Thursday, April 30, 2009

Occupying the Space Between Our Dreams and Actions

Can it possibly already be the end of April? We are one-third of the way through 2009 and to date I have achieved absolutely nothing of note. It is an empty feeling - fiddling while Rome is aflame all around you. And it is made no better by the knowledge that the arsonist looks conspicuously like the not-quite-jolly little chubby fella who peers back at me through my steam-streaked mirror.

Tomorrow is the first of May. The first day of the second third of '09. Given that the first '03rd of '09 has been less than memorable, here is to the hope of better days ahead.


'Neath a summer sky my eyes went black
Sister I won't ask for forgiveness
My sins are all I have.

Now the clouds above my prison
Move slowly across the sky
There's a new day comin'
And my dreams are full tonight.

-AK

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Uniformly Crazy.....

As April peels away on the calendar, the rag-tag, fugitive fleet that operates as the City of Newark Law Department summer softball team (OK, there are at least two of our members who are presently employed in the City of Newark Law Department. By this time next week, weather permitting, we will have completed the first of our twelve regular season games. Each year, the schedule maker is an optimist.

The season is projected to start the first week of May and wrap up the first week of August. Each of the past three seasons, weather has impacted scheduling so dramatically that we have not finished our regular season games until early September and in two of the past three years, the post-season has taken us deep into October. We used to be a bit taken aback by the fact that we were still playing after the Yankees season had ended but after last year's abomination and the less than stellar start to '09, it becomes less surprising every year.

Who knows how many more seasons we will all gather together to enjoy this admitted silliness. And who knows what damage I shall inflict upon myself this season. I have scars permanently etched into the lower half of my right leg, which is my contact (on the ground) leg when I slide. For years Margaret has asked me to wear baseball pants, which I steadfastly refuse to do. Once upon a time I did it out of principle, which my wife is fond of reminding me is the flip side of spite. Now I do it out of humility. The older I get, the less athletic I become.

And the less athletic I become the more baseball pants take on more of the appearance of being a costume than of being a uniform. Shorts are safer. Cuts and scrapes heal fairly quickly. The bruises from ego, those take a bit longer to heal. And frankly, I am not getting any younger.

Six days to Opening Day. Gentlemen, open your ice packs!

-AK

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Reason To Actually Like Mondays

Yesterday had a bit of an "old home" feel to it. I had the chance on several occasions to do something really fun - work with some old friends and colleagues (and a gentleman who I do not know as he only began calling my old home his new home after my relationship to it was in the past tense). We were commiserating on an appeal that I had filed on behalf of a client after the client's trial counsel (who bears an eerie resemblance to our narrator) argued his way into an adverse jury verdict.

At the time I left WL in late January, I had written the appellate brief in support our our client's quest for relief. In the ninety days since, I have had a chance to chat with folks at WL as they have assessed and responded to the plaintiff's opposition to the appeal, discussed strategy for the pending oral argument and, now, in a wonderful bonus, assessing and responding to a motion that the plaintiff has filed in order to address a case that our Appellate Division handed up while the appellate papers in this matter were being filed. It is the most fun I have had practicing law in the past ninety days. Coincidence? I think not.

One may be able to practice law without passion. One may be able to but I cannot. For the past few months, the practice of law has been something for me it had never been in the first fifteen years of my legal career - a job. A lawyer is not something I do. It is not an occupation. It is who I am and it is what I am. Yet for the past three months I have not been myself and I have not been a lawyer. I have been a person who has a job as an attorney.

And that is not a distinction without a difference. It is a distinction that makes all the difference in the world. And it is a problem. Presently it is a problem for me - and for my wife who has the misfortune of now listening to me burden her with a entirely new litany of things that are making me insane and even grumpier than I used to be.

For just a little while yesterday, I got a glimpse in the rear-view mirror at a place that looks and feels very much like home - as it was for a number of years. And while no one knows what tomorrow brings - hell, I still do not know how I ended up in the mess I made of what used to be my life - for just an eye blink yesterday I had the chance to go home.

And to be a lawyer again. Not to simply work as an attorney. It felt pretty damn good.

-AK

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Taste of Things To Come.....

We have had a little preview of summer the past few days 'neath the snow globe. While I have lived here all forty-two years of my life thus far, I have never warmed up to the hot, sultry weather that comes along with the peeling away of pages on the calendar. I have not what one would refer to as a "beach body", unless one considers a body type that prompts small children to implore their parents to "get him back in the water before he suffocates" a beach body.

Saturday and Sunday the mercury climbed above ninety degrees throughout the Garden State. And while it was a tad warm for my taste, one cannot overstate the positive impact that the first few days of late Spring/early Summer weather has on the residents of the globe. Winter is always tough and it always feels far too long. It would seem to make better sense emotionally if, perhaps, Christmas fell closer to the middle of winter. Everyone has much enthusiasm for Christmas and no one appears to mind the cold weather that permeates the area for the month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But there is quite a bit of winter to come post-Christmas. Think about it - the little hedgehog or whatever the hell he is in Pennsylvania pops out of his hole six weeks after Christmas only to tell us that there shall be six more weeks of winter to come. The only residue of Christmas that remains by the time we reach winter's end are credit card bills.

This weekend it was as if the entire neighborhood was freed from solitary confinement. Those who had not been outside for any sustained period of time for the past few months roamed the streets on bicycles, skateboards and on foot. People drove around in convertibles, tops down, taking advantage of the weather.

Summer's arrival in this neighborhood is likely at least one month away. Consistently hot weather arrives at or about the same time as Memorial Day. But for the past few days, we enjoyed a preview. A coming attraction as it were.

You have plenty of time to go grab popcorn - and a box of Sour Patch Kids for me if you would.

-AK

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The View From 'Neath The Shadow Of The Elms

A cynic - speaking of our respective locations as the engine and the caboose in a train of six siblings - might say of my oldest brother Bill and me that one of us served as motivation for our parents to keep trying to get better and the other served as the acknowledgement that, like it or not, this was as good as it was going to get. And to those cynics and other resident wise-asses (known in the trade as "middle children"), we just shake our heads and smile.


Today is Bill's fifty-seventh birthday. I have not been alive for all of them but have been blessed by the fact that he has been alive for all forty-two of mine. The addition of yet another sibling in the life of a fourteen or fifteen-year-old kid whose parents have already dumped four others on him since his own arrival could have been met with - at best - indifference and - at worst - anger. He greeted my arrival with neither. Instead, as our mother is fond of telling me even to this day, Bill instantaneously grabbed the role of principal care-giver and educator.


There is an outfit, Rosetta Stone, which advertises non-stop on the radio about its program for learning a new language. Its hook is, "learn a new language the same way you learned your first one". It is Bill who taught me how to read. And he had done so by the time I celebrated birthday #2. The tome of choice, if memory serves me correctly, was a book featuring Donald Duck and his three nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie. As soon as it gets translated into Mandarin Chinese I shall be off to Connecticut with a copy tucked under my arm - seeing whether lightning can in fact strike twice in the same place.


If I live to be 100 - a thought that frightens me only slightly less than it does the rest of the globe's inhabitants - I shall never forget weekend afternoons spent in the Rutgers University library with Bill and his friends, reading the New York Times and listening to college kids debate some of the day's big issues, which given the day in which Bill went to college included the Vietnam War. The ravages of childhood epilepsy so assaulted my motor skills as a child that I was the automatic last pick for every sport, every day, in gym class. Yet I was the only kindergartner I knew who knew where Vietnam was and that the United States had its armed forces there. As a child, my big brother never spoke to me as if I was a child and in his presence neither did his friends. I was there to observe and to absorb, which I did.


Among the mysteries of this life - to me at least - has always been how someone who is as brilliant as my brother is (believe me, if and when Webster's adds "scary smart" to the American Lexicon Dictionary, his photo shall appear in the definitional section) was able to take the time and to exhibit the patience necessary to educate and to guide a child. And then I had the pleasure of seeing Bill interact with his own kids (now, young adults) when he, Sig, Patrick and Michelle moved to the United States in the early '90's and it hit me: it is simply a gift that he possesses. I heard in the timbre of his voice and saw in the gestures directed to his kids, who at that time were still both children, and I recognized them immediately. Once upon a time, when I was young, I had been the beneficiary of that same selflessness and the recipient of that same loving attention.

Sixteen years ago this June, Margaret and I were married. By the time I reached the point in my own life where I was to wed, our father had been dead for more than a dozen years and my other brother - Kelly - had voluntarily distanced himself from the rest of the family. Thus the only Kenny boys in attendance from our original little eight-person unit were Bill and me. And it seemed to me that was precisely right. At day's end the only ones who needed to be there were the one preparing to walk the walk and the one who taught him the steps.

Throughout my life, that teacher has always been Bill. And on this, his 57th birthday, I wish him well and thank him for a lifetime's worth of lessons. Happy Birthday Bill.....

