Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Season of the Comical Priest

The Missus and me were flipping around the dial on Sunday evening and we ended up on the Discovery Channel. We were likely looking for a Law & Order: CI repeat or some such thing but we wound up watching an episode of "Life", a rather visually spectacular study of all creatures great and small for which the narration is provided by Oprah (I was going to add "Winfrey" but it just seemed unnecessary. What other Oprah could I possibly be referring to right? Oprah O'Malley? Oprah Minskowitz?) I do not watch Oprah's TV show. In fact, having been gainfully employed and equipped with male genitalia during the entirety of her time on the emitting side of the cathode ray I have never seen an entire episode of her TV show. I did catch five minutes one afternoon on the day she gave a new car to everyone in the studio audience and like the rest of Battlefield Earth I have been subjected to the video replay of L. Ron Crazy Man jumping up and down on her couch proclaiming his everlasting love for one of his wives, present or past. I do not think that counts for much however in the larger, global Oprah-heavy universe that we all occupy. At least I hope it does not.

While I am familiar with her face, hearing her voice is a bit odd to me. Until hearing it on Sunday night I do not think I had heard it since "Bee Movie" in which she voiced the part of the Judge. Given that the last thing I remember her character was something about "finding in favor of the bees!" it seems to me as if every time I hear Oprah speak, she is championing the cause of some non-human organism - even when that organism has staked out a position contrary to that espoused by her fellow bipeds.

If recent evidence is any indication, the Big O just might be right. Every so often in this space I rail about the seemingly ceaseless desire we the humans have to reestablish a new subterranean zip code for our lowest common denominator. Often times it is our abject cruelty towards one another that gets my Irish up . Sometimes it is simply our astounding stupidity. A recent, sterling example of the latter is found right here within the geographical confines of my own State of Concrete Gardens.

For years physicians have been warning against the evils of fast food. And for those who did not believe the teachings and preachings of our own personal physicians we had the opportunity to see what happened to Morgan Spurlock - the gent who ate a McDonald's-only diet for thirty days and made a movie about how the diet made him fat and very unhealthy. The 100 minutes you now need not waste on a rather self-evident piece of film making you may bequeath to me in your will. But for those of you for whom Mr. Spurlock did not sound a clarion call, consider the example of Eduardo Liriano.

Mr. Liriano is a man who - according to newspaper accounts - resides in Hackettstown, New Jersey. In the wee small hours this past Saturday morning, Liriano who was intoxicated and apparently more than a little pissed off about something demonstrated that fast food can be unhealthy for more than just the poor bastard who is eating it. Liriano used his sack full of White Castle burgers (a/k/a "sliders") to try and beat the living hell out of a 14 year-old boy. Considering the chain's radio commercials advertise a sack of three of those bad boys covered with A.1 Steak Sauce for only $2.99, Liriano is perhaps to be applauded for - at the very least - the frugality he demonstrated in his choice of weapon.

Not surprisingly, White Castle burgers do not make the most effective weapon in an assault. Liriano fled the boy's home and was ultimately apprehended a couple of blocks away by the police. Fortunately the young man upon whom he went a whacking with his sack escaped with only an undisclosed injury to his wrist although one suspects the smell of onions emanating from his clothes and his pores will remain with him for some time to come.

I realize that Margaret and I saw the episode of Undercover Boss that featured the guy from White Castle. Of all the tasks we saw him perform poorly during his week incognito there was nary a clip from him attempting to learn the fine art of Slider Jujitsu. While it is doubtful that he would have been any better at that than he was at any of the other things he failed to grasp, it would have made for damned entertaining television.

A joke the whole flock would have roared at approvingly. Right up until the point they realized that the joke is on us. Or is the joke us? Too often it is a distinction without a difference.

-AK

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Book of Travis

At some point after a number of my colleagues had left yesterday it occurred to me that Passover started at sundown last evening. Perhaps it was the gray, rain-filled skies waking up the echoes of Noah and his big boat. Perhaps it was guarding against an unexpected uptick in traffic. Either way, there was what one might call an Exodus (a little Old Testament humor) out of Parsippany in plenty of time to make the sundown deadline......considering that I made it home from the office at about 7:30 and it was still daylight.

I was raised Roman Catholic so Passover was not among the religious observances that appeared annually on our family's calendar. However, when I was in 7th grade my friend Mike invited me to his house to celebrate the Seder on Passover's first night. Thirty years later my memory of the night - while not letter perfect - is nonetheless very good.

When we sat down at the dinner table, there was a place set at what appeared to be an empty seat. And the front door of the home was open. Mike's mom explained that a place was set for Elijah and the front door was left open to permit him to enter the home, which it was apparently hoped he would do during the evening's prayers.

As the family (and their guest) gathered around the table and Mike said the prayer, a noise was heard on the front lawn. In no time at all, the noise outside moved inside and ended up in the dining room, seated in Elijah's designated chair. In Mike's home three decades ago the joyous noise came not from a being ephemeral but one canine. Bursting through the front door and landing at the empty seat around the dining room table was the family's Afghan hound. Travis was but a puppy - about a year or two old I think - but with the precision of a gymnast (or at the very least an adult Afghan hound) she bounded into the dining room, leaped towards the available seat and stuck the landing.

As Travis looked around the room - admittedly seeming far more interested in what was on the menu for dinner than the potential religious import of what she had done - the room turned stone silent. No one spoke for what seemed to be an extraordinary amount of time. Finally, Mike's grandfather did. All he said was, "The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways." All of us burst into laughter.

My one and only interaction with Passover. Thirty years later I still smile thinking about the evening. I hope that all who are celebrating Passover this year have a wonderful holiday. While I have something more than an arm's length relationship with the Almighty (whoever he may be) for those who believe I hope that there is still mystery in the night.....

....and that it is not simply confined to whether Travis is going to reprise her role as Elijah.

-AK

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Road Home

If you have never seen Hoosiers a fair question to ask of yourself is, "What the hell is the matter with me?" You can make amends - and given that this is apparently a week of some significance on the calendars of at least two major religions what better time is there to do so than this? Forget all of the Biblical reasons for finally doing the right thing cinematically. The Butler University Bulldogs, whose place of residence is Indianapolis, are participating in their first ever Final Four on Easter Weekend in their hometown (cue the John Mellencamp discography at your leisure).

Is it reasonable to anticipate that Butler will be able to knock off Michigan State and the winner of Duke/West Virginia within 48 hours in order to win the National Championship? Probably not. But it was not likely that the #5 seeded Bulldogs would defeat #1 seed Syracuse and #2 seed Kansas State just to capture their Region. Yet when the music stopped they were the ones using their chairs to reach the rims in order to cut down the nets. And when one realizes that Butler is the only team this side of the Connecticut Huskies (Distaff Division) in Division I college basketball not to lose in 2010, suddenly the Bulldogs' impossible task seems a bit less so.

Butler's relationship to its fictional counterparts from Hickory is not entirely metaphorical. In the film, the Indiana State Championship game is contested at Butler's Fieldhouse. To take the "Gee Whiz" reaction off of his players' faces, upon entering the gym Coach Norman Dale has his biggest guy Stretch put his smallest guy Ollie on his shoulders and while Ollie is perched atop of Stretch, Ollie is handed up a measuring tape, which he uses to confirm that the distance from the floor to the rim is 10 feet. After conducting a second experiment to confirm that the distance from the foul line to the baseline at the Butler Fieldhouse is 15 feet, Coach Dale reminds his kids that each of those measurements is the same at the Fieldhouse as it is as their tiny home gymnasium in Hickory. A corny yet effective lesson in perspective and the importance of maintaining it.

In Hollywood the happy ending is often pre-ordained. It was for the Hickory Hoosiers. Whether it shall be for the Butler Bulldogs remains to be seen. Life is a bit trickier proposition. More adventurous casting. Incomplete writing.

-AK

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Face in The Mirror

While I remain sorry for Rob and Suz as to the reason that prompted Rob's impromptu visit to the East Coast this week (a visit that ends - as per usual - far more quickly than I am prepared for it to end) I am happy that he was here. On Memorial Day I will be in Colorado with Rob and he and I shall run together in the Bolder Boulder. Given that he has been here since Thursday due to the death of his father's father, it is perhaps irony or coincidence (among my many intellectual shortcomings is the inability to determine which is which) that he and I shall be running together in Boulder on the 29th anniversary of the death of my father.

Memorial Day in Boulder is a planned outing. The Fool's Run in Manasquan yesterday was most assuredly not - unless you consider me sending Rob a text message on Thursday asking him if he wanted to run in it, hooking him up with a pair of my running shoes and then Gidg formally registering him for it on Friday night "planning". Under that scenario, I suppose it was an exquisitely well planned event. Here on Earth however I think we would define it as impromptu. And whichever side of definitional Mason-Dixon Line you choose to come down on matters not, for it simply was one hell of a day.

