Sunday, May 31, 2009

Good Night and Good Bye....

In February I turned forty-two (I forgive all of you who sent neither a card nor a present). Today, the 31st of May, marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Sunday morning on which my sisters Kara and Jill woke me up by telling me that our father was dead. A statement to which I recall - as vividly as if it had just occurred - I responded by saying, "I know."

The evening of the 30th of May, after my father had spent the entire day alone in Harvey's Lake Pennsylvania opening up our summer house to ensure that it was ready for the annual water ski trip he ran for W-H students, which was probably at that point only about ten days away, I made a point of doing something that I rarely did. My father routinely went to bed early (a concession to the maniacal way in which he elected to start his day - at 3:00 a.m.) and usually did so without saying "good night" to me or me to him. There was something in his eyes on the evening of the 30th of May twenty-eight years ago that screamed to me that if I did not say good night to him that night, I would have missed my final opportunity to do so.

I did say "good night" to him before he lumbered off down the hallway towards the master bedroom - and he replied in kind to me. And then I hugged him. All these years later I remain fairly certain that I did so not out of love but as a way of sealing the deal as it were. I stood there, face to face with him in the hallway that connected the living room to the master bedroom, transfixed by the idea that I would not be seeing him again. With that thought in the forefront of my mind, a hug for the road seemed appropriate.

Over the years, from time to time, I would run into someone I knew a lifetime ago when we were all kids who would tell me a story that began with one of the following lead-ins: "Your dad saved my life...."; "I owe so much to your Dad....."; and/or "Adam, you have no idea how much I loved your father...... I have always been at a loss over what to say other than, "Thank you." The fact that the many are describing a relationship with the man that the few (his own half-dozen children) never had makes it hard to think of anything else to say.

About a year ago I did something I thought I would never do - I joined Facebook. I did so because as I get older I develop a better sense of appreciation for those I knew when we were young and a better sense of curiosity about what their lives became from the moment we stepped away from one another. I did so also because the people I was friends with in high school and college are scattered across the country and around the world. As someone who does not really like to travel and who eschews the telephone for anything not work-related, the whole pseudo-social networking that an outlet such as Facebook permits and provides is perfect for me.

The sole downside to it has been that I have actually re-established contact with a legion of folks who I thought I would never hear from again and because most of them are people who went to school with Kara, Jill and I, there are a lot of them who have shared their "Mr. Kenny as Superman" story with me. The increased frequency of the stories has not imbued me with the ability to respond to them with anything better than my old stand-by, "Thank you." Whether these folks understand that I say little because I, otherwise, have little that I wish to share on the subject I know not or simply walk away thinking, "Wow, Adam is still an a##hole. Now I know why I did not speak to him one time over the course of the past twenty-five years" I know not.

At age 42, I have reached the point in my life - on this the 31st of May Aught-Nine - where I have now lived twice as long in the post-Dad era as I did in the with-Dad era. It surprises me still that for such a short, fat (Dad used to tell everyone that he was the ideal weight for someone who was 9 feet tall when he was approximately 5'7") man he threw and continues to throw an enormous shadow.

-AK

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Even The Losers Are Not Losers Anymore.....

I am an ardent baseball fan. Well, in the interests of full disclosure, I am an ardent fan of the Yankees and a somewhat more casual fan of the exploits of the other MLB teams. While I am not so old that I can remember Bob Gibson's Cy Young-winning season in which he pitched to a microscopic ERA (1.12 I believe), I am old enough to have borne witness to the evolution of the game over the course of the past thirty-five years or so. Like all evolutionary processes some of the developments have been positive and some have been.....well, not so much.

Last evening I caught the final couple of minutes of the Yankees Pre-Game Show on YES (one wonders how much longer YES will be able to use the moniker "Network of Champions" since the Bombers have not won a WS in this century yet and the other team whose games are broadcast on the network, the New Jersey Nets, have not finished above .500 in at least the past two seasons) and while I am not sure who the in-studio host is (although I think it is Bob Lorenz), in less than one minute he referred to two of my least favorite, sissifying statistics that have entered into the baseball lexicon within the past few years.

The first one was the "quality start", a facade created to reward a pitcher for pitching 6 innings (2/3 of the game) and giving up 3 runs or less. For years, baseball survived just fine thank you very much in how it classified the manner in which a starting pitcher who pitched 6 innings or more and surrendered 3 runs or less had performed. If said pitcher's teammates scored more than 3 runs, then he was in line for the win. If said pitcher's teammates scored less than 3 runs, then he was in line for the loss. And if at the end of his time on the mound, the two teams were deadlocked, then he was in line for a no decision. That was it, nothing more, nothing less. Out of the ether, statisticians have created some faux category apparently for the purpose of giving starting pitchers another plank upon which to build their negotiating platform when their present contract expires. It is sheer idiocy.

It would stand to reason that if I qualify for a "quality start" simply by giving up 3 runs in 6 innings then I should qualify for something better than that if I give up fewer runs during that span, would it not? Perhaps 2 runs in six innings could become a "Super Quality Start"? One run in six innings? Well that would be a "Five-Star Quality Start", of course. Suddenly, phrases such as "no hitter" and "perfect game" would have no currency, no panache.

Not one to neglect the long-suffering middle relievers who man the bullpen (you know, the blokes called upon to pitch the 7th and/or 8th inning after Captain Quality has surrendered his 3 runs in the first six innings), baseball statisticians have invented a category for them as well. And unlike their starter brethren, who at least have something now that has a title that sounds mature and perhaps a bit masculine, middle relievers have been saddled with something that seems to have had its genesis in one of those dreadful Nicholas Sparks novels. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the "Hold".

Once upon a time, pitchers came in from the bullpen as relievers armed with the knowledge that their task was one of two things: (a) when entering the game with the lead, do not give up the lead; or (b) when entering the game with their team behind, do not pour gasoline onto the fire. And how did they know this was their job? Simple. On every MLB payday, they received a check.

Getting paid to do the job was not enough reward in and of itself apparently. Now each guy who comes into the game and does not make the situation any worse than it was when he arrived gets a "Hold". More than one can be earned by a team in a game. Depending upon how the game was played the night before, you might peruse the box scores in your morning paper and think a Scrabble game had broken out with all the letters interspersed among the names of the pitchers. Again, abject silliness the purpose of which must be directed towards the business of baseball such as contract negotiations because it has not a damn thing to do about the on-field aspects of the game.

Devaluation of what people do at the highest level - in any walk of life - occurs when we try to make it kinder and gentler. Several years ago, the Motion Picture Academy changed the way in which presenters announced who won the Oscar from "And the winner is" to "The Oscar goes to" because they said they had received numerous complaints from people within and outside of the film industry that identifying one person as the winner made everyone else feel bad. If you think I am making that up, Google or YouTube footage of an Academy Awards ceremony from 15-20 years ago and then one from this past year.

Making people feel good is fine - to a point. I get it when my 9 y/o receives a "Participation Award" at the end of the Little League season (well, I actually have a bit of a problem with that as well). It is not a terrible idea to make children feel good about themselves just for trying. But in the Major Leagues, one presumes that all of the combatants wear big boy pants. Pants that you/I helped pay for through our purchase of tickets, t-shirts, etc. No one at that level needs to be rewarded for just showing up other than the paycheck each of them receives.

Good Lord, wait until the position players start demanding equal time. An out made on a particularly hard hit ball or a particularly good defense play will get a "GT" placed next to it on the scorecard, signifying that it was, indeed, a "Good Try". An error made on anything other than a routine play will earn a "NT!" for "Next Time!"

The more inane, touchy-feely statistics that intrude upon America's Past time the more I think of the Seinfeld episode - from early on in the show's run - in which George and Jerry are having their "who is the bigger idiot" debate. They are at an apartment that overlooks part of the course for the New York City Marathon for a party. Immediately after George utters, "For I am Costanza, King of the Idiots" one of their fellow party-goers shouts out to the runners, "You are all winners!", which prompts Jerry to turn to George and say, "Suddenly a new contender emerges."

And, amazingly enough, they never stop emerging.

