Friday, April 30, 2010
My aversion to the spectacular might be either self-serving or self-fulfilling. I know not which. I know that while I am good at what I do to earn my living I am no one's All-American. I do what I do extremely well. Over the years I have developed a reputation with those I represent as someone who is thorough, well-prepared and eminently capable of delivering the hoped-for result, which I have done far more often than not. That being said I do most of what I do with nary more than an eyebrow ever poking up above the tree line. And I strive to do what I do consistently - content to stay firmly planted on a nice level as opposed to striving for dizzying heights one day and plunging to unfathomable depths the next. Rightly or wrongly it seems to me that there are worse things to be called than "steady" or "reliable". In the entirety of my life, I have never been anyone's #1 choice for anything. Hell, the Missus went around the Maypole one time before she settled on me. Almost two decades up the road together that decision has worked out just fine for me. I hope she feels the same. Besides, never in my life have I concerned myself with being "the first option". Being the final option is far more important.
Thus it was with more salt than the FDA recommends any six people ingest on a daily basis that I viewed an e-mail waiting for me in my in-box yesterday morning. While I suppose I should have been impressed that a major tycoon type of fella based in Hong Kong had sought me out for my legal acumen, I found the declaration that, "We have reviewed extensively the qualifications of attorneys and law firms around the United States and determined that you are the attorney best qualified to serve our needs" to be piling it on just a touch or two too thick. Look, I enjoy the fine art of seduction just as much as the next guy but for some reason I could not shake the sneaky suspicion that my Far Eastern suitor says that to all the boys. Not only was I not his one and only, I do not believe I was even one or the other. Rather than trying to swing for the fences and make my name in the heady world of international corporate litigation, I shortened up my swing and hit the "DELETE" key.
Now don't try for a home run, baby If you can get the job done with a hit. Hits lead to runs. Runs lead to wins. Wins lead to championships.
It is the little things that count. And it is worth bearing in mind as we travel along life's highway that those things that remain visible in our rear-view mirror, marking our path for us as we continue onward, which have heretofore been identified as 'little' were maybe not so little after all.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Earlier this week the New York Yankees were honored by President Obama for their 2009 World Series win. The guys on this year's team who were also on last year's team brought the WS Trophy by the White House to meet America's #1 White Sox fan. Apparently in a moment destined to raise her head above the cultural tree line if not forever than at least for the uncomfortably foreseeable future, Assistant General Manager Jean Afterman lobbed a pretty funny line at President Obama while he, along with Manager Joe Girardi, was holding the WS Trophy. The C-I-C gives as good as he gets and he responded to Ms. Afterman's zinger by saying, "Two words Jean: Javy Vazquez." He laughed. Girardi and Dave Eiland stood in the East Room weeping.
Ms. Afterman's comments - other than making her public profile a great deal more public than it is as the Assistant General Manager - were innocuous. No malice implied and none inferred.
A more curious case (as we meander back to the NFL) is that of the fellow who is the General Manager of the Miami Dolphins. Earlier this week Jeff Ireland issued an apology to Dez Bryant, a wide receiver from Oklahoma State University who the Dallas Cowboys drafted in Round One last Thursday night. Ireland's apology stemmed from having asked Bryant - during a pre-draft interview - whether Bryant's mother is a prostitute. As espn.com noted, "The background of Bryant and his mother was widely reported prior to the draft. Angela was only 15 when Dez was born, and she served time in jail for selling crack cocaine." Apparently however she has never been arrested for or charged with prostitution. And unless I missed the purpose of last week's exercise altogether, the Dolphins were contemplating employing Dez Bryant - not his mom. Thus, other than testing how to offend a young man with a top-notch "Yo Momma!" insult, it remains a mystery to me why Mr. Ireland even asked the question.
Dez Bryant is a 21 year-old kid. Displaying remarkable poise for one so young, he resisted the urge to hit Mr. Ireland very hard in the face, which likely would have ruined any chance he had of playing in Miami altogether. He kept his cool. He did so through gnashed teeth but to his credit he did so. "No, my mom is not a prostitute," Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. "I got mad -- really mad -- but I didn't show it. I got a lot of questions like that: Does she still do drugs? I sat and answered all of them."
Having been outed by Yahoo! Sports, Ireland did what we the people of these United States do when we act like louts: he cobbled together a half-assed pseudo-apology. After calling Bryant to apologize - or to explain that at birth his brain was replaced by a half-eaten ostrich egg so he is not responsible for what he says or does - Ireland's public statement on the incident came across a tad more "F** off!" than "My Bad!"- at least to my ear. "My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I'm considering drafting. Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions. Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him."
To his credit, Bryant accepted Ireland's facsimile apology. While Bryant plays for the Cowboys, my allegiance to the Giants will prevent me from rooting for his team to experience other than humiliation and heartache but I think I will root for him to have a successful career. He did something that I do not think at age 43 I possess the cool to do - and I know most certainly at age 21 I did not. Hell, I do not feel badly about my own shortcomings. Mike Ditka is a hell of a lot older than I am.
Whether Dez Bryant will succeed or fail in the NFL is a story that remains unwritten. Regardless of how his career turns out, he shall be at the end of it what he is now - and what he has always been: his mother's son. Then. Now.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
If you have ever seen two minutes of any episode or have heard your friends or co-workers (who may be one and the same. I meant not to suggest by the use of the disjunctive that those two groups are mutually exclusive) discussing it, then you are familiar with the basic set-up of the show. The titular character is a human Horton at least as far as saying what he means and meaning what he says goes. Gregory House's fidelity scale tends to fluctuate at levels somewhere south of 100% more often than not.
The appeal of Dr. House to me - and to I suspect countless of my fellow fans - is that he is the person all of us wishes we could be. Do not misunderstand. None of us aspires to be a pill-popping, crutch-using misanthrope 24/7. But each one of us wishes that in our day-to-day we could do what House does week in, week out: do and say exactly what it is he wants to do and say and suffer nary a significant consequence.
