Sunday, January 31, 2010

In the Temple of Broken Bones and Bruises

Upon completion of the work portion of my Saturday (a/k/a "the morning") the Missus and me spent most of the rest of the day at Piscataway High School. I believe Piscataway is a Native American word meaning "gargantuan" - at least judging by the size of the school's physical plant. While I had always suspected that a lot of us are crammed into the nooks and crannies of the State of Concrete Gardens, I missed the memo about the number of us who have teenage children and the requirement that they all attend the same school.

Margaret and I were joined in our adventures by Joe; earning mad Grandfather points by leaving his warm home on three separate occasions to venture out into the bitter cold to cheer for his grandson as Frank competed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Wrestling Tournament. Frank is a junior at Middlesex High School and he competes for the Blue Jays as their 160 pounder on the varsity wrestling team. Truth be told, Frank spends most of the season giving away weight to his opponents for during most dual meets he "bumps up" (technical wrestling term meaning "wrestling up a weight class") to wrestle for his team against the other team's 171 pound or 189 pound combatant. A fool's errand? Not hardly. Frank entered this weekend's action undefeated.

Unfortunately, last night in the championship match at 160 pounds he fell a bit short of keeping his undefeated season alive. Wrestling against another undefeated wrestler - this one coincidentally from the host school for the weekend's hostilities - he fell one point short of winning his first GMCT championship. From where we were sitting it appeared to me as if right before the end of the first period, Frank's opponent accidentally kicked him or kneed him in the head as they were tangled up and heading out of bounds. While the noggin knocker (another highly technical wrestling term for your edification. You shall be able to swap war stories with Dan Gable by the time we are finished here today) is not an officially recognized move, it happens occasionally on the mat. And when it did last night, Frank did what kids do: he shook it off and kept wrestling.

Whether getting his bell rung proved to be the difference-maker last night I know not. I know that ten minutes after the match concluded the medical staff on site was still checking him out to see if he was OK (having acquired a concussion along the way while playing high school soccer I recognized the test he was taking immediately). I thought that both he and his opponent wrestled hard against one another - albeit cautiously as if extending to one another the respect associated with being on the mat with a wrestler whose hand is always raised at match's end - and last evening his foe was slightly better.

As someone whose high school wrestling career was noteworthy only for the amount of punishment I absorbed and the number of ceiling tiles I counted, I have a keen appreciation for those who are good wrestlers. It is an extremely difficult sport at which to become proficient - requiring not only physical gifts but the aptitude to learn how to properly apply those gifts so that you can attack while simultaneously minimizing your own vulnerability. It is physically exhausting, mentally taxing and emotionally draining.

From a purely selfish and admittedly biased perspective, I am eminently pleased by the fact that Frank - as was the case with his big brother Joe (a 2007 State Medalist at 189 pounds) - goes about his business the right way. When he wins, he shakes his opponent's hand, waits for the referee to raise his and then exits the mat. Last night in defeat, he moved to the center circle at match's end, shook his opponent's hand and then exited the mat. There was no tantrum. There was no big drama.

Sadly at these events winning with grace and losing with dignity is not always what happens. Too often for my liking one encounters an adult in the crowd who behaves like a horse's ass, which behavior spreads like a contagion more often than it should to that person's child. There is no sport to which I have ever been exposed where the people in the bleachers know more than the officials and are better skilled than the participants than high school wrestling. If you do not believe me, find a match near your home, buy a ticket and grab a seat in the bleachers. I know not whether it is the combination of sweat and cauliflower ear or something else altogether that converts a know-nothing into a know-it-all but you will have little difficulty finding one. The ceaseless stream of profanity emanating from his (or more likely her) mouth is a dead giveaway.

Yesterday afternoon in one of the semi-final matches at 140 pounds the father and the coach of one of the wrestlers were both tossed out of the gym by security (and in the father's case two officers of the Piscataway Police Department) for incredibly unruly and asinine behavior during their wrestler's overtime loss. Proving that poor sportsmanship is not confined to the geographical boundaries of Sayreville - although it might be why Jon Bon Jovi moved away from there - last night in the finals at 140 pounds the Piscataway wrestler whose victory yesterday afternoon prompted the outburst from the Sayreville side lost to a South Plainfield wrestler by one point. To say that the Piscataway wrestler, coaches and "faithful" (I love that a person is not just a fan but part of "the faithful" - can I get a "Hallelujah") were unhappy with the result (the referee did not award him a point that the wrestler and the Piscataway side felt he should have received in the waning moments that would have sent the match to overtime) would be an understatement. Disappointment in the outcome was understandable. However unless the Piscataway wrestler was injured, which he did not appear to be, his failure to appear after the match to receive his second-place medal was, at best, unfortunate. Sadly, I would wager that it was a decision either made for him or suggested to him by the adults around him.

High school sports provide an excellent way to not only ensure that we raise healthy kids but also an excellent way to teach kids valuable life lessons. And the lessons that we want our children to learn are lessons that all of us should be willing to take a refresher course in as well. Yesterday - in both victory and defeat - those of us who went to cheer on Frank both saw a lot and learned quite a lot. For a boy of 17, he proved himself, again, to be quite an excellent teacher.

And something significantly more than a one-trick pony.

-AK

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Lullaby of Life

I joined the parent business a bit further up the assembly line than most. I was not there at the time of conception or at the time of arrival. By the time I got here walking and talking had both been learned, potty training had been completed and the Terrible Twos were in the rear-view mirror.

There is a school of thought espoused by some that those of us who lack any genetic or biological connection to our children are something less than 100% parents. My schedule is pretty full. I do not pretend to be the poster child for "step" parents. Somewhere there is someone no doubt who wants the job. Hell there may be someone someplace who already has the job. If there is, I hope it pays well.

I do not think that the fact that Suzanne is not mine "genetically" has made me any less of a father than I would have been had I been in the hospital passing out cheesy cigars while Margaret was getting acquainted with her former tenant. No doubt that there are things that happened in Suzanne's life that happened before I was but a blip on her mother's radar screen and she on mine. Those things that happened before I met Margaret - and before I met Suzanne and Rob - include any number of which I have learned throughout the years. It is indisputable however that all three of them had a life before I entered the picture.

In Suz's case, she had lived about six and one-half years of her life before my arrival. While it is true that I missed all of the events that filled those years, I would like to think that over the course of the past eighteen and one-half years, I have been a part of a number of the important ones and I hope, whether directly or indirectly, that I was somehow involved in all of them.

It is mind-boggling to me that today Suzanne is 25 years old. It was either a lot of years ago or no time at all that she would steadfastly refuse to go to sleep without first being serenaded by Big Bunny and his idiotic "Ham and Cheese Sandwich" lullaby; which would then be followed nightly by her sneaking out of bed across the hall into the bathroom with a book to read for ten or fifteen minutes. It seems either less long ago or perhaps equally far away that she made the transition from little girl to young woman - leaving the nest to go to college.

If memory serves me correctly there was a very brief period of time when she was a freshman at Seton Hall during which she doubted herself. It struck me as odd that one so gifted could be felled by self-doubt and apprehension. I did not really know what to tell her. I was not sure how to make her feel as good about herself as Margaret and I did. As luck would have it, someone did.

I never have - to my memory - referred to Suzanne as my "stepdaughter". I have but one daughter; never had the need to add another. She is to me now what she was to me then (OK she is taller, significantly more expensive to feed and house and moderately more self-sufficient now) and what she shall be for the duration of my life. She is my daughter. She is a full 1/3 piece of what is undoubtedly the best part of me.

At age 25, she is fast approaching the point in her life where our little corner of the world is not going to be able to contain her. She has dreams and plans bigger than us. And there is not a damn thing at all wrong with that. For she is her mother's daughter and because she is a sizable part of her will always be here with us even after she has transitioned yet again from daughter into mother - adding a second lifelong title to the one she has borne so beautifully for a quarter-century already.

And who knows. If whoever it is who decides such things determines it is to be so, then maybe just maybe there will be one to whom Big Bunny can sing his trademark lullaby anew. Hell with a new baby in the house, he just might break down and learn a new tune altogether.

I look at my daughter, and I believe. Indeed I do. And I do so everyday; but especially on this one. Happy Birthday Suzanne!

-AK

Friday, January 29, 2010

For Those of Us Standing Stone-Like at Midnight

The news yesterday afternoon that J.D. Salinger had died made me think immediately of Alice McMullen. A lifetime ago when I was a boy - a period marked for historical reference by the complete absence of gray hair atop my head and/or in my beard - I was among a generation of kids who counted ourselves among the fortunate. We were fortunate in that at some point or another when we were in high school at W-H, we found ourselves in Alice McMullen's English class.

