Friday, July 31, 2009

Amazing Gracie

The figures provided in an on-line universe notwithstanding, I am a human being with scant few friends. While there are any number of people with whom I enjoy fine relationships, more often than not, I strike the Heisman Trophy pose, which experience has taught me works just fine (thank you very much) for keeping the world at arm's length. Truth be told, it is a pose I receive as well as I give - neither of which bothers me very much.

I am the youngest of six and given both the size of my head (Mom must have felt as if she was birthing a Buick) and the limits of my personality, it never came as a great surprise to me that once I arrived, Mom and Dad decided to hop off the baby train. Thus, while I am a younger sibling five times over, I never experienced the older/younger relationship from the other side.

A number of years ago - eight to be exact - I became friends with a very cool, unique young woman who came to the Firm to work with me. From the time Lisa arrived in the summer of '01, she was employed as my secretary and/or assistant (God forgive me, I know not how to speak "P.C."). And over the course of time working together, we became good friends. When she left the Firm in March '05 to take her talents further on up the road to a new opportunity I told her that other than my wife, our work partnership was the longest relationship I had ever had with a woman to whom I am not related by birth. She laughed. I was not kidding.

From either the day we started working together way back when or sometime shortly thereafter, we developed a friendship that has been akin to older brother/younger sister. We root for one another's successes and act as a sounding board for one another's travails as one would for one's sibling.

A bit earlier this year, I made what proved to be an ill-advised decision to pick myself up and move further on up the road myself. As a coincidence - or perhaps due to the odd configuration of tines on this particular fork, we ended up working together again. As anyone who reads this space knows, my time there did not thrill me. When the opportunity presented itself to get on out of there, I did - with all due speed. For a moment, on my way out the door, I wondered whether my decision to leave there would adversely impact my friendship with Lisa. It did not.

Today is Lisa's birthday. I am hoping that the somewhat adventurous-sounding weather forecast turns out to be less than advertised (do we really need locusts?) so that she and her Joe and their friends can have one hellaciously good time doing whatever it is they intend to do this weekend to mark the event. Experience has taught me that regardless of the weather, Lisa will get done whatever she needs and wants to get done. She is after all a person who voluntarily hurls herself out of perfectly functional airplanes from 15,000 feet in the air or so just for giggles. I doubt highly that a bit of rain shall slow her down.

Happy Birthday Gracie.

-AK

Thursday, July 30, 2009

This Teachable Moment Is For You

Six days ago, when President Obama described the "Incident" (I opted for the capital "I" because judging by the amount of press this has received, it is the second most important story of the past 100 years - surpassed only by the death of Michael Jackson) as a "teachable moment", I found myself fighting hard to suppress my gag reflex. All kidding aside, if "teachable moment" does not win the award in aught-nine for most pretentious turn of phrase, it is at least on the medal stand.

And then our C-I-C explained that the dictionary definition of "teachable moment" is, "inviting the fellas over for a couple of beers". Suddenly, I realized that my life has been awash in such moments. While this is not as true now as it once was - given Margaret's somewhat dim view of such self-help courses - it leaves me a bit bewildered as to why I was not a better student, particularly as a collegian. Jeez, one of my Farrand Hall neighbors studied abroad at Oxford on her way to earning multiple advanced degrees and authoring books I could not fake my way through comprehending - and I am confident that I had significantly more teachable moments than she did.

This evening, the Prez, the Prof and the PoPo shall gather for an intimate evening of conversation and beer (after the obligatory photo opportunity of course - scheduled to take place in time to make the network evening news) at the White House. I would ask an indelicate question, such as how it is Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley are traveling from Boston to D.C. for the get-together. I care not at all whether they are coming together or separately. My concern is far more selfish: are you and I paying for it? Buying a fella a beer or two is one thing. Paying for him to travel several hundred miles for the opportunity to drink it is another thing altogether.

Given that Professor Gates and Sgt. Crowley are both from the Commonwealth of Samuel Adams, I would have not been surprised to have learned that the beer of the day was something from the Adams Family of brews. That is apparently not the case. Yesterday, in an announcement as ripe with tension as that surrounding President Clinton's naming of his dog, the Prez announced that he shall be drinking Bud Light. If Bud Light was still an anemic, putrid-tasting excuse of a beer made by an American company whose long-time success in the face of its atrocious-tasting products had long stumped me, then the Prez's decision would make sense politically - if nothing else. But Anheuser-Busch is not an "American" company any longer. A-B was purchased last year by a Belgian company so now we can blame the Belgians for churning out this junk. Do not misunderstand - I love the Clydesdales as much as the next guy but not even they would drink Bud Light.

The New York Post reports this morning that Professor Gates favors Red Stripe, which is a quite tasty Jamaican brew, while Sgt. Crowley favors Blue Moon, which is a Colorado-based creation. Memo to Sgt. Crowley, if it is Rocky Mountain-based beer you fancy, then pour the Blue Moon down the sink, which is where it belongs, and trade it in for any of the ones brewed by the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins. While I favor "Fat Tire" myself, experience has taught me that you really cannot go wrong, regardless of what brew you choose.

I know not whether tonight's pow-wow shall last long enough for the trio to watch a bit of baseball together but I suspect it might - for President Obama has shown us already that (bad beer choice notwithstanding) he is a bright man. Our Prez, the #1 Chicago White Sox fan in America, is hosting a couple of fellas from Red Sox Nation on an evening on which the first-place Yankees make their first visit of season to Chi-town to play the Sox of White. Hmm, methinks that the Prez has found a common ground for he and his two guests even before they arrive in D.C. this evening.

Cheers Gentlemen, from America - a place where everybody now knows your name.

-AK

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Boulder's on My Shoulder

While my love for my wife and family is incalculable and I am a firm believer in the "one direction only" approach to living one's life, there is now and shall forever be a warm spot in my heart for Boulder, Colorado. It has been slightly more than two decades since I graduated for CU-Boulder and given geographic limitations - among others - I do not get to visit there as frequently as I might like. However, while tripping fantastically across the lights of Cheyenne last week, I had a chance to spend a bit of time there and to share the time I was spending with Margaret, Rob and Joe.

Both my wife and my son had gotten my $0.50 tour of the CU campus, the area of the city right around campus and the Flatirons/Flagstaff Summit previously. Rob received his fairly recently - in January of this year when I last visited him in Cheyenne. Margaret received hers almost ten years ago, when we visited Boulder in October of aught-one. Saturday past was Joe's maiden voyage to the one-time home of Mindy and (for a while anyway) America's favorite alien.

No visit to Boulder is complete, for me anyway, without a stop at Abo's Pizza. A lifetime ago, before I had gray and white hair competing for positions of prominence on my head and in my beard, I worked at Abo's. I know less about making pizza than I do about anything else, which is saying a mouthful. Yet even I was able to master the intricacies of the position of "counter man", which is to say I was barely competent at the position but since I always showed up for work and did not steal from the joint I was a paycheck-cashing member of the Abo's family for about my final two and one-half years as an undergrad.

Back in the day (a/k/a "when I worked there") Abo's had three or four locations in Boulder, including a little sliver of a joint on the Hill, which featured New York-style pizza by the slice, fountain soda and zero seats for customers. The ensuing two decades have apparently been very kind to the Abo's operation as the space Abo's now occupies on the Hill is a zillion times bigger than where it once was (I think it is the space where Round The Corner once stood), there is seating for quite a lot of people, much more food is available to purchase than simply pizza by the slice and fountain sodas - while still available - have been joined on the beverage menu by beer.

We of course stopped for lunch while we were in Boulder on Saturday for while I know not precisely how the West was won, I know for sure it was not on the strength of the pizza that is generally available in the Mountain Time Zone. Abo's has dominated the 'za business in Boulder for thirty years for one truly excellent reason: their pizza beats the snot out of everyone else's. Who makes the second-best pizza in Boulder? Know not and care even less because while the gap between #2 and #100 is indiscernible, the gap between #1 and #2 is insurmountable.

While we were in Abo's chowing down on Saturday Margaret - as is her tendency - struck up a conversation with the young lady handling the duties of "counter woman". A long time ago, when I was less flab than I am presently (although no more fab than I am now), she would have been what we called a "Granola girl". In the course of their chat Margaret apparently shared with her the fact that not only was I a CU-Boulder alum but I was also an Abo's alum and told her that I had worked for Abo's while I was a student at CU. This information prompted the young woman to ask me when I had worked there. When I told her that I had been there more than two decades earlier, the space between her jaw and her upper lip was sufficient to stuff a full-sized goat. Upon recovering from her initial shock, she mentioned to me that there is a woman who works part-time at Abo's who is "old too" (meaning over 40) and who had told her younger colleagues that she had worked there since she had been a CU student. The young woman told me the name of this "old woman" but I was forced to admit that I had no recollection of her.

Saturday the pizza at Abo's was - as it always is -excellent. Actually the entire day in Boulder was terrific. It is a place on this planet where the points of intersection between the young man I was and the man I am come together nicely - sharing the stage with one another. And while I shall never live there again - the pace of life simply moves too slowly for me in the West - I enjoy stealing a visit there now and again......

....just tripping the merry-go-round.