Usually - on days when the lower part of my right leg is not moonlighting as a reservoir of excruciating pain - my goal when I run is to turn miles at a 9:30 to 9:45 pace. That was the goal yesterday as well. Our plan (such as it was) called for Rob, Gidg and me to run together for as long as we could with none of the three of us knowing how long "together" would last. For Rob and me it lasted the entire 3.1 mile course. We started together, we ran side by side and we finished together. My ego compels me to point out two errors in the official race results. First, Rob and I crossed the finish line at or about the 27:39 mark. The additional 10+ seconds added into each of our times are the residue of a scoring system that requires the good folks at the finish to note and record manually each runner's time. It is an imperfect system but as the Emperor of All Things Imperfect I do enjoy the nuances of its charm. Secondly, while my name appears in the order of finish ahead of his, we finished in exactly the opposite order. Curiously, proving that she has connections everywhere she goes, Gidg's finishing time (a personal best of 30:20) was dead-on accurate. Go figure.

It was a bit chilly in 'Squan yesterday morning and chillier than I had expected it would be on March's final Saturday. In March even the weather participates in the Madness. 'Squan is a simply wonderful little town in which to run a road race. It is essentially flat. It is a town full of wonderful things to look at while you run and the course yesterday took us along the Inlet and then up onto the boardwalk. Even on a cold early Spring Saturday there are far worse ways to spend a few minutes than running with the Atlantic Ocean to your immediate right as the sun sheds light - if not copious amounts of heat - on the proceedings.

It was on the boardwalk that we passed the second mile marker and the gentleman calling out times to runners as we went by. Having missed the announcement at the first mile marker, I made certain to listen to this one as I wanted to see where Rob and I were time-wise. I almost stopped short when the man called out "17:30" as we passed him recognizing even with my Alley Oop-ish math skills that we were moving at a 8:45 per mile pace. And it was a pace we kept up as we took a right turn off of the boardwalk, back over the little bridge (which is on Main Street I think), past O'Neill's (where Margaret and Lynne had been since pre-race scoring a primo parking space and a table adjacent to the bar) before popping two quick left turns (somewhere my father is smiling no doubt) to the finish line. I paid particular attention to Rob during the final mile, stealing glances as he ran either to my immediate right or my immediate left and smiling. All the while doing so in a manner that I hope went undetected.

I have lived most of my life as a horse's ass - generally insensitive to the concerns of others and doing that which needs to be done for the betterment of me regardless of its effect on you. Somehow, for reasons that remain a mystery to me (much like why a tone-deaf, talent challenged crew of noisemakers such as Nickelback headline stadium tours and a talent such as James McMurtry sings to intimate gatherings of 200 or less in bars and coffee houses) I made out much better than I deserved to when I married Margaret. I brought to the table my Springsteen cassette and album collection (it was a pre-digital age). She brought to the table Suz and Rob. I was reminded again yesterday morning just how great a bargain it has been.

Best I ever had.

-AK

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Man on the Moon

Another year of running the March Madness Pool. Another year of reaffirming the faith of those who participate that I do not rig the outcome to ensure that I win. How did I do it this year? Four words: "Ohio State - National Champions". Now that I have been freed from that damned annoying obligation of trying to decide how best to spend $820 - made off a $20 investment ("Bernie Madoff, Kiss my Irish Ass!") I can devote my time and attention to more important pursuits.....such as deciding whether I am going "sledge" or "ball peen" when I commence beating my own brains in.

On a not totally unrelated subject, this morning we are migrating South to the 'Squan to take part in the annual Fool's Run. Unlike last Sunday's exercise in self-immolation this race is a 5K, a distance at which I am less likely to get passed by 76 y/o men with braces on both knees and one at which I am less likely to experience searing pain in my own right leg. Proving that Mother Nature has a sense of humor, had today's event been run mid-week at its 11:00 a.m. starting time we would have taken off in 60 degree conditions, which would have made running my suit a bit tricky I suppose. No such difficulty today. The Weather Channel forecast for Manasquan this morning at 11:00 a.m. calls for sunny skies and 37 degrees. The most excellent part of the forecast is that thanks to the 11 mile per hour howling out of the NE the temperature will feel like a balmy 29 degrees. This time last month, when Gidg and I ran in the Mid-Winter Beach Run in Manasquan it was about 50 degrees. What a difference 30 days makes; eh?

Today will be great though if for no other reason than Rob is running with us. While it was not a happy occasion that brought him home unexpectedly for a weekend's visit, home he is (until tomorrow anyway) and it is always great to see him. I am heading out to Colorado on Memorial Day weekend so he and I can run in the Bolder Boulder 10K together (and also get Fat Tire at "bought at the brewery prices") and when I told him about this morning's jaunt, he signed up. He, Gidg and I will be representing 'NTSG this morning. Actually on his registration form, which I completed for him on Thursday, I put down his Colorado address. I thought perhaps they give some nice free stuff to the person who comes the longest distance to compete in the race. Two time zones and 1800 miles should put him, if not in first position, at least on the medal stand.

And whether they give him an award for the distance he has covered simply to be in a position to cover their plotted-out course of 3.1 miles this morning matters not. What matters is that in a world where my son spends significantly more time "there" than he does "here", today he and I will occupy the same space. And even though it is just for a little while, it is a beautiful thing indeed.

-AK

Friday, March 26, 2010

Justice Delayed Need Not Be Justice Denied

Justice is not simply pursued nobly, it is often pursued for an extraordinary length of time. And whether those engaged in the pursuit are law enforcement officers or law school students, at day's end when their pursuit of it has resulted in the delivery of it to those who long for it, the point of origin is - at best - a secondary concern.

I have noted the good works of the folks affiliated with the Michigan Innocence Clinic in this space previously and, once again, they have achieved something that is - at least in the opinion of this man - worthy of recognition and applause. In the fall of Aught-Nine they won Dwayne Provience - convicted of murder in 2001 (a murder for which he always proclaimed his innocence, which undoubtedly begs the question whether you have heard the one about the innocent man in prison) a new trial. Provience's cause proved worthy enough to a group whose standards for championing seem pretty damn high and champion it they did; doing work that Provience certainly appreciated but likely would have appreciated even more had his trial counsel done it for him back in Aught-One. When the court last fall overturned the conviction and freed Provience, the Wayne County Prosecutor noted his agreement with the decision - although he expressed the opinion that the State had enough evidence (in addition to the "evidence" that was discredited by the Clinic's work) to retry him.

Earlier this week, the Prosecutor changed his mind. Provience will not have to stand trial a second time. While the Assistant Prosecutor who apparently was going to try the case seemed to suggest in his statements that he personally is unmoved by all that the Clinic unearthed on Provience's behalf and that his office could in fact choose to try him again at a later date, based solely upon the various news articles I have read about this matter; at the present time that seems incredibly unlikely to happen.

While losing - which I submit is what the Assistant Prosecutor and the other folks from the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office now feel is what has happened - is something that no one ever enjoys, it does not require Bob Beamon's hops to jump to the conclusion that in this case - almost a decade after the verdict was taken - no one has lost. Litigation, whether in the criminal arena or the civil arena, is akin to athletics. It is a result-driven area of the law. The courtroom is a venue where score is kept and where more often than not close does not count. Everyone likes to win. It is human nature. And while winning and losing are usually related and yet mutually exclusive phenomenons, they do not necessarily have to be. And in the criminal justice system - significantly more so than in the civil arena (where we battle over things like monetary damages and real property) the goal is supposed to be justice. Not wins and losses. Nobody wins unless everybody wins.

And much closer to home this week, a dedicated group of detectives and police officers arrested two suspects in a thirty-two-year-old murder case out of Newark - a case in which the two suspects are accused of having murdered five teenage boys and thereafter burning the abandoned house in which they had killed the boys in order to cover up their crimes. The six relentless pursuers - all of whom first became involved in the chase for the killers more than two decades after the crimes were committed are Detectives Jack Eutsey and Louis Carrega of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office, Detective William Tietjen of the State Police and three members of the Newark Police Department's Cold Case Squad - Detectives Joseph Hadley and Murad Muhammad and Sergeant Darnell Henry.

It appears that this group of cops got their men in large part because they never wavered from the task at hand and because they wasted little time dwelling on the formidable nature of it. There is a line from a movie (the name of which escapes me) in which one character is explaining to another how impossible their mission is and he says, "It is not like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack of needles." A degree of difficulty not usually seen this side of the Triple Lindy.

In a three-decade old haystack of needles, six men persevered and found theirs. And it appears as if it has pointed them towards a long-overdue solution to a brutal crime. During their appearance at their arraignment, both of the suspects entered a plea of "not guilty", which it is their Constitutional right to do. Our system demands that we the people meet our burden of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether we are able to do so is an as yet unwritten part of the story.

Several years ago I tried a civil case for a client out in Warren County. My adversary - who believe it or not was far more self impressed than even I am - wrote me a letter about six weeks prior to trial vigorously objecting to my proposed request to put off our trial for a couple of weeks because one of my medical experts was going to be away on a family vacation. My adversary, upset that my clients' insurer had not offered the plaintiffs any money to settle the case, closed his rather vitriolic piece of prose by proclaiming that, "Justice delayed is no justice."