Memory not being now what it once was (whether the residue of too much alcohol or too many years I shall leave to others to decide) I cannot recall specifically what year we were in school when we were entrusted to Mrs. McMullen's care for English. I know that it was not twelfth grade (Mr. Paoli's A.P. class occupied the "English" space on the dance card) and I do not think we were only freshmen. For some inexplicable reason I can still hear ASIA's "Heat of The Moment" emanating from a classmate's Walkman while waiting for class to start one day. In '82 we found ourselves either ending 9th grade (Spring) or starting 10th (Fall).

Mrs. McMullen was an exceptionally fine English teacher - rock-solid strong in the fundamentals of grammar and an enthusiastic fan of American literature. Her syllabus was comprised of any number of top-shelf works, which she required us to read but genuinely hoped we would enjoy. As one of my friends learned in a most unfortunate manner after opting out of reading a work he did not apparently find particularly enjoyable, one could not circumvent Alice's commandment (Thou Shalt Not Fail to Read the Book) by seeking Cliff's assistance. You see, while old Cliff was strong on the Note he was notoriously weak on the quote. Thus when Mrs. McMullen elected to make the test on Herman Melville's "Billy Budd" a quote test, poor Coop's immediate future was about as bright as Billy's had been when he was affixed to the yardarm for hanging. In retrospect, when one opts to read the "highlights" of a book that is but 132 pages long in its unabridged form, one kinda sorta deserves whatever one gets. I had never seen a grade of "Maris" on any test that did not have my name written on it....until the day Mrs. McMullen returned our graded Billy Budd tests to us and she gave his to him.

It seemed to me then - as it does now a quarter century or more later - that the tone of Catcher in the Rye was not in lockstep with the way in which Mrs. McMullen lived her life. She was not edgy by any acceptable definition of the term. She did have her little rebellions - such as an animosity towards squirrels that would have given either Boris or Natasha pause; which she used to report to us with a devilish glee manifested itself in her efforts to run over with her car any squirrel that crossed her path (or attempted to cross against the light). Yet whether Salinger's work was her personal preference made no difference. It was an important piece of American literature and she afforded us the opportunity to read it. And both while we were reading it and then upon our completion of it she not only permitted but encouraged free-wheeling discussion of it. She did not simply monitor our discussions of it but participated in them as well; contributing her own thoughts without attempting to stifle ours. Hers was one interpretation - not a right or wrong one. Simply a personal one.

I am embarrassed to admit that not every "great work" we were assigned to read either warmed the cockles of my heart or fired up the neurons in my brain. My hair still hurts upon the mere mention of Henry David Thoreau's name. But Catcher in the Rye most certainly did. I recall reading it several more times when I was a much younger fellow than I am now.

A lot of stuff gets piled on kids when we (and they) are kids; too young to have the freedom to do what they want to do (and too young to realize that for most of us that limitless freedom is grounded more in fantasy than reality) as opposed to what they are required to do. As a child we are dependent upon the adults around us to not only shape us and to guide us but, critically, to afford us the opportunity to flex our muscles intellectually and mentally. We cannot grow in a vacuum and we cannot grow without nourishment. A good teacher is as important - and sometimes more important - to that growth as a parent.

Mr. Salinger lived to be a very old man; far older than the protagonist of his most famous work was when we encountered him in Catcher. Yesterday much was written and broadcast about his notorious aversion to - and dislike of - fame. He shunned his notoriety as best as he could and the postmortems were as full of references to him as a recluse as they were to his work. And it seemed to my admittedly unsophisticated ear and eye as if the undercurrent in many of them was one of annoyance - if not anger. A none-too-subtle,"How dare he have lived his life as he did?" As if the author was angry that Salinger never permitted anyone else to have a say in something that never was anyone else's business anyway.

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody. Even while hiding in the clouded warmth of the crowd.

-AK

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yet Another Box of Chocolates

The lengths to which those of us who have reached "full-size child" status (I would say "adult" but that suggests merit trumping age as the principal component part in the cocktail and I find that sadly to not be true far too often) often go to subject those of us with whom we interact to our ignorance never ceases to amaze me. It is as if in certain of us, the flame that once burned inside of the 7 year-old in all of us - standing at the playground's edge poking at the dead bird with a stick - has not yet flickered to ember status. While it may not be a 3-alarm fire still, an engine company will be scrambled just to ensure the neighborhood's safety.

My wife - who presently is but one bona fide miracle away from canonization (the first being, "I am married to an a##hole who I have never attempted to choke or to shoot and I have lived with him without the assistance of narcotics, prescription or otherwise) sent me an e-mail yesterday morning to inform me that for reasons that were not entirely clear to her (and if she could not comprehend them do not even bother to ask if I stumbled my way through them) a woman with whom she works subjected her to an utterly unnecessary and - inane - telephone conversation.

Apparently, Margaret's fellow employee - whose name shall not be used here in deference to my wife although I would point out that it rhymes with a female body part - telephoned my wife Wednesday morning to chat about the charity telethon that was held Friday night for the people of Haiti. This woman is aware of the fact that Margaret is (primarily due to me and not due to any shortcomings on her own) a Bruce Springsteen fan and has been to see Springsteen in concert on numerous occasions. Armed with that knowledge and wearing her "Pat Robertson is My Only True God" halter top, this charmer called Margaret to ask her whether she had seen Springsteen's performance on Friday night. Margaret told her that she had not as we had been at Frank's wrestling match watching him turn some poor kid from New Brunswick High School into 189 pounds of origami.

Having been told by Margaret she had missed the performance, she who shall remain nameless proceeded to subject my wife to (I was going to use "share" but sharing implies some sort of benefit being enjoyed by both the one sharing and the one with whom something is being shared) her considered opinion that Springsteen is a talentless hack and has always been a talentless hack. She further unburdened her soul by telling Margaret that having seen him on Friday night she was left to ponder when he was going to, "Give it up and retire already", to which my wife replied, "He will retire right after he stops selling millions of dollars worth of tickets to sold-out shows around the world" and then, wondering why her professional colleague had seen fit to call her in the first place, Margaret hung up.

According to Margaret she and Suzy Sunshine had no further communication on the subject and - to Margaret's recollection - usually have little to no communication on any subjects whether postmarked from E Street or not. A fair description of Margaret's reaction to what occurred - and an accurate description of my own when she told me - was bewilderment. Not at the suggestion that anyone could have a differing opinion regarding popular music but at the clearly deliberate and quasi-insane manner in which this full-sized child felt compelled to confront Margaret with it.

Is it because we are so connected to one another as we work and play under the tentacles of Prince Al of the Valley's most glorious and yet most insidious invention that we no longer recognize acceptable social boundaries? We have converted the world not into a shopper's bazaar but - rather a free-for-all. Many of us no longer seem concerned about propriety as much as we are with expediency. I want it - I do it. No muss, no fuss. It is all over but the shouting, which must be engaged in at all costs. And it is not enough that we inflict our opinions, solicited or not, upon one another. Too often we dress them up in the garb of the factoid; an expression of opinion that while loosely - or not at all - based in fact is uttered with such sheer defiance and arrogance that we attempt to pass it off as fact.

I care not that one of Margaret's fellow occupants of her work space disagrees with my wife regarding the relative merits of Springsteen's music. I find it objectionable that this particular full-sized child (now you see why I said what I said up top about the difficulty in using the word adult) apparently woke up yesterday morning with pissing in Margaret's Cheerios on her mental to-do list, where admittedly it was probably competing with only one or two other items and one presumes that by the fifteenth time you have taken the, "Which Hand Is the Bean In?" test you can pass it without too much prep work. If you take the time out of your day to plan on ways in which you can be a mean-spirited pr*ck of misery to someone to whom you have no connection other than that you work in the same place, then you need to start re-examining your life's trajectory.

Living in peace and overcoming obstacles - whether created by Mother Nature or us bipeds - certainly appear to be worthwhile goals whether in Haiti's extreme weather conditions or in North Brunswick's slightly less turbulent ones. Will we get there? Someday.

Well, some of us at least. For the rest of us; the view never changes.

-AK

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This Way to the Club Tip Top

It was a peaceful night's sleep for me and for the other thousands of folks who live within about a ten-minute drive of the Red Mill Inn in Branchburg last night. We went to bed comforted by the fact that the FBI decreed on Tuesday that Lloyd Woodson has no known link to terrorism. In the abstract, finding out anyone has no known link to terrorism has to be a good thing; right?

