Monday, August 31, 2009

Sometimes a Diamond is a Boy's Best Friend....

I spent a little bit of time the past several days watching the Little League World Series, including bits and pieces of the title game yesterday. It seemed to me that years ago the team from Taiwan won the LLWS title annually - stomping the crap out of whichever U.S. team it ran into in the finals. And it seemed to me when I watched the games years ago that every year the Taiwanese team included at least one boy who was significantly bigger than any member of the U.S. squad.

Yesterday, the American champs whose point of origin is a town called Chula Vista, California defeated the team from Chinese Taipei 6-3 to win the title. Among the stars of the Chula Vista team is a 13 y/o boy named Luke Ramirez. During the two games that I saw snippets of he played first base but he apparently also plays in the outfield and pitches. And did I mention that at age 13 he is six feet tall and weighs 212 pounds? He proved to be an intimidating enough presence in the batter's box during his time in Williamsport that on two separate occasions in the title game the Taiwanese manager intentionally walked him.

And while the California fans who made the trip East to support their team booed lustily, the strategy made sense. Whether it is in the Little League manager's handbook or not, I think as a good rule of thumb that when the other team's first baseman is a full head taller than the Vice-President of the United States - who has to gaze upwards just to say hello to the kid during the pre-game festivities - walking him intentionally is the preferred course of action.

Watching the kids from the various teams play the past few days I flashed back to everything I had enjoyed about watching Rob play baseball here in town when he was a child. He did not play Little League baseball. Rather he participated in Farm League, which was the league for those players who were not deemed worthy of being "drafted" by one of the teams in the local Little League. After playing several years in Farm League, Rob graduated to Babe Ruth, which was a league for 14 to 16 y/o players whose rosters were populated by both ex-Farm Leaguers and ex-Little Leaguers. Rob never had any delusions of grandeur as a player. Yet he fielded his position (3rd base) well and he was an average to above-average hitter. And he enjoyed playing. In spite of the fact that most of his games were far more sparsely attended than any of those that were played in Pennsylvania during this past week, he seemed to derive as much pleasure from playing as all the kids who were in the little big show.

You forget sometimes that the kids on the field in Williamsport are only 12 and 13 years old - and I do not mean solely because young Mr. Ramirez of Chula Vista is the size of a Division I linebacker. There are plays the kids on every team made all week that were simply amazing to behold. And there were moments that occurred during the games I watched that were fun to watch - regardless of who you were rooting for - such as in the U.S. Semi-Final game that Chula Vista played against the kids from Warner-Robins, Georgia. In the bottom of the 5th inning, one of the Chula Vista kids hit a home run to tie the game and as he circled the bases, he received a high-five from a most unexpected source - the Warner-Robins second baseman. And after winning the biggest game of their young lives on Sunday afternoon, the kids from Chula Vista invited their opponents from Chinese Taipei to run around the field with them. A joint victory lap as it were.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. And some of the rest of it can be learned from watching boys playing a kid's game in the late summer sun of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Not a bad way to wave good-bye to August and get ready for the fall.

-AK

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Reason to Begin Again

Having played possum a bit the past three mornings (actually having paid attention to my yapping - no barking - left knee, which I tweaked a bit Wednesday morning stepping onto/into uneven pavement), today instead of putting my hands over my ears and shouting, "La la la I'm not listening" when the alarm clock went off, I got out of bed, grabbed my AIR MAX ASSAIL running shoes and went off for a run.

It occurred to me while running this morning that this is the final Sunday of August (a fact made apparent in all likelihood to the rest of the world by the fact that (a) it is a Sunday; and (b) it is the 30th of August), which made me wonder - as I often do - where the time has gone. This year - the Aught-Nine contribution to time immemorial is now two-thirds complete.

The older I get the more conscious I become of the value of time and how much of it I waste. While I often console myself by presuming that many of us suffer from the same affliction, suspecting that others possess the same limitations and infirmities as you do really is little solace.

All time is spent as soon as it gets here. Regardless of the moment and the length of time we have either anticipated or dreaded its arrival, it shall last equally as long as the moment that immediately preceded it and the one that followed it directly. It seems to me as if a key to success is learning to distinguish the enjoyment of a moment from the simple marking of time. Whether spent in misery, euphoria or some alternative destination along the emotional spectrum, we have but one opportunity to spend the time given to us. No mulligans, no WABAC machine, no "do-overs". Considering the pressure inherent therefore - conscious or subconscious - in every action we take and in every action we choose not to take, it is a pleasant surprise is it not that we do not see more of our bi-ped brethren spontaneously combusting as we stroll along the avenue.

The first two-thirds of this year did not - generally speaking - go according to plan for me. I wasted almost the entire first half of the year impaling, and then attempting to extricate myself, from the horns of an asinine professional decision. While I was able to complete my human boomerang trick in late May, which was extremely satisfying and gratifying, there is no one at the desk of redemption for me to see about trading in the wasted time for something better. Even when one dances oneself free, freedom does not come without a price tag.

I freed myself from my self-made mess just in time for disaster to strike on the home front. Sadly, while my problem ultimately had a solution that was generally satisfactory to all concerned (I am quite confident that only A-Roid, Johnny Damon and Grady Little are less popular in certain neighborhoods in Boston than am I), Suzy B.'s epic battle against cancer did not.

She died on the second of June. As we approach the ninetieth day since she died, the collective struggle to get back to something approximating normalcy continues. Margaret, Joe, Frank and the rest of the family have some days that are better than others. Candidly, I am not confident that any of them has yet climbed high enough up the hill to reach the line of demarcation between good days and bad. Rather, it seems as if each is still winding their way through the part of the gully that separates "completely bad" days from "partially bad" days.

Yet, they are indeed making progress. As we all are. And maybe, just maybe, the time we have spent this year - all of us - dealing with adverse circumstances (some created by the misdeeds of our our two hands and some courtesy of factors over which we have no control) has not been wasted time.

Rather, they have simply been steps on a long walk home.

-AK

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Making It Easy To Smile

A lifetime ago - when I was young and well before the appearance of the first gray hair either on my head or in my beard (in the interest of full disclosure it was prior to the appearance of the beard altogether), I used to carry a lot of music around in my head (sadly, a structure physically large enough to carry a lot of musicians around in). The irony of that I suppose is that other than whistling and the occasional kazoo riff I have no musicality whatsoever.

As a young child my mother insisted on me taking piano lessons for two years - while I attended Immaculate Conception School in Somerville. Each year, all of the piano students participated in some sort of end-of-year recital. As a third grader, I was among the eleven dozen or so who played "Chopsticks" as my contribution to the event. I so butchered it that the following year I was reduced to playing an entirely forgettable piece of music called "Penguins at Play" - the full title of which I later learned was, "Penguins at Play - a piece of music so simple that even the big-headed kid with hooks for hands who f***ed up "Chop Sticks" last year should be able to play it". I nailed it.

While in the three-plus decades since penguins last frolicked 'neath my fingertips the piano and I have maintained both a healthy respect for and a safe working distance from one another, nevertheless when I was in high school and in college I used to spend a considerable amount of my leisure time scribbling down song lyrics - the musical accompaniment to which I carried around in my head. Over the years I have done nothing with them. They are now where they have been for the past two-plus decades: stuffed inside an old Wardlaw-Hartridge School loose-leaf notebook.

This has been a summer that Margaret, Joe, Frank and the rest of the family wish we could forget but know that we shall not be able to ever do so. It has been the summer that has changed everything - the summer in which our family has been forced to do what all families are forced to do from time-to-time, which is say goodbye to one we love.

Suzy B.'s death in early June set the tone for the entire summer. While there have been moments when we have lifted our heads out of the surf and been able to fill our lungs with gulps of sweet, beautiful air (Megan and Adam's wedding / our trip to Wyoming to see Rob), the summer has been an exercise in trying not to drown.

There was palpable concern when several weeks ago Margaret's dad, Joe, announced that because he has not been feeling well himself for a while he was going to see his doctor to get checked out. The concern grew greater when Joe's doctor agreed that something was not quite right and ordered a battery of tests, including a CT scan, to further investigate. The concern was amplified greater still when the CT scan revealed a "mass of indeterminate origin" in his stomach. A biopsy was ordered.

In a family that has been as bitch-slapped by bad news as the wonderful group into which I married lo those many years ago has been, an unrelenting sense of unease settled in during the post-test/pre-result period of two or three days. Margaret feared the worst and, while I did not talk to him about it, I suspect that Joe did as well.

For the first time in longer than I can remember, both were pleasantly surprised by news from a treating physician. Joe's doctor called him after 8:00 last night to tell him that the biopsy had come back clean - negative for cancer. Margaret has had so little about which to smile these past few months I had almost forgotten what her smile looked like. It was great to see it again last night as she hung up the phone after talking to Joe.

And when August started to disappear, we wondered what the future held in store....

