Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is This Where Sausage Comes From?

Today was a "run" day (one day on, one day off in an effort to keep my knees alive until I complete my 45th trip around the sun). Off I went this morning, running a 5K as part of my preparation for Sunday's Race for the Cure. I was half surprised, half disappointed when I completed my jaunt Monday morning in 31:16. Imagine my reaction this morning when I arrived home in 31:19. I am happy that the Race is Sunday. Given the manner in which my prep work is going, if it was another three weeks away, I would be on a pace to run it in 60:00 or so.

My upside down advancement momentarily made me think of the Billy Joel song "Running on Ice" - a lyrical testament to getting nowhere as fast as one can. But as I was standing in the kitchen this morning, post-run, contemplating "WWKKD" (What Would Kip Keino Do?) I thought not of what had just happened this morning but - rather - a conversation that Margaret and I had last evening with Suzanne. And I realized upon further reflection that my "problem" was not actually one.

Suzanne is an incredibly gifted young woman. Her mind works at a speed that mine cannot even fully appreciate - simply because I do not even have that gear in my clutch box. The beauty of that for her is that her appetite for knowledge is insatiable and is matched in perfect harmony by her ability to comprehend. It truly is a wonder to behold. Hell, I became a lawyer in large part because it is an occupation I can spell. My daughter is working her way through a Master's Degree in a discipline I can neither spell nor pronounce. Me, the dopey dad, tells anyone who asks (and because I am so proud of her anyone who happens to be waiting in the line at the Starbucks or the newsstand in front of, in back of or anywhere near me for more than 15 seconds) that she is pursuing a career in speech language pathology and audiology.

It is, of course, far more nuanced than that. When she completes doing what it is she is doing she will have such a multitude of initials and letters behind her name on her letterhead for the rest of her life that when you receive a piece of mail from her it shall be hard to resist the temptation to cover one eye and read aloud from left to right.

The process is draining and some days in the battlefield are better for her than others. She is her mother's daughter, which means that she wears her emotions out there on her sleeve for all the world to see. And while that is not a bad thing, in the dog-eat-dog world of advanced academia and competitive altruism into which she has plunged herself it is not necessarily a good thing either.

It is the cynical bastard in me no doubt (I view indigestion as him simply knocking on my stomach walls asking to be allowed out) that permits me to have a jaundiced view of the world - and most especially of my fellow bi-peds. It is also what taught me years ago, while never sitting down at a table and flopping or going down the river or whatever hell it is that one does while contemplating folding 'em or holding 'em, that the most important attribute that one takes into battle as one embarks on one's day-to-day is the poker face. Human beings are animals. Animals are creatures of habit. If one who has a point of view or an interest adverse to you - or simply does not like you (that may not happen to you but believe it or not that has happened to me - stunning I know!) - knows that by pushing Button "A" they will cause you to have a particular reaction, then it would serve you well to understand that they will continue to push that button.

Like it or not, part of what we do in our daily life is probe one another's defenses for weaknesses - whether ones that we can take advantage of at present or ones that we recognize and file away for future reference. We all have weaknesses. We are human after all. Our DNA is flawed (do not shoot the messenger. All my namesake did was bite the damned apple. If a good-looking, naked chick offered you free snacks, what would you do?). The key - again from my jaundiced view of the world around me - is to minimize them - to hide them from view to the extent we can.

Suz's frustration is palpable - on occasions - and I know it because she cannot hide it. And while I know a bit of it comes from dealing with day-to-day life in this arena of her choosing, I know that the overwhelming majority of it comes from within. Sometimes my brilliant daughter - for all of her immense intellect - fails to heed the most important teaching of the equally brilliant philosopher Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." She forgets to breathe. And she forgets to let the world around her breathe.

All of which brings me back to me standing in the kitchen this morning, post-run, contemplating the failings of my run and considering a cause of action against the Timex people - it is their damn watch after all that I wear when I run. I realized in my own pique of frustration that absence of similar DNA notwithstanding, Suz is this old man's daughter and both of us could use the same advice. It will be alright if we just inhale deeply. We can afford to lose a day or two.

Crazy children, both of us. But doing OK just the same.

-AK

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apocalypse Now?

While flipping back and forth between the Jets game, the Giants game and the Yankees game on Sunday afternoon I stumbled across a political advertisement for Linda McMahon. She is - or had been until she stepped down to announce her candidacy for the Republican nomination to run against Christopher Dodd for the U.S. Senate seat he presently occupies on behalf of the Nutmeg State - the CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. She is also, lucky gal she, the wife of Vince McMahon.

Apparently, this is the latest step for her in her "going legit" campaign - having been nominated by Gov. Jodi Rell and approved by a fairly sharply-divided State House of Representatives to a seat on the 11-member State Board of Education earlier this year. The fact that she is one-half of the corporate genius (love 'em or hate 'em, the McMahons have lost more spare change in their couch cushions than most of us will earn in our lifetimes) behind an enterprise whose headquarters is allegedly located at the intersection of Sodom and Gomorrah is of little moment to those involved in her campaign (and presumably those who the WWE hopes will come out in force to vote for her). She has name recognition and, apparently, $30 Million to spend on her campaign.

Whether she has the chops to serve in the U.S. Senate, I know not and since I live here and not there, I will not be among the folks who decide her elective fate. I will say this - if they promise to conduct at least one of the debates as a steel cage match, I will tune in to watch.

If I was Chris Dodd, I would add Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka to my re-election campaign staff. It never hurts to be prepared.

-AK

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dressing for Success

Yesterday morning I participated in what is a weekly rite of passage in suburbia: the trek to Costco. In our household we apparently consume a lot of food and spill a lot of stuff because among the items I needed to purchase was the logging camp-sized quantities of paper towel and toilet paper.

I was a bit behind schedule yesterday morning so I did not get to our local Costco in time to catch its opening at 10:00 a.m. In fact I did not get there until shortly before 11:00 a.m. The hour's difference, coupled with the fact that the weather was a tad inclement in these parts yesterday morning, assured that by the time I arrived at Costco the joint was ass-deep in shoppers. There is nothing I enjoy more than being trapped in Costco when I know what four items I am there to retrieve, trying to negotiate my way through a store full of people who appear transfixed by the arithmetic involved in determining whether a 17 gallon container of Bush's baked beans is a bargain or a rip-off at $11.99.

I could not help but notice how many of my fellow shoppers were adorned in a jersey of a professional football team as they prowled the aisles. As someone who is not a "jersey" guy (I do own a University of Colorado football jersey that I have owned for close to a decade and have worn a half-dozen times - five of which were to play football) the jersey as the wardrobe of choice for an adult has always fascinated me more than a little. Candidly, I have never quite understood the phenomenon. I kinda, sorta get the man or woman who goes to the game wearing a t-shirt, a hat, sweatshirt or jersey of their favorite team - at least then you are in the building sharing the moment. But Costco yesterday was densely populated by people wearing Giants jerseys - ninety minutes prior to kickoff of the Giants game against the Buccaneers. A game that was being played in Tampa Bay.

Therein lies the rub for me with folks who wear replica paraphernalia simply to sit in their living room, a friend's living room or a sports bar of some sort and stare at "their team" as it plays a game that they are watching on TV. It makes me curious as to how these gamers gear up to watch other programs on TV. Do they suit up to watch the evening news? Call wardrobe and grab some pancake makeup in order to watch their favorite movie? Stuff themselves into a Speedo to watch Michael Phelps and Rebecca Soni do the voodoo that they do so well? Of course not. Why not? Because to do so would be silly.

Yet there there were on Sunday morning, little Mannings and Sanchezes and Roethlisbergers as far as the eye could see. Gender, age and ethnicity be damned. The lure of the "uni" appeals to fans of all ages, sexes and sizes. Whether it should or not is a question best answered by someone who has greater patience for one's fellow bi-peds than yours truly.

Me? I am just quietly dreading the start of the NBA season. Based upon what I have seen thus far - it is not likely to be pretty.

-AK

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Week Away....

This time next week Sue's Crew will be assembled at Great Adventure for our maiden - and perhaps only - voyage as a 5K road race team. While running 3.1 miles before breakfast may not occcur to you - or right-minded people like you - as a sensible way to start a Sunday, I am really looking forward to it.

I am looking forward to it because it will be good to see (and in some cases meet) all of the other members of "the Crew" (Hey, am I allowed to say that? Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx are not going to show up at my house now and threaten to beat me up - or worse force me to listen to that crap they have sold as music for the past two decades). It will also be good to see all of the other members of all of the other teams (the Race's literature states that annually approximately 15,000 people participate) who are there right along with the Crew running. All of us running as fast as we can, hoping to stay a step ahead of the enemy. All of us looking forward to the day - hopefully within our own lifetime - when such an event is no longer needed for the race will have been run and the cure realized.

And all of us looking forward to spending a bit of time in the early Autumn chill of a central Levelland morning with countless thousands of other people assembled for a reason similar to our own: to honor at least one woman who has lost the battle against this insidious disease and to try and protect all of our lives's other women for whom the battle may be in the offing. The energy and enthusiasm of such a gathering is palpable. A number of those assembled next Sunday will come to the Race having spent at least one dark moment somewhere - weeping over horrible news of which either one they love or they themselves was the recipient and - as in the case of Margaret and Suzanne - the darkest of moments when one they loved completely died while in their presence. Whether it is in spite of or because of the history that brings us together, Sunday will be a bright moment for all present. All of the darkness will be denied admission to the park - even if for just one day.