One supposes that those of us who live within the aforementioned radius of the Red Mill Inn would have felt better about the declaration of Hoover's boys had Mr. Woodson's conduct on Monday not been the impetus for the FBI's sudden interest in him. What prompted their interest in him was the fact that secondary to being arrested - after being spotted acted suspiciously by a clerk at the Quick Chek store at 4:00 a.m. - Mr. Woodson first ran from and then started to fight with the police officers who were attempting to apprehend him. The police had to use pepper spray to subdue him. When they did so they discovered that he was wearing a bulletproof vest - always a must at the Quick Chek as it does get pretty physical near the coffee kiosk - and they found a loaded Bushmaster assault rifle inside his coat. He had four additional magazines carrying ball-type and hollowpoint bullets and several bent coat hangers in his jacket pocket. The rifle’s serial number was defaced and the weapon had been altered to fire .50 caliber rounds instead of the .223 rounds.

In the post-September 11 world in which we live we have apparently reduced the prism through which we view things to "terrorist" and "non-terrorist". In doing so we have inadvertently elevated the terrorist to a status above and beyond that of the garden variety bad dude. I suppose it is good - in a big picture way - that Mr. Woodson was not staying at the Red Mill Inn contemplating whether - upon making the acquaintance of his six dozen nubile companions - he wanted to be introduced to them alphabetically or by height. However it would have been of small comfort to those with whom he had come into contact had he been afforded the opportunity to use the traveling arsenal he transported with him all the way from Virginia.

Terrorist? No. Terrifying? Maybe. Maybe not. At Woodson's first appearance in court on Tuesday the judge set his bail at a surprisingly affordable $75,000. Perhaps Woodson promised him a deal on a room at the Red Mill Inn?

They do have at least one vacancy.

-AK

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Survival of the Wolf

Maybe it is not the latest sign of the fiscal apocalypse here in the State of Concrete Gardens. I hope that our State's economy, which has not exactly been the dictionary definition of robust lately (which is in part why Mr. Corzine is now our former Governor), is not in such disrepair that every retired octogenarian shall feel it necessary to return to the work force.

Based upon his recent body of work, I suspect that the un-retirement of 82 year-old Warren Wolf has more to do with him being an 800-pound gorilla than it does him being the tip of an AARP card-carrying spear. Mr. Wolf is the gentleman who spent a half-century as the head football coach at Brick Township High School. At the time of his retirement at the end of the 2008 season, he was the State's all-time winningest coach.

He initially channeled his inner Dylan Thomas - right up until the school committed the sin of replacing him with someone whose name had not appeared on the old ball coach's secret list of approved successors. Once the Board of Education hired someone who did not pass Coach Wolf's smell test, he raised one hell of a stink. Wolf voiced his displeasure at the Brick school district's decision to name Pat Dowling as his successor at several Board of Education meetings and at a Brick Township Council meeting last spring. He stopped short of supplying the fuel for the townspeoples' torches for the march upon the new coach's home but just ever so slightly.

Apparently, moved by the discomfiting image of watching Lakewood High School lose its Thanksgiving Day game last season, Wolf decided to put his hat in the ring for the position of head football coach at Lakewood High.....just in the event that it became available. When the position opened up after the '09 season, Wolf expressed an interest in it. Given that it is not every day that a high school football program that has experienced the abject absence of success that Lakewood has experienced recently has the chance to hire a coach who has 361 career victories, Lakewood met Coach Wolf's interest with a job offer.

In 2010, Lakewood will be led onto the field by its brand spanking new 83 year-old coach. While it would be nice to accept at face value Wolf's claim that his interest in returning to the sidelines is driven by his desire to restore "spirit" to the Lakewood community - candidly - nothing he has done in the past twelve months has appeared to be motivated by furthering anyone's interest but his own.

Standing in the pouring rain
All alone in a world that's changed
Running scared, now forced to hide
In a land where he once stood with pride
But he'll find his way by the morning light

-AK

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Meaning of Life

We watched the Jets' incredibly entertaining trek through the NFL playoffs come to a disappointing but not entirely unexpected result in Indianapolis - and I presume that all of the rain that Indianapolis successfully repels all summer torments its residents throughout the autumn and the winter given that the Colts have played every home game in their history in their present zip code indoors - from Joe's house last night. While the wheels were coming off of the J-E-T-S bus in the second half, Margaret and I were actually sitting with her Dad at his kitchen table taking a look at some singularly amazing photographs.

Margaret's mom was the ultimate chronicler of her family's life. Last night Joe and I were talking about his house and its history and - with seemingly little effort - Margaret found several boxes of photos from a drawer in a desk in her Mom's office, a number of which chronicled the home's construction.......in 1960. There was a set as well that documented some early celebrations that Joe and Sue had hosted at their home. The photos were terrific and because my mother-in-law was the type of person she was there was no guess work at all as to what we were looking at and when the events had taken place. Sue recorded the date, the names of each person in it and what was depicted in the photo on the rear of each. And a half century later one did not have to guess how happy she was when she marked the pictures - her use of punctuation told the story. Joe and Sue hosted their first party at their home in 1960 - and fifty years later - her excitement at having hosted a social gathering with her husband at her home was as clear as the exclamation point she used in marking the photos for posterity.

It was most certainly a bit of a tough trip down memory lane for Joe. He and Sue lived almost a half-century together in their ranch house on Howard Avenue, raised their children there, welcomed their grandchildren into the world there and lived a hellaciously fine life there. And fifty years ago when they crossed the threshold of their new home for the first time, neither of them envisioned a life where one would be without the other. And never envisioned an evening in which one would be present only through the magic of photography.

Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two
I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn't show your spirit quite as true

You were turning 'round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes.

-AK

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Day for Playbills and Lobster Bibs

Ours is a not a family that has an overwhelming number of traditions. On Christmas morning, I cook breakfast, which is the only time all year I do so (and in the interest of full disclosure is usually the only day all year that I am home by the time everyone else awakens). On most Sundays (can something be a tradition if it is followed only "most" of the time?) Margaret makes macaroni. I am fairly confident that if Margaret was sitting here with me as I write this she could think of at least one or two more - not including her sitting across the kitchen table from me as I write, talking about something. She is a pie-eyed optimist that wife of mine. I am a notoriously bad listener when you the speaker have what you reasonably presume is my undivided attention. Care to do the math as to how far the percentage of "paying attention" falls when that presumption is no longer reasonable?

Margaret and Suzanne do have a tradition of making an annual trip to Manhattan to see a Broadway show and to eat dinner. For as long as I can remember, every year for Christmas I buy them tickets (it is one of Suzanne's presents) to something that I have either heard one or the other mention aloud as a show she would like to see or to something that it seems they would enjoy. Over the years they have seen a number of different shows - all musicals I think - and have eaten all over Manhattan together.

Neither has ever suggested to me that I should purchase a third ticket and join them. And neither ever shall. This thing of theirs that they do belongs to them. I have no role in it; other than much like a producer I arrange for the outing's financing. That is the sum and substance of my involvement, which is what it should be. What makes this event something that both of them look forward to every year is that it is theirs and theirs alone. They spend it together - free from work, from school, from husbands and from boyfriends (although I really, really hope that last one applies only to Suz). It is most certainly "their thing".

And I smile at the thought of it. And I smile at the thought of all the years they have done it and all of the shows they have seen together. And I smiled when they arrived home last night, having seen A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury (who has always made me think of Mom - not because Mom ever possessed the ability to pour hot water out of her nose but because she has always been one of Mom's favorites) and having eaten dinner thereafter somewhere in Little Italy. The name was told to me (any guesses as to whether I remember it?) and, more amusingly, the pictures of the two of them eating dinner were shown to me. My favorite was the one of my tiny wife wrestling with what - conservatively speaking - was the biggest lobster claw I have ever seen. If in the era of cheesy Japanese monster movies the plot of one such epic had called for a giant crustacean to attack Tokyo ("Quick we must find all of the hot butter sauce we can and pour it on the monster to save the city!"), then I would have thought that the womenfolk were dining last night at that film's props department. Looking at it in all of its digitalized glory, Chief Martin Brody leaped to mind.

I have a lot of fun - perhaps more than I should -at Suzanne's expense, ribbing her about the fact that it is unclear to me whether she will ever live anywhere other than the first door on the left at the top of the stairs. Admittedly I rib her less about it now than I did before Rob took up residence (temporarily I hope) in the Mountain Time Zone but I still get my jabs in from time to time. Less frequently I stop to consider a day like yesterday. A day on which annually, whether realizing it or not, Margaret and Suzanne honored not only their tradition but another as well. The tradition that has been passed down in Margaret's family from Nan (her grandmother) to Suzy B (her mom), from Suzy B to Margaret and now from Margaret to Suzanne. The tradition of one's mother also being one's best friend.

And I realized last night, doing a bit of running on Suz's treadmill as I awaited their return how much I hope that Suzanne never moves too far away and how much I believe that she and Margaret share that very same hope. And it occurred to me that - if the fates allow it - a time will come somewhere a bit further on up the road when I shall have to purchase a third ticket. And the tandem shall expand to a trio and a third generation of lobster-eating musical-loving theatregoer shall take her place alongside her mother and her grandmother.