While we of course still do not absolutely what the future holds in store, for the first time in quite some time it seems as if might contain more pleasure than pain. That is most certainly a reason to smile.

And if the Daily News calls looking for confirmation, you can tell them that is indeed the dope.

-AK

Friday, August 28, 2009

In The Shallow and Sandy Water

The speed with which time flies is among my favorite "this is beyond my ability to comprehend but never beyond my ability to be amazed by" concepts. Bad days last forever. Good ones pass by in an eye blink. A long time comin' indeed.

Days stacked upon each other - or perhaps more properly laid next to each other end to end - inevitably get grouped into weeks and months and, finally, years. And in spite of the longer track we construct for time to run around, the unit of measurement seems to have scant little ability to restrict its speed. Just about the time we awaken to the realization that it has indeed been a year worth savoring, we are singing its praises as we watch it fade from sight in our rear-view mirror.

Six years ago on this very day, Margaret and I became the parents of a collegian for the first time. It was on this date, which fell on a Thursday, six years ago that we moved Suzanne into Seton Hall University as part of the wave of freshman who descended upon South Orange. If memory serves me correctly Suz moved into a freshman dorm named Xavier Hall. Candidly I do not recall the name of the building. My memories are more focused upon the number of stairs one had to walk upon entering the building carrying what I think was every item of personal property that my daughter had accrued during her first 18 years on the planet. It took only a couple of hundred trips to lug all of the treasures she had deemed indispensable from one of the several vehicles we utilized that day and up the stairs into the matchbook-sized room she shared with her roommate - a young lady whose name - if forced to at gunpoint with my life in the balance - I could not recall.

You have a sense that your wife and daughter have over packed for this moment when University personnel start queueing up around your mountain of belongings while whispering things to one another such as, "We have one every year - this year it must be her" before coming over to inform your child, who can on occasion can drive the anxiety highway all the way to the state of apoplexy that she and her gear seem so over-the-top that she and it might just end up on the 6:00 o'clock news. There is something to be said for a mid-level bureaucrat at an educational institution - where in 2003 freshman and their parents were paying upwards of $32,500 to attend - deciding to use your daughter as the punch line of his inane jokes. It was not a nice something that had to be said - but said it was. And remarkably, once reminded of the frail thread that holds together our human existence (some of us more than others) he had significantly fewer bon mots with which to regale the crowd.

I am quite confident that for Suzanne the past six years have passed in a fashion such that when she looks back from where she is now, preparing to begin the second and final year of her Master's Program, to where she was then it seems both a very long time ago and not very long ago at all. From my vantage point it most certainly seems to be more than a bit of both.

There are times when your children are little as if they appear omnipresent. Other than when you secret yourself away in the sanctuary of the bathroom, there they are - asking what it is you are doing and peppering you with countless questions and requests and pleas for one such thing or another. And every so often - when they are young and especially relentless in their pursuit of knowledge of all things great and small - you hear the little voice in the far reaches of your brain saying softly, "When will they be grown up and off on their own?"

And as all of us blessed with the gig of being a parent know, the answer to that question inevitably is, "Sooner than you would like them to be." For whatever it is they choose to do, all of our children are in fact born to run. And run they shall - just as far and as fast as their dreams will carry them. As it always has been and as it always should be.

-AK

Thursday, August 27, 2009

O Brothers, Where Art Thou?

Camelot ended years prior to my own arrival and any hopes for a revival were shattered by an assassin's bullet slightly more than sixteen months after I got here. Thus, I know only the lives and deaths of the second and third sons born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy secondhand - from what I have read, have heard and have seen over the course of my own life. I have visited them only in the hallowed ground that both John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy have called home for more than the past forty years - having done so with my own son last November.

The only male member of Joe and Rose Kennedy's gang of nine children with whom my time here overlapped at all was the family's youngest son. And in the wee small hours of the night on Tuesday, August 25, 2009, that ceased to be the case. Edward Kennedy, still fighting hard against brain cancer and for the various things he believed in in the United States Senate, died at the Kennedy Compound at Hyannis Port. Whether you shared the same political ilk of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' senior Senator (I most certainly do not) is, respectfully, irrelevant. To my ear, the statement released by the Kennedy family early on Wednesday morning, announcing his death, struck just the right chord: “Edward M. Kennedy — the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply — died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port,” the statement said. “We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.”

It seems to me that my first distinct recollection of Ted Kennedy was watching him challenge Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the Presidency of the United States in 1980. Carter, the incumbent, had little to no hope of re-election given the Iran Hostage crisis and the "economic malaise", both of which happened on his watch. Sensing an opportunity perhaps to be the third and final son to chase his White House dream, Kennedy challenged him for the nomination. He did not wrest it away from Carter, which freed the incumbent to absorb an ass-kicking of historical proportions at the hands of Ronald Reagan that November.

What I remember most about Kennedy from that era was that - for reasons that were then unclear to me - he evoked a reaction that was equal parts disappointment and loathing in my father, which reaction I had presumed (based upon life experience and stories handed down to me from my two older male sibs) he reserved solely for Irish Catholic males to whom he contributed some DNA and a last name. In the eyes of many, after having run a fairly lousy primary campaign and having helped to weaken further a candidate who probably ultimately only received about 40% of the vote in his own immediate family, Kennedy's speech at the Democratic National Convention in New York City (which I have a vivid recollection of watching with my old man on our little 13" black and white television that he kept on the front porch of the Harvey's Lake house) was his atonement. In it, he spoke eloquently while abandoning his Presidential aspirations one more time, “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end,” Mr. Kennedy said in the coda to a speech before a rapt audience at Madison Square Garden and on television. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

I subsequently learned that my old man's distaste towards him had its genesis in what had occurred on Chappaquiddick Island in the summer of 1969. I have read a great deal about that incident since - and would encourage you if you have not done so yourself to feel free to do so - and Kennedy's behavior was criminal. But forty years further on up the road, the axe to grind on him belongs only to the family of Mary Jo Kopechne. It shall not be unsheathed here.

My father was quick throughout his life to show off his "famous person" stuff he had accrued over the years. Not surprisingly, as an Irish Catholic who lived and died in the Northeast, my father had apparently been quite the fan of JFK. At some point, while I know not whether it was in response to a class trip to DC or as a result of having taught a niece or nephew of the President, Dad had received a letter from President Kennedy. It was typed, of course, but it was on fancy, bonded paper with "THE WHITE HOUSE" embossed across the top and it was signed simply "JACK". One would have thought that it was comprised entirely of $1 Million bills given how proud he was of it.

After watching him snarl at Senator Kennedy's 1980 Convention speech, and inquiring as to why we were not rooting hard for the Irish Catholic fella this time around, he gave me the abridged (no pun intended) version of the Chappaquiddick story - and explained about his letter from President Kennedy - until I fully understood that in Dad's somewhat egocentric view of the world, Edward Kennedy had managed to let him down. He had managed to disappoint a father who lived hundreds of miles away and who did not know him.

Dad died in 1981 and probably to his great joy and relief Senator Kennedy never seriously pursued the White House again. He ultimately settled back in to the business of the United States Senate where he developed a knack for getting things done with colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle while wearing his "Liberal Lion" badge proudly for all to see. In the immediate aftermath of his death, he was saluted by those who shared his party affiliation as well as those with who him battled, scrapped and scraped.

My first reaction to hearing the news early Wednesday morning, while driving to the office in the still of the darkness, was not of his role as a statesman. Rather I thought of his funeral, which is imminent, and wondered who from the Kennedy family would be the one responsible for holding all of the rest of them together and upright as they again are left to publicly mourn the death of the one who seamlessly handled that role for the past four decades.

I thought of the man, who while the youngest of four boys, had been predeceased by all three of his big brothers - Joe, Jr., John and Robert - all of whom died violent deaths while still young men themselves. I thought of the man, born the baby brother yet fated to live more than half his life without any of his three older brothers to turn to for companionship or for guidance. Senator Kennedy died at age 77 in 2009, which means he was but 36 or 37 years old when RFK was gunned down in Los Angeles California in June of 1968. I thought of the man born into a family of unlimited wealth and incomparable influence who on more than one occasion had almost choked himself to death trying to swallow his silver spoon yet came back to live a life in which he gave all he had to those people about whom he cared and those things about which he cared and accomplished one hell of a lot.

At the end of the day, I suspect that for all that shall be written about him and spoken about him between now and his funeral, Ted Kennedy would be content if he lived enough and did enough to have earned the following eulogy, "[He] need not be idealised or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it."

Whether he has or not is not for me to decide. And I reckon that whether you loathed him or loved him, it is not up to you either. And while I do not pretend to know how you feel about it, I am relieved to be spared the work.

-AK

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Full Tilt in the Devil's Arcade

One wonders whether Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, given unfettered access to Professor Peabody's crown jewel, would opt to travel back in time to the moment immediately prior to the one in which he decided that Scotland would release Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi "on compassionate grounds". The moment before MacAskill made the decision to allow al-Megrahi, the now terminally ill terrorist who was convicted of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, in which he murdered 270 innocents, including 259 on board a transatlantic flight that ended in tragedy in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, to be released home to Libya to die as opposed to living out his remaining days in a Scottish prison. Of the 259 passengers on board Flight 103 on December 21, 1988, 189 of them were Americans.