Methinks that proposition might be a bit of a tough sell in the Provience household or in the households of the families of five young men who never had a chance to experience life as an adult.

That you know flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't.

Indeed it does.

-AK

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Length of Time Trumps the Shortness of Men

Occasionally I get what is for me an early start on my day. Yes, even I have "early" days. Today, sadly, is one such day. While it is always a great joy for me to see Rob in the cozy confines of the Eastern Time Zone, it is never a joy to be the one who picks him up when it is a sad set of circumstances that brings him home. Today it is just such a set of circumstances that has him spending some time in his native postal code.

Rob has migrated east for the weekend due to the death of his paternal grandfather. His father's father - a man who spent most of the past two decades living within a mile or two of my home - is a man I knew hardly at all. I know little of the story of his life except for the fact that he served in the Merchant Marine. Incredibly I met him only two or three times; including our first meeting that took place at his wife's wake only a few years ago. I understand from Rob and Suz that he had moved to New York State a few years ago, which is where he lived the final couple or three of his eighty-one years with his daughter and her husband.

I did not know the man. I cannot pretend that his death affects me directly given that his life did not. As a parent you share your child's pain when he or she is saddened or upset by a particular event or occurrence even if the event that is causing them pain directly is not doing so to you as well. And so it is their pain I feel; even if their loss I cannot share.

This morning - at a time that even I recognize as being both wee and small - I will see Rob for the first time in approximately three months (he was last home for Christmas). I take comfort in the fact that while I feel badly for him about what it is that has brought him home unexpectedly, I am happy to see him. Between the time I pick him up this morning and the time I drop him off at the airport on Sunday I know not whether I will see him at all. It matters not.

His time home on this visit has but a little to do with me. Yet it has everything to do with him. And that is after all what matters. Duty compels him. Love propels him. Together in tandem they have carried him home. As they shall carry his grandfather home as well:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

-AK

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All Things (Re)Considered

It seems to me that no matter who we are and no matter what we do, the history of our life is shaped in equal parts by who we are and who those who interact with us perceive us to be. Joe DiMaggio nailed it, I think. At or about the beginning of what would be his final season with the Yankees (1951), DiMaggio - commenting upon why he played as hard as he did in every inning of every game of every season - was quoted in The Sporting News as saying, "There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time, I owe him my best." DiMaggio's point, left unstated, is a telling one. Regardless of how we perceive ourselves to be, we are assessed, rated and judged by those with whom our lives intersect by how we do on their watch. They judge us by the successes and/or failures to which they bear witness.

Even when we live securely within our own minds we do not live in the abstract. Nature abhors a vacuum. It does all that it can to prevent a vacuum's existence. It is assisted in that effort - in great part at least - by us humans. All but the most anti-social among us is in fact a social animal, even if simply for necessity's sake. Even if our interaction appears for all the world to be something we do grudgingly and with an abject absence of enthusiasm.

The tricky thing it seems to me about all of this human interaction jive is that all we can hope for on any given day is that we know where we are at in our own heads. We cannot possibly pretend to know where the rest of the world is at day in and day out. So we do not know if while driving home from work on what has been the best day of our professional life we will encounter someone who is heading home from his or her worst. The world moves pretty fast. We seemingly need to make a million decisions a second and have only a fraction of that amount of time in which to do so. We intersect with one another at a point defined solely by its intersection. All other variables remain unknown.

One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams. I often wonder if one of the reasons I like it so much is because the first and only time I saw it "in a theatre" it cost me nothing. During my senior year at CU-Boulder, whichever studio released it had a free preview screening of it at the UMC. The promotional poster had caught my eye and I walked over to the UMC - prepared to pay two times the price of admission if necessary - to check out the movie.

If you have seen the movie then you know it is a baseball film that is about penance; not pennants. Costner's character - Ray Kinsella - is an Iowa farmer, a husband and a father who is more troubled than he apparently realizes at the beginning of the film by his estrangement from his own father, which began when he was a teenager and continued unabated up to the time of his father's death. At the end of the movie, Ray Kinsella finally realizes that the person for whom he had been told to build the field, the man whose pain he was to ease was not his father's all-time favorite player Shoeless Joe Jackson after all. Rather, it was his father. As the players leave the field and head off into the corn one final time, we see the catcher remove his mask. When he does, Ray Kinsella recognizes the face of his father John - at a time in his life when his father was still a young man. At a time in his life before his father became his father. In his amazement, Ray exclaims to his wife Annie that he is looking at the face of a man he recognizes but who he never knew. His father's face is that of a man who had not yet been broken down by life. It was the face of a man who still had his best days ahead of him.

We all live our lives, confronting and hopefully overcoming most of the adversities and obstacles that we encounter. Unfortunately, we are not all able to do so. And even those that we can surmount exact a price from us in the process. We leave a little bit of ourselves and a little bit of our soul right along side that patch of skin from our knee or from our elbow every time we rattle off a hurdle or strain to clear a bar. Life is a one-way ride. More is taken from us than is given to us and if we are not resilient and we are not resolute, living can descend into merely surviving. And that changes everything.

Once that occurs it impacts the prism through which we see the world, the prism through which the world sees us and the manner in which the two of us interact with one another. Even though we may not mean it to do so, the jading of our souls stays with us much like a splotch of indelible ink. It is impossible to erase. We hope merely to fade it.

If life came with a rewind button or with an eternally renewable pass for rides on Professor Peabody's WABAC Machine, then we could all avail ourselves of the opportunity to go back to the moment before the jading started. And if we could do that, then as we progressed on our journey along the big blue marble we would always be able to be at our best for everyone we meet; regardless of the point along the path at which me met them. But it does not. And we cannot. We can simply soldier on, making the best of our situation and doing what we can to not fall victim to life's circumstances. Oscar Wilde said, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." Left unsaid is that every man spends his life trying to pay down the debt.

We lose someone we know - someone we love even - and because the point of intersection between our life and his occurred at a point in his life after the glint had already been taken from his eye, which always had an effect on how he interacted with us, we wonder - at least for a moment or two - how he felt about us and how we should feel about him.

How do we know how we are supposed to feel ultimately? I am compelled to report that I have no idea whatsoever; having myself wrestled with that question for most of my life - twenty nine years in fact as of May 31st of this year. My inability to comprehend it notwithstanding, I suspect that the answer to the question is as personal to each one of us as our DNA or our fingerprint.

Or as personal to us as whether we shall let bygones be forgotten.

-AK

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Confectioner's Dream Concoction

One of my little joys is overseeing an annual March Madness Pool in connection with the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (one year perhaps we will do the Women's Championship as well but I did not have the patience to wade through countless sheets completed exactly the same way: "U. Conn."). Some years more than others form holds. While the entertainment value that I derive from watching my colleagues, friends and relatives engage in impromptu conversations and some good-natured woofing at and with one another over each other's selections and the inherent absence of wisdom in them never wavers irrespective of who wins, in a year where the favorites do what favorites are supposed to do with metronomic precision, there is little surprise associated with the pool. Therefore, it is a year such as this one has been thus far that serves as the Bracket Manager's dream.

How much fun is an organized athletic competition in which there are exactly twice as many teams left standing as the field has been pared down from 65 to 16 from the nation's #1 Basketball Power Conference (Big East) as there are from the nation's #1 Brain Power Conference (Ivy League)? If I disclosed one additional fact to you, which is that when the festivities started the day after St. Paddy's Day there were 8 Big East teams among the combatants and there was but one Ivy Leaguer in the mix, would you be inclined to believe in the Naismithian superiority of the Big East?

Washington's Huskies - the sole remaining representative from the Pac-10 should be thankful that at the Regional in Syracuse this week they are matched against their Region's #2 seed West Virginia and not the Ivy League Champion Big Red from Cornell. For Cornell has raised decimation to a fine art. The Alma mater of Ken Dryden, Ed Marinaro and Christian Navas has worked its way from West to East annihilating first the Atlantic 10's Temple Owls and then the Big 10's Wisconsin Badgers.

And whilst the Big Red's rampage is indeed one hell of a story thus far, they are not even the party crashers whose continuing presence at "the Big Dance" is the maddest and baddest thus far. I watched Northern Iowa on Saturday slingshot a rock that felled the Jayhawks and then use chalk to outline the corpse of Kansas University's #1 ranked hoops team. As of Tuesday morning I still cannot name (a) their coach; (b) any of their players; (c) their nickname; or (d) where their university is located. I must confess that when I first saw a graphic that read, "NO IOWA" I thought perhaps maybe the good people of New Hampshire had organized a protest against those damn first in the nation Iowa Caucuses although when there was not a companion graphic saluting the virtues of Dixville Notch I suspected that my initial thought might be erroneous.

