Sunday, February 28, 2010

Time Passages

One-sixth of year one of decade two of the 21st century will be in the books by day's end. How time flies. Well, maybe not so much when someone breaks it down in a way that you have never considered doing yourself - and with good reason. Whether viewing it head on or in the abstract, the result is the same: two down, ten to go for 2010.

Time is a concept that fascinates and infuriates me. It is something that all of us are taught how to measure at a young age. We learn how to tell time it seems shortly after our head pops free of the uterus and are immediately impressed by its power and the control it exerts over our life ("OK, according to my schedule it is ten minutes until I get fed again and twelve minutes until my next poop"). And yet it is something that all of us - to a degree - allow to get the better of us from time to time and also to get away from us completely.

Abuse of time is not - in my experience - an age-related phenomenon. By that I mean that since ignorance is bliss, smiles come "one size fits all" regardless of age or presumptive level of maturity. Sadly I was reminded of that fact yesterday while attending the Region 3 wrestling tournament in Union.

Margaret's nephew Frank has had (in my admittedly biased opinion) a phenomenal season from his spot as the 160 pounder on the Middlesex wrestling team. If I read the paper correctly this morning - and if the information contained within it was correct (two huge IFs right up front) then Frank's win last night in the Region 3 Championship at 160 pounds - a tight, well-contested affair against the deservedly well regarded Dennis Carroll of Roselle Park - raised his record to 30-1. Upon reading that this morning I was struck by how much his record as a junior 160 pound wrestler reminded me of my record as a freshman 108 pound wrestler back in the for the multiple victories and the single defeat the two are practically mirror images of one another.

To win the Region 3 title yesterday, Frank had to wrestle three times. His first match of the day was uneventful as he defeated again the young man he had defeated in the District 12 final one week earlier. His last match of the day was the championship match against Carroll, during which for six minutes the one pushed the other with everything he could muster. And when it was over the two - both of whom appeared just a tad tired from where I was sitting - ended things the way they had started them - with a hearty handshake and a smile.

It was the day's middle match for Frank that caused me to awaken this morning wondering about the vagaries of time. He wrestled the #1 seeded wrestler, who for reasons known only to him and perhaps his coaches, showed up not looking to wrestle but to fight. In high-school wrestling the two wrestlers meet at the center of the mat and before the ref whistles them into action they shake hands. Not in yesterday's semi-final match. Instead of shaking hands with Frank, his opponent lunged forward and hit him in the face in an apparent effort to intimidate or rattle him. Not only did that effort fail but it cost Frank's opponent a point.

The two kids were actually able to engage in wrestling for about thirty to forty-five seconds until the opponent - either because he had misplaced his cool or he continued to erroneously believe that he was going to intimidate Frank - fouled Frank again and thereafter (after the referee blew his whistle to stop the action) tossed Frank into the temporary barricades that are erected around the mats during these big tournaments to keep the fans and the wrestlers separated from one another. At this point, having seen enough the referee disqualified Frank's opponent. The kid who was disqualified apparently is a senior, which means after working hard for four years and standing only six minutes away from a chance to wrestle for a State title, he voluntarily threw the "Kill" switch on his career.

And of course - as is too often the case in these scenarios - having self-immolated on the mat, the wrestler who was disqualified and various other folks from his school and his family then went after Frank after the match ended. Fortunately - and due in large part to the good work of the folks who ran the venue and of the members of the Union P.D. who were on site - while there was a considerable amount of shouting, soon after the wanna-be melee started, it was only the shouting that remained. And better still, several hours after the stupidity subsided, Frank returned to the mat and completed his day's work.

As adults among our nondelegable duties should be teaching our children well about the importance of using one's time and one's energy wisely. We have not only a finite amount of both but an indeterminate amount as well. We know not when whoever it is who determines such things will tap us on the shoulder and tell us it is time to go, which one supposes underscores the importance of making judicious use of the time that is allotted to us.

Yet too often we do not. And worse yet, as parents not only do we not make judicious use of our time we encourage our kids to waste their own. I reckon that this morning Frank's semi-final opponent and his family shall gather around the breakfast table still pissed off about yesterday's events and still pathetically looking to assign blame for what happened to him to everyone but the only one who deserves it. I hope however - for his own sake - that as this young man makes his own way in the world he holds out what he did yesterday - to Frank and to himself - as a blueprint for his own children to follow as a "How Not To....." guide. And if he does that, then perhaps the day of his life that he wasted yesterday, which has been irretrievably assigned to the dustbin of history, will not have been wasted after all. Rather it will simply be a day that could have been better spent.

Hours are like diamonds, don't let them waste. But unlike diamonds, hours are not forever. Even if the decisions we make with how we spend them last with us for at least that long.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chasing Louden Swain

There is an old adage about nothing worth having ever coming to you too easy - or words to that effect. There are a million practical applications for the aforementioned adage in the lives of each of us. Today, it rings particuarly true for Frank.

Mother Nature has spent the month of February playing the part of a woman scorned all over the State of Concrete Gardens. Her wrath has had far-flung and disparate consequences. She has prompted the closing of so many schools so often that the possibility exists for kids in certain areas of my beloved home state that their Memorial Day long weekend might be longer than their summer vacation. And she has necessitated the cancellation, postponement and rescheduling of so many activities and events that 'round these parts these days you get a pass if you cannot figure out where it is you are going and are indeed having difficulty distinguishing your ass from your elbow. Lately every day has been one of those days.

In a particularly cruel twist of fate the flex of Mother Nature's mighty muscles has wreaked havoc on the high school wrestlers who are competing this weekend in one of eight Regions for the right to wrestle in the State Championship tournament in Atlantic City next weekend. Frank, his two surviving Blue Jays teammates, the son and namesake of one of a man I have known my entire life (a man my parents wished and hoped I would be be like when I grew up) and 108 other wrestlers were to have gathered last night at Union High School for the commencement of this weekend's hostilities in Region 3. However, with more time being devoted the past two days to the throwing of snow than to the throwing of one's opponent a tournament usually contested over two days is now a one-day marathon. All of the kids competing in it will wrestle this morning. Thereafter a wrestler could have to wrestle as many as three more matches by day's end.

Wrestling is a sport that relentlessly taxes the kids who compete in it. The toll it takes upon them is both physical and emotional. It is a sport in which there is no hiding place and in which the competitor walks alone. Today the majority of the kids in action at Union High School and at the seven other sites across the state at which Region tournaments are being contested will go home disappointed. Eight combatants will begin the day in each of the fourteen weight classes fueled by the same dream: Atlantic City. When the dust settles today, only three kids from each weight class will have realized his dream. For the other five per weight class the season ends today. And for a certain of their number who are high school seniors, the sound resonating in their ears as day's end is that of a chapter in the book of life closing with a thud.

For the kids competing today, today is not a "day" at all. It is a series of six-minute vignettes composed extemporaneously. Six minutes. A lifetime or perhaps no time at all. It depends what one makes of it.

It is always that way with time; is it not? It is never how much we have but what we do with the time we have that defines us - all of us. Not only the young.


Friday, February 26, 2010

Counting Down The Days Til The Springtime Of My Life

Clearly I missed the memo. I went to bed one night in January comfortably living within the geographical boundaries of the State of Concrete Gardens and I woke up on a February morning trapped in the hinterlands of Buffalo. Every time I think of that smug little groundhog in Pennsylvania strolling out of his hole earlier this month and predicting six more weeks of winter, I want to hop in Skate, drive to Pennsylvania and take a shovel to his varmint melon. We have had so much cruddy weather this month that February seems to have lasted far longer than 26 days (I am a pie-eyed optimist so I am giving us credit for completing today unscathed).

The weather has wreaked havoc on everyone's schedules, including of course those of us who call the farm at 629 Parsippany Road home. Two weeks ago - the first time this month that Snowmageddon came calling - I had come home prepared the night before and simply worked from home and rode out the storm. Yesterday morning when I woke up here 'NTSG we were receiving nothing but rain so I hoofed it into the office and was enjoying my first cup of coffee by 4:45 or so. Less than an hour later, looking at the window and seeing snow hurtling down out of the still-dark sky into our parking lot I thought I had made a grave tactical error. Thankfully although a lot of snow fell in Parsippany yesterday it did little to disrupt my day. And it did even less to disrupt my drive home. Yea for me!

Yesterday had a bit of a Saturday vibe around the office. A lot of folks opted out of coming in out of concern - understandable from my perspective - of facing a potentially treacherous commute. I do not know what you do at your job but while what we do at the Firm is work that is important to us and is important to our clients we are not curing cancer or teaching magpies had to speak Greek or something of a similar vein that requires one to risk life and limb to make it to the office. Besides, the neat thing about being a lawyer is you can work anywhere. Presently it is too early to tell if today Snowmageddon's other shoe shall indeed drop upon us. Just in case, I brought work home with me so that even if I cannot get to the office I can still work. Man it is easy to be brave knowing that T never reads this thing.

I will be happy to see March pop its head above the tree line come Monday. For the shortest month on the calendar, February has been a hell of a lot of work. As an Aquarian I am protective of my birth month's reputation and stature but even I have to admit that this year the good stuff that February provided to us all: the Super Bowl, the Olympics, President's Day and Brooklyn Decker have been muted by the wholly obnoxious amount of snow that has fallen.