-AK

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Week That Was.....

It has proven to be a most eventful and satisfying week for me. After wintering at the Reservoir, which is the way my secretary Theresa and I have decided to spin my absence from the Firm to the world-at-large, I am wrapping up my first week of the second half of my career here. Almost to a person, all of my colleagues seem as happy to see me as I am to be seen. A month ago, this would have seemed impossible. Truly amazing stuff.

Unfortunately, the warm fuzzy feeling engendered by the work experience this week is having a hard time getting any traction at all on the non-work aspect of my life. My mom-in-law Suzy B. remains on this day where she has been every day since Sunday - a room in the Critical Care Unit at Somerset Medical Center. And there by her side is my wife. During these prolonged hospitalizations it becomes a footrace as to which one of them I end up being more concerned - Sue the patient or Margaret the caretaker.

My wife has the same infirmity as many of us do when we become consumed by the need to assist another, which is that we tend to pay less attention to our own needs. At some point, when her mom has weathered this latest storm and is spending her days relaxing comfortably in her own home and not in a hospital bed, I suspect that Margaret will simply come home, crawl into bed and begin to sleep the sleep of the exhausted.

I said jokingly to one of my colleagues earlier this week - discussing the subject of my return to WL - that any landing you can walk away from is a happy landing. Here 'neath the snow globe, we have stuck one such beauty already this week. Here's to hoping that we nail the next one as well.

-AK

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May We Have a Time Check, Mr. Warhol?

Perhaps I am the only person above the age of 18 in these United States who is so culturally obtuse that I had no idea who/what "John and Kate Plus Eight" was until my significantly brighter than I daughter explained it to me. Candidly, the notion of a family having its own unscripted television show solely because of the family's size struck me as more than slightly odd. You see, I am the caboose on a train of six children produced by my parents sans the benefit (?) of fertility drugs. Had "Reality TV" existed conceptually thirty-five years ago, perhaps the world would have delighted in the good-spirited shenanigans of "Joan and Bill Plus Six, Including Jill", a title replete not only with good rhythm but also with the ability to please one of my sisters while really chapping the hide of another. Alas, it did not exist so those good times exist only in the individual memories of those of us who lived them - and have lived to tell about them.

Having never seen even a piece of any episode of J&K+8, I know nothing about the family, such as where they live, how old either J or K is and what either does to earn a living, since ten hungry mouths do indeed have to be fed from time-to-time. Luckily, however, as a regular watcher of the news and a regular reader of newspapers, I have had the opportunity lately to learn much about J & K. In case you have missed it, here's what we know so far.

J apparently is a skirt-chasing hound. Every piece of video aired on television and picture printed in a newspaper seems to show him doing the perp walk out of a "club" (giving that term its broadest possible definitional interpretation since it always seems to be a joint located in the nether regions of Pennsylvania) at closing time with some woman other than his wife.

K apparently is a domineering Hellcat. Every item that references her in the newspaper seems to discuss what a shrew she allegedly is to all the people who work on J&K+8. And every piece of video aired on television about her inevitably seems to include her male bodyguard (which begs the question "From whom does K need protection?" other than perhaps the dude who used to be the lead singer in Flock of Seagulls, who is mad as hell that she stole his haircut) rushing around breathlessly together.

There was an item in the New York Post earlier this week that K apparently remarked recently that the television series has created a lot of unnecessary tension within their household. Perhaps it was the "Woe is us" nature of the remark or the fact that in every photograph her hair just looks so damn angry, but all I could think upon reading her mini-rant was, "Are you kidding me?"

J&K are on TV solely because of her ability - when jacked up on fertility drugs - to pop out babies like Pez. At some point, J&K made a deal with the Devil (or the head of whatever network their show is on) to trade in their humanity for notoriety. Sorry sister, but you do not get to stand back now and gripe about the intrusion into your life this has become. You not only invited the intrusion into your home, you accepted fame and fortune from it as housewarming gifts when it first arrived.

Will J&K+8 survive either as a family or a TV show? I know not. For the sake of the little ones who these two idiots have brought into the world, here's to hoping that they do. But if the marriage collapses, which will likely delight the folks at the network because dirty laundry = big ratings, the possibility of a spin-off series (or more than one) is excellent. We could see "J&K Separate, Who Will Get Custody of the Eight?", and thereafter, "K's a Shrew, J's a Louse, Who'll Keep the Eight, Who'll Get the House?"

J &/or K, call me. We'll do lunch and talk about more ideas. Hurry though. I have a feeling that your fifteen minutes is just about up.

-AK

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Slipping Back Into the Stream

A rather extraordinary thing happened to me yesterday. After having been away for approximately four months from the law firm that has been my professional home for most of my career, I have returned. And while I was in the office on Monday moving back in and doing some work to get a jump start on the work week, yesterday was my first "official" day back. I knew that I was excited to be back and happy to be here but, candidly, I did not foresee at all the warm reception I received from my colleagues. To a person, everyone I saw yesterday seemed genuinely excited to see me and happy to know that when he or she arrives to work this morning that, unlike Elvis, I have not left the building.

It seems like a little thing I am sure - the notion of being settled in one's own mind. But the mind is a powerful thing and if/when it senses a disturbance in the force, its reaction to that disturbance can overwhelm you. It can consume you. Trust me on this folks, I know of which I speak. And when the mind senses calm and harmony in the force, its reaction to that positive mojo is as strong and as powerful. I vaguely recall a song from (I think) the '90's that included the lyric, "Free your mind and the rest will follow" although I could not tell you - even at gunpoint - (a) the name of the song; or (b) the name of the artist/group who sang it. Truer words have never been spoken - or crooned for that matter.

An extraordinary thing happened this morning as well. For the first time in what had been far too long a time, I arose from bed on a second consecutive day excited about the prospect of going to work. I am no Stephanie Zaner, well not yet at least, but I am well on my way.

And it is a damned good feeling, indeed.

-AK

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Costco Girl's Simple Wish

I am at a loss to understand the willingness of many people to accept and to embrace the notion of God as some sort of all-knowing, benevolent despot overseeing all that goes on here on our big blue marble. And it throws my system completely for a loop when those who seem so full of faith are those who seem to be the recipients of some wholly unwarranted tough love from the Almighty. Yet, I watch it in action every day in the words and deeds of my in-laws and for reasons that remain inexplicable to me, they each have found a reason to believe.

Margaret's parents have been married pretty close to a half-century. I think that on Valentine's Day they celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary. I know not whether they have the perfect marriage. I have been married for almost sixteen years myself and while my wife and I are two happy little peas in our marital pod, I would not begin to offer an opinion as to whether we have achieved perfection in the area of marital bliss. And if I cannot recognize its existence inside of the four walls of my own home, then I most assuredly cannot hope to do so inside of the home of another.

I know simply this. For almost the past half century - or roughly a period of time that occupies about 2/3 of the time that each of them has trod the Earth, Joe and Suzy B. have been a major part of each other's life. One has completed the other for quite a while now. And I know this also. The arduous battle she has waged against the most sinister of all villains - cancer - has actually strengthened the bond between them. Each of them is equal parts terrified of the illness, frustrated by what it has done to her and to them and emboldened by the belief that together they can get her through this ordeal.

The past thirty days have not been much fun at all for either of Margaret's parents. On Sunday morning, my wife took her mother to Somerset Medical Center, which is where Sue remains this morning in the Critical Care Unit. The culprit this time? The chemo medication she is presently taking, which is apparently platinum-based. She had an awful time adjusting to it, which caused her system to develop a very serious infection. While she is already battling her way back from it, it has not been an easy trip. And left unsaid to this point - once the infection clears up - is what to do with the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, which is the cancer that still needs to be fought against vigorously. We may not be able always to pick our battles, but we can choose perhaps whether we want to try to fight multiple ones simultaneously or take them as they come. My in-laws have wisely opted for the latter.