Joining Cornell and Northern Iowa in the rarefied air of national exposure for their basketball exploits are the Gaels of St. Mary's. That is St. Mary's College of California for those of you keeping score at home. A school that - prior to doing so on Thursday afternoon against Richmond - had last won an NCAA Tournament game in 1959. Intoxicated by the nectar of first-round victory, the Gaels decided that Pete Townsend be damned a little would not be enough and sent Villanova home significantly earlier than the #2 seeded Cats figured they would be heading back to Philly. And on the Gaels have marched to the Round of Sixteen.

The Round of Sixteen has almost a quarter of its available parking spaces occupied by teams that - as a trifecta - you likely could not have gotten odds on at any of the sports books in Vegas one week ago. How long can they each continue to conjure up a little March magic? Who knows. One thing for certain, all will move onward and upward with an eye open and watching the clock. For when you are Cinderella, midnight's clock strike is the ultimate buzz-kill. And if you can keep the clock's hands from reaching the witching hour, then you might very well still be standing at the final moment....

The one when eternity beckons.

-AK

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Good Run Unspoiled

It turned out that I needed every bit of Rob's mojo to get me home yesterday morning in Freehold Township. The 10-mile course for the St. Paddy's Day Run, which meandered throughout Freehold Township (one hellaciously fine-looking town) and passed by the best mailbox I have seen in a long time - "The McCools" - was apparently designed by a sadist. It started to climb at the 3-mile mark and save for a couple of "don't blink or you'll miss them" declines thereafter continued unabated on an uphill climb for the final ten miles. Here 'NTSG there are not a lot of hills on which to run. So encountering them is interesting - in moderation. Mile after mile after mile of them is something else altogether. There is a word for what it is: sadistic.

OK, sadistic is clearly too strong a term. I can admit that now. Yesterday morning while climbing apparently in perpetuity towards the finish line I was not feeling nearly as gracious towards the course designer. It was nice to see the entrance to the park and to be told by the volunteer manning it that there was only 1/3 of a mile to the finish. It was nicer still to be permitted to end the race in an area that was - at worst - elevation neutral. Flat is good - regardless of what Columbus spent his life griping about and trying to prove. And at the end of a 10-mile run it is better than good.

Yesterday it felt as if the distance from the "Mile 7" marker to the finish line was considerably greater than 3 miles. On more than one occasion from Mile 7 to the end I wondered to myself whether I had enough in the tank to make it home. There was more than one occasion when I found myself feeling a bit sorry for myself. And on each and every occasion when that happened I looked down at the emblem on the front of my shirt. And then I thought of the names written on its back and those names - one of them in particular - got me focused back on the task at hand......until finally there were no more steps to take.

My running buddy Gidg had an exceptional day yesterday. She caught up to and passed me at about the 9.5 mile mark and finished 10 seconds ahead of me. To the rest of the world our finishing positions of 404 and 405 out of 473 might not seem like much but, well, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion I suppose. And you shall excuse me if I do not put as much weight in your opinion as I do my own. And I think we did just fine.

-AK

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Search of Maria Espinoza

Today promises to be another gorgeous day here 'NTSG - an almost (if not quite pitch perfect) mirror image of the one that preceded it yesterday. A nice enough day for a heart attack? Here's to hoping that question remains unanswered for our fearless hero - me. And for those of you out there who do not necessarily subscribe to my point of view on the issue - well, I probably have done at least one thing in my life vis-a-vis you to merit your disdain. Your position therefore is - in my book - understandable and absolutely defensible. You need not justify it to me.

This morning my running pal Gidg and I are driving Skate down Route 9 South to Mr. Springsteen's birthplace to participate in a 10-mile race. At some point not too long after one of us (Gidg) sold the other (me) on the fact that running in a half-marathon would be a real hoot, one of us (me) sold the other (Gidg) on the idea that before taking part in a race of that length on April 18 [T minus 21 days] it made sense to run in a race of considerable distance. My thought was simple: let us get the lay of the land as it were. Both of us have remained faithful to our training regimen and have covered this distance by ourselves. Running solo on the back roads of town or like Harvey on a treadmill for an interminably long time prepares you for the physical part of the undertaking, but not the mental. Running in a quasi-competitive setting (I checked last night and discovered that once again I am in an event that chooses not to recognize my anticipated finishing position of "Hurry Up Fat Ass, We Are Packing Up to Get Out of Here!" It is OK. I am used to being slighted. I will bounce back for I am resolute (although I find from my own experience that being round is my greatest advantage in this particular pursuit).

Today is a no bullshit Mojo day for me. I awakened this morning with a bit of anxiety. It is not everyday that I step as far outside of my comfort zone as I am doing today. And while success will bring with it at least a transient feeling of self-satisfaction, not doing so will bring with it a far longer lasting feeling of failure. It is human nature to shake off the dust of our successes more quickly than we do the stink of our disappointments. And in that respect at least I am indeed human.

As I was standing in the shower this morning, hoping to jump start my heart just a little, I found the inspiration I needed to know that I have what it takes to make today successful. I thought back to November 2008. I thought back to Margaret and me standing in the early morning cool of Glynco, Georgia. I thought of the two of us watching Rob and his mates follow their leader - Santiago - up the road that led past the front door of the chapel. And I thought of the two of us knowing not whether to cheer or cry when we saw Rob reach the group's designated finish line - and doing both just to be on the safe side. I thought of the look on Rob's face and on the face of each one of his mates when the run was completed; each of them knowing something that those of us gathered to watch their arrival did not know, which was that anyone who failed to complete that last 10-mile run that morning would fail out of the Academy, would not graduate the following morning and would not begin his or her anticipated career immediately thereafter. No pressure; huh?

Prior to departing for the Great American West in late November Aught-Eight, Rob gave me a present, which may be the coolest gift I have ever received. It is a black t-shirt with his name, the name of each of his classmates and their achievement written on its back. It was the natural choice for today's race. So I shall run today with Rob's name etched on the back of the shirt I wear and with the image of Rob's face at the moment he completed that final 10-mile run in Georgia etched in my mind's eye. Son as teacher, father as pupil. Again.

Always.

-AK

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Day Worth Seizing

Fare thee well Old Man Winter! We shall miss you! As my old college roommate Schneeds (known to his family and his students as Dr. Alexander M. Schreiber) used to growl, "Not bloody likely!" In fact, here 'NTSG we shall miss this old bag of snow and slush not at all.

I think we cheat now with the springing forward of the clocks. While it may be age, substances better left unconsumed when young or a combination platter of the two it seems to me that once upon a Springtime the whole "springing forward" thing happened after Spring had in fact been sprung upon us - and not as part of Winter's final weekend. I could be wrong. It is early yet but I am confident that I have been wrong at least one time already today.....with more errors to follow (so stay tuned!).

Regardless of whether I am wrong or right today officially marks the end of this year's edition of Winter. Here 'NTSG we are kicking winter to the curb Jersey style - punching it hard in the face with 75 degree, sun-soaked day. Sure we are gloating a bit - maybe talking a bit too loud - but permit us the indulgence. This year we have earned it. February was so cold, so stormy and so goddamn lousy that this year it seemed to be 128 days long. Three weeks ago at this time we were digging out from underneath a second snowfall of historical proportions to which we were subjected during Groundhog Month. And February's shenanigans spilled over into March. Last week ago at this time we were on the receiving end of a Nor'easter. Hell, I saw enough precipitation this winter - frozen, liquid and otherwise - to apply for a Erie County N.Y. County I.D. Card.

Here's to hoping that one and all enjoy Spring's first day. And here's to hoping that today is not simply a single-day phenomenon. Spring has sprung. And we have been sprung as well. From our cages on Highway 9.......

......regardless of where we live.

-AK

Friday, March 19, 2010

Between the White Lines

Show of hands - who knew that Major League Baseball conducted random drug tests on managers of the teams? Ron Washington - put your hand down. Your ignorance on the issue was presumed. At the very least, it was hoped for anyway but for no other reason than to foster the belief that you are not reckless but simply clueless.

Apparently at or about the All-Star break last season Washington either failed a drug test or found out that he had. He then did something that is as least sort of intriguing - he finked himself out to his bosses at the Rangers. Considering one of those bosses is Nolan Ryan, a fellow who has been known to throw hard-covered, spherical objects at the head of those who disappoint him or otherwise chafe him, Washington's self-reporting is something. Commendable? Perhaps. Interesting? Certainly.

The way I understood the story is that Washington told his bosses that his dalliance with cocaine was a one-time thing; behavior that he regretted and that he would never engage in again. Methinks that his story carried more weight before he followed up his initial confession with the inevitable corollary, which amounted to, "new drug but not necessarily new behavior." It turns out that years ago - when Washington the manager was Washington the player - he occasionally turned two. Unfortunately the double play in question was speed and weed.

Everything I have ever read about Washington - whether attributed to the players he coached in Oakland or those he manages in Texas - indicates that he is a good man who possesses a high baseball acumen and who treats his players like men. One cannot help but wonder though if he can survive in Texas in light of his recent disclosures. Among his players after all is Josh Hamilton - who MLB suspended for the entire 2004 season due to his own violation of its drug policy. Hamilton - who from afar seems to be a stand-up guy - has come out in support of his skipper. "I told him I loved him," Hamilton said. "Everybody makes mistakes. I respect him as a man, as a coach and as a man of high integrity. When he was speaking to us in here, you could tell he was broken and really felt remorse about it."

