Monday, November 30, 2009

I See a Red Door....

Did you survive Black Friday? I did. Of course I did so b/c I did what I do every year - I opted out of the whole experience. I am always intrigued by the images of people crowding into shopping complexes pre-dawn in pursuit of discount merchandise. A society that bitches and moans about lines at security checkpoints at international airports queues up in line for several hours prior to Best Buy's opening in order to get a one day only deal on a Wii. Maybe if at the airport the security folks passed out free cups of coffee or bottles of water? Who knows. All I know is that we are a society comprised of component parts who will wait in line for hours regardless of the weather for discounted or free shit without complaint but who will whine for our mommies if we have to spend longer than 37 seconds attempting to confirm that no one is carrying any really bad stuff onto the jumbo jet with us.

Having not ventured out on Friday of the Black I do not know how out-of-control the various retail outlets were. But I do know that as of 6:30 on Saturday night (sorry, if the Saturday after Thanksgiving comes with a hipster nickname I missed the memo), there was hardly anyone shopping in either the Best Buy, PC Richards or Toys R' Us stores located in Bridgewater. Margaret and I waited behind exactly no one in line at the Best Buy for something she picked up for someone on her list. In fact when we wandered up to the cash registers in the front of the store, there were three cashiers standing around talking to one another who were otherwise not engaged with any customers.

We made a trek out on Sunday morning as well - to a couple of other stores. And again on Sunday morning there were no lines to speak of anywhere we went. It seems as if every year immediately after Thanksgiving weekend we are subjected to a report from the nation's retailers complaining about decreased sales and the twin terrors of doom and gloom on the horizon. And every year it seems kinda, sorta like a bunch of nonsense. This year, based upon my admittedly small sampling, it seems to be not quite as far-fetched.

-AK

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pictures of Lilly

On occasion, when I get bogged down in the morass of the day-to-day I find it useful to think of those who deal with more in their day-to-day than do I. I am from the Tip O'Neill school of introspection - well kinda, sorta - in that I think only local. By that I mean I do not give much thought (he says (you hope and you would be disappointed) with some embarrassment) to the world at large. I do not spend time contemplating the inherent inequity of life for those who have been deposited into some forsaken place such as Darfur. No, instead I focus on those who I know and those whose lives have impacted my own and the lives of my family.

My two kids went to Catholic grammar school here 'NTSG. I am impressed by the strength of the connections they made there in that at least ten years after they finished their schooling there, each has remained friends with - and in regular contact with - quite a few of their childhood friends. Considering they were raised in a household where their old man went more than twenty years without having any idea what became of 98.6% of the people I attended high school with I find their commitment to keep those relationships alive quite remarkable. A tribute to not only my two kids but to all of their childhood friends who have contributed as much coal to keeping the home fires lit as have Rob and Suz.

About six months ago one of their childhood friends - Gabe - was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident. In a classic embodiment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Gabe was hit at great force by another motorist who had lost control of his vehicle. Having known Gabe's folks a bit when we were all OLMV parents together I immediately empathized with how they must have felt upon hearing the news: no matter what we do as parents and no matter how well our children listen to us, we cannot keep them safe. It is a feeling equal parts infuriating and terrifying.

Gabe and Suz were classmates at OLMV and after their class graduated and he moved on to high school, I recruited Gabe and another of Suz's school chums, Chris B. (who shall forever be "Forrest" to me) to be volunteer assistant coaches on Rob's 7th and 8th grade boys' basketball team. We were awful and I am man enough to admit that our limitations were the fault of neither our volunteer assistants nor our players but - instead - principally the head coach's. And if you presume that I was the head coach, then please allow me to introduce myself for you/I are clearly strangers to one another.

It has pleased me greatly that throughout the years, even as their lives have followed different trajectories that both Suz and Rob have remained friends with Gabe. In addition to having an uncanny ability to nail 3-point shots on the basketball court, he has also proved to be quite a runner (Gabe is a runner as opposed to me who is merely one who runs) and a crackerjack musician. While I am notoriously poor for keeping track of such things, I believe that his band, which at one time was known as "Self Denial" is now known as "The New Black". I have in my CD collection a copy of their self-titled debut (before they were no longer in denial apparently) and it is quite good. If I had my druthers it would feature Gabe's guitar work more prominently than it does but then again no one has ever mistaken me for John Hammond.

Shortly before we all gathered in late June for Megan/Adam's wedding, Gabe sustained injuries that could fairly be described as life-altering in that accident I mentioned. As a result of it, his life was turned upside down. A lot of things that he most assuredly took for granted - because he is a human being and us humans tend to take for granted those things we can do whenever we want and wherever we want - he had taken away from him. A testament to the type of young man he is? I know not of a person, whether one of Gabe's peers from school or an old bag of dirt like me, who did not figuratively have the air sucked out of his/her lungs upon hearing the news. I am not a crier. I shed more than one tear though when Suz first told me of what had happened.

If life was indeed fair or a reasonable approximation thereof, then shitty things would not happen to great people. It is not. Thus not only do such things occur they occur without rhyme or reason. Someone, somewhere once said that the quality of a person's character is not measured by how many times they get knocked down but by how many time they pick themselves back up. By that calculation, Gabe's character is of immeasurable breadth and depth.

He has endured much thus far in the five months or so since he was injured. The key is that he has endured. In the deepest, darkest recesses of his mind and of his soul there has most certainly been a moment or two when he has wondered not only "why?" but "why bother?" And he has done what one does when one is a remarkable young man. He has kicked the hell out of those thoughts and has worked hard to recapture his life. To reclaim that which was taken from him by the fault of someone who looks nothing like him. The road to redemption is walked one step at a time. Gabe is a young man with a firmness of purpose. He has a distance to cover but he is well on his way.

The great American philosopher Robert Lilly once co-opted Mark Twain to share the observation that, "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." It is as true now as it was when Twain first wrote it. And though Twain died approximately seventy-five years before Gabe was born, it is as if the former wrote those words with the latter in mind.

And at present I know of no greater example of that axiom than young Gabe, whose spirit and whose determination not only fuels him through his day-to-day but also serves to motivate and to inspire some of us around him who are not as tough and as determined as he is. He is truly a remarkable young man.

-AK

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Of Wool Hats and Cormac McCarthy

True confession: being that today is Saturday and being that it is a Saturday that comprises 1/4 of a long holiday weekend, I did not get up at 2:45. I slept in a bit - until 3:30. But I am pleased to report that upon waking up I did something that I did not do as I attempted to break free from the chains of my tryptophan-enhanced coma yesterday morning. This morning I went for my morning jaunt through the 'hood.

It has seemed to be - to date at least - a warmer than usual autumn 'NTSG. Please do not mistake my reporting of the news for a complaint about that particular development. I am not a fan of snow. It makes my commute and the commute of those I love more dangerous. It makes getting around during the course of the day and for several days thereafter more difficult. And - presuming that my landscaper shall charge a fee for snow and ice remediation shall be similar to the fee he charges for grass and leaf remediation, it shall make my winter more expensive - but worth every penny.

This morning the wind was blowing so hard in the backyard that I thought - initially - the sound I was hearing was that of rain. While I normally do not run in the rain (I, like Newman, do not believe in credos) I likely would have had to make an exception this morning, having not gone running since Wednesday morning and having signed up to run in 5K races on back-to-back weekends - with the first one eight days away in Metuchen. I was indeed happy to see - upon opening the door into the back yard so that Rosalita could jump a little lighter, which she does after her morning meeting with that man and his horse - that what I had thought was rain was simply wind. Well, I was happy initially until I stood there for a few seconds and had the chance to informally gauge the wind's ferocity. Then I was.....well, then I was really, really less excited.

Thus, today became the first wool hat day of the autumn. Usually when I run I wear my John Hiatt "Same Old Man" baseball cap, which I love not only because I am a tremendous fan of his musical stylings but for all of the self-created symbolism I have attached to it. It is kinda, sorta my own inside joke. Today however the old ball cap was over-matched. Fortunately my wife, having gone to school on having spent the better part of the past two decades in the close company of an imbecile, had already placed my wool hat in my box o' stuff that sits atop our refrigerator - a box whose 2" x 3" dimensions represent the only space in our entire house that is truly mine - where I found it along with my trusty blinky light and my watch.

When one has the over-sized melon that I have perched on top of one's shoulders, one develops a keen appreciation for just how quickly heat exits the human body through our head. Perhaps if mine was more person-appropriate in its size (as opposed to being small planet-appropriate) I would not go from 98.6 to 0 as quickly as I often feel I do without the proper head cover. And the black wool hat pulled down over my ears completes a look that I am quite confident will soon be sweeping the nation.....one post office wall at a time.