Yesterday afternoon, sitting with Margaret and Joe in Suzy B.'s hospital room, my wife's parents discussed their big hope. While Joe has been retired (from the restaurant biz) the entirety of the time Margaret and I have been together, he has always worked. He was completely retired apparently for about a month twenty years ago and him being home all day, everyday drove both his wife and him nuts. So he went to work for the Somerset County Parks Commission and today he runs one of the County's public golf courses. On his off days, he and his best girl enjoy driving together to Costco or to Pathmark or to whatever store she wants to shop in and just strolling through the aisles as she points to what she wants and he fills their cart. All they want is for her to feel well enough again to make another trip up and down the aisles of Costco. Something so simple is all for which they ask. Through the pain she is enduring, my mom-in-law actually smiled yesterday at his mere mention of it.

A simple, beautiful wish. One would presume that if the Almighty people speak of so glowingly could create a planet and all things living above, upon and beneath it in less than a week, he can pull this off as well. We shall see. Me? I would settle for him finding someone else to shower with attention for a while. Joe and Suzy B. have had more than enough of it to last a lifetime.

-AK

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's Memorial Day in America

We have been blessed with some gorgeous weekend throughout the Garden State for most of this extended holiday weekend, which is simply great news for all of us who have spent (and intend perhaps to spend some more) time in the company of family and friends. It is great news for the folks whose ability to survive for the next twelve months is directly related to their ability to thrive during the next three. And it is of course a nice way to shake off those wintertime blues and look forward with anticipation to the summer and the promise that it holds.

We all should take more than a moment today, however, to remember that we are not simply marking "the unofficial start to summer" or some such thing on this final Monday in May. We are observing a day set aside on the calendar to honor those whose sacrifice in the service of this country we all love and call home was absolute. We cannot celebrate that which is to come without paying tribute to all those who gave their lives so that we might have the chance to celebrate.

This day, which should be among the most sacred in a nation born out of the fire of ideals such as, "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Perhaps it is the fact that Memorial Day has a place but not a fixed date upon the calendar. It has become one of our holidays of convenience - the bridge to a long weekend. If Christmas or the Fourth of July happens to fall in the middle of the week, then we celebrate the day where it falls. We play it where it lays, as it were. Memorial Day receives no such treatment. It is assigned a location, which has been co-opted into a base camp for 50% men's suits sales, big Hollywood movie premieres and summer blastoffs for radio stations from sea to shining sea.

And while there is not a thing wrong with any of the above, it must be remembered that all are but ancillary benefits of this day - and neither its purpose nor its origin. At some point today, between bites of our corn on the cob, let us all take the time to give thanks to all those who made today a day worth honoring and worth celebrating.

Everybody drive real slow.

-AK

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Saturday Night in the Fields Where Sunlight Streams

We are as old as we feel. A lesson learned and relearned every time I have the opportunity to spend the evening taking in the sights and sounds of a Springsteen concert. While on each of the past several tours, beginning with the Reunion Tour in 1999-2000 I have spent multiple evenings listening to the Boss and his band mates, last evening I celebrated the end of my first full day as a parolee from Circle Seven in the Jersey Swamps taking in my first show of the tour. And what a night it was.

Margaret and I (and Rob when life permits him not to be 2000 miles away) have taken in many shows over the course of the past decade in the company of our good friends The Sisters Kizis, whose number of attendees can vary (depending upon the circumstances) from two to four. Last night it was the full quartet, led by Lynne (whose generosity of spirit may very well have its equal elsewhere but has never been surpassed by anyone else I have encountered in four and a quarter decades on the big blue marble), Suzanne a/k/a Gidg (her #2 and the organizer of all things tailgate-oriented on E Street), Laura and her 3 kids and Pam and the oldest of her three sons; Carolyn and her two boys and a new addition to our traveling circus - Chris (because a brother needs a little help in the battle of the sexes).

Our little group of fourteen spent hours tailgating pre-show, using as our home base of operations the 31' RV Lynne rented for the occasion and then, through the luck of the draw on the GA tickets, ended up in "the Pit", which meant that we stood anywhere from on the rail separating the stage from the crowd to eight feet or so off of it. If you were there last night, the adorable little moppet you witnessed dueting with Mr. Springsteen during "Waiting on a Sunny Day" was Laura's daughter, Olivia, whose performance was surpassed only by her post-concert review of it, "I was a little nervous but he helped me through it."

Bruce Springsteen is not a young man any more. Neither are his band mates. In recent years, infirmity and even mortality have come a-calling on E Street. The "Big Man" Clarence Clemons spends the majority of his time on stage (when not wailing on his sax) either perched atop a stool or seated in the plush chair that is positioned but a few feet from his stage position. And from the up close view in the pit you can see the lines that time has etched into the visages of the rest of the band - from Little Steven to Mighty Max Weinberg.

Yet, once the house lights go down and the opening notes are played, age no longer has any bearing upon the evening's festivities. One does not hear age in the vocals or the instruments. One hears only joy. And there, under the white hot spotlights, they race along at 1,000,000 miles per hour, taking all of us along for the ride, peeling away time and any sense of loss or sadness that its relentlessness has visited upon us.

After almost three hours of performing last night, Bruce led the E Streeters into "Glory Days", the evening's penultimate number. As the band launched into its opening notes, he exhorted all of us, "The Turnpike's closed. And nobody's going home!" And no one left. There was no need. For at that moment, each and every one of us, was already home.

This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'.

All aboard......

-AK

Saturday, May 23, 2009

And So It Goes.....

The Memorial Day weekend has dawned bright and sunny, at least here 'neath the snow globe. It is interesting how the weather can impact upon - and even - mimic our mood. For the past four months almost every day seemed gray to me. Now, having navigated my self-propelled ship of fool (only room for one of us - go build your own) safely back home, it is as if technicolor has returned to my universe.

Of all the things of which I am most thankful, it is that having peace of mind again in the work component of my life, which is a major component of my day-to-day existence, has stripped me of any excuse or alibi for not stepping up in the other aspects of my life. In the months that I was sleepwalking thru my life, events continued to go on around me. And I had done little to contribute to them and, when problems arose, to helping to solve them. It feels good to be back.

And what a perfect way to celebrate the turning over of a new leaf - spending a great day with the woman I love and some good friends at a Springsteen concert. There may be better ways to kick off summer but at present, none leaps to the forefront of my mind.

-AK

Friday, May 22, 2009

Washing These Sins From My Hands

In the wake of the success of his double album "The River", Bruce Springsteen appeared to retreat quite a bit commercially. Instead of following up the album that produced his highest charting single (as of that date) "Hungry Heart" with another full band album, he released the dark and brooding "Nebraska", which he recorded by himself at home using his 4 track recording equipment. Legend has it that he did not intend to release the record as a solo project but when he tried to teach them to his fellow E Streeters, he felt the full band treatment robbed the songs of their grit and their soul. So he scrapped the full band treatment and ultimately released commercially the songs he had recorded quietly, at home - alone.


Nebraska is - to my ear - one of Springsteen's better efforts. It is a record painted in dark, deep brush strokes. While there is not a track on it that I do not like, my favorite story is the one told on "My Father's House". In it, the narrator tells the story of his desperate attempt at atonement - his attempt to make amends for unspecified sins and his attempt to make peace with his father. In the end, in spite of his best efforts, he fails:


My father's house shines hard and bright/
It stands like a beacon calling me in the night/
Calling and calling, so cold and alone/
Shining 'cross this dark highway where our sins lie unatoned


Springsteen has said frequently through the years that his dark side is his inheritance from his father's side - the Irish side of the family. We are a melancholy bunch, the Irish. And haunted we often are by failed opportunities and squandered chances.


And for quite some time since the calendar peeled '08 away in favor of '09, I was feeling the pinch. Candidly, I felt at times as if I had dropped into a hole and regardless of what I tried to do to pull myself out of it, the deeper into it I fell. Had I been able to gauge its depth I might have been able to tell whether I was closer to its bottom or its top. I could not so I did not. Instead I just kept falling.


And as suddenly as I had fallen into my downward spiral, an opportunity presented itself at redemption. Whether I did anything to deserve it is a question for others to answer. Whether I have ever done anything - stacking one atop of another all that I have done thru the first 42 years of my life - to deserve it is as well. But here it is. And so I go. Thank you Professor Peabody for working out the kinks in the way back machine.