I root for the Yankees, which means that I cannot as a matter of course root for any other American League team. Yet this season I find myself compelled to root a little less vigorously against the Rangers than I have in past years. I find myself pulling for Ron Washington. I find myself hoping that Hamilton's assessment of him is spot on - not simply for the sake of the team he is paid to manage but for his own. If Hamilton is wrong, then it would stand to reason that Washington will lose his job. For one who cannot manage his own life cannot be expect to manage twenty-five other lives. And it is reasonable to presume that he will not be given the chance at the latter if he fails at the former.

A fun fact for you to chew on as you go through your day. Guess the name of the town in Arizona that is the Rangers' spring training home. Who was it who asked, "What's in a name?" In the case of the Rangers, the answer apparently is "everything".

-AK

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Waterworld Without Walls

My most favorite thing about life is that you never know when and where something is going to occur that just makes you stop and smile. Listen, I am Irish. I can appreciate doom and gloom at a hat's drop. Nevertheless, every now and again even us Gaels need to admit that good things are possible.

Yesterday I was chatting with my pal Gracie who is preparing to celebrate her first season as a boat owner. At some point this winter she purchased herself a boat. While I know nothing about boats, she seems pretty damn excited about it. And as Gracie is among my favorite folks - sort of like the little sister/seventh child that my parents never got silly or drunk enough to bring into this world - having seen nothing other than a photograph of it, I am happy that she is excited.

She told me a story about her new boat and the fun stuff that apparently goes along with boat ownership - such as figuring out where to park the darn thing. In nautical parlance the technical term of "parking place for my boat" is a slip. Recently she has purchased a parking place. Given her newness to the world of boat ownership and her relative inexperience as a captain, she opted to spend a premium amount of money to purchase a slip that is located at the end of its row, which means that on one side it opens onto the water at large. The rationale for the purchase is that it is a less restrictive space than the spaces closer to the shore.

More space equals less likelihood of banging the boat into things, which is apparently something that Gracie would like to not do in her new pride and joy. Boat owners only seek to christen their boat once. Who knew?

In explaining her decision to pick a space out in the great wide open in which to park ("dock") she uttered something that is destined for fame on bumper stickers and t-shirts everywhere (OK, everywhere people enjoy boating, which I suppose removes Kansas and both of the Dakotas from our market), "There should be no walls in boating."

One day perhaps we will live in a world without walls, aquatic and otherwise. Somewhere, someplace Ronald Reagan is smiling. And while we work our way towards Utopia for Bonzo, we can work our way towards dry land as well.

A trip worth taking. Each one of us upon our pony on our boat.

-AK

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I Thought You Said Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies

On this - the 2010 edition of St. Patrick's Day - the youngest of Kelly/Linda's three kids (he says somewhat euphemistically since 2/3 of the tribe are parents of their own now) - my niece Katie is celebrating her 22nd birthday. I was a junior in college when Katie arrived and I recall standing in the hallway of my apartment at 943 Broadway in Boulder, having taken Kelly's phone call that Katie was indeed here and that mother and baby were both doing fine. It was nice to hear 22 years ago. I hope that Katie's 22nd trip around the Sun begins happily and proceeds uneventfully thereafter. And I hope that 22 years later, mother and baby (OK, daughter) are still both doing fine.

I watch a considerable amount of television, which likes explains my superficial, ankle-deep puddle of knowledge of all things inconsequential and ignorance of many things substantive. Ray Davies implored me to think visual. Depth was never part of the charge. There has been an explosion of advertising on TV during the past year or so from the folks whose name we dare not say aloud but who make an entire line of products designed to ensure that an entirely new twist is put on the old tag line, "Yours, Mine & Ours" and, presumably, that a smile appears where perhaps one formerly rarely ever did. All three products promise ecstasy, exhilaration and euphoria. As a general rule - when a company's name begins with "K" and ends with "Y" - prepare to be dazzled.

Perhaps it is hidden in the fine print on the products' boxes or buried inside of a subliminal message audible only when the TV spots are played backwards, but apparently if you are not careful using the magic "jellies" you can end up in one hellacious jam. As always, do not feel compelled to take my word for it. The proof is in the 'pinion - at least according to the Appellate Division of our Superior Court.

Consider the case of a fellow named Brian McGacken. According to the Appellate Division, "At about 7:30 p.m. on February 17, 2007, State Police dispatch received an anonymous 911 call reporting loud screaming coming from defendant's residence in Farmingdale, Monmouth County. Trooper Thomas Holmes and a fellow trooper responded to the call. They heard and saw nothing unusual from outside the residence. They knocked on the door and announced that they were the State Police." And from this point forward, things got very, very interesting for Mr. McGacken.

As the Appellate Division continues to tell his tale, "Within a reasonable time, defendant opened the door dressed only in a bathrobe. Otherwise, defendant's demeanor and conduct were normal, and he was completely cooperative. When told about the report of screaming, defendant invited the troopers to step inside and explained that the screaming came during loud sex with his girlfriend. The troopers asked to talk to the girlfriend. She came from upstairs wearing only a towel and confirmed defendant's explanation." In relatively short order - having allowed the State Troopers to enter his home and one of the Troopers to follow him upstairs as he responded to the Trooper's directive that he produce identification, McGacken apparently loosened the lid to Pandora's Box - or Cheech and Chong's prop kit. Invited inside, the Troopers did their job. Ultimately, they seized fifteen growing marijuana plants, 12.5 ounces of loose or bagged marijuana, and various equipment and paraphernalia for growing and distributing marijuana.

Mr. McGacken's motion at trial to suppress all of the evidence discovered in his residence - the residence into which he invited the Troopers (the Troopers who were only there because someone - presumably a neighbor less than enthralled by McGacken's Marijuana Emporium being open in his/her neighborhood - made a 911 call to report "loud screaming") - was denied. While he was out on bail awaiting the disposition on his appeal, he now awaits the landing of the other shoe. He pleaded guilty conditionally to a first-degree drug charge and agreed to a sentence of ten years, which includes a period of parole ineligibility of thirty-nine months.

Thirty-nine months in State prison all because of what was screamed out during the throes of passion. Thirty-nine months in State prison. Methinks that he is hoping that there will not be a lot of passionate screaming coming out of his bedroom between then and the peeling off of the calendar page of month thirty-nine. Or if there is, methinks he hopes Trooper Holmes and his colleagues are there to hear it.

-AK

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fishing for Sanity in the Sea of Madness

I have a soft spot in my heart (not to be mistaken for the one atop my over sized casaba melon of a head) for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. For reasons that are purely selfish - such as it ensures that I pay attention to an event to which I would otherwise likely pay none given how historically awful my Alma mater is at hoops - just about every year for the past decade and a half I have organized a March Madness pool. I have come as close to triumphing in any pool I have ever put together as a #16 seed David has of winning its first round game against a top-seeded Goliath, which is to say not very ("But keep mailing in your postcards and your flat smiting stones, Folks, for you never can tell!"). In spite of my utter failings as a prognosticator I not only organize a pool annually, I participate in it - blissfully donating my $20.00 entry fee to the winner.

This year I have an even more heartfelt appreciation for the madness of March than I have in past years. For this year - as Sunday night I sent one and all the obligatory "Pool Rules" e-mail that kicked off this year's festivities - I did so from home. I literally sat on the floor of the den in my house and sent out the e-mail but, as important, the e-mail originated from Home, figuratively speaking. Last year at this time I was very much adrift but I at least thought for the first time in what seemed like forever I was paddling in a particular direction. I had left my professional home for what seemed to be an excellent opportunity (and likely has proven to be just that for someone who bears scant little resemblance to me) and was something bitterly disappointing. I spent longer than I should have wallowing greatly in self-pity, which essentially paralyzed me. I knew neither where the escape hatch was nor how to get from where I was to where it was located.

A week or so before the start of last year's NCAA Tournament - with no plan to organize a pool because it seemed as if it would be too much damn work and it also seemed to be a part of my life that I love that I had little interest in sharing with my new co-workers for no reason other than I feared that enabling them to participate in it would require that Box of Tools in Beantown to stick their collective noses under the tent flap as well. Being that they proved to be a fairly unrelenting assortment of d**chebags with whom to deal professionally, there was little chance that I was going to tolerate their bullshit in a life activity I had always enjoyed. Cessation of the activity appeared to be the only option.

Then something extraordinary occurred. The gentleman who (at least as of this time last year) piloted the M Squared Mother Ship graced us with his presence here in NJ as part of his annual tour of the Empire. I believe in the M Squared Orbit that the New Jersey office is the equivalent of one of the territorial outposts of the Roman Empire - a necessary evil to keep the barbarians away from the gates of Rome but not anyplace where the cool kids would be caught dead hanging out. As we all sat together at lunch, I listened as he and my partner regaled one another and the Jersey staff with tales of the firm's illustrious history and even more brightly illuminated future. About forty-seven seconds into the love fest I realized that I gave not a damn about what they were talking about and that I would sooner sit and jab a salad fork into my brain stem for shits and giggles than I would apologize for not caring at all about the future of which they spoke. It was at that moment that I ratified in my own mind the horrific error of my ways but also realized that doing nothing about it was surely killing me and would continue to do so. Action was the only option.