Style be damned - as I always say (or at least apparently mutter under my breath subconsciously every morning judging by how far from the kingdom of sartorial splendor I find myself spending most of my days). My wool hat came in quite handy this morning, thank you very much, when I made the right turn from Pierrepont onto Harris and into the teeth of the wind (an expression I must confess that I have never understood for why would wind have teeth? At one time in history was there a spate of unexplained incidents of children and old people being gnawed upon while (a) outside; and (b) alone?), which did not relent for a moment between my entry onto Harris and my exit from it when I banged the left turn onto Delaware. It did what it always does. It kept the over-sized crock pot that I call a head toasty warm, which in turn kept the rest of me toasty warm.

.....Well all of me except for my knees, which were cold because the shorts I was wearing afford them insufficient coverage. I cannot make the switch to sweatpants yet. But January will be here before I know it.

-AK

Friday, November 27, 2009

Days Like These

The Dream Team came through with flying colors yesterday. And they did so under the most trying of circumstances.

I think this marked the 18th Thanksgiving that Margaret and I have spent together. We marked (I celebrated - she dressed in black and went to church to light votive candles) our 16th anniversary in June and we were together for two years before we married. This however was the first one since her mom died in June. During the course of the past five and one-half months Margaret has had a lot of really good days. Sadly but understandably she has had a number of really lousy days. Thanksgiving was a combination platter.

Joe and Margaret busied themselves in the days leading up to Thanksgiving doing what in years past Sue had handled - principally by herself the past several years and before that with the assistance of Nan - preparing every component part of Thanksgiving dinner. It is indeed true that necessity is the mother of invention. But it is also true that work is often therapeutic. The three of us could have traveled en masse to one of several homes yesterday to eat. We did not. We did not because Joe decided he wanted to spend Thanksgiving '09 at home. Even if home has not quite felt like home since his darling Suzy died.

The dynamic duo made quite a meal yesterday. All three of us ate far more food than we should have and - I think perhaps in spite of ourselves - we laughed more than once. This is going to be an emotionally charged next thirty days or so for Margaret and for Joe and for the rest of the family. To be in the company of those they love but to be without one who they loved so much.

Not every day is equal when attempting to deal with loss. There are certain days when a loved one's absence is felt more greatly than others. And we are just starting to work our way through a time of year that unintentionally is chock full of those 'greater than' days. While I anticipate that there may be a few rough days to come in the weeks ahead, yesterday Joe and Margaret soldiered on beautifully. Suzy must have been proud. She prepared them well.

-AK

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Cause there is Nothing like Stuffing

Wow what a day! Only thirty days until Christmas. And hot damn - if you want to spend any portion of your Thanksgiving in the pursuit of jock straps and free weights, then you can matriculate yourself on over to The Sports Authority. Here in the State of Concrete Gardens, every Sports Authority store from Brick to West Long Branch (running thru them alphabetically and not geographically) is open today. If you do not get over there until after you have had your turkey dinner, then head right to the camping equipment so you can check out the sleeping bags and the cots before the tryptophan kicks in.

Far be it from me to criticize any one's decision to work on Thanksgiving. I will spend a part of my day as I spend a portion of every Thanksgiving - taking advantage of the peace and quiet of the closed office. But at least the decision to work a bit belongs to me. It is not a decision that has been foisted upon me by another. And for that I am thankful.

We are most certainly in the home stretch of Aught-Nine. It has been in many respects the most brutal of years. Certain things have been irrevocably altered and for the heartache those alterations have wrought onto our family I am most decidedly not thankful.

I am thankful that today, while geography prevents all of us from gathering together to celebrate Thanksgiving, Margaret and I shall be with Joe. This will be a difficult day for both of them - for all of us really. I am thankful that today they will be together - that whole strength in numbers thing. I am sure you have heard of it.

And I am thankful that a year that started for me professionally with me paying the price for an ill-advised decision wholly of my own deciding has reversed course 180 degrees. I had no reasonable expectation of spending this morning in what has been - for the better part of the past dozen years - one of my favorite places: sitting in my office looking out across Parsippany Road at whatever the hell the building directly across from ours is. Maybe by the time I have been sitting here, drinking an early morning cup of coffee and taking in the view, for another twelve years I will have learned the name of the business and exactly what it is they do.

The thing I am most thankful for is that the two young adults I kinda, sorta helped Margaret raise (OK, I drove the car and paid the bills) have turned out to be as terrific as they have by following a simple formula for success. They have simply been their mother's children. They clearly could have done far worse in their selection of a hero than their mother. And they clearly could not have done any better. I know that they are thankful every day for her. As am I for all of them.

A wish to you and yours for a peaceful, safe and happy Thanksgiving.

-AK

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Glow of the Dashboard's Light

In a move that likely reveals volumes about the thrill ride that is my day-to-day, I did last night what I do at least one time a week. I started the 30+ mile drive from my office to my home with the needle on the gas gauge pinned on "E". I drive often in the dark (most days both my to trip and my from trip in fact) and I find the yellow light that illuminates on Skate's console when there is more vapor than liquid in the gas tank to be quite intoxicating.

Anyway, about 2/3 of the way home traffic on 287 South slowed to a crawl. The crawl is the arch-enemy of the beyond empty gas tank. One consumes fuel while one is still and still is not a state of mind one embraces when one is running on empty. So I did something I rarely do. I opted out of 287 South traffic at Exit 22, which put me in or near Pluckemin and allowed me to pop into an Exxon station located within shouting distance of the highway.

Being a creature of habit I tend to frequent the same gas stations on a regular basis. The Exxon station in Pluckemin is not among them for at least a couple of reasons. First, for reasons not entirely clear to me the good people of Pluckemin (the Pluckeminians (?) or the Pluckers (?) perhaps) pay approximately 25 cents a gallon more for regular gasoline than us peons who live down in the valley. Second, the genius who developed the property on which the Exxon station now stands placed the exit from the gas station just far enough from the exit ramp for northbound traffic to ensure that cars coming off of the highway, having momentarily paused to pay lip service to the YIELD sign, are accelerating back to highway speed or a reasonable facsimile thereof just in time to make attempting to exit the gas station after filling up into a real FROGGER moment.

Last evening I pulled into the super sized Exxon station - where the one harried attendant was trying to serve customers waiting at six different pumps simultaneously - and pulled in directly behind another gent who appeared to be simply oozing cool. I sensed his cool immediately as he was driving the vehicle of choice for cool dudes everywhere: a red Toyota Corolla. If Skate has a twin (and I suspect that she indeed has several hundred thousand) then it was parked at the pump directly in front of the one I pulled up to. I am not sure if the other Corolla was indeed an identical twin. It too had a couple of initials next to the word Corolla on its trunk. However, I am not sure whether its initials are the same as Skate's. I can never remember if Skate is identified as an "SL", which I believe is shorthand for "Stop Laughing" or an "ES" ("Enough Snickering").

Anyway the fellow in front of me was not from 'round here - as borne out by the Maryland plates on his car. He hopped out of his car, credit card in hand, and prepared to go a-pumping. I suppose that the station's 19 signs reminding customers that New Jersey law forbids self-service of gasoline are indecipherable to someone from another state. Sadly, the instructions for how to use one's credit card in the pump were equally incomprehensible to my fellow car enthusiast. Just what an attendant on the verge of apoplexy did not need was someone hurling a monkey wrench directly into the spokes of his wheel of joy. Yet that as exactly what he got. All that plus the opportunity to inhale toxic fumes for minimum wage plus a nickel an hour.

And yet he did it. In a station full of customers anxious to get their fuel and get on their way, he juggled well enough to ensure that all of the balls remained airborne and none of us spent more time in his company than was absolutely necessary.

Well, all of us except for the idiot from Maryland. When I left he was still trying to make heads or tails of the gas pump. I know not how far he was from Grandma's house when he pulled off of the interstate to stop at the Exxon station but he made no progress at all from the time he arrived there. Good thing it was only Tuesday night. Presuming that he ever figured out how to get his tank filled, he just might be in time for mince pie.

-AK

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Teary "i"

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sadly, breast cancer's relentlessness does not respect the jurisdictional limits of October. Why should it I suppose. It pays no attention to any other boundaries. Why should a calendar page serve as a barrier to its mayhem.

Last week, after battling hard against breast cancer for approximately one dozen years, forty-two year-old Stefanie Spielman died. Stefanie Spielman was the mother of four. Once upon a time she was likely best known for who she married. She was the wife of Ohio State Buckeye football legend Chris Spielman, an Ohio boy who grew up to become a force of nature at the linebacker position for The Ohio State University in the late '80's.

At age 30 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. From the time she was initially diagnosed, she lived the most extraordinary life. And she did not do it alone. She did it in lockstep with her husband. The Spielmans became advocates for breast-cancer detection and research, winning several awards for their dedication to the cause. They raised more than $6 million for breast cancer research at Ohio State, where she also had attended school, through the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research. Additionally, she helped form a support group for young women with breast cancer, hosted an annual event that honored cancer survivors and created a fund to help breast cancer patients and their families who struggled financially.