While that moment might seem to be the obvious choice, it may not in fact be the one that MacAskill opts to stop the WABAC at - or at the very least it may not be the first one. Instead he may opt for this one: Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said the warm homecoming welcome for al-Megrahi breached assurances from Libyan authorities that "any return would be dealt with in a low-key and sensitive fashion." "It is a matter of great regret that Mr. (al-) Megrahi was received in such an inappropriate manner," MacAskill told the Scottish parliament. "It showed no compassion or sensitivity to the families of the 270 victims of Lockerbie."

Allow that declaration to wash over your skull cap for a moment - MacAskill is genuinely surprised that the Libyans lied to him. Really? Who ever would have expected such unscrupulous behavior from Moammar Gadhafi and his gang. The obvious answer to that question is the Justice Minister of Scotland.

Forgive the lack of compassion in this corner for al-Megrahi. Apparently British doctors had estimated that al-Megrahi has but a few months to live as he is said to be terminally ill with cancer. Apparently, under the Scottish justice system "compassionate release" is utilized on a regular basis when a prisoner is near death and, according to MacAskill, he made the sole determination that al-Megrahi qualified for such treatment.

There is apparently a suspicion afoot (which may have as much basis in fact as all of the inane discussion about President Obama's citizenship) that in spite of the British government's statements to the contrary and Minister MacAskill's willingness to fall upon his William Wallace-sized broadsword that perhaps the Brits were motivated to "help" the Scots reach the decision they did by the lure of Texas Tea.

Whether MacAskill was the fool beforehand that he has been revealed to be in retrospect is an open question. One hopes that he did not condition his decision to exercise compassion for a monster in whole or in part upon a promise not to "make too big a deal over it". Given the number of American lives lost on Flight 103 one would have thought that perhaps MacAskill would have consulted someone on this side of the Atlantic before exercising compassion for this particular prisoner.

By placing compassion for one ahead of compassion for two hundred and seventy, MacAskill opted to make a deal with the devil. When one shakes hands with Lucifer to consecrate the pact he cannot be heard to complain about burning his fingers. It is, after all, to be expected is it not?

-AK

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Distinction Between Perspective & Point of View

I came home last night from playing softball seriously pissed off. I was beyond annoyed at a combination of things - not the least of which was my own atrocious play or the fact that we lost our final regular season game in the bottom of the 7th and final inning. The cherry on top was that we lost to the team on which the guy who pitched for us last season now pitches. The decision to part company was ours - not his (think the slow-pitch softball version of Carl Pavano) and he has never been missed - either for his on-the-field performance or his off-the-field stupidity.

He reminded us again last night, by insulting one of his former teammates on a couple of separate occasions, what a complete horse's ass he is. And perhaps the single-most pathetic element of his personality is that he is not a child. He is a middle-aged man - fast approaching sixty. Had my oldest brother Bill's ability to think, to comprehend and to interact with the rest of the world failed to mature beyond age six, then he and "OP" would have something in common other than age. Believe me they do not.

Nevertheless as angry as I was last night when I initially arrived home, it took about 60 seconds to be reminded of what is really worth being angry about and what is truly important in this world. And it most certainly is not slow-pitch softball.

This morning, Margaret's dad Joe shall go for a biopsy. Having played the supporting role on too many hospital visits to count with his beloved Suzy over the course of the final five years of her life, this shall be his day in the white hot spotlight. While he has publicly declared that he feels well and that all is good, one suspects that he is prognosticating more than reporting the news.

We now are on the cusp of what is my least favorite (well second least favorite) part of the process: the waiting. For while Margaret and Joe shall go for the test tomorrow, he will likely not know the results for a couple of days. And while we wait, we will wonder. And hope. And pray. Pray for the result he deserves - the result that he and Margaret and the rest of the family all deserve.

And as if Joe's travails were not enough to make one appreciate what truly is important in life, I arrived home last night to learn that one of the world's truly great human beings - Evan Peterson - is back on the battlefield in his own struggle against cancer. Several months ago, he had gotten clean, ultra-positive test results and was on top of the world. Now, his son Chris reports that there is concern that the bastard - or some variation of it - has returned.

Evan Peterson is a man I have had the privilege of knowing for most of my life. On the Sunday morning in 1981 when my father died in my parents' bed at our home in Neshanic Station - about an hour's ride from anywhere - the first person who arrived at the scene to assist my mom, Kara, Jill and me was Evan Peterson. How it was he made it to our home from his own so early on that Sunday morning remains - almost thirty years later - remains a mystery to me. All I know is that on that morning when we needed him, he was there. And in the years following my old man's death, when I was plotting a course for self-destruction, he prevented me from doing so. To say I shall be eternally grateful is an understatement.

This week, two men of significance in my life and in the lives of many people I know and love shall once again have to endure their time in the cross hairs. As one always does, they shall continue to hope for the best and work towards achieving that result. And once again all that those of us who care them and who love them can do is hope and pray. And then do it some more. Over and over and over.

-AK

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Autumn of My Years

This evening we shall put a bow on another summer of softball. Well, we shall play our final regular season game at least. For the past few seasons we have participated in the Essex County Lawyer's League. While I tend to lose track of these things, I think this season marks our 4th campaign in this particular league and in seasons past, our season has extended only one game into the post-season. Last year might have been the most disappointing inasmuch as we completed the entire regular season, winning all twelve games, before flat lining in our first playoff game. Our playoff history in this league would have to improve significantly in order to become spotty. To date, we have never won a playoff game in this league. Not one.

I do not mean to overstate the point. It is inarguable that it is a good day when the worst thing that happens to you is your Lawyers League softball team loses a playoff game. I need look no further than all that my wife and her family have endured in the past twelve months or so for examples of truly horrific, life-altering things that can truly worsen one's day. Under no construct with which I am familiar does losing on the field of slow-pitch softball make that list.

Yet I approach tonight's game and the conclusion of tonight's regular season differently than I have seasons past. For while I am not an old man, it seems to me as if over the course of this summer I have aged terribly on the diamond. Once upon a time (OK, as recently as two or three seasons ago) I was at least a serviceable player - good fielder and an average hitter (not much power but a good contact hitter). Now I am at best half of the hitter I once was. If the high water mark on my portable sliding scale had been Williamsesque, then my somewhat precipitous descent would not be quite so bad. Since it was not, it has been.

I am seriously contemplating making this the final summer during which I participate as a regular member of our team. No longer playing as a member of our "regular eleven" but instead on an "as needed" basis - occupying a place on the field only when Diego and Dave cannot fill out the roster (vacation, work conflicts, etc.) While gaining weight has never been a problem for me, carrying it this season has been particularly difficult. And I do not want to put my two friends - Diego and Dave - in the unenviable position of having to kick my old ass to the curb. There is something to be said for getting out while the decision to leave any stage still belongs to you and not to someone else.

I shall enjoy this evening and however many more evenings we play this summer. Whenever the season ends, I will have to come face-to-face with the prospect of playing no longer. Hopefully it is a decision I shall not have to make for another three or four games.

-AK

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ready to Grow Young Again

It is almost incomprehensible (but as they say "If I had $1.00 for every thing that I was unable to comprehend...") that today heralds the arrival of the final full week of the Summer of Aught-Nine. We are but eight short days removed from September and while I shall concede the point to all of you "it is summer right up until the Autumnal Equinox" purists out there (and you know who you are) as to when Autumn officially begins on the calendar, for any number of school-age kids in these United States it is either in mid-death rattle or already consigned to the scrap heap of history.

I read the Boulder Daily Camera on-line daily and I saw the item in the paper this week regarding the fact that the Boulder Valley School District has already started its academic year - at least in its elementary schools. For years we have all heard the lament about the "dumbing down" of America and how our school-age kids are not keeping up with their European and Asian counterparts. I see far fewer articles that address the question whether that has always been the case - whether a generation or two ago when those of us who now occupy full-time positions in the adult world were the ones with the freshly pressed clothes and brand spanking new Buster Browns - were also lagging behind our fellow madmen across the water.

I know not the answer to that question: whether American kids today are doing nothing more or less than treading water in the pool of international academia in the same manner as their moms/dads did a generation ago and in the same manner as grandpa/grandma did a generation before that or whether as time has gone by they have fallen further and further behind. I suspect that somewhere along the line, some forward-thinking administrator (that's what we call sarcasm boy and girls for those of you who have not yet gotten to that point in your English studies), having determined that American kids were not keeping up also determined that the root of that problem must be the kids themselves - they simply are not working hard enough.