Here in the midst of winter's hazy shade, the leaves may indeed be brown. One day soon I hope enough snow will melt that I can see for myself.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flight of the (Back to the) Snow Bird

The world traveler is back 'NTSG. And not a moment too soon right? Happiness is coming home from sunny Florida just in time for the latest incantation of the "Storm of the Century". Well, under ordinary circumstances one would think not. However given that my father-in-law embraces change in his routine almost as enthusiastically as I do, I suspect that even if it means spending his first full day home from his week away as the third leg in the Dennis Quaid - Jake Gyllenhaal action movie hero triangle, his joy at being home will trump his feeling of terminal deja vu as he watches another massive amount of snow fall down upon us. Today's storm - presuming it does arrive as advertised - reinforces my belief that Mother Nature is a chick with a wicked sense of humor and an impeccable sense of timing inasmuch as the rain she ordered up for us the past forty-eight hours has just about washed away the evidence of the blizzard that she buried us under a fortnight ago.

Margaret and Joe have been extremely close the entirety of the time that I have known the two of them, a period that is rapidly approaching two decades (or to drop some old school parlance on you - Honest Abe style - "a score") but they have become fiercely so in the nine months or so since Suzy B died. One recognizes the strength and the vulnerability that co-exists in the other, which simultaneously create a safe harbor and a need for one another. And their give and take is effortless - like a well-choreographed ballet (or if you can resist the temptation to projectile vomit at the site of the male contestants channeling their inner Carmen Miranda than feel free to insert ice dancing as your model) in which one partner knows without needing to say a word where to be and what to do.

Everybody needs a little time away from time to time. Joe needed to escape the winter doldrums of Joisey for the fun and relative warmth of Florida. Judging by the nightly updates he provided to Margaret it seems as if he had one hell of a good time. Yet it was undoubtedly an odd feeling for him to be there as a solo act, having made countless trips to Florida with his bride. For years the two of them would pack up at the beginning of February, drive south until they reach the State of Eternal Sunshine and not return until the beginning March. The drive down and back was as much a part of the adventure as the weeks they spent there relaxing. There were certain little restaurants they ate in each year on their journey, a motel where they always spent the night and a place or two or three where they always stopped for gas. Upon their return in March they would have equally entertaining stories to tell about what they did and who they met while on the journey as they did about how they spent their actual vacation.

This year Joe flew down and back. When one has been operating with a co-pilot for half a century and suddenly she is not there in the shotgun seat beside you, it makes sense to yield the controls to someone else altogether, which he did. As of this morning I have not yet seen him since his return but I presume that our paths shall cross either today or - presuming Mother Nature is a wrestling fan and shall permit Frank and the rest of the Regionnaires to compete this weekend - tomorrow night at Union High School. I know what he will tell me when I ask him about his trip, which is that he enjoyed himself but that he is happy to be home. As is Margaret.

The weather today is supposed to be brutal 'NTSG. I reckon from Margaret's vantage point it will not be too bad at all. It is only snow after all - it melts. The important stuff survives a change in the weather. Always has. Always will.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fences and Neighbors

People are a never-ending source of amusement and curiosity to me - as I am confident I am to the rest of the world. Well, perhaps if we substituted bemusement for amusement and disdain for curiosity but you get the point. Occasionally though the line between amusement and terror gets a bit blurred for my taste. Perhaps it is just me being me but I think not.

I am a bit of a betting man and I would confidently wager that never in the annals of recorded history have two men engaged in a conversation that absolutely could not have awaited the completion of one man's "business" in a men's room. I mean it. Short of you providing me with documentation of some sort that a member of President Lincoln's protective detail passed on a chance to alert Honest Abe to impending doom on that fateful April night at the Ford Theatre because he did not want to interfere with the Chief Executive's "natural bodily processes", I stand by my assertion. There is nothing that you need to share with me through your facial orifice - guy to guy - that cannot be held in abeyance until another orifice located further south upon your person has ceded the white-hot spotlight.

It is becoming a bit of an epidemic in my office - and perhaps yours as well. That is, the phenomenon of men chatting each other up in the bathroom; as if it were some sort of tiled, dimly lit and curiously smelling social club. I am not a fan of the urinal-to-urinal, "Hey how's it going?" even though you/I are separated by a strategically placed piece of metal but I understand it. You are standing there next to someone else you know for an indeterminate length of time so the two of you start making idle chatter - much in the same way as you would perhaps awaiting the arrival of the crosstown local bus. Again, it is not my preference but I certainly do not view it as a breach of a binding social contract.

Lately however around our joint there has been an uptick of efforts of guys attempting to engage in conversation while one is in a stall.....doing what it is we men tend to do in such a setting. It happened to me yesterday and candidly it angered me a little. How self-absorbed must one man be to think that anything he has to say to another merits man #2 standing on the outside of a stall door in a men's room while he, man #1, chatters away about whatever the hell it is he is talking about? I was tempted to ask the attempted engager whether he was so arrogant as to believe (as the kids might say) that, "his s*it don't stink" but considering the setting I presumed that it did or would and I had no intention of being present at some weird, potentially permanently scarring cotillion for his BM. Instead of answering him, I quietly opened first the inside door of the men's room and thereafter the one that connects the men's room to the office so that he could not hear me leaving. While I do not know if anyone else wandered into the target zone while he was in there multi-tasking he was indeed still talking as I exited - apparently unaware of his audience's hasty retreat.

Gentlemen - what you do in the bathroom is your business. And while the men's room is not on the medal stand of the happiest places on earth, you may choose to do a bit of reading while engaged in the important business of your day, which inevitably means that you spend more time inside than a non-reader would. But that is your choice; not something that is foisted upon you by someone else. Me? I have been married a long time and have raised two kids. Often on a Sunday morning when the kids were younger and both still at home I would take a cup of coffee, a carafe full of back-up java, the sports page, a book I was reading and a bowl of cereal into the downstairs bathroom at home. You find sanctuary where you want to and I shall find it where I want to; OK?

Maybe it is simply the lapsed Catholic in me that finds the attempt of one man - in a men's room shared by not fewer than one dozen men by the way - to engage a second man in conversation while Man #1 is doing #2 to be so damned uncomfortable. Perhaps it churns up a long-lost bad memory of confessions from my youth or some such thing. I know not. I know simply that I have zero interest in playing the role of Wilson to a co-worker's Tim Taylor.

Just another thin line I prefer not to cross.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The View from Heaven's Highest Hill

If life expectancy was directly linked to the quality of the individual, then Tony Costabile would have made the first millennium without breaking a sweat. As all of us who have lost one who we love know too damned well, one bears little relationship to the other. Perhaps that is why at the far-too-young age of fifty-three, on Saturday Tony lost the valiant battle he had waged against cancer. Pete Hamill said it far more eloquently than can I, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man is short."

Upon hearing the news of his death I thought immediately and regrettably how much time had passed since I had last been in his company. Once upon a lifetime ago, when the young ladies who are our daughters were just grammar school-age children we shared the bond of "basketball fathers". Tony's oldest daughter Shannon was a year ahead of Suzanne at OLMV and the girls were teammates on the school's basketball team for (I think) at least three years - when Suz was in 4th, 5th and 7th grade and Shannon was in 5th, 6th and 8th respectively. For the most part, the only time I ever saw Tony when our kids were in fact kids was at basketball games. Invariably we spent a great deal of time sitting together, talking about our kids and talking hoops.

Kids grow up and as they do they go off into different directions. Suzanne was one of the members of her 8th grade class who matriculated on over to Bishop Ahr for high school. Shannon a year earlier had started high school at Piscataway. Other than running into each other if/when their respective basketball teams played one another while each was still playing hoops in high school I do not know if Shannon/Suzanne ever saw one another again past grammar school.

I realized in fact thinking about him today that the last time I saw Tony for any reason was after both of our daughters had graduated from OLMV; when Rob was an 8th grader. That season I helped coach Rob's 7th/8th grade basketball team while Tony coached the 7th/8th grade girls team; the roster of which included Tony's younger daughter Dana. Not surprisingly, given the disparity in the coaching talent on the teams' respective benches, the girls' team had a significantly better record than did their male counterparts.

When I heard on Saturday morning the news that he had died, I thought with a smile of all of the conversations I had ever had with him. I thought of all of the things I had ever learned about him either from speaking with him or - more pointedly - simply by watching him interact with his family. Regardless of how things went on the court when she and Suz played together, it seemed from my ringside seat that Shannon could always count on her dad for a comforting word or two and a reassuring bear hug. I realized reading his obituary in the newspaper on Monday morning that Shannon is now married. I visualized in my mind's eye her on her father's arm walking up the aisle with him while he whispered one last word or two of advice and right before he gave her one final hug in advance of her exchanging her vows.

Good people should not die from horrible, insidious diseases at any time; most especially at the not anywhere near ripe-old-age of 53. But because life is a rigged game and the odds are against all of us, it happens. It should not but it does. A good man lost an unfair fight last week. One reasonably anticipates though that while he is no longer with his family, he is not now and shall not be forgotten. Missed always but forgotten never.....

.....the way it should be because life ends but love don't stop.