If the world we actually live in was as close to ideal as we all wish it were then 30 year-old wives and mothers would not be given death sentences. And if this world was closer to being fair than it actually is, four children would not gather today to bury their 42 year-old mother. A father of four - himself only in his early 40's - would not be transitioned from husband to widower. Not during Thanksgiving week. Not only forty-eight hours removed from the day marked on the calendar as the one where families gather to give thanks.

-AK

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smells Like Wednesday

The cachet that Thanksgiving has lost as a holiday it has retained - in large degree - as a workplace favorite. Why? Because it is a shortener. This week most of the working world (except for those who earn their living in the retail industry) shall enjoy the bliss that is the 3-day work week. Thanksgiving's greatest benefit in the 21st Century? Its placement on the calendar as a Thursday. Regardless of the occasion, everyone enjoys a day that serves as the starting line for a 4-day weekend.

Those of us in the legal profession enjoy a good holiday as much as - if not more than - the rest of the working world. There are certain times of the year when for reasons having everything to do with the calendar and scant little to do with anything else the otherwise breakneck pace at which things must be done slows to a crawl. Today kicks off "the holidays". Sadly I missed the memo so I was know not when Turkey Day underwent a metamorphosis into a week-long event akin to Mardi Gras or Shark Week. Yet, as sure as the sun will rise in the east this morning, it is a certainty that both my office and law offices all throughout the land will have already shifted into holiday mode. It is the mode that shall necessitate the cancelling of appearances such as depositions and the requested adjournment of matters such as trials. It is not that we do not want these events to take place at some point. It is simply that we do not want them to take place "during the holidays".

At some point, the five weeks between Thanksgiving week and Christmas morphed into one indistinguishable mass of forced good cheer. By elevating otherwise nondescript days such as the 23rd of November and the 5th of December to "holiday" status, we have made them something they are not. Perhaps we have done so in an effort to make ourselves feel better? Perhaps we have done so principally so that we feel better about doing less than we would otherwise do on a November Monday or a Tuesday in December.

For years, the conversion of this week into a pseudo-work week drove me crazy. Not this year. I have learned to simply deal with those things over which I have no control. This is most certainly one such thing over which I have no control. So I have decided to concentrate my efforts on loftier pursuits.

Such as figuring out who the imbecile is who green lighted the release of some fake kung fu inanity known as Ninja Assassin on Thanksgiving Day. At least my office shall be closed on Thursday and Friday this week so I shall have two extra days to try and figure it out.

-AK

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In the Footsteps of Curley Neal

Yesterday was simply a spectacular day for a Trot. I and a couple of thousand other wannabe turkeys - not including the group who ran with the turkey hats on - ran through the streets of Manasquan. Our little group, using Lynne's pad as our home base of operations had quite an excellent turnout. All four of the Sisters Kizis were in attendance yesterday accompanied by their respective families and Mr. and Mrs. K. made the journey south from 'NTSG to take it all in as well.

Margaret and three of the kids all ran in the one-mile race. My wife is an "occasional" runner. By that I mean she runs only when there is an occasion such as the Race for the Cure 5K or the Turkey Trot 1M. Her original action plan for yesterday called for her to stand on the curb line and cheer the runners in the two races. When she learned mid-week that there might have been a problem ensuring that the littlest Kizis entered in the 1M had a running buddy (he is only 5 years old) she signed up to run. Murphy being a lawyer, he opted out (again, he is only 5 years old). Once she signed up, she did not back down. And while she did not finish among the race leaders, she finished. She was - at race's end - happy she had participated in it and deservedly proud of her accomplishment.

I am not a runner. I run. My sister Jill is a runner. My brother-in-law Russ is a runner. To me, a runner is someone who is serious about it, who trains for a particular event and who is committed to always improving his/her time. I am not that person. I run for exercise and - much in the same way that writing on a daily basis brings me some measure of contentment - for peace of mind. I am not now and shall never be a runner. For starters, I am entirely the wrong body type. Runners are people who are sculpted more like the letter "l" than the letter "m". I am most assuredly a "m".

Also, I was reminded yesterday morning that a lot of runners come to an event such as this one looking to play a bit of a mind game on their fellow runners. Prevalent among the crowd of entrants in the 5M race were t-shirts of other races run. And I noted that for good measure, a lot of the "other event" shirts were for races of a longer distance than the 5M Trot. I saw shirts for 10K races, half-marathons, a lot for The New York City Marathon, a handful for the Philadelphia Marathon, a few for the Ironman Triathlon and even one for the Dakar Rally. Me? I do not engage in such pre-race shenanigans. And for good reason - I cannot pull it off.

It is a bit of an uneasy feeling - being at or near the starting line for a road race with thousands crammed into an area more comfortably occupied by dozens. When you are a "m" you can feel the eyes upon you from all different directions, eyeing you up and down much in the way that I imagine a pride of lions lounging in the sub-Saharan sun sizes up a herd of gazelles that might wander through its neighborhood. Assessing not only which ones can be killed but whether the kill would be worth the effort (meat on the hoof and that sort of thing).

At event's end yesterday I was not only still standing, which is always Goal #1, but I had completed the 5M course is 48:50. I would be lying if I said that as a 5M race novice, not to mention a 42+ year-old "m" I was not more than satisfied with my performance. A group of four of us ran in the 5M event yesterday and from the spot on the street where we were when the gun was fired (either signalling the start of the race or a spike in the 'Squan's violent crime statistics), it took us close to two minutes to reach the starting line. And yet all of us turned in times with which we were very happy. Mike, Pam's husband, was the leader of our group finishing several minutes ahead of me. And the now-to-be-feared aunt/niece running tag team of Gidg and Liv - who had a stated goal of one hour or less - crossed the line in 52:30 and at the finish line looked as if they had the energy to go another couple of miles at least.

It was quite simply a good day all around. A terrific event put on for a worthy cause and its organizers were given weather, which on November's 3rd Saturday, does not come our way very often here in Jersey. I cannot wait until next year just so I can wear my '09 Turkey Trot shirt to preen at the starting line.

Although I doubt it can be any more effective than my "I BAKE IN LARD" shirt proved to be yesterday. I do not have to make a decision on it today. I have a whole year to decide on wardrobe.

-AK

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Running of the Birds

This morning I am not doing something I usually do with relentless precision on a Saturday: I am not going to the office. Nope. Instead the Missus and me are road tripping down the Shore (where even on a Saturday morning everything is alright) so I can run in the Manasquan Turkey Trot.

The Turkey Trot is a 5 mile run that a number of local businesses in 'Squan sponsor and from which they donate the proceeds (the entry fee was $25.00) to local charities and not-for-profit organizations. All participants also are asked to bring a non-perishable food item with us, which is going to be entrusted to the good people from local food banks to help ensure that those who are in need will have food on their table on Thanksgiving. It is a little thing but it reminds me that for all we have endured in our family during the past twelve months, we can be thankful that are fortunate enough again this year to be in a position to help another family whose fortune has been more "mis" than hit.

I have only run this distance - 5 miles - one other time in my life. I did so Thursday morning. I stretched out my pre-work run 'NTSG to the race distance. I did so because - as a firm believer in the power of the mind to control the body - I wanted to have completed it at least one time prior to this morning so that my mind now knows that my body is capable of making this distance. This morning there will no doubt be times when a lot of different parts of me will hurt and ache. My knees ache even when I am sitting at my desk so I am confident that I shall hear from them on more than one occasion during the race. But having already made this distance (albeit with a lot fewer people around) my mind will be able to keep my body moving forward.

We who shall trot have caught a break. It is supposed to be in the mid 50's and sunny at race time this morning along the Shore. Ideal weather for chasing all those silly New York virgins and the other 1500 folks who will no doubt be between me and the finish line throughout the race.

And in my mind's eye I shall carry a picture of my inspiration. When I am feeling tired and wondering how far I am from the finish I will simply ask myself, "What Would Tammy Do?" knowing in my heart the question's answer before the question itself is even asked: Run.

I shall Tammy. I shall. Maybe after the holidays, we will come visit you at the zoo.

-AK

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Reshuffling of the Buffaloes

Last night with the Alma mater on ESPN against Oklahoma State and up eleven in the second half, I went to sleep. Unbeknownst to me, I was a contagion. Ralphie's road warriors went from 11 up in the third quarter to 3 down at the final whistle. For this group of kids and the adults who coach them, snatching defeat out of victory's jaws has become a most unfortunate and acquired skill.

Four years ago, long after then-coach Barnett had become a bit of an eyesore to the University (Google "Katie Hnida" or "Colorado recruiting scandal") but only shortly after his teams had started to not get it done on the field, CU fired him. It hired a man generally regarded as one of the bright young minds in college football to replace him. And when Dan Hawkins brought his family with him and migrated down to Boulder from the blue fields of Boise Idaho there was much rejoicing along the Front Range of Colorado.