And I'll keep on walking.

-AK

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Skeleton Frames of Burned Out Chevrolets

Ferris Beuller was right. Life does come at you pretty hard. It is important from time-to-time to take a moment and savor it. A moment comes only once and then, regardless of how many camera phones, video cameras or Apple-inspired contraptions you have in close proximity to your person, it is gone forever. It can happen so quickly that you do not even know that the moment has bade you farewell until you hear the screen door slam (now, if that is followed by Mary's dress waving, then you are heading directly for another moment entirely).

And in the epic struggle that is life, you take victories wherever you can find them. Even if they are found in something that might seem as juvenile to the outsider's eye as a group of aging friends getting together for softball practice in anticipation of yet another season's Opening Day, which is fast approaching.

Or found in something such as the first shot being fired in the annual renewal of hostilities that is the Yankees v. Red Sox. Last night was the first of this year's nineteen "epic confrontations" (a term so overused to describe Yankees/Sox that it calls to mind the Dallas Cowboy running back of the early 70's Duane Thomas - responding to a reporter's question regarding how it felt to perform well in the Super Bowl, the "ultimate game" - by answering, "If this is the ultimate game, then how come they play it every year") and this morning there was joy across Red Sox Nation no doubt. The Sox got off of the deck and beat the Yankees in dramatic fashion on the strength of a Kevin Youkilis walk-off home run. The two teams resume hostilities this afternoon. As a Yankees fan, I have always found it easy to loathe the Sox. For some reason, my sense of loathing now has expanded to include Boston itself. Ah, the moments that make up this life.

And sometimes it is found in something that tests the very fiber of Einstein's pronouncements on relativity. This week started with Margaret's mom being stricken by something that knocked her off of her feet (literally and figuratively) and resulted in her making yet another trip to her home when she is not home - the Nardoni Pavilion at Somerset Medical Center. After four days of poking, prodding, monitoring and treating, the wonderfully skilled folks who are the principal dispensers of medical care for my mother-in-law (Margaret holds down the fort as the principal dispenser of all other care - with my father-in-law Joe functioning as her wing man), were relieved to tell us - and we were relieved to hear - that the source of the problem had been a "minor" stroke. Normally, news of a woman in her late 70's being stricken with a stroke would not be met with yelps of joy but considering the alternatives that the doctors and Margaret discussed, we will take it.

Off to case the promised land - smiling all the way.

-AK

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Hazards of Dukes

One wonders why precisely Major League Baseball elected to put a franchise in Washington, D.C. yet again. After two failed incarnations of the Senators, Bud Selig and the powers that be hoped that the third time that might have been the charm. Thus far, not so much. New name, same result. On the field, the Nationals are a disaster. And off the field......well let's just say that the best part of what they do takes place between the white lines.

It takes a lot for a professional sports franchise in one of America's major sports leagues to send its players out on the field wearing a jersey on which the team's name is misspelled. Yet, one night last week the Nats managed to pull off just that accomplishment. In an intriguing twist on the old adage "there is no "I" in team" the Nats proved that there is no "O" in Natinals.

But when it appeared as if the Nats could sink no deeper than sending their own team out on the field in jerseys with the franchise's name misspelled, they outdid themselves. Over this past weekend, one of their players Elijah Dukes was the guest of honor at Opening Day of the Great Falls, Va. Little League (although why they paid him $500 to appear is another question entirely). According to the folks who run the Little League, Dukes was a hit with the kids and the parents. Dukes apparently got to the Nationals' home game that evening late and for his trouble he was benched.....and was fined $500.

In a move that makes me think that Tim Geithner is only the second dumbest person running an organization in the District these days, the Nats' "acting" General Manager (so entitled because he is serving in an "interim" capacity and not because he is playing one on TV - although given the manner in which the organization operates the error is understandable) Mike Rizzo declared that Dukes would not only be fined for this transgression but would be sent to the minor leagues if he ever did such a thing again. Genius-in-waiting Manny Acta, the Nationals' manager, added, "We are going to change the culture here, regardless of how well a guy is playing. It was a bizarre situation, because he was doing something that we encourage our players to do. He was out in the community doing something for some Little League program and he just showed up late for work. He was very remorseful about it. He felt bad, but we have to lay down the law. Regardless of who is out there, we are still losing ballgames. We have to change the culture somehow."

And what a stellar way to start that culture change, right? Elijah Dukes is a young man whose career has been as noteworthy thus far for the nonsense he has gotten himself involved in off of the field as it has been for what he has achieved on it. But proving that no good deed deserves to go unpunished, the team that is the laughingstock of professional baseball reaffirmed its place atop that particular pecking order for punishing a young player for doing a decent thing.

According to LL President Mraz, "You're a little stunned. Like, 'Whoa, wait a minute.' Here's the game of baseball -- it's got steroids hanging over it, all these issues. ... Needless to say the Nats kind of need help with what they're doing. I could see if he was out trying to do something small or private, but he just came into my community and gave us a shot in the arm."

And for that he received a kick in the ass. Well done Natinals, well done indeed.

-AK

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sit Down, You're Baracking The Boat

Admittedly, everything I have ever learned about Cuba - as it existed prior to the emergence of Fidel Castro - I have learned from The Godfather movies. Perhaps history through the eyes of Hyman Roth is not the most accurate telling. However, courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola's cinematic mastery I have always believed that I have had at least a fundamental understanding of the difference between Havana B.F. (Before Fidel) and Havana A.F. (After Fidel).

Hell, forget Hyman Roth and the Corleone family - Sky Masterson would not have been caught dead in Havana A.F. - even with a tight ass church marm like Sister Sara Brown (proving that there is indeed as least one thing that a guy will not do for a doll).

Thus I am a bit surprised that President Obama - and anyone remotely connected with the United States government - seem taken aback by Fidel Castro's rather harsh assessment of President Obama's somewhat hopeful outlook on future relations between Cuba and the United States. Fidel Castro remembers what life was like in Havana B.F. and not surprisingly he has little interest in living through a second act of that particular drama.

In his recent essay (Fidel the Essayist? Who knew?) El Presidente wrote, "We are living in a new era. Changes are unavoidable. Leaders just pass through; peoples prevail." Tall talk from a guy who has been atop his throne for fifty years. Change has not exactly been the national currency under the Castro regime after all.

Upon further review, it appears as if the recreation of Havana into South Beach South might be a bit further around the bend the Prez might have been led to believe based upon his conversations with the "other" Castro, Raul. It might have been helpful if he had remembered that Bernadette Castro has as much actual power in Cuba as Raul Castro does and that at day's end all that matters now is all that has ever mattered; which is Cuba's position on all matters international is whatever Fidel Castro says it is.

-AK

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

For All The Hoodoos And The Cakes

When introduced as a member of the New York Yankees in the aftermath of the defeat in the 2001 World Series, Jason Giambi was greeted with tremendous fanfare. One wonders how George Steinbrenner might have reacted to Tino Martinez's free agency and Giambi's availability if Mariano Rivera had thrown the ball to Derek Jeter as Jeter broke to cover 2nd base....and not over Jeter's head and into center field. Mo did not. And in the wake of the Yankees' "failure" to win a fourth consecutive World Series, Steinbrenner did a bit of panic shopping. He stood on its head what his baseball people had spent the previous several years trying to do - developing a team of players without any superstars - and signed Giambi to a 7 year, gazillion dollar contract.

Giambi spent seven seasons as a member of the Yankees. In the seven seasons he played in New York, the Yankees won but one American League pennant - the result of their epic battle with the Red Sox in 2003 - and not a single World Series. On the field, Giambi's performance was sporadic, and considered disappointing. He was extremely productive at times and did generate some impressive power numbers - in 2002 and 2003 he posted 41 HR/122 RBI and 41 HR/107 RBI seasons back-to-back. He hit more than thirty home runs in five of his New York seasons and drove in more than ninety runs four times - including three 100+ RBI seasons. But he never hit as he had hit as an Oakland A - posting only one season as a Yankee in which he hit above .300....and one other season in which he hit higher than .270.

Yet his time as a Yankee was pockmarked by his off-the-field adventures in the wonderful world of steroids. The "Giambino" was one of he Major Leaguers who was summoned to appear before a Federal grand jury and in December 2003 he testified that he had taken steroids and human growth hormones to enhance his performance. His admission served as explanation to many of us Yankees fans who had been at a loss to understand how this big, strapping guy we had imported from Oakland to hit the ball 1000 miles every time he made contact had seemed to break down physically before our eyes. And in a town that is rabid about its baseball and replete with two daily tabloid newspapers, Giambi's admission served as back-page fodder. His "non-apology" apology did little to enhance his public image - at least in its immediate aftermath.