Today marks the final day of my four month detour. And Tuesday marks the first day back on
the path I was on before I ran squarely into the tree located between the tines of the road's fork.
And in between, we have reached Memorial Day. The unofficial start of Summer. My bride and I will spend a part of our holiday weekend in the company of good friends watching Springsteen and the E Street Band put the bow on the first U.S. leg of their world tour.

Summer is here indeed. And the time is most certainly right.

-AK

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Here's Your Hat - What's Your Hurry?

Today marks my final full day on the job here in Circle Seven. Apparently, after the sting of my announcement that I was leaving wore off and the efforts of the corporate hatchet men from the mother ship to force me into staying more than two weeks after I had announced my departure proved unsuccessful, the powers that be realized they could in fact live without me. To the point that my partner came into my office earlier this week and announced that Friday the whole office (all 8 of us) will go out together for my "farewell lunch" (boy, I hope there are presents! Although one wonders what you would buy for someone you knew for less than four months - name tag leaps to the forefront of my mind) after which I can simply leave. In other words, do not let the door hit me in the ass when I pass through it to go eat. Who knew that one could get over me so quickly? Hands down people - the question was rhetorical.

When things do not work out for us as planned, too often we find ourselves in a hard place being pelted in the melon by pointed rocks. Far less frequently are we permitted to roll the dice, land on "CHANCE" and score ourselves a "Get out of jail free" card. When and if we do, we should cherish it like the prized possession it is. And we should run like hell for the front door as fast as we can.

For the past several months, while wallowing in the twin pools of self-loathing and self-pity I had failed to tend to a great many things in my own life. I have started to make amends in that regard but I nevertheless owe a debt of gratitude and an eternal apology to my bride, Margaret, and to our kids, one of whom has more than a full plate in pursuit of her Master's Degree and the other who is only still in the process of adjusting to life in a part of the world that is totally alien to where he was raised (if you do not believe me, fly to Denver, rent a car and drive North on I-25 until you hit Wyoming, then get back to me OK?) alone and at the ripe old age of 23.

Buoyed by the fact that I was the recipient of an unexpected chance to make amends, make good I shall. And the process begins in earnest tomorrow.....several hours earlier than I would have anticipated.

Willie the Shakes was right - All's well that ends well. Indeed it is.

-AK

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Outside the Lines

I may be alone among us bi-peds in that I tend to compartmentalize things, including people. There are "people I work with", "friends from college", "friends from work", "people with whom I went to high school" and the like. I even have a specific subset for my softball teammates, which is not terribly surprising given that a core group of us has played together for the past decade and a half or so.

The limiting - and sometimes soothing - thing of putting everyone into a compartment is that I tend to think of those folks in only those terms. Generally speaking, if someone is in a pleasant compartment (such as "friends from work" or "softball teammates") then my mind tends to process only good thoughts about him or her. It is as if for the purposes of my limited mental acuity that person has no identity beyond the boundaries of my self-created category. It may be pathetic but for me at least it serves as an effective organizational tool.

The problems with such a system are obvious to anyone who happens to be brighter than I am (line up now - shortest to tallest). Among them is the fact that occasionally one encounters another outside of the pre-labeled compartment. And occasionally encounters that person in a place where one would rather not have to encounter another.

Last evening several of my friends with whom I play softball, including Diego and Dave (who are also friends of mine from law school, which puts them in the enviable position of occupying two kiosks in my mental flea market) attended the wake of the mother of another of our teammates. Our pitcher, the lovely and talented Cyndy, and her family received countless hundreds of relatives, friends and well-wishers yesterday afternoon and last night. Cyndy, who has become a mom herself twice in the past few years, stood tall on the receiving line, chin up but eyes misty and accepted the sympathies and good wishes of the endless stream of humanity who passed by her.

It was a sad evening but an inspiring one as well. With the possible exception of Margaret's grandmother Nan I have never seen as many people gathered in one place to pay their respects as I saw last night. I never met Cyndy's mom. And in case you had not gleaned it yet by my use of her title and not her name, I did not even know her name. But I suspect she must have lived one hell of a life, judging by the incredible number of people who came through the doors of Biondi's Funeral Home in Nutley yesterday to pay their respects. And I could not help but think that when I die, a much smaller room will be all that shall be required - something bigger than a pin head but smaller than a phone booth should do the trick.

Cyndy is a terrific woman and her husband Jonathan is an equally fine gentleman. While I much prefer to keep both of them safely tucked into my "softball teammates/friends" compartment it was nice to be able to step outside of that safety net for just a few moments last night in order to pay my respects to a woman who I never met but whose qualities are unmistakable every time I look out at the mound from behind the plate and lock eyes with her daughter.

Today Cyndy and her family shall bury her mom. May she have a safe journey and take comfort in the fact that those she has left here to mourn her shall also honor her every day for the rest of their lives.

-AK

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can Someone Hand Me A Towel?

Whether all roads do in fact lead home I know not. I know only that my road has taken me home again. Perhaps, after experiencing serious disconnect from my professional life, my personal life and my existence for the first five months of 2009, I suddenly feel re-energized. It is as if the wheel of chance stopped right where I had plunked down my dollar.


I woke up this morning and drove north on 287 on "T minus 4" day at the soon-to-be former place of employment. And the amazing thing is that now that I have this countdown to compare to the January '09 edition, I know how right my decision to come home truly is. Four months ago, four days from my final day my principal emotion was sadness - not excitement. Today, exactly the opposite is true.


Life is what happens when you are busy making plans, right? Nothing for me has gone as planned these past few months and yet everything has come together quite nicely. And this time next week, I will pull a Bobby Ewing and step back into a life that I stepped out of four months ago. While I would certainly not describe these past few months as dream-like, they sure as hell have been surreal. It shall be nice to get back to terra firma.

-AK

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Town That Cried Wolf

The Brick Township High School football team will have a new coach patrolling the sidelines for the 2009 season. So what you ask? Fair question. Brick is a bit different than most of its neighbors and rivals in the Shore Conference in that its team has only had one varsity coach in its history.

For the first fifty-one years that Brick Township has played high school football, its teams were coached by Warren Wolf. In high school football circles here in Levelland, Warren Wolf is a more than a bit of a legend. Wolf retired at the end of the 2008 season. In January 2009 the Township Council honored Wolf with a series of resolutions. The resolutions lauded Wolf's record 51 years as coach of the Brick Township High School's Marching Dragons and his unsurpassed record of 361 victories, 25 division titles and 13 sectional titles.

Months after being honored by the Township Council and settling into retirement, it now appears as if the big bad Wolf is gone but not forgotten. Apparently, the Brick Township Board of Education offended its residents by not hiring a "Brick man" to succeed Wolf. Instead they hired a man named Patrick Dowling - who most recently was the head coach at Allentown (N.J.) high school.

True confession time. I would not know Warren Wolf or Patrick Dowling if either man was dropped from a plane and landed on top of me. Whether Dowling is the best man for the job in Brick Township I know not either. And I suspect that months away from coaching his first game, neither Coach Dowling nor the Board of Eduction that hired him knows that answer either. But one wonders why the high school football community in Brick Township appears wholly unwilling to give him a chance.

And candidly, more disturbing than the reaction that the rank-and-file folks in Brick Township have publicly expressed to Dowling's hiring, which has been pretty damn disturbing in its own right, is Wolf's reaction. If there is one person in Brick Township who apparently has the influence to keep the little wolves at bay until Dowling actually has a chance to coach a game, it is Wolf. Unfortunately, it is a role Wolf has no interest in playing. Worse yet is the fact that the old ball coach does not adhere to the axiom "if you have nothing nice to say about someone, say nothing at all." To the contrary, the retired octogenarian has gone out of his way to thrust himself into the middle of the conversation.