Often watching House in action reminds me of my old pal Jay - one of my college roommates. He and I used to talk quite a bit about what a world it would be if just for one day you had the ability to speak exactly what was on your mind to anyone and everyone without fear of repercussions. Unfortunately for Jay and me, by the time we worked our way around to this particular topic of conversation it was usually fairly late in the evening and we were just a couple of waves in a sea of drunks at the bar, which is not a body of water that looks kindly on free range philosophizing. Using nothing other than the crowd around us as a control group, we repeatedly were reminded that in the unscripted drama that is life the freedom to speak as one wishes is not as free as it appears to be in the corridors of Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital.
With age comes wrinkles, gray hair and occasionally wisdom. In twenty years I have learned to leave the dispensation of tough medicine to the licensed professionals such as my favorite MD Dr. House.
He has better writers. And only 42 minutes a week that he has to fill.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Yet for the life of me I cannot figure out the appeal of "The Draft" as televised programming. And this year, representing one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the NFL spread the excitement out over three days. Consider for a moment that spacing this event to span 72 hours meant that a certain percentage of the "draftees" spent more time awaiting word on where they shall play for pay next year than they spent in class the past several years. At least next year they get paid in traceable funds. Progress is indeed measured in baby steps.
I know not what my favorite thing is about the NFL Draft. It might be the guys who have carved out a niche for themselves as self-proclaimed expert prognosticators of the anticipated success or lack thereof of every kid selected - from the #1 pick to Mr. Irrelevant. It might be the fact that teams decide the kids that they are going to draft and pay lots of money to play football for them by testing how fast they run the 40-yard dash, how many times in a row they lift a certain amount of weight and various and sundry other exercises. To my admittedly untrained eye it seems as logical a system as determining which surgeon should perform your quadruple bypass by his shoe size or her middle name.
I mean not to harsh the collective mellow of the pigskin nation but one would think that those who run these NFL teams would be better served figuring out which kid to select to play football for their professional team by evaluating the manner in which the kids played football for their respective college teams. I have watched a lot of football in my life - even played a bit of it in the 7th and 8th grade - and I have yet to see anyone have to negotiate his way through a low-level rope obstacle course while wearing a t-shirt and shorts to score a touchdown.
I understand that professional sports is big business. The various franchises that dot the landscape in every league - including the NFL - need a mechanism for hiring new personnel. And I understand that the Draft works better for the teams as the aforementioned mechanism than wading through countless letters from a prospective player's Mom extolling the virtues of her particular knothead. The necessity of it I get. It is the "spectator sport" element of it that eludes me. It is as if the football-loving fans who sit glued to their televisions or - and this is really a notion I find equal parts fascinating and terrifying - get dressed up in their favorite team's "uni" and actually attend the Draft - have never paid any heed to the maxim about the difference between enjoying sausage and needing to see how it is made. Which is surprising given the number of bratwursts, Italian sausages and kielbasas are consumed annually during NFL games.
Here is to hoping that sausage eating gets added as a test at next year's Combine. If it is, then my money is on this guy to go #1 in 2011. After all, even he would prefer to spend his evenings in the company of a beautiful girl instead of a wiener on a bun.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Once you teach your youngest brother to read by the time he is the ripe old age of two, you could espouse the position that your work here - for him - is done. Not even close. Having taught me to read a lifetime ago, just last year he taught me anew the importance of thinking and feeling. It is a happy dilemma for me every day to figure out which life lesson better serves me.
Today is Bill's birthday. And while it should go without saying that I hope that the person who has never stopped being available for me to lean on - during my first 43 years tripping over myself - has an exceptionally happy day. Birthdays are like airports/They make you think of where you’re going and where you’ve been/And who you’re traveling with/And has it all been worth the cost. Married to the girl of his dreams for three decades or so now and the father of two exceptionally fine young adults I know without having to ask Bill what his answer to that question is.
As it should be. As he deserves it to be. To my big brother - from one breathing time machine to another - Happy Birthday........and thank you. A lifetime of lessons to date and hopefully many more to come.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
I spent four fun-filled years in Boulder Colorado. Twenty-one years after graduation, Boulder remains among my favorite places. Yet if not for Rob's current place of employ placing him within about 90 minutes' drive of Boulder I would not be doing something this year that I have never done in the quarter-century since I first felt the warmth of Boulder's sunshine on my face. My time annually in Boulder ended in mid-May. Every year from '85 through '89, by Memorial Day I was back in New Jersey and (if memory serves Truth be told it is a combination of things that is taking me to Boulder for Memorial Day for if Rob was not amenable to having his space invaded by the old man for a long holiday weekend - not to mention having to run with me for an hour (give or take) - I would not be kicking off the summer of '10 in Boulder.
For a few minutes yesterday I was like a kid. I tore open my big package of stuff from the race. Being a full-scale idiot and presuming that the '10 edition will likely be the only one in which I participate, I went all in when I registered for it. Thus my package o' stuff included several shirts and a pair of Crocs for Margaret. The cost is irrelevant. I would call it a bargain at any price.
The finish of the Bolder Boulder will afford me the chance to emulate Ralphie by running onto the field at Folsom Stadium. If memory serves, the last time (and only other time) that I was on the field at Folsom was October 25, 1986. How can I recall the specific date almost a quarter-century later? Because when a date represents something significant, it is impossible not to remember.
Any bets as to how long I shall remember May 31, 2010? The question is rhetorical but if to yourself you said "Forever" you would be one hellaciously fine wagerer. Well done.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Yet this morning the office has an air of sanctuary about it. For on this morning, while I journey north to tithe in the Land of King Dollar, the Missus is preparing for an activity that only she has the patience to undertake. You guessed it: a garage sale.
