once all of the swelling goes down.

What's love got to do with it? Not a goddamn thing, regardless of how many times young Mr. Brown's attorney tries to convince us otherwise. And worst of all, it likely never did.

-AK

Friday, March 6, 2009

Readying for a Fight down on the Boardwalk

This evening in Atlantic City the finest high school wrestlers from across the State of New Jersey shall commence hostilities on the eight mats adorning the floor at Convention Hall in pursuit of one of the fourteen weight class individual State Championships that shall be captured at some time on Sunday afternoon. Among the combatants this weekend in the land of taffy and Miss America shall be two kids who reside here 'neath the snow globe.

Mike Dessino and Eric Norgard have pushed their final season of scholastic wrestling to its allowable limit - the final weekend. Each heads to Atlantic City to put the ribbon on what has been an outstanding career at Middlesex High School. Over the course of their careers, these two kids have combined to win more than 250 matches, several Conference titles, a few District 12 titles, a Region 3 championship and, courtesy of young Mr. Dessino's assault on the 152 pound weight class two years ago when he was just a baby (OK, a 10th grader) one podium finish at the State Championships. This weekend each hopes to raise that final number from one to three.

Margaret and I have lived life on the edges of the town's high school wrestling community for the past several years, watching first Joe and now Frank (her nephews) wrestle for the high school team. Joe and Frank's careers serve as somewhat useful bookends for Mike and Eric's. Joe was a senior when Mike and Eric were 10th graders and Frank just completed his 10th grade campaign as his two senior teammates were packing for AC. Somewhere Elton John is warming up for a rousing rendition of "Circle of Life" - with any luck we shall be concluded here before he is ready to go.

I do not pretend to know anything of an up close and personal nature about either of these two kids other than each has consistently struck me over the years as being dedicated to his craft and very close to his family. I know that each will be enthusiastically supported by his family in Atlantic City this weekend, which is critically important. I know that I have enjoyed sitting in the stands for the past four seasons and watching each of these two kids work. Each has achieved a considerable measure of success on the mat. And - to my increasingly jaundiced eye - each has done so without compromising his integrity or his dignity. Emotions tend to run high in high school wrestling and too often the notion of winning and/or losing graciously has as much currency today as Chief Jay Strongbow's sleeper hold. Yet over the course of the past four years I am hard pressed to think of an instance in which either of these two kids reacted to victory or defeat in an inappropriate manner.

The final lap on a laudable journey begins for each of these two young men this evening. Four years ago, they first donned their school's colors as boys. Now, at the end of this particular part of life's journey, they exit as young men. Prepared and primed to head for whatever and wherever the next adventure is to be found.

It will be a bit odd next winter to look onto the mat and see neither Eric nor Mike wrestling for MHS. And it will be a bit strange as well to look into the crowd and not see their parents and other family members, who attended every match for the past four year, in the stands ready to cheer on their own son and everyone else's sons as well. I know not what life has in store for either of these two but I hope they enjoy a favorable breeze and calm seas and reach their destinations safely and happily.

Good luck to both of them for all that lies ahead and thanks to both of them for all that they have done.

-AK

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Good Turn Indeed....

Everywhere we turn we learn that we are indeed going to hell in handcarts. The Dow Jones Index is hovering down near Davy Jones' Locker and for reasons no one has yet been audacious enough to ask aloud the "Yes We Can!" elixir has yet to work an iota of magic on the economy. Warren Buffett is on TV announcing to his company's investors that even he made mistakes in 2008. And while a really rich finance dude's willingness to admit that he screwed up makes him the early 21st Century equivalent of a Renaissance Man, it is a little scary to think that the guy who knows everything did not know enough to avoid taking an ass-kicking when the economy tanked.

With wolves taking numbers at the nation's doors and other animals lining up by height behind them, it was heartening to read about the folks from Chubb Insurance who apparently are the big winners in the $216 Mega Millions drawing. A group of ten co-workers from Chubb's IT Department in Whitehouse Station who apparently have played the lottery together for a number of years shall share the big prize. And it shall only be a group of ten because of the selflessness of one.

Bob Space of Toms River is the member of the crew who is the one who purchased the ticket. Talk about taking advantage of a snow day. Space bought the winning ticket on Monday as we here in Levelland were getting battered from pillar to post by March's wintry greeting card.

According to www.nj.com, the group, which talked to the press Wednesday afternoon at Chubb, said they put in $5 each toward the pool. One member got in by the skin of his teeth.Oscar Oviedo from Stewartsville said he didn't have any money when the group was collecting for the pool and told Space he would pay him $5 later. This morning Space went up to Oviedo asking for the $5. "I thought he was being rude," Oviedo said. But after Oviedo handed over the $5, Space shook his hand and congratulated him on being a millionaire.