According to the Star-Ledger, Wolf has become something of a point man for the growing groundswell of opposition to Pat Dowling: Three local meetings in the past three weeks were overrun with protesters who have never met Dowling but spent hours explaining in public forums why he shouldn't get the job. Wolf spoke at all of them, saying he would come back for a 52nd year if one of his former coaches was not picked to replace him. His words were met with raucous applause.

Wolf, apparently, for all of the invaluable life lessons he disseminated to his players over five decades of coaching and teaching, never imparted anything to them from Profiles in Courage. Rather than stand up and tell the other folks in town to pipe down long enough to give his replacement a chance, Wolf (who retired at the end of last season - presumably of his own free will) has not only openly campaigned for his old job, he has refused to support the hiring of Dowling as his replacement. Wolf met with Dowling nearly a month ago and let him know he wouldn't have his blessing. "I told him, 'You're walking into a hornets' nest because the people don't want you,'" Wolf said. "I told him, 'I can't support you.'

Sorry Coach - no sale. The word you are searching for is "won't", not "can't". You most certainly could support your replacement but to do so in the face of public outrage over the hiring would require courage. Courage appears to be in short supply in Brick Township these days - along with common sense and responsible adult behavior. Among the other highlights from the Ledger's piece was this: Jon Sendzik, who was on Wolf's second team in 1959, had already made up his mind. "They shouldn't play," he said. "They shouldn't walk on the field. In my day, they wouldn't go out there. Well, in my day, this wouldn't have happened. They would have lynched him or run him out of town by now." Incredible. Here's to hoping that Mr. Sendzik represents the nadir of the collective intellect in Brick Township and not its apex.

And here's to hoping that at some point in the not-too-distant future, the big, bad Wolf acts more like the man who spent a lifetime putting others first - he served as mayor from 1971 through 1975, two terms on the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, one term as a state assemblyman and three terms on the Township Council - and less like the bitter pot-stirrer he has been for the past few months. Perhaps if he did nothing more than pay attention to what he, himself, has said, the problem would solve itself. When he announced his retirement on December 1, 2008, he said, "It's been a marvelous 51 years. I saw so many of my friends today, and in friendship you have treasure," Wolf said. "So many of my boys are still in contact with me. I think it's time they had new leadership. I'm going to step back now and do things I want to do when I want to do them."

Suddenly, December 1, 2008 seems as if it was a very, very long time ago. And unfortunately for Pat Dowling, opening day 2009 seems equally far away.

-AK

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Call to the Post

After spending more than 11 years working for the same employer, only five work days remain for me in my current gig, which is the one I moved to when I left WL at the end of January. This new job got real old real fast. And fortunately for me, as my level of anxiety and disillusionment reached their limits, something magical happened. I was offered the chance to come home. And of course, after waiting the requisite 3 seconds so as to not seem too desperate, I leapt at it. I have now made what shall likely be the final move of my professional career (barring termination or disbarment). And I could not be happier about it.

This week, as the soon-to-be former gig, the reaction to my imminent departure was not necessarily well-received. In the little New Jersey branch office where I have worked since February 2nd there was genuine sadness and regret, which I understand as I shall miss those with whom I have worked side-by-side. The reaction, however, from t. he mother ship in the Town of the Tea Party, was one of anger. A full-scale inquiry was made into the"real" reason I was leaving. And in one bizarre moment, which will forever remain firmly in mind's eye, I spoke directly with the man atop the firm's food chain in his effort to talk me out of what was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made. In the course of the conversation, as time grew short his anxiety grew long, he made two promises that struck me as wholly inappropriate and that ratified for me the correctness of my decision.

Here, in the season of Triple Crown racing, it is fitting to observe that I am indeed in the back stretch of my brief tenure at MM. And one needs not to be as astute a horseman as Calvin Borel to know what is waiting for me when I complete my stretch drive.

I can see the finish line in front of me. I have cleared the field and I am heading for home.

-AK

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An Alternative Means of Entertainment......

Call it schedule interruptus (from the Latin meaning "something came up"), which dropped out of the sky upon Margaret and me this morning like a bag of wet cement. Over the course of the past several years I have had issues with intermittent back spasms. Usually the spasm comes, sets up shop in my low back for a day or two, and then moves on to torture some other less fortunate SOB.

Wednesday, a combination of too much time spent driving (almost 280 miles R/T between Circle Seven and a court appearance in Atlantic City) and crouching behind the plate during our season-opening softball game wreaked havoc on my lumbar spine. I have been set upon by the mother of all spasms, which arrived Wednesday and has decided apparently to stay through the weekend at least.

This morning, when the pain reached an unacceptable level, Margaret and I drove to Somerset Medical Center for a little TLC, ER style. Let me pass along this piece of unsolicited and wholly idiotic advice. If one must go to the ER and one resides in suburbia like the Missus and me, then make the trip between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. Upon our arrival there was but one other patient waiting. I was examined, poked, prodded, x-rayed (please call our toll-free # to order your picture packages) and given something wonderful for pain. About two and one-half hours after arriving at the ER, we are already home. None the worse for wear and armed with two prescriptions: one for Flexeril and one for Percocet.

I have a sneaking suspicion that once the pain meds that are presently pulsating through my body have run their course, pain will return. I am equally confident however that it shall do what it always does, which is slowly abate and then disappear completely. It shall come back at some point - it is as relentless as the rain - but given that this is the first time that it has driven me to seek emergent medical attention, I am willing to wager it will not return with equal vim and vigor

One has to appreciate the difference between living in the 'burbs and living in a city at a moment like this. This morning, Margaret and me - a couple of middle-class suburbanites went to the ER because hubby's back was on the fritz. I can envision the mad scramble of the staff in the ER of any hospital in New York City or Chicago or L.A. to get to treat "bad back pain guy", which likely represents a nice change of pace from gunshot wound guy, stab wound girl and the rest of the inhabitants one would reasonably anticipate encountering there in the ER at 4:00 a.m.

And as an added bonus, I am envisioning the smiling countenances of my soon-to-be former partners when they receive notification of the bill and the payment of benefits through the firm's health insurer. I was treated so well this morning at the ER - and a big thanks to one/all who had the unadulterated joy of dealing with me at 4:30 or so - that I have half a mind to schedule a trip there every day this week......just for sh*ts and giggles - prior to my formal separation date, which is now only six calendar days away.

-AK

Friday, May 15, 2009

They Have a League & Are Looking Simply for a Field of Their Own

Interesting piece in yesterday's Star-Ledger. North Brunswick High School has a softball program for its female student-athletes. The girls have passion and at least a modicum of skill. According to the article, "The softball team at North Brunswick High historically has been mediocre -- this year's team, which did not qualify for the postseason for the sixth consecutive year, is 5-8 after a 3-0 victory Wednesday against Middlesex." What they appear to lack is support. And what they most certainly do not have is a field of their own.

For the past several seasons, a confluence of events - some avoidable, some not - have come together to leave the Lady Raiders without a home even when they have last licks. And the girls have been vagabonds for quite a long time - since 2003. Put that in perspective for a moment if you will. There are high school seniors at North Brunswick High (Class of '09) who have played softball for four seasons and have never had a legitimate home game. Imagine that if you will. You are a 15, 16, 17 or 18 y/o girl who gives up the time to participate in an extra-curricular activity at your school and you cannot ever enjoy playing it on your own home field - in front of your friends and family.

One wonders simply how much open space is needed to carve out a softball field for a high school girls team. Apparently in North Brunswick the answer to that question is never quite enough. This year the team is practicing and playing games at Community Park, which is apparently quite a nice locale. Too bad for the players that the name Community Park means what you might think it would mean, which is that the fields in the park need to be - and are - available for use by a number of other teams.

Kudos to the kids who participate in the high school program at North Brunswick, irrespective of the apparent inability of the adults who oversee all things educational and recreational to do anything other than take two steps back for every one step they take forward. For Nicole Gibbons, Michelle Pietrocola and their teammates - many of whom will never get a chance to play a "home" game, their frustration is understandable but - in spite of all they have endured - their perseverance and pluck are commendable and laudable.

And there used to be a ballpark where the field was warm and green
And the people played their crazy game with a joy I'd never seen

A simple dream really, right? And an easy one to root for coming to fruition.