Of all of the inane rituals of suburbia, in my ranking system the garage sale is ahead of such stalwarts as the block-long placement of Luminaries on Christmas Eve and the walk-across to say hello by one neighbor while a second neighbor is engaged in some activity (cutting grass, changing oil in a vehicle). The garage sale is some sort of half-assed suburban safari as teams of hunters - always approaching at low speed as if afraid to reveal their intentions too soon and thus causing their quarry (usually sets of dishes no one has eaten off of since The Great Society, books no one has read since the date of purchase or 8-tracks no one has listened to since....well since the Feds ordered the destruction of all 8-track players - they did not but had they would you have noticed) to spook.
Once the hunters decide to alight from their vehicles - which often times have a "Hey what sale did you buy that beauty at?" air about them, then the fun really starts. Apparently oblivious to the thought that each has already revealed him or herself as someone who honestly can answer "No" to the question my father asked each of his six children any time he saw any of us doing something he deemed unproductive, "Don't you have anything better that you could be doing right now?" the hunters become hagglers. Having sized up their prey - be it a combination silk/polyester tie so hideous that even in my days as a raging drunk I likely would not have left the house with it around my neck or a decades-old combination hot plate/grilled cheese sandwich maker - they turn their attention to the timeless art of negotiation.
Margaret - for reasons that have never been entirely clear to me - is a wily garage sale negotiator. Actually my wife is an exceptionally skilled negotiator in all settings but it is in this setting - as the Queen of Trash Deemed Not Worthy to Occupy the Corner of the Basement For One More Day - that she truly shines. She can stand in a sea of crap that she has already determined is never coming back into our home - sold or not - and make it sound as if it really is a treasure. She is amazing to watch. Neither age nor language impedes her. She apparently knows enough Spanish to be able to respond to any prospective buyer's suggested purchase price by countering it at a higher amount.
On what is supposed to be a glorious day 'NTSG Margaret and her friend Carolyn shall hold court in our driveway as people who live in areas in which there apparently are no conveniently located dumpsters into which to dive shall stop and hopefully shop. I say hopefully not because I have a hankering for the Extra-Value Meal that we will be no doubt be able to purchase on our share of the proceeds but because the more junk that leaves voluntarily today means there is less junk that will have to be forcibly removed from the premises via dumpster at a later date.
My role in this exercise is already complete. I used the web site of the Star-Ledger (www.nj.com) to place an advertisement for Margaret in our town's Forum as well as in the Forum pages of neighboring towns. I laughed when the other day someone responded to my post by inquiring what was going to be available at the sale. I laughed because I realized that I had no idea and also because....well because the question seemed so silly. It is not Macy's for crying out loud with one of its famous "one day sales" that always has "a preview day" (why not just break down and call it a two-day sale?). It is a garage sale. What is for sale? If you cannot answer that question yourself then you are indeed someone I hope stops by today.
And bring your friends and family. Treasures for everyone......at discount prices. Here in the land of hope and dreams.
Friday, April 23, 2010
In a not-quite-so-positive development, the positions espoused by the warring (I meant to write "opposing" but that suggests folks who have not revealed a deep-set, almost pathological hatred for one another - more akin to adversaries than to enemies) factions have done what positions based wholly on ideology tend to do: scorched the earth all around them as far as the eye can see. Someone in this brouhaha is most assuredly the Devil; right? If one believes the hype from both camps, then the only question is who. And that, of course, depends entirely on who you ask.
It would be a refreshing change of pace if on occasion - particularly with an issue that has ramifications both short- and long-term - people with differing opinions were short on diatribe and long on dialogue. I suppose that I will get my wish fulfilled on that score at or about the time that Bill receives his long-awaited birthday pony. Regardless of what side of the aisle you are on in this imbroglio, if you do not recognize just how far we have come from teaching our children well - and the direction we have traveled to get from there to here then -respectfully - you need to pay better attention.
And we all need to pay better attention to the power of speech. After all, sticks and stones break only bones.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Proving the genealogy of Murphy to be indubitably Gaelic, my best-laid plans for the day were waylaid by the rules of the courthouse. First problem - while as an attorney I stroll in and out of the Middlesex County Courthouse with my Dictaphone in my bag chattering away, on Tuesday morning as a regular member of the citizenry, my Dictaphone was deemed contraband. Rather than stay by my side all day, it chilled on Skate's front passenger seat, which was where I returned it to rather than surrender it to the Sheriff's Officers at the security checkpoint. And I greatly appreciated their understanding in allowing me to hoof it back to my car (gimp knee and all) as opposed to making me give it to them. A very cool thing to do and I thanked both of them for it.
Curiously, while Dictaphones are not permitted in the courthouse, laptop computers are. I say 'curiously' only because the stated reason for not permitting a Dictaphone is that it could be a distraction in the courtroom. Yet in Middlesex County, other than purses/pocketbooks, all of us when picked to take the elevator ride upstairs to an actual courtroom were directed to put our bags (including our laptop computer cases) in a locked storage closet at the front of the room. My point? The Dictaphone that I was told I could not bring into the courthouse for fear that I might use it in court was an item that I would have been directed to leave with my other belongings in the Jury Assembly room.
Given that my intended course of action was to spend the day dictating, my laptop was comfortably sitting on our kitchen table when I reached home Tuesday evening......in precisely the same place where I had last seen it that morning. More important to me in my day-to-day life than Murphy's Law is honoring the Hanklin Gonzales Rules of Conduct (a/k/a "The Five P's: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance"). My failure to adhere to them on Tuesday was wholly avoidable and entirely my own. Due to my callous disregard for them, I accomplished far less than I had intended to when I rolled into the Ferren Parking Deck on Tuesday morning.