Whether any empirical data existed to support such a conclusion matters little - in the larger scheme of things. What matters far more is that once we identify the cause of the problem we can fix it. And, of course, we can take credit for having fixed it. In my experience it seems to be the latter that takes on greater significance as time passes with solving a problem running a distant second to being able to claim credit for having solved it.

Unless and until someone points to data - a generation from now - that documents an uptick in our kids' ability to compete with their international colleagues that is tied in to the nationwide epidemic of starting the new school year 2/3 of the way through August, I remain unconvinced that it is necessary to start the academic campaign for 1st through 12th graders two to three weeks before Labor Day.

As a kid, I embraced the waning days of summer at Harvey's Lake. As the final days of August are peeled away from the calendar, you usually catch a day or two in which you can see what is coming in September and October - a day in which the mercury does not rise to inferno and the air is not quite as thick as usual so you can only breathe it, you cannot chew it as well. When I was a boy, those days at the Lake culminated annually in the Labor Day Regatta. A number of the Lake's residents would join their motor boats together and cruise all around the Lake one final time before moving to a spot in its center and kissing the summer goodbye in a display of fireworks.

Once upon time it seems we had a bit more faith in the power of a 3-minute record than we presently do. A bit more faith in the power of a child's imagination and self-motivation. Perhaps we should find our way back to there, back to the time when we realized that just because we were not sitting inside of an oven masquerading as a classroom on the 20th of August did not mean we were not learning anything. Back to a time when the notion of working smarter trumped working harder as the credo for teaching our children.

And back to a time when August was a summer month and not some half-assed hybrid that signaled the first day of school. If as a parent it is our goal that each of our children lives a long, healthy life then it follows logically that we anticipate they shall spend most of that time as an adult.

What is wrong with allowing them to have a couple of more weeks each summer to enjoy being kids?

-AK

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A 5-D Mirror in the Room of Shadows

I fell asleep last night in or about the sixth inning of the Yankee vs. Red Sox game from the Fens, which appeared to be right about the time that the second keg of beer positioned right behind 2nd base was drained dry. Do not misunderstand - as a Yankee fan there is no such thing as a "bad win" over the Red Sox but can we pretend to be just a bit concerned by the sterling effort our pitching staff (most pointedly our relievers) gave us last night? Most evenings 11 runs and 12 hits do not a victory make. Thankfully, last night in the Boston Friday Night Summer Softball League it did. Hopefully today the two teams will play a contest that more closely resembles a major league baseball game.

My timing this morning was as finely honed as that of the Yankee hitters last night. I squeezed in my morning run mere minutes before the heavens above us - here NTSG - opened up. I suspected - as I neared my house - that the lightning flashes in the still-dark sky were likely not a prelude to a soon to follow positive jam. And I must confess that while the thought occurred to me that dying due to being struck by lightning while running before dawn would - if Margaret wrote it up just the right way - likely win the prize for funniest death notice in the newspaper, being a coward at heart my mind was more focused on the thought of getting home as fast as I could. While it was something of a photo finish as I made the final left turn from Delaware onto Decatur and eased to a stop in my garage, I managed to make it home without a single raindrop falling on my head.

On the drive to the office this morning I did something I have not done in quite some time. I popped "Tunnel of Love" into my car's CD player. It is of course the record Springsteen released in the fall of 1987 - his first release of new material since the colossal success of "Born in the U.S.A.". And it strikes me today, as it did when I first listened to it more than two decades ago, as an immensely personal work. But even more so, it still seems to me now - as it did then - that he was speaking of issues percolating not only in his own life but in mine as well.

Twenty-two years is a long time. Had anyone approached me during my years as an undergrad in Boulder and offered me a wager that the trajectory of my life would be the course it has actually followed, I would have lost what few worldly possessions I had. The notion of finding someone to marry and to raise children with seemed as inane to me as drinking whatever house brand vodka the bar was pouring that evening when Smirnoff, Stoli or Absolut were available for a slightly higher price.

And yet, from the drunken, anti-social horse's ass I was as a much younger man, I have ended up in a place much better than I could have ever imagined. I suspect that there is more than one person who knew me then who would posit the notion that I have ended up somewhere much better than I deserved. That argument, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, is not without merit. There is nothing that can be done to change the past. All I can do is remember it and make an effort to not repeat its mistakes and its sins in the future.

Listening to the album this morning, I was reminded of the power of one track that I often overlook when I envision this collection in my mind's eye and ear. In it Springsteen sings, "On his right hand Billy tattooed the word love and on his left hand was the word fear. And in which hand he held his fate was never clear." And I thought of Margaret, who I left this morning as I do every morning lying sleeping peacefully in our bed as I headed off to the office. And I realized that my timing has been excellent for far longer than just this morning.

It is from her that I have learned the secret of peace, the secret of contentment and the secret of our success. It lies in plain sight - etched on fate's right hand.

-AK

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Guy Walks Into A Bar.....

We played the penultimate game of the '09 edition of the softball season last night. Upon vanquishing this year's League rookies, Aguilas de la Ley (which I believe translates into "Legal Eagles"), a number of us who play together gathered at the Star Tavern to eat some pizza and drink an adult beverage or two. It seems to me as if it might be worth the per person share of the entry fee annually and the hot summer nights playing softball just to have the opportunity to make the occasional post-game journey to the Star. The beer is ice cold and the pizza is excellent. Rumor has it that the Star also makes a mean order of french fries. However since none of us is a complete idiot and the joint has apparently won awards for its pizza we tend to "dance with the girl we brung to the prom" as it were and limit our food consumption to pizza.

Most nights the representative group ranges in number from 7 to 10 and in spite of our relatively large dynamic, we are usually able to find a table. Last night however the line for tables was extraordinarily long so the seven of us who were there pulled up stools at the bar instead. I ended up at one end of our string septet, which meant that while to one side of me I had a face with which I was familiar, off of the other shoulder lurked an unknown.

Having what could fairly be described as underdeveloped people skills, I was less than ecstatic to be the end man in our lineup for I knew that before too long whoever occupied the space to my left would attempt to fill the void of our unfamiliarity with one another through conversation. I was not surprised but still annoyed when - about forty-nine seconds after we all sat down the gent who was next to me started what appeared to be an endless game of Twenty Questions. He ambled from that (undeterred by the visible lack of interest displayed not only by me but also two of my mates seated directly to my right) into an endless, inane story about how me made a lot of money and then apparently lost most of - if not - all of it.

Fortunately, after what seemed like several hours but I am certain was a far shorter period of time he either went home or drowned in the toilet in the men's room. It matters not to me what happened to him (a point I tried in vain to make for the entirety of our "intersection time" together). All that I cared about it was that he ceased to occupy my airspace.

Minutes after Contestant #1 took his parting gifts and headed off into the great wide open, a little old man sat down in his now-vacated space. He too began to engage me in conversation. And oh the stories he could tell. While he looked to be closer to sixty-five, he reported that he is eighty-five years old. He saw our team jerseys identifying us as "City of Newark Law Department" and shared with us that approximately sixty years ago he began his law enforcement career as a City of Newark Police Officer before becoming a Sheriff's Officer in Essex County and ultimately the Essex County Sheriff.

He mentioned to me that he was a veteran of the United States Navy and served in World War II - in the Pacific theatre. One of ten children, at one time in WW II he and his seven brothers were all in active military service (different branches but all serving) and were all in combat areas. He said that he and his brothers, unlike the Sullivan Brothers, did not serve together and did not know - in fact - for long stretches of time the health and status of each other. Thankfully all seven of them made it through the war relatively unscathed - as did an eighth child - a sister - who ended up serving in (or perhaps with) the U.S. Navy before the war ended.

An evening that started as a wind-down from an admittedly silly pursuit - slow-pitch softball - turned into something extraordinary. It turned into an exceptional history lesson. A lesson presented in the form of well told, slowly spun stories by a man who has seemed to live one hell of a life.

After he departed, one of my friends seated towards the other end of our group asked me the old man's name and laughed when I told him I had not bothered to ask. Nor had he bothered to ask me mine. It hardly seemed relevant.

It's the little things that count. Last night was chock full of them. And every one counted.

-AK

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Having Pushed the Knob to Eleven...

There has been a lot of impassioned disagreement these past few weeks about the issue of health insurance in this country. People from all parts of the political spectrum - most of them well-intentioned but not all of them - have spent considerable amounts of time during August's dog days making their voices heard on the issue.

At one level, all of the hue and cry is something that I find very appealing. You see I have always considered unsustainable the hypothesis of "What if everyone agreed" regardless of whatever the issue is then and there commanding the front page, bold type, above the fold headlines. America is a republic. It is a republic that was formed in significant part by folks who could not abide by whatever the prevailing wisdom was in the nation(s) of their birth on issues of religion, politics, ethics and society. People who rather than stay, capitulate and suffer in silence (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), hopped on Google Earth to locate the Williams-Sonoma store (is there a more hair-hurting, pretentious retail establishment on the planet) most conveniently juxtaposed to their location in order to pick up their monogrammed, tartan plaid kit bag and made the great migration West - some even smiling all the while. Americans are a disagreeable lot by nature. Even when a thing is the "next big thing" not all of us take a number and line up to get a glimpse of it and to touch it. Ask the 46% of the 122 million voters who did not purchase a ticket to board the Obama Express in last November's Presidential election. Even the brightest, shiniest, most exciting next big thing to ever come down the pike did not feel the love of more than 56 million voters.