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.

Roll tide.

-AK

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cheyenne on the Hudson

I have seen Bruce Springsteen in concert more times than I can count (well, I probably could count and while the figure is fairly high, I do not want my friend Lynne - should she happen to read this - to feel compelled to write in and taunt me because she has seen him four times as many times) and have had the pleasure on several occasions to be up close and personal in "The Pit" (thousands of people - most middle-aged, white folks - engage in a rugby scrum to fight for space in an area in front of the stage big enough for hundreds of people). If you have ever been at a Costco at opening time on a Sunday morning when one of the advertised specials is Metamucil, then you have experienced something akin to it.

I am looking forward to the next two weekends a great deal because there will be at least three more opportunities for me to take in Springsteen, up close and personal. And I am really, really looking forward to the fact that next Saturday Suzanne is making her maiden voyage with our tailgating crew to see the show and the Friday thereafter Rob will have reversed his Western migratory pattern temporarily to come home and take in the final show at Giants Stadium. I am a happy man indeed.

And last night I was a happy man as well. Margaret and I did something we never do - drove up and into Hoboken (where if you swing a stick you hit a Yuppie - trust me I did it three times last night just for fun......my court appearance is Thursday morning) to see James McMurtry play at Maxwell's. If you do not know his music, then do yourself a favor and get to know it. Disappointed you shall not be.

I do not pretend to know or understand how one survives financially playing the type of gig that we enjoyed last night - in a room that had maybe 100 to 150 people in it, all of whom paid but $15.00 for the pure, unadulterated joy of watching McMurtry perform. Margaret and I sat on what I can only fairly describe as a riser that was all of five feet from the stage. Talk about your unobstructed view.

There are a great many songs in McMurtry's catalog that I love and I would be hard-pressed to identify one as my favorite. Margaret has no such dilemma. Given where we are, given where he is and given how long it will be until he is not there, Margaret's favorite is "Lights of Cheyenne". She loves it, although it is admittedly a plaintive tale told by a narrator who admits - at song's end - that she "never much cared for the lights of Cheyenne". Margaret's attraction to the song is simple - it evokes a strong image of Rob in her mind's eye.

As a parent, the time eventually arrives at which you may not see see your child on a regular basis so when you come across something that enables him/her to appear vividly and starkly in your mind's eye, you grab onto it with both hands and hold on for all you are worth. Such it is with my wife, who cries just a little every time she hears the opening strains of the song. And such it was for her last evening when McMurtry reappeared on stage - alone and with his acoustic guitar - and played "Lights of Cheyenne" as his encore. When he finished and the applause had died down as he packed up his guitar, Margaret approached him and thanked him for both the show and for playing the song she had most wanted to hear. He shook her hand and thanked her for coming.

Parking in Hoboken for a visitor is a bit of an adventure. Last night, Margaret and I ended up in a garage about five blocks from Maxwell's - all the way down at the end of Washington. As walked up Washington Street after the show to retrieve our car, the skyline of Manhattan was illuminated against the dark September sky. And clear as crystal, across the waterline from where we were walking, there it was. Rob's home for four years before he took Horace Greeley's advice to heart.

And we both smiled and laughed a little at our recognition of the point of intersection between the past and the present. We raced the stars all of the way home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Wedding Toast

By day's end tomorrow, one of my favorite people on the planet ("Quick Tommy tell him what he's won!") will make the transition for being a solo act to one-half of a whole. Tomorrow, a man who it has been my pleasure and privilege to call my friend - and even more so to have him consider me to be his - for almost twenty-five years is getting married.

Alex and I had just about settled into Room 487 in Farrand Hall at CU-Boulder in late August '85 when the big, tall Nordic-looking dude who was moving in next door popped his head in to say hello. He told us his name was John and he was from Aspen, Colorado. For the next four years, the three of us - slowing long enough to pick up Jay and Loku along the way - were essentially inseparable. After living next to one another our first year, John and I remained hall mates at Farrand Hall our second year (me having picked up Jay as a roomie and Loku as my across-the-hall neighbor) when Alex moved off campus. When we were juniors the three of us shared a house at 943 Broadway with Jay and two other fellas. Finally as seniors John, Jay, Alex and I shared a dump of an apartment at 2228 Canyon Boulevard.

Through the entirety of our time at CU (or in my case the final 3 1/2 years as I spent the first semester of my first year doing anything but studying) we studied hard, worked hard and played even harder. Oh the stories we could tell. And but for my unfamiliarity with the State of Colorado's criminal code and its statutes of limitations for various and sundry infractions, I would. Suffice it to say that since as a group we worked hard to become fairly accomplished academically (all of us were Dean's List students and in the case of most of us it was because we really worked hard in challenging fields of study....and in my case it was because I majored in Political Science. Yep, my B.A. is in B.S. - feel free to feign surprise as you see fit) so when the opportunity presented itself to blow off steam we did - with a vengeance. No one got hurt (at least "permanently injured") in the process and years later the mere thought of some of the silliness in which we engaged never fails to make me smile, which is of course a good thing. The older we get, the more we need a reason to smile.

We were deprived our "big finish" at CU, not by academia or law enforcement but rather by a fairly gnarly fall John took while skiing what had been intended to be his final run of the day on the final ski day of the season in the Spring of '89. In my mind's eye it happened not much more than a month before our May 12th Graduation. The final time I saw him was not on campus or at graduation but rather in a hospital room in Boulder. We all said goodbye to the big guy there as his mom and dad prepared to transport him home to Aspen to repair his body and his soul. He, of course, graduated but he did so on a date and at a time separate and apart from Alex and me. Twenty plus years later I still feel the hole.

I have not seen John in the two decades since graduation but throughout the years we have kept in touch. He is still the same poster boy for outdoor living and athletic activities as a man of 43 that he was as a boy of 18. Far be it from me to tell the State Director of Tourism for the State of Colorado how to do his/her job but if he is not the flesh-and-blood cover of your media guide every year, I know not who is.

And tomorrow he is getting married. I have never met Maggie - his bride - but feel as if I have based upon the way in which he has described her. Tomorrow the two shall become one. My most sincere wish for them is that the journey they begin together always brings them more joy than they ever hoped for and never brings them more adversity than they can handle. Just two strangers 'neath the wedding garland, exploring the mystery, braving the danger and embracing the beauty of it all.

Here's to them.

-AK

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Night-Night for Ling-Ling?

Quick - shout out the name of a noted conservationist? Hell, any name you shouted out other than mine likely would have fooled me. I can scarcely name any noted conversationalists and I spend a lot more time in the world of conversation than I do in the world of conservation.

Imagine my surprise yesterday afternoon when I stumbled across the name Chris Packham. According to the story I saw on the MSNBC site (I sense Michael Steele is sending me my "we regret to inform you that we are excommunicating you from the GOP" e-mail upon reading that admission), Packham is the president of Britain's Bat Conservation Trust and vice-president of the Wildlife Trusts. I will confess that I was far more impressed by his C.V. when I initially misread what it is he is the president of as I thought it did indeed say "Bat Conversation" Trust and I was intrigued by how one gets them to speak and what it is they enjoying talking about. Rabies? Head rushes? How badly they have been screwed out of royalties due and owing to them by all who manufacture radar systems? Alas, when I realized he was in charge of a Trust dedicated to the conserving of bats and not talking to them, I was considerably less impressed.

Shame on me for Mr. Packham is apparently a big deal in the universe of do-gooders. He has a bit of an edge to him as well. In an interview with Britain's Radio Times Magazine, Packham - the conservationist - ordered up one of Governor Palin's "death squads" for pandas, worldwide, "We pour millions of pounds into panda conservation. I reckon we should pull the plug. Let them go, with a degree of dignity." My favorite quote from the piece is when he refers to panda bears as nature's dead end kids. "Here's a species that, of its own accord, has gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac. It's not a strong species. Unfortunately, pandas are big and cute and a symbol of the World Wildlife Fund." Packham bemoaned the panda bear as a "t-shirt animal". Now, while I have never seen a panda wearing any article of clothing, his point is well-taken.

In fairness to Mr. Packham, while he has been keelhauled globally for picking on the world's favorite, fuzzy black and white cookie with eyes, he did not only suggest that a basis exists for punching the panda's ticket to the last roundup, he expressed his disdain for cats, dogs and - egads - bipeds. According to Mr. Packham, when asked in the new issue of Radio Times which animal he wouldn't mind seeing made extinct, he said, "Human beings. No question. That's the only one." Presumably, Packham was exempting himself, his interviewer and whoever was paying him for making the appearance from his list.

Is he right about the panda? I have no idea. Among the almost limitless number of things about which I know nothing is the relative worth of the panda bear. Candidly, they have always appeared to me to be more at home at Lucasfilm than in Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. I cannot imagine a set of circumstances under which any self-respecting black bear, brown bear, grizzly bear or polar bear parent would allow his little cubette be squired around the forest, jungle or other natural-sounding habitat by a panda bear. Polar bears eat seals, beluga whales and other cool, heretofore 'live' things. According to the always-accurate folks at Wikipedia, "though belonging to the order Carnivora, the Giant Panda has a diet which is 99% bamboo. The Giant Panda may eat other foods such as honey, eggs, fish, yams, shrub leaves, oranges and bananas when available." From afar, Yogi and Boo-Boo appear to be a more accurate representation of a bear than does a panda.