Today there is not any rejoicing along the Front Range when the subject is CU football. Last night, the Hawk's team did something that his teams have done two out of every three times they have taken the field over the past four seasons: they lost. Hawkins has coached forty-eight games as the Buffs' head coach and has only won sixteen of them. If he batted in the #3 hole in the Yankees order, a .333 average would be laudable - assuring base runners aplenty for Kate Hudson's main man to drive in. He of course does not hold that job. And, of course, in his present position the laws of Meatloaf do not apply.

And of course in the big-time business that is intercollegiate athletics, there are those who are CU fans, CU alums and CU boosters ($$$$) who not only no longer want Hawkins coaching in Boulder, but are not shy about saying so. Here in the first decade of this century, it has become vogue to attack those with whom we are disappointed - including men and women who earn a living coaching intercollegiate athletics by attacking not only their achievements or lack thereof but them and their families. Most of the truly valorous attack through the last bastion of the courageous: the Internet message board where the bravado that anonymity provides masks the cowardice of many.

Hawkins has become a popular target on-line with a number of sites having been created for the sole purpose of demanding his head on a platter (http://firedanhawk.blogspot.com/ is among them). There is even a Facebook group devoted to his demise. Does he deserve to lose his job for the abject failure to produce results on the field? In my opinion, yes. In this - his fourth year - he has not produced a single winning season. Here in Aught-Nine they are three and eight with a ninth loss almost assuredly staring them in the face next Friday morning when Nebraska comes to Boulder for the season finale. But does he deserve to be castrated publicly on the way out the door and have his family thrown into the mix as well (remember that his son is a CU student and the #2 quarterback on the football team)? No.

Somewhere along the line in this country the train jumped the track. We lost the ability to discern the difference between legitimate criticism and personal attack. Maybe it was at the moment we decided that we needed 8000 outlets at which to get news and information 24 hours a day - only to discover after we had secured the satellite space that no one would tune in at 1:58 a.m. for the crop report unless we jazzed it up a bit. Invective replaced intellect in certain circles and the latter has shown little ability to regain its bargaining position. Suddenly, simple issue-based disagreement is not enough any more. We need to be willing to scream out what we feel and if you should have the audacity to disagree with me, then to scream even louder and even longer.

I anticipate that at some point between this very morning in Boulder and next Friday morning in Boulder the man who hired Hawkins four years ago will announce to a room of media types that he has fired him. And I anticipate that cheers of "Good riddance" will rise up throughout Boulder and on Internet message boards all over the country. Lost in the noise shall be the fact that while Hawkins has failed in this job, he has not done so due to lack of effort or lack of caring about the University or his team. He has simply failed. It happens. Good people perform less than ideally every day. Contrary to popular belief, it does not make them the Devil incarnate. It makes them human.

And it makes us a little less so when we unsnap our skull caps and between our ears reveal the gap left by where that part of our brain has been removed. Good people fail. Learn to understand it and accept it. There is a remedy for the problem, one that the University will likely explore without further delay. And then this guy will have become the 'old guy' and the new guy will become "the Man", embraced by all and loved by the masses.....

.....and the wheels on the bus shall keep on going round and round, round and round.

-AK

Thursday, November 19, 2009

When It's Time to Face the Face

I have friends who have expressed surprise at the fact that I have "embraced" the concept of social networking sites. Notwithstanding that my "embrace" has been something slightly less rigid than that of two middle schoolers at the 7th grade Valentine's Day dance slow-dancing to "Endless Love" and significantly less passionate than those two same two kids at the junior prom bumping and grinding to "Milkshake". Actually, it is the surprise expressed by some who know me that has - in fact - surprised me.

With scant few exceptions I live my life with the rest of the world at (as a bare minimum) arm's length. And I am not satisfied to use my own arm as the measuring stick. Nope. I like an arm with some honest to goodness length to it. If you are not going to go big, then why go at all. Right? And I suspect that in the collective heart of most of us who utilize an outlet such as Facebook do so in large part because it is clean. We control those with whom we interact and the amount of interaction we have with one another. It is the Home Office for Artifice. We are afforded the means to drop in and out of the lives of others in whom we are interested whenever we want to. We can view one another's photographs, remark on one another's great life adventures and assess one another's progress to date from the comfort - no the safety - of our own homes or offices or wherever.

I have noticed a great number of folks who do things via "Facebook Mobile", which I must confess I find a bit unsettling. Principally because I have no idea how to do it but secondarily because I can envision the future client I shall have to defend who caused an eleven-car accident on Route 17 North because he was updating his Facebook status "stuck in traffic again :(" on his I Phone or Blackberry when he veered into oncoming traffic. You think I am kidding? I would wager a year's salary that by this time next year I have handled at least one such case.

At the risk of being misunderstood, I enjoy the ease and convenience of Facebook quite a bit. While it unnerved both of them I am sure - Suz always having been the more vocal of the two kids - Margaret and I both joined the Facebook generation and ended up as friends with both Rob and Suzanne. The process involved a series of negotiations that ended up with a Code of Conduct that follows faithfully the Vegas model but it eventually got completed. The two generations give one another a particularly wide berth on-line but each knows the other is out there.

In addition to finding an easy way to add to my kids' future psychotherapy bills, Facebook has proven itself to be an effective way to reconnect with folks long lost across the ether of time. It has been helpful in organizing events for groups of friends as well. For all of those reasons, its enjoyments have outnumbered its annoyances for me. In large part, it works for me because.....well, because it works for me. It helped me find and/or pointed me directly towards the overwhelming majority of folks I have connected and/or reconnected with on-line. It has been a great relationship for me: I have done little and reaped the benefits of its work.

Lately though I have noticed a darker, more sinister side of this entity. It seems that every time I sign on and access my "Home" page I have a snarky little suggestion or two in the upper right hand corner. Usually it is something beseeching me to "make Facebook a little better for....[insert name here]", imploring me to talk to someone because "you and [insert name here] have not spoken on Facebook in a while" or recruiting me to help make a particular individual more "popular", "[Insert name here] does not have many friends, help him/her find more."

What? Memo to the fourteen year-old kid who undoubtedly created this monstrosity and has made more money from it while sporting a mouthful of baby teeth than I will make in my lifetime: I am not interested. Me and others like me are "socializing" here perhaps because we are too damn lazy or too damn disinterested to do so with one another in person. Or - and I could be the only person who suffers from this infirmity but I suspect I am not - we have neither the time nor the means to see face-to-face all of our family and friends whenever we want to, which makes running into them on-line a boon for all concerned. Regardless of why we choose to be here, little Facebook fellow, what the hell makes you think that while I am there - doing nothing productive - I want to be recruited to do a bit of pro bono work for you? Let me disabuse you of that notion right now.

I struggle - often without success - trying to figure out out how to make the real world a better place for those I know and love. I would not pretend to have the skill set to improve someone's "Facebook world" (although here is a start - either stop playing all those god damned games or combine all of them into one so that goats and goldfish are armed to the hooves and the gills with weapons galore, busting caps in the bejeweled asses of one another and all of the other residents - celebrity and otherwise - of mobster city). Moreover, while I have been rightly accused of having a gargantuan ego I am not deluded enough to believe I have the power to make one person befriend another. Nor do I have the bank account to do so.

Oh - final memo to little computer guru Facebook creator: it is true that I have not spoken lately to Margaret Bozzomo Kenny lately on Facebook. I think the fact that I do so every morning and every night has allowed us to stay sufficiently connected. Thanks for putting her on the virtual milk carton for me but you can disband the posse. I found her just fine. It turns out she was never lost at all.

:)

-AK

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

T Plus 365

On this very day - one year ago - Margaret and I sat in a chapel in Georgia and watched Rob and his brothers (and sisters) in arms cross over the threshold from candidate to member. He took his first steps as a duly sworn member of a group he hopes and intends to spend his entire professional career keeping company with - putting into effect and into action lessons that he had spent the previous 17 1/2 weeks learning. Hell, in some cases lessons that he had spent his entire life to that point learning.

Today marks the first anniversary of what I believed at the time to have been the happiest day of my life as his father - the day when I watched him start to put his dream into action. And watched him take the first steps on the path that he has chosen to pursue. A path that he loved then. And a path that he loves now more than he even did then. And a path that I trust shall serve him as faithfully and loyally as he shall serve it for the duration of his career.

In one year a lot has changed for him and a great deal of change - not all of it positive - has been brought to bear on his day-to-day life. In a world far closer to perfect than the only one we are ever given the chance to roam, he would have spent the first year on this journey a bit closer to home than Cheyenne, Wyoming. But - as the poet laureate Townsend once observed - either way blood flows. (Or perhaps it was the future poet laureate Schreiber who made that observation. Depending upon the lighting, the two can be very easily mistaken for one another.) Regardless of its origin, its veracity is undeniable.