-AK

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Scales of Injustice

Yesterday - sleep issues notwithstanding (having slept in until 5:00 a.m. every day I was on vacation even I found it a bit trying answering the 3:15 a.m. alarm clock's bell) - began in a promising and professionally satisfying manner. At about 9:30 or so I received notification from the Appellate Division, which is our intermediate level appellate court here in Levelland, of a win.
I have received but one adverse verdict at trial to this point in my career and since it happened - in late November 2007 - I had been shouting "we wuz robbed!" to the ramparts at the top of my lungs (note the dramatic license I took right there. I would not know how or where to find a rampart if forced to do so at gunpoint). Yesterday, a panel of learned judges in the Appellate Division agreed with me, finding that among the curious things that the trial judge did was charge the jury on areas of the law wholly unsupported by the evidence adduced at trial (over my objection), which is kinda, sorta something a trial judge is not supposed to do. Who knew? Not the judge before whom the matter was tried apparently. Thus, courtesy of our Appellate Division, by 9:30 or so I was feeling pretty good about things - looking forward to the rest of my day.

I should have known better. If experience has taught me one thing it is to be careful about the things for which I wish. Shortly before I went to bed last night, Suzanne gave me the latest update on the health and welfare of one of her close friends, Gabe. Gabe is a young man of 24 who, approximately one month ago, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, which in his case proved to be the oncoming lane of travel, when a teenage driver traveling the opposite direction lost control of his vehicle. By all accounts, the ensuing head-on collision was horrific. Gabe survived the impact. Unfortunately, he has sustained significant, substantive and life-altering injuries.

It is a fate one would not wish on the child of one's worst enemy. And the enormity of the anguish is multiplied by the fact that he is simply among the nicest kids who I ever had the chance to meet and to know - courtesy of his friendship with Suz and with Rob. He was a fun-loving, intelligent, musically gifted child whose journey to adulthood was successfully negotiated so that he did not have to leave any of those gifts behind him. It is nothing short of heartbreaking to think that he may have to live the rest of his life in such a decidedly different arc, the trajectory of his life being forever and inexorably altered by the carelessness of another.

Then almost immediately before retiring for the evening, the MTZ (Mountain Time Zone) child checked in with his mother to tell her that one of his friends - who is all of twenty - had told him earlier that evening of a diagnosis she received from her physician of not one, but two, types of cancer. At age twenty, someone decided that her plate - as well as that of her folks was not full enough - so a double serving of anguish was plopped upon it.

As a parent, there is nothing more terrifying than knowing the limits of your own power. Knowing that try as you might to protect the children you love from the world's ills, from dangers known and unknown, seen and undetectable to the naked eye, you cannot do so. So you do the best you can and you spend an inordinate amount of time hoping and wishing - that whatever you are doing and whatever your child is doing is enough to make whoever the cruel, heartless prick is who determines who lives and who does not pass your child by and leave him or her unscathed.

Sadly, all the wishing in the world does not always make it so. Sometimes bad news lands squarely on your doorstep. Just as often, it lands perhaps a house or two away but its effect upon those you love and those about whom you care is present nevertheless.

And even when it is the latter and not the former that occurs, your inadequacies and inabilities as a parent are on full display for all to see because even when the injury is inflicted upon one about whom they care and not upon themselves directly, you are still unable to protect your children from it. You wish you could, in small part at least because if you could figure out how to protect them, then maybe you could figure out how to protect yourself as well.

-AK

Monday, July 27, 2009

From Small Things

Today may not be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere but I would wager that it shall feel as if the summer solstice has cloned itself by the time night falls. I am not much of a vacation-goer - Margaret and I go on vacation once every five years whether we need to or not (just kidding dear). As one accustomed to the ebb and flow of work - the rhythm of the workplace as it were - hopping out of the stream for one whole week might prove to make it a bit tricky hopping right back in. While I am confident that by this time tomorrow it will feel as if we never were away, today promises to be a bit tricky.

During the week that the loop went on without me, interesting things happened throughout the nation. When Margaret, Joe and I began our great migration west, my beloved Bombers were in 2nd place - a couple of games behind the evil Red Horde from Boston (also known as "the foe we cannot defeat"). Yesterday, flying right to left, the Yankees were in first place. Clearly, the amount of importance that I have placed upon the counsel that I dispense to Messr. Girardi and his crew on a nightly basis from my den has been slightly overstated. Who knew?

It was also an interesting week for our nation's Chief Executive. President Obama is an exquisitely bright man, which is what made his proclamation that a certain white police officer in a certain town in Massachusetts acted 'stupidly' in his arrest of a certain African-American college professor from a certain Ivy League institution - a proclamation he made after first telling the nation that (a) the professor is a personal friend of his; and (b) he did not know all of the facts - so extraordinary. While his reconsideration of his comments forty-eight hours later, which was broadcast after he had spoken to the officer directly and settled up with him, was extraordinary in its own right (how often does John Q. Public get an apology from the Prez?) the manner in which he leaped into the fray - without all of the facts - was a bit unsettling. Candidly, it was the type of ill-informed, shoot from the hip, cowboy up nonsense that we came to anticipate with the regularity of the sunrise from his predecessor. It was something that our cool, calculated, articulate new leader was supposed to be immune from engaging in.

Perhaps however proving that he is not immune from the occasional foible is a good thing. At times during the campaign, he appeared to be almost robot-like - eschewing emotions and off-the-cuff remarks for scripted, prepared ones. This past week he showed us that he is indeed human, which as we all know from our own experience, means often that we are a postal code or two from perfect.

We make mistakes - all of us do. As long as we have the capacity to learn from them, we should not be afraid to make them. This week, Mr. Obama showed us both that he knows how to make them and how to learn from them. Not a damn thing wrong with that - not at all.

-AK

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ground Covered in a One-Horse Town

Today is the 26th of July 2009. It is the day that the great western adventure ends. Rob's life is permitted - after eight days of tolerating the benevolently intrusive presence of his mother, grandfather and me under his roof and in his day-to-day - to return to normal or a reasonable facsimile thereof. After being in vacation mode for the past eight days (OK, I did speak to my office every day to keep abreast of developments in matters) tomorrow morning the "game on" light shall illuminate again for Margaret and me - and for Joe as well. We shall all go to sleep tonight under the roofs of what we know to be our homes and shall awaken tomorrow to the daily grind of work.

This time last year - on the 26th of July aught-eight, all was right in the orbit around my bride. As of this day last year, neither of the two women upon whom Margaret relied so deeply for support and they upon her - Nanny or her mom Sue - had died. The mighty troika was firmly in place. Oh what a difference twelve months makes, eh? In the rotation that our big blue marble has made around the sun since we last passed the mile marker 07/26 Margaret's world has been put through a meat grinder. Sadly and coincidentally Joe's has as well. For as Margaret has marked the loss of her grandmother and her mom, her dad has had to come to grips with the death of his mother-in-law (who resided in his home for the final three decades of her life) and his bride of forty-nine years plus. To put it mildly, the past twelve months have been tough on Margaret and Joe.

Yet through it all they have had one another. And for the past eight days they had one another in an apparently alien environment, which was made to feel like home by virtue of the fact that we were here to see one of the family's pillars of great hope. Rob - whether he realizes it or not - completely energizes Joe. It seemed to me that the highlight of Joe's week was our Monday afternoon visit to Rob's job and the dual thrills of seeing his oldest grandson in action and thereafter being a guest of honor in the office- being introduced as "my grandpa Joe" to Rob's boss and to his co-workers. I suspect that the smile affixed to Joe's mug as a result of all that transpired on Monday afternoon will be present on his visage for an indeterminate period of time.

This past year reminded me of the importance of family and of taking the time to slow down and enjoy them and the things you are presented the opportunity to do with them. This past week was just such an opportunity and I am thrilled that not only did Margaret and I get a chance to spend time with Rob but that Joe and Rob got to spend this time together also. Once upon a time we might have all believed in the fairy tale of "forever". We know now that we get considerably less time than that and it is ours to do with what we will.

Time is short and here's the damn thing about it/
You're gonna die, gonna die for sure.
You can learn to live with love or without it/
But there ain't no cure.

Trust me - order from Column A. It makes the ride significantly more enjoyable.

-AK

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bunched Up Like Pearls On a String

While today marks the final day of the week-long spaghetti western Joe, Margaret and I have been on, we actually spent our final full day in Cheyenne yesterday. Today is day centered around a trip south (about an hour or so) to Boulder Colorado to show Joe for the first time and Margaret and Rob for the second time a place that shall always hold a special place in the little briquette that is my heart.


We spent our Friday in Cheyenne taking in the sights, sounds and smells of CFD. Frontier Days is a phenomenon upon which I would never have stumbled but for Rob's present employment and residency here in the wild frontier. His presence here prompted our presence here - a presence that candidly our 23 y/o son has taken with more than a pinch of good grace, considering that his 'rents and his grandfather have been living under his roof for a week. Whether we make this trip again next summer I know not but regardless of whether we do, this week has been an exceptionally wonderful experience.