Monday, February 22, 2010

At the Point of Intersection Where Miracles Begin & Innocence Ends

Yesterday evening as I was flipping around the TV dial I stumbled across a piece on NBC on the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team. I was going to throw the obligatory "Mens" in there until I remembered that thirty years ago hockey was not yet an Olympic sport in which women competed. In the piece that NBC aired Al Michaels was in studio with the 1980 team's best player, team captain and the goalie who had the best two weeks of his life during the Olympics in Lake Placid.

As Michaels sat talking to Mark Johnson, Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig, video was aired from both the historic upset of the Soviet team (Yes kids back then they were Soviets and not Russians) and the gold medal win two days later over Finland. This year the teams competing in the Olympics have rosters chock full of players from NHL rosters. In 1980 all the players on the American team were all amateurs. Their average age was 22. Post-Olympics there were a number of them who had stellar NHL careers, including Johnson. One of them - Ken Morrow -went from winning the Olympic gold medal to winning four consecutive Stanley Cups as a member of the New York Islanders. But team captain Eruzione, whose goal in the middle of the third period was the difference maker against the Soviets, never played a minute in the NHL. And Craig whose head standing antics in goal made the miracle happen, had an NHL career that was neither lengthy nor spectacular.

Against the backdrop of the now-NHL dominated rosters (including those of both the US squad and the Canadian team that played one another last night with the visitors from down under posting a 5-3 upset) what a ragtag group of college kids accomplished three decades ago seems even more remarkable. It reminds me to of the fact that once upon a time - or even longer ago perhaps - we were a nation as driven by the effort as we were by the result. We enjoyed long odds and were driven to defying them - to smashing someone else's limited expectations for our success into the dust.

It appears as if at some point in time we have lost our way in that regard. We have become so infatuated with plotting least resistance's course that we have turned our noses up at sage, somewhat silly-sounding advice we received from our parents and their parents before them. If you are over the age of 40, then you were likely told more than simply once or twice as a child that in spite of its name, there really is no such thing as a free lunch. These days it seems as if too much of our time (and notice that I said 'our' and not 'your' because the man in the mirror I see every morning is as afflicted with the disease as anyone else) is spent in pursuit of the sure thing; the can't miss proposition. Yet while more and more of us are missing at a historic pace we seem to have little tolerance for rediscovering old habits. Instead we pursue the elusive, impossible to catch light at the tunnel's end in the vain hope of latching onto a solution that costs us nothing. Silly humans we are. Nobody rides for free. Never have. Never will.

Thirty years ago, a group of kids and the curmudgeon who handpicked them to play for him did something that seemed impossible to everyone. At least to everyone outside of their locker room - and perhaps to at least one or two of them in there as well. And those of us who remember it and who still smile or get a bit of a lump in our throat as we hear Al Michaels ask us whether we believe in miracles remember it so vividly because it was completely unexpected. The twenty players who created magic that February on the frozen pond at Lake Placid live in our mind's eye and in our memories three decades later because they represented all that we had been taught was good about America; if we work hard, work together and support each other towards a common goal nothing is impossible and nothing is beyond the reach of our dreams.

Watching Johnson, Eruzione and Craig on television last night it struck me that it seems that it has been longer than thirty years since they enjoyed their moment of Olympic glory. It seems instead to have happened somewhere back there in the dust. A long time ago indeed.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter's Hazy Shade

It is not every Saturday in February here 'NTSG that dawns in the mid 40s and sunny. Thankfully, the only Saturday to date this month that has so dawned was yesterday, which was when Margaret, Lynne, Gidg and I joined about 1200 other hardy (the "fool" is silent for all of you wise asses sitting at home) souls in the Manasquan Mid-Winter Beach Run. The event is either tied into or sponsored by Leggett's, which is one of the 'Squan's renowned watering holes. While I have not been involved in this whole running thing for very long I have learned that there is truth to the axiom that an event that has a bar or bars involved in its sponsorship will - if nothing else - have one hellaciously fine post-race party......which is why Lynne and Margaret will be joining Gidg and me at the next road race run in the 'Squan, which is the appropriately named Fool's Run on March 27, which is either tied into or sponsored by O'Neill's....another one of the 'Squan's renowned watering holes.

Yesterday was a very cool event because while the distance was short, it almost proved to be deceptively so given the composition of the race's course. After running one mile essentially northbound on a road that parallels the beach, runners then were required to run 1/4 mile on the beach. Running in the sand is tough under any circumstances and given how chewed up the beaches here in the State of Concrete Gardens have become courtesy of the woody that Mother Nature has been sporting for us this winter, it was not even something masquerading as a reasonable facsimile of fun. I woke up this morning with screaming calves and with an even deeper appreciation for those in our history who have done their beach running under exponentially more trying circumstances. It was all I could do to keep from burying myself in the sand carrying nothing but my own 180-odd pounds. I cannot imagine anyone under any circumstances making headway on such a surface carrying countless extra weight on his back.

As someone who has spent less than one year actively running and who is very much one who runs and not a runner, I love the fact that I have consistently had the opportunity since I began doing it to do things that I otherwise never would have imagined myself doing. While running on a Jersey beach on a Saturday morning in February admittedly might never have appeared on my bucket list, I am happy that I now could cross it off if I wanted to do so.

But I am happier still to know that if I am still standing next year and (presuming that the mystics and statistics continue to be proven wrong) that the beach at the 'Squan is precisely where we encountered it yesterday that I can take another crack at it. Bucket list be damned.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Joyful Noise on Memory Lane

I do not readily embrace technology. I more often than not adopt more of a Heisman pose with regard to it. Occasionally though it does something that reminds me that Albert, Prince of the Tennessee Valley is not wholly devoid of value above and beyond that found in him as a satirical figure.

Thursday afternoon I got a great surprise in the middle of my work day as Rob telephoned me from the middle of his. I must confess that although neither of my children is indeed a child any more I have the same reaction now to receiving phone calls from either in the middle of the day that I did when they were children, which is, "What's wrong?" Thus the nice surprise part of the phone call from Rob began only after he assured me that the answer to my unspoken but nevertheless readily apparent question was, "Nothing."

As it turns out Rob was driving in his car and had turned on his radio. While it is true that irrespective of the number of channels accessible through your television there is still time every day when there is not a damn thing worth watching on any of them, when one has satellite radio that scenario's ugly head never shifts its visage from profile to full-face. Rob is a child of Sirius and while I do not now and have never shared his affinity for Howard Stern, I appreciate the ability to channel Springsteen 24/7 via E Street Radio as much as he does. I do not have Sirius in my car (Skate sans a single power accoutrement yet sporting a satellite radio set-up is almost too funny to write let alone consider) but I do have it linked through my computer at work and through my laptop so I can listen to it on-line, which I usually remember to do without fail exactly one time every 128 days or so.

One of the selling features of E Street Radio is that it plays a number of Springsteen concerts in their entirety. I believe in fact that at least two or three times a day they drop the metaphorical needle and play a show from the boundless live performance archive. Over the years I have accumulated a substantial number of (let us call them), "Audience Created Recordings", which fill several shelves on a bookcase in my home. They too are great to have access to since I can listen to live Springsteen whenever I want to......and which without fail I usually remember to do exactly one time every 128 days or so.

The past couple of days though I have been listening to "The Last Dance", which is the moniker Springsteen affixed to the final concert of The Rising Tour, which started in the summer of Aught-Two and wrapped in early October of Aught-Three. The final show of that tour (the final three in fact) took place at Shea Stadium (a/k/a the gnarly, nasty old dump of a ballpark where the Mets historically played some fairly atrocious baseball for more than forty years - not to be confused with Citi Field, which is the gorgeous, brand spanking new joint in which they have played atrocious baseball for just one year to date) in Flushing, Queens. On that first Saturday of October, Rob, Margaret and I were part of a contingent spearheaded by our friend Lynne that took in the final performance of that tour.

For Rob and me it wrapped a particularly great weekend of music as we had traveled to Shea the night before to see the penultimate show of the tour and we had arrived via ferry. So had Springsteen apparently, which we realized as we stood on the ferry dock waiting for our ride back across the river to the Jersey side at night's end and Bruce and the Missus walked right past us to get on their boat home. Once they got on their boat, Bruce gave all of us awaiting the arrival of our boat a shout out for coming to the show. Not a bad way to end the night.

Anyway, Rob's call on Thursday to tell me that he was listening to The Last Dance prompted me to take my copy of that show off the shelf and to listen to it again - for the first time in I do not know how long. Not only did I remember immediately that the set list that night had included a number of songs not played too often live but I remembered with a smile what a fun night that was for all of us to be hanging together, doing something that all of us who were there together enjoy doing very much and getting to do it in the company of a number of folks about whom we care a great deal.

A lot of water has been run under and around the hull of my ferry since then. And while life is undoubtedly meant to be lived forward, occasionally it is nice to take a moment to peer backwards through the glass at a moment that meant something to you then and to discover that it still means quite a lot to you presently.

Something that neither time nor memory can fade away.


Friday, February 19, 2010

As The Minor Kings Fight For Their Thrones

As someone whose high school wrestling career could be described as unspectacular only if you had a brain cramp and forgot how to spell atrocious, tonight begins what is -annually - for me one of the truly great spectacles of high school sports. Tonight at gyms and field houses across the State of Concrete Gardens, high school wrestlers weighing anywhere from 103 to 285 pounds will begin their quest to get to Atlantic City.