And then a funny thing happened. Giambi's actions started getting examined through the prism of self-denial that permeated how all other Major Leaguers responded to allegations of steroid use. And the more that his fellow ball players acted as if they were above reproach, the better the laid-back Californian looked. He certainly did not hurt himself in the court of public opinion - baseball style - when in May 2007 he added a little more meat to his initially bare-bones mea culpa, "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up — players, ownership, everybody — and said: 'We made a mistake.' We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. … Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."

Giambi's career as a New York Yankee came to a close at the end of the 2008 season. When he returned to the Bronx Tuesday night as a visiting player for the first time since the 2001 ALDS, which in what should have been an omen for his career in pinstripes his A's team blew a 2-0 lead and lost to the Yankees in five games, the fans in the Stadium gave him a hearty ovation. Many of them stood. Their disappointment in what Giambi the player accomplished ceding the moment to their affection for Giambi the man - a physically big, flawed but affable human being.

Indeed, when he strode to home plate for the first time Tuesday night, he lightly doffed his hat. And among those assembled at Yankee Stadium, there was no doubt that 'twas their very own incarnation of Casey at the bat.

-AK

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Mighty Little Acorn

I have been feasting mightily at the trough of self-pity for quite some time now. Well, in fairness to me, I take most of my meals in the trough of self-loathing, which is located cross hairs and perpendicular to the self-pity trough but from time to time I wander over to what's available under its sneeze guard.

On occasion however it is good to pull off the feed bag and give the old jaw muscles a break. It is good to look around and see what the hell is taking place. Sunday gave rise to one of those days.

Margaret's mom - my mother-in-law Suzy B. - has been battling hard against cancer for the past four-plus years. Cancer has attacked my diminutive mother-in-law with a vengeance one would think that the Supreme Being would reserve for dictators, mothers of beauty pageant contestants and Boston Red Sox fans - and something from which he would spare one of his most special creations. No such luck.

The most recent incarnation of chemotherapy began with an infusion on Tuesday last and a daily regimen of pills thereafter. For reasons not clear to the patient, her daughter or any of the rest of us who were with her, on Sunday morning she became spontaneously and violently ill. When it did not cease, she went to a place where she has spent an unfortunate amount of time these past few years - the Nardoni Pavilion at Somerset Medical Center, which is where she remains this morning. And by her side, because she knows not where else she would be, is my bride.

One can speak of unbreakable bonds. Poets write of them. Coffeehouse singers sing of them. Margaret and her mom live one every day. And even in circumstances that are painful for them to endure and sad for the rest of us to watch, the strength of their bond is a marvel.

Every once in a while it is good to lift one's over sized head up out of the trough and take a look around. There is a hell of a lot of life going on out there. And even in sadness, there is beauty. It is hard to see it through the tears sometimes but it is out there.

-AK

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ten Years After

It was ten years ago on this very day that the name of a suburban Colorado high school became ingrained in the American lexicon as something far more sad and far more sinister than an academic institution. For it was on this very day ten years ago that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two members of the student body, murdered thirteen other members of their school community and injured another two dozen.


In a perfect world, the two kids who plotted to murder and then carried out their horrible plan never would have felt compelled to do what they did. In a less than perfect but getting better all the time world, we would remember the names of Messrs. Harris and Klebold as being the last of a vanishing breed. Alas, that did not occur either. In the decade since their day of infamy the scene has been repeated with alarming frequency. And far from being anomalous or exceptional, they are but two occupants of an ever-growing Rogues' Gallery.


In the aftermath of every incident, we undergo the seemingly endless analysis into why those who have done bad things have done them. It appears that in spite of all of the advancements made in the areas of science and technology - or perhaps because of them - we never give up the quest for knowledge, even searching in vain for answers to questions that cannot be answered. Since time immemorial there have been people who have acted in a way that is anti-social at least, deliberately injurious at worst and there is as little an explanation for it now as there has ever been.


Ten years removed from the event that made their high school and their community a household name for reasons none of them - except perhaps Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold - ever could have envisioned, the good folks of the Columbine High School community shall gather at the memorial erected to honor the memories of those killed and injured ten years ago. Through memory, they assure that they shall not forget. None of us shall. And we should not. Not the havoc wreaked by two murderers but the quality of the lives lived by those who died and the perseverance exhibited by those who were injured. Those who did the deed will be resigned to the dustheap of history.


Those whose lives were cut short or were irrevocably altered shall live forever in the hearts and the memories of those who loved them and who miss them still..... Ten years further on up the road.


-AK

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Reaping and Sowing, Sowing and Reaping

One year ago, I decided to embark on this cathartic and therapeutic exercise. And generally speaking, it has been a useful endeavor. For its very existence I have my brother Bill to thank. I had no idea such an outlet existed until I started reading several entries from his that he sent to me to ponder. One year into this grand experiment in expository writing and free expression and I do not think I have plumbed a depth that puts me even within shouting distance of the simply incredible thoughts his mind creates - seemingly without any effort whatsoever. I have long been in awe of my big brother's ability to use language and to draw out thought from those who read what he writes. A year into this self-created vanity project, that awe has deepened, which one year ago I would have not thought possible.

Life has intersected with me often over the course of the past year. A lot of the points of intersection have been truly wonderful, a number of them less so. Since Day One, I have watched my Mom bury her closest living relative (wow, frank admission from one of her six adult children eh?) her brother Jim. As a little boy, confused by what struck even my child's brain as inappropriate behavior by my old man - directed with needless venom towards my uncle and his wife, my Aunt Dot, it never occurred to me how brutal it must have been for Mom to endure. When the Kenny adult offspring - or 2/3 of us anyway - drove with Mom to Ocean City Maryland last spring for Unc's funeral, I saw the evidence of the brutality etched on Mom's face. I wondered for days thereafter if my father, a deliberately obtuse son of a bitch if ever there was one knew what he had done to his wife. And then the fog cleared and I remembered my old man vividly for a moment and realized that he not only knew, he likely reveled in it. I think though Mom realized by the reaction of all of us to her profound loss just how much all of us had loved Unc and how aware we all were of what he meant to her. And I think it brought her a bit of peace. I hope it did.

I have watched Margaret and her family suffer two extraordinary losses back-to-back. First, on an early August Saturday morning Nan died. She was in her mid-90's and died in her sleep in her own bed and in her home with the daughter who loved her and doted on her and the son-in-law who worshiped her each just down the hall. If Nan had not existed, someone would have created her out of whole cloth. They likely do not make them like Nan any longer, which is too damn bad. They should - we could all certainly use more of her. A week after she died and only about 72 hours after Margaret's family buried her, Nan's little sister Meni - who was also on the far side of 90 died as well. Between them, the irrepressible Nan and Aunt Meni lived just a couple of decades short of two whole centuries - and never got cheated out of one day of their lives. Not a single one.

I have watched with pride and with more than a little sadness as the younger of my two young adults has relocated almost 2000 miles West in pursuit of his dream. I am immeasurably proud of my boy - who is every inch the son his mother raised. He is a credit to all who know him. When people ask me if I am proud of him, I say "yes" without hesitation and then add - just to myself - "as I hope he is of me." I miss him in a million different ways and candidly for someone who is telephonically inept such as I am - the phone just does not cut it as a means of communication. I typically think of one million things I wanted to say to him 10 seconds after the call concludes.

I have had a front-sow seat to the continuing education of my daughter Suzanne whose ability to process information makes me wonder if she/Bill have been secretly corresponding for the past twenty years or so. Suz shall leave a mark on this world - in the most positive of ways - because it is what she chooses to do. She is too bright, too driven and too passionate about those she wishes to help and work with to ever fail. I have seen her Day-Planner. It is chock full of items and appointments from here until the point where the sky and the horizon intersect. There is not a single entry allotting even 1o minutes to "failure".

And over the course of this past year I have watched as my life's great love - Margaret - has had her patience tested and her sanity challenged by none other than me. Once upon a time I thought I might actually be the rock in our relationship - the anchor, the port in the storm (or whatever other cliche - nautically inspired or otherwise - that leaps into your mind's forefront). In a year that has seen me do some well-intentioned but nevertheless very stupid things professionally, she has never flinched. She has never wavered in her support of me and in being a source of strength for me. And there have been days during the course of this past lap of 365 that I have likely been less than deserving of her support, her strength and her love. Yet, without fail she has delivered. During the course of the past several months, I have fallen behind repeatedly. Yet, she has never failed to wait for me. She remains resilient in her belief that I shall find my stride and all shall be well again.

Let's hope that I am not here this time next year still manning the crow's nest on the lookout for better days ahead.....just beyond the flow of icebergs in which I have currently piloted us.

Let me do what I'm doing/Let me be where I am/Let me find peace of mind/On my own piece of land/When I'm lost, help me to let go/And find someway to feel/Like a man on a tractor with a dog in a field.

Have I come far or moved not at all? Some days I cannot tell.

-AK

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Sale's All Here. Where Is The Band?