Yet, the object of the exercise is not simply to yell the loudest and the longest. A war of attrition if you will - to defeat your opposition not by using your gray matter but - instead - your vocal chords. We have seen all over this country recently real live, technicolor demonstrations of the fine line that separates spirited political discourse from the walk-out bout on a WWE Monday Night Raw card. And sometimes, perhaps due to the law of inevitably, whether we want to or not and whether we intend to or not, we get caught on the wrong side of that line.

Again, tripping over the line of demarcation that separates irony from coincidence I know not whether it is the former or the latter that controls the fact that the more technology we possess and the more information we have access to, the more ignorant we have become of our own history. Being a person who tends to think visual, I find it useful to have a framed photo on the wall of my office, which I can look at while I work on my computer (and which probably explains the occasional typo), of the western entrance to Norlin Library at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Etched into the stone is President George Norlin's charge to a graduating class. Paraphrasing Cicero, President Norlin exhorted his school's graduates that, "WHO KNOWS ONLY HIS OWN GENERATION REMAINS ALWAYS A CHILD". We have developed a tendency in this nation to react to every disagreement, every political argument, every problem that pops its head above the tree line as if it is the greatest, most complicated, most daunting task that we the people have ever faced - and have ever been called upon to marshal our resources to address.

Setting aside the seemingly insurmountable task that faced our forefathers (and mothers, sisters and brothers) at the moment of national conception (you might recall that small matter of picking a fight with the baddest dude on the block and declaring our independence six or seven years before we had actually secured it), it bears remembering that this nation has been faced with rather gynormous problems throughout our history. And it also bears remembering the hard lessons we have learned from the failure to solve them through democratic (small "D" - no party affiliation, just a conceptual framework) means as opposed to a less pleasant alternative.

I am presently reading "An American Lion", which is John Meacham's Pulitzer Prize winning work examining Andrew Jackson in the White House. Jackson was elected to the White House in 1828 when the deep-seated discord between those in the North and those in the South had already started to boil. It was during Jackson's first term - in the winter of 1830 - that the United States Senate bore witness to the Webster-Hayne debate, an unplanned series of speeches in the Senate, during which Robert Hayne of South Carolina interpreted the Constitution as little more than a treaty between sovereign states, and Daniel Webster expressed the concept of the United States as one nation.

In Meacham's book, he pays particular attention to the speech of a senator from Louisiana, which was made on the floor of the Senate in early March 1830. Edward Livingston reminded his brethren in the Senate that while discourse was healthy, partisanship for the sake of partisanship was not merely unproductive, it was potentially dangerous. Livingston said, "I am no censor of the conduct of others: it is sufficient for me to watch over my own. The wisdom of gentlemen must be their guide in the sentiments they entertain and their discretion in the language in which they utter them. No doubt they think the occasion calls for the warmth they have shown; but of this the people must judge."

What was true almost one hundred and seventy years ago remains true today. We the people must judge what actions shall be taken ultimately by the men and women we have elected to represent us, whether we voted for a particular candidate or not. The duty placed in us is one to be exercised vigorously. But we can never mistake volume for vigor. The two are not interchangeable concepts.

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. And we cannot solve them simply by attempting to scream our way to victory. Much can be learned by taking a step back and listening as opposed to perpetually moving forward and posturing.

Of this the people must judge. And it will not only be we the people who are here now doing the judging. It shall be those who come after us. Not our generation, but the next. And the ones to come thereafter.

-AK

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Ever-Changing Sameness

One suspects that if Brett Favre (no one has yet explained to my satisfaction how a name with the "V" before the "R" is pronounced "Farve". Case in point: no one travels to the "Lour - ve" to see the Mona Lisa.) was a Native American, his name would be "Bad Penny" or "You Are F***ing Kidding Me, Right?". In what has become an annual rite of summer, Brett has decided again that the object of a boy born and raised in Mississippi who strikes it rich playing pro sports is to spend not one minute more than absolutely necessary in Mississippi after acquiring his aforementioned fortune. Having made the bulk of that fortune on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field as the signal-caller for Lombardi Tech, Captain Carousel has come around yet again, arrived carrying nothing but a jockstrap and a dream and landed on the roster of his third NFL team in as many seasons.

The Prodigal Gunslinger - for whom the long-suffering New York J-E-T-S (JETS! JETS! JETS!) sold what purported to be their collective soul last summer has resurfaced yet again this year. However, having told the Jets several months ago he was retired from professional football, the NFL's favorite (and if he keeps this up - only) BFF - Brett Favre Fan, has re-emerged. He has landed in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Perhaps he does in fact have a bit of fuel left in the tank, contrary to what he displayed for the Jets over the final quarter of last season. Perhaps he seeks to exact a measure of revenge on the Packers, still smarting over the franchise's audacity to carry on without him after he announced his "this time I really mean it" retirement in between the aught-seven and aught-eight seasons. Perhaps he seeks a renaissance in a land long regarded as a bastion for performers whose best days were once thought to be behind them - although more of those Minnesotans end up in elective office than in the Vikes' huddle.

Or perhaps he suffers from the same affliction that seems to affect a disproportionate percentage of the population who earn their daily bread as professional athletes: he cannot tell time. He fails to recognize when it is indeed time to go, time to cede the stage to someone else. Someone younger and, perish the thought, perhaps better equipped to play the role that the aging leading man once played so ably. In fairness to Favre, one could argue that no such individual was manning the quarterback position for the Vikings prior to his arrival on Tuesday afternoon. Tarvaris Jackson has been consistent for his inconsistency during the nascent stages of his NFL career. Sage Rosenfels is about as likely to lead the Vikings to the Super Bowl as are any of his three Scarborough Fair traveling companions. That simply confuses the issue however, which is not whether he is better capable than either of these two to do the job but rather whether he himself is capable of doing it. It is sort of like being the tallest midget at the amusement park. Being taller than the rest of your posse is fine. But if you are not as tall as the cowboy's arm you still are not riding on the roller coaster.

Still, one cannot help but come away from the latest incarnation of Favre with the impression that the once straight route from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Canton, Ohio has been abandoned yet again for a joyride through Insatiable Egoville. Perhaps at Viking home games this year, the team will eschew the now-prevalent practice of handing out towels or hankies to the home fans in favor of miniature replica sponges of #4 in his purple and gold uniform.

It will give all of the team's fans the chance to become as absorbed with Favre as he is with himself. And at day's end, it is for Favre what it has always been for Favre. It is all about him. Here is to hoping that the '09 season ends with him either leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl victory or to an 0-16 season because if the truth lies somewhere in between, I shudder to think who he will end up un-retiring again next summer to join. Three teams down, only twenty-nine to go.

Are you ready for some football?

-AK

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stuff You Did Not Make Up....But Wish You Had.

An interesting day yesterday on the news wire for stories under the heading of "Stupid is as stupid does".

Close to home, the Somerville New Jersey police reported the arrest of a man from Brooklyn, N.Y. for possessing (and clearly imbibing from....as shall become apparent in short order) an open container of alcohol in one of Somerville's municipal parking lots. What made the arrest of Douglas Willis newsworthy is not what he did. Who among us has not been arrested and/or ticketed for possessing an open container of alcohol in public? I know I once was (Boulder Colorado Fall of '87) and had to make an appearance before Judge Richard Hanson to pay the fine. No, what made the arrest of Douglas Willis newsworthy was his explanation for why he did what he did.

Apparently, when spotted by Patrolman Troy Powell on the afternoon of August 1st just maxing and relaxing as it were in Lot No. 4 with his open bottle of Bacardi rum, Willis (remember, he is from Brooklyn) used what is in my humble opinion an underutilized defense: geography. "Willis stated that he was from Las Vegas and that he could not get used to not being able to drink in the street," Powell's report states. Patrolman Powell's report does not indicate whether he responded to the arrestee by paying homage to Arnold Drummond.

Permissible public intoxication in Vegas explains not only the astounding success of certain cheesy Strip entertainers but also the reports of Willis jamming the dryers at the Grove Street laundromat with quarters for hours earlier that afternoon, watching them spin round and round and betting on where and when they were going to stop.

For quite some time yesterday I thought Mr. Willis would occupy the gold medal platform. Then, in the late afternoon, my brother Bill sent me a link to an article from one of the newspapers from 'neath his snow globe and opened my eyes to the epic tale of Przemyslaw Panfil.