On Friday morning, for the third and final time the good folks who run CFD (volunteers all) put on a pancake breakfast. It is an event that takes place annually on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday of CFD. It is conducted thrice during the week at the Cheyenne Depot, which is a fully-operational and damn busy freight train terminal through which trains - bearing the Union Pacific logo and others - take on and discharge their loads more than 100 times a day, 24 hours a day. The morning gathering feeds more than 10,000 people. The menu is straightforward: three pancakes, a slice of ham, syrup, butter, cold milk for the kids and hot coffee for the adults. The food is delicious and the price is even better. Three times a week more than ten thousand people are fed for free.

We were there Friday morning shortly after the food started flowing and about twenty minutes after we got into line, which required us to queue up about two and one half blocks from the Depot, we were eating our morning meal. The line was manned by volunteers and while everyone who was there was hungry, there was no jostling, pushing or shoving. It was as if all knew that (a) there was more than enough food for all to eat; and (b) the wait was going to be insignificant. Perhaps they all knew what I came to realize during the week I was here, which was that all involved with this festival - the CFD - were so cordial and so friendly that acting like a jerk would have seemed wholly inappropriate - almost an offense against them.

I do not vacation well. I do not do well spending time outside of my element. Yet, this week, in the company of Margaret and Joe and in the presence of Rob, I had a hellaciously good time in the unlikeliest of places - far, far away from home.

When I close my eyes tomorrow night, I shall go to sleep 'neath my own roof and in my own bed for the first time in more than a week. I shall indeed miss the lights of Cheyenne - including its brightest light - for as long as he is here and we are elsewhere. Yet I shall be warmed by the memory of the time we have spent here for quite some time to come.

-AK

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Toast to One of the Great Ones

"STELLA!" is the ear-piercing and heartrending proclamation of Brando's Stanley Kowalski. While an image of Brando standing in the rain and wailing may be the one that leaps to the forefront of most people's minds upon hearing "STELLA!", it is not mine. Rather, upon mention of the name Stella I think first - as I have since I was a but a small boy - of my sister Kara.

For reasons neither has ever explained to me, when Kara and Jill played field hockey together at W-H a lifetime ago, the girls on the team developed the habit of attaching "little old Jewish lady" nicknames to one another. I know not whether everybody had one for I cannot recall three decades later whether Jill had such a nom de play. Kara - who was an award-winning goaltender on what were year in/year out excellent teams - became "Stella". I do not know if the assignment of the aliases was done in part to confuse the opposition (by calling your teammate by her canasta name as opposed to her given name) but even if that was the plan, it would have made little sense to envelop Kara in it. She was the goalie after all. Even I, who spent at least six years watching more field hockey than any one human being should be forced to endure without learning most of the rules, knew from watching that goalies are not permitted to roam the field. Hence, it was pretty damn easy for the opposition to learn were Kara was. Unfortunately for them, an overwhelming percentage of the time she was between them and a goal.

The name whose origin arose from the lined playing area of the field hockey field eventually consumed Kara's day-to-day. For Jill and I, Kara morphed into Stella - and eventually "Stel" a lifetime ago and has remained there ever since. Hell, on my cell phone Kara's cell number is saved as "Stel Cell".

Kara, Jill and I are the final three of the six Kenny children. It seemed to me as a boy that Mom/Dad really had two sets of three kids, given that the age gap between Kelly and Kara is greater than it is between Kara and me. Kara, Jill and I were born within four years of one another, which meant that as kids we had a significant number of shared experiences. We three were sent together to W-H, which was "Dad's school", to begin the 1977-78 school year as a 9th grader, 7th grader and 5th grader respectively. All three of us graduated from W-H - in '81, '83 and '85 respectively and along the way did enough in our little high school world to ensure that two and a half decades after the last one of us walked the hallways as a student, our names remain engraved on more than a handful of awards and plaques.

I have never met a soul during the entirety of my life who does not become a fan of Stel's immediately after meeting her for the first time. As kids, Jill and I used to joke that Kara had to have been the milkman's kid. Jill and I channeled a fair number of the darkest elements of our old man's personality and could each be a complete son of a bitch with whom to deal. Kara was always such a benevolent soul, so willing to take the time to look for the good inside of all with whom she came into contact that Jill and I used to joke that there was no way the three of us could have been related by blood - she was simply too good a person.

As the tailenders of the Kenny crew, we shared some not so great times together as well, for such are the vagaries of life. Our father died on the 31st of May in 1981, approximately a week or so before Kara's high school graduation. A number of her friends had parties. Kara played hostess at a repast. Less than three months after the death of the old man she was off - to the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California - to begin life as a college freshman alone and 3000 miles away from home. I had significant issues coming to grips with the old man's death as a high school freshman living at home. How she navigated those tumultuous waters as an 18 y/o kid living alone and across the continent from the only home she had ever known has long been one of life's great mysteries to me.

Today is Stel's birthday. I hope that she has an extraordinary day. She deserves it. Always has, always will.

STELLA! HAPPY BIRTHDAY & MUCH LOVE!

-AK

Thursday, July 23, 2009

At This Stage of Our Respective Lives, I Would Rather Fight Ali

An inevitable offshoot of understanding the depths of my own limitations is that on an almost daily basis I am exposed to at least one thing that I completely lack the skill set necessary to perform. On certain days - when that which I lack the ability to do - does not seem to be particularly challenging or thought-provoking, my limited range can be a bit depressing.

Yesterday I came face-to-face with yet one more thing I could never hope to do. But I came away from it feeling not at all badly about myself or my many limitations. Margaret, Joe and I took a short ride to the campus of Laramie County Community College (or "the L Triple C") as it is referred to in the vernacular of Cheyenne to bear witness to a performance of the United States Air Force's aerial team. the Thunderbirds. I do not know how many folks were in attendance yesterday morning but there was discussion of the crowd annually for this traditional CFD performance being in excess of 10,000.

Those of us who live and work in the New York metropolitan area may think that is not a tremendous number of people. The New Jersey Nets - a team about which few care who toil in an arena where few like to travel, are able to put 10,000 people in their building for their games - ditto the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals. As Albert E once observed, everything is relative. Approximately 60,000 people live in Cheyenne. Even when the city's population has swelled temporarily due to the festivities of CFD, having 10,000 people in any one place at any one time is remarkable.

The performance we witnessed yesterday was jaw-dropping. Candidly, after having a front-row seat for the most amazing acrobatics I have ever seen, I cannot recall the names that the M.C. attached to the various maneuvers (although I suspect that the monikers that would apply most aptly to me if I flew one of those jets, the "wet my pants while screaming for my mommy" and the "how the hell did I end up here" were not among the names he used.) But I shall not forget what I saw for the rest of my life - it was simply mesmerizing.

Tuff enuff? Indeed I am - to appreciate the distinction between that which I can do and that which I cannot. And to enjoy the latter while continuing to work hard at the former....

Just not this week. I am on vacation after all.

-AK

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday Morning in America

It bears repeating that but for the presence of my son here on a full-time basis, I would never have given a moment's thought to spending a week's vacation in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Other than when I ran up here for the occasional escapade with my college crew from Boulder a lifetime ago, no discernible reason exists for me to be here. Prior to spending any time here these past few days it always struck me as the type of place where the coast-to-coasters do not look down upon as they pass overhead at 37,000 feet.


While I have no intentions of relocating 1800 miles west of my home, I appreciate now what I did not 96 hours ago, which is that this really is one hell of a little place. Bearing in mind we are in this state's capital city, we spent a couple of hours yesterday lining the parade route for the Tuesday edition of the Cheyenne Frontiers Day parade. Margaret, Joe and I stood or sat at the curb line adjacent to the Federal building and one block south of the State building that is residence to both houses of Wyoming's Legislature and its Governor. Here is an exercise for fellow Garden Staters: go sit down at the curbside in our state's capital in the same general area and let me know how that works out for you. Or simply leave me the contact information for your next-of-kin, whichever you think is easier.


It was at first a chilly morning but as the sun established its dominance over the clouds, it warmed up nicely. We had an unobstructed view of the action - as did the other thousands of folks who lined the avenues along the parade route. Out here in the middle, there is indeed no pushing or shoving for position.

And for however long the parade lasted, we had a picture window's view into small town America. The parade included high school marching bands, clowns in miniature cars, men riding old-time bicycles and numerous Old West-themed floats. Corny? On some level I suppose it would have been - had it felt for a moment as if the parade's participants were manufacturing enthusiasm or excitement for what they were doing for the benefit of the tourists like me at route-side. It felt that way exactly not at once during the entirety of the morning.

My time in Cheyenne thus far has revealed to me that not only is this a moderate-sized, modern city wrapped around the heart of an old frontier town but that those who live here are significantly less jaded (while seeming to be no more or less economically advantaged) than those of us who live in the Garden State Plaza (and 1000 other Malls) State. Yesterday, all along the parade route all who were seated stood - and applauded in unison - when the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in uniform marched past. We repeated the exercise when the float carrying the families of Wyoming National Guard troops presently in our nation's service rolled by. This is a part of America where folks stand and applaud the selfless acts of others and where, no matter where you are and what you are doing at a public event (such as a ball game or the PBR), you stand fast and face the flag during the singing of the National Anthem.