All walking together at the point of intersection between the past, the present and the future. And each seeing the world through a set of eyes in addition to her own.

-AK

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Forever Shall Ophelia Climb

Zoe pops the cork on her second week on the planet today. I wonder if she has noticed yet all of the ways in which the world has changed during her tenure to date. If she has been busy doing other things - like being an eight-day-old baby - and she has missed any of it I am certain she will be OK. Somewhere, someone has likely been recording it all. Remember once upon a time we used to speak of recording something, "for posterity's sake"? Apparently posterity was too difficult to spell or perhaps to pronounce. So we discarded posterity for something brighter and shinier.

Lucky for young Zoe that in spite of her indifference to and of the world around her, Mom and Dad are not planning on trading her in for something brighter and shinier. She is sufficiently excellent for their liking; thank you very much. Besides being bright and shiny she has that super-cool new baby smell and you cannot get that just anywhere.

She is of the age still - although if I was to crack open the Pez dispenser momentarily and share a bit of wisdom with her Mom and Dad it would be not to blink so they do not miss this age entirely - where most of the world's monsters and dangers are somewhere else. She does not have to deal with them on a day in, day out basis. And while feeding her and changing her and caring for her will be a 24/7 gig for her parents - for present purposes they are safe from monster duty, which is of course a wonderful thing.

Life has a way of reminding all of us who use the word "parent" as at least one of the ways in which we describe ourselves that for all of our best efforts and good intentions, bad shit can still happen to the children we love. And it happens regardless of who we are, where we are or the amount of coin we have in the bank.

Danger appears in forms clearly recognizable, such as an enemy on a battlefield upon which sons and daughters such as Marine Sgt. Christopher Hrbek fight and too often die in the service of us. It shows its face as well in a natural disaster of cataclysmic proportions, which does bad things to all it encounters including those who were in a rough place doing good works. Too often danger to our children takes a form so diabolical that neither we nor they recognize it until the harm it carries within it has been unleashed upon them. Sadly, even when justice appears to have been served, its arrival is not always timely.

I find myself rooting for the J-E-T-S to win their way to Miami and the Super Bowl (the thought having just occurred to me that I have no idea what number Super Bowl we are on at this point although I presume it is a number in the mid-40's) so that my siblings and my friends who are long-suffering fans of the green and white can extend their moment as long as possible. And although empathy for billionaires is not something I have in large supply, I have been taken more than a little by the plight of Jets' owner Woody Johnson and his family. At or about the same time as the football team he owns began its ascent through the AFC playoffs, Mr. Johnson did something no parent would ever wish on another parent. He buried his own child.

Being culturally obtuse I am forced to confess that until I heard a news account of her death I did not know who she was. I failed to realize that during her life Casey Johnson had achieved some level of celebrity. I cannot pretend to have had any insight at all as to whether her celebrity arose from something she was known for as opposed to who she was. Then again, a year ago or so when I first heard the name of the young woman to whom she was allegedly engaged I thought that the newscaster was talking about a brand of tequila. It was only when I saw a photograph of her for the first time that I realized she was an actual person. Candidly, I think she seemed less annoying when I believed her to be liquor, much like Jose Cuervo or some such thing.

Mr. Johnson has had to spend a fair amount of time the past several weeks reminding the growing contingent of press surrounding his team that winning two NFL playoff games (even on the road both weeks) does not offset the loss of his daughter. The time he has spent each of the past two weekends watching the players who he pays to play advance in the playoffs has been a welcome distraction for as long as each game has lasted; but not a moment longer.

Any parent can understand that regardless of when and how the Jets' season ends, it shall not be their season that causes January 2010 to be burned into his memory forever:

Don't you sometimes wonder
Why it all goes by so fast
I held you in my fingers
Now I hold you in my past
Once I watched you Walk on water
Now I watch you Walk across the room
I always thought We'd have forever
Now these forevers Go by too soon.

No sense hurrying them along any faster than necessary; right? Not for Zoe. Not for anybody.

-AK

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thus Said Method To The Madness

Every three to four years or so, the Missus shoehorns me into letting her take a ride with me to my office. Without fail we go at a time when we are closed for business since her interest in seeing what I do is significantly less than her interest in seeing the level of self-created disarray in which I do it.

Use whatever dictionary you like and you inevitably find my little retreat as an acceptable definition of the word "mess". I am not in need of a Hoarders-style Intervention - although I fear I might have just given the A&E Network a cross-promotional idea for a show that none of us needs to see - but given that I tend to be in and out of a lot of matters on a given day I end up having to be in and out of a lot of different files, which tends to give rise to various little piles of papers all over my desk......my chairs, my book shelves - not to mention that mini-sized cafeteria table I swiped from an unoccupied office last summer. I used to take umbrage at people describing my work space without using words such as "orderly" or "pristine". I do not wear my tendency towards apparent chaos like a badge of honor but I am a realist. I am resigned to the fact that I am who I am and what I am. And what I most decidedly am not is the keeper of a neat office.

Fortunately for me (and likely less so for those around me) my mind is markedly less cluttered than the space that the body to which it finds itself irrevocably and eternally chained ever seems to be, which is why on a Friday in late January I find myself thinking about what I was doing at or about this time last year. At this juncture in my life twelve months back my office looked passably close to immaculate. The walls were bare, the shelves of my bookcases were neat, tidy and for the most part free of occupants and most of the files upon which I had worked were filed away in the filing cabinets.

While I cannot recall for certain that I did, I would wager $1.00 that on the day last January that occupied the calendar spot that this very day presently occupies this January I spent most of my working day reviewing files that I was preparing to say good bye to and preparing transfer memos for the attorneys who were going to be taking over the handling of them. My office was neat because most of its contents were already boxed. They were - as I was - preparing to change addresses.

Fast approaching the anniversary of the end of the first incarnation of my employment here at the Firm, I have realized that while I was packed to leave, I was not prepared to leave. The subtlety of that distinction - lost on me at this time in Aught-Nine - became apparent soon thereafter. And while I initially feared that the dawning of this day of self-awareness had come one too late for me to realize anything from it, it did not.

If the fates conspire to afford you only sufficient time to read one more thing before you do, then stop reading this silliness immediately and get yourself seated with a copy of Pete Hamill's extraordinary Downtown: My Manhattan. While I can argue quite persuasively that there is not a page between its front cover and its back that is not worth considerably more than the paper on which it was printed, there are countless passages within it that take the extraordinary to another level altogether. Included among them is Hamill's examination of the none-too-subtle distinction between nostalgia and sentimentality, "Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie."

I developed a far better understanding of the distinction of which he spoke when just about this time last year I flipped the light switch on the wall of the office that was no longer mine to the "off" position, revealing in the darkness walls now freed from a decade's worth of accumulated debris and appearing almost to be illuminated and walked down the stairs and out the back door for what I believed then would be the final time and stacked the last of my neatly-packed boxes in the trunk of my car. I would spend the next several months in another office located in another building. During that time I took note of the fact that I did an excellent job of keeping my new digs - even when I was busy and working on substantial matters - uncluttered. Hell, neat would have been a fair way to describe it.

But I realized then what I know now to be true. Clutter is a necessary element in my life. It is part of whatever fabric holds me together. During the time I was there and not here I had not eliminated the clutter. I had simply relocated it. Instead of being outside of me where I could see it and respond to it, it was inside of me. I could no longer see it. But when I closed my eyes, it no longer disappeared.

It took a little while but eventually this one-trick pony found his way. I have never been mistaken for the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer but sooner or later I got around to figuring it out. That is why I shall spend a portion of this chilly January Friday morning as a lawyer and not as an office packer - in court making an argument for a client. And when my work there is completed I will return to my humble, messy little abode and start working my way through the day's "must get to" projects while determining what on the stack can be held at bay until tomorrow morning...and what will command top billing on Monday's early morning "to do" list.

In DOWNTOWN: MY MANHATTAN's first chapter, "The Capital of Nostalgia" Hamill writes of the various times during his life spent living in cities other than Manhattan but that even when he was somewhere else, his soul remained in New York, "In unexpected ways they each taught me something about New York, its strengths and terrible flaws, its irritations and its triumphs, the way learning another language teaches you about your own. But in spite of their many seductions, I always knew I would go home."

Home - a hell of a nice place to end every journey; eh?

-AK

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ballad of Captain Calliope

Have you ever had a "What the hell was I thinking" moment? Allow me to rephrase - have you ever had one other than the one you had upon realizing that you had clicked onto this particular site and had subjected yourself to what may be waiting for you here? Perhaps during your management of Martha Coakley's campaign for the United States Senate?