Geography has proven to be - at least for those of us at the home office - something to which we try not to devote too much energy or towards which we direct too much anger. I measured while we were in Wyoming in July. In spite of all of my enraged swearing devoted towards making it move closer to New Jersey, it moved east not at all. Just to be certain, I conducted another experiment after we returned home. Nope. Screaming at New Jersey to be closer to Wyoming caused no movement whatsoever on any of the relevant continental plates located here on the East Coast either.

One year ago, in the company of my wife/his mother, able to see him take those first few steps on his journey with my own two eyes I believed that I was happier than I could ever be - both for him and because of him. I know not all that he has learned in the time it took the planet to jog one lap around the Sun. But I know one lesson that that I have learned. I was not close. Not at all. And I have never been happier to be wrong in my life.

-AK

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We Are A Long Way From Peach Baskets

If I were to tell you that by the time you arrive at your office this morning (well, presuming you are a tad closer to normal than yours truly), two institutions of higher learning that call the State of Concrete Gardens home will have either finished or be in the late stages of a men's basketball game against one another, you would likely wrestle one another for the chance to hold me down and measure my hair growth at my lobotomy scar. While many a fertile opportunity will likely present itself for such pseudo Greco-Roman amusement, today is not in fact one such opportunity.

This morning @ 3:00 a.m. - an hour some refer to as ungodly while others consider it an ideal time for a morning run (beauty and beholder's eyes and all of that) - the Monmouth University Hawks hopped on a bus at their campus in West Long Branch, New Jersey and migrated north. They shall travel north to Jersey City and the campus of St. Peter's College in order to play basketball. Scheduled tip-off time? 6:00 a.m.

Why would two schools compete at such an hour that can fairly be described as alien to most of the kids who comprise the roster of each school? It is - as it always is - all about the Benjamins. Monmouth and St. Peter's are part of ESPN's 24-hour college basketball marathon. Being the two traditional superpowers they are the birds that prey and the birds that pray have been given the ever-popular morning drive time slot. Great news if you are Stern or Imus. Less exciting if you are Hett or Shumate.

When these two played last season -at Monmouth on December 19th at a time slightly more conducive for college hoops than 6:00 a.m. - the Hawks pounded the 'Cocks 65-47 before a packed house of slightly less than 600 at Monmouth's then-gymnasium (they opened a new facility this year, which further underscores of ESPN paying them to play St. Peter's AT St. Peter's pre-dawn. Maybe in the throes of sleep deprivation the kids cannot tell the difference between the opposition's gym and their own?). Monmouth's coach -for one -has downplayed the supposed significance of the tip-off time. “We’ll load up the bus with food and fruit, get there and be ready to play.”

Juxtaposed against the collective decision-making of the Monmouth and St. Peter's hierarchies to play a game in the wee wee hours along the lunar landscape that is the early north Jersey industrial skyline, the adults in charge of the programs at Drexel and Niagara seem downright sensible. They are slated to tip-off at 8:00 a.m. There is no truth to the rumor that in the Drexel/Niagara game, winning team gets to push the losing team over the Falls in a barrel. Although that would make for some damned entertaining television. And in the end, nothing else really matters. Right?

Well, one other thing matters. But I reckon you knew that already.


-AK

Monday, November 16, 2009

Once there was a Spaceship on the Roof

Watching a repeat of Bryant Gumbel's "Real Sports" program on HBO on Saturday, Gumbel was doing his end-of-program monologue - speaking about the return of the Yankees to the World Series and how that was a good thing - when he paused to refer to an observation Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell made a lifetime ago. Russell pointed out that the opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.

I am one of six siblings. Ours is likely not an atypical family in that over time my relationship with at least one of my siblings has been less than ideal. In fact, in at least one or more instance the relationship has been non-existent. Margaret and I have been married sixteen and one-half years and have been together for eighteen plus. During that time, I have an older brother who lives roughly fifteen minutes from us - and has lived that close the entire time that we have been together - who neither my wife nor our children have ever met. And, candidly, I am at a loss to envision the circumstances under which they will.

All six of us have children. And - as I have come to realize over the course of the past several months - most of the "nextgen" are no longer kids. More than a couple of them are parents themselves, which means that I am more than simply an uncle, I am a "great" uncle. The irony of me - who has barely achieved mediocrity as an uncle - attaining the dizzying heights of greatness is not lost on me. Trust me. It is not.

The oldest of the nextgen is thirty-four years old today. It is remarkable to me that one who once was so young is now a young woman of thirty-four. Through the artifice of "social networking" I have reestablished a line of contact with her - and with some of her fellow members of the nextgen. I would not go far or be so bold as to presume it constitutes the resumption of a relationship. She was - as were those with whom I lost contact a lifetime ago and a generation removed from where we are now - a child when I last knew her.

The road back from apathy is a hard one. And I for one do not pretend to have any idea where it leads. I hope though - for today - it leads to a happy birthday.

-AK

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Big Cat Self-Preservation Society

Lawyers are an interesting breed. We are - to an extent - viewed analogously if not similarly to another group of human beings: members of Congress. The average man on the street does not like Congress and does not think that Congress does an effective job. Yet, that same man returns his congressional representative to Washington at a rate of re-election that is north of 90%. Pretty damn good for those we purportedly love to hate.

Similarly, lawyers have historically been viewed as something less than some kind of wonderful. You know that you belong to an unpopular profession when The Eagles can express musically the same sentiment that Shakespeare expressed dramatically centuries earlier and milk it for a hit. And I could make a case for a lot of the criticism being unfair. Or I could do what I do, which is tell myself (rightly or wrongly) that the criticism is not directed at me individually.

You choose your delusion on your own terms but before you criticize my embrace of the latter consider just how difficult it is becoming to do so with the former. New Jersey is the home to (at last count) more than 80,000 attorneys and - I can tell you from my professional experience defending individuals and entities who get sued in civil actions - a representative percentage of that number is comprised of men and women who represent plaintiffs (those doing the suing) in those actions. Also, I can tell you that in my experience attorneys bring a varying degree of expertise and skill to all that we do so some of the adversaries with whom I deal on a day in/day out basis are more skilled than others. I presume without hesitation that my adversaries would say the same thing - both about me and about my brethren in the defense bar.

New Jersey is home to a number of very, very successful law firms that specialize in the business of representing plaintiffs in personal injury matters. If you were to subscribe to the New Jersey Law Journal (and why you would as a non-lawyer when there is zero sports coverage and no comics is a mystery to me) you would see their weekly honor roll - the "Suits and Deals" column - and perhaps begin your quest for a flight of stairs down which you might hurl yourself in order to avail yourself of their services.

Lately, one of the state's more well-known plaintiffs' law firms has been engaged in a rather public Pier Six brawl with one of its former attorneys. Judging by the level of their animosity (as expressed publicly), one could forgive Juliet for her youthful naivete. The vanquished former employee has started a web site that brutally mocks his former firm. The former firm has responded by suing him in Federal court, alleging a whole boatload of violations of Federal law, including trademark infringement and cybersquatting (I would be lying full-throat if I said I have any idea what the latter is).

Who wins? Who cares. From the sidelines it is an experience akin to deciding whether to root for in Alien vs Predator. The cynic in me suspects that the former employee's M.O. is far more deeply rooted in self-promotion than altruism - regardless of his proclamations to the contrary - and that the Firm's reaction is far more deeply rooted in being really, really pissed off than it is in a concern that potential clients might mistake his web site for theirs.

My hope as an attorney is that at some point - in the not-too-distant future - the venom that is fueling this tete-a-tete both ways evaporates or simply gets channeled into something more useful. There is an endless supply of opportunities out there for lawyers (the collective) to be viewed by the world at large as unscrupulous and unsavory characters. We need not - in my opinion - create such an opportunity ourselves.

Or maybe we should just all admit it. Admit that Al Czervik was right. And a note to my fellow members of the bar: On your way to the office tomorrow morning, remember to pick up some Lysol and a sponge. It has truly hit the fan.

-AK

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A River Runs Through Us

Thursday night the Missus and me made the short hop over to Rutgers Stadium to watch New Jersey's hometown team play the University of South Florida. The game, which was nationally televised on ESPN, was an announced sellout although from where we sit (§219) it appeared as if the building was no better than 2/3 full. In case you missed it, although USF arrived in Piscataway ranked among the Top 25 teams in these United States, they got rolled on the banks of the old Rar-i-tan.

I did not attend school at Rutgers. My brother Bill did - and at the risk of incurring his fraternal wrath - he did so a lifetime ago. He graduated from Rutgers well before anyone sat around brainstorming the idea of a Big East Conference. In his day, Rutgers Stadium was a nice, small, on-campus facility with a grass playing surface and seating for roughly 25,000 people. In his day, the football team at Rutgers played its games against Princeton, Bucknell, Lehigh and Delaware (perhaps the non-conference schedule that this year included Howard, Florida International, Army and Texas Southern is not as different as one might have hoped).