Utopia? Not close -but then again if Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo could not find the perfect place in spite of the several years' worth of Saturday mornings they spent looking then what shot does a mere mortal have. I like where I live a great deal and still I recognize that my postal code and that of Utopia have not yet intersected on the horizon line.

I do not usually spend my Tuesday mornings lining a parade route and I reasonably anticipate that economic realities will not soon allow for such a modification in my day-to-day. But it does a soul good to do it - or anything that requires you to slow down and absorb all that is going on around you - every now and again. For you know not what you miss until you open your eyes and look around you.

-AK

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Monday Impossible Not to Like

Since the wheels of our big old jet airliner made contact with the terra firma at DIA (I still cannot get over what an improvement that airport is over its predecessor - Stapleton) on Saturday afternoon, the weather here in the West has been spectacular. Bright, sun-splashed days linked together by cool, crisp, star-filled nights. And the weather has not been close to the best part of the trip thus far.

Monday was a day that I shall recall even if - by some celestial error - I live to be at least as old as I am presently. When I visited in January, the first thing I did upon arrival in Wyoming was go see Rob at work. Since at least one aspect of his job requires him to spend time in a setting where at least one aspect of my own job requires me to spend considerable time, getting to see my son in action - in that setting - prompts a feeling inside of me to which words (particularly those fashioned by as poor a smith as I) cannot do justice. Yesterday, not only did I have the opportunity to see him at work again but I was joined by Margaret and Joe. I thought my ear-to-ear grin was hard to top (especially when one considers the width of my head) until I saw the faces of my son's mother and his grandfather.

Yesterday provided the three of us a chance to take a tour of Rob's office afterwards, meet a number of the good people with whom he works - including those who helped him get settled in when he made his great migration West about seven months ago. We also met his boss - who seemed as happy to meet the family of his office's newest member as we were to meet him - and who very enthusiastically chatted with us about Rob, Wyoming and the work they do here.

Last night, Margaret, Rob and I did something that I daresay I never envisioned any of us doing - as recently as last June when he graduated from college. We sat in the CFD Arena, under the night sky, and watched the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) up close and personal. If you have never had the opporutnity to watch the blissfully insane individuals who, while wearing minimal padding, hop onto the back of a rather angry, unquestionably enormous bull and then hope like hell to (a) stay on his back while holding on to a rope with only one hand for 8 seconds; and (b) avoid getting clobbered by the bull both during and after the eight seconds of hell (I noticed watching from the stands the past couple of days that the bulls seem equal parts unimpressed by and oblivious to the sound of the '8 second' bell).

But for my son being here, we would not have been there. While most days I am not terribly happy that his initial posting landed him two time zones from home, these past few days I have come to understand (at least a little) the reasoning. Him being here has created an opportunity not solely for him - but for all of us - to expand our horizons and to grow.

And at this relatively late stage of my career, who'd have thunk such a chance existed for me? I am indeed loving every minute of it.

-AK

Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Feet They Hardly Touch the Ground

Forty years ago today Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two folks from here to take a walk out there - hopping down a ladder onto the surface of the Moon. I would be lying if I told you that I had any recollection of that event as it occurred - being all of about 30 months old at the time. At that stage I was more interested in trying to keep down everything I ate and drank and not doing #1 or#2 on myself. In retrospect it is frightening to me how the things I strove to accomplish in my terrible two's were revisited during my college years.


The interplay between irony and coincidence is one thing that has plagued me most of my life. It is certainly not THE one thing- merely an entry on an ever-expanding list of items. Thus, it stumps me - as I suspected it would - whether the death of America's anchorman Walter Cronkite less than one week prior to the 40th anniversary of an event that left him speechless and visibly elated on-air is an example of the former or the latter. Mr. Cronkite seems forever intertwined with certain events. He was in life and in death he shall remain so.


Forty years ago - in the eleventh hour of a decade that saw we the people of these United States test the mettle of President Lincoln's cautionary words about a house divided - two men - two American men - did indeed take a giant leap for mankind. They took steps that - for a moment anyway - put all of us back in the canoe and paddling the same direction, as opposed to fighting the stream's current and each other as we had been doing. Forty years later it still seems inconceivable to me that someone not only developed the technology to launch human beings into outer space and successfully land them upon the intended target but - even more surprising - that the human beings who developed the technology found other brave (perhaps more than a bit crazy) human beings to volunteer to undertake the trip.


No one discusses going to the Moon any longer and - in fact - by the time Apollo 13 announced, "Houston we have a problem" the nation's love affair with lunar exploration had waned. Yet we still are a nation imbued with and embodied by its pioneer spirit - its sense of adventure. And the trick is not to give up but to simply continually search for new adventures - new frontiers to conquer.


We are still here. They are still out there. And that is, simply, the way it is. And that is, indeed, one that that will simply never change.


-AK

Sunday, July 19, 2009

For the Range is His Home......

Day One of the Great Migration West was a success. Me? I tend not to set the bar overly high when I am supposed to be doing something such as relaxing but even against a more stringent standard than I might employ (I have mentioned the existence of Margaret a time or two in this space have I not) it went well.

At the point on the horizon line when the road intersects with the sky - and perhaps only there - does life go according to Hoyle. In the day-to-day that I inhabit, a fair amount of time is spent in the fine art of improvisation. Thus when our rather easy, well-mapped out trip for two morphed into a trio of travelers trekking to the lights of Cheyenne, we had to revise our plan of action on the fly. Not every spontaneous journey culminates in a happy ending. Happily for us - the critical first step - getting the traveling party from Point A to Point B in one piece - went off without a hitch.

While I would never question the ingenuity or staying power of my dad-in-law Joe, I must admit that Margaret seemed so genuinely concerned Saturday morning about his ability to successfully negotiate all of the potential pitfalls that she feared were laying in ambush for him at the airport that I was one part relieved and one part pleasantly surprised when I saw him strolling through the concourse at Denver International Airport - having last seen him hours earlier outside of Terminal C at Newark Airport (sorry, I'm a traditionalist and I simply cannot wrap my mouth around the name "Newark Liberty" Airport. I still refer to the indoor arena in East Rutherford as the Byrne Arena - regardless of how many alligators some clothing company festoons to its exterior). Joe has not done a lot of flying in his seventy-six years and prior to his solo flight to Denver yesterday morning I do not think he had undertaken any of it away from the watchful eye of his beloved Suzy.

And at the end of Day One of our journey was the man himself - our host for the week - Rob. When your children are children and they live under your roof and are wholly dependent upon you for everything, there are days when you wonder if you will live long enough to see them mature to the point where they live under a roof other than yours. And then, hopefully you live long enough to see them outgrow the home in which they were raised and watch them as they map out their own course in the world. When you reach that point as a parent, you are chock full of mixed emotions. For while you take great comfort in the success your child achieves, you still have to walk past that empty room at least once a day - the room that was once theirs but now belongs to no one. It stands as a reminder to steps already walked, not those yet to be taken.

What a treat this week shall be for Margaret and me to see our son not as he was but as he is - in the environment that he has cobbled together to make a home for himself. And as much of a treat as it is for us, the joy that Joe takes from being here in Wyoming, watching the oldest of his three grandsons as the man he has become - a man whose growth was shaped in large part by the lessons learned at his grandfather's knee - is incomparable.

And to be here to see it all is simply extraordinary.

-AK

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tray Tables Locked & Seats in the Upright Position

There is a proverbial pot of gold at the end of today's epic journey West, which is a visit to Rob's bachelor pad in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That the payoff is huge is extremely important because the road from here to there today promises to be a long one.

My wife, who I love with all of my heart, is only slightly more neurotic than the most neurotic person you have ever known or encountered in your life. Usually travel is enough to push her over the edge but today, just for fun, we have added a side dish to the usual entree of angst - trying to monitor the travel progress of her dad, Joe. As my wife and I wing West this morning on one flight, he shall be doing likewise on another. Hey do not shoot the one responsible for making the arrangements. There is only so much I can do when a pair of fliers becomes a trio less than two weeks before the scheduled departure date.

The joy of flying East to West is that you actually gain time. We shall land in a time zone two time zones from our own, which means that a day that started at 3:30 Eastern time and shall end at some point after 11:00 p.m. Mountain time will really have two "BONUS" hours in it. Time may wait for no one, but when jetting right to left across this great land of ours, it appears to slow down just enough to screw with you.

Off we go - into the yonder so blue and so wild. Day 1 of the Great Migration West has begun.

-AK

Friday, July 17, 2009

Omarosa in '13?

I was initially excited when I read the story in the newspaper earlier this week that a certain governor in the midst of a tough re-election fight was considering naming a past winner of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" as his running mate. We here in Levelland are embarking on a new adventure this election season. Around the nation, unemployment figures are way up. Here in the Garden State we have figured out a way the path to job growth.

We have conjured up - out of one part whole cloth and one part ether - a new position in our Executive Branch. Apparently, between Governor Whitman's ascendancy to the EPA and Governor McGreevey's resignation, someone has determined that we have spent too much time operating under the auspices of an "acting" Governor these past several years. Thus, voila! we have now created the position of Lieutenant Governor.