A day or two later, fueled by some predictably sagacious fraternal advice I began the process of picking up the pieces of my life. Whether I stopped feeling sorry for myself altogether or simply turned my whining wheel down a notch is for others to assess I suppose - although I would vote for the latter irrespective of however much I wish I could say it had been the former. Relationships that had long been important to me but that had taken some bruises and some lacerations on my journey north on Parsippany Road I set about to repairing. And I did so in the hope that I could get just a bit of my mojo back. And that I would get back to the point where I would not hate the sound of my alarm clock's ring in the morning's wee small hours. And that I would not fear the setting of the sun on a Sunday night for no reason other than the realization of how large Monday morning's specter loomed.

Last year's March Madness pool ended for me as every year's March Madness pool ends for me - with me terrifically far away from first place. And I suspect that this year will likely play out the same way with the only suspense from this point forward being the identity of the person to whom I shall turn over the winnings on the first Tuesday of April. But last year's Madness proved to be a bit more special than the editions that had come before it.

Sometimes, it is a long way back from where you are. And you make your way home whenever you can. I did. First chance I got.

-AK

Monday, March 15, 2010

When My Best Is Not Gouda Enough

Spring is coming. This time next week we shall have arrived at the date on the calendar occupied by the Vernal Equinox. What a cool turn of phrase - vernal equinox. I swear that if my wife and I ever have another child as long as the doctor promises me he/she will never get any longer (taller or whatever) than fifty inches we are naming that child "vernal equinox" although I believe that "Oops" has more cachet.

The transition from Winter to Spring here 'NTSG has not been without incident. Certain of our neighbors will be paddling out from under the Nor'easter that visited itself upon us this past weekend. It rained steadily and hard until apparently the skies ran out of water to dump down upon us. In a perfect world, the rain would fall in no greater amounts than the ground it is descending upon possesses the ability to receive. As you may have heard the world we live in is not a perfect one. Do not take my word for it. Ask Bill how he is making out with his perpetual plea for pony rides as birthday presents and whether he anticipates this April to bring the same old, same old.

Once the rain started falling Saturday it made me appreciate why the smart people of Venice purchased their city with the optional canals included. All that water needs someplace to go. And since it cares not whether your home and your belongings occupy the space that it needs to go, it will happily seek to share their space. Your reaction to the new, hopefully temporary co-tenancy shall be something far short of happiness.

While we moved to the high side of 'NTSG a decade ago - with Floyd's relentless rocking of us in the Fall of '99 being the proverbial final straw - the weekend's ridiculous weather managed to wreak havoc only on my half-marathon training. Yesterday there was not a window of relative dryness during which I could run my scheduled 10 miles outdoors. Thus, I was trapped on the treadmill. And while I have discovered the joy of hulu.com and navigated my entire trek as if I was an ancient mariner it was nevertheless a very frustrating experience. Perhaps it was because I had missed my scheduled run on Friday, which I made up for by running a brisk 3 miles on Saturday afternoon, which in turn deprived my creaky legs of the 48 hours of rest they would have hoped to receive leading up to a run of 10 miles, perhaps it was being trapped on the treadmill or perhaps it was just me stinking up the joint even before I started to perspire. After making my way through 10 miles outdoors one week earlier in 94 minutes - the less than 10 minute per mile pace for which I am aiming - I labored through 10 miles on the treadmill in 110 minutes.

Funny, I do not recall stopping for a bite to eat or a shower along the way although the huge uptick in time from one Sunday to the next suggests that I did. Whatever the explanation for it, the bottom line was that it turned out not to be a confidence-inspiring day. Usually I finish running and while I am tired, I am at least satisfied by my effort and by having achieved my goal. Yesterday all I was - in addition to being really annoyed at myself - was tired.

All in all, it was most certainly not what the doctor ordered one week away from having to run 10 miles in the company of others in Freehold and approximately one month away from running in the half-marathon for which I foolishly registered.

How does a man in motion actually manage to get no closer to achieving his goal? After yesterday I suspect I am closer to knowing the answer to that question than I want to be.

-AK

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tutorial in the Tempest

I am a person who uses too many words. During my day-to-day, whether one was to calculate simply those I speak, those I write or the combination of the two, I admittedly use more than my fair share. Somewhere, someplace there is a mute who serves as my celestial oratorical companion. Between Yang and me, a noise pollution equilibrium is achieved.

Yesterday afternoon - because there is nothing quite like an anonymous hurricane (the combination of torrential rain and howling wind was what it was regardless of whether anyone gave it a name) to inspire a trip to the Island of Staten and because there are two people I trust implicitly to drive in horrendous weather; one of whom is me and the other is nobody but me - I drove Margaret and her crack crew of senior traveling companions (Joe, his older brother Andy and Marie) to Staten Island for dinner with Joe and Andy's other brother Sal and his family. Setting aside for a moment that the decision to invade an island during a hurricane explained why the Italians last mounted a successful military campaign where Caesar was an emperor and not a salad option, it turned out to be quite a wonderful afternoon and evening.

Between them, Joe, Sal and Andy have a total of close to one-quarter of a millennium. And while the three brothers remain incredibly close - each of the three of them from Andy (the trio's elder statesman who will be 92 in June) to Joe (the bambino of the group at 75) has carved out his own very distinct path and lived a life that while echoing at least in part the life lived by each of his two brothers has nevertheless been solely and wholly his own. The three of them sat last night around the dining room table talking, eating, reminiscing, drinking wine, laughing and simply enjoying the company of one another for several hours.

It is perhaps because it is a setting that I encounter so infrequently that when I do, I respond to it in a way that is historically inconsistent with my day-to-day. I say little, preferring instead to take the role of the sponge in an effort to soak up all that is being said around me. And not surprisingly, on an occasion as rare as this one, when I shut up long enough to not simply hear the voices of others but to actually listen to what those voices are saying, I fail not to learn a little something.

At one point during the conversation last night, Joe and Sal were talking about marriage and family and what enables a husband and wife to be successful is the willingness of each one to not only listen to the other but to adapt and change as needed in order to make full use of each other's strengths and to ensure the happiness of the family. The point made was that inflexibility is a bad trait to bring into any joint venture, such as the one that marriage most certainly is. Sal's illustration of the point was both practical and poetic, " What does a tree do when the wind blows? It bends with the breeze because if it fails to learn how to bend, then it breaks apart and it dies."

No need to say another word. Did I really just say that?

-AK

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The McFlying of Time

Leapin' Lizards! Among the many things I do not know is the origin of that overtly cornball phrase - although for some reason the comic strip Annie (the one with the eternally optimistic red-headed orphan girl) is in the forefront of my mind. Luckily for it, there is not much else up there jockeying for position.

Whether lizards actually leap I know not. I suppose technically speaking we the people of the United States (at least those of us who live on the important coast) are not leaping - but rather springing - ahead in the wee small hours of tonight/tomorrow morning. I do know that tomorrow night it will be daylight until close to 7:00 p.m. and from tomorrow night forward to the Solstice of Summer the evenings will lay back-to-back one incrementally longer than its immediate predecessor. I love "Spring Ahead" weekend. I sleep but 4 to 5 hours nightly. I am generally unaffected by the phenomenon. I love my wife and kids very much - and with apologies to all of them (especially Margaret and Rob who has been more pockmarked by his mother's lunacy on this issue than has Suzanne) their annually occurring systemic shock and embrace of somnambulism always strikes me as being just a tad or two too much.

We have much good-natured fun in our household at each other's expense over the twice-a-year time shifts. Like clockwork (sorry, I could not resist) in the fall and again in the spring Margaret and Rob turn into a time-twisting tag team not seen since the heyday of Marty, Doc Brown and their souped-up DeLorean. Every yawn that either emits for a week after falling backward or springing forward is accompanied by a pseudo-rhetorical question, "You know why I am yawning so much right?" and the inevitable answer, "Because this time yesterday it was an hour [earlier] [later] than it is right now and my whole system is thrown off."

And as certain as either of them will claim to be a victim of a hiccup in the time-space continuum will be my response. Twice annually I pooh-pooh their position and chuckle at their hypothesis that a change of one hour every six months has the potential to throw one's internal body clock out of rhythm for an indeterminate period of time. And twice annually they laugh with similar vigor at my equally silly position, which is that since at this time this year you are exactly where you were at this time last year - in terms of having taking one step back and now one step up - you should be unchanged by the experience. You are not changing at all. You are simply maintaining the status quo.