Predictably, not everyone is in agreement with Packham - including some of his peers in the do-gooder community, proving once again perhaps that hell hath no fury like people responding to an attack on a cute, fuzzy species of animal. Even if - or perhaps especially if - the animal in question is - next to General Tao's chicken - America's favorite Chinese import. "It is a daft thing for Chris to say, and an irresponsible one," Mark Wright, a WWF conservation science advisor, told British media. "Pandas have adapted to where they live. They live in the mountains where there is plenty of the bamboo they want to eat. It's like saying the blue whale is in an evolutional cul-de-sac because it lives in the ocean."

And if the blue whale ever needs a water-resistant pullover to handle those inclement weather days on its cul-de-sac, I have a lead on one that comes in nine different colors, sizes "S" to "3XL". Call now. Operators are standing by.

-AK

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seconds Older Than

Professionally aught-nine has been an odd year for me. At year's beginning, chasing a feeling in my gut and in my head that I never could properly identify and am still unable to hang a name on, I pulled up stakes from the Firm that had been my home for eleven years.

I know not now - and candidly I knew not then - what motivated me to do it other than, perhaps, an impending sense of dread one associates with aging. I have practiced law for more than a decade and a half now and I think that in part I was driven by the need to prove to someone other than those who know me best that I am pretty damn good at what I do. It might have been fueled in part by my inability to come to grips with the fact that one of my two kids was being shipped two time zones away - and four decades backwards - and required to begin his career and the full-time adult portion of his life far away from home. It might have been simply a mid-life crisis. Whatever it was, it was a hellaciously bad decision.

Can one have a mid-life crisis in one's early forties? As a boy, I watched my old man drop dead when he was but 57. As a young man - before I met Margaret and went from being a solo act to one-quarter of the whole - I took little care of myself. I used to believe that I could drink my body weight in alcohol on a nightly basis and before you scoff at my bravado let me assure you that I conducted the field research necessary to prove my hypothesis. I never would have anticipated - at age 22 - that my breakfast at age 42 would consist of black coffee and a grapefruit.

Perhaps, if one does not reasonably anticipate when one is young that he shall live to be old, then "mid-life" can occur in the early forties. Presuming that is what it was, you might wonder why I did not live out my crisis is somewhat more typical fashion, such as shaving my head or buying a sports car. Trust me, if you know me and know the grandiosity of the size of the casaba melon atop my neck then the reason for not going the Kojak route is self-evident. As for the sports car, I simply could not part with my rockin' 2006 Toyota Corolla under any circumstances.

Yesterday was the 22nd of September. It marked four months to the day since I stopped "wintering at the Reservoir", which is how Theresa and I refer to the time I spent away from driving her nuts on a day in, day out basis. I have now been "home" (lap two) longer than I was away. It is incredible to me how quickly (work-wise) the past four months have passed particuarly when laid back-to-back and belly-to-belly with those that immediately preceded them. Einstein was on to something after all. Or so it appears.

And based upon nothing more comprehensive than my own life experience, I am no longer convinced that the prophet MacManus is right. Home is not simply anywhere you hang your head - or hang out your shingle. For while I was away from where I am now, I was most definitely not here. And I was most definitely not home.

Now I am.

-AK

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

May Mary's Dress Long Wave.....

As I was running this morning - making my 2.8 mile jaunt through the neighborhood - contemplating life, such as the fact that it looks more and more like a Yankee team that could win 100 games in the regular season is going to open the post-season in Anaheim as the wild-card entry, and the fact that my final 1/2 mile this morning was (according to the trusty TIMEX runner's watch Margaret bought me last year) so slow that while I have no recollection of having run it on my hands, if video showing that I did pops up on YouTube I shall not deny it - I remembered that tomorrow is Bruce Springsteen's 60th birthday.

I have been an enormous fan of Springsteen's music for the overwhelming majority of my life. An unfair advantage that one has as the caboose in a family of six siblings is the exposure you receive at an extraordinarily early age to a variety of things courtesy of your older brothers/sisters. Bill is the oldest of the six Kenny sibs and has a love and knowledge of music that - in my life experience - is unmatched. From time to time, he sends me compact discs of artists whose work he enjoys and who he thinks I might enjoy. On occasion, it is music from someone I know. More often than not, it is music from an artist whose name - and usually whose work - is wholly unfamiliar to me.

Springsteen has long been a staple of Bill's musical catalog. Thus, when I was but a wee lad, I enjoyed early exposure to Springsteen's music. I will be 43 in February (shop now - avoid the rush!) and his music has been the centerpiece of my own mental jukebox for more than thirty years. Among the many debts I owe my big brother, this ranks towards the top of the list.

Springsteen and the E Street Band (sorry - I cannot refer to them by the Jon Landau-created tag line "legendary" E Street Band - not because they are not exceptional but because it has a forced, mandatory feel akin to Joe DiMaggio not agreeing to make an appearance at a Major League baseball game unless he was introduced as "the greatest living ballplayer") are wrapping up the final leg of the Working on A Dream tour. They have been touring non-stop both throughout North America and Europe since February, ostensibly in support of their latest record (just for fun, click onto www.backstreets.com and check out the "Setlist" pages to see how many tracks from this CD ever get played in concert). Actually they have been on tour almost non-stop since the fall of 2008 when they barnstormed around North America and Europe in support of Magic.

The boys in the band (and the distaff side as well) are not as young as they used to be. On stage, other than when he is playing the saxophone Clarence "Big Man" Clemons sits in an enormous, over sized (and very comfy looking) chair. One wonders upon seeing it whether Raymour and Flanagan offered Springsteen's management team any $$$ for the chance to be a sponsor of this tour in exchange for Clarence's wonderful product placement. Springsteen will be sixty tomorrow and there are several of his mates - including Clarence - who are older than he is. Perhaps therefore it came as no surprise when Billboard reported several days ago that at tour's end (November 22 in Buffalo) the band shall be taking a hiatus. "We are gonna take, I don't know how long -- a year, year and a half, two years," guitarist Steven Van Zandt said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "Up to now we've been working a lot, and it's great."

Thus, the possibility exists that when the band shuffles off of the stage in Buffalo sixty days from now they might never be together again - at least as presently constructed. The news made me flash back not only to when I first started listening to their records (both on vinyl and cassette) but the first time I was lucky enough to score tickets to see them in concert. Coincidentally that was twenty-four years ago tomorrow - on Springsteen's 36th birthday - when they played one of the final shows of the Born in the USA tour in Denver Colorado. During that show a big birthday cake got wheeled out on stage and Bruce pleaded with Clarence for help in blowing out all of the candles because, he lamented, he was "too old" to do it on his own. He was not of course. And he still is not.

I will enjoy the shows that I am going to see within the next several weeks at Giants Stadium and will try not to keep one eye on the future relative to this musician and his supporting cast and their music that I love so much. Often during a concert I will stand or sit with my eyes closed and just listen to the music. And in my mind's eye, neither Springsteen, the E Streeters nor me has any gray in our hair or paunch in our midsection. We are young and ready to uncoil, to make our mark upon the world. And that image, both of them and of me, never fails to make me smile.

-AK

Monday, September 21, 2009

For Sal

Today is the final full day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The autumnal equinox is upon us. Autumnal equinox is - I must confess - one of my favorite turns of phrase. I just love the way it rolls off of the tongue. It would make a great thoroughbred racehorse name - or if that twit Gwyneth Paltrow and that wannabe rock and roller she's married to (it remains one of life's great mysteries to me how Coldplay has ever sold a record to anyone not related to a member of the band by blood or marriage) decide to renew their procreative activities, it is a name perhaps they would assign to their offspring. Regardless, it is a phrase that is not only cool-sounding but it is significant for it signals the official cessation of summer and reminds us that autumn is now much closer than around the corner.

The changing of seasons is an effective way in which to mark time. We have effective measurements for tracking time following the lines of seasonal demarcation on the calendar - although admittedly they seem to be far from perfect. Here, it gets damned cold weeks before the Winter Solstice marks winter's official arrival only a few days before Christmas. And the world shifts into "summer mode" at or about Memorial Day, which is several weeks prior to the Summer Solstice. Nevertheless, these little 90-day mini-years are an effective way to track time's passage.

And pass it does. I had forgotten, I am ashamed to say, until I saw something about it on the CU Athletic Department web site on Saturday that Wednesday of this week shall mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Sal Aunese.

Aunese was the starting quarterback on the football team during my final two seasons in Boulder. He was a fairly successful college player, leading the Buffs to 7-4 and 8-3 records in his two years as the starter. His time in Boulder was pockmarked. As a freshman he was what used to be called a "Prop 48" casualty, which meant that he did not qualify academically and was not permitted to play. Aunese was Samoan, a distinction lost on some liquored-up dorm dweller who when Aunese was a freshman leaned out of a dorm window late one night - saw Aunese and another Samoan player walking back to their dorm - and decided to hurl "the N word" at them. Sadly, the kid who shouted it had never learned the William Kenny, Sr. 1st Lesson of the Playground. Having written a check with his mouth that his hands could not cover, he suffered a fairly severe beating at the hands of the two extremely upset Samoans. Aunese and his teammate Oakland Salavea were both charged with assault.