Today and tomorrow my wife is coordinating one of the truly great events in the suburban arena - the garage sale. Or as I like to think of it, the "come grab all my crap a-thon". It is a two-day event, which for duration alone makes it sort of like the dumpster diver's decathlon. People will root through boxes of long-forgotten and/or never used "treasures" searching for bargains as if they were on a quest for the final containers of oxygen available in this hemisphere. And while dreams are not exactly free - they never are, are they - you can get a handful of them - slightly worn and tattered - for less than $5.00.

Nothing brings people out of the woodwork quite like the chance to rummage through the crap (sorry - the priceless valuables) of strangers. I am happy that Margaret is having her little shindig this weekend for a couple of reasons. First, we have relocated quite a bit of our junk from the basement, where it was taking up valuable storage space, up and out to the garage. Next stop - curb! So, at nightfall on Sunday, whatever has not yet been carted off by the weekend's shoppers will make its final march to the nearby curb, waiting to get hauled off. Second, between the morning at the office and an afternoon of playing softball, I will be happily absent from the Oklahoma land grab on Saturday at least.

We measure success in little victories here 'neath the snow globe. And there is nothing in the world wrong with that method of measurement. This weekend, 'round here, you can get a handful for less than $5.00.

A bargain - even at twice the price.

-AK

Friday, April 17, 2009

Show Time at the House of Blues.....

I heard a simply great story the other day, while discussing business and life in general with a friend and former colleague, about perspective. And I appreciated not only being told the story but I appreciated the sentiment behind it. I have learned over the course of the past few months that I suffer from an infirmity that is not uncommon among humans, I suppose. I tend to be harder on myself and more self-critical than I am vis-a-vis others. That certainly does not qualify me as a member of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Perhaps, blissfully I had avoided doing anything to make me a card-carrying member of the Order of the Galactically Stupid for a long, long time, which had either immunized me from my own harshness or made me forgetful of its severity.

Either way, there is no person more surprised and more pissed off at me by the stunning display of impotence I have exhibited over my own life and the ebb and flow of the daily events than I am. I have always had a bit of faith at least in my own mind (hell, the carrying case for my brain - my jumbo, over sized cranium - certainly is large enough) but having made one significant decision, which has turned out in hindsight to be a horrendous miscalculation, has sapped quite a lot out of my reservoir of faith. It is as if I awakened one day to find out it was drought season.

I hope like hell that I am slowly but surely crawling out of the wreckage. And I hope like hell that upon clearing away the debris there is something worth crawling back to. And given the self-inflicted tricks my mind has played upon me just for fun the past several months, I am leaning more heavily than ever on those around me for support and for help.

For years my mother has been the dispenser of two little nuggets of life advice. First, everything happens for a reason. Second, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. I hope like hell she is right.

-AK

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Signs of the Times......

As sure as the lengthening of the days - and the roller-coaster tendencies of the temperature - are tell-tale signs of Spring, here in the State of the Garden State Plaza (and other grotesquely over sized shopping meccas) there is another sure sign that Spring has sprung and summer is in the offing. Annually, a proliferation of mini-signs appear positioned strategically in lawns, yards, parks and on those little grassy strips that separate the sidewalk from the curb. You know the mini-signs of which I speak, right? The mini-signs that have the little characters (sometimes people, sometimes animals) drawn on them with a line drawn through them - signifying for all to see that no animal (quad - or bi-ped) should set foot on this patch of grass due to the fact that it has just been "treated". Treated being the code word for "blasted with chemicals to kill unpleasant sh*t" we do not want messing up the appearance of our suburban lawn during the one time of the year where all of us - including all of our dopey neighbors - will actually spend time outside.

I am embarrassed to admit that a couple of years ago - frustrated by the result of my annual effort to spray paint the motley assemblage of weeds, dirt and pseudo-grass that constituted my front lawn into something that appeared presentable to the naked eye, I took the plunge. Well, truth be told, after getting tired of asking me to do it - only to have me do nothing - Margaret took the plunge and called one of those outfits with the clever name (Lawn Doctor or some such thing) to "remediate our grass." Part of the remediation process is the zapping down of chemicals and, thereafter like clockwork, the placement of signage.

While I kinda, sorta understand why the signage gets placed on a front lawn - to warn off any kid who might otherwise attempt to engage in a spontaneous barrel roll or some similar move - it seems to make less sense to me when I see it on the little inclined sliver of grass that leads up the front steps to Hell's 7th Circle, where I toil six days a week. While I suppose anything is possible - this after all is a building where the Building Manager - who is a truly wonderful guy - was driven to put a sign up inside of the stalls in the 2nd floor men's room reminding its occupants that toilet paper was to end up in the toilet and not elsewhere, I have a hard time envisioning the set of facts under which the 2 by 4 patch of grass adjacent to the front steps turns into a picnic mecca once we get consistently warm weather. Thus, the warning seems a bit unnecessary.

Of course, the warning - in typically "us first" fashion, does much for us but not too much for any of the other species of animals who are likely to do their chillin' on the grass. I have not yet encountered a squirrel, a rabbit or a groundhog who can read and comprehend English, which may explain why most of the mini-signs contain the same warnings written in Spanish as well. One wonders what sort of perverse satisfaction the landscaper gets from placing the signs. If they were intended to be seen principally by humans, they would be up here - at eye level - where we naturally read things and not down there - at shin level - where only the uncoordinated and the intoxicated are likely to be in a position to read them.

It is the classic case of the point of intersection between capitalism and appeasement. People want good-looking lawns. People (OK, at the very least, me) lack the skills to produce a good-looking lawn on their own. Thus, people are willing to pay big coin to get a good-looking lawn. People do not like the way dead things, such as squirrels, rabbits and the neighbor's Portuguese Water Dog (man, am I topical or what?) look juxtaposed against the bright green sheen of chemically enhanced grass. So, to appease ourselves - and the tree-huggers among us - we post our mini-signs, which clearly alert those naturally accustomed to reading things dangling from little poles 2 to 4 inches above the ground who are also fluent in one and/or two languages, of the imminent danger associated with taking off our shoes and frolicking in a particular piece of grass. In other words, we do it for show, which seems to occupy an ever-increasing amount of time on everyone's agenda these days.

And as long as it makes us feel good, whether it does any good is irrelevant. And in the end, that is what makes all of the difference.

-AK

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

We're A Long, Long Way From Home Bobbie

I know not when it happened - it might have been before I officially picked up roots in one location and tried to put them down in another for all I know - but the great "career transplant" operation has not taken. And so here I am. The mailing address on my new business card says Parsippany, as did it on its predecessor but I really am in limbo. And I know not what to do about it. At day's end, while I still possess the ability to man up and to accept responsibility for decisions I have made, I am troubled by - and some nights haunted by - the fallout of this particular decision. My finger is indeed on the trigger and I most assuredly know not who to trust.

There are times that I think I might be wrapping my head around what I am doing and what I need to do. But those times are fleeting. I am simply at a loss. And while Margaret keeps telling me that she does not hate me for what I have done, it matters not. It matters a little I suppose in that I feel slightly better than I otherwise would about the fact that my wife apparently does not hate me. But with self-loathing in plentiful supply and the damage wrought the same regardless of intent, it makes only a barely perceptible difference.

It was either a lifetime ago or no time ago at all that life had a normal rhythm and rhyme. It was a mere 150 days ago or so that Margaret and I were in Georgia to see Rob graduate from FLETC. It was a mere 150 days ago or so that Rob and I drove home from Georgia in a meandering fashion - spending two great days in Washington, D.C. - two short weeks after President Obama had been elected and the capital was abuzz with promise and possibilities. And it seems to me as if while it was not too very long ago temporally speaking, it was so long ago. My world was a much different place then. A much better place.

And while I can look outward to see who is responsible for all that has happened, I know that it was something in me. And every time I think I am surfacing, it turns out that I am going under yet again. Not for the last time I hope. But at this point, I simply do not know. When all you have counted on to guide you - the gut instinct by which you live your life - appear to have screwed you and have abandoned you, what the hell do you do next?

I am not the guy to ask. I sure as hell have not figured it out. For right now, I have swapped out living for just trying to survive.

What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear's a dangerous thing
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God filled soul
Fill it with devils and dust.

-AK

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In The End Every Man Plays The Game

If you believe absolutely in the axiom that time heals all wounds, then do not watch the documentary that HBO is currently airing (Saturday the 11th was its premiere) called, "Thrilla in Manila". It is an examination of not only the 3rd epic fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier but also the relationship between the two men. It is a story told from Frazier's perspective. And as someone who is both a boxing fan and a fan of history, I found it fascinating and I would recommend it to everyone, whether a boxing fan or not.