-AK

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It Begins Anew

Finally, after our first three attempts at it were spat upon by the Mom of all Natures, we played our season opener last night in the Essex County Lawyer's Summer Softball League. All I can say the morning after is......where the hell was a good downpour when we could have used one?

The bad news is that we lost. The good news is that we played. And while everyone prioritizes his/her leisure time and the practical applications for it differently, high on my list of things to do is enjoy as many spring and summer evenings as I can with my friends playing softball. Last season we played the entire regular season schedule without dropping a game - only to lose in the playoffs. This year, we have excised that source of pressure from our shoulders already - dropping a white knuckler, 20-8, to Connell Foley.

At day's end, all in all not a bad result. Sure we lost the game but we brought back out of baby-making retirement our pitcher Cyndy who used to toe the rubber for us when we played in the City of Newark's Summer Softball League several seasons ago. She was rusty but nevertheless a sight for sore eyes, sort of like capturing a bit of time in a bottle as it were. And a lot of our lot were rusty, having not swung a bat in anger since our '08 season ended in early October.

Happily our lack of success on the diamond did not diminish our post-game gathering at the Star. And as someone for whom laughter had been in scant supply up until 6 days ago or so, it was nice to be in the company of folks who enjoy one another's company, win or lose.

-AK

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three for the Road

It is amazing what the power of positive thinking can do for you. I had gone from taking my morning constitutional - a run through the neighborhood - at 3:00 a.m. on a daily basis to not going at all. From the 2nd of February through the 8th of May, I went not at all. Simply could not get my brain wrapped around it. It went from a constant to a non-existent.

Friday last I was presented with the opportunity to undo a decision that I had made earnestly but not well several months ago. And with opportunity channeling its best impression of Mick and Keith, I heard it knocking and answered. And that - as the saying goes - makes all the difference.

This morning, after too many days in a row to count of not going for my morning run, I answered the bell at 3:00 a.m. and ran. As I took an impossibly long time off from doing it, I have essentially been forced to start anew. I am back to the starting line as it were - running the most abridged route I had mapped out for myself at a shade more than 1.2 miles. Three days, 3.6 miles. Ready to run the marathon? Not exactly. Taking baby steps in the right direction? Exactly.

And an added benefit of running again is that my jaunt takes me past my down-the-street neighbor who happens to own a Toyota truck identical to Rob. And as luck would have it, his house is among the last ones I pass prior to returning to my own home. It has been quite some time since I have seen my son - saying good-bye to him in Cheyenne on Super Bowl Sunday and while it will still be a bit more time until we see him next - he shall be home the last week of June for a family wedding - seeing "his" truck again on a daily basis brings just a piece of him home even if for just a moment.

All in all, well worth the sweat equity and the shin splints.

-AK

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

They Shoot! They Miss!

Did you see the item on the sports wire yesterday? The Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL - a team that actually won the Stanley Cup a few years ago - which underscores the value of tradition and history in North America's finest professional hockey league - hired Rick Tocchet to be their "full time" head coach. Tocchet had taken over behind the bench for the Lightning after Barry Melrose was fired back in November (which begs the question as to how damn long the hockey season lasts anyway). Now, he is no longer the interim coach. He is the beneficiary of a multi-year contract.

Rick Tocchet. A man known in the NHL for two very distinct reasons: his playing career and his criminal conviction. In August 2007, Tocchet was sentenced to two years probation on Friday for conspiracy and promoting gambling in connection with his role in a multimillion-dollar sports betting ring. Pete Rose must be pulling the hair out of his "Moe from the Three Stooges" 'do. Tocchet gets convicted for being a leader in a multimillion-dollar gambling ring and he ends up getting a coaching job. Rose gets nailed for gambling and ends up with a kiosk at Cooperstown on Hall of Fame weekend as he tries to sell autographs.

Kudos to the Lightning. It takes an uncanny combination of ignorance and obtuseness to hire as your coach a man who has been convicted of gambling. I do not know what the odds are of the Lightning winning the Cup next year.

But I know who to ask.

-AK

Monday, May 11, 2009

On The Road Again.....

If yesterday was not the best day I have experienced all year, it at the very least has a spot on the medal stand. With a head cleared of inane and insane distractions, it was simply wonderful to spend the day - Mother's Day - with my wife and also in the company of my Mom-in-Law (I checked in with Mom at her ocean view condo to see how her Mom's Day was going - and found out she was between "morning at church" and "afternoon at the beach").

And what a day we had here 'neath the snow globe. Not since Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox were sisters doing it for themselves has a female issued such a statement of empowerment to her fellow members of the fairer sex. Father Nature could not have ordered up such a day. Mother Nature? It came naturally, of course.

Today may or may not be the first official day of the rest of my life but I woke up this morning and did something I have not done for more than ninety days - went for a run. Running on a daily basis had become an important part of my regimen. And suddenly, I changed an important part of my daily regimen - the work part - and everything else started to fall by the wayside.

The on ramp to the road to redemption is not impossibly long but it must be negotiated carefully and successfully. And this morning, I took the first steps on it. I had forgotten how much it hurt to run. And I had forgotten as well how good it makes me feel.

I look forward to remembering that feeling. And I look forward to tomorrow - as much as I looked forward to this morning. And it has been a damn long time since I felt that way.

-AK

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Holy Trinity

I am truly fortunate. In the "one per customer" draw of mother/child, I scored exceptionally well. Mom, about whom I have written in this space on numerous occasions, is a simply extraordinary woman. She has been tossed more than her share of brush back pitches and spitballs. Yet her spirit is unbreakable and her resolve is infinite. Regardless of whatever lousy thing is done to her or whatever unspeakable hardship befalls her, she simply keeps on keeping on. She is the queen of maintaining an even keel. And irrespective of how many years of formal education I may have it never ceases to amaze me how much smarter she is than I am. Her mantra for years has been "everything happens for a reason." On Friday afternoon, when an impossible pursuit proved to be so no longer, standing in the middle of an office I shall soon leave in order to return home, I thought of Mom and I smiled. Right again, Mom. Right again.

I have scored extraordinarily well - as well - in the "mom by marriage" Derby. My mother-in-law Suzy B. is an amazing woman - the Italian counterpoint to Mom perhaps. Like Mom, Suzy B. has been battered pillar to post by some really, really bad stuff. Her primary source of angst these past few years has been her own health - as she has been attacked with increasing ferocity by cancer. And yet, as the tempest swirls around her and we all scramble to battle stations - or run for our lives - she stands arrow straight and takes it. And through it all, she keeps on keeping on. Her determination is nothing short of inspirational.

Yet, for all that both Mom and Mom-In-Law have done for me and for all that both mean to me, this year on Mother's Day, my thoughts are chiefly of Margaret. In the twelve months that have passed since MD '08, Margaret has gone non-stop and has endured tremendous adversity. She packed Rob off for the Academy in July, buried her grandmother and then her great aunt about 1 week apart in August, spent all day and night with her mom at the hospital in October when the first of Suzy B.'s two great medical adventures occurred, moved her youngest child (Rob again) 2000 miles across the country in November and then choked back tears as she left him there to start the next chapter of his life, spent all day and night with her dad in the hospital in late December when he spent 3 or 4 days there dealing with his own health hiccup and spent another week of 24/7 duty in the hospital in late April with her mom when Suzy B. had the second of the two excellent medical adventures she has had in the past twelve months.

Margaret has taken on the role of "mother" for those both older and younger than she in the family. The older everyone gets, the more responsibility she assumes. And while it exhausts her, she handles it all seamlessly.

I would like to say that her load is lightened by the tremendous support she receives from her husband. However, while that is historically true, for the past several months it has not been the case. As I have been too long in the wasteland of my own flawed decision making, she has not only been doing all she has done without my help - she has been taking care of me in addition to doing all she does for the usual suspects.

It did my heart good late Friday afternoon to call her and tell her of the whirlwind events that had taken place and how, after several months of feeling lost in a situation that simply was not the proper fit, I had been granted a Mulligan and I was going back to WL. I could hear the joy in her voice through the phone receiver. And I knew immediately that all was again going to be right in our world.