By the fall of 1987, Aunese had become the starter on the football team - a position he held for that season and the 1988 season. He would have been the favorite, presumably, to start during the 1989 season (his senior year) although with the emergence of Darian Hagan, who quarterbacked the Buffs to back-to-back National Championship Game appearances following the '89 and '90 seasons, whether Aunese would have started as a senior is a forever to be left unanswered question. He never got the opportunity.

My roommate Alex and I had both stayed in Boulder during Spring Break '89, our senior year, because neither of us had enough money to make it home. Truth be told, neither of us had enough money to make it to Superior. It was while we were chilling in the quietest, emptiest college town in America that the story broke about Aunese and his cancer. The announcement that he had inoperable stomach cancer was made on March 20, 1989. He had apparently not been feeling well for a week or two and given his lethargy he was sent down to Denver to the CU Health Sciences Center for a check-up. If I remember correctly the doctor used either a softball or a grapefruit as his frame of reference describing the tumor's size. Aunese apparently had a tremendous pain threshold as he only complained of any discomfort shortly before the tumor was discovered.

Sal Aunese never played a down for the Buffs following the 1988 season. Given that it was to be my final Spring Game - and I suspected sadly that it would be his as well - I made a point of walking up the hill to Folsom Field in April 1989 to watch that year's contest. Aunese did not play of course. His teammates though gathered around him at game's end and presented him with a gift. They gave him one of the big over sized chairs that the coaches used for meetings and to watch film. When they lifted him up in it over their shoulders and carried him around the field, I do not think there was a dry eye in the joint.

During the four years I was at CU, I encountered Aunese only one time. I worked at Abo's on the Hill, a by-the-slice take-out pizza joint that catered to the bar crowd by staying open until 2:00a.m. or slightly thereafter on Friday nights and Saturday nights. In 1988, the Buffs started the season 4-0 and on an absolutely gorgeous early October Saturday played host to Barry Sanders and the OSU Cowboys. OSU simply crushed us by - if memory serves - at least three touchdowns. Neither Aunese nor anyone on the offense played particularly well in defeat.

I worked at Abo's that night. And shortly after we had thrown out whatever food we had not sold and had finished cleaning the place up, I heard a tap on the back door. There, standing by himself in the alley was Aunese. I opened the door and when he asked if we had any pizza left I told him we did not. He shook his head side-to-side and said, "Story of the day for me. My timing has been off all day." I remember saying to him to cheer up and hang in there for there was always another Saturday. He smiled weakly, thanked me and walked on up the alley.

Had I known how precious few Saturdays he had left I might have tried to rustle him up some food. But he was young and strong and talented and I thought he had a lifetime of game days ahead of him. It turned out that from that night forward he had only six.

Sal Aunese was not a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination or unit of measurement. This year his son T.C. McCartney is on the roster at LSU. T.C.'s mom is Kristy McCartney, who was a CU student and was the daughter of Aunese's head coach, Bill McCartney. T.C. was born into scandal he did not ask for, being the out-of-wedlock son of the coach's daughter and the starting quarterback. And he did not ask for the added burden of losing his father only five months after he was born. Yet, by all accounts he has - to date - more than weathered the storm.

Twenty years ago this Wednesday Sal Aunese died. He was a flawed man, although whether he was more so or less so than me I know not. I know that for all of his flaws and for all of his warts, he was loved by the folks who knew him the best. Twenty-one is too damned young to die. But die he did although he did not go gentle into that good night.

-AK

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Staying a Step Ahead of the Coyote

Sue's Crew is but two weeks away from our maiden voyage. Today is the penultimate Sunday of September and on the first Sunday of October we shall gather with thousands of people we do not know (Hell - I do not know half of the people on our team) and run a bit. The race was originally scheduled for 7:00 a.m. but the start time has been pushed backed to 8:00 a.m., which I am happy about for at least two reasons. First, we will spend the night before the race standing on the field at Giants Stadium for three-plus hours watching Springsteen and the ESB so the idea of running at 0800 as opposed to 0700 is OK by me. Second, Jackson New Jersey is not exactly right around the corner from our house (a fact that has never, ever made me unhappy - not even a little) and it will probably take at least an hour to get there from here. As someone whose day starts at the crack of 3:00 a.m. every day, getting up and out to be there by 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday is no big deal. However, I shall be traveling with Margaret and Suzanne who more closely resemble Thelma and Louise than sunshine and happiness in morning's wee small hours.

This morning I ran my first 2.8 mile session, which is the distance at which I will run all this week, in my continuing efforts to avoid abject humiliation fourteen days from now. I suspect that I shall be just fine. While it was for me - as it always is - physically taxing to run (I suppose that is - in part - the point) it is incredibly peaceful to run early in the morning. Even on - or perhaps especially on - a Sunday morning in the hours before dawn there is little activity on the streets here NTSG. I pass through neighborhoods including my own that are left undisturbed by my presence. I do not listen to music while I run. I may very well be the only adult in the English-speaking world who does not own a mp3 player, whether an Ipod or some other manufacturer's model. I like to think when I run (one could argue - presuming I am in fact thinking while I am running - that the time spent running is the only time all day when I do any thinking at all) about any one of a million different things. Music piping into my ears at close range would only interfere with my ability to think. Trust me, I am easily distracted.

A benefit of living in suburbia is that in the pre-dawn hours of the early, early mornings our little town gives off the aroma of a place at peace. Whether peace exists within the four walls of all of the homes I run past, within only some of them or within none of them at all, the outward appearance that all present is one of peace. I have settled upon a route that allows me to run from my home to Victor Crowell Park where several years ago the Boro Council erected a 9/11 Memorial. Our little town lost one of our own on that horrible morning eight Septembers ago. I did not know Tom Gorman. I know from what I have learned of him since his death that he was a police officer who worked for the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, a husband and a father. The Memorial at the park is a sad reminder of his death but it is also a wonderful reminder of the life he lived and of the lives but also a wonderful reminder of his life. It is illuminated all night so when I run past it at slightly past 3:00 a.m. it is set off majestically from all that surrounds it. It is beautiful, albeit in a haunting kind of way. I run past it and never fail to think of two things: how beautiful it is and how much I wish there was no need for its existence.

My route around town allows me to run past Joe's house (my father-in-law is (like me) eleven different kinds of crazy but not even he is crazy enough to be awake and about at 3:00 a.m.), past the homes of a couple of friends, past the boyhood home of one of Rob's comrades who is presently plying his trade in the home of the high life and finally past the home of the guy up the block who drives a truck that is a doppelganger for Rob's. It may very well be the best finishing landmark in the history of road running.

I wonder if I can persuade him to drive it to Jackson New Jersey a couple of Sundays from now? It has a big long bed, which if things do not go according to Hoyle, Margaret and Suzanne can use to transport me home.

-AK

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cubic Zirconia and Diamond Dust

At the point of intersection on the horizon line between our hopes and our fears lies real life. The day-to-day grind that reminds us that the objects seen in the rear view mirror of our mind's eye are sometimes much closer than they appear. And that, also, they can be significantly farther away as well.

This is indeed the final weekend of the final summer of the Aught decade - the first decade of our newest century. How's it treating you so far? Here in the State of Jersey Gardens and too many other shopping malls to count or even accurately estimate it was as if Mother Nature did not bother to turn her sprinklers off until some point in July. It was so wet and so lousy here through the month of June it seemed at times as if moss was going to be named the official State flower. I play softball every summer in the Essex County Lawyer's League. Our regular season began this year in early May. Between May 13 and July 6 our team played but one game. We had seven rained out during that sixty-day (give or take a week) stretch.

In the dying breaths of summer - from late August on - the weather improved quite a bit. Of course, in our zeal to prove that we are "way" smarter than our parents (a hypothesis that could be defeated solely by pointing to the explosion of "way" as an adjective and adverb in our parlance) we have determined that it is never too early for a first grader to study the Romance languages and Advanced Placement U.S. History so we moved up the starting date of the 09-10 school year in a significant number of districts across the country from September into August. It is as if we have adopted the mantra about misery and the pleasure it derives from company on a national scale and decided to subject our children to attending our pity party.

Here in September as brains (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) have baked under the hot late summer sun, asininity has been on display for all to see. I find it a bit convenient that we, a society, have decided that every time a white person behaves in an ignorant and obnoxious fashion and that behavior is directed at least in part towards someone other than another white person and every time an African American person behaves in a similarly ignorant and obnoxious fashion and his behavior is directed at least in part towards someone other than another African American person that the actor is a racist.