Among the other things that had not occurred to me on either Monday night or Tuesday morning was the fact that my name might get drawn as part of a pool for a criminal case. Guess what kind of case my name was drawn for? From 11:30 on until day's end I was among the people whose name could have been selected to fill one of fourteen seats on a criminal case that was getting ready to be tried before Judge Toto. I sensed that I was in a strange land when I entered His Honor's courtroom with the rest of my posse (that is what the cool kids call those whose first name/# combo gets called aloud in the Assembly Room) and did not recognize either of the two attorneys seated at their respective counsel tables. Considering so much of my nonchalance regarding any potential service centered on the fact that there appeared to be no chance that attorneys on a civil case would select me (presuming my name even came up) to be on their jury, given the manner in which I earn my living, being part of the pool for a criminal case threw a gynormous Matzo ball into my best-laid plans.
I shall never know whether I would have been considered "jury-worthy" by either the Assistant Prosecutor or counsel for the defendant. Given the sordid and frankly disturbing nature of the allegations, I am not now - and was not then - disappointed that I did not get the chance to find out. With about sixteen of us still sitting in the courtroom, either hoping to or hoping like Hell not to hear our adopted identity called out one final time, the two lawyers each proclaimed satisfaction with the panel as then and there constituted. After the fourteen occupants of the box were sworn in by His Honor's court clerk, Judge Toto thanked all of us for our service and excused us. As we were leaving his courtroom, I could not help but think of the Warren Zevon lyric, "Where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called."
By the time the little rag-tag group that I was part of was released from His Honor's courtroom and returned downstairs to re-assemble it was 3:30 in the afternoon. My fellow refugees seemed genuinely concerned that we might get re-launched to another courtroom (a fear that was assuaged not at all by the line of jury candidates bearing smiling countenances as they marched towards the "UP" elevator seen typically only on the condemned or the poor fellow forced to serve as Kate Gosselin's dance partner). In spite of having been nothing but wrong from the time my feeties contacted the hardwood floor of my bedroom Tuesday morning - and in simultaneous defiance and reaffirmation of the maxim, "Ain't it like most people, I'm no different, we like to talk on things we don't know about" - I assured them that there was nothing to fear because no attorney - including the one in their midst - ever asks for a new panel of jurors at 3:30 in the afternoon. Hell hath no fury like a juror who was 45 minutes away from three years of freedom when you ensnared him. I half-expected us - upon re-entering the Assembly room to be told that (a) while we were in the elevator New Jersey had re-instituted the death penalty; and (b) we were being sent back up to be among the candidates for a jury on a capital case.
Thankfully, reinforcing the relationship between blind squirrels and nuts, I proved to be correct for the first - and only - time all day. The very nice woman who apparently is the Jury Manager in Middlesex County announced to those of us who had not been placed on a jury that our service was over and upon giving up our name/number badges and our cool badge holders, we were free to leave. At 3:30 or thereabouts, it was over. My maiden was broken. I had survived my first foray into the hazy, crazy world of jury duty.
Having been released from service - with a promise of a 36-month exemption to boot - before heading back into the great wide open, I stopped to call my office and to check in with T as to the day's events. And as we were talking I realized that there were still several people sitting in the Jury Lounge, doing what a much larger number of people had spent the day doing: watching television. And not just television but one half-hour Judge show after another. It was a long, slow parade of black-robed persons being beamed out via cathode ray across the Jury Lounge all day on Tuesday. This too caused me to smile. Irony? Coincidence? I know not. All I know is that on Tuesday an extraordinary number of people - united in their hope to fulfill their obligation to our justice system by sitting through "one day" and not on "one trial" - watched the happenings on our insipid tele-justice system without interrpution. And who said life is not a spectator sport?
Only in America. And that - it turns out - is not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all. At least not one day every three years.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I have practiced law for in the neighborhood of sixteen years and for the last twelve (save for a four-month dramatic interlude in a Hell whose name we dare not speak) at the Firm I have been aided greatly - some might say wholly - by the fact that I have always had an incredible Assistant. Candidly referring to another human being as my "Assistant" makes me more than slightly uncomfortable. I prefer to refer to that individual as I think of her - the person who works with me; not the person who works for me.
Cast in the role of professional co-pilot for me way back when in the halcyon days of 299 Cherry Hill Road was Tracey, who made the journey daily from Toms River to Parsippany. How far is that? I do not know for certain - being neither Lewis nor Clark but suffice it to say that it is pretty damn far from door-to-door. Tracey made that journey daily for the better part of two and a half years before she decided that working for an a##hole lawyer close to home sure beat the snot out of driving 90 minutes each way to do so. I am kidding of course....although Tracey did smartly choose to pursue an opportunity closer to home once one worth pursuing came along. And judging by the pictures of her little girl (who I think made Communion last Spring if I remember correctly) she made absolutely the right decision.
After Tracey departed, I did a Shermanesque March to the Sea through the secretarial staff until - about four months later - Gracie arrived. She picked up the mantle of "Let Us Assist Adam in The Non-Commission of Legal Malpractice" right where Tracey left it and did so unfailingly for more than four years. It was shortly before APD (it is what the cool kids call Administrative Professional Day) five years ago that she left in pursuit of more happiness. She and I have remained friends even as I work my way through my abandonment issues. We actually reconnected professionally for a while last year when I spent my time in Hell. How she stands it there is one of life's great mysteries - somewhere on the list higher than "How come no matter the size of the box of cereal when you open it up it is never more than half full?" but lower than "If Jimmy cracks corn and I don't care, then why did they write a song about it?" Yet she perseveres. Perhaps four-plus years of working with me steeled her resolve to overcome any challenge? I know not. I know that she is a better human being than she is a legal secretary/assistant and if you knew Gracie's work at all you would appreciate the breadth and depth of that compliment.
Shortly after Gracie moved on up to a pasture with better chlorophyll, T moved on upstairs from Floor #2 to the co-pilot seat outside of my office. She is a remarkable woman and a tremendous teammate as well. Keeping me out of trouble at work is kind of, sort of a full-time gig and she handles it flawlessly. No doubt having a teenage daughter at home has prepared her well for having to deal daily with someone whose maturity level is not often where one would expect it to be. And yes, I am referring to me, not to Bridget who is every bit her mother's daughter. I had a bit of trepidation that - having broken up our pair a year ago January when I left the Firm (for what termed out to be the professional equivalent of a really long lunch) - when I returned to the Firm last Memorial Day I had knocked our mojo asunder. Nope. We are rapidly approaching Anniversary I of Round II and it is as if we stepped right back into the stream at the point in the water where I had temporarily stepped out of it. The transition was seamless.