According to the news report, Mr. Panfil was apparently arrested late Friday night/early Saturday morning for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, evading responsibility and improper passing. While being held at the State Police barracks in Montville, Connecticut Mr. Panfil decided to try his hand (God - I hope it was his hand) at performance art. According to the State Police, he smeared his feces both on himself and in and around his holding cell early Saturday.

My favorite part of the story is not what he did - but the apparent amount of time he spent doing it. Panfil spent about three hours decorating the interior of his cell, the report stated, before he was moved to Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center and the cell was cleaned. Three hours? Two questions leap immediately to the forefront of my mind. First, no one checked on him and/or monitored him via video camera for three hours? Wow, good thing he was not a threat to take his own life. Second, what the hell did he eat that he was able to produce enough source material to allow his muse to be his guide for three hours? If it was something he ate while in custody at the barracks, then perhaps we should remove those food items from the menu.

For his efforts, Panfil earned himself a new charge: third-degree criminal mischief. And because the newspaper printed his home address, all of his neighbors will know not to allow their kids to accept any of his "homemade" brownies when trick-or-treating on Halloween. Hey, Mr. Panfil how do you get those candy corns inside of your brownies? You do not want to know. Trust me kids, you do not want to know.

Now life's like a box of chocolates,
You never know what you're going to get
Stupid is as stupid does and all the rest of that shit

Come on pretty baby, call my bluff
'Cause for you my best was never good enough.

But in the case of Messrs. Willis and Panfil, it was pretty damned close indeed.

-AK

Monday, August 17, 2009

Living Proof of the Walrath Postulate

The bombardment of news from Michael Vick's "Full of Remorse" Tour has been so prevalent that I half-expected him to inform James Brown last night on 60 Minutes that he was abandoning football for a career in music, having accepted an invitation to join the Black Eyed Peas under the name "Me So Sorry". And all the while that I have been listening to Vick speak, to the Humane Society speak and to the owner and coach of the Philadelphia Eagles speak, I have thought of James Walrath.

As a kid - a million or so years ago - I had Mr. Walrath as a teacher. I know he taught mathematics to me at Wardlaw-Hartridge when I was in 6th grade but I honestly cannot recall whether he was there the following year. It matters not. What does matter - in my mind's eye anyway - is that the best lesson I ever learned from Mr. Walrath had nothing to do with mathematics.

One day during class one of my buddies and I - seated in the back row - were talking and goofing around the whole time. On at least two occasions Mr. Walrath gave us the "I know what you are doing and cool it" glare and on one occasion the glare was followed by a stern "stop talking". It mattered not to either of us as we continued to talk to one another and otherwise act like idiots from our seats in the rear of the room.

About 2/3 of the way through the period, Mr. Walrath's reservoir of patience ran dry and while standing facing the black board he whirled around and threw a chalk-filled eraser towards us. I would love to say - even all these years later - that he threw it at us but he did not. We were not too terribly far away from him and he had a pretty good arm, the combination of which makes me think that had he wanted to plunk one of us, he certainly would have. Instead he threw the eraser over our heads by several feet. It struck high up on the rear wall of the classroom and fell to the ground harmlessly. As my friend (and if memory serves me it was my #1 partner in hi jinks Jon Dugenio) and I sat there jaws agape looking at one another, Mr. Walrath extended each of us an invitation to see him after class.

When class ended we approached the front of the room and before he could say a word, my friend told him that we were both sorry for what had happened in class. Instead of either accepting or dismissing our apology, Mr. Walrath asked us a question. He wanted to know, "Are you sorry for what you did or are you sorry that you got caught doing it?" I have been utterly speechless infrequently in my life (much to the chagrin of those around me) but I was at that moment. I had no idea what to say to him. Jon did. He told Mr. Walrath (answering for both of us) that initially we were sorry we had gotten caught but thinking about what we had done that made him make us stay after class to talk to him, we were sorry for being idiots.

I neither recall whether Mr. Walrath accepted Jon's explanation nor whether he disciplined us further for what we had done. I still recall - more than thirty years later - learning the "Walrath Postulate". Mr. Walrath told us that in his experience, when caught doing something one should not be doing, the "Oh my God, I am so sorry!" reaction has more to do with regret at having been caught in the act than it does genuine remorse over having acted badly.

The NFL has decreed that Michael Vick deserves a second chance to be a professional football player and the Philadelphia Eagles have signed him to play for them. Candidly, I have to laugh when I hear the mantra of "He deserves a second chance!" The next time someone tells you that, ask them why it is he does. When the inevitable Pollyanna-ish response of, "Because everyone deserves a second chance" is emitted from between their lips, feel free to test the resolve of their position. Start with historically unsavory characters - such as Adolf Hitler and Mussolini - and work your way towards more recent entries into the Rogue's Gallery such as Bernie Madoff and Jon/Kate Gosselin - to test the mettle of their belief system.

For those who wish to dry their hands with the dishrag of self-delusion regarding Vick and what he did, do not read the endless puff pieces in the press. Read the terms of his plea agreement - the agreement that his attorney entered into on his behalf and that Vick signed, waiving his right to a jury trial and to a possible acquittal on the charges against him. And for additional laughs, read the Statement of Facts that Vick agreed to, dated August 24, 2007, which set forth in excruciating detail all of the acts he himself engaged in, which facts formed the underlying basis of the plea. Included among them was Vick's admission that he, personally, was involved in the killing of six to eight dogs, killed by methods including drowning and hanging, whose greatest sin appeared to be that they had not performed well in fights and/or in "testing sessions" conducted by Vick and his band of imbecilic cohorts.

In a nutshell, the world has heard - and the Eagles have responded to - a plea for a second chance from one who extended no such courtesy himself. Not this fella. The words of Mr. Walrath ring in my ears as clearly now as they did thirty years ago. I believe now that we are witnessing living proof of the Walrath Postulate and I for one shall not buy it.

You know, upon further reflection, I realize that the other reason Michael Vick made me think of Mr. Walrath is football-related. Jon and I could not have been more than ten yards from Mr. Walrath and were wide open when he threw that eraser towards us. Yet he overthrew us badly.

-AK

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Wood 'Cause I Could

After a summer jammed to the gunwales with lousy weather and even worse day-to-day news, this weekend has been a late season blessing for those of here in Levelland. And proving once again that timing is everything, the weather cleared on a weekend when at least 75% of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Cosmos could get together to soak up the sun (and any residual booze that might try to surreptitiously escape over the rim of the glass). It did so as well on a weekend when Suz was available to join Margaret and the Sisterhood at the beach.

I love my wife and daughter with all my heart. However I would be less than truthful (as would they I submit) I if did not say that occasionally less is more. Thus while I miss them when they are away I was not displeased to know that from the time I left the house yesterday morning for the office until some time late this afternoon, I was going to be "bachelor dude".

We have lived in the home where we presently live for approximately ten years. Someone, not me mind you, who knows the history of NTSG can speak accurately to the number of years the development to which our home belongs has been....well, developed. I have a vague recollection of being told when we were purchasing the home that it was built in the late '70's or early '80's. Then again, given the lack of attention that I pay (historically speaking) to conversations that are not about me, I might indeed be making all of that up. A whole-cloth creation as it were.

There is a long and boring back story involving our home and how we ended up buying it but the mercifully abridged version of it is this: we purchased it from its original owners who had really ended up (due to the death of the family's father) not living here as a family for more than a couple of years. When we bought it from the mother/widow the only one living here - and the only one who had been in the home apparently for close to a decade - was her adult son.

Our home was built in an era when the dominant theme in residential construction seemed to be to build homes with gorgeous hardwood floors and then cover the floors in wall-to-wall carpet. When we moved in here almost a decade ago, every room in the home - other than the kitchen - was carpeted. With the exception of the bedrooms upstairs, the color of choice (a/k/a "the color the builder got the best deal to have installed") was sea foam green. It was as if the interior design plan for the home was "endless wave" or some such thing.

As time has passed, we have eradicated the carpet from our home as we found it impossible to enjoy the look of the hardwood floors while they were under the sea. In fact, the last remaining vestige of the sea foam green carpet was on the staircase and in the upstairs foyer, which I had set my sights on eradicating whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Yesterday, the opportunity finally knocked and with hardwood having replaced carpet as the floor covering in our home, I heard it when it did. Upon arriving home from the office - and making a side trip to pick up Rosalita from the groomer - I went to work on removing it. From soup to nuts (an expression I must confess that I have never understood - perhaps because I have never considered those two food groups to represent the points equidistant from the middle of the food spectrum), removing all of the carpet and all of the residual hardware that holds it in place as well as giving the steps and the foyer a nice bath in Murphy's Oil Soap took slightly more than six hours. The project is not complete yet - as new trim will have to be put in on the staircase and the vertical parts of each riser shall need a fresh coat of paint - but everything but the detail stuff is completed. And if I do say so myself it looks mighty fine. As an added bonus, I finished what I had hoped to accomplish last night, cleaned up the work area and cleaned myself up just in time to catch the first pitch of the Yankees game from Seattle at 10:00 p.m. I only caught about an inning's worth of action as I fell asleep on the couch and I have yet to master the art of simultaneous viewing/sleeping (I gave up trying to learn how to sleep and drive at the same time shortly after flipping my mom's station wagon when I was in 11th grade) and, in the end, sleep always prevails.