Perhaps in our instant everything, I want it only if it comes an app on my I-Phone world it is indeed better to be fast than accurate. I am not ruling out the possibility that Joe Wilson and Kanye West really are twin sons of different mothers and each is a cold-blooded, unapologetic racist. However, given that the a##hole has been a part of the human gene pool since time immemorial I would be willing to wager that race has scant little to do with it. Rather, both in the case of both yet another fine, upstanding public servant that South Carolina has foisted upon us (it is starting to get easier to see why Strom Thurmond got re-elected to the Senate from there 8 dozen times - including once after he was dead) and yet another musician/performer whose talent and sense of self-importance are not anywhere in proportion to one another, do not allow their skin pigmentation to fool you: they are indeed both cut from the cloth of the A-Hole. And no, in case you were wondering the fact that the doddering old idiot who spent four years too many as President of the United States thirty-five years ago declared at least one of them to be a racist carries no weight with me whatsoever. I think, however, that President Obama's assessment was spot-on. And I think -although the President would not say so himself - it applies with equal force and effect to each of them.

We put on hold now for nine months or so the search for the endless summer. This year, it seems as if we fell a bit shorter in the pursuit than usual. Perhaps we learned a thing or two along the way. I am not sure I know. Then again, I have not always had a firm grasp of what passes for knowledge these days. Do you?

-AK

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Tribe is Silent

For reasons that I have never quite understood, Margaret and I have enjoyed quite a bit and been faithful viewers of Survivor since its very first season. There have been too many reality shows (or unscripted dramas as they are somewhat euphemistically called) to count that have dotted (some might say littered) the TV landscape over the course of the past ten years. I can say that there is not another that we have watched. Yet for whatever reason, we started watching Survivor way back when Richard Hatch was just another overweight gay man and not a millionaire tax cheat. And dutifully, each and every season since then, we have watched.

Admittedly, somewhere along the line our level of interest in the ins and outs of the show waned. Having watched last season from Episode One through to the live reunion show I could not tell you (a) the name of the winner; (b) the gender of the winner; or (c) the locale at which the contestants spent their month-plus away from home. Yet I continued to enjoy watching the show every Thursday night.

Survivor started its run prior to Suzy B.'s commencement of her battle against breast cancer. And prior to getting sick she would join Margaret and me every week to watch it. Such is the benefit of living a half-mile from one's in-laws. From the time she first was diagnosed in 2004, the weekly ritual of watching the show together took on additional significance. For the first few years, she drove over every Thursday night to watch with us. And the three of us - like dorks - not only watched together but we rooted along together and critiqued the combatants' performance. And it was great.

As her battle against cancer became more pitched and radiation therapy and chemotherapy started to exact their own terrible toll, it became too much for her to drive at night. Margaret would go over to her home and pick her up so she could come over and watch with us. At show's end, Margaret would take her home. By that point in time as she started to deal with the residual effects of her treatment she would wear bandannas (her "turbans"). Among her favorites were the Survivor bandannas that Margaret and I bought for her at the CBS on-line store. It became a Thursday night ritual that upon arriving at our house to watch the show she would take off her hat to reveal her festive head covering.

For the past three or four seasons of Survivor, Suzy B was not well enough to make the trip at all. Instead, she watched from the comfort of her own bed. While she was not here with us, she and Margaret would call one another during each commercial break to talk about what had happened and what they thought was going to happen. At the break before the evening's Tribal Council one would call the other so they could handicap who was on the chopping block.

But last night, for the first time in a decade's worth of Thursday nights, Margaret opted out of Survivor. One night last week - seeing a promotion for it for the first time - she told me that she no longer wanted to watch it. It turns out that it was not simply a TV show after all. It was something much more for Margaret. It was something she loved in large part because even as cancer attacked her mom and limited their ability to continue to do together so many of the things that they enjoyed, they still were able to enjoy a 60-minute respite from it - a cease-fire if you will - every week.

I think that for present purposes it is simply too painful for Margaret to watch. Better to not do so than to try to figure out what to do to fill the time during the commercials, unable to talk to the one person with whom she would most like to speak.

The torch is out. The flame extinguished - yet the fire unforgettable.

-AK

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Was That A Wink Of That Young Girl's Eye?

From the moment that I bumped into Maureen McGovern traipsing around the lido deck last April I knew that eventually we would end up here. Regardless of the route we travel, we inevitably end up in the same place every year. It is fitting perhaps that on the final Wednesday evening of the final Summer of the decade of Aught, our ragtag little softball team saw our season come to an end in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

There were moments over the course of the past several months when it seemed to me as if the season was endless. Yet, once the final out was recorded last night and we were lining up for the post-game handshake with the team that vanquished us (a firm by the way that has more lawyers named "David" than we do players on our roster) it seemed as if it had passed by in no time at all. As my teammates were all gathering up their belongings and we were considering where to go to observe and honor the passing of another season into posterity, I spent a moment or two sitting on the bleachers, alone, thinking about things.

It occurred to me that in the rather brief amount of time that comprises a season, I had seen and/or gone through quite a bit in the adult side of my life. I had changed jobs (escaping a self-created and self-imposed sentence in Hell for the sanctity and peace of something familiar and significantly better), I had fairly severely screwed up my lower back (spending about six weeks walking around doing my impersonation of Frank Gorshin's arch-villain costume) and saddest and most significant of all I had watched my wife, her dad and her big brother bury her mom.

We started in May and we finished in September. In between quite a bit happened. I spent a lot of time this year wondering if I would have any interest in playing next year. Once upon a time, I was a pretty fair softball player but this year I was the opposition's best friend. For the latter half of the season I was so unproductive at the plate that my Delta Tau Delta name was "Where Rallies Go To Die" (try fitting that on a pledge pin). It was a nice change of pace last night to get a couple of hits. It would have been nicer had we been on the heavy side of the 8-5 final score but life being the original unscripted drama it was not to be.

Last night we gathered one final time at the Star Tavern to talk about what was and what might have been but, more importantly, to share some food, some adult beverages and a lot of laughs about a lot of things - including softball. I realized driving home last night that as long as Advil dulls the pains in my joints and my back sufficiently to enable me to play and as long as Diego and Dave keep telling me when and where we play each season, I will continue to participate. The older we get, the less time it seems that life allots us for pure, unadulterated fun. When we find something that provides it to us, we should tie a knot in the end of the line and hold on with both hands for all we are worth to it.

It's not about trying to recapture a little of the old glory. It's about trying to hold on just a bit longer to that which makes us happy and that which brings us peace - even if for just a little while.

-AK

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When Everybody Was Wrecked on Main Street

I had almost forgotten about it until I saw the stories in the newspapers this past Sunday: Floyd. It was in fact a decade ago, during this very week in September when a great deal of water snuck NTSG and damn near destroyed our home, Margaret, the kids and me.

In the middle of September '99 Hurricane Floyd barreled up the Eastern seaboard and beat the living hell out of Central New Jersey. At the time we lived on 3rd Street - across Route 28 from the high school. I did not know when we moved there several years earlier that we lived on the "low side" of town - although my eyes were opened more than a bit when our mortgage company required us to purchase flood insurance. While I do not remember the day it hit specifically, I believe that Floyd first began exacting a toll on the good folks of Middlesex, Manville and Bound Brook (each of which was ravaged on a scale that thankfully we were spared) on Thursday, September 16. And once it set up shop in our neck of the woods, it remained there, destroying property and taking several lives.

Fire is visually more spectacular than flood water but, candidly, having lived through the latter I think I would rather have to tangle with the former. At least it can be seen and heard. Flood water is relentless. And it is silent. You can - as flood waters rise around you - watch the water level rise while being completely disarmed by the amount of sound that accompanies it. Often it takes on a Chaplinesque quality - as if you watching a silent movie. It is the silence that might in fact be its most sinister quality. One reasonably expects something that moves that quickly, that relentlessly and with that level of murderous efficiency to make a little noise. One is inevitably surprised and disappointed.

And almost worse than its greeting is its good-bye. The water that occupied every square inch of our little ranch house on a slab from the crawlspace beneath it to three and one-half feet up the walls inside of it left behind mud, sludge, waste and worse. I do not know how long it took us to get our home clean. I know that our effort was aided in large part by the fact that Floyd's damage to our home was so severe that we essentially had all of the floors torn up and had the home rebuilt from the floors up - to a spot about four feet high throughout the entire home. By removing that which had been there before - and had been rendered useless by the flood waters - we in an odd way had a leg up on a number of our neighbors. We simply ripped out that which was there and started over.

It has indeed been ten years and while those few days rival the longest of my life, not all of my memories associated with Floyd are negative ones. On the "night after", Rob and I were working side-by-side in our living room on what can only be described as an "Idiot Project". When I was young my father used to believe a great deal in his children working for the sake of working, which meant we spent long hours every summer performing silly tasks. Kara, Jill and I took to calling them "Idiot Projects" - an homage both to the visionary who created them and the worker bees who performed them.

Well, less than twenty-four hours after water had invaded what used to be our home, I have my then-thirteen year-old son working with me in our living room, using a couple of wet/dry vacs to suck up the water from the carpet. Set aside for a second the fact that while the flood waters had vacated our living space, the crawl space was packed to its tip-top with water. The water was still in the street - up to my waist - and yet there we were, wasting energy (both electrical and kinetic) on a fool's errand.

In the middle of this insanity, Rob asked me to shut off my vacuum. Over the roar of both of our engines, he heard a most welcome sound - the sound of our tomcat, Milo. When we had bugged out of the home twenty-four hours earlier Milo had been nowhere to be found. I feared that he had drowned. He did not. Once Rob heard him meow, he grabbed a flashlight and started aiming it towards the sound. Ultimately he found Milo on the front steps of the house....directly across the street from ours. Milo sat there making noise in the flashlight's glow as I made the slow journey across scank water to get him.