It is a fact that everything dies. It is also a fact that at the two dozen sites statewide where District tournaments shall be contested this weekend, every kid in every weight class (there are fourteen of those) who fails to place first, second or third will see his wrestling season end not only short of the season's final Sunday but in its penultimate month to boot. All of them who started the season back in the late autumn understood that while of varying length (depending upon level of skill and level of competition) the odds of winning an individual state championship were against them. Nonetheless for each kid whose season ends tonight, tomorrow will seem a bit hollow. And for the kids whose careers may end tonight with the completion of their 12th grade campaigns, tomorrow will seem worse still.

State championships in wrestling in New Jersey are hard to come by. On the first Sunday of March only fourteen of them will be crowned. To put it in perspective, Eldrick has crowned more "other women" since saying "I do". (And for those of you who thought that the geniuses at NBC were inept only when it came to prime-time programming at 10:00 o'clock you will no doubt be pleased to know that while the Olympics being contested in the Pacific Time Zone (go to California and turn north) are in large part being shown on tape-delay, the Peacock Network will carry Woods' scripted mea culpa live.)

Margaret and I will make the short trip to South Plainfield tonight to root for Frank as he begins his third quest for a weekend in AC. He has spent the first two years of his high school career as the hunter - an underdog giving away at least a dozen pounds to every opponent. This year though he arrives at this point as the hunted - the #1 seed at his weight class. Frank is a junior, which means that this is his second to last go-round. And because he is the younger of two grappling Bozzomo boys, this is our second to last go-round as well. By early March next year Frank's scholastic wrestling career will be over. Regardless of how it plays out from this point forward, he has been - as his brother Joe was before him - incredibly easy to root for. And this weekend, scattered throughout the bleachers at South Plainfield High School there will be a number of us there doing precisely that.

There 'til the night is all done.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reaching Upward From 'Neath the Shadow of the Elms

If life truly imitated art, then more of us would live it big moment to big moment as opposed to incrementally. You know what I mean. Cinematically, married life is comprised of nothing but tent pole moments: the wedding, childbirth, the child's wedding, etc. In actuality, it is comprised of a multitude of little moments. Little moments that we hope - as we live through them - help us get a bit closer to where we want to be. Wherever that is.

In the millions of little moments that comprise our life, there are countless decisions to be made. Who would have suspected that Robert Frost was onto something with his whole "two roads diverging in a woods" mantra? Except for the fact that when the decision is yours to make - and it is important - it often seems that you staring ahead at more than a simple fork. And it seems to me as I continue to shuffle my way along E Street through ever-advancing middle age that life is front-loaded. We face a lot of very important decisions it seems fairly early on in the game from where we want to go to college to what we want to do for a living to who we want to fall in love with forever.

One of the greatest things that Margaret instilled in Suz and Rob from the time they were little was the "Say Anything" doctrine. Even as kids both of them were confident in their ability to tell us (principally Margaret) anything, be it good stuff, bad stuff or - more often than not - simply day-to-day stuff. Admittedly most of the time that was a three-way conversation. Not that I was aloof as my old man was when I was a kid but simply because I was not home a great deal of the time. The system of communication was developed principally in my absence and rather than allow my ego to get in the way of progress and play the role of the great interloper, I simply would get updates from Margaret as developments warranted. I know not what system of communication you used and/or currently use in your home but ours worked just fine for us thank you very much. Our two learned early on that in our home trust and faith travelled on a two-way street. It is a lesson that I presume each shall carry in their little knapsack of knowledge for their life's remainder and, hopefully, shall pass on to their own children.

I have not so much stuck my nose under the tent flap as time has progressed as much as the three of them have opened the flat to allow me in. And it has enabled me - as my two children have morphed into quite remarkable young adults in the first half of their twenties - to get more involved in their day-to-day than I was when they were half the age each is now. While I am sure that speaks volumes to my own limitations as a parent and as a man, it is what it is. No WABAC machine is at my disposal so we will continue to move forward.

Apparently forgiven for my own limitations by those who I helped raise it is nice from time to time to be invited to respond to a query typically phrased as, "What do you think?" While I think that I am of some assistance in such circumstances time will be the ultimate bellwether. It seems however that being so well-versed in my own limitations permits me to offer guidance or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof to them. I hope so anyway. This is a tough enough ride to make it through without being shackled by poor advice; especially when given by one from whom you have solicited it.

History is scattered with the bones of folks who died waiting for the next best thing. Those who sat paralyzed, violating the Wurgraft Doctrine. Both Suz and Rob are blessed with the appropriate combination of courage and caution. Neither is afraid to fail yet neither is rash in the process of decision-making. Stupidity is indeed courage's "B" side, a lesson that both of them learned from Margaret at an early age, took to heart through adolescence and carried with them into adulthood.

Often, it is something marvelous and incredible that grows from those seeds we sow. And when it is, it is a sight to behold.



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Still Standing When The Music Stops

Ten days past Super Bowl Sunday and I am starting to find the outcome of that day's events about as disagreeable as the Manning family undoubtedly has. Albeit my angina has a source separate and distinct from Peyton's rapid onset colorblindness and candidly is probably less easy to forgive.

Annually one of the women in the Firm organizes a Super Bowl pool. It is one of those "buy a box, root for a particular combination of digits at quarter's end" contraptions. Although it is a game of chance in which one's finite reservoir of aptitude has zero impact on one's likelihood of success, I have a stunningly poor track record of success in it. I am what one refers to as "a donor". Every year I purchase multiple boxes in the vain hope that saturation bombing might have better results for me than it has had historically on other battlefields. And every year I do nothing but transfer my contribution to the pool from my wallet to the wallets of the winners.

This year the Gods of the Dixie Brewery (a great local N'Awlins brew house and the setting for some of the action in Tightrope) smiled on Drew Brees and me with equal vigor. For once - proving that a kernel of truth exists in the old adage about blind squirrels and nuts - I actually won a quarter. Having bought $50 in boxes, my $150 victory put me squarely 1 "C note" in the black (for this year anyway. Historically I remain far, far in the red). I was happy. I was even happier when the following day the woman who runs the pool popped by my office to drop off my winnings.

I was less happy when the next day - the day after Monday - a group of my fellow winners decided to share their joy with the rest of the Firm by buying doughnuts and bagels for one and all. Had I been asked to participate in this largess I would have gladly done so. I was not asked and having failed to put on my psychic Underoos that morning before I left for the office I knew not that such an event was going to occur. Given that the good folks who sprung for breakfast for everyone else are three members of the clerical staff, you can rest assured that good old Captain Tightwad caught the occasional side eye for the remainder of the day.

I anticipated that I might have a shot at redemption the following day but, alas, it was Snowmageddon and the office was closed. Few seemed to notice that the morning of Snowmageddon I made coffee for my wife and later that evening I popped a bag of popcorn for Margaret, Suzanne and me watched "UP" on DVD. In retrospect I am not sure what it more regrettable - that none of my co-workers was present to witness my incomparable acts of generosity or that I felt compelled to mention them here. Sadly, I am lying of course. I have little doubt which of the two is more regrettable.

By the time everyone reconvened last Thursday it felt as if the moment to share the wealth had passed since no one wants to be "that guy" - the guy who appears to be doing something that while seemingly selfless is in fact not at all. Plus, being fairly self-absorbed and not a huge fan of doughnuts, it did in fact disappear from my mental Rolodex completely. Life moves at a far less restrictive pace for me since I decided to assign a seemingly short statute of limitations to the doing of good. Maybe I am not a good human being but at least I took a bit of comfort in the fact that I was not the only Pool victor to not participate in the feeding of the masses.

Yesterday morning that last vestige of comfort was stolen away from me much like Porter of the Saints stole Manning's pass right away from Reggie Wayne and turned it into a touchdown. For yesterday, on the second post-Super Bowl day after Monday (and on the first day of the work week following President's Day weekend) our pool organizer (who was also among the winners) toted into the kitchen the largest bakery box I have ever seen (at least transporting something out of which a stripper is not to leap). She set it down upon the kitchen table announcing to the world that she and her daughter were sharing their Super Bowl winnings with everyone. What! The daughter does not even work here. For crying out loud I am now getting my ass kicked at the job by people who do not even work for the Firm.

At this point I am thoroughly defeated. Whether I spring for food for the collective at this point or not matters little. Having been firmly established as the insensitive tightwad who would not share his wealth when members of the staff - and their non-employee kids for good measure - did has rendered any gesture I might make at this apparently late date ring hollow. I thought of bringing in Nilla Wafers and little containers filled with fireplace ash this morning for any of my colleagues who did not get the chance to stop by a house of worship. I reconsidered that plan however after realizing that asking each person to take just one Nilla Wafer would likely not cast me in the most flattering light and regardless of wafer limits might offend any non-Lenten members of our flock.

I have elected instead to simply hunker down and weather the storm. In another month or so, the 2010 edition of March Madness will start. I run that pool, which is winner-take-all. Never in my life have I won. Hell, I have never come remotely close to winning. Come early April I will be handing over the pot to this year's winner and then the onus will be on him - or her - to do the right thing as it were. I will be off the hook. Until then I will be certain not to leave the security of my office without gum in my mouth and a toothbrush in my pocket.....just in case I am subjected to an impromptu fructose or Bavarian creme breathalyzer.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Tolling of The Bell

Of the tens of millions of words that have been written and spoken in the decade and a half since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, none have ever seemed to be more prescient to me than those uttered by Chris Rock.