I have them on a not terribly infrequent basis so I presume that we all do. I know not whether my presumption is equal parts pie-eyed optimism and psychotic break or whether one is the favored ingredient in the mix. I suppose the possibility exists that I am the only one to have ever experienced such a feeling. But if that was indeed the case then the catty cottage industry of critics savaging what some unfortunate wore while traipsing across the red carpet at one awards show or another would exist only in my mind's eye; right?

I run for exercise, health and enjoyment. And since I run by myself in hours once described by Francis Albert Sinatra as wee and small, occasionally I enter a race. It affords me the chance to run in the daylight and in the company of others. And it permits me a barometer by which to assess whether I am actually making any progress in this whole running thing. As I was reminded on New Year's Day the whole measuring stick thing can really jump up and bite you on the ass if you are not careful. I spent the final two miles of the 5K I had entered unable to close a twenty yard gap on a rather smallish old gent who (conservatively speaking) looked to be twice my age. To add insult to insult, as I was mulling over my own inadequacy in not being able to catch up to Father Time I was passed about ten yards from the finish by a woman who appeared to be (and who the final results confirmed to be) about ten years my senior.

Ambition is a wonderful thing but it can also be very, very dangerous. I am very much looking forward to Memorial Day weekend and my participation for the first time ever in the Bolder Boulder 10K. The emotion I feel is eagerness and not anxiety. I will be taking part in an event whose finish line is located in Folsom Stadium - the football home of my beloved Buffaloes. And I will be taking part in it with Rob. He and I have signed up for it together and we shall take advantage of what I hope like Hell is his "temporary" status as a resident of the Mountain Time Zone to participate in it. I am certain that there are cooler ways to spend Memorial Day but at present allow me my moment to gloat; OK? I shall be much obliged.

While I am eager to run in the Bolder Boulder, it is anxiety and not eagerness that is confronting me as we now have drawn within ninety days of the Unite for Charity Half-Marathon at Rutgers University. I was initially giddy over the prospect of testing myself over a distance that is more than twice the distance I have ever run at one time - as well as being a distance that is about 1/3 of what my brother-in-law Russ considers a minimal training distance. In my defense, Russ is crazy about this type of stuff - having recently competed (on back-to-back days) a half-marathon and a marathon in Florida. As the calendar page has flipped from the last decade to the present one, cold hard reality has used its exquisitely sharpened elbows to secure a prime location on the other side of the glass in my bathroom mirror. It forces me every day to look at it squarely and ask myself whether I have indeed mislaid what little remained of my mind.

If I had enough courage to stand there and answer that question then I would share it here. I do not and thus I cannot. I would have more I suppose if I had not - several minutes after paying my non-refundable entry fee - read the part of the promotional materials for this event that stated there is a ceiling on the entrants' finishing time. I thought I might be able to complete it at any pace I might fancy. Apparently, that sort of Nancy Boy attitude is frowned upon. All runners are required to complete the race within a fixed amount of time. While it did not indicate what shall be done to anyone who fails to comply, it struck me as rather sinister.

I suddenly saw myself being tracked by a team akin to a big game hunting party for the last few miles as my pace slowed perceptibly and it became an open question whether I would finish "on time". I was left to wonder as I ran if they were going to permit me to finish or - instead - wait until I entered a less publicly-visible part of the course before shooting me in the ass with a tranquilizer, throwing a net over my head and carting me back to the assembly area, strapped across the hood of the vehicle like some water buffalo caught somnambulating in a restricted part of the zoo.

I am confident that as the weather continues to warm and as my creaky left leg continues to feel better that this moment of self-doubt will pass. OK perhaps I am more hopeful than confident but baby steps; right? Thirteen miles to cover. That's a hell of a lot of baby steps.

-AK

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

While I Was Sleeping

There are times when I would feel comfortable submitting my name for contention as the most obtuse person in these United States on certain "important" aspects of our popular culture. While I look down into my backyard every morning out of my bedroom window it seems at times as if I reside in a hole - or at the very least that unseen soundproof booth that Family Feud always claimed to send the back half of the two-member team from the victorious team during the Fast Money round. I might have been the last male in America to have heard of the Hilton Sisters, the Kardashian Sisters and Megan Fox.

While Margaret and I were for years loyal watchers of Survivor (so there is no "reality TV" snobbery here) I have never seen a complete episode of American Idol. Last week I was blissfully ignorant as to the basis of the Facebook status phenomenon in which countless people I know - including any number of people my age and older - included the words, "Pants on the Ground" in his or her update. It soared without impediment over my head. I only solved that particular mystery when Fox - as is its tendency to do - beat its audience for the New Orleans/Arizona NFL Divisional Playoff Game to death on Saturday afternoon with promos for American Idol featuring the contestant who sang that original composition.

Once upon a time - or simply so long ago that it feels as if it was in another lifetime - I stayed up late enough into the evening that I watched late-night TV. I was a child of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show and went to college in an era when David Letterman was on air in two places he has not been for many years: NBC and 12:30 A.M. Eastern time. In college, one could watch the Tonight Show and then Letterman; all without having to get up and change the channel. Even better, because I went to college in the Mountain Time Zone "late night TV" actually started at 10:30, which meant that I could watch Carson from start to finish and still be asleep on the "late night" side of midnight as opposed to its "early morning" side.

I am not a complete idiot so I know very well who Jay Leno is and who Conan O'Brien is. However, I feel compelled to admit that I never saw a complete episode of O'Brien's version of "Late Night", which he began to host (I think) when Letterman lost the coin toss to be Carson's successor and scooted on down the dial (showing off my New York metropolitan roots I know where the CBS station is Channel 2 and its NBC counterpart is Channel 4) to CBS. I have friends who watched it regularly for years and enjoyed it quite a bit. I have no experience with which to either support or refute their position. Likewise, while I saw Leno serve as Carson's "Permanent Guest Host" too many times to count, during the lifespan of his stewardship of the program, I cannot recall a night that I watched it in its entirety. Again, judging by the ratings he garnered for a number of years, there were a considerable number of people for whom Leno was must-see TV.

Not for me. My alarm clock signals the call to the post in the wee small hours of the morning every morning. In my experience one cannot get one's first look at the day at 3:00 a.m. with regularity if one is getting his last glimpse at the previous day only an hour or two earlier. I was aware of the fact that last May NBC "retired" Leno from The Tonight Show in order to move O'Brien across the country to take over as its host. I did not watch Leno's last episode and at gunpoint I could not tell you who his final guest was......although I am fairly confident it was not the Pants on the Ground guy.

Now, less than one year after Leno was out of The Tonight Show and serving as an anchor to NBC's prime-time lineup (the imagery works better if you envision an anchor dropped straight through the decks of a wooden sailing vessel that punches a hole in its hull below the water line) and O'Brien has apparently been doing likewise on the Tonight Show, NBC believed it has located the keys to Professor Peabody's pride and joy. It put Leno's 10:00 p.m. show out of its misery and announced it was moving him back to 11:30, which created a bit of a scheduling dilemma. For while I know less about science than any person alive even I recall walking past a Physics classroom in high school while a teacher instructed the kids in my school who were smart enough to grasp Physics that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the came time.

Unsurprisingly, the 11:30 time slot was not big enough for Messrs. Leno and O'Brien - although one wonders (albeit rhetorically I suppose) if two people with regulation-sized jawbones and high and tight haircuts might not have been able to fit there together comfortably. NBC has spent the past week to ten days conducting a how-to seminar in front of the entire country on "How Not To Run The Programming Department At Your Television Network", which I am sure has warmed the little cockles of the little hearts of the big boys at Comcast. Even as the inevitable end approaches, this whole silliness has not gone gentle into that good night.

So - as is always the case in my world - I am left to ponder how all of us this impacts me? And I am pleased to realize not at all. My day ends well in advance of 11:30 p.m. so whether it is the fella with the lantern-sized jaw or the fella with the golf umbrella-sized pompadour sitting behind the desk, I shall not be sitting in front of my set. From afar both Leno and O'Brien seem to be reasonably nice men so I hope that each lands on his feet irrespective of the return address of the landing zone. But I hope even more fervently that each of them - and each of us - has reacquainted ourselves with the importance of keeping all that swirls around us in perspective.

Undoubtedly, O'Brien is hurt, upset and angry over feeling as if he is being aced out a job after seven months doing it after having spent sixty months preparing to do it. Luckily for him, he will have many millions of dollars at his disposal to comfort him while he cools his heels and contemplates his next move. Personally, I have difficulty feeling too badly for someone who shall pocket (by some reports) anywhere between $25 Million and $40 Million, paid to him by NBC, simply for agreeing to not appear on NBC any longer. Imagine your employer writing you a check with 8 numbers to the left of the decimal point as long as you agree to NOT CONTINUE to come to work. What is the over/under for time spent looking for the crew from Candid Camera during that meeting with one's boss?