In addition to being forced to come up with several months' worth of witty banter to hurl back and forth at one another, now Messrs. Corzine and Christie have to come up with something no candidate for Governor of New Jersey has ever had to come up with before: a running mate. While no one is really sure what the official duties are going to be for our new #2, the new rules of engagement mandate that each of the major parties' candidates for the #1 job has to come up with a name to put on the ballot beneath his own.

OK, apologies for the somewhat circuitous trip back to "The Donald" but here we are. Earlier this week, the story broke that among the Gov's short list of potential LG candidates is Randal Pinkett. Perusing his website I was pleased to learn that in addition to enjoying referring to himself in the "third person/New York Times" style (count the # of references to "Dr. Pinkett" per paragraph just for fun, he adheres to the five F's: faith, family, friends, fellowship and fun. Man - how about go for a sixth and seventh and make a bit of room for French fries and football?

Other than being the winner of Season 4 of "The Apprentice", Dr. Pinkett is apparently the most successful and humble man on the planet. Again, do not accept my word for it - go to the website. Nevertheless, his apparent ascension to the dizzying heights of statewide politics seems a bit extraordinary - given that his resume lists everything he has done since cornering the neighborhood lemonade stand market - and yet is conspicuous for its lack of mention of any experience in the business of governing (or lieutenant governing). Hell of a way to start one's life of public service I suppose - as the #2 in command in spite of a glaring lack of the background one would normally bring to the gig. What's the word I am searching for? Palinesque.

I would have hoped that if the Gov was going to go the "reality tv" star route, he would have considered Richard Hatch, the winner of the first edition of Survivor. Perhaps, given his own somewhat flexible relationship with the IRS Code Hatch has loftier aspirations - such as a position in the Federal Treasury.

If Hatch is unattainable, then how about Joan Rivers? She may have the same thimbleful of experience in elective office as Dr. Pinkett but even at this late stage of her career she would be a whole lot more fun to have on the campaign trail. And since no one has been able to define for us, the electorate, what the position of LG is supposed to entail, the ability to host a celebrity roast may as well be as important a skill as any other.

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief
Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief
One thing in common they all got
Everybody wants to be the man at the top.

Even an apprentice. Whether he is qualified for the position or not. On the job training for Donald Trump is one thing. We have more than enough on our plate here in the State of Retail Gardens. Here's to not allowing him to serve yet another apprenticeship on our time and our dollar.

-AK

Thursday, July 16, 2009

With Feeling, One More Time

You cannot, it seems, turn six inches in any particular direction on any particular day without hearing or reading a story about the youth of America and their intertwined relationship with the impending demise of the Republic. Whether you are a member of that "suspect class" or, like yours truly, once were (what seems more and more like an insanely long time ago) you have undoubtedly heard it. It is an inevitable by-product of the human condition it seems - to hearken back to the good old days - regardless of whether they were or not.

This evening under the lights at Kean University two groups of high school football players (OK, they are all members of their school's class of '09), one from Union County and one from Middlesex County shall strap on their equipment one more time - and for some of them it may be the final time - and play a game. These young men - and the young women who comprise the cheerleading squads for their respective sides - are coming together not simply for the love of the game. Rather they gather tonight to help raise money for two institutions that specialize in helping those less gifted than those who shall play this evening.

Tonight is the Snapple Bowl XVI - an event whose principal purpose is to raise money for the Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside and The Lakeview School for Cerebral Palsy in Edison. Over the course of this game's first fifteen years, it has raised $250,000 for those two institutions. Two institutions who do good work - the type of work that as a parent you hope like hell your child never needs to be the beneficiary of. Margaret and I had the pleasure of hearing our Suzanne talk ceaselessly about all of the great work that is done at Lakeview during the couple of years that she was there - first as part of an academic internship during her time as an undergraduate student at Seton Hall and thereafter when she worked at the school after graduation.

It is fashionable one supposes to roll one's eyes, shake one's head and utter a line including the words "I do not understand young people today" and a "Harumph" at the mere sight of someone under a certain age. I do every time I see a story about Lindsay Lohan on television or in the newspaper. But it is far too easy - and far too shortsighted - to lump "kids today" into a one size fits all category and impose the sins of the few onto the many.

Whether it is a universal truth that with age comes wisdom I know not since while I am undeniably the oldest I have ever been I know not whether I am indeed wiser than I was half a lifetime ago - in spite of the rather low lying baseline from which I launched. The group of young folks who shall be playing and cheering tonight strike this crusty old bastard as being long on wisdom and rich in heart as well. Tonight they shall play not simply for the love of the game. Rather they shall play for the love of those who they may barely know or know not at all. They play for those who cannot so that those who cannot may have a shot at a bit better life tomorrow than they woke up to this morning. They play for all of the right reasons.

No doubt about it, the kids are alright.

-AK

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

For the Moonlight (Graham) In All of Us

I know not who is the source of the observation that, "Insanity is the doing of the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result" although I suspect that she bears a striking resemblance to my bride. Summer is the "pursuit of eternal youth" season in our house (I spend the other three seasons attempting to hone my Olympic-level immaturity) as I play softball on a team that a couple of my friends from law school have put together.

In some shape or form, the core group of five or six of us has played together since the summer of 1995. Like vagabonds, we have pinballed from one league to another in search of a game. For the past several seasons, we have toiled under the banner of the City of Newark Law Department in the Essex County Lawyer's League. I suspect you are thinking - lawyers playing softball? Is the League motto, "our level of play stinks but our arguments are epic" or some such thing? No, but perhaps it could be. At least on some evenings.

In the interest of full disclosure, it must be acknowledged that at the zenith of my athletic career I was not very - athletic that is. Not much has changed in that regard here on the downhill side of the speed bump that represented the height of my prowess. On a good night, I am decidedly average. On a bad night, I am the guy who provides the ice water that we all drink on the bench. The back of my Topps softball card lists my position at "Hydrator". It does not but it certainly would not be a stretch.

For years I have defied conventional wisdom and coefficients of friction and insisted on playing softball in shorts - as opposed to baseball pants - while continuing to insist on running the bases (at 42) with the same type of abandon I did at an age one third or one half of my present age. I am an above-average base runner but given my tendency to push the envelope's edge more often than not, I tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time sliding and/or diving during my warm summer evening's trip around the bases. Over the past fifteen years that has led to the accrual of a significant number of scars on my right leg (principally from the knee down), which are the residue of cuts, abrasions and the occasional infection that were the immediate consequence of a particular base-running action. I wish I owned stock in Neosporin if for no other reason than to take advantage of an owner's discount.

We played our third game of the season last night (blame not us but Mother Nature). In the top of the final inning, during a play on the bases that kinda, sorta resembled a jailbreak I ended up having to slide into 2nd base. The good news was I was safe. The bad news was that my trusty sliding pad did not work as well as the packaging promised when I purchased it a few seasons back. I ended up, yet again, with a mix of blood, dirt and sand where parts of my right leg used to be. Having seen this movie before, I know how it ends. In about 7-10 days, I will have a new scar taking its rightful place among the others on that appendage.

Needless to say Margaret was thrilled to see me when I arrived home last night after the game (at least that was the message I gleaned from what she was saying - although it was kind of subliminal and required rather adroit reading between the lines as it were). I could actually feel the cold stare of my wife on the back of my head as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Boy am I really looking forward to that 4 + hour flight to Denver with her on Saturday morning now!

The good news is that Margaret's anger - like the searing pain in my right leg - shall abate. Time heals all wounds, right? I think I shall stop at the pharmacy on the way home tonight to stock up on Neosporin - just to be safe.

-AK

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

John Marshall's Ghost

Was it happenstance or intelligent design that landed Minnesota's freshman senator (five days on the job and counting as of yesterday) Al Franken on the Senate Judiciary Committee? Franken, once upon a time, made his living being intentionally funny, which he has not been in close to thirty years. Yet, there he was yesterday, being introduced as a member of the lineup whose task it is to probe the credentials of the Hon. Sonia Sotomayor of the United States Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit and to determine whether to present her nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States of America to the full Senate for a vote.

If there is a group of men/women assembled in one room for what ostensibly is a legitimate - and most assuredly is an important - purpose who makes my hair hurt more than the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate, I am at a loss to think of who it might be. The only difference between yesterday's opening act at Circus Judicius Maximus and the performances we had sat through most recently - when Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were put their the wringer en route to taking their seats on the Court - was that the power in the room has shifted. Whereas the Democrats were the Senatorial minority during the hearings for Roberts and Alito, it is now the Republican members of the Committee who occupy that position. It has had the practical effect of reassigning the role of "smart alecks" in the room from those with the (D) affixed to their name plate to those with the (R).

Several years ago, the story first surfaced in the national press regarding the political ambitions of Charles Barkley, including his rumored desire to be governor of his home state of Alabama. At first glance it seemed improbable that the "Round Mound of Rebound" possessed the chops to hold an elective office - even in Alabama. It is less so when one realizes that the people of Alabama not only elected Jeff Sessions to the United States Senate in 1997, they reelected him in 2003. Presumably Senator Sessions represents the best and the brightest of the candidates for elective office in Alabama, a distinction apparently as impressive as being the tallest elf at the North Pole: not tall enough to hang the star on the Christmas tree but good enough to put it near the top branch on the holly bush.