In a special he filmed for HBO not too very long after the trial's conclusion, Rock opined that while the Simpson case was about "color" it was neither a "black" thing nor a "white" thing. Rather it was a "green" thing. He quipped - correctly in my opinion that regardless of race if O.J. Simpson had been "Orenthal James" Simpson, a custodian at the local elementary school or a customer service representative at the local telecommunications company he would have likely been convicted. Why? Because in this world, nobody rides for free - most especially a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

The color of one's skin means less than the color of the currency in one's wallet when it comes to hiring top-notch legal representation. Not just anyone can afford a "Dream Team", which included not just attorneys but forensic experts such as Dr. Henry Lee, to defend him when on trial for his life. Those who can afford it would be fools not to avail themselves of it. Those of us who cannot? We take our chances by alternate means.

I often have a great deal of fun at my own expense regarding how I earn my living. The last time I checked, which was admittedly quite a while ago, New Jersey was home to more than 80,000 lawyers. I know not how all of us earn our living. Hell, the Firm is big enough and diverse enough in what we do that I do not know how all of my colleagues who share my mailing address earn their livings, which might have as much to do with my dearth of intellectual curiosity as it does the breadth of our practice. I earn my living defending civil litigation, whether brought by individuals or entities against individuals or entities. Principally I defend cases in which one alleges personal injury due to the actions (negligent and otherwise) of another. I am good at what I do and while what I do is important to me and it is important to those who I defend, I long ago closed my account at the Delusions of Grandeur kiosk. The Republic will not only continue to survive - it shall flourish - regardless of whether I am here.

Thus I am very impressed by the excellent works of an old high school classmate of mine and her students at the University of Michigan Law School. Under the tutelage of Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs Bridget McCormack (even her job title sounds cool; right?) and Co-Director David Moran, U-M students who are part of the Innocence Clinic are doing excellent, important work. The Clinic apparently is a new addition to the U-M clinical roster, beginning in the Winter of 2009. Its stated mission is to, "represent inmates that they believe to have been wrongfully convicted in cases where biological evidence like DNA does not exist. Other innocence clinics throughout the country specialize in DNA exonerations."

Where your opinions lie on the law and order continuum is your business. Believe me when I say to you that I care not. I have my own as well and will confess to having staked out a position maybe a bit to the right of yours for reasons far more personal than political. Regardless of whether you want your justice tempered with a mere taste of mercy or a dollop or two more is irrelevant for the purposes of what the M n' M Gang are doing out in Ann Arbor. The criminal justice system in the United States is imperfect. Imperfection is inevitable since it is manned at every level by human beings. The appellate process exists in significant part as a recognition of the fact that to err is human and when that error results in you receiving $19.00 change instead of the $1.90 to which you are entitled, the ripple effect of the error may not be too dramatic but when it results in someone being incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit, the stakes are considerably higher. And they are not higher simply for him - the incorrectly convicted - but for all of us. Consider this for a moment: if the wrong person is behind bars, where do you think the "right" person is?

No doubt the Republic would continue to flourish in my absence. Would it continue to do so in the absence of those who do what these folks do? Perhaps. But it would not do so at a level and at a height that would be deemed satisfactory to most of us. This month we celebrate the accomplishments of two men whose legacies last centuries after their lives ended because they lived their lives driven by the desire to do what each felt was important, regardless of whether it was popular. It is always nice to see that charge being taken up anew by those who have followed in their considerable footsteps. And it does my little gnarled heart good to see that one who is doing so much is one who I knew when we were kids. The fact that her sister's current TV gig is close to my heart is merely a delightful coincidence.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Human Drama of Athletic Competition Including Its Final Act

The gold medal in the event, "Closing the Barn Door After the Horses Have Already Fled the Jurisdiction" in this edition of the Winter Olympics goes to the geniuses responsible for overseeing the luge event. It is equal parts tragic and moronic that it took the horrific death of a 21 y/o athlete to prompt a shortening of the course and the implementation of common-sense safety measures - uncovered steel beams adjacent to the course seemed like a good idea to someone with a drawing board one presumes - when repeated complaints from a number of the sport's top performers and less than mortal injuries inflicted upon others of them failed to do so.

Yesterday Margaret, Suzanne and I watched a bit of the Games - having stumbled across something called the Nordic Combined. I am a bit fuzzy on the details but I discerned from the announcers that the athletes who compete in this particular event are required to excel in two disciplines that - to my untrained eye and ear - appear to have little in common with one another. The first half of the event is ski jumping. The latter half is a 10K cross-country ski race. For those of you who never embraced the metric system, 10K = 6.2 miles. I had no idea such an event existed so I know not whether how they contested it in Vancouver is the same way in which it is always done but the cross-country part of the event was a race that consisted of 4 laps around a 2.5K course, complete with changes in elevation and turns and a whole lot of other fun stuff.

Apparently this is an event in which the United States has not historically excelled. In spite of our lack of prowess in it, we gave a pretty good accounting of ourselves in it yesterday. One of the American competitors won the Silver medal and a second finished just out of the medals in fourth place. The silver medalist Johnny Spillane missed first place by less than a second, getting caught and passed by a pseudo-Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis (born and raised in Missoula Montana but competes for France). Spillane was kinda, sorta the victim of a reverse Lezak (except no one on the American Nordic Combined team is as chatty as Alain Bernard) but was understandably ecstatic about his result; capturing only the third Olympic medal of any color that the United States has won in any Nordic event........ever.

As a kid I used to watch a lot of the Olympics on television. I recall still the image of Franz Klammer flying down the mountain at Innsbruck Austria in 1976 on his way to the gold medal in the downhill. And no one who was alive in 1980 will ever forget the Olympic ice hockey tournament when less than forty-eight hours after slaying the dragon that was the Soviet juggernaut, Herb Brooks and his college-aged team managed to avoid what would have been a letdown of Olympic proportions by beating the Finns and winning the gold medal. I do not watch them too much any more. I have not done so in a number of years. But for just a little while yesterday afternoon I sat in my den with my wife and daughter looking westward to Vancouver and backward to my youth. All in all it was not a bad way to spend a piece of one's Sunday afternoon.

And I smiled when I thought of the ski jumping part of the Nordic Combined, which coverage I missed altogether. Ski jumping always makes me think of Saturday afternoons spent as a kid watching Wide World of Sports on ABC, including of course the poor SOB from Yugoslavia who spent three decades as the poster boy for the agony of defeat. Watching the Olympics yesterday made me think not only of him but of my older brother Kelly. Years ago, sitting in our living room listening to Jim McKay's introduction of a particular week's installment of Wide World of Sports, I asked whether the ski jumper whose defeat was relived over and over on a weekly basis worldwide had been badly injured in the crash. In a classic, deadpan delivery, Kelly responded, "Nah. He is used to it. He does it every week."

We were able to chuckle about it then as we can now because the ski jumper who every Saturday for thirty years failed to successfully complete his journey down the ramp survived his historical failure without any long-term consequences (although presumably he abandoned his career in ski jumping for something less dangerous such as minesweeper). Mom always said, "It is funny until somebody loses an eye." It is even less so when someone loses his life.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

From the Bottom of My Wide Open Blue Heart

In June of this year Margaret and I shall be married seventeen years. It goes against every superstitious bone in my Gaelic being to broadcast that fact this far in advance of our anniversary date. Yet based upon how the first almost-two decades of our relationship have unfolded, I am willing to gamble on the fact that no one shall change her medication and/or she shall not fall and strike her head again - either of which might alert her to the fact that....well to the fact that while I reached up to the Tree of Life to choose my plum she bent down and grabbed whatever gnarled, rotting piece of fruit she found nearby.

It's A Wonderful Life is among my favorite films. We watch George Bailey reduced from participant in his world to spectator of events in a world to which he no longer belongs. George lives through the experience of seeing what the lives of those around him would have been like has his desperate, quasi-suicidal wish come true. He gets to see the world without him in it. And he is appropriately shaken to his core by what he sees.

From time to time I think about the likely course of my life had Margaret and I not met, fallen in love (or in her case been adequately and perpetually sedated) and married. It is difficult to do simply because she and I have occupied the same space for so long that it is hard, sometimes, to recall life before her. But when the notions knocking around inside of my head crystallize into a full-fledged thought I remember what life was like "back in the day" (a time so long ago coincidentally that no one yet said, "back in the day" when talking about the past). Absent her entry into my life, I not only would not have had her keeping me in line and out of trouble all of these years but I would not have had Suzanne or Rob either. When you jump into the deep end of the adulthood pool by grabbing a "twofer" and become a husband and a father of two simultaneously, you not only appreciate both but also the chasm that would be left in your heart if you had neither.

My wife is a truly remarkable woman. I love with every ounce of the little charcoal briquette that I call my heart. A valentine for all seasons. Regardless of the date on the calendar.