Who is right? I know not, although given my track record historically for "being right" my money is on Margaret and Rob. All I know is that tomorrow I can be sure of two things: (presuming it ever stops raining and we can see it to determine it still exists) the sun will set roughly one hour later than it shall today and Margaret and Rob will start documenting the effects of sleep deprivation upon them. And since both of these developments never fail to put a smile on my face I herald the arrival of both with equal enthusiasm.

Talk about effective time management; right?

-AK

Friday, March 12, 2010

A 21st Century Fox

I am not now nor have I ever been a "car guy". As a kid, my love was sports - not automobiles. While I have a lifelong friend - Mark - and a brother-in-law - Joe - both of whom have a knowledge of and a passion for automobiles that is unsurpassed by anyone I have ever met, and I admire it in them (and those like them who really, really dig automobiles) I have never shared it. And you will never be able to convince me that I have missed out on anything by choosing not to do so.

Me? I am a basic mode of transportation kind of fellow. I have never had a real affinity for or affection towards a particular make or model of car and have in fact been well served by vehicles I have used and/or owned irrespective of their nation of origin in the quarter century-plus in which I have been a licensed driver.

As a high school junior I compacted my father's old Chevy Malibu Classic station wagon one night when I fell asleep driving home. The vehicle made contact nose first with a ditch adjacent to the road's shoulder with such violence that as a result of the impact the wagon's tailgate section extended approximately six to eight feet beyond its rear door - such repositioning having been necessitated by the engine block's decision to move from under the hood to a spot previously occupied by the front seat. Understandable though; right? It gets damn hot underneath that hood. The engine is the one doing all the work. Why should it not want to occupy a seat with a view from time to time? Fair is Fair. After doing the nose plant into the ditch, just for fun the car flipped in a beautiful clockwise fashion two times before ultimately coming to rest on its roof.

I can recall twenty-five years or so after that particular accident the Hillsborough Township police officers who responded to the accident telling Mom and me that given what was not left of the car they half-expected to be notifying next of kin......as I walked away from the accident with a cut on my chin, several cuts on my arms and hands and a bruised jaw. Your opinion on baseball, apple pie and hot dogs is your own. You are not however permitted to disagree with me on the life-saving properties of the Chevrolet. Sorry, simply not allowed to happen.

Ironically enough - given the fact that one saved my life - I have never purchased a GM vehicle (although Mom bought me my first brand new used car - a Pontiac Phoenix - when I was in college). The closest I have ever come to purchasing one for my own use was about fifteen years ago when Margaret and I bought an Oldsmobile for her. I have however owned my share of Volkswagens and have also been faithfully served by Mazda and - currently - Toyota. Luckily for me - I suppose - I do not own the stylish, "it" Toyota. I am not cool enough or environmentally-conscious enough to own a Prius. I must confess that I was impressed (in an abstract sort of way) to see the story of the man in California whose Prius rocketed down the freeway on him after its gas pedal apparently got stuck to the floor or some such thing. I was impressed not only by the incredible work of the police officer who saved the man's life, but by the fact that the Prius apparently achieved a speed of 90+ miles per hour. Every time I blow past one on the highway, it seems incapable of reaching such a speed.

No Prius for me. I am a base model Corolla man - with my 5 speed manual transmission and no fancy features save for a CD player and air conditioning. If you pull up next to me at a traffic light please do not think I am being unsociable when I do not put down my passenger's side window to respond to whatever it is you are saying (Hey you are shouting now) from your car towards mine. Although I am an unsociable bastard, point of fact is that I am not rolling my window down because unlike other folks I do not have power windows. Manual windows and 33 inch arms are the enemies of passenger-side roll-down hospitality. Although they do appear to be a fairly accurate precursor of pending expletives and elevated middle fingers.....at least in my experience.

If you are a car person and/or somehow wedded to the notion of your vehicle as status symbol, I do not begrudge you your lifestyle choice - although I am not capable of understanding it. A lifetime ago when I was age-eligible for the gig I was not homecoming king material. I have no delusion about my odds of getting the crown now. My car's purpose is to transport me back and forth to places I have to go; principally work. And it - like its owner - is not the belle of the ball but it performs its job faithfully. Function over form.

Two nights ago my little crimson chariot reached the 100,000 mile mark. While Skate has quite a lot of ground to cover to reach the heights scaled by the Jetta I once owned, which I traded in after it had passed the 183,000 mile mark, hitting one hundred grand is not an unimpressive accomplishment. While I presume I have done so at least on one occasion I cannot presently recall a single time when I have driven Skate outside of Joisey's geographical boundaries. She has accumulated all of her miles performing mundane tasks: carrying me to work, to the grocery store and to play softball. And she has done it all in a fairly compressed amount of time. It took the two of us only 1345 days to make it to the century mark. If you do the math, you find out that it works out to roughly 73 miles a day. Every day. For almost 1350 days.

She is not the prettiest girl in the world but my little Skate is alright. One hundred thousand miles in her rear view mirror moving to the trick of the beat. And yours truly enjoying the ride - as stylish as it may not be - from my spot in the driver's seat.

-AK

Thursday, March 11, 2010

While The Wolves Howl All Night Long

Is it just me or do you as well - every time you hear sounds masquerading as words emanating from the Lohan Family - find yourself wishing that one of the Sisters Kardashian would suddenly speak; if for no other reason than simply to drown out the noise?

While it should be inconceivable to be perceived as being perilously close to being washed up in one's chosen profession by the ripe old age of 23 (unless one's chosen profession is women's gymnastics or harmony vocals in Menudo), it is right along that razor's edge where the elder Lohan sister finds herself presently. One might have presumed that the Culkins burned their original manuscript, "The Road to Perdition: The Career Path of My Child the Star", at or about the time Mac outgrew his cute phase but apparently the Lohans managed to rescue it from the incinerator unharmed.

Now a young woman who, five years ago, one would have reasonably expected would have been successful enough to have no need to perpetually fight to keep her name in the public lexicon has yet again reminded us that regardless of how low the bar of self-respect is set, she will find a way to slither beneath it. The latest example? Her $100M lawsuit against E*Trade. The basis of the lawsuit (stretching the word "basis" to its permissible Einsteinian definitional limits) is her claimed belief that E*Trade's Super Bowl commercial (which I must confess I found quite humorous) featuring an alleged milkaholic toddler tart named Lindsay was a shot at her.

One might think - upon watching the spot - that the basis of the lawsuit is envy. After all, the diaper-clad, lip syncing infant temptress displayed more acting range in two seconds on camera than the plaintiff has in any of her several films. Upon closer examination however it appears as if the basis of the lawsuit is self-delusion. This young woman - having spent just enough to purchase the Reader's Digest Condensed version of Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes of Fame - squandered whatever good will and marketability she had started to develop from the manner in which she plied her craft as soon as she had it; choosing to pursue the path of notoriety through notorious conduct rather than laudable achievement. Now having been reduced to caricature status through her own ignoble efforts, she is still self-absorbed enough to believe that everything done everywhere by everyone is directed towards her. Wow.

When our daughter Suzanne was a small child of five or six, she was prone to throw the occasional tantrum if she felt (rightly or wrongly) that she was not getting what she wanted. On the occasions when that would occur, invariably either Margaret or me (OK, which one of us do you think really did this?) would put an end to the storm by saying something snarky like, "Hey, we received the memo and we regret to tell you that it is true - the sun has officially replaced you as the center of the universe." For whatever reason saying something as incredibly inane as that used to usually do the trick. Suz would cease hyperventilating and start laughing. In fairness to my daughter her moments of greatest self-absorption came when she was but a child and - as importantly - when something happened that visited a terrible injustice upon her. If I remember correctly, it usually involved being forced to go to bed earlier than she wanted or not being permitted to sit up half the night in the bathroom reading a book.

While one would hope that Little Ms. L Squared would snap out of her current state long enough to admit that due in prominent part to her own asinine decisions no one at E*Trade or anywhere else would spend millions of dollars on a Super Bowl advertisement lampooning her - for there is simply no sporting value in doing so - it is helpful I think when hoping against hope to remember that the jerky usually does not fall far from the tree. In fairness to L Squared, the diagram of her family is something more akin to bramble bush than a tree and occupying the top branch is her mother. The always reasonable Mama Dina - who has never met a microphone or a television camera she has not tried to cram her whole face around or in front of - was quoted in Wednesday's New York Post, "I'm just basically glad I took a stand. I'm not going to let them do this to us anymore."

Of course not. She neither wants nor needs any help decimating her child. Having converted her daughter into a commodity that she traded upon to get a bit of a taste of fame for herself, she has created her own delusion. One in which the people from whom her child needs protection are strangers.

Little Ms. L Squared is a train wreck and while she is still very young and one would hope - presuming that the Jaws of Life can be utilized to simultaneously (a) extricate her from the vise-grip influence of her mother; and (b) extricate her own head from her own ass - that she can still make it back to reality from whatever universe she presently inhabits, such a result if far from guaranteed. A tiny, itty-bitty baby step in the right direction would be borrowing a moment of clarity from someone, anyone and dedicating herself to a course of actual adult behavior, which would necessitate throwing the kill switch on this idiotic lawsuit.