The lights are equally dim on the Democrats' side of the aisle. Senator Charles Schumer, the senior Senator from New York - who given his long and distinguished history of jumping onto bandwagons as they begin to accelerate and jumping off of them as they begin to slow down with equal alacrity - was not surprisingly reduced to tears during his introduction of Judge Sotomayor. His overblown sense of theatrics knows no bounds. Better still was the performance of the Empire State's junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who rambled on for more than ten minutes. She was interested perhaps in introducing herself to the people of the State of New York, considering she represents them as one of only one hundred United States Senators - a job for which she received not a single vote - being appointed by a Governor who received an equal number of votes for the job he presently holds.

History should teach the members of the Judiciary Committee that past performance has long proven to be an inaccurate indicator of what a man or woman shall do once a lifetime appointment (unless you are Abe Fortas) on the Supreme Court of the United States has been secured. Dwight Eisenhower nominated California Governor Earl Warren to be Chief Justice in significant part because of Warren's ability to deliver California to the Republicans in the Presidential election (a Republican whose last name is not Reagan carrying California in a Presidential election? Who knew?). Under Warren's stead, the Supreme Court handed up a series of decisions that expanded the presumed limits of individual liberties and rights, which ultimately led Eisenhower to declare that appointing Warren to the Court was the biggest mistake of his Presidency.

It bears remembering as well that the member of the Court whose retirement has opened the vacancy that Judge Sotomayor hopes to fill, Justice Souter, was nominated by a Republican President. Yet Justice Souter has consistently been characterized as being among the more liberal members of the Court during his approximately two decades of service. Methinks Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina hit the nail squarely on the head when he told Judge Sotomayor yesterday that, "barring a meltdown" she will be nominated. And once she is nominated, she will take her place among the nine Justices of this nation's Supreme Court.

Listening to the various members of the Committee drone on yesterday I could not help but wonder how many of them who are attorneys, other than Senator John Kyl of Arizona, are members of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. I am - and have been for close to a decade. And I suspect that the Court - and the Republic - shall survive the addition of soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor just fine. Same as it ever was.

-AK

Monday, July 13, 2009

To Serve, To Protect and To Pedal

Perhaps now I can die a contented man. Saturday night, as I was attempting to negotiate my way through the gauntlet that is the road in Point Pleasant that runs parallel - and immediately adjacent to - the boardwalk, I inadvertently created my own "white Bronco" moment.

Presumably the spectre of O.J. Simpson has not yet faded so far into the ash can of our collective memory that the image of the Juice in the back seat of the white Ford Bronco being driven by his friend Al "A.C." Cowlings while every member of the L.A.P.D. not named Joe Friday followed behind at a remarkably controlled rate of speed has been permanently erased. Saturday night - for just a moment - I created a scenario that allowed Margaret, Lynne, Suzanne and me to all feel as if we were there - on a freeway with a phalanx of local law enforcement officers hot on our trail.

My little Toyota Corolla had daytime running lights, which makes life easy for me. The headlights are always on, whether I remember to turn them on or not. Margaret drives a Toyota Camry, which is a decidedly fancier ride than mine but one - for whatever reason - that Toyota decided to not equip with its idiot-proof illumination system. My wife, industrious and clever as she is, has fashioned a remedy to that potential problem. She has simply adjusted the headlights to a particular setting that ensures that while the engine is running, the lights are on.

When Rob was home a week or so ago, he used Margaret's car to get around. Unbeknownst to me (and judging by her reaction on Saturday night, Margaret) Rob - not privy to Margaret's secret system for perpetual light - must have adjusted the setting on the headlights to the "If you need them, then turn them on" position. Here in Levelland we are still on the part of the calendar when the days are long. Also, while we have been drowning in rainfall all spring and summer - we went the entire week since Rob's departure back to Cheyenne without a drop of rain. Thus, Margaret did not drive her car all week in any situation that required her to check the setting of her lights.

Point Pleasant apparently does what a lot of New Jersey Shore towns do in the summer months. It hires additional police officers. And Point Pleasant puts a number of their officers (including those who appear not to be old enough to operate an actual motor vehicle) on bicycles. How do I know this, you ask. I know this because on Saturday night, as we left the beach area at or about sundown, I had the distinct pleasure of being pursued for a block or two by one of Point Pleasant's finest.

It is a surreal moment when one looks in the rear-view mirror of the automobile one is driving and sees a police officer who appears to be no older than Harry Potter pedaling his bicycle furiously down the road behind him. The faster he pedaled, the faster his little red flashing light blinked. For just a moment - OK, closer to two - I toyed with the idea of not pulling over. If there were any real hilly sections of Point Pleasant, I would have aimed for one and tested the wherewithal of young Lance Armstrong to get his man. I envisioned him pushing furiously to keep up with the car on the uphill legs and then intermittently coasting/braking all the way down the other side.

Once I stopped laughing at the visual image of a boy and his bicycle in my rear-riew mirror, I pulled over. It was a good thing I did for at least a couple of reasons. First, whether he summoned them to assist or whether the rest of The Goonies simply sensed a disturbance in the force, when I stopped I noted the presence of "back up" at the scene. There was at least one other unit that had rolled (OK, pedaled) into position to assist him and I could see two more about a block away from where I stopped. I wondered - if the circumstances had been such that I contemplated running for it - whether to flee from the police or just charge at them running at full speed to knock them over. And I wondered whether - in the event I had done something to warrant slapping the bracelets on me at the scene - I would have been forced to ride on the front of his bike while he pedaled or simply to run alongside with my hands cuffed together. Boy, watch one showing of HBO's "First Look: Public Enemies" and suddenly I think I am John Dillinger.

The second reason I am happy that I did not do anything other than pull over was that the officer told me - when I did - that the reason he stopped me was that my headlights were not on, which neither Margaret nor me noticed from our respective vantage points in the front seat of the vehicle. After the cursory check of my credentials, he wished us a nice evening and let us be on our way. He was so courteous in fact that I almost regretted trying to bribe him when I passed my license, registration and insurance information out the window to him.

Almost, but then I figured, rent-a-cop or not what teenage boy at the Shore cannot make use of a couple of hundred Skee Ball tickets? Undoubtedly, they are better for him than doughnuts.

-AK

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bumper Cars, Candy Apples and the Prince of Frogs

This has been, sadly, the summer of Margaret's discontent. Not a surprising development by any means to be sure. The exceptionally close nature of her relationship with her Mom, the inordinate amount of time and energy Margaret devoted to Sue's care during the past four years and the epic, Quixotic nature of Sue's battle against a relentless enemy all but assured that in the immediate aftermath of Sue's death, Margaret would struggle.

I had begun to steel myself to prepare for it - to try to do something new and different and actually be a help to my wife in some regard - from the night way back when in June 2004 when Sue's priest came to our home (See, occasionally there is a meeting of the twain) to bless her prior to her first surgery. I thought I had done an adequate job of preparation - done that which was necessary to adhere to the 5 P's (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance). I have come to understand, during the past forty days or so that I was not.

Summer is Margaret's favorite time of the year. Ever since I have known her, the Shore (we here in Levelland do not go to the "beach", we go to the "Shore') has been her favorite place. Prior to us getting married, when our children were in fact still small children, Margaret, Sue and Nanny would relocate their base of operation for the month of July to Silver Beach, a little sliver of a town near Normandy Beach and Mantoloking. Sadly, shortly after we were wed the family from whom Margaret's family had rented the same house for twenty-plus years was rocked by a tragedy or two of its own and sold the Silver Beach house. An oasis had disappeared forever over Margaret's horizon line.

Margaret is blessed with the great friendship of three women with whom her bond is more familial than social. The four of them seem to comprise their own self-created Sisterhood of the Traveling Cosmo or some such thing. During the summer months, the Sisterhood's headquarters is Lynne's home. Lynne lives down the Shore and her home has become the base of operations for countless good times Margaret has shared with Lynne, Carolyn and Suzanne.

This summer, with her world upside down and her heart simply an open wound, Margaret has absented herself from the Sisterhood. And she has not sought solace at the place that always brings her peace. She has internalized much - if not all - of her ache and her pain, which has made the prospect of doing the things that she enjoys and spending time doing them with the people she loves something that has not occupied a great deal of time in her mind.

Last night, for the first time this summer the Missus and me drove south on the Parkway, over the Raritan Bridge and down to Point Pleasant. Lynne and Suzanne joined us and we spent the night doing something genuinely silly. We ate soft-twist ice cream and waffles and ice cream, we rode the bumper cars and we played the Cadillac of all Boardwalk games - Frog Bog.

When Suz and Rob were little and we were at least annual frequenters of the Point Pleasant Boardwalk, I was quite adept at Frog Bog, a game that requires a rubber frog to be launched (via mallet) from his metal catapult through the air and into a pond that feature slowly rotating lily pads. Once upon a time, I could reasonably anticipate scoring multiple stuffed animals per visit to the Bog.