I did not write it but I am glad that Mr. Lofgren did as I neither could have said it nor sung it any better:

Today I'm thinkin' about the world we live in
All the love and hate that's floatin' around
All the times I felt so lost and helpless
You stood by me, you never let me down

Still I keep throwin' up these walls
Most of them I've built with stones
You tear 'em down and bridge the distance
Knowin' we ain't here to be alone

So let your blue heart open wide
Let's never leave our dreams behind
It would comfort and restore my pride
If you let me be your valentine

Our differences are part of life
Still love will pass the test of time
I want you everyday and night
Girl, won't you be my valentine
be my valentine
Be my valentine
Be my valentine


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Running with the Lady in Red

Life is a crap shoot. An adage proven time and time again in any number of forums and by any number of means. One such means is February 5K road race. Or so it seems based upon the seasonal, borderline Buffalo weather we have been having 'NTSG lately. Way back when, in the crazy days of early December when I registered to run in the Cupid's Chase 5K in Princeton, I was overcome by the desire to run a race whose lines of commencement and terminus are at the Princeton Shopping Center on Harrison Street. I recall going there often with Mom when I was just a child and while the middle portion of this retro, open-air shopping mall is now wide open I have a memory of there being a maze located in that space way back when (although the photographs of the Center's history do not substantiate my memory).

Maze or not, this morning at 10:00 a.m. or so, Gidg and I shall be among the participants in the Cupid's Chase run. I suppose that if the roads in Princeton Township are in a condition similar to the atrocious shape they were in when I drove down there on Thursday night to pick up our bibs, numbers and the always important "goodie bags" that I will bear the wrath of Gidg the entirety of the ride back to Middlesex. I shall wait to gauge her outrage over my having talked her into running in a race in mid-February in central Jersey before I play my trump card, which is that I signed up for the half-marathon in April that will likely kill me on her suggestion and instigation. Margaret is coming with us on this trek, in part to provide moral support and in even bigger part because I mapped out the precise location of the Dunkin' Donuts (Bldg E - Store #41 for those of you mapping along at home) and its proximity to the start and finish lines.....and because I promised to buy her coffee and a jelly donut chaser. I am counting on Margaret to either distract Gidg or at the very least protect me from her in the car on the way home if the roads today are as bad as they were on Thursday. To put it bluntly, failing to remove the snow from your vehicle in Princeton Township is not only most likely not a violation, it is a form of camouflage that will allow you to traverse the Township's highways and byways undetected for the point at which the horizon meets the sky is more clearly defined than the point at which the snow-covered roads intersect with your snow-covered vehicle.

Thursday night I picked up not only my race stuff but Gidg's as well. While the name of the event is topical - and more than a tad corny for my taste - I had thought nothing of it after I signed up to run in it more than sixty days ago. While I suspected that the event would have some sort of commemorative shirt for its entrants I was prepared only to respond to an inquiry regarding "size" and not one regarding "availability". I did not know in advance that this event provides two different color choices for the runners' long-sleeve t-shirts: white and red. I also did not know until squarely confronted by the issue that one color signifies "UNAVAILABLE" while the other signifies "AVAILABLE".

As an old married harrier - and much to the profound disappoint of the female participants and spectators, I grabbed a white "UNAVAILABLE" t-shirt for me. That part of the process was easy. However, because I tend to be fairly obtuse to the day-to-day of those around me, inclusive of family and friends, I froze when I was then asked what color shirt Gidg should wear. Time being of the essence I had no time to call or text her. I blurted out, "AVAILABLE" without giving it too terribly much thought.

The woman who was distributing the contestants' packets smiled when I said what I said. In no small part because she immediately realized that I was an idiot. Given two COLOR options I responded to her question by saying neither and saying something completely different instead. I think she smiled in part at the hope of perhaps being able to make a mitzvah for some single male contestant she knows and our gal Gidg. I caught her looking back down at Gidg's name in the list of contestants after I pinned the Scarlet "A" on her (actually the whole shirt is red so maybe the "A" pin needs to be another color altogether to ensure visibility) undoubtedly checking out not only where she is from but also her other vital information.

Driving home from Princeton on Thursday night, I must confess that I wrestled with the idea of whether I had in fact just (a) pimped out one of my friends and my steadiest running partner; and/or (b) thrown a monkey wrench into some relationship into which she may currently be involved. While the explanation of how she has ended up running this morning with the word AVAILABLE across her back is wholly plausible and at least moderately humorous (What is that you are thinking; not thus far it isn't?), it may be markedly less so for one currently cast in the role of significant other. Especially given the fact that it is THE weekend for romantics everywhere; right? Nothing evokes passion in one's special someone quite like a President's Day celebration.

So when we get to Princeton this morning I hope merely that the roads are suitable for us to run and that Gidg runs fast enough to keep apace of all of her fellow red-suited running companions with whom she wants to remain apace and fast enough to stay at least a step ahead of those with whom she does not.

For while a million miles of vagabond sky is one thing, 3.1 miles of tough to negotiate, snow-covered macadam is quite another altogether.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowballs and Monkey Business

The more time one spends among us humans the more one understands why monkeys and chimps in the zoo hurl feces through the bars of their cages at us when we walk past. Their frustration must be palpable. The temptation to poke themselves in the eye with their not quite good enough thumbs must be difficult to resist.

Primates' patience was on my mind yesterday morning as I drove around wishing that I had as much of it as my vine-swinging brethren. On the Day After Snowmageddon blasted through the State of Concrete Gardens, the imbecile class was out in full force. The highway was jammed not with broken heroes but with idiots carrying untold cubic feet of snow on the hoods and roofs of their vehicles.

A small amount of residual snow pockmarking one's car on the morning after a major snowstorm is not a surprise. But yesterday the roads were full of drivers whose cars appeared to be either mobile souvenir shops selling snowflakes by the gross or transports for some type of half-assed workplace show and tell ("Hey look what Tom brought in to show us everybody; snow!"). The style of vehicle proved to be irrelevant for whether the driver was piloting a SUV or a subcompact he was equally likely to be operating his vehicle from under the snow cap.

Whether stupidity is contagious I know not. I suspect highly that indifference is. Here in New Jersey we have a law - a fairly new law at that - that makes those of us who drive cars responsible to make all reasonable efforts to remove accumulated ice and snow from on our cars before we go whizzing down the road in them. It is a law that appears to require only a rudimentary grasp of English as a prerequisite to understanding it. Clearly it is more difficult to apply than it is to comprehend, which is presumably why I spent my drive south on 287 yesterday morning going to my deposition dodging flying snow shards and ice balls as if I was piloting the Millenium Falcon instead of Skate.

Thumbs and thought are what have given us a leg up on our primate cousins. Keep wearing those mittens kids. Spring is another five weeks away.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

When Strom Clouds Gather

Is it just me or do you as well think of the old adage about blind squirrels and nuts when the television weatherheads actually correctly predict a major weather event? We are in the throes of the Blizzard of '10 here 'NTSG, which rolled into town on Wednesday dancing a Texas two-step. It sashayed on through early in the morning, took a bit of a siesta at or about midday before it came back with a vengeance in the late afternoon and early evening. At one point yesterday afternoon - while I was doing a little bit of clean-up following an exemplary and back-saving job of clearing the bulk of the first dump of snow that Frank's crew did for us - I was thinking about all of the idiots (and you know who you are) who ran around jumping for joy when we saw our first bit of snow immediately before Christmas. How do you like your white stuff now?

Yesterday was a work-at-home day for me. I have no issue driving in the snow but I have zero tolerance for excessively long commutes. The link to the office for me is Route 287. Once it stops snowing the guys responsible for clearing 287 do an incredible job. However, while it is still snowing it is a nightmare ride. It is a wide-open interstate highway across which the wind-blown snow rolls without cessation. Having decided that I did not want to spend six hours driving thirty miles trying to get home, I planned ahead Tuesday night and brought home with me enough work to keep me busy at home, which I suppose will prompt a reaction from T somewhere south of excitement when she gets to the office this morning.

While I was home I had the chance to watch the storm updates on the various channels. Hands down the best TV weatherhead in NYC is Lonnie Quinn on Channel 2. Between the constant talking with his hands and the Red Bull-fueled energy level with which he dishes the meteorological dirt, he is must-see TV. I actually found myself less pissed off than I usually am by a forecast with the word "snow" in it watching Quinn talk about what we were in for next. If I am going to be dragged downhill over a field of jagged stones with my pants pulled down around my ankles by the weather I might as well have a smile on my face as I bounce along.

We all suspect the same thing when inclement weather hits, which is that the TV weatherman - who is usually the local station's equivalent of the 98 pound weakling on the back cover of the comic book awaiting Atlas' shrug, sits in his dressing room on days like we had here yesterday with sweaty palms awaiting his big moment. Not so much with Quinn. Perhaps it is because he looks the part of the leading man already? I know not.

I know that on a Wednesday that was not a typical Wednesday due to the intervention of one bad Mother, I found Quinn's weather vignettes to be both informative and entertaining. George Carlin he isn't. But he isn't Kelly Bundy either and while a weather bunny is sure fun to look at, sometimes I just want to know if I need to pack my mukluks.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Live from the Paper Chase

We have changed the rules for lawyers in New Jersey. Not in any horrific way mind you. Albeit it is a change that is more than mildly irritating and significantly more time-consuming. Way back when in 1994 when my class of miscreants - including me of course - was admitted to the practice of law in New Jersey all new attorneys were required to take core courses; which were known as Skills and Methods. Within the first year of practice we were required to complete six separate classes. If memory serves me correctly in our second year we had to take three more classes and (I think) one or two in our third year.