Last Tuesday afternoon O'Brien released his "People of Earth" letter. In it he told his bosses at NBC what they could do with their "new" idea regarding their late-night television lineup and where - precisely - they could stick the peacock. It is a funny read. And it was intended as an effort to put a fine, sarcastic point on what O'Brien undoubtedly (and appropriately given that it is his livelihood that is being impacted) considered to a serious issue. But then something completely off-script happened and we were reminded that even though "serious" is a relative term, neither Mother Nature nor the Einstein Estate permits absolutely everything to be included within its definitional boundary lines.

We all get our fifteen minutes it seems. We simply do not bother to synchronize our watches.

-AK

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Cause The World Keeps Chargin' Up The Hill

Today marks the end of the first full year of President Obama's Presidency. Your opinion as to how he has done so far undoubtedly has at least a bit to do with (a) your pre-election opinion of him, including but not limited to whether you voted for him; and (b) your political ideology. Rightly or wrongly, in a world cloaked under layer after layer of just so many shades of gray on so many issues, we tend to see our politics in black and white terms; regardless of the pigmentation of a particular office holder.

Once upon my lifetime, I recall politics being personal and being something that belonged to each of us. As a boy I remember asking my father for whom he had voted earlier that day in whatever election was being contested and him telling me that it was none of my business. He was old school in that regard I suppose - not too far removed from a generation of people such as Irish immigrants who had had to fight damn hard to win the right to vote - in that he believed that one protected the sanctity of what had been fought so hard for. No more. Somewhere along the journey, the lines of demarcation were redrawn in rapid-drying, short-lasting erasable ink, which seem to do nothing but turn ever dialogue into a diatribe and every debate into a donnybrook. I cannot wait to tell you why my guy is #1 and your guy is best epitomized by using the finger 'tween the index and the ring.....and sadly you cannot either.

I cannot fathom a task on this planet more ceaselessly tasking on the one who is performing it than President of the United States (although I do acknowledge that my wife's unlucky lot in life has likely placed her on the medal stand). The office ages its occupant at an accelerated pace in a compressed amount of time. To everyone but the person providing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a return address it seems to be a job so easy even a fool could do it. To the one who knows better there seem to be countless moments where he wonders if it is a job so hard that only a fool would compete for the right to do it......and winces just a bit at his moment of self-realization.

From my limited and admittedly selfish perspective, as a certain gravelly-voiced singer from the Shore is fond of saying, "It ain't a Democrat thing; it ain't a Republican thing; it's an American thing." And I have never asked him and he has never told me so I do not pretend to know for certain what the "thing" is of which he speaks but I would like to hope that it is quality of character; the examination of the contents of the vessel fairly and squarely without relying upon solely the sheen of the pretty packaging. It is substance and not form.

And at day's end, whether this day, tomorrow or a day so far off in the distance that it is at the point of intersection between the sky and the horizon line, all one hopes is that your decisions and my decisions are driven by stuff and not fluff; that they are the product of well-considered reason and not bullshit. The process works as long as we believe in the process and understand that from time to time it is going to produce a result that you or that me - as an individual - finds unsatisfactory because the purpose of the process is not simply to make me happy at the expense of all others.

If you think that is what America has ever been about, then start sharing whatever it is you have been smoking because all of the rest of us want to hop on your mellow. The place you seek is "the perfect place" and once you locate it, be sure to ring up Yogi, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith. Those poor bastards spent years trying to find it.....and never did. But they were cartoon characters - well drawn to be sure but make-believe nonetheless. They could expend as much time as they wished on such a pointless pursuit; they had nothing more important to do.

See the difference?

And the miles we have come,
And the battles won and lost;
Are just so many roads traveled,
And so many rivers crossed.

And I ask God for the strength,
And the faith in one another;
For it's a good night for a ride
'Cross this river to the other side
My blood brothers.

-AK

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ryan's Hope

Whether his charge to the denizens of San Diego comes true or not, courtesy of the sterling efforts of King Rex and his green and white-clad troops, one thing that Ron Burgundy and his Chargers will be doing next weekend is staying home. I have never been to San Diego. I understand however that it is a gorgeous town. Undoubtedly the Chargers would prefer to be spending their Sunday afternoon in Valerie Bertinelli's television hometown. They shall not be and it shall be left to the J-E-T-S to try and prevent Peyton Manning from making a second trip to the Super Bowl. Jets vs. Colts for the right to play in the Super Bowl, which is in Miami. It is not 1969 redux but it is close enough to make Joe Namath excited and Bubba Smith pissed off all over again.

I have siblings and partners alike who are fans of the New York football Jets. I myself am a Giants fan. And while I do not intend to do further harm to my left leg by trying to jump onto a moving bandwagon (although courtesy of Matt Speidel's recommended elixir I am significantly better off now than I was this time last week) I am happy for all of those I know who have spent a lifetime rooting for Gang Green. Historically, success has not been an easy to maintain state of mind for the boys from Hess Tech. I know from watching those who root hard for them that they watch their team play with one eye on the action and the other scanning the air above the field, searching for the inevitable landing spot for the other shoe.

Thus far this January, following the lead of a coach either ballsy enough, bright enough or both to hand out a playoff itinerary before their first game that included the date for their Super Bowl Champions ticker tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes, the Jets have gone on the road in successive weeks and picked off first the champions of the North and, yesterday, the champions of the West. Their kid quarterback has played like anything but and their all-world defensive back has been as good as advertised. And suddenly the only two teams left in the AFC are the Jets and the team that first allowed them to get their foot in the door a few weeks ago by sitting its starting quarterback and most of its first teamers in the second half of a game the Jets had to win simply to have a chance to make the playoffs.

A week from now we shall see if the Colts regret their decision. It is well-settled that one should always be careful what one wishes for. That other shoe is still airborne and looking for a place to land.

-AK

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pre-empting God's Comic

Law school was my salvation - the pathway to a career for one eternally challenged by mathematics and the sciences. Bill Nye and I shall never be mistaken for twins; not even fraternal ones. However, I do know how to read.

Tuesday afternoon, Haiti was struck by an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter Scale. Courtesy of the bright minds at the US Geological Survey, all of the whats, whys and wherefores of the quake are set forth for the rest of us to read. Two admissions need to be inserted right here. First, since the USGS is comprised of really bright folks who happen to be scientists, a considerable portion of what they have written is technical. Second, a lot of it is beyond my ability to comprehend.

However I was able to discern it clearly enough to grasp the fact that Lucifer's conduct was not among the causes of this most recent flex of Mother Nature's muscle. Apparently however no one ever checked to ensure that the detestable pr*ck of a human being Pat Robertson had access to the USGS data before going on air the other night. Mr. Robertson, whose utter lack of relevancy these past several years had led me to think (OK, to hope) that he was dead, used the pulpit afforded to him by his show, The 700 Club (an homage to the collective intellect of all of the well-intended but misguided sheep he has fleeced for money over the years), on his (yes he owns it) Christian Broadcasting Network to offer his own opinion on the point of origin for this monster quake. Sadly, but not surprisingly, his source material was not to be found on the USGS web site. According to Robertson, "They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III, or whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so, the devil said, okay it's a deal." His comments seem no less detached from reality when you see them as opposed to read them.

I understand that Robertson was not the only source of inane, insensitive and hateful comments regarding the earthquake in Haiti. From my selfish perspective, his trump those made by anyone else. Why? Because Rush Limbaugh does not hide the fact that he is a ratings-driven, ignorant horse's ass who sought a career refuge in the swamps of professional punditry shortly after the Kansas City Royals told him his career as a bat boy was over. Limbaugh's carnival ride is well-advertised. He does not for a second pretend to be something other than what he is: a professional pot-stirrer. Stoking the flames of the fire of perpetual outrage ensures Limbaugh will receive the ratings he craves; hell, the ratings he probably needs to continue to finance his "My doctor said I can consume up to my body weight a day" prescription drug habit.

Limbaugh tells his audience that he is God. Robertson drops a "Rev." in front of his name and pretends to be "A Man of God", which I would submit is significantly more dangerous and disingenuous. Limbaugh is a cartoon. He spends most of his time "preaching" to his legion of Dittoheads who already accept his position on all things political the same way that the 19,419 nationwide who watch the equally self-impressed Keith Olbermann pontificate on all things political from the other edge of the political spectrum turn his program on every night knowing before he begins to speak that they shall agree with all that he says.