We have a house full of animals - all of whom went to bed last night convinced that I am plotting to kill them, having now stripped away more of the floor covering they have come to depend upon for braking (when chasing each other around the house) and rolling around upon (when just screwing around with each other). It was a particularly trying day for Rosie - who arrived home from the groomer only to discover that two of her favorite humans were nowhere to be found and that more of the soft carpet she digs so much was gone as well. She spent most of yesterday afternoon and last evening giving me the side eye.....

Before finally retiring to the den and falling asleep in the absurdly overpriced dog bed we bought for her last year, which she rarely ever uses. Maybe now she will use it regularly - having seen what happens 'round here to other plush, carpeted surfaces and not wanting to end up having to sleep at night on a plywood sheet.

-AK

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Rebirth of the Air Max Assail

Late last September, long after kids really should have been getting back to school, I joined the world of the runner. OK, in the interests of complete disclosure I was the guy on the side of the road with the dry heaves wondering why oh why was I doing this to myself. And that was just my reaction to stretching out beforehand.

At the beginning, it felt every morning as if I was going to die. But you get used to anything, sooner or later it just becomes your life (pseudo-obscure Springsteen lyrical reference dropped for the benefit of Bill and Rob) or at least a reliable, consistent part of it. Running became that for me - part of my morning routine that I both labored through and was refreshed by in the wee small hours before sunrise.

And then I made the cataclysmic and ultimately unwise life decision to change jobs. Had I known that a change of address would morph into a soul-sucking, life-draining experience, I would not have done it for not even I, Lord of the Idiots, am that big of one. Miraculously, I was granted the life equivalent of a mulligan. After four months "wintering at the Reservoir", which is how I characterize the experience for those who ask (or those of you who I can force it upon in a setting such as this one), I returned home. Eventually they shall tire of me and throw me out but until that happens, I am staying firmly affixed to the space I occupy.

Invigorated by the opportunity at a second chance, in early May I resumed running, which I had stopped doing almost immediately after passing through Hell's gates in early February. On the third morning back on the road, I felt a "tweak" in my lower back. Given my aversion for all things medical, I put off going to the doctor until late June, by which time I was walking in a hunched over, "Hey look Mom - it's a question mark!" style and during which time the big physical achievement of my day was getting my shoes tied.

As June ceded the stage to July my back improved perceptibly. I have been back playing softball (using the word "playing" in the broadest possible definitional sense) with my mates in the Essex County Lawyer's League since early July. However, I had not resumed my pre-dawn jaunts through the neighborhood. While I would like to say that the principal reason I had not was concern of re-injuring my back, the truth lies closer to the "because I had not done it in so long I knew it was going to hurt like hell" side of the ledger. In your mind's eye perhaps the movie of your life unreels as a heroic epic. In mine, it is a work of non-fiction - warts and all.

Earlier this week, my daughter Suzanne and her cousin Megan, came up with a suggestion that had me out of bed and back out pounding the pavement this morning. On Sunday, October 4th in Jackson, New Jersey, a Race for the Cure shall be run. Ever since I was a boy of sixteen, having buried the old man less than two years earlier, and Mom came home from a doctor's appointment I did not even know I had and said, "Ad, we are not going to visit Kara in San Francisco next week. I have a tumor in my breast and I am going into the hospital to have an operation called a radical mastectomy", nothing has provoked the combination of anger and fear in me to the degree that breast cancer does.

It is an insidious, relentless, horrible disease and it claims the lives for far too many people (the overwhelming majority of whom are women) every day of every year. I have to wonder sometimes for all of the hue and cry over $8000 toilet seats and $1500 Pez dispensers that end up buried in the annual defense appropriation, why more is not said about the hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted annually on important scientific undertakings such as figuring out why suede jackets get ruined when they get wet but cows do not instead of spending that money on a disease that the National Institute of Health says affects one in eight women during their lives and kills more women than any other form of cancer except for lung cancer.

This year, the ravages of this bastard of a disease have hit closer to home than in years past. On June 2nd, Margaret's mom - Suzanne and Megan's Nona - Suzy B. lost her brave, five-year fight against it. And while this has been a long, difficult summer emotionally for all of us, her two oldest grandchildren (separated in age by only five months) have declared that this Autumn we shall start hitting back. On the fourth of October, a team of runners that they have organized in honor of, in memory of and out of love for Nona, Sue's Crew, shall be among the teams participating in the Race for the Cure. Countless others - whether family or friends, shall be there to walk and to cheer and to support those of us who are running.

I needed a bit of motivation to get my lazy fat ass out of bed and on the road again in the wee shall hours of the morning. Courtesy of two quite outstanding young ladies (sure, I am biased but sue me) I have it. I shall run for the same reason that all of the rest of us who shall comprise the running part of "Sue's Crew" shall run: for life. For my wife's, my daughter's, my mother's, my sisters' and all of the other women in my life. But most of all, we shall run for Sue Bozzomo. We shall run to honor a life worth honoring. A life ended far too soon and much too painfully by a disease for which there is not yet a magic elixir - nor a way to prevent completely.

But it is out there somewhere. Somewhere on the road ahead of us. Just out of sight for now but somewhere over the rise. We shall run until we reach it. It makes us complete.

-AK

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nothing Runs on French Fry Grease These Days

It has been said that with age comes wisdom. It has also been said that, in our modern world, sixty is the new forty. Put those two concepts together and what do you get? Well, I do not know exactly. I think I can make a pretty compelling argument however that the love child of the shotgun wedding of those two abstract concepts is "no matter how old someone is, he can still be an immature a##hole." Sadly, even if my argument is persuasive I do not foresee generating a lot of cashola from bumper stickers and t-shirt sales.

In the months since he vacated 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, our most recent "ex-Mr. President Bush" - W - has been a full-time resident of Texas. He has kept a profile so low that it makes his post-Katrina profile throughout New Orleans and the Gulf Coast seem larger than life. Whether you liked him or not (and I do not shy away from the fact that I voted from him twice.....both times in Broward County, Florida in 2000. Take it easy Chad - just a little joke), you cannot argue the fact that during the first several months of President Obama's administration, Mr. Bush has been neither seen nor heard. Given the extremely low personal approval numbers that accompanied him out of office, his low profile is no doubt as much for his benefit as it is for his successor. Regardless of why he has done it, he has done a commendable job of staying the hell out of the way.

To date, former Vice-President Dick Cheney has not followed Mr. Bush's lead. In May he gave a very well-publicized speech on national security at AEI, as part of his effort to directly challenge and criticize President Obama's plans for the nation's security. I half-expected a sound bite from their evening of Dueling Verbose to end up on JibJab - set to the tune of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" perhaps? Alas, no such luck.

Cheney is proving - in the autumn of his years - to be the gift that keeps on giving but only if one considers angina to be a gift. One supposes that it brought at least a smile to Mr. Obama's lips to read that Cheney is furiously working on his memoirs, which are to be published at some time in 2011, in which he shares with the world at large all of the shortcomings of George W. Bush. As seen through the eyes of Dick Cheney - of course - as if the opinion of any other could possibly carry as much weight. According to the Washington Post, "Robert Barnett, who negotiated Cheney's book contract, passed word to potential publishers that the memoir would be packed with news, and Cheney himself has said, without explanation, that "the statute of limitations has expired" on many of his secrets. "When the president made decisions that I didn't agree with, I still supported him and didn't go out and undercut him," Cheney said, according to Stephen Hayes, his authorized biographer. "Now we're talking about after we've left office. I have strong feelings about what happened. . . . And I don't have any reason not to forthrightly express those views."

In other words, someone has agreed to pay him boatloads of money to vent his spleen all over his former boss and Cheney, whose mantra appears to be, "I'm Dick Cheney, I'm smarter than you. I'm more patriotic than you. Now shut the F*** up" has apparently jumped at the opportunity. The crux of his newly disclosed animosity towards Mr. Bush appears to be that in the second term, Mr. Bush moved away from an almost blind reliance on (the) Dick. Not surprisingly Cheney felt marginalized and increasingly shut out by the President's decision to become his own man. How dare he? Did he not know how fortunate he was to be able to serve an apprenticeship as President under the tutelage of such a great man? Methinks that at some time in 2011, he is going to be made to see just how fortunate Cheney thinks he was - and how unappreciative he was of all of (the) Dick's sage advice.

It is Willie the Shakes who posed the question, "What's in a name?" In the case of our most recent former Vice-President, the answer appears to be, "Quite a bit". Just ask he who now wishes to strike a match get back and watch that sucker burn.