I remember the first year requirements most vividly of all because of the fact that they seemed to represent one final hurdle to all of us becoming lawyers. First we had to clear the hurdle of law school, which not only occupied three years of our lives but also drained many thousands of dollars from our bank accounts. Upon graduation from law school - a process during which at least one professor explained to us that we were not being taught about the practice of law but simply the law itself (let that wash over your skull cap for a second and be thankful that medical school is not structured in a similar fashion) - we had to prepare for and pass the Bar exam. One would think after three years of law school and three days of the Bar (three if you took the exam in two jurisdictions simultaneously) we would have then been free and clear to wreak havoc on unsuspecting clients. Nope. We then had to complete Skills and Methods in order to avoid something really horrid happening - such as our newly minted licenses to practice law getting suspended.

But then after Year Three it was over. Once we completed our third year of the practice of law, we no longer had to participate in any continuing legal education classes. However on January 1, 2010 the rules of engagement changed. Our Supreme Court decreed that all New Jersey attorneys are now required to complete 24 hours of continuing legal education every two years.

Figuring that I need to complete twelve hours per year every year unless and until the Court changes the rules yet again, I have already completed eight hours since the first of January. Last night, with storm clouds gathering and snow preparing to fall, I attended a seminar taught by a rather impressive cross-section of judges and lawyers on pertinent developments in Civil Case Law in 2009. It was a lengthy class - a touch short of four hours - but there was quite a bit of good information shared by folks who are well-suited to share it. And considering that they do not get compensated for doing what they did last night, it was quite nice that they shared it.

Attending these classes is a bit of a pain in the ass; no doubt. But it is a pain equally borne by all of us, which is why it strikes me as more than a bit annoying when among the men and women who attended last night's class was a certified jackass, braying from his seat in the back row of the hotel ballroom where the class took place to all those seated near him. As galling as his relentlessly rude behavior was it was especially so because the imbecile in question is an attorney who as part of his practice gets paid by the Superior Court in two separate counties (Warren and Sussex) to serve as an arbitrator for personal injury actions being prosecuted there. One would think that someone who earns at least a portion of his income from his own participation in a necessary, Court-mandated area of our practice would be able to display at least a modicum of respect for others doing the same thing. Apparently not.

Not that his behavior would have been any less obnoxious if he himself was at least good at his job as an arbitrator but I know from my personal experience having him serve as an arbitrator on a number of my cases that he is a clown. Perhaps given how little care he displays performing a task for which the system pays him, I should have not been surprised to see him in action last night.

One of the members of the panel last night was one of the most well-regarded members of the Bar I know. Last night he shared a story with us while the panel was covering one of its topics and the object lesson of his story was something that had less to do with the law than it did with life, "Do not always try to make good better. Sometimes good is good enough."

While he meant it in the context of not over-asking questions during cross-examination of a witness at trial, it seems to me to be sage advice in and out of the courtroom. He did not mean that we should not all aspire to do our best and to apply ourselves with our full effort in everything we do. Rather, he meant that we should not succumb to the temptation of greed - that of not being content with what we have and eyeing what someone else has with envy. Unless your last name is Jones, trying to keep up with the Joneses (regardless of your level of success in doing so) is a fool's errand.

They advertise these as CLE (Continuing Legal Education) courses. Now and again, you pick up a free lesson in Life as well. Talk about your all-inclusive tuition.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Her Bear Necessities

Some embrace change. Me? I try to choke the life right out of it. Is it a character flaw? Undoubtedly. Am I likely to ever adapt? The number of times you have wandered past this space will help determine just how much time you need to devote to contemplating the correct answer to that last one.

It has been said that after time pets start to look like their owners. I suppose that is true. Milo and I each have more gray hair than we used to although since he lost one half of his left ear in a fight a few years back we no longer wear our Ray-Bans in precisely the same way. And the older he gets, the less he weighs. As far as I can tell he does not get up at 3:00 in the morning and run at least three miles every other day. Yet he seems to weigh less and less. It is as if his bones have been replaced by Popsicle sticks. Me? No such luck.

Sunday - fresh off of car shopping with the Missus on Saturday afternoon, Margaret and I were in PetSmart doing a little shopping for the hoofed members of the household. I was in line, waiting to buy a jumbo bag of dog food and enough cat litter to keep my cats, your cat and all of the cats presently inhabiting the Bronx Zoo shin deep in fresh pooping materials for the foreseeable future when Margaret found it. She saw hanging from a display at the end of an aisle a new toy for Rosalita. Our clinically insane sheltie has had the same toy since - if not Day One - then Day Two or Three. It is a little device we call "Baby Bear". When it first arrived it was a white plush stuffed animal. I am not entirely sure it was a bear. I suppose if had come with eyes or a face it would have been more readily identifiable. I am not much of an outdoors man I suppose, which invariably complicated the issue even more.

Time has not been kind to Baby Bear. Rosie is to Baby Bear what Ike was to Tina all those years ago - a veritable PEZ dispenser of tough love. Bear once was white but ceased being so long ago. Think snow on the roadside three days after any storm. Margaret has washed Bear repeatedly over the years. In spite of her best efforts, the older it has gotten, the darker it has become.

Rosie's favorite thing about Baby Bear has never been its color. It is its squeaker. Buried in one of its legs is a....well I do not know the technical term.....squeaker. Rosie spends countless minutes with the leg of Baby Bear in her mouth, biting down on its leg and generating noise.

While Baby Bear has retained its squeakability it has lost a bit of its panache as it has gotten blacker and blacker. On Sunday Margaret and I bought Baby Bear 2.0 - a lime-colored incarnation - for Rosie to play with and brought it home for her to meet. To date, her reaction has been slightly underwhelming. She wanders past it from time to time, picks it up by the chest and shakes it, plays with it for a minute or two before losing interest in it, putting it down and walking away. This new version of the Bear also has a squeaker in it. When she picked it up for the first time, she instinctively went to the leg to make it squeak. Nope. In this Bear the squeaker is buried in its back located nowhere near any of its four legs. Rosie did her best Dora the Explorer impersonation for approximately five minutes and then abandoned the pursuit.

Rosie is a better person than I am. She spent last evening trying repeatedly to find the squeaker in new Bear while looking lovingly at the dingy looking original Bear. She is trying to embrace change. I can see it in her little eyes.

Silly dog. She will learn. Maybe once she does she will share what she has learned with the resident old dog.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Having Turned Leather Into Skin

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was discussion in some circles in these United States about the viability of rebuilding New Orleans. There were those who questioned whether rebuilding the city in the same under defended location where it has always sat was a judicious use of public funds. And the questions were not being asked exclusively by Republican politicians. In an application of black and white to what is decidedly a most gray world, the argument against doing so certainly had some basis in practicality.

But practicality and reality often not only do not reside under the same roof, they do not live in the same neighborhood. Whether there shall be a better system in place for protecting those who live in what is one of America's true treasures or simply a system with a renewed supply of most wishful thoughts I do not pretend to know. I hope for the former and hope with equal vigor that those in charge will not risk their own hides by opting for the latter. But as someone whose zip code has been squarely within reality's neighborhood my entire life, I shall be disappointed but not terribly surprised if it is the latter that carries the day.

Against the backdrop of its recent tragedy and the still-uncertain nature of its future, New Orleans had been in need of a collective pick-me-up. It has been in need of something in which it could place its hope and its prayers. Who would have thought that it would have ever found that something in its football team? A franchise that is only a generation or so removed from infamy as the 'Aints and was once so bad that Archie Manning damn near almost did not live long enough to become a familial patriarch whose family tree contains a branch or two of Super Bowl winning sons.

Last night the Saints paid off all outstanding debts. After starting very slowly and looking as if they were perhaps one play away from playing the part that the Buffalo Bills have played too often in Super Bowl - that of gritty, lovable and ultimately over matched underdog - they came from behind and defeated the Colts to win their first Super Bowl. Mardi Gras does not begin officially for another week or so in the Crescent City but one suspects that you shall be forgiven if this week in the Quarter it appears as if the gun has been jumped.

As someone who has but a casual interest in either team, I found myself pulling for the Saints last night. For me, the Colts are a hard group of athletes to root against as they are notoriously short of players who preen like jackasses every time they perform the task for which they are being paid a quite handsome sum of money - whether it is catch a pass, run the ball or make a tackle. Conspicuous by their absence is the guy who provides bulletin board material to the opposition. They simply show up for work and do their job as well as they can on that particular day. Last night - as the song goes - their best was not good enough.

Although the Colts seem to be a genuinely good group of guys, the combination of the franchise's long time history of futility and its city's recent history of tragedy made it impossible to root against N'Awlins. I could not help but smile last night watching Drew Brees hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Something tells me that tomorrow - when the City will host its first Super Bowl celebratory parade (a parade that was on the calendar win or lose) will be a day when all over town, people will be thinking not about their history but about their future instead.