Good help is hard to find. At least that is what Tracey, Gracie and T have each told me over the years. And I have never doubted it. Not once. I have seen years and years of living proof.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
In spite of my lifelong allegiance to this particular patch of terra firma, this morning I shall do something that to this point in my life I have avoided through little to no effort. I shall cross the River (Raritan) to the New Brunswick side and report for jury duty as a Petit Juror. I have picked my fair share of juries in my practice. On this day I will have the chance to view life from the inside of the pet shop window as it were. While I cannot conceive of a scenario under which two or more attorneys on a civil case would pick me to be part of their case's jury - upon finding out what I do for a living (presuming none involved in the case know me or I them) - I suppose that this morning is my opportunity to serve the system that I count upon to adjudicate matters for clients when they cannot be resolved without the need of a trial.
And to reflect my level of ignorance, I had supposed that I could use today as a bit of a learning exercise - having the chance to spend time doing something that our Rules typically frown upon - talk to jurors. I had supposed that right up until the point that Margaret - who is something of an expert at being summoned for jury service - warned me that the people waiting around in the Jury Assembly Room are not to be mistaken for Michael Stipe's kind of folks. She also laughed out loud at me when I told her that I do not think that I shall tell my fellow detainees (sorry - jurors) what I do for a living so that I can try to learn a bit more than I know now about what goes through the minds of prospective jurors. The source of her humor? My supposition that anyone would actually ask me what it is I do for a living - as if anyone who is called to serve cares at all what another who is similarly situated does when he is not chilling out in the J.A.R. (Margaret also informed me that during her multiple calls to jury duty no one - not one time - has referred to the Jury Assembly Room as the "J.A.R." so I should not either. Good tip.) Until last night, Margaret only used the term "Jackass" to refer to my blockheadedness regarding my inability to follow doctor's orders. Right up until the point in time that I sprung my "Stealth Man" hypothesis on her. Apparently no one trapped in the Jury Assembly Room will give a rat's ass about the opportunity to spend a day against his or her will in the presence of a lawyer as a fellow member of the entourage.
All dressed up and no place to go? Sadly, I suppose that today I am. A lawyer with no stage. Thank God it is only for today. A boy has to eat after all.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Yet I am happy that I spent slightly less than two and a half hours yesterday morning on the campus of Rutgers University as a participant in the first-ever Unite for Charity half-marathon. It was a terrific day on which to run - a bit chilly when we started but comfortable throughout. And the route that the race organizers mapped out was excellent - full of nice changes of elevation without being brutal.
Running is a solitary pursuit - and given my propensity for not playing well with others - it is perhaps unsurprising that having developed a taste for it, I now am almost consumed by the desire to do it. Yet even though it is a solitary pursuit, yesterday was for me proof positive of the old adage about the relationship between strength and numbers.
Gidg - my running cohort - and I had presumed from the time we signed up for this epic misadventure four months ago or so (and did not 13.1 miles seem to be a much shorter distance when I completed the application than it did when I completed the race) that we would run together. However when I went on the Disabled List two weeks ago and was moved (temporarily as it turned out) from the "running" to "unable to run" list, she was faced with the prospect of running a distance she had never run before by herself. That can be a daunting thing to do. And I would be lying if I said that the thought of leaving her hanging - flying solo for 2 plus hours - was not weighing on my head more than a little from the moment I received the recommendation in the ER on Easter Sunday against running at all for at least two weeks.
Yesterday - as I knew she would - Gidg ran a great race. And as I suspected she would, she spent more time fretting over the ever gimping-strides of her running buddy than she did anything else. I held her back yesterday. She could have easily run a time 10 to 12 minutes faster than she did (she finished 12 seconds or so ahead of me), had she not decided to ensure that having started together, we finished together. At race's end, proof that our training for this event had been appropriate, both of us felt tired but neither of us gasped for air or gave off the appearance of being a big messy dish of warmed-over death. Running 13.1 miles with a friend proved to be a damn sight more fun than running it alone.
And numerical strength is found not only in those running the course with you but in those waiting for you at the end of the journey as well. The Family Kizis was well-represented as always. Margaret was there also, undoubtedly wanting to scream out "Jackass!" when someone who looks quite a bit like me rounded the final turn and raced to the finish, yelling out encouragement to us and being there for the all-important post-race hug.
Half-marathon completed. For my next trick, perhaps I shall try my hand at not singing out of key. I have a good support system. I like my chances.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Two weeks ago - after dealing with the pain in my right leg for about two months - I broke down (well, that is a bit melodramatic - I woke up on Easter Sunday not able to put weight on my right leg) and made a trip to the Emergency Department at Somerset Medical Center. In the immediate aftermath of that excellent adventure, I wrestled with the fact that I would not be able to participate in the 1/2 Marathon that I had signed up for way back when in December. The 1/2 Marathon, which is being held on the campus of Rutgers University, starts this morning at 8:30.
Life is both a journey (and not a destination) and an uncertain ride. And I am hardheaded, which is a euphemism for "stupid" in this context. All three of those factors have combined to create a result that Margaret most likely realized in her heart of hearts was inevitable. This morning - having kinda, sorta paid attention to the orders I received from the ER staff two Sundays ago - I am running as I had planned to when I signed up for this adventure four months ago.
I am an old dog. And I performed my last new trick too long ago to remember when I did it....or what it was. I am nothing if not predictable; right? Fret not. Contrary to what you might suspect, I am not a complete idiot either. If my knee did not feel well enough to run, I most likely would be sitting this one out. That is indeed my story and sticking to it; you may be assured I am.