Yes Virginia, they have indeed come a long way baby in the three-plus decades since Bill roamed the campus. And I realize that the transition from where they were once to where they are still trying to get to presently - and getting a bit closer all of the time - has not been seamless and it is not universally appreciated by all concerned. But it is hard not to notice the difference in the general demeanor of the student body now as opposed to where it was a decade ago.

I spend a fair amount of time running in and out of New Brunswick for work. The Superior Court of Middlesex County is located in New Brunswick, which is the county seat so between court appearances and depositions at any of the too numerous to count law firms and attorney's offices located within walking distance of the Courthouse I drive around and through at least a piece of RU's campus several times a month. Ten years ago, one could drive up and down Easton Avenue and count on one's hands the number of college kids walking around wearing an article of clothing that identified them as a Rutgers student. Hardly any storefronts, fraternity houses or dorm rooms had flags flying from them or banners affixed to them that manifested any expression of school spirit.

Now it is as if the RU Bookstore has had a perpetual, deep-discount, going out of business sale (they have not and they are not so you will be able to sell your used books there at semester's end I am certain) for the streets are awash in Rutgers students wearing something that identifies them as such and rare is the establishment you pass that does not have a Rutgers flag or a scarlet "R" or at least one of each present for all to see.

I happen to be a big-time college sports kind of guy. I graduated from CU-Boulder in May 1989 - a semester before the football team launched its back-to-back seasons of competing for the National Championship in the Orange Bowl. Among my most fond memories of college was running around on the field at Folsom Field on October 25, 1986. A date I remember twenty-three years later because it was on that day that the Buffs defeated Nebraska at home for the first time since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House (for you non-history doers out there he was elected President in 1952 and re-elected in 1956). A lot of us, men and women alike, ran around on the field at game's end celebrating the moment - a moment that those of us in the stands had done scant little to bring to fruition. We ran around down there not doubting for a moment that it belonged to all of us - football players and political science geeks alike. And we were right. It did.

Thursday night, while the stands were not close to full at the simply gorgeous, state-of-the-art facility with a FieldTurf playing surface and seating for more than 52,000 that the Missus and me and all of us who pay taxes in the State of Concrete Gardens helped pay for, the student section was filled to capacity. And before the game, a lot of the RU students who we saw in and outside of the stadium all appeared to be pretty fired-up, dressed in either red t-shirts or white t-shirts. Once we got inside we saw that there was a method to the madness of the dress code as the kids wearing white spelled out "R" and "U" and the ones wearing red formed the background around the letters. A decade ago there were not enough kids in the stands to complete one half of one leg of the "R".

There are those who view big-time college athletics as indicative of all that is wrong with higher education in this country. I simply am not one of those people. Is it close to a perfect system? Nope. But perhaps once your shuttle flight from Utopia lands you can point me in the direction of such a thing. In my forty-two + years wandering the planet I have not yet encountered one.

And besides, I cannot be inside Rutgers Stadium or at home watching them play on television and not think of my old high school pal Dwight Giles, who walked on at Rutgers, ended up a three-time letter winner and parlayed his chance to use football as a means to get his college degree into a post-college life in which he did nothing but help those he felt most needed to be helped. He was the best athlete I ever had the chance to play with or to watch play a sport. And he was even a better person than he was an athlete.

We were only about thirty years old or so - slightly more than a decade out of high school and five years or so removed from college when Dwight inexplicably and tragically died. Our season tickets at Rutgers Stadium are on the RU side of the field. At every home game the sideline is packed with people wearing rather official-looking passes. I presume that among their number are former Rutgers players. And I like to think that had he not died far too young, I would be able to see "Hersch" on a regular basis still for I doubt not for one minute that he would be down there, smiling that ear-to-ear smile of his, soaking in all that has grown up around him. And appreciating his role in helping them get from there to here. Although knowing Dwight he likely would have had difficulty acknowledging it.

-AK

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Writings on the Wall

When the alarm clock clanged in my ear this morning - as it does every day - and the searing pain in my left knee proved to me that what I had hoped was the sound of small arms fire when I started to get out of bed was sadly the sound of one knee joint cracking, which put the kibosh on my planned run, I realized, "but of course this day is off to an ominous start. It's Friday the 13th."

While double-gripping the steering wheel on my beloved Skate this morning on the great migration north on Route 287 - with the wind blowing across the highway to the extent that I feared one or more tractor-trailer driver was going to end up with the very rear of his rig in the lane adjacent to its front, it hit me that not only is today Friday the 13th but it is the THIRD one of these things that we have had this year.

Perhaps that explains a lot regarding some of the trials and tribulations that many who I love dearly have been forced to confront and to endure this year. Does any year have a chance when 25% of its months include among their number this most dreaded of days? It has appeared with a frequency this year that would make he who stalks Camp Crystal Lake proud. Is it irony or coincidence that the first decade of the 21st Century, which has featured war, economic collapses world-wide and the most brutal acts of terrorism ever seen on American soil shall tap dance its way into the history books with a final go-round that features three Friday the 13ths? Either way, it seems to be two or three too many - at least for this fellow.

I am Irish and I realize that us Gaels invest a bit more heavily in the magical powers of karma than others do. We bend over backwards, held by our ankles, to kiss a rock for luck. Stevie Wonder's hallmark tune is the Irish national anthem. We have long pursued little old men in green suits for considerably more than their "magically delicious" wares.

Like most of us, I wake up with enough on my plate on daily basis to challenge me. I should have been spared the psychic trauma of an unholy trinity of 13th Fridays. I most certainly would not have felt slighted if - years ago - calendar makers opted to do what builders do, which is omit #13 altogether. We could have eliminated the possibility of this day completely. Leave it to the Romans to figure out a way to add two months to the calendar and not figure out a plan for paring twelve days from it.

The good news is - it's almost over. Only 18 more hours to go.....

....I wonder how Ms. Jackson is going to spend her day.

-AK

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Disabling Cain

I received a particularly neat e-mail the other day. It came from a man who I have never met but who - based upon what he wrote - made me think that he is someone who I know quite well. Someone I know quite well in spite of our unfamiliarity with one another and the reasonable likelihood that his life will continue upon a certain trajectory - as shall mine - and we shall likely never cross paths (again if one considers a one-time exchange of e-mail communication to rise to the level of a path-crossing).

A few months ago, I wrote about the passing of a man who I - and who I daresay most of the students who were fortunate enough to study under him - considered to be a great man. On Saturday when I checked my e-mail I had received one from his son. It was brief, simply acknowledging that he had read my e-mail and thanking me for saying such nice things about his dad. And he added something that told me that even as strangers we might very well be the twin sons of different mothers. He wrote that it is always an interesting experience for him to read and to hear his father's students speak of him as he of course saw him from a different perspective. He offered no insight into what that perspective was. And I did not ask.

I did not ask because it belongs to him. It is his and is not something to simply be shared with a stranger. And I wondered if - regardless of the perspective - he chose not to share it not because it is his and because he did not want to impact mine to any degree whatsoever. The two can most certainly co-exist.

And I realized - sitting alone in my office in the wee small hours of Saturday morning - something that had eluded me all these years, which is that those two perspectives can, and should, co-exist. For years I have struggled with the feeling (guilt I suppose) of not sharing the same point of view regarding my own father as too many of his students to count or even accurately estimate have long held. And I have struggled because I have tried in vain to fit these two separate and distinct perspectives into a neat little package, suitable for sharing.

What hit me squarely between the eyes was what had been staring me in the face for the past thirty years but what - for whatever reason - I had been unable to see. What is mine is mine, what is someone else's is someone else's. There is no right or wrong. There only is perspective. And it is unique to each of us. History is in the mind of the teller after all.

For a long time I have had an uneasy and uncertain relationship with my youth, a number of people I knew when we were all young and, most pointedly, the institution that dominated the final quarter of my father's life. The root of my unease was the discomfort associated with being the son of a man who was for a lot of my peers "The Man" in any number of ways while he was not that man for me. It turns out that regardless of whether he was for me what he was for them is not very goddamn important after all.

You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames. It is what you do with them that makes all of the difference.

-AK

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

With Thanks

Today is Veterans Day. Presuming my math is correct, which regrettably is a presumption that requires if not a full-blown leap of faith then at the very least a running jump of faith, today marks the 55th anniversary of Veterans Day. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (himself a veteran of course) signed the Act of Congress that changed Armistice Day - first celebrated here in 1938 to honor the end of World War I (11/11/18) - into Veterans Day. It became a holiday the purpose of which was not simply to honor those who served in WW I, which in spite of history's best intentions, did not turn out to be "the war to end all wars", but also those who had served in World War II and/or the Korean War.