I knew not until I watched it Saturday night that during the three years in which Ali was persona non grata in professional boxing (after declaring himself a conscientious objector and refusing to go to Vietnam - saying "I ain't got no beef with the Viet Cong") that Joe Frazier remained his #1 supporter. Some of Frazier's motivation was economic self-interest to be sure. He wanted Ali back in action so that the two men could fight one another and make a lot of money. But not all of what Frazier did was motivated by his economic self-interest. He loaned Ali money out of his own pocket. He did things that were unpopular with some of his own supporters vis-a-vis Ali, stating publicly that Ali's right to object to the war should not have cost him his boxing license, his heavyweight championship and his right to earn a living.

In 1970, Ali was reinstated. While he had been away from boxing, Frazier had become the world's heavyweight champion. And upon his return to boxing, unflinchingly, unceasingly and diabolically he turned on Frazier. The man who had helped keep Ali alive when the world at large had turned its back on him now bit the hand that had fed him. And kept biting him - over and over and over.

Ali's attacks on Frazier, which started prior to their first epic fight in 1971 kept up through their third and final bout in Manila, in 1975. And while after the third fight Ali tried to stake his claim to the fact that all he was doing was promoting the fights, watching the film two things seemed readily apparent: (1) Ali was not simply hyping the fights - he was attacking Frazier personally; and (2) Frazier, maligned by Ali for his alleged lack of intelligence, understood perfectly that the comments were personal and not promotional.

These two great fighters are almost thirty-five years removed from the final act of their trilogy. The intervening three and one half decades have not been especially kind to either man - less so to Ali than to Frazier. And if you think that time heals all wounds, watch the very end of the film. Joe Frazier's brother Tommy dials Smokin' Joe's cell phone and then plays his brother's voice-mail message for all to hear - "I'm Smokin' Joe Frazier, still sharp as a razor. He used to float like a butterfly, used to sting like a bee. I'm the one who did the job. Just look and see."

And at day's end, time is not the magic elixir for all wounds. Not all that is said and all that is done can simply be undone by the tearing off of pages on the calendar. And an old fighter can have a hard time resisting the temptation to keep throwing punches - even after the referee has stopped the contest.

Tonight in the shipyard a man draws a circle in the dirt
I move to the center and I take off my shirt
I study him for the cuts, the scars, the pain,
Man, nor time can erase
I move hard to the left and I strike to the face.

-AK

Monday, April 13, 2009

Wreck On The Highway

The hard thing for me about being a Springsteen fan - if there is such a thing - is wading through all of the ancillary nonsense written about the man's life. There is a real blind spot among many Springsteen fans to be kinda, sorta myopic when it comes to Bruce "the human being". Springsteen can sing of a man who "Offers his lover's prayer but his soul lies Dark and driftin' and unsatisfied" but he cannot possibly be such a man. Or can he?

I know not and in spite of the fact that he is a public figure and long ago traded in the opportunity to not have every aspect of his life examined and probed, I believe it is not my business. Regardless of one's station in life and the amount of access that the public has to you on a day in, day out basis, I am of the opinion that what happens inside of the four walls of the family home should remain there.

Springsteen has been in the news a lot lately - and not just because he and the E Street Band have just started a world tour in support of Working On A Dream. His name has surfaced in a divorce complaint recently filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County by a gentleman named Arthur Kelly. Kelly alleges that his wife - who he has sued for divorce, "has committed adultery with one Bruce Springsteen, who resides in Rumson, New Jersey and Colts Neck, New Jersey at various times and places too numerous to mention." Mr. Kelly's wife, the defendant in the divorce complaint, denies the allegations. Springsteen has also denied the allegations.

Whether the allegations are ultimately proven to be true remains to be seen. They are after all only allegations, which means they are not FACTS but rather something that the plaintiff claims to be so. It has been interesting to read some of the reaction to the allegations that have popped up on threads on the Backstreets site. There are fans who have reacted with indignity one might have envisioned being reserved solely for such an allegation being made against them personally or a member of their immediate family. The basis for the rage is fairly self-serving actually: any failings of Springsteen the human being somehow reflect poorly upon those of us who are fans of Springsteen the musician. It is as illogical as it is self-serving.

My appreciation for Springsteen the musician remains fierce. His music has formed the single largest portion of my life's soundtrack to date. And whether Mr. Kelly's allegations are proven or not, that shall not change. My unfamiliarity with Springsteen the human remains static as well. I do not know him. I have never met him and I am hard pressed to envision the circumstances under which I will.

I take to heart his little rap preserved forever on Live 1975-1985 and his cover of "War" when he cautioned the audience to not believe in something blindly. He told them in fact that, "blind faith in your leaders will get you killed." Regardless of whether the allegations that Mr. Kelly and Mrs. Kelly seem prepared to litigate publicly - irrespective of the prospective impact on their two children - are proven or not, Bruce's words are worth paying attention to - even for the most fervent members of his fan base.

-AK

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Is It Insurrection or Resurrection?

I am forced to confess that at some juncture as I tiptoed my way through the mine field that it this life, whatever faith in a "higher power" that my parents fought like hell to instill in me - and in all six of us - got used up. And having lost my map to the Font of Salvation and having broken my decoder ring that contained the combination lock that would allow me entry upon arrival, I gave up any pretense of trying to refill the canteen. I love my Springsteen music and while I accept as terrestrial notion that faith shall in fact be rewarded (faith in my my family, my country, myself) it simply does not transcend to the level of any of that higher power jive for me.

I know not when it was - or if it was even a singular event - that the whole notion of God beat a hasty retreat out of me. I suppose it could have been when my old man died or when Mom first got diagnosed with breast cancer or perhaps when Margaret's mom - Suzy B. - got hit with cancer the first time.....or the second time.....or - well you get the idea. On a certain level, I find the generally-accepted belief in some type of "higher power" both curious and a tad incomprehensible - particularly in those such as my own mother and my mother-in-law who have been saddled with difficult health issues as their apparent reward for a life spent helping others and taking little for themselves.

It is arrogant I know but I also put no stock in the school of thought that perhaps one should believe because (a) it does not hurt anyone; and (b) if you are wrong and there is a Big Man (or should I say 'another' Big Man) when your jig is up you are going to be really, really screwed. I have told Margaret to simply write the following epitaph on my little urn of ash: "DRESS LIGHT" and make sure my Ray-Bans are packed.

Once upon a time, I had faith in the fella whose aging face I saw every morning in my bathroom mirror. Not so much any more. There is nothing quite as life-altering as doing something galactically stupid to shake your faith in your own abilities....and in your own process. While I have spent fleeting moments over the course of the past couple of months keeping one eye out for buildings with the proper combination of floors and security, bridge abutments and well-developed trees as I try to figure a way out of the large vat of quicksand into which I have tossed my career, my family and myself, I have not spent any time seeking help from the Lord. I know not whether Margaret prays for help. I fail to see the benefit of the exercise. This is the same fellow after all who declared war on, first, my mother and, second, on Margaret's mom.

Today is Easter Sunday - and Catholics around the globe shall celebrate the pushing back of the rock and the resurrection of their savior. A happy day, indeed. Me? I am just hoping for a Gertrude Hawk solid milk chocolate bunny. After all, in Gert I trust.

Whether I am right or you are right, is a question that shall remain unanswered as we trip along the mortal coil here. I will see you in the next life- wake me up for meals.

-AK

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Forever Pitching For The Home Team

True confession: until I read the item on-line on Thursday that he had been killed in a hit-and-run accident after pitching for the Angels on Wednesday night, I had never heard the name Nick Adenhart. I found out too late it appears that this young man, all 22 years of him, was a rookie pitcher for the Angels who made the fourth start of his fledgling major league career on Wednesday before the home folks in Anaheim. In front of a crowd that included his dad, who flew West from Baltimore to watch his boy make his first start of the season. Kid did his job - turning over a 4-0 lead to his bullpen after six innings but the Halos' pen could not make the lead stand up. The fans shuffled out depressed as the home team dropped a 6-4 decision.


Before the sun rose over southern California on Thursday, the baseball-loving folks of Anaheim had a lot more about which to be depressed. Nick Adenhart was a passenger in a car driven by a friend, Courtney Frances Stewart. In the car with these two kids were two other kids - Henry Nigel Pearson and Jon Wilhite. At about 12:30 A.M. on Thursday morning, the car these four young people were in was hit broadside at an intersection by a vehicle driven by a drunk driver. Stand-up citizen, Andrew Thomas Gallo, who was driving in spite of the fact that his license had been suspended for driving drunk, plowed into the car and then - sensing perhaps that he might be called upon to answer for his actions - he ran like hell as fast as he could from the destruction he had wrought. Kudos to the police for tracking him down and, about 30 minutes after the Cowardly Liver Spot did the voodoo that sadly he does too well, he was in custody.