It is supposed to be a beautiful morning here in the State of Concrete Gardens. Hell of a nice day for a run. Bust out Bet like you’re leaving Life ain’t about Just breaking even.
Every now and again you have to just get out.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Proving that excessive wealth is not necessarily related to ignorance, consider the case of Matthew Clemmens. It seems as if on Wednesday night Clemmens and one of his idiot friends went to see the Phillies game. Clemmens and his fellow knuckle-dragger reacted badly to the friend getting ejected from the stadium. Apparently at the Phillies' ballpark the Phillies have neglected to post signage telling their patrons that spitting on another patron is expressly forbidden. And especially so when the human spittoon is an 11 year-old girl.
Subsequent to his friend spitting on the younger daughter of the world's most patient man, Mark Vangelo of Easton Pennsylvania, and being afforded the opportunity to beat the post-game traffic jam, Clemmens proved that in spite of his size he really is an infant at heart. He first threatened to - and then in fact did - deliberately jam his own fingers down his throat, which permitted him to vomit on Mark Vangelo and Vangelo's 11 year old daughter.
Imagine if you will the heights of imbecility and incivility we have scaled as a species that permits one member of the tribe to make a conscious decision to throw up on another member......and his child. Imagine as well being an 11 year old child, enjoying a Wednesday night at the ball park with your Dad and your big sister and being first spat upon and thereafter puked upon by two other members of the crowd. Reading this story in the paper yesterday, I flashed back to Rob's first trip to Yankee Stadium. Fan Appreciation Day in 1996. Yankees vs. Red Sox. Extra Innings. Jeter knocking in the game-winning run with a base hit. A great day.
Mark Vangelo is a Captain in the Easton Pennsylvania Police Department. Wednesday night he was off-duty - simply being a Dad enjoying a ball game with his two girls. According to the story in Friday's Star-Ledger he kept his cool. He resisted the temptation to invest the 38 to 45 seconds it likely would have taken for him to dismantle Clemmens because he never lost sight of the bigger picture.....even after Clemmens apparently punched him in the face. "I was thinking about my children — what would happen to them if I was arrested?" he said. "I also was thinking about my job and providing for my family. I thought, 'I can't get arrested, I can't have that happen.'"
Unfortunately for Clemmens, the folks in the section next to the one where Vangelo and his family were sitting had no such constraints upon their response, which is why Clemmens' mug shot shows the little fat bastard with one of his eyes swollen shut. From across the Delaware River, the actions of those folks eradicates the stigma of the fans at Veterans Stadium booing Santa Claus all those years ago.
The distance between right and wrong is sometimes tantalizingly close and maddeningly far away. And every time someone makes a decision to do the wrong thing, the rest of us are left to wonder how hard it would have been for him to have decided to do the right thing. And whether he will have the quality of character to do the right thing the next time.
Part man, part monkey. And so it goes.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Yesterday on her Facebook page Suzanne reported her status as "30 days to go!", which means that the countdown clock to the Graduation Mass and the Hooding Ceremony (I have no idea what the latter entails and am a bit afraid that it involves frat boys and pledge pins on uniforms) at Seton Hall to celebrate the completion of her Master's Degree has now ticked down to a reduced unit of measurement. Way back when - a year ago September - Suz measured the commitment in either years (2) or semesters (4). When she returned in September '09 she was in the singular ("one year") and when she returned in January '10 to begin the home stretch, it was the semester that served as the unit of measurement. Now? We are less than one month away from graduation. The units of measurement have been pared down essentially to their essence. We have reached "the day".
I know that we have not yet reached The Day but it is approaching fast. Now that time is measured in days - and nothing longer than days - The Day will be here before we know it. And it will past us just as fast. And once it is past us, it will represent for Margaret and me the closing of a door or, if you will, the ending of a chapter.
As a parent, when your kids are in school often times it is the particular grade they are in that serves as a ready-made reference point for you when you are trying to recount when you did a certain thing and/or went to a certain place ("Remember when Ezmerelda was in 3rd grade and we went to the Yucatan?" or "Little Biznecki was only in 5th grade when he blew his left ear off in the kiln explosion in art class"). Your child's grade in school serves as a bookmark in the story of the life of your family.
In less than one month, Margaret and I are going to lose that reference point forever. Suzanne is on the bell lap of her excellent academic adventure and while I suppose that at some point during her professional career she will be bitten by the bug to obtain a Ph.D., in thirty-one days she will no longer be a full-time student. For the first time in the lifetime of our little family unit, Margaret and I will not be the parents of a student.
Candidly, it is a bit of an odd feeling. On the one hand, I will feel much less guilt extracting rent from her in July than I did in January since she will have a full-time, big girl job and will not have to repeatedly sell her own blood plasma just to cover her monthly nut. (Before anyone starts cursing me aloud, please know I am kidding about the whole rent thing. At least Suz hopes I am kidding.) But on the other hand, there is a part of me that has always liked having "a kid in school". For some reason, having a child in school always made me feel hipper as if Margaret and me are still invited to hang at the cool kids' table because we - like they - know the struggle. Not any longer.
My two "kids" have not been children for quite some time. But at least while each was still doing the "school" thing, we have had them around. Once they get out into the adult world all bets are off. One day your son is a college student living up the block from Madison Square Garden and the next day he is beginning a career he loves a whole lot of states, two time zones and almost two thousand miles away from you. If school does not serve as an anchor, then it is at least a type of tether cord for us parents. Regardless of how much slack is in the line and how high our kids soar, one end of it remains affixed securely to home base.
In a bit less than a month the Missus and me shall move forward sans tether cord. Being a parent can be a hell of a dilemma at times. You root for your kids to reach dizzying heights. It would be perfect if they could do it in the skies right above your backyard. But that is not how life works; right? Somewhere, someplace time is always being counted down.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
The computer on my desk is festooned with a number of Post-It notes. If and when I stumble across a turn of phrase that resonates with me for whatever reason, I tend to write it on such a note and tape it to my computer. Before you think me a complete fool (a ship that may have already cast off its bow line if not sailed away altogether) let me assure you that the notes are taped to the borders of the monitor and not on the screen itself. My vision is challenged enough without downsizing the available screen size.