However, time marches on. And on its march it apparently confiscated my Frog Bog mojo. It had been quite a few summers since I had taken anything other than a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy with me from the Bog. Not last night. Last night, for the first time in a long time, I experienced at least a modicum of success on the Bog. I won Margaret a small frog whose frozen, facial expression is a mix between abject terror and complete incoherence. And for good measure, I won a stuffed alligator for a little boy and his mother after watching the little moppet drain at least $10.00 of Mom's hard-earned money in an unsuccessful effort to win one himself.

This has not been a summer that has gone according to Hoyle. But for one night at least, the concoction of salt air, carnival lights, bumper cars and a bog full of frogs brought a smile to my baby's face. Still at the end of every hard-earned day, people find some reason to believe.

I got mine. And last night, she strolled the Boardwalk with a smile on her face, two of her closest friends alongside of her and a frog under her arms. At least for one night at the Shore, everything was all right indeed.

-AK

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One For the Books

It seems almost inconceivable to me that one year has passed, already, since Rob began his excellent adventure. It is one that initially took him to the vanquished side of the Mason-Dixon Line for four-plus months before redirecting him westward to Cheyenne's lights for a three-year hitch. Today marks the first completed year of his journey.

And I know from talking to him, from exchanging e-mails with him and from having had the chance to spend a disproportionately significant amount of time with him over the course of the past month that it has not been a seamless year. I see the beginnings of etchings in the skin of my son's face that I see in full force and effect in the reflection that gazes back at me from the bathroom mirror before sunrise every morning. And knowing from whence some of those etchings originated in me, I sense their point of origin in him.

I know where they are coming from in him and I hope, through his own superior innate strength and his knowledge of and faith in the support system he has, buttressing all that he does and all that he shall do, the process of acquiring them can be - if not put on hold altogether - then slowed down perceptibly. He is doing, presently, what it is that he is supposed to be doing and what he must do - and what he must successfully complete - to get to the next mile marker on his journey. It has not been a tremendously happy past twelve months for our clan 'neath the snow globe. We have wandered for the past year through the desert as it were, just hoping to make it to an oasis and occasionally fooled and profoundly disappointed by the appearance of a mirage on the horizon line.

But even against this tapestry of sadness, there have been hopeful signs. And when a sign of hope appears, we do what we must, which is hold fast to it and breath in as much strength as we can from it - to replenish us and keep us going until we see the next sign. And whether he realizes it or not - and if he does not it is an indictment of the parent's failings and not his own - Rob is a source of great hope for me.

We do what we can as parents to prepare our kids to go off into the world and make their own mark. But it seems no matter what we do and regardless of the excellence of their preparation, they shall encounter a day from time-to-time during which they struggle. Whether a day passes easily or it passes like a kidney stone, the focus must remain the same: win the day. Mariano Duncan was right. The object of the exercise is simple, "We play today, we win today!"

I know less about science than anyone alive - with the possible exception of President Bush (43) - but I would be willing to wager that there is a causal relationship between biting off more than one can chew and choking. On this, the very first anniversary of his life's great adventure, my son has no such concerns.

Life takes us where it takes us and as we transition from one place to another, it is wholly understandable that we long to try keep a foot in each place for as long as we can. Frustration arises when we shift our balance momentarily so that we are putting more weight on our anchor leg than on our lead leg. We may feel as if we have missed much that has gone on back at the base camp as we have been making our way further on up the road. It is an honest and earnest error to automatically equate "not being present" when something happens to "missing" it. With experience, one learns that while the two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive, they are not synonymous either. As long as the ones you love are here - even if you are not or cannot be - a little piece of you is here as well.

On the anniversary of the successful completion of year one of his most excellent adventure, I want simply to remind Rob that all of us here at the home office love the hell out of him and could not be prouder of him than we are. All I want - all we want - him to do is to keep on keeping on. Keep on playing only today and focusing on winning only this day as it unfolds before you. Then, after a night's sleep, get up and do it again tomorrow.

It'll come to you, Rob. In fact, it has already begun to do so. Congratulations - well done.

-AK

Friday, July 10, 2009

Never Bedeviled by the Details

The residue of being married to someone who is, at his core, an ass has forced Margaret to deal with any number of issues over the eighteen years of our relationship. I do not pretend to have the financial wherewithal to qualify for membership in the Club of Eccentricity. And while I would not consider myself to be kooky, it is a term that has been used by at least one person who knows me to describe me. While it is not a particularly flattering description, I have been called worse. And the day is young, so there is a reasonable likelihood that I will be again before its end.

One of the pure, unadulterated joys (he writes with tongue firmly implanted in cheek) to which Margaret has been subjected is my less-than-enthusiastic embrace of the notion of vacation. I do not do nothing particularly well - which is either ironic or coincidental as I also do not do anything particularly well. I am a horrific vacationer. When one elects to start one's work day at somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00 in the AM and wrap it up somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 in the PM, it is perhaps not surprising that I have real adjustment issues when I am supposed to be spending several days back-to-back-to-back (and belly-to-belly-to-belly) doing nothing in particular.

This time next week the good people of the State of Wyoming shall be bracing themselves for an Eastern invasion as the Missus and me make our great migration west to visit Rob and to take in the sights and sounds of Cheyenne Frontier Days. As if two hyper-caffeinated Easterners would not be enough to put the residents of Laramie County into a state of alert not seen since Dick Cheney obtained his very first hunting license ("Lookie here Lynne, a Democrat! Fire!") we are being accompanied on this journey by Margaret's dad, Joe. It has been a brutally tough last six weeks for Joe and for Margaret. Accepting as true the axiom that there is strength in numbers, it seems to me eminently logical to give them one another to lean on for the week as opposed to asking them to prop one another up from two thousand miles away. My bride is not even five feet tall - no wingspan at all.

Knowing what a bad "relaxer" I am - and being more than slightly neurotic in her own right - Margaret has done what I reasonably anticipated she would do. She has mapped out and plotted a list of activities to do, places to go and things to see for practically every day that we shall be on vacation. If Eisenhower had been provided with Margaret to handle logistics in France in June of '44, it would have taken about eleven minutes to land all of the Allied troops in Normandy - and she would have had concierges on the beaches handing the soldiers "to do" lists.

Given that every party we have ever hosted at our home has been planned, plotted and graphed while running every possible scenario of what was supposed to occur vs. what could occur it surprised me not at all to come home from work Wednesday evening and find her with color-coded lists and charts with the word "VACATION" written in big print across the top of them. It appeared to me at first glance that on Tuesday morning (the 21st) Joe and I were scheduled to invade North Dakota. Imagine my relief when I learned that was on the "Things to Do if Time Permits" list as opposed to the mandatory activities calendar. Any state whose university nicknames its varsity teams "The Fighting Sioux" is not to be taken lightly.

Cause there’s something inside us
That won’t let us be
It stalks through our days
‘Til it’s too dark to see
And it’s damn near as deadly as Texans on ice
Lord don’t they beat all
Y’all have a nice holiday

I like to have fun - too much too often probably - at Margaret's expense but I am very much looking forward to our trek. And experience has taught me that while all of her fretting and worrying about every little detail appears to be evidence of insanity to the untrained eye, her attention to detail will help ensure that we have one hell of a good time.

And if that makes me kooky, then so be it. Guilty as charged.

-AK

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jenny, Jenny Who Can I Turn To?

I have never met Jennifer Sanford, the First Lady of the State of South Carolina and - unless she develops travel habits as far flung and arcane as those of the simpering ninny to whom she is married - I cannot envision the set of circumstances under which I will. She has, however, through the sheer force of her character in the face of adversity commanded my immediate attention - and that of countless others I suppose - in the aftermath of her husband's less-than-excellent adventure.

For those of you hopelessly lost on a deep, dark Appalachian hiking trail or perhaps numbed from 336 hours of wall-to-wall MJTV (where our motto is, "History is in the mind of the teller" and "the truth is for suckers" - just ask our programming chief Rev. Al Sharpton), Jennifer Sanford has the misfortune of being married to Mark Sanford, the self-immolating Governor of South Carolina. Beginning on Father's Day weekend - nothing quite like an adulterer with a delicious sense of irony - Governor Sanford disappeared from his family, his security detail and apparently every other man, woman and child in South Carolina for a period of four or five days. Upon resurfacing early the next week, the initial explanation for where the Guv had been was hiking, alone, on the Appalachian Trail.

Apparently, geography is not part of the core curriculum in South Carolina's public schools as the Guv's compass apparently mistook Argentina for Appalachia, which might not have been so bad had the 13 year-old boy who the people of South Carolina elected to be their state's Chief Executive not subsequently revealed that he had traveled to Argentina not to be with a woman with whom he was carrying on an extra-marital affair but with his "soul mate".

For reasons known only to the Gov and to those hoping to run against him for his job in the next election cycle, he declared in an interview with the Associated Press that while he regretted the outcome of his Argentinian adventure, the heart wants what the heart wants. "This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story," said Sanford, sounding more and more like a cheap romance novelist. "A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day." Apparently, much like a New York Rangers fan after the Blueshirts won the elusive Stanley Cup in 1994, the Guv will be able to trip the mortal coil with a smile affixed to his lying lips. "I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate," he swooned. "But it was one of those things. I knew the cost."