Gallo's decision to drive while drunk killed three young people Thursday morning. Courtney Frances Stewart and Henry Nigel Pearson were killed....and the young man who had earned the cheers of thousands on Wednesday night merited their tears on Thursday morning. Nick Adenhart died alongside of his two friends. Of the four kids in the car, only Jon Wilhite survived the impact. Three young people struck down due to the selfishness, stupidity and arrogance of a fourth.

No matter how old your kids get, you never fail to worry about them - and about their safety. And regardless of what you do and what measures you take to protect them, you cannot be everywhere and you cannot protect them from everything or everyone. Sometimes you just end up entrusting them to their better angels, whether you intended to or not.

The Angels had a homecoming in Heaven late last night - and they welcomed three more to their number, including one young fellow who had already proven that the uniform was indeed a perfect fit.

-AK

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ceramic Plates and Other Miracles of the Grotto

When I was a child, my parents had a vacation home in Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania. I remember making the annual trek to the lake every summer - the Kennys doing our impersonation of a school of salmon with all of our friends heading south and east to the Shore and us migrating 180 degrees in the opposite direction to the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. My favorite part of the landing ritual annually - at least when there were enough of the six Kenny sibs at home that Kelly was still living with our parents - was his declaration as we made the left turn at Joe's Grotto Pizza onto the main road that circled the entire 9.5 mile lake ("The largest natural lake in Pennsylvania" according to the signage that the town fathers erected) that, "You are now entering Harvey's Lake Pennsylvania. Please turn back your clocks 200 years."

Kelly played the line for laughs annually and all of us did - except for Dad. In spite of the fact (or may because of it) that he knew it was coming, my father would screw up his fat little face so he looked like the kid who smelled the really stinky cheese and then glare in Kelly's general direction in the rear-view mirror. A regular rite of summer in the Kenny household - as sure to happen as the ticking of the clock on the wall.

Looking back at my childhood, among the many things that I still find impossible to comprehend is how my parents afforded a vacation home. Granted, we were not living on the sands of Long Beach Island or The Hamptons but it was a home - a six bedroom home - on a lake with a dock and a motor boat and a whole bunch of other neat amenities that seem to me, still, beyond my father's ability to afford. Yet, even with his being the only income in our household for a number of years (Mom was not able to return to work until her youngest pain in the a** reached an age that permitted that possibility), my folks owned their own home in New Jersey and had a "lake house" where we summered.

By the time of his death, my father and I had devolved into what can fairly be characterized as an uneasy relationship. While one supposes that at some point - on the other side of those awkward teenage years - he and I would have emerged as friends (or at the very least adversaries respectful of one another's intellect and ability to injure) we did not. Thus, he died without me ever having gotten to know the core of the man who he was - what made him tick. What made it possible for a guy who survived the first several heart attacks that attempted to kill him and whose post heart attack rehab invariably included a lot of greasy, fried food, ice cream and Manhattans to go forever on 4 hours of sleep, get up for the day long before sunrise and then outwork people half his age? I knew not then. I know not now.

I know that for his many strengths, his inability to hold his liquor and his refusal to stop trying to improve that particular ability was his greatest failure. A few years after he died, Mom and I went up to Harvey's Lake to clean it out - she had sold it - and among Dad's treasures that we found was an over sized white decorative plate. As soon as I saw it, I remembered where I had seen it as a kid - above the china closet in the dining room - and I remembered not being able to understand why something that struck me as humorous always seemed to hit Mom in a significantly different way. The plate showed a cartoon figure, lying on his belly clearly intoxicated clutching a blade of grass between his fingers. The caption was, "An Irishman is never drunk so long as he can hold onto a single blade of grass and successfully keep from falling off of the face of the Earth."

Dad's ceramic plate is on my mind these days because - while I gave up my 6 screwdrivers a day regimen years ago - I remain driven by the need to cling to just one blade of grass. Wednesday night, Rob called from Wyoming to tell me that he "was just like the old man", which being a pessimist made me think....well I do not know precisely what I thought but according to Margaret my face just blanched. It turns out that he was calling to tell me that he has joined a team that one of his buddies at work runs and is playing in a summer softball league. He had just returned from his first practice when he called and we spent a few minutes chatting about practice, his gear, etc. Silliness to the rest of the world perhaps but not to us. To us, it was a blade of grass.

And while it is perhaps reflective of some much more deep-seated psychosis than I would ever care to admit, on my way to work this morning I did what I do every morning - I went right at the base of the exit ramp instead of left. Although I changed jobs sixty days ago, my commute remains essentially unchanged. I take the same exit off of 287 North as I had taken six days a week since early August 1999, when WL moved from 299 Cherry Hill Road to its current digs at 629 Parsippany Road. Now, to come here to Dante's abode I turn left at the end of the ramp. To get to WL, one makes a right turn. Every morning, rather than wait at the traffic light to make the left turn, I pop the right. About 3 seconds later, I am making the left turn into the WL parking lot. It is early and at 4:30 in the morning there are no cars there so my view of my old parking space, with the ever-fading "AK" still painted in the macadam, is unobstructed. And I stop for a moment - just a moment - every morning and look at it. I suppose technically speaking I am guilty of a daily trespass. And if anyone who wants to enforce it reads this, there could be consequences for my actions.

Maybe the powers that be will let me slide. I am paying presently for the consequences of my actions. And it is really not a trespass is it? It is but a single blade of grass. All I am trying to do is avoid falling off of the face of the Earth.

-AK

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Of Burgers and Briquets

Last evening we enjoyed a bit of grilling. Actually, Suzanne and Margaret did the work. I just enjoyed the fruit of their labors. I must confess that I am not an enormous steak fan. I am far more inclined to order salmon when we go out to eat than I am to order steak. That being said, there is something about steak prepared on the backyard grill that gets me every time. And whether it was the cut of beef, the way in which it was prepared or the fact that it was the first grilled steak of the Spring I know not. All I know is that it was simply terrific.

The weather here 'neath the snow globe has been a bit imprecise thus far this Spring. At more than one point yesterday morning, it snowed. Nothing like snow flurries to break up the monotony of an otherwise sunny, sixty degree early Spring day. It is as if the weather is as confused about its future course as I am. Summer will come in due course for at least one of us. Here's to hoping that there is a second available seat at the table.

There is a secret to grilling, of course. One reckons that there is a secret to everything. With grilling, the secret is the evenness of the burn. One wants meat to be warmly toasted on the outside, so as to form a protective shield around the good stuff that lies within. If the flame burns too hot, then the outer shell gets burned for no purpose. It gets the living tar beaten out of it before the inside is finished cooking and instead of steak, you have quasi-raw shoe leather. It is the meat equivalent of a Charms Blow-Pop and let us be honest for a moment, shall we - the gum in those lollipops always tasted atrocious.

The key to good grilling is - not surprisingly - patience, a deft touch and a little bit of luck. And sometimes, no matter how well intentioned you are and how much advance planning you do, you get a less than ideal result. Hmmm. That sounds quite a bit like a laundry list that comes in handy whether you are grilling or doing something else altogether.

And I lit a fire that wouldn't go out/Until it consumed the walls and roof of this house. Be careful out there.

-AK

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

By the Light of the Navesink Banks

There is something to be said for perspective - and occasionally it shows up for us when we need it the most....and expect it the least.

At some point in time during the past sixty days or so, my own internal sense of self has been shredded. And the worst part about it is that the majority of the damage done to me has been done by me. I swear that my path - kinda/sorta like the road to Hell - was paved with good intentions. Some days I wonder. And some days, in spite of the concerted efforts of good friends and the eternal vigilance of my beautiful bride, it seems less likely than not that a happy ending - and not a Freightliner - is behind the light at the tunnel's end.

And then out of the blue yesterday came a reminder of my own shallowness - my own stupidity. I am fortunate in my life to not only know my mother, who is an incredible, courageous woman but also my mother-in-law, who is the Italian version of my old Irish mother. Margaret's mom has endured so much over the past few years that it would not even do justice to it to recount it here. Suffice it to say that the burdens normally reserved for a small town - or at the very least a large neighborhood have been thrust upon her.

Over the course of the past five years or so there have had to have been occasions on which Suzy B. has been sad. And there have had to have been occasions when she has felt overwhelmed, disappointed, discouraged and - just for sh*ts and giggles - a plentiful combination platter of all of them. And at times, depression has to attack her, to confront her, to challenge her to keep fighting.

Yesterday was one of those gray days that someone fighting against cancer is called upon to fight from time to time. It was a "doctor day" when Margaret accompanied her mom to an appointment to assess the progress that the latest course of chemotherapy has made in her war on cancer. The progress was not as great as one would have hoped but the drugs are still holding their own - still fighting the good fight. Still holding the line - sandbags if you will holding back the raging flood waters.

And as is the case whenever one receives news that is less that one has hoped for, regardless of how well grounded the hope itself is, there was an inevitable let-down. Hope's first cousin is disappointment after all. And disappointment is a tough thing to keep shrugging off. It is tough to continue to keep pressing forward when conventional wisdom might suggest an alternative course of action.