Not so with Robertson. He and the rest of the television preachers who dot the Direct TV landscape are far sneakier and far more nefarious than Limbaugh or Olbermann could ever hope to be. Robertson is the scariest type of societal predator: the white-collar, well-spoken type. Hidden behind his nicely tailored suits and his soft-spoken delivery of "The Lord's Word" is a genuinely creepy dude. One who learned years ago that he could easily separate the earnest folks who watch his television show or listen to his radio show from the money that they - unlike him - actually worked hard to earn if he delivered his message in just the right tone of voice and with the appropriate mix of faux sincerity and quotes from the Bible. Years ago he perfected the con of getting his audience to believe that by sending him money they were purchasing salvation in $10.00 and $20.00 increments. Crack for the soul as it were.

The global fascination with religion and spirituality never ceases to amaze me or to amuse me. The amount of time, money and effort devoted to the promotion of the idea that there is a higher power in the ether somewhere over all of us makes my hair hurt. I have friends who consider my take on the subject to be foolhardy, warning of what awaits me when I die. I get it, "Next stop Eternal Damnation!" I shall take my chances - thank you very much - rather than to have to spend a moment of any day from this one forward to whenever my last one pops up on the calendar worrying about the possibility of sharing a seat in the celestial lifeboat with a "religious man" like Robertson. If he is on God's team, then give me a moment will you to jog to the other end of the field.

Presuming that there is some higher power looking down at the mess we have made out of all he created, wondering why he did not simply give the world to the monkeys, one wonders if he has a Rolodex on his massive oak desk in Heaven. If he does, then here is to hoping that he has all of the fraud television evangelists' names, numbers and expiration dates in it. And that he is working his way down the list alphabetically.

Or maybe - at the very least - working on revamping the programming on CBN. As luck would have it, there is a marginally funny, appropriately pasty-skinned television host who is about to come on the market after first separating his present employer from $30 Million, which if nothing else proves that he already has the whole fleecing of the flock bit down pat.
-AK

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Day for the Queen of Bedrock

If my niece Jessica had simply been able to withstand the stress and strain of labor for a couple of or twelve hours longer, then she would have given birth to her first child on Zoe's great-aunt Jill's forty-fifth birthday. Having seen living color photographs of Zoe in all of her newbornedness that were taken at some point yesterday afternoon, I can confirm that juxtaposition shall have to serve as an acceptable alternative to overlay. Having always been somewhat of a fair-to-middling sibling and an underachieving uncle I am a bit uncomfortable once again being elevated to the dizzying heights of "Great Uncle" - although I felt less pressure to perform after Margaret reminded me it is a description of kindred and not an award.

So but for an unyielding adherence to the 24-hour cycle comprising a day (at least on this planet), Zoe and Jill would have shared a birthday. Better luck next time? Easy for me to say; right? I am not the one doing the pushing and the shoving, the screaming and the yelling. Nope, that hospital bill is not finding its way across my doorstep (too bad as I have a whole safe full of Go For Broke money I have been looking to get into circulation).

It is slightly mind-boggling to me that time moves with such relentless precision that Jill - the sibling closest to me in age - is celebrating her forty-fifth birthday today. It seems bizarre to me that silly events from our childhood that I remember as if they happened only a paragraph or two ago happened considerably longer ago than that. I mean, it seems as if it was only last week that while attempting to master the intricacy of that most complex of all driving moves - the left turn - I caused Mom's happening, super cool red Chevy Chevette to french kiss a railroad tie that marked the boundary line for the house on the corner of Wertsville and Amwell Roads while Jill watched in horror from the passenger's seat. But it could not have been. For at the time I pulled off that amazing achievement I had not obtained a driver's license although I must have already obtained my ability to argue persuasively. I vividly remember asking rhetorically, "What is the worst thing that could happen?" mere moments after talking Jill into letting me drive and mere moments before providing the answer to my own question. While it may seem like only yesterday, in actuality it happened almost thirty years' worth of yesterdays ago.

And I smile as well thinking of a memory of Jill manufacturing a laugh in a place where none should have logically been found. Last June Margaret's mom died. Suzy B. was a little, tiny woman who made an indelible impression on everyone whose path she crossed. The outpouring of love and affection for Margaret, for Joe, for Frank and for the entire family was astounding. There were more people in attendance at the wake than I have ever seen at any wake at any time.

Jill came to the wake and at one point she and I were standing together in the middle of room at the funeral home, simply marveling at the multitudes who poured in all evening. We stood side-by-side surveying the scene and talking about what laid ahead for all of us when, without changing the inflection of her voice she said to me, "This is always how I've envisioned your wake. Except with a whole lot less people and in a much smaller room." The deadpan delivery coupled with the content of the remark made me laugh.....out loud. Admittedly the reaction of those standing around me was not one of universal acceptance. I could not have cared less. Jill knew that at that moment in time, hip-deep in a fast-moving river of bad shit, what I needed more than anything else was a bit of humor.

Given the relative proximity of our ages (I will be forty-three on my next birthday) we spent a lot of our youth tripping over one another. I guess we must not have minded it too much as - in no small part due to the sales job she did about the place - I ended up following her to Boulder, Colorado for college.....where for the first two years I was there she and Joe (then her boyfriend/for the past two decades her husband) used to drive me to the liquor store and buy alcohol for me as I was too young to purchase it myself legally (and I never felt comfortable using my fake ID since I never was convinced that I looked like a 49 y/o Croatian national named Vlade).

I know what you are thinking. Breaking the law again? Did we not learn anything from our first joint, illegal activity? Of course we did. She never let me drive to Liquor Mart. Not once. Although come to think of it by that time that would have been a perfectly legal thing to do.

I used to joke when she was in high school that I hoped when she grew up, got married and had kids - it was the '80's; that was the natural order of things - that she had at least one daughter who was just like her. She and Joe are raising two terrific daughters, both of whom has been the recipient of the best of both parents. What I intended as a crack has indeed come true and while it ruined the punch line of my obnoxious little brother's taunt, it strikes me as a perfectly suitable way for things to have turned out.

Today marks the big 4-5. One day Wilma you will be as old as you are tall. You are not quite there yet but......some day not too very far away at all. Did you think I was not going to get even for that "not as many people and not as big a room" comment?

Happy Birthday Wilma!

-AK

Friday, January 15, 2010

Once Upon A Lifetime Ago

For a moment yesterday I was 12 years old again. While it was cool to be the only sixth grader with a beard it was a bit deflating to observe the percentage of whiskers of the "salt" persuasion. Man has it been a long time since anyone shook a pepper shaker anywhere near my chin.

I am not the most technologically proficient person I know. Hell, I am barely the most technologically proficient person I know named Adam Kenny and I am in fact the only person I know toting that name across this mortal coil. Yet on occasion the god of technology smiles upon me. Yesterday was such a day.

Through the magic of on-line social networking (which I used to hope was an oxymoron but now I think is an eerily prescient description of how we really interact with one another here in Century 21 - feel free to pick up your mustard-colored blazer on your way out) I managed to reconnect with an old friend of mine. A man who I last saw face-to-face when we were kids. And damn it if he did not appear to have aged thirty-eight seconds or so in a quarter-century. The more photos I see of other people in their early 40's the more I wonder what it is they have been snacking on all these years for they all seem so remarkably well-preserved. I knew that all my years of dedicated service to the Smirnoffs could hit me hard in my liver but no one told me about the flock of crow's feet and graying hair. I feel betrayed.

Our parents bought a 3.5 acre piece of property in Neshanic Station, New Jersey when I was not quite nine years old, upon which they erected a home. It was "the home where we are going to retire", which presupposed two things that both knew would never occur (Hell - I was nine years old and I knew it for crying out loud): (1) Dad would never retire; and (2) in the unlikely event he did, there was no chance that Mom would live out her golden years freezing her way through New Jersey winters. I would invite you to ask her yourself if you wish. As soon as she comes back from her daily, all-day session on the Florida sand she will give you a holler. Be patient.

Neshanic Station is squarely located on the outskirts of the middle of nowhere. Our house was built in the middle of a 3.5 acre lot because that was essentially how big every piece of property on our block was. As desolate as it was, given that we had lived on Canal Road in Belle Mead up until that point in my life, where my only human contact was the family that ran the Molly G Ranch (continue on up the common driveway past our house) who owned a collie - Blue - who bit me in the face at least one time that I can remember, it seemed like a move to midtown Manhattan. Actually Blue might have bitten me twice. Candidly I was a bigger pr*ck of misery then than I am even now and I most certainly asked for it.

I was in 5th grade when we migrated to the Shangri-La known as Wertsville Road. About eleven minutes or so after we finished taking the last box off of the Conestoga I made the acquaintance of Doug. As it turned out he was a year younger than me and he lived across the street from us with his Mom, Dad and older brother Rob. He and I became very good friends very quickly.