I suspect that there will be hurricanes aplenty all over town and not a soul will be heard to complain. It is a party after all.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Ultimate Sunday

Super Sunday is here. Years ago the Dallas Cowboys had a running back named Duane Thomas. Thomas played for them in Super Bowl VI against the Miami Dolphins - played well - and was asked by a reporter after the game how it felt to play well in and to win "the ultimate game". Thomas, who was as renowned for his disdain of the world as he was for his play on the field responded somewhat incredulously, "Ultimate game? If it is the ultimate game, then how come they play it every year?"

Thirty-eight years later - undoubtedly to Duane Thomas' great surprise - the "ultimate game" is bigger than ever. And they still play it every year. Super Bowl Sunday has grown into such an event that there is a sentiment growing in the United States to make tomorrow - the Monday after the Super Bowl - a national holiday. It says something about us as a people although I am not sure what exactly that George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday have been folded together into one holiday of convenience while we are leaning towards elevating the day after the conclusion of football season to stand-alone holiday status. Being the Father of the Country or the Preserver of the Union merits only a time-share apparently.

Today is not just about the game or the half-time performance from the Bruckheimer Empire House Band. It is about the commercials. At $2.6 Million for 30 seconds, it had better be; right? One of the spots will feature Tim Tebow and his mother. Tim Tebow is best known for his exploits on the collegiate gridiron as a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback for the University of Florida. However today Tebow and his mom will appear in what is considered by supporters and critics alike apparently to be a "pro-life" spot sponsored by the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family, discussing her decision 23 years ago to continue with her pregnancy despite complications. She was pregnant with her son, winner of the 2007 Heisman Trophy.

Throughout Tebow's college career he never shied away from the devout nature of his faith, from telling the story of how he had arrived here and his position on what is if not the most controversial political hot-button issues in these United States, one that is firmly ensconced in medal position. This is a kid - after all - who spent his summers while in college doing missionary work all over the world. He is enthusiastically "pro-life". Candidly his point of view on the subject is not one with which I agree. But unlike many, I have no problem with Tebow's TV spot.

As an initial consideration, it seems to me that one needs to keep in mind that in Tebow's case his mother's decision had a direct impact on his being born. So whereas it may be a philosophical issue or religious issue for me and you, to Tebow it is an extremely personal one as well. I cannot help but wonder whether the hue and cry would be as passionate if Tebow and his mom were on air trying to sell something other than a point of view.

For the past several years the Super Bowl has been dominated by commercials for products holding the cure for erectile dysfunction and by commercials featuring race car driver Danica Patrick wearing little more than a checkered flag. Neither men with the inability to perform a full-staff flag salute or Ms. Patrick seem to have a direct connection to football. Yet it is hard to find anyone objecting to either being shown during the Super Bowl on that basis. Not so with Tebow's commercial. CBS is being criticized in some circles for showing it because "that issue" is not something that the average football fan wants to think about during the Super Bowl. Apparently timing himself as he hopes against hope for nothing longer than a 3 hour and 59 minute erection - including one he self-creates while watching young Ms. Patrick yell, "Go Daddy!" - is.

As of last night, CBS was still intending on airing Tebow's commercial. We shall see if by day's end they have remained steadfast in their position. If you find it objectionable, then do not watch it. I have not yet made up my mind whether I shall. I expect I shall because while I do not share Tebow's position, I respect his right to have it and his right to express it. In the truest sense of why someone buys advertising time I expect the advertisement will fall flat. Those sharing Tebow's position would do so regardless of the commercial and, similarly, those who do not are not likely to be swayed by hearing his story.

The Republic will not fall simply due to the airing of this particular commercial. The Super Bowl will survive. Regardless of Tebow's commercial, they will play the game again in 2011.

Do not take my word for it. Ask Duane Thomas.


Saturday, February 6, 2010


I never cease to be amazed how readily the young adults who were formerly known as my children overlook my technological limitations in an attempt to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. Earlier this week - on the big 4-3 - Rob sent me a cryptic birthday e-mail. The "Happy Birthday" portion of it I was able to comprehend. It was the portion of it telling me that he was sending me a birthday gift that was going to help start a bit of 'friendly competition' that threw me for a loop.

Last night the gift arrived. It is a gadget called a "Nike + iPod". It gets placed inside the sole of your running shoe and somehow (I have not quite mastered the owner's manual yet) it talks to your iPod. Well, talk might be a misstatement. Apparently it communicates with your iPod so that the little monitor in the shoe reports to the iPod how far you have run, the pace at which you have run, etc. And the really cool thing about it is that you can keep track of not only how you are faring but also how someone else is faring as well.

And therein lies the really neat part of the gift. Rob and I are going to next see each other on Memorial Day weekend. I am going to Colorado to hang out with him for a few days and we are going to spend Memorial Day running together in the Bolder Boulder, which is a 10K race. That is - in and of itself - a great thing. I am looking forward to it very much.

But as he tends to do, he has gone above and beyond. To ensure that both of us are ready to go - and can support one another from 2 time zones away - he has come up with an inventive, fun way for us to good naturedly compete with one another as we prepare for the race. We shall be able to monitor how much running the other is doing and how well the other is running as we gear up for our big moment on Folsom Field. As if fear of collapse is not enough to make sure that I prepare properly for the race, I now have motivation in the form of Rob's vigilance.

I take help in any form in which it manifests itself - particularly when it manifests itself as my son's most excellent intentions - and even if it manifests itself in the form of technology I do not completely understand. While I hate snow, maybe a day or two worth of it this weekend will do me some good. Sure it will impact my ability to run but it will give me a chance to learn how to use my new gizmo.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Requiem for a True Heavyweight

I have not yet decided if Karen and Lee are among the two most determined women I know or whether they are simply both insane. Both of them are fellow members of the W-H Class of '85. They have assumed - with Karen having manned the point thus far - the responsibility of putting together what at first blush seemed to me to be an event long on impossibility and short on probability - a 25th class reunion.

My jaundiced view on such a thing is predicated in substantial part on the fact that to my knowledge no such formal gathering occurred at any time during Years 1 - 24. Presumably people in our class have done a good job of staying in contact with one another over the course of the past two and one half decades. Speaking for myself, I have/had not done so. The artifice of social networking notwithstanding, other than Karen (who I have seen on an infrequent albeit recurring basis) and a couple of other folks, most of the people I knew back when we was fab I have either not seen at all since graduation or - perhaps - on one or two occasions.

It is a good thing - in my humble (and yes I know it is unsolicited) opinion that significant efforts are being made to ensure that at some point here in '10, the members of the Class of '85 reunite. As I was reminded of this week, we are certainly not getting any younger. Not so skinny maybe not so free and sadly not so many as we used to be.

One year ago today the biggest of the bigs in our class died. I remember being on Day Four of the then-new (now-former) gig when Mark called me to tell me that Stu had been killed in a single-vehicle car accident. Apparently - although I neither asked nor was I told as it is of little moment and not my business - Stu's heart betrayed him. As a young man in his early 20's it had been weakened by illness, which he battled back from against exceptionally long odds. As a young man still in his early 40's, it apparently ran out of energy to power him. The irony of all of what occurred is that Stu's heart was always bigger than his body. Just ask anyone.

For reasons not entirely clear to me this morning the image of Stu that is transfixed in my mind's eye is of him behind the wheel of my very first new car, which was a 1989 Volkswagen Fox. I remember meeting Dave, Mark and Stu at a party at someone's house someplace in Edison one Saturday night in the Fall of '89 with my brand spanking new ride. And I remember both Dave and Stu actually being able to look down at the vehicle's roof while standing next to it while I thought, "Gee it seemed so much bigger on the showroom floor." For the entirety of the time I owned that car - and I drove it into the ground seven years and a quarter million miles later - the only person I could recall driving it other than me - and later Margaret - was Stu.

He decided that night -the very first night he had seen my car - that he and Dave were going to test drive it and for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes these two enormous men (if you stood one on the other's shoulders you would have had about thirteen feet worth of human and both were solidly built gents - one a former high school basketball star and the other the medal-winning heavyweight on our school's wresting team) drove up and down the street in my little Fox. Stu had an ear to ear grin on face the entire time - looking just as silly as you might imagine a man well over six feet tall and in the neighborhood of three hundred pounds would look crammed inside the driver's seat of a tiny car. The two of them were the original insane clown posse that night - having a blast just being silly.

Life takes us where it takes us and not too very much longer after that night it took Dave to marriage, family and Maryland and it took me to marriage and family as well. Over time, I simply fell out of touch with Stu. At the time of his death, I would guess it had been well over ten years since I had last seen him. I never did not think of him as a friend. The arcs of our lives settled into different rhythms. Our heads simply ceased being above the tree line in the same place and at the same time.

Five years ago I not only would have laughed out loud at the notion of a reunion I most likely would not have attended it. One gets a better appreciation for life the longer one lives when there is a larger body of work to examine and to reflect upon. At some point in 2010, our class of '85 will have its first reunion. And those of us who attend shall spend some time renewing some old acquaintances and seeing some friends from an era long ago and far away. Even if all of us who remain from '85 are there, not all of us who should be there will be there. Glasses will be raised in the honor of those we have lost - like Stu - and regrets will be expressed at having not gotten together soon than Year 25.

And at night's end, the carnival will pack up and leave - off to its next destination. Same as it always has but not exactly so. It will be minus one daredevil in fact.

Moonrise, moonrise
The light that was in your eyes
Has gone away

Daybreak, daybreak
The thing in you that made me ache
Has gone to stay.