I know how deep the water was because I was in it, up to my waist, carrying a large, fully clawed and completely terrified cat back across a street that was likely not more than 35 feet wide but felt as if it was at least a mile. The smile on Rob's face - and those that matched it on Suzanne's and Margaret's - when Milo jumped down out of my arms and into our squishy living room - was enough to offset the feeling of lightheadedness brought about by the blood loss I suffered when he disengaged his claws from my chest. I still do not know how that old son of a gun survived but he did then....and he does still, having just peeled year #17 off of the calendar.

My other most fond memory of Floyd is the way in which my kids and my wife were absolute warriors through the whole thing. For months after the waters receded, we lived like refugees in our own home. Suz's dresser was in the kitchen, Rob's was in the dining room and their personal belongings - including all of the stuff they needed for school - was scattered and crammed and jammed and stowed wherever we could put it. We lived in, essentially, an active construction site for quite a bit of time after the flood. But it became a point of honor for us: we were not giving up our home. It was not much - but it was what the four of us had. And we fought like hell to hang onto it. And we did.

.......and the following Spring, Margaret declared that she had had enough. We slapped a "For Sale"sign on it, packed up and moved away.......all the way over to the "high" side of town. Still 'neath the snow globe (as if we could ever leave) but on the uphill side - away from the water.

Still thinking about all we lost - and found - in the flood.

-AK

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Token of Appreciation

I am in my early 40's, which means that while I have enjoyed the recent spate of success that the Yankees have had (does 4 World Series Championships and 6 AL Pennants in the past fourteen years qualify as a "spate"?), this latest incarnation of the Yankees - including Torre's Terrors who captured back-to-back-to-back titles from '98 to '00 to accompany the Cinderella crown they won in '96 is not the incarnation of the team with which I grew up.

I came into my ascendancy as a young baseball fan just as the mid-to-late '70's Yankee juggernaut was breaking down. While I followed baseball as a small boy, it is hard to adopt a team as your own when its first signature moment - the walk-off home run Chris Chambliss hit to win the AL Pennant over the Kansas City Royals in 1976 - occurs after your bedtime. I was only twelve years old when Thurman Munson died in August of 1979. By the time I was developing my chops as a baseball fan, the gutty, gritty Yankees of the '70's had ceded the field at Yankee Stadium to the beefy, beer-gutted Yankees of the mid-to-late '80's, whose lineup featured hitters who could score 12 runs a game and a pitching staff that could surrender 13. As I made my way through high school and college I learned what it meant to root for a "second division" ball club. From 1982 until 1995 there was not a single post-season game played in professional baseball that featured the Yankees among its combatants.

In the not-so-great days of the mid-80's through the mid-90's, the face of the franchise for the Yankees was Don Mattingly. "Donnie Baseball" retired in 1995, after losing an epic first-round playoff series to the Seattle Mariners. Sadly, 1995 not only represented Mattingly's final post-season appearance - it marked his only one. Mattingly's fourteen year Major League career - spent entirely in pinstripes - coincided with the franchise's down cycle. He arrived in 1982, a year after the Yankees lost to the Dodgers 4-2 in the World Series, and retired in 1995 - a year before Joe Torre arrived. For better or for worse though Donnie Baseball was the centerpiece of "my" Yankee teams as a kid growing up. He was, likewise, for those fans of my age and ilk (early to mid '40's).

1996 heralded not only the arrival of Joe Torre but of the player who has been the franchise's standard bearer ever since. Regardless of how much money is shelled out to buy the affections of CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and AJ ("Is it bad when the thing I throw the best is a shaving cream pie?") Burnett, it is Derek Jeter who stands alone occupying the space once occupied by Mattingly. He is not simply the Captain of the team, he is the face of the Yankees.

In case you had not heard, Jeter has had a pretty big last few days on the field. On Friday night he became the all-time leading hitter for the Yankees, passing the career record that had been held for more than seventy years by Lou Gehrig. Sunday both the New York Post and the New York Daily News had special commemorative sections honoring Jeter's accomplishment and his career to date. And yesterday, being a dork down to the core of my soul, I did a very dorky thing. Having purchased both newspapers on Sunday, I mailed the two commemorative sections to Rob. I justified the decision in large part to the fact that he is 2000 miles away from home and one cannot rely upon the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle for comprehensive coverage of all things Yankee-related.

The real reason for doing it though had less to do with where Rob is now than where he was way back when in 1996. Rob's first trip to Yankee Stadium was in September of that year. We took the ferry from Port Imperial Terminal in Weehawkin with a few of my friends - including Dave and Diego - to watch the Yankees play the Red Sox on Fan Appreciation Day. It was a gorgeous late summer Saturday afternoon and we sat upstairs along the first-base line about 3/4 of the way down the line towards the right field corner and spent twelve or thirteen innings appreciating one hell of a baseball game. Finally, in the bottom of whatever inning it was (I think it was the 12th) Jeter drove in the winning run. In a scene that has been repeated in Yankee Stadium a number of times in the years since, Jeter was engulfed by his teammates in an immediate on-the-field celebration.

Sunday, reading the Post and the Daily News I was reminded just how far Jeter has come in the years since. He has come - at least 2700 hits or so from where he was that afternoon. And that in turn made me think of Rob. I thought of where I was and who I was with when I saw Jeter do something great for the first time. And I thought of where he was now and how much he has done since he was just a boy of ten taking in his first game at the Stadium. And I thought of the incredibly lame keepsake I made for him to commemorate his first game by. I clipped a photo of Jeter, part of the game story and the box score out of the Sunday Star-Ledger the following day and put all of it, along with his ticket stub, under the glass of a 8" x 10" picture frame I purchased at Drug Fair or some such place for (I am sure) not more than $10.00. It hung on the wall of his room for years - even as he outgrew it - as he left it there I think as much (if not more) out of respect and affection for me than out of any genuine interest in it.

So, having purchased the papers on Sunday that contained the commemorative sections, on Monday morning I folded the sections neatly and tucked them inside of a manila folder, which I then placed inside of an over sized envelope and mailed to Rob in Cheyenne. Jeter's photo is on the cover of both papers' special sections and he no longer looks like the boy of twenty-two he was all those Septembers ago. There is evidence of age, care and life experience etched into his face. And he wears it well.

Rob is no longer a little boy of ten, holding his father's hand and watching in amazement as a homeless man sitting outside of Yankee Stadium - begging for money for food - turned down the free, fresh bagels offered to him by members of our group as he walked to the Stadium from the Ferry. He has come a long way since then - both metaphorically and geographically. And he too wears it well.

Nevertheless - or maybe simply because - of that fact, I felt a need to get those silly tribute sections to him and to do so as soon as possible. Not because the old man fears that his son remembers not from whence he has come but because the old man enjoys the memory of that place and is happy that he not only had the chance to experience it with his son but that he has it to come back to and to visit time and again.

-AK

Monday, September 14, 2009

And To All, A Good Knight

Irvington New Jersey is a tough town. Actually, grading on the curve of toughness - it is a really, really tough town. How tough is it? Well, tough enough that although Irvington has its own fully-manned, damned earnest police department it is one of the urban areas in New Jersey where the locals invited the State Police in so that they could assist with patrols and the general fighting of crime. You could pick up the newspaper daily for a year - watch the late local news faithfully every night for that period of time as well - and come away feeling almost overwhelmed by the number of stories involving Irvington that involve one unspeakable crime or another. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Rate database for 2004, Irvington has a violent crime rate of 2373 incidents per 100,000 people. This compares with a rate of 391 in New Jersey and a rate of 596 nationally. Irvington was also reported - in that same FBI database - as being in the 100th percentile in New Jersey for violent crime, which means of course that 100% of cities in New Jersey have crime rates equal to or lower than Irvington, or said another way, 0% of cities in New Jersey have crime rates higher than Irvington.

In spite of its well-earned reputation as a place where hope goes to die (and takes a number to line up behind everyone and everything else that is already queued up waiting in the same line), not all is lost in Irvington. This weekend, as schools around the State of Jersey Gardens (and too many other shopping plazas to count), celebrated the first weekend of high school football season, the Star-Ledger ran a story on the young man, Nijee Leverett, who is the quarterback for the Irvington High School football team.

Leverett is - according to the story - one hell of a fine football player. As a freshman he stepped into the breach when the team's starting quarterback was injured and performed so well that the coach looked forward to the happy dilemma he would face in Leverett's sophomore season of how to get both kids on the field. A dilemma that never arose because in March 2008 - at age 14 and smack dab in the middle of his freshman year of high school, Nijee Leverett was diagnosed with testicular cancer. While undergoing the second of two surgeries, he died. For three to five minutes he flat-lined.

It is an absurd understatement to say that Nijee Leverett has come one hell of a distance from that March day eighteen months ago. On Saturday, Irvington had a disappointing beginning to its season on the field - losing at Pope John XXIII in Sparta XIX to VI (sorry, I so love the Roman numerals). But you will have to forgive Irvington's coach, players and parents if they did not view the day as a disappointment. They were all a bit too busy celebrating the return of their quarterback. Nijee Leverett was back under center and calling signals for the Knights eighteen months after....well, after he was dead for three to five minutes.