The group will split their lottery winnings ten ways. But for the generosity of one towards another, the group would number but nine. Here's to Bob Space, one of ten lottery winners but clearly the richest man in town.

-AK

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Promise

Restlessness abounds. Usually work takes the edge off. But thus far - four plus weeks into the grand experiment - restlessness abounds because work does not. I cannot recall a moment in time in the entirety of my professional life that has been one of more sustained annoyance than that in which I have been immersed for the past sixty plus days. I spent my final thirty days at my former job marking time more than doing anything of substance. The first thirty days at the new gig? It has been more of the same. It is as if the surroundings have changed but the feeling of my week as just an amalgamation of wasted days has not. My life has morphed into a season of The Real World. And sonuvabitch, I am Puck.

Frustration is like quicksand. It is all-consuming. And the more you struggle against it and with it - the worse it becomes. And before you know it, it reaches the point of suffocation.

One of the legendary "never released on a record" (yes I am aware of its ultimate inclusion on 18 Tracks) Springsteen tunes is "The Promise", which he wrote as a sequel to "Thunder Road" and which was on the short list for inclusion on Darkness on the Edge of Town but did not make the cut. In it, the narrative picks up at some point in the narrator's tale at the point after he pulled out of the town full of losers. And when the narrative resumes, it appears as if life from the point at which he pulled out of town has not been all wine and roses. Some nights I go to the drive-in, or some nights I stay home/I followed that dream just like those guys do up on the screen/And I drive a Challenger down Route 9 through the dead ends and all the bad scenes/And when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my dreams.

I find myself wondering whether that is what I have done - simply cashed in a few of my own dreams - and I know not whether it is too early to tell. All my life I fought this fight/The fight that no man can never win/Every day it just gets harder to live/This dream I'm believing in. I hope not but know not for certain.

When the promise is broken you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
Something in your heart goes cold.

Indeed it does.

-AK

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Lion in the Winter

Once upon a lifetime ago, our big old tomcat Milo was big but not so old. Once upon a lifetime ago, neither he nor I had whiskers. Now not only do each of us have whiskers but each of us have whiskers that are more salt than pepper - well in Milo's case his are now more vanilla ice cream than orange sherbet. Given my somewhat limited people skills it probably comes as little surprise that I prefer most four-legged companions to the two-legged variety. And the old man with the graying beard is among my favorite.

Milo has been a fixture in our household actually longer than I have. Margaret and the kids moved into what became our first house in the fall of 1992. One of the first things she did for the kids was get them a kitten. In early October 1992 he was but an eight-week-old kitten. Rob selected him from the litter. The principal rationale for the selection as I recall it was that while his litter mates - brother and/or sisters - seemed predisposed to entertain one another in various displays of banal behavior, our young Milo was off by himself, playing alone. His lone wolf mentality appealed to the kids - who were all of six and seven themselves - and home he went with Margaret, Rob and Suz to 122 3rd Street.

Over the years Milo has lived a rather extraordinary life. As an initial consideration, he has lived life on completely his own terms. He comes and goes as he pleases - living by his own code as it were and taking as many of his meals "out" as "in". He has, over the years, eaten more than his fair share of squirrels, rabbits and birds - including those one of our neighbors on 3rd Street somewhat idiotically elected to attract to her back yard by placing a feeder within easy reach of her deck. We have not complained of course - given what he has saved us in Cat Chow costs over the course of the past sixteen-plus years.

His single most amazing achievement was coming thru Hurricane Floyd unscathed. In September 1999, Floyd decimated our neighborhood - leaving four feet of water inside of our home where our, well where our home used to be. We evacuated our home as the waters continued to rise - and on our way out Milo was missing in action. Candidly, I thought for certain we had seen the last of him. As Thursday night gave way to Friday morning and thereafter into Friday proper, he was a ghost. And we thought he was gone forever. Lost in the flood as it were.

That Friday night - on night one of the great clean-up - Rob and I were each using wet/dry vacs in a vain effort to try to put Floyd's remnants somewhere other than within the four walls of our home. We were blasting our way through what was a fool's errand - trying to use two vacuums to suck up God knows how much water was inside of the space that had been our living room - when Rob yelled for me to stop. In the silence I heard what I still do not know how he heard over the din of the dual dueling vacuums - the sound of Milo crying.