-AK

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Not So Joyous Noise

As a child, I spent my summers in Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania. For all of his faults, my father never ceased to amaze me with his ability - as essentially the sole wage earner in a family of eight for much of their marriage - to afford a summer home. Hell, he is dead almost three decades and I have not - not even for one moment - ever figured out how he pulled it off.

In between days spent water skiing and swimming and nights spent at Hanson's Amusement Park , I spent many an afternoon - and the occasional late night - listening to baseball on the radio. While there was not yet such a thing as ESPN and the phenomenon of the MLB Package on Direct TV had yet to be realized, up in the mountains of Pennsylvania one could get reasonably good coverage of Major League Baseball on AM radio. Where we were in Pennsylvania, the Phillies, Mets and Yankees broadcasts came in crystal clear and at night - when fewer stations occupied the AM band (at least I think that was what Bill explained to me was going on) you could hear games from as far away as Detroit and St. Louis. I did not see a picture of Ernie Harwell or Jack Buck until years later, but as a kid I knew their voices.

Dad is dead for almost thirty years. Mom sold the house almost that long ago. And I have not been to Harvey's Lake in at least twenty-five years. And although we now have the ability to watch every game that every team plays every day, we still have the radio. And we still have baseball games that are broadcast on it.

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees played the Blue Jays. Since I was at the office while the game was being played, I set my trusty little boom box (I purloined one from Rob that I think he had in his bedroom in the 6th grade) to WCBS 880 AM and listened to the game. Once upon a time I actually recall John Sterling being quasi-controlled on the air. Notwithstanding the somewhat tedious home run call "It is high! It is far! It is gone!" and the hysterical "The Yankees win! The Yankees win!" he breaks into after every win, whether it is the deciding game of the World Series or a mid-June game against Kansas City, when Sterling was paired in the booth with Michael Kay, the broadcast was an enjoyable listen.

When the Yankees created the YES Network and separated Kay and Sterling in order to unleash Kay on their television-viewing audience, Sterling has become an 800 pound gorilla in the booth. For the past several seasons, his partner in crime has been Suzyn Waldman. While Waldman certainly seems to be a very nice woman - and she is well-regarded in Yankees circles as the one who brokered the detente between George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra - her role in the broadcast booth appears to be that of Sterling's head cheerleader. She does no play-by-play at all and is required to introduce him immediately before first pitch as "the Voice of the New York Yankees". The two of them appear to fear silence. Every moment of every inning of every game is jammed full of noise, whether one is speaking over the other or reading one of the endless number of commercial spots that dominate the broadcast.

There is no empty space on the Yankees airwaves and not a moment that is not sponsored by somebody. The radio team works from the "Lowe's Broadcast Booth", hosts a writer from the New York Daily News during that newspaper's 5th inning, plugs GEICO Insurance after the fifteenth out of the game is recorded and heralds the arrival of the game's first pitch as a promo for "Roadrunner High Speed Internet Service". I personally love when the Yankees play the Red Sox - in Boston - and Tim Wakefield is the Sox pitcher. The irony of documenting the throwing of a pitch that has traveled 49 miles per hour as a promotional device for a technology's "high speed" is apparently lost on the entirety of the Yankees radio broadcast family.

I realized yesterday afternoon listening to the broadcast that there is nary a product that the Bombers will not sell on-air. Although, upon close examination I became aware of an absolutely excellent advertising opportunity that is going by the boards. Baseball players are forever adjusting themselves. Somewhere there is a chiropractor who would pay through the teeth for the chance to have his/her practice mentioned every time a batter or a base runner adjusted his jock.

I love my Yankees but their radio broadcast is fast becoming unlistenable. Captain Catchphrase needs to stop working so hard to be clever and start working a bit harder at being right. Just once I would like to hear him tell the audience that Jorge Posada has hit a home run - and not that he has "juiced one". Does baseball really need the radio play-by-play man for its most recognizable franchises to keep pointing out that the Yankees All-Star catcher 'juiced' one?

It's Radio Nowhere. On the air 162 times a year. And it is simply too much.

......and now a word from our sponsor.

-AK

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Pie For Anybody.....Except Maybe Some Humble

Man (the species - not the gender) is a primate. Please do not get all hopped up on Natural Selection on me or start some sort of Scopesian dialogue. We the humans are among the primates who occupy a spot in the roster of the animal kingdom - although since Marlin Perkins died we have not had anyone to host the program. We are among the primates who possess opposable thumbs. In no small part we are the dominant primates - and the "De Facto Because We Said So" dominant species on this particular planet because we can move our thumb farther across our hand than any other primate can, which not only gives us unrivaled ability to do all sort of nifty things, great and small, but also an incredible advantage when hitch-hiking.

It has been written and said too many times to count (well, perhaps someone with far superior math skills to my own is up to the challenge) that it is our thumbs and our ability to think that separates the humans from the rest of the animal kingdom - including our fellow primates. Judging by the headlines that dotted the newspapers yesterday here in Levelland, it appears as if thumb protection is not a luxury, but rather a necessity for a number of us.

Take for instance the sad and somewhat difficult (for me at least) to understand case of David Yanvary. All he did was spend twenty-nine years serving the residents of Edison Township, New Jersey as a member of the Township's Police Department. His career progressed to the point where as a patrolman he had been earning $113,000 a year. For reasons perhaps one part arrogant and one part incomprehensible, he threw it all away. And he did so by stealing $42 worth of items in March from a supermarket in the township where he was working in uniform on an off-duty security detail. While working on the detail in a Shop-Rite supermarket, Yanvary was caught trying to steal a DVD ("Role Models"), a bottle of Shop Rite canola oil, a fragrance candle and a container of Golden Blossom honey.

On Monday of this week he entered a plea of guilty to one count of shoplifting, a plea that ends his career with the Edison Township Police Department and in public employment. The latter condition is most unfortunate given all of the openings that have sprung up in the aftermath of the arrests that have taken place among our public officeholders during the past thirty days.

If you like your "non-thinkers" to walk on the distaff side, then perhaps you empathize more readily with Lisa Glide. On Monday Ms. Glide was sentenced to five years' probation for her guilty plea to the crime of endangering the welfare of a child, a fourth-degree offense, prior to a grand jury review. The welfare Ms. Glide endangered belonged to one of her 17 year-old male students with whom she admitted to having sex while he was (a) underage; and (b) a student at Old Bridge High School - where she worked as a teacher. Forgive my cynicism but the lad appears to have come through the experience just fine - thank you very much - judging by the letter he sent to the judge in which he requested that his former teacher not be required to serve jail time. "I feel the entire case was blown far out of proportion and reason,'' the victim, now a college sophomore, wrote. "I was the initiator of the contact, not Lisa Glide. I was clearly not a young child and Lisa Glide was not a sexual predator.''

Ms. Glide shall not go to jail but at age thirty-five she too, like Patrolman Yanvary, has tossed her career away. She relinquished her teaching certificate as a condition of her guilty plea and is forever barred from teaching in public school in New Jersey again. Perhaps Dave, Alex, Eddie and Wolfie shall look her up. According to the paper, she taught drama and directed at least one of the high school's productions.

Finally, if you prefer your mittens to be institutionally-sized, then perhaps the actions of our State's Commissioner of Education are more to your liking. The Commish has upheld the decision of an Administrative Law Judge, who ruled that the appropriate punishment to be meted out to an Asbury Park High School teacher who violated that school district's policy against teachers making non-emergency personal cell phone calls while performing job-related duties was the forfeiture of 120 days' pay - $50,000. The teacher, Desly Getty, made a four-minute personal call while in a classroom in early January 2008, while she was monitoring a test. According to the Press of Atlantic City, "While she was at the desk, Getty placed a cell phone call to the district's suspended superintendent Antonio Lewis. While she was on the phone, two students danced in front of her desk and between her and the class. Another student played music on his cell phone and recorded the dancing with a digital camera, then posted an almost two minute edited version on YouTube." Apparently Getty found out about the video's existence and returned to the class the following day and interrogated the students about it, which presumably slowed the pace of learning perceptibly. She was reprimanded by the school's administration for a number of things, including not maintaining control of the class, violating the district's cell phone use policy, and causing embarrassment to the district through the YouTube posting.

It is mind-boggling (to me at least and admittedly I have a tiny mind, which is quite susceptible to boggling) that the punishment for this teacher's stupidity should be the loss of 2/3 of her annual salary. Granted she screwed up but given her clean track record (a point conceded by the ALJ who dropped the hammer on her) and her lengthy service at Asbury Park High School, one might argue that the Commish has unsheathed the sledgehammer from the custodian's closet to go to war with a lone mosquito. Ms. Getty does have the right to appeal the Commish's decision to our Appellate Division, which presumably she will do. Unlike Ms. Glide and Patrolman Yanvary she is permitted to keep her job. That is something - although it shall be only 1/3 of something unless she gets some appellate relief.

To these three little kittens and the rest of the thought-challenged among us, ignore the Mercury. Always carry a pair or two of mittens with you. Better safe than sorry, right?

-AK