A lot of news comes out of Irvington New Jersey and the overwhelming majority of it is bad. Not all of it though. Not by a long shot.

-AK

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Trip to That Place

Three weeks from today "Sue's Crew" shall gather in Jackson, New Jersey to participate in this year's edition of the "Race for the Cure". My actual semblance of a plan training technique had this past week as a series of two-mile runs. I read somewhere about a month ago (might have been in MAD Magazine for all I know) that one way to prepare for an event such as this is to gradually work one's way up to the race distance. This week (starting tomorrow) I shall run a 2.5 mile loop, which I shall tweak up the week after to one of roughly 2.8 miles. The plan is that by the time I hit the pavement (hoping that it is my feet and not my face that develop the intimate relationship with the macadam) three Sundays from this one that I will be running my fourth 5K of the week (albeit with more people around and better lighting conditions than I usually enjoy at 3:00 a.m.)

I must confess that from the moment Suz and Megan took charge of this idea, the impact on Margaret, Joe and Frank of what we are doing never entered my mind. I mean - it is a good thing, right?

Clearly it is but it is also not a good thing to which no strings are attached. A something of which I have started to be reminded of vividly the past few days. Suzy B's birthday is September 14th (a/k/a "tomorrow") and tomorrow is - of course - the first birthday of hers to occur since she died in early June. I know that while Margaret is notoriously poor at recalling exactly when I was born (her favorite line being, "It's February something.....You and that ground hog, right?") her Mom's birthday is branded onto her memory. If Margaret lives to be three times as old as she is now, she will never not know when her mom's birthday was - and she will never fail to do something to honor it and to observe it.

I had forgotten I suppose that regardless of who you are and where you live your life, upon your death everyone who loved you and a lot of those who simply knew you claims a little bit of you for themselves. There is no nefarious intent. In fact, just the opposite. It is the practical application of the old adage regarding strength in numbers.

Yet no matter how troops you amass at the border to defend against the onslaught of grief's invaders, each of us is an army of one. In the past few days Margaret has received a couple of birthday cards from long-time friends of her mom and dad. In the cards the sender has reminded Margaret of things for which she needs no reminding; namely that tomorrow is her mom's birthday and that everyone loved Suzy B very much. And I have watched my wife read these cards, put on her brave face and then about halfway through reading whatever beautiful remarks have been written by the sender (and the ones she has received thus far have been heartbreakingly tender) start to cry.

There is a consequence - or at the very least a reaction - for each and every action we undertake. Even the good ones. Perhaps even especially the good ones. It does not mean we should stop engaging in them but rather that we should be mindful of the impact of them, both intended and unintended.

-AK

Saturday, September 12, 2009

From Japanese Guitars to American Choppers

Distance is often a state of mind. You are as far from or as close to home or another preferred destination as you believe yourself to be.

This week the distance between us seemed extraordinarily and remarkably short. Given that Rob is so far away geographically that is not always so. But this week the fates conspired to conjure up a little magic and make him seem much closer than Margaret and I know he is.

And in my role as little more than the conduit through which the signal was triangulated so that the lines of communication were open and static-free, I marveled anew at the incredible strength of my wife and the amazing growth of my son. How long ago was it that he was a boy? It seems at times both yesterday and about a million years ago. And it never ceases to amaze me how resilient he is - occasionally knocked a step or two back but never down and never unwilling or unafraid to keep on his intended path. He is every bit of his mother's son.

If he could have a better example to follow than her, it eludes me presently. The seemingly seamless manner in which she not only keeps her idiot husband from doing really, really stupid and injurious things to myself while being there as Suzanne's confidante and sounding board, Joe's guardian angel and Rob's protector would seem to require significantly more surface area than that which is found in a little wisp of a human being who has spent her life staring up at the cowboy's arm at every amusement park she has ever visited.

Son and mother. Mother and son. Standing together (although 2000 miles apart) and taking on whatever challenges confront them. Same as it ever was.

And it is my wish and my expectation that it remains just this way for the the entirety of their lifetime together. I am feeling pretty confident about my chances.

-AK

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years in the Garden of One Thousand Sighs

Eight years ago this morning, in a year when the 11th of September fell on a Tuesday and not a Friday, everything changed. For those of us such as me, fortunate enough to have not lost either a family member or a close friend in the terror attacks upon our country, the events of that morning represented a defining moment. And if you are like me and not old enough to have borne witness to the events immortalized forever on the calendar spots assigned to the 7th of December and the 22nd of November, then you acquired your very own day of infamy. And it is horrible. And it is historical. But if you are like me, then it is not personal.

It is not personal for me - and for you if you are like me - because the searing pain felt by the families of the 343 members of the FDNY, the families of the 72 police officers and the families of all of those killed inside of the Twin Towers, inside of one of the four hijacked planes and at the Pentagon belongs to them. They mourn today what they have mourned every day for the past eight years - the death of a loved one. It is a loss that, unfortunately, trumps and shall continue to trump the loss of an ideal or the loss of innocence common to all of the rest of us.

There will be moments of silence observed today for those who were murdered on September 11, 2001 and perhaps after those moments pass or, maybe, perhaps not until the dawn breaks tomorrow, all of us will remember where we were, who we were with and what we were doing on that most horrible of mornings. And we will think of those who were killed and those who they left behind to carry on without them and then we will be permitted to carry on with the rest of our day.

For all of those for whom the loss was not national, but personal and for whom the attack occurred not within our nation's borders but within the four walls of a home, today is the starkest annual reminder of what they have lost in a calendar cluttered with them in the form of a birthday,an anniversary, a graduation, a bar mitzvah, a baptism, a wedding and events and occasions of all shapes and sizes. All they lost was all that they had.

I likely mentioned this here - in this very space - last year but the single most beautiful piece of music that I have heard, which the events of that ugly morning eight years ago inspired, is "If This Is Goodbye". It is a piece that Mark Knopfler wrote after seeing the TV news reports and reading the newspaper accounts of those people trapped in the Twin Towers taking the time in the final moments of their lives to call their spouses, parents, siblings and children to tell them they loved them one final time. And to tell them goodbye.

My famous last words
Are laying around in tatters
Sounding absurd
Whatever I try
But I love you
And that's all that really matters
If this is goodbye
If this is goodbye

Your bright shining sun
Would light up the way before me
You were the one
Made me feel I could fly
And I love you
Whatever is waiting for me
If this is goodbye
If this is goodbye
Who knows how long we've got
Or what were made out of
Who knows if there's a plan or not
There is our love
I know there is our love
My famous last words
Could never tell the story
Spinning unheard
In the dark of the sky
But I love you
And this is our glory
If this is goodbye
-AK

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Man & A Horse

On Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles Derek Jeter will - 'neath the lights of Yankee Stadium and the loving gaze of his family and Lyla Garrity herself - attempt to establish a new franchise record for hits in a career. Jeter went to bed on Wednesday night in some pretty good company - in a flat-footed tie with Lou Gehrig at 2,721. Having opened the Tampa Bay series with an 0-12 over the first three games, Jeter had three hits last evening. And when he knocked his third hit of the night and stood atop the bag at first base, he was bathed in a sea of applause.

It seems to me that it is appropriate that Jeter's first attempt at breaking the tie with Gehrig and moving alone to the top of the Yankees all-time hit list shall occur not only at Yankee Stadium but shall occur on the 8th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Yankees became forever intertwined with 09/11 during their magical post-season run in 2001, elevating the City and all of us in the Tri-State Area with their play, from "The Flip" play Jeter made in Game 3 in Oakland in the ALDS (with the Yankees down 2-0 in the best 3 out of 5 series), to their back-to-back-to-back wins in Games 3 through 5 of the World Series against the D'Backs, which series they ultimately lost in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7.

New York City was reeling in the autumn of Aught-One and for just a little while anyway the Yankees helped inject some good vibes into what was an otherwise somber melody. That they ultimately fell short of their goal of winning their fourth consecutive World Series title on that early November evening in Arizona mattered little. It was the journey that mattered.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001 all Major League Baseball teams incorporated the playing and/or singing of "God Bless America" into their stadium's "7th Inning Stretch". Sadly, like many a pseudo-tradition - incorporated in large part to chase good P.R. - most teams ceased doing it when the '01 season ended. The Yankees have not. During the 7th inning stretch of every Yankees home game since the very first one they played following the attacks of September 11th, God Bless America has been either sung live or played (Kate Smith's rendition) over the Stadium's P.A. system.

It shall be played during the 7th inning stretch on Friday night as well - honoring as it always does all of those who were murdered eight years ago tomorrow and all of those who have served this nation on battlefields around the world since. On the first anniversary of the attacks the Yankees played a home game - coincidentally also against the Orioles - that Rob and I attended. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang his rendition of God Bless America that evening during the 7th inning stretch and while neither Rob nor I shall be there tomorrow night, Mr. Tynan shall be.

And Derek Jeter shall be as well. Under the lights of a Friday Night.

-AK

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ring, Ring Goes the Bell....