Yet through it all she keeps on keeping on. Little, tiny Suzy B. is one tough customer. And as I have known for almost twenty years, her daughter is the apple that fell not too far from the maternal tree. By themselves they are damned brave. Together, they are fearless.

Fearlessness has been in short supply for the man who has been staring my reflection eye-to-eye in the bathroom mirror in morning's wee small hours lately. Fearlessness is what I have lacked and it is what I have needed. It serves to keep me strong. And young at heart.

We were scared and tired and barely 17
And my first sin was the fear that made me old

Today, for the first time in a long time I woke up in the morning feeling younger than the day before. And I know who to thank for that - I have a wealth of experience doing it after all.

-AK

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Graying Men of Summer

For what seems like forever - but has more likely than not been most of the past fifteen summers or so - I have played softball in a Summer League. I participate on a team run by two of my closest friends from law school (although being in the category "friend of Adam's from law school" is not quite as impressive as "tallest dwarf in the Circus" and perhaps slightly more so than "thinnest kid at fat camp").

I presume that after all of these years a roster spot is held for me for two reasons. First, I appear with fair fidelity at the weekend practices that Diego, our titular head, convenes on a weekly basis. Second, during the season I bring a cooler of water and ice to all of our games. Nothing says "buzz kill" on summer fun quite as much as heat stroke. I figure if I cannot help us much on the field any longer - and I really cannot - I can do my part to make sure that those of us who can actually play a little are not too dehydrated to do so.

While I find the ever-increasing amount of gray hair that populates my head and my beard and the ever-deepening wrinkles around my eyes to be effective ways to measure the impact of time upon my person, I find the passage of time itself marked with ease through objective stimuli. One of my teammates, John, has two sons - Matthew and Anthony (an Italian family with sons named Matthew and Anthony - color me stunned) who have been coming to practices with their dad for years. Way back when, each was too small to even be considered a 'mighty' mite. Now each is too old for such a juvenile label. The kids are in 5th and 6th grade now - well on their way to junior high school. I looked at them Sunday, seeing them for the first time since last September when our season ended and the visual impact of each was jarring to me. They each appear to have grown a couple of inches since the fall and neither looks like a little boy any longer. Facially, they are making the transition to young adulthood.

I know not how much longer I shall play softball - although given my track record for voluntary course shifts I know it will be until my mates tell me it is time for me to go. I know that I enjoy it a great deal - even though I am really stiff and sore now, a couple of days after our initial practice session. I find myself with a real need to preserve those elements of my life that I have not blown straight to hell with my actions of the past few months. As silly and as trite as it may sound, summer softball is one of those elements that I shall cling to like a leech.

-AK

Monday, April 6, 2009

Boomboxes and Dictionaries

We have reached the end of the annual dance that is March Madness. By night's end, either North Carolina or Michigan State shall be crowned the 2009 Champion of Men's College Basketball. If history means anything, the home state Spartans have their work cut out for them. In December, in a game played in the same place where tonight's game shall be contested, the Tar Heels took the Spartans out behind the woodshed to the tune of 98-63. As Warner Wolf has made a career of saying, "if you had Michigan State and 34 points, you lost!" Here's to hoping that tonight's tilt produces at least a marginally closer affair than their first encounter in December.

I have had the joy of running a March Madness Pool for more than the past ten years. This year, I thought that my days as a Pool Administrator were in the rear-view mirror. In February 2009 I changed jobs. I left my professional home of more than a decade (let us not ask the question "Why?" aloud, OK) and among the benefits that I thought I had lost a connection to forever was the March Madness Pool. I am pleased to report that in spite of my physical separation from those I know and of whom I am especially fond, we were able to conduct our informal gambling operations as per usual.

When lemons are so plentiful these days that I could not possibly consume all of the readily-available lemonade, I cling to my own personal victories - regardless of size - like the life line that they are for me. And I hope that perhaps a little thing leads to another little thing and soon, the little things have accrued to the point where they are not small any longer.

We should remember to slow down more often, maybe we will. There's a lotta good things coming our way right now. A lotta bad had passed but we survived the breakdowns. All is forgiven, water under bridges now.

-AK

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Object of the Game......

Although the Equinox arrived about two weeks ago, today marks the official arrival of Spring for me. It is today that the Major League baseball season begins - although in Yankee Nation first pitch will be tomorrow afternoon at Oriole Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore. By night's end on this - day 5 of month 4 - the long race towards October will commence. And for what feels like every day between this day and day 30 of month 9 we will have baseball. The team for whom you root may not play every day. And the team against whom you root the most fervently may not either but somewhere, someone is playing and on most late spring, summer and early autumn evenings that it enough. It is enough to get us through.

Baseball holds a special place in the tapestry that is America. A place different from its brothers, football and basketball and certainly one different from - and higher than - its Canadian cousin hockey (soccer "the world's game" simply holds no place in the collective American sports psyche on the professional level - attempt to set through one MLS game and you shall understand). I know not if it is because football is a sport at the professional level dominated by the exceptionally large and basketball is a sport at the professional level dominated by the exceptionally tall. Baseball? It is a sport whose dominant figures are among the world's great athletes - Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. But it is also the sport where a little guy can make a mark and where a big, overweight, brazen guy can do so as well. If you do not believe me, google David Eckstein and David Wells.

There is clearly something more magical to baseball than the opportunity it presents occasionally to a runt or a loquacious drunkard to capture our imagination as we bear witness to their moments in the sun. Perhaps it is the thought, locked away in our subconscious although we live now in an era of night games and retractable roof stadiums, that baseball is a game that carries with it the hope of bright, sunny days and time spent outside enjoying them.

It is a game whose charm lies perhaps in a feature that aggravates non-fans to no end - that there is no clock, no official timer. There is no person seated court side, rink side or on the sidelines who shall determine for the combatants when their time on the field is up. No. It is up to the players to decide that for themselves - as it should be. And when a game cannot be decided by the players in the nine innings they normally allot for such an exercise, we do not get "over" innings, we receive extra innings. Unlike other sports, which couch their extra sessions in language chock full of negative connotations: overtime, sudden death and (God help us) the shoot-out, baseball does not treat its players' need to put in a bit of additional work as a negative, but as a bonus. We the fans receive EXTRA innings. We did not pay for them, we did not ask for them but voila! there they are. And unlike football, which permits one team to win in "sudden-death" without ever permitting the other team a chance to score, baseball's extra innings do not end until each team has had an equal number of opportunities to do so.

Maybe at the end of it all, the magic of baseball is found in nothing deeper or more profound than the observations of the late, great genius George Carlin. For years, Carlin did a routine comparing baseball to football. While I cannot recall it verbatim, the gist of it was that the object of football was to advance the ball against your enemy until your had penetrated his defenses sufficiently to end up in his end zone, scoring a touchdown. And baseball's object, according to Carlin? Simply to get home.

No matter who we are, no matter where we are and no matter what hand life has dealt us, all of us have a common goal (whether we realize it or not): to make it home safe at day's end. If you doubt it, consider this. No one refers to the poor souls we see sleeping on park benches, warming themselves over steam grates and begging for change outside of the Port Authority as "the houseless". No. And why? Because they are not people without a physical structure in which to sleep at night. Instead we recognize them for what they are - people without a home. People from whom something basic yet sacred has been taken. They are people without a place to be - without a place in which to close their eyes in the darkest of moments, whisper to themselves "it shall be alright" and open them to find out that once again they have been protected.

Perhaps the hand that wrested it from them is their own. Perhaps the hand belongs to one they do not know and shall never meet. Either way, they are unable to get where all of us desperately want to be when we close our eyes at night and hope to muster the strength to make it through the day to come tomorrow.

Baseball. It is more than simply America's pastime. It is America's life lesson. It is embedded into the DNA of all of us - admittedly to varying degrees - because it and us share a common goal. Homeward bound, we all wish we were. It is really all of us really ever aspire to be. And it is enough.

Play ball!

-AK

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Honk If You.......

At some point within the past ten to fifteen years, we have entered into the "too much information" age. An ability to get anything, anytime on almost anyone has prompted a share-a-thon. An argument - and a damned compelling one I would reckon - can be made that I am as full-fledged a participant in the freak parade as anyone else - doing this daily. Anyway, enough about me.

I am speaking of the proliferation of the little yellow diamond signs that have popped up in the rear windows of vehicles nationwide - the ones informing the rest of the world that there is a "Baby on Board", a "Shar Pei on Board" or "#1 Dad on Board". As asinine as they are, they have proven to be but the tip of the spear of stupidity. Hot on their heels has been the explosion of the little "initial ovals" that people have started to festoon their vehicles with - the little pseudo-vanity plates that point out those who vacation in Hilton Head Island ("HHI"), live in Key West ("Mile 0") or root for the New York Jets ("NYJ").