According to this website, Veterans Day's principal purpose is to thank and honor living veterans who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. My oldest brother Bill is a veteran, having served for a number of years in the United States Air Force. I add without a single trace of regret that his years of service occurred during peacetime - when the War was Cold and claimed far fewer casualties than those that we are presently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mom had two brothers who served in the Korean War. I am a notoriously poor raconteur of family history - because my knowledge of it is sketchy at best - but I think that her brother John saw heavy combat in Korea while her brother Jim was assigned to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Mercifully, both made it through their respective tours of duty alive.

Today is a day to honor, to acknowledge and to appreciate the sacrifice made by those who serve and by their families and loved ones. It is also a day to honor and to remember those who served and have since passed on, whether as a result of wounds suffered on the battlefield or - as was the case with Uncle Jim - peacefully and as an old man.

This year - as has been the case for the past several years -Veterans Day is celebrated while we are at war. It is celebrated while the service of our nation has taken countless tens of thousands of fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters from those they love and has brought them into the immediate proximity of those who are considerably less enamored with them. For those who are in service now and who are engaged in conflicts raging far from home, I hope that next year finds them celebrating this day in the company of those who love them and those who they love. And someplace far from where they find themselves today.

May the road they travel take them far from "here", wherever that may be. And may they remain forever removed from the fields where the poppies blow.

-AK

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Pride of the Pilgrims

Once upon a time - way back when in the halcyon days when turkey only cost a nickel - there was a holiday that occupied a prominent place on the calendar. It held sway on its day - affixed like road rash to the fourth Thursday of November. People got genuinely excited about it. A large New York-based department store chain sponsored a parade even. I am not entirely sure but I think if I was to dust off the history books good and true I might be able to make out its name. Ahh there it is....Thanksgiving.

The United States has been - well, the United States - for less than three hundred years. Thanksgiving's roots in what became these United States predate the nation's birth by approximately one hundred and fifty years. The "first Thanksgiving" is traditionally considered to have occurred in 1621 when the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation and interaction between English colonists and Native Americans. It would be followed eventually by other sterling examples of cross-cultural cooperation such as The Sand Creek Massacre, Little Big Horn and, eventually, Mohegan Sun.

But somewhere along the line, Thanksgiving lost its swagger. Its panache disappeared. What once was a national day of celebration - a true American holiday - has now dissolved into a speed bump on the freeway between Halloween's sugary treats and the shopping excesses of Christmas. This year, Halloween fell on a Saturday. On Sunday, November 1 I did what I do every Sunday morning (No - I did not go to church and F*** Y** for merely chuckling at the thought), which was go to the grocery store. With Halloween Aught-Nine safely ensconced in history's dust heap, the grocery store where I shop had kicked all of its Halloween decor to the curb in favor of - wait for it - its Christmas decor. On the first of November, one would have thought simply by walking through the automatic doors of the supermarket that K-Krin's arrival was imminent.

We have yet to reach the mid-point of November - Hell, we have not yet reached Veteran's Day and the Sunday newspapers have already been jammed to the gunwales with one retailer or another's Christmas catalog. You have to love the mercenaries who run Toys R Us. The 2009 Big Book was a Sunday insert on November 1st. What a delightful Sunday morning that must have made for any and all parents of little ones who had been out trick-or-treating the day and night before. Happiness is your six-year-old jacked up to levels of steroidal intensity from the gross of Kit Kats he inhaled less than twelve hours earlier laying his eyeballs and shaky little hands on that bad boy, huh?

Society has become infected by the reluctance to let anything breathe. Attempt to sit through a professional basketball or hockey game in any arena and see if you do not find yourself, by intermission, volunteering to put together a posse to hunt down and string up the the whole Funky Bunch - as if they are to blame for the incessant habit of blaring that damn tune into the arena's atmosphere during every stoppage of play. Although Mark Wahlberg is to blame for that overly hyped bit of tripe known as Entourage so maybe the rest of the Bunch will be pardoned while he stands and answers for his other, unrelated sins?

The infection has spread from arenas and stadiums to the world at large. The thought of consciously putting a lull in the action between the sugar high that is Halloween and the relentless consumerism that is Christmas by enjoying a day that compels us to enjoy nothing more or less complex than one another's company and - if you are lucky - some kick ass stuffing, has gone the way of the $1.00 gallon of gas and Andre Agassi's collection of hair pieces.

A lifetime ago I sat with my father and watched Iona Prep battle New Rochelle High School every Thanksgiving on Channel 11. The Gaels' schedule no longer even includes their cross-town rival. Damn you Sandler. Once you mocked The Candy Man, Thanksgiving was living on borrowed time. Nicely done, dumb ass.

-AK

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Most Dangerous Players

In the aftermath of the shootings at Fort Hood last week, there has been as much finger-pointing as there has been hand-wringing. 20/20 hindsight never rises to the forefront as quickly in any situation as it does in a time of tragedy. It seems as if everyone has not just an opinion but a solution, which comes wrapped in a criticism (sometimes subtle and sometimes direct) focusing on signals missed and mistakes made.

True confession time. I know none of the principals involved in either the horrible events that unfolded last week at Fort Hood or the day-to-day operation of the base. I am not competent to offer an opinion as to whether there were signals missed that could have prevented the murder of the thirteen people who died at the hands of Nidal Malik Hasan. Being a human being however I am capable of feeling outrage for what this one human being callously and calculatedly decided to do to some of his fellow humans. I am capable of feeling sympathy for those injured and for the families of those who were murdered. I am capable of feeling gratitude for Police Officer Kimberly Munley whose quick-thinking and courage removed the oxygen source feeding the murderous inferno.

Sadly, I am not capable of feigning surprise at yet another example of the truly despicable and seemingly unspeakable way in which those of us who purport to be human beings treat one another. One must have little appreciation for human life to act as Hasan did. To do what he did suggests - to me anyway - that he viewed his fellow humans - including his fellow soldiers - as nothing other than disposable. He is not the first person to act in such a heinous manner. Worse yet, he will certainly not be the last.

Equally sad is how wrong Hasan is about his fellow humans. And how wrong the next incarnation of Hasan will be as well. Alan Carroll deserves better. His injured and murdered comrades in arms deserve better. Hell, we all deserve better.

Whether we ever get there depends upon us. A fairly scary proposition considering that we are the ones responsible for getting us here in the first place.

Here's to better days......for all of us.

-AK

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Rise of the Aurora

There is a cliche about the importance of answering when opportunity knocks. Cliches become so because they contain more than a morsel of truth. Trust me when I tell you that too is worth remembering.

In the middle of last week, Bruce Springsteen announced that during his two shows this weekend at Madison Square Garden he and the E Street Band were going to play "full album" shows in a vein similar to what they did at Giants Stadium and at the Spectrum. And, as per the announcement, they were going to play The River (all 21 songs) in its entirety on Sunday night and - for the first of the two shows - they were going to do something they had never done, which was to play The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle in order -and in its entirety. I had no tickets to either show. I had reasonably anticipated that the final show at Giants Stadium was my final opportunity to see Springsteen and his band mates - both on this tour and given the uncertainty of their future (they are planning to take more than a year off after this tour) perhaps forever. When they announced the plan to play WIESS in its entirety, I got in touch with my softball-playing buddy Dave Puteska, confirmed his availability, and scooped up a couple of tickets. They were not great seats - by any acceptable definition of the term - but they were in the building. And last night that was more than enough. We met one-half of the Sisters Kizis quartet (Lynne and Gidg) in Penn Station last night and ate together. They had pounced on tickets at or about the same time as we had and - like Dave and me - ended up further from the stage than they are accustomed to being but safely in the building. And for them too that was all that mattered.

Once upon a time, musicians made albums, which had sides. The second side of WIESS is a side that - to my ear - is as good as any that has ever appeared on any rock and roll album anywhere. It consists of only three songs (the entire album has but seven) but they are three epic pieces of music - "Incident on 57th Street", "Rosalita" and "New York City Serenade", which roll one into the other back to back to back. On vinyl they are beautiful. Live and in person they were so much more than that. They were simply exquisite.

The show raged on for a minute or two short of three hours. It started with a classic, "Thundercrack" (introduced by Springsteen as an outtake from the sessions that produced WIESS) and ended with Elvis Costello joining Bruce and the band on stage for final encore, which was the Jackie Wilson song "Higher and Higher". In between it never stopped rocking and rolling. It was a simply extraordinary night of music.

And it occurred to me as I pulled into my driveway after 1:00 a.m. this morning that I now have likely seen this group of musicians playing together for the final time. And presuming that i am indeed correct, what a way to go out. What a way to say goodbye.

Maybe it is not goodbye. Maybe it is just until we meet again further on up the road. One can always hope. For one never knows when an opportunity might present itself to see them again.