I voted for John McCain last November. I am, point in fact, a registered Republican. I throw those two pieces of information out there - front and center - to set up this third piece of information. I feel compelled, with alarming frequency, to channel Captain Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon's character) from A Few Good Men. Particularly when - during the scene in the bar when Kaffee (Tom Cruise's character) tells Ross that Lt. Col. Markinson is going to testify for the defense at Dawson and Downey's court martial - Kaffee makes a rather scathing observation about the Marines in light of the conduct of Col. Jessep and Lt. Kendrick. Ross responds, "Don't you dare lump me in with Jessup and Kendrick just because we wear the same uniform."

Not having read the text of the President's address to the nations' schoolchildren until yesterday morning, I must confess that I thought all of the quasi-hysterical rants of the talking heads on the far right of the lunatic fringe was simply a ratings grab. After reading the remarks yesterday morning, I started to think it was something even scarier. It is not simply about ratings anymore. It is about dictating the debate on each and every issue of substance (and we have a number of them confronting us these days - just in case you and Rip Van Winkle have been bunking together) by an overwhelming frontal assault on our senses.

Once upon a time, it was the weight of one's position that carried the day in debate. Now, weight has been replaced by volume. Unless and until we come to understand that the sheer amount of noise any one individual makes - be it a "conservative" blowhard like Beck or Limbaugh or a "liberal" blowhard like Olbermann or Matthews - tends to belie and not underscore the strength of his position, these folks will retain an unwarranted amount of power to shape our public debate.

Remember the old PSA's from back in the day? "R I F" - Reading Is Fundamental. Do not simply rely upon the "world according to Coulter or Maher" to masquerade as knowledge. Go get yourself some. It is right here for the taking.

And let us tell those noisy morons on the far left and the far right of the room to sit down and shut the f*ck up. You and I are here to learn something. And all they are is a distraction.

-AK

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bringing Home The Bacon (Canadian Style).......

Perhaps it is just me but it strikes me often that there is no more disruptive influence on the "normal" work week than the long weekend. The work week that leads into it tends to dissolve into disarray by some point in or about mid-afternoon on Thursday. And the work week that follows it is abbreviated (hence the "long" part of the long weekend) but yet those who did not work on Monday tend to treat Tuesday as if they are taking the first steps on the Bataan Death March.

They are not - of course - and I am quite confident that for the normal, oxygen-breathing members of the tribe (a/k/a as "all those who are not me") the reaction I have to the insertion of a holiday into the regular work week is not one that they share. And I am also quite confident that by the middle of the morning today the residual effect of the extended weekend will have worn off. Sooner rather than later the business of the day will once again be business. And the weekend past and the weekend future will seem to be equally far away.

Four day week or five day week I suppose it matters not. After all, everybody is just working for the weekend right?

Just be certain to leave the headband at home, OK? Sweet Baby Moses that is a damned scary look......with or without the color-coordinated pants.

-AK

Monday, September 7, 2009

Our Mascot Is Still the Coolest.....

It will be quiet at the office today no doubt. It is after all the most ironically named day on the calendar - Labor Day, which we observe throughout these United States by taking the day off. If this whole "do the opposite of what the holiday says" thing catches on, let us all hope that "Flush the Toilet" Day never gets added to the ever-burgeoning pantheon of Federal holidays.

I shall appreciate the quiet today having as I do a number of projects to complete. Boy am I happy that my assistant Theresa does not read this silliness because if she did she might decide to further extend her long weekend for one more day......or two.

One thing I do not have to make time for this morning is booking my reservations to travel to Boulder in early January to celebrate a National Championship in college football. As a general rule, when you cannot defeat at home the only other school in your state that (a) plays Division I football; AND (b) has the word COLORADO in its name, then you probably do not have to worry about how you are going to spend your New Year's Day. A simply brutal start to the '09 campaign for my alma mater last night - although Ralphie looked great as she always does - losing at home to CSU 23-17.

I did not know, until I saw the graphic on the TV last night, that prior to last night CSU had last defeated CU in Boulder in 1986. Coincidentally that penultimate road win occurred twenty-three years to the day before this most recent conquest. Unlike last night's affair, which I simply turned off and then went upstairs to bed, I saw the '86 edition live and in person from the CU student section - a group that was not shy about voicing its disappointment in the result to our fellow students in uniform long before the final gun sounded on that 23 to 7 loss.

CU survived its last home loss to CSU just fine thank you very much - shaking off the effects to spring a 20-10 home upset on Nebraska later that same season. While I hope they do as well bouncing back from last night's loss, whether they do or not I am confident that the University, the Republic and I shall all survive. Whether the coach to whom the University is paying a seven-figure salary does, I know not.

But I betcha - like me - he was in his office bright and early this morning, back at work and trying to figure it all out. There is always next week, right? For my beloved Fumbaloes "next week" is really "towards the end of this week" as they will travel to Toledo for a game on Friday, September 11.

As Yogi Berra once observed, "Around here it gets late early." I reckon that around Boulder this week, Coach Hawkins is keenly aware of the time. And how quickly he appears to be running out of it.

-AK

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Service of Youth

17 year-old Melanie Oudin from Marietta Georgia has had one hell of a late summer's vacation in New York City.....and she is still not quite ready to head home. Oudin is competing in the women's draw at the U.S. Open. On Saturday afternoon, in front of 37,000 people (give or take a few) who were packed into Arthur Ashe Stadium at the National Tennis Center, she rallied to defeat former world #1 player Maria Sharapova in three sets to advance to Round #4 of the Open.

Oudin, who was coming off an upset of the #4 seed Elena Dementieva in the second round, dropped her first set against Sharapova before rallying to win the final two sets and the match. It struck me as odd how quickly time passes in professional sports - especially women's tennis. Maria Sharapova seems to have been in my mind's eye forever as one of top players in the world. She is, herself, but 22 years old.

Saturday afternoon all of the glory and all of of the crowd's love belonged to the plucky Peach from Marietta. How easy a kid is she to root for? Well, at the end of the match, during her post-match interview at court side she thanked the fans for cheering for her. While I am only a casual tennis fan at best and had never heard her name prior to her second round upset of Dementieva, her grace under pressure and her maturity beyond her years are already becoming well known to those who know the game.

Young Ms. Oudin will turn eighteen later this month. In fact she shares her birthday with quite a famous cover boy whose music I have enjoyed for roughly twice as long as she has been alive. Man, does that make Springsteen old or what? I know not whether this year's edition of the Open shall last only one round longer for Melanie Oudin or if she still has miles to go before she sleeps. It matters not as this year's length of stay shall not detract from the brightness of her future.

Several hundred miles north of Flushing, Queens on Saturday afternoon, the Yankees played the Toronto Blue Jays. In a season that has shifted from chaos to calmness for the Bombers, one of the players who has undergone a most profound metamorphosis is Phil Hughes. A few seasons back, Hughes burst onto the season for the Yankees as a starting pitcher and was one of the "young guns" around whom they were going to build their rotation. Great things were projected for Hughes and his two compadres Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain - especially after the Yankees declined to trade any combination of the three of them to Minnesota to acquire Johan Santana from the Twins prior to the '08 season.

A funny thing happened to Hughes on his way to Cooperstown. He had an abysmal '08 season. He did not win a single game - making only eight starts in an injury-interrupted season and finishing with an 0-4 record and an ERA of slightly more than a touchdown per game (extra point not included). When the '09 season began, the former "can't miss" kid was dazzling fans of the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He got called up to fill in for Chien Ming-Wang when Wang went on the disabled list for the first time earlier this season. His performance as a starter was average - at best - and when Wang came off of the DL, Hughes was slated to return to Triple-A.

A funny thing happened on his way back to the farm. Hughes petitioned his manager and his pitching coach for the chance to stay - saying he would rather pitch in a supporting role coming out of the bullpen than go back down to the minors. Apparently intrigued by his tenacity, Girardi took him up on the offer and instead of giving him bus fare to northeastern Pennsylvania, the Yankees made him a reliever.

An even funnier thing happened once Hughes became a relief pitcher. He took to the role as if he was born to it. As a Yankees fan, I have been spoiled for more than a dozen years by the fixture at the back of their bullpen. While not even Mariano Rivera is enough to make me plunk down my hard-earned money on any piece of music with the name METALLICA stamped upon it, I have long been comforted by the opening strains of "Enter Sandman".

But not even Mo can keep running out of the Yankees bullpen forever. And as he inches closer and closer to 40 the need for the Yankees to eventually find someone to whom they might be able to hand the ball at game's end grows more and more pressing. And with Mo taking a few days off to nurse a sore groin (a luxury afforded by an eight game divisional lead), on Saturday afternoon twenty-three year-old Phil Hughes was that guy.

With the game in the balance in the bottom of the eighth inning and Brian Bruney doing what he has a propensity to do, which is put base runners on base and add anxiety where it is otherwise unwelcome and unwanted, Hughes got the call to step into Mo's shoes and save the day. Hughes struck out the only hitter he faced in the eighth and then blew the Jays away in the ninth for a four-out save that took him a total of fifteen pitches to achieve.

There is not a Yankees fan I know who looks forward to the day when the bullpen door opens and Mo does not walk through it to begin that all-too-familiar trot to the mound. Yet again on Saturday, Hughes gave us a reason to hope that perhaps life will go on once Mo is collecting pension checks and not pay checks.

Everyday is a revolution. Welcome to the future. Pack your Ray-Bans......

Just in case.

-AK