On this, MD '09, a very special Mother's Day wish to my Holy Trinity: Mom, Suzy B. and my beautiful wife Margaret, without whom my life would not be anything near what it is. And for whose presence in my life, I am eternally thankful.

-AK

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Homeward Bound....

Perhaps it was in honor of the celebration of the 2009 graduation ceremony at my Alma mater. Or perhaps it was simply an example of a good thing happening to an idiot who may or may not have done anything to deserve it. I know not. In the immortal words of Pete Townsend, "either way blood flows." And either way, I am going home.

An experiment failed but valuable nonetheless. Valuable because while one can readily detect the color of green grass from the near side of the fence, one cannot fully detect the subtlety of the shading and the thickness of the undergrowth until one's socks and shoes are off, pant legs are rolled up and you are kneading your toes in it. Once you do that, you can accurately tell that - Yes indeed - it is simply grass after all.

Mulligans are usually reserved for the golf course. So although I have not played a round of golf in more than a quarter-century, I am hitting driver off of the tee the second time around. And I shall be hitting them straight and long.

And keeping the ball out of the tall grass. And keeping my eyes on the objective - and not whatever shiny crap might be lying out there away from the fairway.

-AK

Friday, May 8, 2009

From Boulder Come Rocks

Through the passage of time I have lost track of what the annual fee is for the University of Colorado - Boulder Alumni Association. While I know not what it costs, I know what it gets me. Every year I receive a packet of materials featuring discount travel coupons, insurance discounts and other stuff that I barely read and quickly discard. But I also receive my Official Alumni Association calendar. And that is, in and of itself, worth the annual fee - whatever it is.

It is not a traditional January through December calendar. Instead, it begins with August and ends with July, in order to mimic the academic year. And since it is one of those big boy, hang it on the wall calendars, the twelve photos it features every year of the CU-Boulder campus, the City of Boulder and the Flatirons are a bargain at any price.

I love my wife and children absolutely. And up until about 100 days ago, I actually dug what I do for a living and where I did it. In my current incarnation - as an inhabitant of Circle Seven - not so much but I remain hopeful that like a blind squirrel I too will be able to find a nut, metaphorically, and find my way back to a tact where my keel is even. But for all I do and all I love and all for which I am thankful, I shall never forget nor have any diminution of affection for the years I spent at CU-Boulder.

From August 1985 through May 1989 I attended (and with some sleight of hand) graduated from CU. My faithful Alumni Association calendar tells me that today is the 2009 edition of graduation from my Alma mater. Twenty years ago, we convened indoors at the CU Events Center - an intimate gathering of 5500 graduates all dressed in black gowns and caps - fighting off hangovers and trying to make it through a ceremony in which our fifteen minutes of fame lasted something along the order of fifteen seconds - or as long as it took the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Charles Middleton to announce, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the 1989 Graduating Class of the College of Arts and Sciences".

Among the incredible group of friends I made in college was my first roommate - Alexander Schreiber a/k/a Schneeds. We were friends from Hour One, Day One, Year One and lived together for three of our four years of college. Right next door to us our freshman year was the big Viking from Aspen, Colorado - John Gloor. All three of us were tight from the beginning.

And along the way we picked up some other invaluable members of the tribe. My second year, I remained on campus when Schneeds moved off, and ended up with a brand new friend, Jay Bauer, who arrived at Boulder after one semester at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, which made him a second semester freshman while Schneeds, John and I were sophomores. Across the hall from Jay and me on Farrand Hall's fourth floor moved the quiet man from Rangely by way of Katmandu - Lokendra Prasad Upadhyay. Since he was blessed with a name that I can barely spell and/or pronounce sober, he immediately was transformed into Loku.

In Hollywood, the epic movie builds to its dramatic finish, the famous final scene as it were. In real life, the famous final scene often does not arrive. For our group, it did not. After several years of working hard and playing hard together, we did not make it to the finish line in unison. About a month prior to graduation, John - a simply phenomenal Alpine skier, was enjoying the last day of the ski season when he fell horribly and sustained multiple fractures of his leg. The three of us, Alex, John and me, had been through a lifetime's worth of stuff together over the course of four years and suddenly, heading towards the wire at the top of the stretch, one of us was torn away. John was hospitalized for several days and then, once his condition stabilized, his parents drove east across the mountains from Aspen to Boulder and took their son home with them.

John went home and Schneeds and I went through graduation down a man. Jay did not graduate for one more semester, in December 1989, and Loku did not walk the walk until May 1990. So once Schneeds and I shifted our tassels from one side of our cap to the other, it was over for us. That fast, four years gone in an eye blink.

In the twenty years since graduation, we have scattered to different parts of the country, living our lives and remaining only in the periphery of each other's. The magic of the Internet has made it easier now to get back into - and to remain in - touch. And we have done a better job of it recently. It is terrific to see how life has treated my old stablemates these past twenty years.

Twenty years now/Where'd they go?
Twenty years/I dont know
Sit and I wonder sometimes/Where they've gone.

And sometimes late at night/When I'm bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin a ghostly white/And I recall
Recall.

....And it makes me smile. It always has. It always will.

-AK

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pogo, The Stick & Suggested Places To Stick It

American cartoonist and satirist Walt Kelly's most famous creation was Pogo and his most famous line was, "We have met the enemy and he is us", and while from afar it seems to be not only a prescient but a humorous observation, when you are ass-deep in those who you know not well enough to distinguish enemies from friends, it is not quite as amusing. In fact, it is not amusing at all.

Fit counts. What's the old adage about "close", "horseshoes" and "hand grenades"? Notice what is missing? Every other damn thing. Close does not count in day-to-day life. Life is hard enough - and work is a major part of it - without having to climb over the barbarians inside the palace walls just to get to the gate so that you can beat back the rest of the barbarians.

In Circle Seven, life is many things. "Nothing but a dream" is not among them. And at day's end, how much of a life it is at all is open for debate.

Life teaches us that even when Walt Kelly is only half-right, his words carry much weight. Sometimes we meet the enemy.....and he does not look a damn thing like us. And it does not change a thing.

-AK

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Young Woman and Her Promises to Keep

Proof positive of how quickly time passes is that today is already (easy for me to say) the final day of Suzanne's first year of her pursuit of her Master's Degree. It seems to me as if it was only yesterday that she was graduating high school and preparing to matriculate her way up to South Orange to begin her college career. Now, what seems to be a lifetime later (but is really only six years) she has graduated college and is halfway through the next step.

My daughter is as anxious about anything as she is excellent at everything. It is fortuitous that her intellectual metabolism processes information as quickly as it does. It allows her to spend the time she inevitably spends a part of every day engaging in her "Doomsday/What If?" scenarios without detracting from the time she needs to devote the important issues of her day. Suz is so gifted and so obsessive that she has not only mapped out the rest of her life - she has actually included time for the bad stuff.

She is quite a bundle of frenetic energy, our Suzanne. And through the first twenty-four years of her life she has achieved quite a bit. But as the poet wrote, she has miles to go before she sleeps.

And I have exactly zero doubts that she will reach whatever destination she chooses, regardless of whichever path she opts to travel.

-AK

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Looking For One Face That Ain't Looking Through Me

Music is more often than not the magic elixir for me. I can be ass-dragging through an otherwise forgettable or onerous day and hear a song that I enjoy on the radio and it simply lifts me up - not physically of course because that would simply be odd (and potentially dangerous to myself and others if driving and music listening were to intersect).

Last night on the way home from the office - at the end of just such a day - sitting in the evening rush while driving in the pouring rain, I was rescued. I was flipping around the dial and I came across Badlands by Bruce Springsteen, which has long been one of my favorite Springsteen songs. It occupies a prominent place on a record, Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is my favorite Springsteen album. Darkness on the Edge of Town turned thirty years old last year and sounds as fresh now as it did three decades ago.