Among the notes that are attached to my monitor are ones that seem particularly topical today. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear - Ambrose Redmoon. Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go - Bernard Malamud. I would submit that both apply with equal force and effect to Jackie Robinson.
Sixty-three years ago today, Jack Roosevelt Robinson became the first African-American player to play Major League baseball when he took the field as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was already twenty-eight years old when he made his debut but it was not as if his seemingly late arrival in "The Show" was a result of him sitting around and dawdling or some such thing. Au contraire, by the time Robinson played his first game in his #42 uniform for Mom's beloved Dodgers, he had already lived one hell of a life.
As a teenager, Robinson was a sprinter on the U.S. Olympic Team and in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin won the silver medal in the 200-meter dash, finishing second to Adolf Hitler's worst nightmare at those Games: Jesse Owens. Robinson was a four-sport letterman at UCLA. He served in the United States Army during World War II as a Second Lieutenant. He never saw combat. At least not against any members of the Axis. During boot camp he was arrested when he refused to move to the back of a segregated bus. He was subsequently court-martialed. At his trial, he was acquitted of all charges and ultimately received an honorable discharge from the Army.
I cannot fathom what it must have been like to have been Jackie Robinson on the afternoon of April 15, 1947. He was not the only African-American player on his team or on the field or in the National League. He was the only African-American player in the Major Leagues. He stood alone in the cross hairs of countless people - including some of his teammates and some of the Ebbets Field denizens who hoped against hope every year for a little October magic for their beloved bums - who hated him simply because of the color of his skin. They were not compelled to learn a thing about him before concluding that they hated him. Understanding takes knowledge. Knowledge takes learning. Learning takes time. Fear's a powerful thing. And it is a damned sight quicker.
Mercifully not everyone was aligned against him - although from all I have ever read and watched of Jackie Robinson it seems as if universal opposition would not have deterred him - and he lasted not merely for one day but for ten years. He played only for the Dodgers, retiring after the 1956 season rather than accept a trade to the rival New York (soon-to-be San Francisco) Giants. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1947, the MVP in 1949, a six-time All-Star and - in 1955 (after failing in four prior attempts to defeat the Yankees) he helped bring Mom her only World Series title. In 1962, a decade and a half after his first game as a member of the Dodgers, he was enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame in Cooperstown.
A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives. Almost seven decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball and slightly less than four decades after his death, the importance of Robinson's life remains measurable. When he retired he was quoted as saying, "The way I figured it, I was even with baseball and baseball with me. The game had done much for me, and I had done much for it." It turns out he was wrong by half. The game of baseball did indeed do much for him but all these years later it has not come close to keeping an even balance sheet in terms of what he did for it - and what he continues to do for it.
Baseball is a sport imbued with numbers. There are numbers for everything and they are broken down and broken down again. Today and tonight at every Major League stadium, it is all about one number: 42. If you watch the Yankees tonight (and Vazquez pitched yesterday so you might get to see a "W") with someone who is not a baseball fan - be they a child or an adult - then take the time to tell them why every player is wearing the same number.
Not just anyone could have done what Jackie Robinson did. Knowing myself well, I know that I could not have. I would have failed for reasons having nothing to do with my below-average fielding ability and my complete inability to hit a curve. What Robinson did took more than talent. It took more than character. It took courage. A quality possessed by none but the brave.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
There might be a professional sports franchise that does a better job of celebrating its own history than the Yankees do but if there is, its identity eludes me. All Yankees fans looked forward to yesterday, and not only because it was the first time since the 2001 season that the Yankees began their home campaign with the tag line "World Champions" affixed to them. For reasons that remain a mystery to me the same MLB schedule makers who seem annually to require the Yankees to travel West with a consistency and a frequency that would have done Horace Greeley proud actually managed to do something right. The 2010 schedule called for the first visiting team to play at the Stadium to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (f/k/a "the Anaheim Angels" and also f/k/a "the California Angels"). Among their multitude? Hideki Matsui.
For those of you who might have forgotten - or who for some inexplicable reason root for the Red Sox and spent your autumn weeping softly after the Angels zipped the Sawx out of the ALDS faster than you could say, "Holy Sh*t! Ortiz struck out again with men on base?" rather than watching the Yankees march to glory - Matsui was the World Series MVP in 2009. In what turned out to be his final game in pinstripes, he drove in six runs in the sixth and final game of the Series.
A couple of days later the Missus and me were among the small, orderly crowd that lined the Canyon of Heroes for the Yankees' World Series Parade. There, on one of the lead floats stood Matsui, waving to the crowd while smiling that sad smile of his. A man with a bird's eye view of his future and his past rolling by him arm-in-arm. He stood soaking it all in - absorbing all of the energy and affection that engulfed him, realizing even then it seemed that his biggest moment was also to be his final moment. Baseball is a business after all.
Not too terribly long after Parade Day, the Yankees and Matsui severed their professional relationship. He signed a new contract with a new team - the Angels - and went to California. With an aching in his heart? Perhaps. It was not - after all - his decision to play this season in a city other than New York.
Yesterday afternoon a man who meant a great deal to the fellows with whom he played for the previous seven seasons (Jeter described Matsui as one of his favorite all-time teammates) was embraced again by teammates, fans and a city that grew to not simply admire him but to love him during the time he spent here. The present was not as kind to Hideki yesterday as the past was. He went 0-5 and flew out to end the game. But yesterday was not about the present. And it was not about the future either. It was a reunion. And it was a fine, fine day for it.
Yesterday Yankee Stadium was the point of intersection between the business of baseball and the brotherhood of baseball. A band of brothers gathered one final time to celebrate their triumphs, to reminisce one final time with one of their band whose journey has now taken him a different direction, to thank him for all he did to contribute to their collective success and to wish him well.