And through it all, as the Gov has twisted in the wind like a fattened Gamecock turning round-and-round over a fire pit, his wife has kept her distance from him and has maintained a remarkably unflappable public demeanor. Her absence from his press conference in which he admitted that "he'd made a mistake" (what exactly, forgetting for a moment that he is an a##hole?) was conspicuous. Her continued projection of a strong, independent woman whose principal concern is the welfare of the four sons who the Gov has also wholly disregarded in his pursuit of his 7th grade crush is more than simply commendable. It is a template for those spouses who are disgraced publicly through no fault of their own by other halves who prove to be significantly less than so.

For years we have seen politicians' spouses (primarily wives) stand next to the preening jackass to whom they are wed with upper lips stiffened and supportive grins painted on in a "show of support" for their suddenly recalcitrant, formerly hound-dogging partner. Enough already. It is one thing to humiliate one's husband or wife in a manner such as that perpetrated by Messrs. Edwards and Spitzer in recent years without expecting the cuckolded spouse to have his/her nose rubbed in for good measure in front of countless cameras and untold articles.

Jennifer Sanford has reminded all of us that while Morris Buttermaker could order Rudy Stein to "take one for the team", she is playing on a different ball field entirely and swinging one hell of a big stick. And in case the Gov had not done so, he best pack a cup in his travel bag. Methinks he is going to need it.

-AK

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dirty Laundry & The Spin Cycle

Occasionally one receives an advantage from living one's life on the edge of insanity. Being there at the edge affords one an unobstructed view into the abyss. In the two weeks that have passed since Michael Jackson's death there has been a lot of foot traffic in the abyss. And I suppose I should be more amused by it than I have been.

Every major broadcast network yesterday carried Jackson's memorial service live and in its entirety. MTV actually broke away from its regular broadcast schedule, which now apparently is comprised of programming featuring the bony little chicks from "The Hills" challenging the losers from "The Real World" to a series of physical competitions such as piloting a "Road Rules" RV up and over Kim Kardashian's caboose, to air the proceedings live and in their entirety. VH-1 did so as well. And last night, in the 10:00 p.m. hour here on the East Coast the three broadcast networks that program that hour (FOX does not - scheduling only to 10:00 p.m. and not 11:00) each had a "news" program recapping the life and death of Michael Jackson.

Enough already, please. Once upon a time Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented, precocious young man whose talents earned him a rightful position among the pantheon of stars. However, somewhere along the line either his train jumped the tracks or he steered it off of them himself. The final decade (at least) of his life was all about everything but his music. It featured civil suits against him (and one reported eight figure payout), a criminal prosecution and, by some accounts, the diminution of his multi-million dollar estate and his descent from being the self-proclaimed King of Pop to Mr. Irrelevant.

Two months ago, on this side of the Atlantic at least, his announced comeback tour (50 shows at London's O2 Arena) was met principally with yawns. Irrespective of the ticket sales over there, no buzz existed in these United States for an American leg of the tour. Tragically, given how much of it was apparently of his own doing by the end of his life, it was as if all of his cosmetic procedures and surgical alterations of his form had indeed turned him into someone else - Elvis Presley.

Amazingly - and disgustingly from my vantage point here at insanity's edge - his death has made him a hot commodity again. Given the history of litigious behavior by and between members of the Jackson family (a crew that makes us Kennys seem as if Norman Rockwell whipped us up himself), forgive the somewhat jaundiced view I take of his four big brothers announcing that they intend to "honor his memory" by playing at least five of the fifty shows that he sold out at O2 Arena. A tribute to their baby brother, really? Inasmuch as these four - without Michael - have not been able to sell out a phone booth (even when offering a free roll of quarters), the whole "we are doing it for him" mantra seems more than slightly unbelievable to my ear.

We the people of these United States are an odd bunch. We bitch and moan about lines at the airport security checkpoints but we wait in line hoping against all hope to be one of the "lucky ones" who wins a golden ticket for admission to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for Jackson's memorial service. We cannot be bothered to watch Presidential debates, Presidential news conferences or - at any better than a fairly pedestrian clip - show up and vote in national elections yet we sit transfixed in front of our television sets in an effort to suck up every piece of information about the life and death of an aging entertainer who devoted the final third of his life into becoming a caricature of himself.

And do not believe for a moment that our "news organizations" do not pay heed to our tastes and preferences. Michael Jackson's death has been big business for broadcast networks, cable networks, magazines and newspapers. We all know that crap is king and there we are, its loyal subjects, bowing and curtsying.

As a good rule of thumb/litmus test for determining when something has gone far beyond the pale - as has the coverage of Jackson's death - it is useful to gage the response of another shameless publicity whore. Elizabeth Taylor, a once-gifted screen actress who has spent the last two decades or so of her life becoming more well-known for her role as a serial bride than for any role she ever played on-screen, and Jackson were close friends for a number of years. Taylor passed on attending the memorial service. "I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others. How I feel is between us. Not a public event," the former screen siren said in a message on the Twitter.

Perhaps with the memorial service in the rear-view mirror, we the people can devote just a scintilla of our time to some of the other issues of the day? Our news organizations can go back to keeping an eye on - and reporting to us - those other stories that command our attention, perhaps? For crying out loud, not a word has been published about Jon & Kate in more than a week.

And you can go ahead and call me a vulture/
Call me any kind of name/
Nothin sells in this culture/
Quite like disaster/
I'm not to blame.

I just wanna ride, all the way across the abyss. I think I can make it. Wanna come?

-AK

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Calvin and Rob

The great joy of being a parent is that it is a full-time, life-long gig. It is a tenured position. Once inducted into the army of 'rents, you remain in it. Who knew that being a parent was so gangsta? "PARENT4LIFE YO!" Wow, in my mind's eye I can see Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg smile. Of course, when one enjoys the recreational and medicinal benefits of cannabis as much as Calvin Broadus does, a smile is merely a toke away.

A parent is able to experience great joy through the successes of one's children. Their joy is our joy, their happiness is our happiness (you get the idea). I am not talking in terms of that warped Little League pathology where the parent attempts to take a second lap around the track of youth by channeling him/herself into the body of an 11 or 12 y/o child. I am talking in terms of the appropriate, proper, grown-up reaction to positive developments in the life of our kids, such as the happiness we feel when he/she comes home aglow in the light of good grades, a promotion at work or having just met the love of his/her life (or this month's edition anyway).

Being a parent is not a free ride by any stretch of the imagination. Along with the opportunity to share in our child's happiness and to bask a bit in the glow of our child's success comes the responsibility of being there when all is not wine and roses. A parent's greatest frustration arises out of the inability to fix something that is adversely affecting one's child. We long to make their journey through life as painless as possible, knowing that there is only so much we can do and constantly reminded of all of the things that we are powerless to prevent.

I am troubled presently by my own impotence. I lack the skill set needed to solve a problem presently confronting one of my two young adults. All I am able to do is to be a source to which he can unburden the ills of a particular day or week or whatever before helping him pick himself back up and head back into the game. Candidly, I am not sure whether I am being any help at all. And my inability to solve his problem for him is a source of great frustration to me. I am tormented by those problems that I cannot fix. The torment is greatest when the problem for which no solution has been formulated is one that plagues one of the ones I love the most.

And yet, at day's end I retain a modicum of hope that by helping him - by doing nothing more or less than paddling the canoe towards shore - the solution that heretofore lies undiscovered for him shall indeed reveal itself. Bound by an unbreakable tie, we shall continue to struggle onward until we get to where he needs to be.

The toughest job you'll ever love - indeed it is.

-AK

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Dangers of Fence-Sitting

Two weeks hence, I shall be penning these little missives from the bucolic environs of Cheyenne Wyoming. Long before we anticipated Rob's Eastern swing for his cousin's wedding, the missus and me made plans to travel to Wyoming for Cheyenne Frontier Days ("CFD"). CFD is the biggest party that Cheyenne hosts each year and while it not the cup from which I would most usually drink my coffee, it seems like a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, it gives Margaret a week to add a second coat of maternal love to Rob's home on the range to supplement and reinforce the first coat she applied when she ventured west with him in late November aught-eight.

Our trip west is not a surprise of course - inasmuch as we hatched the plan last June when Rob first learned that his first assignment would be in the Mountain Time Zone. The surprise is that my dad-in-law, Joe, has decided to accompany us on our great migration west. It has been a summer of adjustment for Joe and a summer of decidedly marked change. Sadly, most of the changes that he has undergone have not been those of his own volition. Rather, change has acted upon him. However, yesterday he punched back. Yesterday, he told Margaret that he would like to take us up on our offer of accompanying us to Wyoming to spend some time in the company of his grandson and to see a part of the country that to date - at seventy-five years and counting - his presence has not yet graced.

And as soon as he decided he wanted in, the plan was put into action. About thirty-six minutes after making his decision, his tickets to/fro were purchased. Not since the glory days of Sergio Leone have Italian heritage and the Great American West been brought together with such eager anticipation.

The decision thusly made, the countdown begins. In less than two weeks from today, Joe will do something that - right up until he told Margaret he wanted to do it - I never would have anticipated him doing. He shall join us out in the great wide open and shall spend the week just taking it as it comes, experiencing things that he has never otherwise experienced......

.....once upon a time in the West.

-AK