Please remember that we were kids in late 70's rural New Jersey so while I had friends of mine at Wardlaw whose homes were wired for HBO (or at least WHT) Matthew Broderick could have lived to a ripe old age on Wertsville Road without running afoul of Jim Carrey. Thus not a lot of time was spent watching TV - unless we were watching sports. Doug and I spent most of our time playing sports. We played basketball for hours in our front yard off of the hoop that Dad had nailed somewhat cockeyed onto a utility pole. The hoop was crooked and the ground was uneven but we played too many games of H-O-R-S-E and one on one out on that "court" to count.

I smiled thinking this yesterday: in the Spring of 1981, on the afternoon that I almost burned my parents' home down all because Dad insisted on feeding our collie (who never bit me in the face) hot dogs, Doug and I were in the middle of a particularly spirited game of one-on-one when Dad bellowed for me from the kitchen. Doug was a good athlete when we were kids but he was not lightning fast......except for that day. He was up the driveway, across the street and out of sight as if he had been launched from a crossbow. For some reason Dad found implausible my claim that I had only been outside for a few minutes. Perhaps it was the thick black smoke throughout the house? Perhaps it was the burned-black bottom of the pot on the stove that at one time contained both water and hot dogs? Perhaps it was the fact that the smoke alarms in the house had screamed themselves hoarse? Perhaps it was the wiener remnants Superglued to the ceiling of the kitchen - having been ejected from the metal pot that had been their home once every ounce of water had boiled off? Whatever the reason - he bought not a bit of what I was trying to sell him. Doug and I laughed about it the next day and I never for a moment faulted him for abandoning me to take the thrashing by myself.

There were not a lot of kids our age in our neighborhood but fairly soon after I moved in, Doug and I started playing 2 vs 2 in just about every possible sport with two guys who lived down the road from us: Bill and Dave. Bill, Dave and Doug all went to the same school, which I did not so while Doug regarded me as his neighbor and friend, Bill and Dave always kind of, sort of viewed me as an alien invader or some such thing. They were two guys who I spent a lot of my leisure time as a kid between age 12 and age 16 hanging out with although I do not recall the two of them liking me particularly well. I was a necessary evil - a 4th guy to even out the teams.

Truth be told, when the four of us played 2 on 2 games the teams were never even. We must have played 1000 games of touch football on my front lawn. Doug and I always played Bill and Dave. We never lost to them. Candidly, they had no answer for our superior offensive wizardry. We would run reverses and halfback option passes and throw spot passes on kickoff returns and every other thing under the sun. They would simply have one of them throw passes to the other. It was a mismatch in every sense of the word and yet because those two were as close as Doug and I were none of us ever posed the suggestion of changing up teams. The teams were uneven but not unfair. They simply were what they were.

The four of us would also wage war on one another in basketball. At some point - probably when we were all 7th and 8th graders - Bill lowered the hoop that his parents had nailed up above the garage from regulation height down to 8 feet. At that height even the most vertically-challenged among us ("Please allow me to introduce myself") could dunk.....or come really, really close. And we would spend hours trying to posterize each other in Bill's driveway. Again, the teams never changed: Bill and Dave always played Doug and me. While it is possible that at some point they might have actually gotten a game off of us, I think we were close to as dominant in 2 vs 2 hoops as we were in football.

It never really occurred to me as a kid living in the middle of nowhere that I was missing something but not living someplace else. To the contrary, I recall the few summers after Dad died - when we no longer made the pilgrimage to the Grotto - as being a great time to be a kid. Living in the middle of nowhere - among people who you do not really know because you do not go to school with them and you leave for school, which is 30+ miles from home, in the darkness and return home in the darkness - could have been a real drag had I not had a partner in crime. It was not because I did.

But for the advent of modern technology I likely would not have crossed paths with a very dear old friend again. And I would have been all the poorer for it. I think I am going to Google both Bill and Dave. See what they are up to and see if, perhaps, the next time Doug is back East we can find a piece of grass and get together for some 2 vs 2 two-hand touch.

I am older now but I can still throw a pretty mean spot pass. And as Doug has proven on at least one prior occasion in his life, when sufficiently motivated he can run like a gazelle.

I like our chances.

-AK

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Scarecrow, Mother Goose and the Holy Grail

How is your gift of observation? If you are like me - and know that I join the chorus of gentle sobbing you hear in your inner ear if you are - then it is not as astute as you might believe. During the course of the past decade or so I have driven past the building that is located directly north of the Firm on Parsippany Road on an average of twelve times a week (and given court appearances, depositions, trips to the bank, etc.) there has likely been a significant number of weeks in which that figure is significantly higher than a dozen. Yet until I spent a few minutes via Google learning its heretofore secret identity late yesterday afternoon I did not know the company's name.

Upon learning it I was embarrassed to realize that during the period of time that where I work has been located within walking distance of its front door, I have on at least three occasions been stopped by a stranger whose only request was, "Hey Mister (probably not what he/she said but has a nice '40's film noir feel to it; no?) can you tell me how to get to William Steinen Manufacturing from here?" And on each and every occasion I have not only failed to tell that hapless soul that the Firm's property abuts Steinen's, I have actually - albeit inadvertently - sent them off in absolutely the wrong direction.

Clearly if I ever found myself in the market for a drip-free misting/fogging nozzle, you can bet your bippy I would want to know that I am within walking distance of an outfit that produces just such a thing. Admittedly, I am not 100% sure what it is but its name is fun to say (C'mon - out loud fast as you can three times, I shall wait for you) and it looks pretty damn cool. I know not what "fine atomization" is but since only a fool would settle for any other kind, I am relieved to know where I can get myself some.

I am such a complete ass that what finally prompted me to learn my neighbor's name was not an urgent need for fine atomization but - rather - something I saw on its front lawn on Wednesday afternoon. The photo on their web site does not do justice to what their lawn looked like on a mid-January afternoon as it fails to show any of their adorable geese. Geese are a bit of a nuisance in these parts - if by nuisance one really means the Devil's winged menaces capable of crippling a jumbo jet and almost killing every human being on board. It is the Canadian geese who appear to be the most well organized and antagonistic, still pissed off no doubt at the American-dominated National Hockey League's decision to permit the Winnipeg Jets to be sold and moved to Phoenix Arizona. Apparently a Manitobian holds one hell of a grudge.

The good folks at Steinen Manufacturing apparently had themselves one hell of a goose problem. The solution? Dogs. But since real-life, flesh and blood dogs can be insane (believe me when I tell you my beloved Rosalita is a mental patient), a wee bit difficult to control and born with a proclivity towards - upon actually catching a goose - ripping it into a million pieces, which would not be so bad if Steinen Manufacturing had a pillow and comforter subdivision (in Morris Plains perhaps) or Parsippany did not have such a strict "No Tearing Another Living Thing from Wing to Wing" ordinance. But since at least one of those last two is not true (I have no idea if Parsippany has such a statute), Steinen elected to go the route of the plastic pseudo-dog.

I am sure that this beast is known to you. You may have even been in one's presence and not realized it as you cast an eye upon it in the morning's wee small hours on your way to work only half paying attention to the fact that every day, regardless of the weather, this somewhat smallish but very energetic looking pup mans his post in precisely the same spot, which if you were paying complete attention would likely strike you as odd. Since you are not, the "dog" appears vigilant, not artificial.

The decision-makers at Steinen apparently dropped enough coin to solve their droppings problem to have purchased multiple fake dogs. And for reasons known only to them and presumably the person or persons who recommended to them how to deploy them, the "dogs" are in a cluster on one portion of Steinen's lawn. There are two or three of them all grouped together as if preparing to break a huddle or some such thing.

And I am happy to report that this product does as advertised. The dogs' success rate in keeping the geese off of the section of the lawn where they are positioned was - as of 2:30 Wednesday afternoon - close to 100%. Unfortunately their success rate in keeping the geese off of the lawn altogether was 0%. The average goose is not as dumb as he looks apparently. At some point prior to my glimpse into their little eco-system at least one goose must have flown close enough to the defenders to realize that they were either artificial or somnambulists. If he had kept this tidbit of information to himself, then the entirety of the lawn's riches would have been his for the taking.

Alas, secrets run through a goose like (well, you know) and he told two friends and so on and so on. By the time I passed by Steinen yesterday afternoon at 2:30, every goose save Gossage was on Steinen's lawn. And every one of them was strategically located at least fifty feet from the Goose Patrol. How odd considering in the promotional video of one outfit that markets these pseudo-dogs, the results are spectacular......if by "spectacular" one means, "literally impossible to confirm or verify".

And for reasons known only to me and the chorus of voices inside of my own, jumbo-sized head I not only envisioned the anguished looks on the faces of the Steinen executives who burnt the funds on this purchase - at least those who have windows that front Parsippany Road - but I envisioned as well the logical next step in their lawn protection plan. And I found myself hoping that crows are a whole hell of a lot dumber than geese or someday soon we are all going to be paying $10.00 an ear for corn.

Run away! Run away!

-AK