I took a flashlight and stood on our front porch, using the beam of light to pierce the darkness. And there he was - standing on the front walkway of the house directly across the street from ours - screaming at me. He stood and waited patiently as I waded thru waist-deep flood water across the street with only the beam from the flashlight that Rob stood at our front door pointing towards him to retrieve him. And when I reached him I was stunned to see - in an environment where everything was soaking wet, caked with mud or both that he was neither. He was bone dry and spotless. To this day, we know not where he spent that 24-hour period or that we would indeed come home to him.

Now, the old man has reached the point in his life where it actually appears as if his days might be numbered. He once was a rock-solid 20 pounds. He now appears to be roughly half that size. He used to move with a swagger. And now he moves with a limp. And he moves with considerably less speed and fluidity than he once did.

Yet he lives still on his own terms - as the maker of his own rules and the king of his own castle. Not a bad gig if you can get it. And he has lived it to the fullest every day. Hell of a way to live your life - as if it is the only one you get and not one of nine.

-AK

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday, Monday

March has clearly read its own press clippings as the '09 version of the year's third month has certainly rolled into this part of the world wearing its complete Lion regalia. At some point last night after darkness fell the snow began to do so as well. And as the first day of March rolled over into the second day of the month, the snow continued to fall.

While it is too early to tell whether the weather gurus have actually called this latest incarnation of the "Storm of the Century" correctly - and if they have it proves once again that even a blind squirrel can find a nut - the weather is significantly more inclement than not on March's first Monday.

Typically, irrespective of the alleged severity of the event, I make the 30-plus mile trek to work on "bad weather days" because there is always more to do than there is time in which to do it. Today, I think I will stay right here on the reservation. As week five in the grand change of life experiment kicks off, not yet enough to do to justify the heightened risk associated with driving in less than ideal conditions.

What a long, strange trip it's been? Well, thus far it has been a short journey but what it has lacked in length it has more than made up for in strangeness. At some point, it appears I actually squeezed my aging, fat white a## through the looking glass. And thus far, rather than Wonderland I have been walking the streets of "Wonder Where I Am" Land.

Today, I shall be sledding down its hills instead.

-AK

Sunday, March 1, 2009

In Like A Lion with a Well-Coiffed Mane

Having started February with a change of life - or at least a change of job - I spontaneously closed the month the same way. No, I did not change jobs again. Yesterday morning, home on yet another Saturday (the term "flying start" does not leap immediately to the forefront of my mind) I followed Margaret to her mechanic so she could get her car serviced. I have been in desperate need of a haircut for at least two weeks. Being blessed and/or cursed with thick hair, my hair reaches a point where is ceases to grow longer (no hair to the a## for me - wrong Kenny) and just starts to expand outward. Think "Chia Adam" if it helps as a visual aid.

I have been living here 'neath the snow globe as a practical matter for almost eighteen years and during the entirety of that time I have gotten my haircut at the Middlesex Barber Shop at the shopping center. I mention it by name and by location only for this reason - in a town that is roughly 2 square miles we actually have two barber shops that identify themselves as "Middlesex Barber Shop". Over the years my haircuts have been of varying degrees of success - some fine and some....well, less than fine. Yet like the creature of habit I am, every four weeks or so I stop in the barber shop on a Saturday afternoon on my way home from work (wait, I used to actually work on Saturdays. Wow I can barely remember what that was like.) to get my hair cut. Way back when, in the early 90's I was able to get in and out of there for less than $15.00, inclusive of tip. Now, it was an endeavor that was setting me back $21.00 a pop and over the course of the past few years at least was leaving me dissatisfied more often than not.

Yesterday morning, I did something truly radical. I changed barbers. As Margaret and I were driving back towards our house from her mechanic, we drove past "Kleen Kutz Barber Shop", which was already open (the barber pole outside was turned on - the universal signal for "the barber shop is open" and no doubt the inspiration for the Bat Signal) so I decided to stop in and give it a shot.

It was like a trip to haircutting Nirvana. It was truly wonderful. I received the first haircut about which I have been truly happy (as opposed to being relieved that I had survived the experience) in so long that I cannot recall when I last had one. And all the barber did was cut my hair. We did not turn a 15 minute exercise (inclusive of the very cool experience of having the hair on one's neck shaved by a straight-edge razor with hot shaving cream) into a 40-minute exercise by exchanging unnecessary factoids about one another's life. My new favorite human is Isaak from Kleen Kutz who was polite, pleasant and efficient and who gave me a hell of a nice haircut.

Occasionally, it appears as if change can be a good thing. Candidly, I had not been entirely sure based upon my recent experience. Isaak, restorer of my faith not only in a good haircut at a reasonable price, but in life itself. Well, at least the former. As to the latter? He is a barber - not a miracle worker. Cut him some slack.

-AK