You simply have to listen for the knock.

-AK

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Grand Canyon

The missus and me enjoyed our "hooky day" yesterday. Margaret - God bless her - bundled up against the elements and accompanied the 3/4 idiot to whom she is married into lower Manhattan for the Yankees parade up the Canyon of Heroes. Given my wife's ability to not only land on her feet but right smack dab on the bull's eye, she ended up finding us a spot right on the rail/barricade on the east side of the intersection of Liberty and Broadway. Only Margaret, in a sea of humanity too numerous to be counted and too wide to broach, can find her way - with little to no visible effort being expended - to the center of everything.

It was not as cold as predicted yesterday as we joined the throngs of people lining Broadway and by the time 11:00 clock arrived there were so many people pressed along the avenue that had you arrived frozen on dry ice you would have thawed evenly and completely. When we arrived home last evening there was a report on the Channel 2 News that the crowd along the parade route numbered 2 million +. Candidly, I made a good-faith effort to count the crowd but being of limited arithmetical intellect and being foiled by the number of people wearing similar if not identical outfits, after counting Margaret and me about a dozen times and losing track shortly thereafter, I simply quit the effort. My scientific methodology leads me to believe that the number was somewhere around "a lot".

It was not an easy day to be a member of the NYPD yesterday, trying to walk the line between permitting the assembled multitude to have a great day and not permitting any particular member of that multitude from attempting to do so at the expense of those around him/her. We only saw the actions of the cops working our side of Broadway at Liberty and they were excellent all day. They maintained their patience, their cool and their demeanor regardless of what was happening around them - and they did it through the parade itself, which sadly it appears a number of the officers did not get to actually see as they spent it facing towards the crowd, which required them to stand with their backs to the floats and the vehicles that drove up Broadway.

Margaret and I had the good fortune of meeting three young women (older than college-age but younger than us) with whom we shared the "sardine" experience yesterday. The five of us arrived at the spot where we would ultimately spend the day within only a few minutes of one another - much to the chagrin of a rather large-sized, incredibly obnoxious woman who was already there. My spot in Hell is already reserved so I feel no crisis of conscience in calling out this particular shrew and her fellow attention whore; both of whom you likely saw either on your evening news last night or in your morning paper today.

The two women were in the company of a severely handicapped, disabled girl (presumably the daughter of one) who was wheelchair-bound. The youngster was adorned in full Yankee regalia. She seemed to be delightful. However, while it was not Arctic conditions on the street yesterday in Manhattan, it was not warm or a reasonable facsimile thereof. And it was a tough place to negotiate with a wheelchair. Nevertheless, at every opportunity yesterday this poor girl in the wheelchair got moved by her "caregivers" (giving that term the broadest possible definition) from in front of one camera to another. And with every move at least one of the women (and more often than not both of them) crammed their faces into the frame. There was not a person with a "PRESS" pass and a camera who passed by who did not stop (and on more than one occasion get stopped by one of the two women) to take a photo. Nothing says love quite like the ceaseless exploitation of one for the inane gratification of another. It was a display that ranged all the way from distasteful to pathetic.

All in all, those two miscreants had an effect on the totality of yesterday's experience similar to that of two specks of dust on a Ferrari. The enthusiasm on the faces in the crowd - especially the little kids who were all over - was matched by that of the players, who seemed as happy to be there as we were. It was quite a day. An experience that I doubt highly Margaret and I shall ever undertake again - under any circumstances - but one worth having nevertheless.

Nine years between World Series championships did not seem to me to be nearly as close to forever as some writers had suggested it was - until yesterday. It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. I think it also breeds nonchalance. It breeds the sense of "no big deal", "been there/done that." Yesterday, from the players on the floats to the confetti-tossing office dwellers to the folks lining the Canyon that feeling was nowhere to be felt.

And its absence was the greatest feeling of all.

-AK

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's Midnight in Manhattan

Actually it was 11:52 E.S.T. in the Bronx on Wednesday night when the Yankees - after nine years that included two unsuccessful trips to the World Series - vanquished the Phillies in the sixth and final game of the '09 World Series and captured the 27th World Championship in franchise history. A practical application of Einstein's theory of relativity is found within the white lines of Abner Doubleday's creation (well - "alleged" creation). In the Yankee Universe, nine years between titles felt like forty years in the desert. Imagine therefore if you can how pervasively the taste of sand fills the throats of loyal fans of the Cubs, the Giants and the Indians.

Wednesday night however the Yankees put an end to their dry spell. On the arms and backs of the most successful starter/closer combination in Major League history, with Rivera finishing what Pettitte started, the Yankees closed out the Phillies' hope of repeating as champions by defeating them 7-3. In between Pettitte's first pitch to Jimmy Rollins and Rivera's final one to Shane Victorino, there was quite a bit of action. The overwhelming majority of it was provided by the always steady, never flashy Hideki Matsui. Matsui drove in six runs - including four in the first four innings - off of long-time Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez. On a night when the home team's Designated Hitter (get me that Shakespeare fellow on the phone please as I want to probe further his "what's in a name" hypothesis) produced twice the offensive firepower of their opponent's entire lineup, the good people of New York City discovered that Godzilla is not content to wreak havoc solely upon Tokyo.

It is naive to think that professional athletes do not play the sports they play in significant part because of the extraordinary sums of money they get paid to play them. I am many things - a considerable portion of them are not good - but naive I am not. Yet I am also not quite so jaded (not just yet) so as to be incapable of recognizing genuine emotion when I see it. At the end of Game 6 on Wednesday night, the Yankee players reacted as they did to what they had just achieved not with the calculated nonchalance of mercenaries but rather with the unbridled enthusiasm of little boys. Full-sized frames protecting the hearts and souls of children.

And as I sat up Wednesday night with one eye open (although I think in the 8th inning for a while anyway neither one was), I paid particular attention to the reaction of the Core of Four - Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera - and the way in which they sought out each other on the field to hug and to share this moment with. This particular quartet of millionaires had been through four similar celebrations together. Yet, for each of them it appeared as if they were experiencing something new. I heard Jeter tell a reporter on the field after the game that given how long had passed since he had last been part of a World Series-winning team he had forgotten just how great it felt to win the World Series. See - if you do not do something for an extended period of time, then eventually everything old becomes new again.

This day, I am doing something I rarely do - and never do unless there is a Springsteen concert on tap somewhere - I am playing hooky from work. OK, I am not technically playing hooky. I have a considerable number of vacation days to which I am entitled and I am taking one of them. I am crossing the river from the Jersey side and hopping the PATH downtown to the Canyon of Heroes. My gut tells me that this just might have been the final ride for the Four Horsemen of East 161st Street. And if I am right, then today presents a last chance to salute them and to celebrate with them all that they have accomplished.

One final boogaloo down Broadway. And a final opporunity to be serenaded by New York City......or at least several hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

-AK

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Treasure of the Trash

In the autumn immediately following the summer in which a Canadian faux rocker purchased at a discount store the first incantation of an instrument that would one day bring him fortune and fame, a new children's television show made its broadcast debut. It has been four decades since children first asked grown-ups how to get what has since become a favorite address for us bi-peds of all ages. On November 10th Sesame Street will turn the big 4-0.

I am, like most of us who are my age and younger I suspect (Hell - I hope), a child of Sesame Street. Every one of us who watched it had our favorite resident of the 'hood. Mine was the cranky curmudgeon with the flip-top pad. Call me a sucker for the misunderstood conscience of Sesame Street. Or maybe I just had a soft spot in my little heart, which has not grown markedly since I was two (or at least so I have been told), for the only fella on the block who had both a pet worm and a pet elephant and who did not favor public sing-alongs.

Regardless of your favorite character or your favorite element of Sesame Street it was - and I presume (not having seen an episode in decades but having enjoyed spending more time than was necessary to write this piece) - and it remains an invaluable tool for teaching children of all ages and sizes. It taught all of us significantly more than our ABC's or how to count - although it taught us those lessons wonderfully well. The value of Sesame Street was - and is - what it teaches each of us about life, including all of that incredibly important stuff that we learn in places other than school.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned in this life and for forty years it has taught them to us. If you too have been off of the Street too long and have perhaps forgotten all that you learned there or you doubt the staying power of those lessons, then remind yourself of how deftly and how beautifully it handled a subject that all of us shall have to deal with at least once in our lives. Sure he is big and yellow and......well, a Muppet but Big Bird was Everyman - even if just for a moment was he not - as he came to grips with the death of his friend Mr. Hooper.

If it is indeed true that forty is the new twenty, then Big Bird, the Count, Grover, Kermit and my man Oscar have another generation or three to entertain and to educate. Here is to hoping that gentrification never takes hold at the most important block that television has ever dedicated to children.

And here is to hoping that regardless of how old we are and regardless of what life subjects us to that we always remember how to get there.

-AK