Badlands is a wondrous combination of music and lyrics, driven by the E Street Band's percussion section, accented by a couple of vicious guitar solos, punctuated by the Big Man's sax solo, all of which are married to a lyric that is equal parts desperation and inspiration. A narrator aware of the trouble swirling all around him (Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland) and the possibility of better days ahead (For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside. That it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive).


There are many days, these days, in which I feel like I am working my way through the badlands. Some days I seem to be less successful at it than others. And then out of nowhere, a bit of help arrives. Last evening it arrived in the form of one of Mr. Springsteen's gems. A few minutes of salvation - nothing more.

But as is usually the case with Springsteen's music for me, it was just enough.

I believe in the love that you gave me
I believe in the faith that could save me
I believe in the hope
and I pray that some day
It may raise me above these.....

-AK

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Great Greasepaint Ghost On The Wind....

On Saturday night, the better half and I did something we do not do very often any more. We went on a date. Nothing extravagant or - truth be told - nothing very exciting to the casual observer. After dinner we drove over to the high school to take in the sights and sounds of the farewell evening of the 2009 edition of the Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department Carnival.

When our children were children and they were small, we lived across Route 28 from the high school. An annual rite of spring was the pilgrimage to the Carnival. Much as occurs with most annual rites of one's children, Suzanne and Rob soon reached the age where Margaret and I were no longer needed nor welcome Carnival companions. No harm there. Margaret and I becoming ancillary at best was a natural part of the maturation process for our kids - as it likely is for everyone's kids.

In the years that have passed since our kids knocked down the doors of adulthood, Margaret and I have not trod the grounds of the Carnival. Huge surprise I am sure but if it was my wife's decision to make, we would probably go there more years than not. This is after all my bride's hometown, not mine. For me, the Carnival represents the opportunity to see a large contingent of people I do not know and will likely never have any interaction with - save for the few minutes we spend together on the Zeppole line - all concentrated in one fairly confined space. As enticing as that is, add into the mix that the rides and attractions at the Carnival appear to be operated by individuals who are between prison stints and you have an event that does not leave me with a warm or fuzzy feeling. Most years, Margaret accedes to my unstated desire to not go to the Carnival. And while there are those who might think that we "miss" it most years, I would submit that one cannot "miss" what one chooses not to attend.

Anyway, given the run of luck we have not been on paying attention to my preferences recently, we decided to give in to Margaret's desire to spend some time there Saturday night. We were not there for a long time - but long enough for Margaret and I to stroll around, me to enjoy a glass of fresh squeezed, homemade lemonade and Margaret to enjoy her all-time Carnival favorite - meat on a stick (a/k/a "Chinese BBQ").

After the after-dinner sojourn into the point of intersection between the carnival lights and the gloaming, we went for ice cream. We found some little joint over the bridge on the Middlesex/Piscataway border and had homemade hard ice cream. It was not the best cheesecake-flavored ice cream I have ever eaten but between the circumstances and my companion, it was definitely on the medal stand.

Jesus send some good women to save all your clowns. And on Saturday night, at least, the best of them arrived. Just in time, as always.

-AK

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Pony Boy...

I am not a person blessed with any knowledge whatsoever of horse racing. As a fan of sports and of big events, I do watch the Kentucky Derby every May. And while I know so little about horse racing that I could not tell you which of the nineteen horses that started yesterday's Derby went off as the favorite (I know that the "morning line" favorite, I Want Revenge, was a race day scratch), I know enough about the sport to know that any time a 50-1 shot crosses the finish line ahead of all of the other horses, it is a hell of an upset.


Mine That Bird went off at 50-1 and at the turn leading into the homestretch he was closer to last than he was to first. And then as if his jockey Calvin Borel reached under his mount's belly and - like Wily E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoon - activated an ACME Rocket, Mine That Bird accelerated at a rate that made the rest of the field appear as if they were fixtures on a merry-go-round and not contestants at Churchill Downs. And when it was over, Mine That Bird finished 6 3/4 lengths ahead of everybody else.

A horse purchased for $9500 opened bales of whoop ass on the rest of the Derby field. A horse who made the trip from his New Mexico home to Kentucky in a trailer pulled behind his trainer's pickup truck. A horse ridden by a little bundle of energy, Borel, who could make serious endorsement money as the spokesperson for caffeine or for methamphetamine.

And on the first Saturday of May, a $9500 horse reinforced the principle that on any given day, anything can happen. Luck is the residue of design, after all. And on Saturday afternoon, a horse and a jockey that no one gave a mint julep's chance in hell of winning the Derby had a plan and followed it to perfection. And it took them all the way around the track and to the winner's circle.

-AK

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Depth Perception

Yesterday I spent most of my day in court - in Monmouth County. What better way to spend Law Day, right? While the mission I was on proved to be mostly fruitless (but appropriately so) I did have the chance to spend some time talking with the other lawyers involved in my case. The judge did not reach us prior to the 12:30 lunch hour so while His Honor's courtroom went dark for an hour, the three of us went to Court Street to have lunch.

Over lunch we were chatting about our respective jobs (brave souls, my dining companions), the practice of law and life. Among our group was a seasoned, talented trial attorney who has worked for about the past twenty years as part of the "house counsel" office of a liability insurer. As "house counsel" he is, in fact, an employee of the insurer. A fact that came back to bite him in the ass about forty-five days ago when the insurer decided that - in order to pare costs in these tough economic times - he and two of his other experienced colleagues were going to be let go. After a couple of decades of faithful service, he was told that May 29th shall mark the point of terminus for his long and winding road at the company.

The good news is - in corporate speak - he is not getting fired. No, thankfully, he is simply getting RIF'ED. He is the unfortunate participant in a "Reduction in Force". If only bills were paid and expenses were incurred in the State of Euphemism, then it would seem less obnoxious and more benevolent. They are not. And consequently, it does not.

To his credit, my soon to be displaced professional colleague has a wonderful sense of gallows humor as he approaches the end of his term. He told all of us a joke, the corniness of which would be better appreciated if it did not ring so true for him. What is the difference between a recession and a depression? In a recession, you lose your job. In a depression, I lose mine.

Although he is the one losing his job, not me, I could not help but feel a bit depressed myself about the whole thing. And as I left the courthouse yesterday afternoon, I wished him well. He certainly deserves it. But as his recent spate of luck proves, good things do not always happen for good people.

-AK

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taking Me Out Of The Ballgame

If one accepts as true the notion that one takes good news wherever it can be found, then those of us who are fans of the New York Yankees can perhaps interpret the Bronx Bombers' efforts to convert the fans who have been dressing as empty seats into actual, living, breathing persons as good news. It seems that the Yankees did not plan ahead when pricing seats at the Stadium this season and have not been able to sell many of the seats to which they have attached a per game price of $750.00 and up......all the way to $2500.

Let that wash over your skull cap for a moment, OK? The Yankees play 81 home games a year. Given that most people do not attend sporting events by themselves, you are talking about a $405,000.00 investment if you plunked down money for an entire season's worth of games from those seats for you and one companion. Wow! One-half million dollars to watch baseball. If it helps you, think of it this way. The Yankees this season have a rookie center fielder, Brett Gardner, on their roster. Gardner this year will earn the major league minimum salary, which is $400,000. If you bought a full season's plan for two in the most expensive seats in the joint, you are paying the Yankees more to sit and watch baseball than the Yankees are paying Gardner to play baseball.

With 10,000 empty seats in the Stadium on a game-by-game basis, the Yankees have slashed the prices of the really, really expensive seats by quite a bit, including in some places by 50%. While the percentage reduction is not insignificant, the bottom line is that in desperate times the Yankees are offering their fans the chance to spend only $1250 a seat. Incredible.

It is amazing to me that before the bottom fell out of the economy the Yankees had sold 3.5 million season tickets. The old joke used to be that it would cost $200.00 for a family of four to go to a baseball game. If only that were true, then we would all be able to afford the laugh.

Instead, we will take advantage of the view afforded to us from our dens and living rooms through the wonders of YES. Direct TV costs me only $42.95 a month and at that price - when the game stinks - I do not feel guilty about turning off the TV and going to find something else to do.

-AK