Growing up does not necessarily mean growing old. But it does require us to put away our childish things........

....even when one of them is our own mother.

-AK

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Second to the Last of the Frozen Mohicans

Pulling into the parking lot at the office yesterday morning, I was struck by their sinister stoicism. Not incredibly far away from one another but not close enough for one to be feeding off of the other's inherent cool, two snow piles remain to offer evidence of the effect of Snowmageddon Parts I and II. These are not naturally occurring structures of course. Rather they are the result of the temporarily overmatched snow removal fellows we hire to reveal the black in blacktop during winter months having simply had no place else to put the white stuff - other than in enormous piles spaced throughout the parking lot. A week or ten days ago these things were mammoth. And the two that remain (linger really) - having scrunched their faces up into their best Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis snarls - were but the tip of the spear of an invading force that overran the blacktop, the grass next to it and the road itself.

Oh what a difference forty degrees Fahrenheit makes. At or about this time two weeks ago these two angry looking blocks of frozen precipitate loomed large over the lot like Scylla and Charybdis. Now? They are the remnants of an idea doomed to failure. They have been left behind to be slowly tortured to death by the Sun and his fleet-footed messenger. Once upon a not too long time ago driving into our parking lot was an experience akin to driving onto the set of a National Geographic photo shoot about the Arctic or polar bears or some such thing. And while there is not a thing in this world wrong with spending a bit of quality time with Knut and Giovanna - unless you are a sea lion or are a human who bears an unfortunate resemblance to one beneath your Gore-Tex parka and Doctor Zhivago-style winter hat - traversing the parking lot was a bit more exciting than anyone needed it to be.

Now however these two former behemoths are just rotting, ugly shells of their former self. Once they appeared idyllic - big gobs of pure white snow. Presently they look like the dessert table at an overeaters' convention - two enormous loads of chocolate chip ice cream that no one finds very appealing at all. And where they are is where they shall remain, trapped and suddenly unable to defend themselves from the warmth of a sun that only two weeks ago appeared to have taken an extended winter siesta.

Soon there will be no evidence that they were ever here at all. Two once haughty but now haggard victims of something akin to a Chinese burn. One thing is for certain. It shall not end well for our frozen nemeses. But it will end soon. Their affliction is fatal. And it will not get better.

Well, not for them anyway. You will not hear me complaining. And if you have lived this winter anywhere north of Washington DC and south of Maine I look forward to you joining me in our chorus of silence. Today the snow piles. Tomorrow that damned groundhog.
-AK

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Miss Razzmatazz

On Sunday night, upon winning the Academy Award bestowed upon this year's Best Actress in a Motion Picture (the first such win in her career) Sandra Bullock showed off her self-deprecating sense of humor. She declared that the Oscar would share a place of honor with the Razzie she had "won" a day earlier as Worst Actress in a Motion Picture. Thankfully, the awards "honored" two different starring roles Ms. Congeniality had in Aught-Nine. While it would have been funnier - at least from my somewhat jaundiced perspective - if the Razzies and the Oscars recognized her performance in the same film, I suppose having done so would have robbed at least one of the ceremonies of its appearance of legitimacy.

Either Bullock has the smartest PR flac in Tinseltown or she simply gets it. She gets that one of the things that America appreciates still is candor. There is an old cliche about the crime never being worse than the cover-up, which usually gets trotted out every time a politician gets himself/herself in legal trouble or a celebrity gets himself/herself splashed across the Enquirer's front page for doing something inane. Too often instead of simply acknowledging what was done - whether illegal or simply ill-advised - the party in question erects an incredible artifice designed to discourage inquiry and to deflect assignation. Typically, it fails on both counts.

It seems too often that the ability to laugh at ourselves for our own shortcomings has been diluted right along with our ability to accept responsibility for those very same shortcomings. In the drive to be all things to all people in this age of instant and excessive information, we lose sight of ourselves. And when we do, we run the risk of reducing ourselves from the status of a person of character to one who is a caricature.

Our "name" (reputation) may be all that we possess in this world; the one thing we have that we are willing to stake. Yet too often we see example after example of an individual besmirching his/her own reputation arising out of a misguided attempt to protect and preserve it.

Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike. A lesson often forgotten these days but remembered quite publicly and candidly by Oscar's latest leading lady. Well done.

-AK

Monday, March 8, 2010

Ten - A First

Yesterday was simply gorgeous. While I wish we had not been required to endure all of the lousy weather to which we were subjected in February, even the cynic in me has been unable to find anything to complain about with the weather that heralded March's arrival. We put the bow on March's first full week yesterday with the second of back-to-back 55+ degree days. Snowmageddon Parts I and II seem to have taken place not weeks ago - but a lifetime ago.

Two weeks from yesterday is a 10-mile race in Freehold that Gidg and I are running in together. The hope is that running 10 miles in the company of others shall prepare us for the half-marathon we are running in together on April 18. Whether that hope is well-founded or delusional I know not. I suppose that I will find out soon enough. In another month and a half or so to be specific.

In an effort to be as prepared as possible for this somewhat idiotic undertaking I have been following a training schedule. Yesterday the schedule called for me to run ten miles. In the first forty-three years of my life - up until yesterday - the longest distance I had ever run at one time was eight miles. And proving the shallow nature of my well of experience; I only did that last Sunday. Not exactly a lot to fall back on; eh?

Against my better judgment but resigned to my fate, I kept to my training schedule. I ran the required distance and got through it in a time that was - to me - a pleasant surprise: 94 minutes. My hoped-for goal in the half-marathon is to run the distance in 2 hours and 10 minutes, which works out to a ten minute per mile pace. Yesterday, I covered ten miles in a better than ten minute per mile pace. That is a good thing. The fact that I could not have run an additional three miles (bridging the gap between the distance I covered and the half-marathon distance) yesterday even if my life had been threatened at gun point is much less so.

How great is the distance between ten miles and thirteen miles? I hope that it is less than it seems to me this morning. Once upon a time - or actually not very long ago at all - ten miles seemed insurmountable. Now not so much. It certainly was not a walk in the park. But it is no longer mission impossible. Just a step in the process.

Well, it is a lot of steps actually but I think you get the point.

-AK

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Hard-Earned Day's End

On the silver screen, more often than not the outcome is predictable. Good triumphs over evil. The hero gets the girl. Everyone lives happily ever after. Celluloid heroes never feel any pain.

In real-life not only are we not quite as tall or brightly lit as we seem to be in technicolor on the big screen, we are not guaranteed the result of any undertaking. Life is, itself, the original unscripted drama after all. All of us may pray at the Temple of Hoyle but we realize - even in doing so - that things often do not go according to his or our best-laid plans.

Yesterday, after greeting the day in Atlantic City still very much alive in the State Wrestling Championships, Frank's spectacular junior season came to an abrupt end. After losing in his quarterfinal match against his weight class's defending champion in the morning, Frank was required to do what kids are required to do in a tournament such as this one. He returned to the mat about an hour later in an elimination match (the technical term in wrestling is the consolation wrestle backs). Win and be guaranteed a spot on the podium (a top 8 finish). Lose and begin preparation for the 2010-11 campaign. He lost.

From our vantage point in the arena yesterday we could see the pained look on Frank's face when his match ended and with it his season and his hope of placing at the State Championships. This has been an extraordinarily trying twelve months for Margaret's family as all continue to deal with - and less frequently reel from - the death of the familial anchor Suzy B. It has always seemed to me that Frank - a teenage boy with a greater than expected amount of gravitas - had an especially close relationship with his paternal grandparents - Nona and Grandpa Joe. I suspect that a not insignificant piece of what fueled him this season was the loss of her and the desire to do something to honor her.

And if that was in fact his goal, he succeeded. It matters not that the photograph of the medal winners @ 160 pounds at the 2010 State Championships will not include Frank. His finishing position is not the controlling factor here. He went about his business all season in a way that would have brought a proud smile to his Nona's face - with purpose and with dignity. Had she been sitting with us yesterday, watching a long season's hard work and expectations disintegrate in the span of seventy-five minutes, her reaction afterwards would have mirrored Frank's. Seeing the pain etched on his face likely would have made her inconsolable for the rest of the day, disconsolate not over the loss of a wrestling match but over her grandson's pain.

At some point though - whether today or next week or whenever - the two of them would have had a quiet moment together during which she would have reminded him how proud she was of him, how happy she was for him for all he had accomplished this season and how much he meant to her - and to all of us - giving us something to cheer for and to be proud of every day, win or lose.

She is not here to deliver the message to him face-to-face. I suspect however - knowing what a resourceful and goal-oriented Italian grandmother my mom-in-law was - she will get it to him. And he will take it to heart and gather his energy for one more shot at all of this mayhem next year, knowing that all he can control is his preparation and his effort and that the outcome is something yet to be determined.

For it is in athletics as it is in life. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. That which at the end of the day - even the longest Saturday of a certain 17 y/o athlete's life - gives him a reason to believe. Similar to the one he gives those of us who cheer for him.

Win or lose.

-AK