Better than both of those however are the license plate frame covers folks put on their cars. Again, I am among the guilty. I have one on my car identifying myself as an alumni of the University of Colorado. Perhaps because I have one myself, I take no umbrage at those that provide basic biographical information - such as one's alma mater, etc. However the other morning on my way to court in Jersey City I sat at a dead stop in traffic behind a vehicle whose driver proudly announced her status as "A True Fan of Lucy" (according to the small print on the frame the "Lucy" in question is "I Love Lucy"). Does anyone on Earth need to know that little nugget of information about the driver?

How about a moratorium on all attachments on a vehicle that do nothing but reveal the driver's inner simpleton?

-AK

Friday, April 3, 2009

Teardrops on the City

According to the calendar, I am sixty days + now into what promised to be Life's next great adventure. For those keeping score at home, which duty sadly falls on the really tiny but amazingly sturdy shoulders of my life's great love Margaret, at the point in time where the rubber meets the road, it has been less great adventure and more mis-adventure.

Having believed resolutely in the notion of mind over matter my entire life, the past two months have been confusing to me for any number of reasons, not the least of which has been my inability to wrap myself around my own mind. I know not whether the resilient part of my brain has just given up or whether it has simply gone off of the reservation on me and started applying its strength to processing information in a manner that is 180 degrees removed from helpful. At day's end, I am less than certain that (a) I want to know the answer to that question; and (b) the answer to it would do me even an iota of good.

I know this - never in my adult life had I rooted against the winding down of Sunday due to a sense of foreboding and hopelessness that seems affixed to Monday morning like a tattoo to Angelina Jolie until after I made the decision I made that landed me here. Much to Margaret's chagrin, I have always really, really enjoyed work. I do not mean to suggest that Margaret is some sort of anti-work heretic or a slacker of some sort. Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean simply that while she has understood it, she has not always necessarily embraced the fact the thing I know how to do better than anything I do or attempt to do on this planet is work. I do not "work" as a lawyer. I am a lawyer. It is a gig that 24/7.

She realized not - and how could she have when her a-hole husband proved himself to be so woefully ill-prepared for it - how inexorably tied together my sense of self and my ability to glean joy from my work were until they ceased to be so. Now that they have ceased to be so linked, I find it increasingly difficult to hold other component parts of my life together. I find myself resetting the alarm three times every morning and caring less and less about getting out the door by 4:00 a.m., either of which would have sounded heretical ninety days ago.

In my own personal new world order, the change of scenery destroyed the sense of order altogether. I derived much pleasure from my morning running/exercise regimen - careening thru the darkened streets of the town where we live at 3:15 a.m. and becoming proficient enough at it to go from "non-runner" to "5K runner" in about 90 days. I have not been running but one time since the day I opened this chapter of my life. My mind no longer has the inclination apparently to trick my body into believing that it is enjoying itself. These things that have comforted me, I drive away. Frustratingly and inexplicably, I have.

Bad Scooter searching for his groove. That is me. To this point, the search has been fruitless.

And I'm all alone, I'm all alone
And kid you better get the picture
And I'm on my own, I'm on my own
And I can't go home

-AK

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Life Imitating Art

A few years ago, the late, occasionally great stand-up comic Bernie Mac - whose movie career sadly tracked the same trajectory as another late, large comedian John Candy ("My name is Dewey Oxenburger and in case you couldn't tell, I have kind of a weight problem") made a fairly forgettable film, Mr. 3000. He portrayed a retired Major Leaguer who, due to the reversal of some official scoring decisions, suddenly finds himself three hits shy of the all-important 3000 mark, which has traditionally been the threshold for hitters to gain automatic entry into the Hall of Fame. He has to come out of retirement in an effort - at age 47 - to get the three hits needed to punch his HOF ticket. I must confess that the movie so failed to resonate with me that I have never seen the end of it. I presume that Mac's character got his hit but do not feel obliged to reveal the ending of the film to me. If I lived to be 1,000,000 I would never run out of questions to which I would want the answer before that one was answered.

I thought of Bernie Mac yesterday when I heard that Mr. Sunshine, Gary Sheffield, had been released by the Detroit Tigers. Sheffield, the same evenly disposed, pleasant fellow who as a young player for the Brewers decided to expedite his departure from Milwaukee by deliberately throwing the ball into the stands as opposed to throwing it into the first baseman's glove when he fielded a ground ball at 3rd base. The same coward who copped to taking steroids but claimed, unbelievably that he did not know what he was putting into his body.

Sheffield, at age 40, is currently out of a gig. And he is sitting on 499 home runs. Now, the likelihood of him not getting a job on a Major League roster is admittedly remote but it is sort of a delicious thought, is it not? 500 home runs is for sluggers (well, at least those not implicated in the great steroid sagas that have pockmarked baseball for the past ten to fifteen years) what 300 wins is for starting pitchers and 3000 hits is for hitters: it is an all-access pass to Cooperstown. And here sits Sheffield - all dressed up but for now at least no place to go.

For no reason other than poetic justice, I hope the Brewers pony up the $400,000 minimum and sign Sheffield (Detroit would remain on the hook for the remaining portion of his $14 Million 2009 salary) and then not play him. Put him on the roster as a bench guy and never play him. Allow the hardworking fans of Milwaukee the chance to repay him all season for all the great memories he helped make for them when he was a much younger man. If turnabout truly was fair play, Gary Sheffield's big league career would play out its final act in Milwaukee, competing with Bernie Brewer for face time and jockeying for position during the sausage races.

It will not of course. But dreams are free, right?

-AK

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Rising Son

Today, out 'neath the ambient lights of Cheyenne, my son will put his feet to the floor and commence his 23rd trip around the Sun. It is inconceivable to me that Rob - the younger of two young adults who are kids still but children no longer - is already twenty-three years old. Greater still though is the amount of living he has jammed into the twenty-two years he has completed thus far and the anticipation of all that he shall stuff into his jumbo-sized tactical bag in the coming year and beyond.

Less than one year ago, Rob was completing his undergraduate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (a little shout out for the Bloodhounds!), which studies he completed as a Dean's List student. Given the somewhat epic battles we pitched, father and son, when he was in grammar school and high school regarding the relative importance of grades, the manner in which he attacked college and absorbed knowledge to which he was exposed - both in the classroom and outside of it - was both a revelation and a source of enormous pride to me. And the grandest thing about it is the spigot - once turned on - has no off switch. Often he calls me, e-mails me or sends me a text message commenting about an author, an artist, a musician or some such thing who has caught his eye and his ear and he wants to know my thoughts on the person or the subject. On any number of those occasions, I am embarrassed to admit that I know not of whom he speaks or the work to which he is referring. I am embarrassed for me but I am proud of him. The intellectual capacity of a parent should not be the ceiling for that parent's child. And Rob, like Suzanne before him, has blown a hole right thru this old man's little abode of knowledge. For me, the apex has long since been reached. For him, the trajectory is upward still.

And I am beyond proud of him, which almost makes the geographical distance between us tolerable. Perhaps while President Obama is buying everything, he can purchase the State of Delaware, rename it "New Wyoming" and order my boy be reassigned there. Unrealistic? Perhaps not. He did just purchase the nation's largest automobile manufacturer with no money down and 1.9% APR.

I hold out as little hope for the Prez to do the right thing by time and distance as I do for Hideki Matsui's knee and Jorge Posada's elbow to make it through an entire season unscathed. Wishing simply does not make it so. Thus, for his 23rd birthday - and much to my chagrin the two that follow immediately after it - Rob will be two time zones away from home. Even his old man, a lawyer, an Irishman and a human being imbued with the hot air normally jammed inside of quintuplets, cannot muster enough of it up to help blow out the candles on his cake from here.

My son is an amazing young man. He is every inch his mother's son - keenly aware of what goes on around him, cautious in his actions and in his declarations and faithfully loyal to and protective of those he loves and those who love him. And he is a full 1/3 contributor to what is the greatest part of me: Margaret, Suz and Rob. I have gotten better from Life than I ever deserved. A fact of which I am reminded every day when I hear Margaret and Suz talking about their days when we convene at home at day's end. And a fact I am reminded of every day when I sit at my desk - in my own little Circle of Hell - and look at a black and white copy of a photo of Rob. It is a photo taken by one of his classmates while he was going through his training in Georgia, which occupied seventeen and one-half weeks of his life from July through November. He is "dressed for success" with a big grin on his face - a look that says, "Do not worry about me - I am right where I want to be. I am doing exactly what I want to do."

And on this - his one and only 23rd birthday - I hope that regardless of geography, he is right where he wants to be in his life, doing exactly what he wants to do. I can think of no gift he deserves more than that. Although I have not an idea at all as to how to wrap it.

Happy Birthday Rob! I love you.

-AK