For an afternoon at least, brotherhood held the upper hand. And it was pretty damned nice to see.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
From the time our children were little, both Suz and Rob benefited from the steady and loving hand of their mother. Margaret is a marvel to me. Her ability to not simply do countless things well simultaneously but to devote the energy necessary to ensure that the little engine that could that is our household chugged along without incident year after year after year is nothing short of remarkable. In the universe that was their world as children, Suz and Rob never had to look too far to find the center. It was then as it is now. It is their mother. Margaret will tell you that she was ably assisted in her efforts by her parents and her grandmother. And indeed she was aided by the Howard Avenue Trinity. Neither of our kids would have grown into the adults they became without the countless hours they spent at the kitchen table with Nan, Nona and Grandpa Joe. As well-educated as each of them is, that table was their 3-minute record. At it they learned more than they ever learned in school.
And life being what life is, two-thirds of the Howard Avenue Trinity died prior to the moment in the life of each of my two kids when the growth process from little tike to independent adult was complete. It has been years since either has sat at the table on Howard Avenue on a day in, day out basis. Yet the lessons learned there when they were young are the lessons they have carried with them as they have grown - packed away for ready reference in the same passel as they have carried all that Margaret has taught them. It saddens me more than a bit that neither Nan nor Nona lived quite long enough to see the bounty of their labor bear fruit in the all-grown-up versions of Suz and Rob. Wherever they are I am sure they have an excellent view of all that has transpired in these parts since they have been gone and are driving all of their friends crazy bragging about the two of them. And they are smiling.
Today I am smiling too. I joined the team mid-stream as it were. I was not around at the moment of arrival for either Suz or Rob, joining our regularly scheduled program already in progress. It has been my great joy and my great privilege to watch two children who I have been fortunate enough to identify as my own - genetics notwithstanding - go about their business with the requisite combination of fortitude and aptitude. They are a constantly replenished source of pride.
Suz is counting down the days until she completes her Master's studies at Seton Hall. I think that she is closing in on the thirty-day until graduation mark, although I may be rounding up or down by a day or two (I hope like Hell there is not a quiz on this). She is a supremely talented student. She always has been. Her talent has always been matched in lockstep by her drive. And yesterday, after what I think was only a couple of weeks (but might have been longer than that), she found out that what she had hoped to do professionally is - in fact - exactly what she is going to do. The job she proclaimed her "Dream Job" when she interviewed for it last month is the job that is going to launch her professional career. Lift-off is set for mid-June 2010.
Whether she shall spend the forty-five years that follow Day One there, the forty-five days that follow Day One there or some other span of time along the span between those two poles I know not. It matters not. What matters is that the opportunity she worked damned hard to get, she has in fact gotten.
From the moment yesterday afternoon Margaret telephoned me to share Suz's news with me, I sat in my office with some half-assed wannabe Jack-O-Lantern grin on my face. As a parent, it is often tricky to negotiate that fine line between rooting hard for your child's success and trying to relive your youth vicariously through your child. Luckily for me - and my pint-sized little brain - the profession into which Suz is immersing herself involves concepts so far beyond my ability to comprehend that I have no difficulty remaining on the correct side of that line.
And cheering 'til I am hoarse.
I'm gonna watch you shine
Gonna watch you grow
Gonna paint a sign
So you'll always know
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father
Who loved his daughter more than I love you
Monday, April 12, 2010
Mickelson is a man I have never met and given my general lack of interest in golf and his general lack of interest in me, I doubt we ever will. Yet he and I share a bond - a bond that we wish we did not share. A bond shared by too many families in this country and world-wide. His family - like mine - has been attacked by breast cancer. Last season, Mickelson made news when he stepped off of the PGA Tour for a while to be home with and tend to his wife Amy who was stricken by the disease. Shortly thereafter the news broke that Mickelson's mother was also battling breast cancer. As little as I know about golf, I know that Mickelson has a reputation for being the guy who not only does not shy away from the impossible, he embraces it. Truth be told, he probably hoped to confine his wizardry to his shot-making on the golf course. Suddenly last summer he was called upon to expand his repertoire.
On Sunday evening as he stepped off of the 18th green, having sunk the birdie putt that gave him his final 3 shot margin of victory he stepped into the embrace of Amy. The Mickelsons stood together, one hugging the other. Amy's over-sized sunglasses shielded her eyes and made it impossible to tell whether she was crying. Her husband - not wearing anything to cover his eyes - squeezed them tightly shut as the tears rolled down his cheeks.
For a moment on a Sunday in April, all seemed right at the point of intersection where sport meets real life. No perp walk, no spin control, no contrived apology necessary. Just a look, a hug and a kiss.
And somewhere in the skies over Brooklyn, Leo Durocher looked down from the heavens and smiled. Even Leo the Lip can bring himself to root for a nice guy's success every now and again.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Being something of a legendary procrastinator and being married to a woman whose full-time job, role as a mother to two young adults (one inside of her home, both inside of her heart) and avocation as caretaker and eye-keeper-on'er one spry senior citizen father, it is amazing how much stuff I get away with delaying getting done. Not only has my doing dial not been turned up a notch - much to the chagrin of Ed Harris and the fine folks at The Home Depot - it more often than not seems to have been soldered in the "OFF" position.
Which is why on April's second Saturday - the one following Easter Saturday, the Missus and me officially closed the book on the Christmas season by taking down our exterior Christmas lights. I had been keeping my fingers crossed that Margaret would forget about them, we would get to June 26th and I would be able to make a really compelling argument about being closer to Christmas than far from it and prevail upon her to just leave them up there. Even in a non-Leap Year February I came not close at all to meeting my mark.
Thus we spent a few minutes yesterday afternoon (it was a glorious day here 'NTSG) taking down our Christmas lights. Gee, just what our neighbors needed - another thing about which to talk regarding the occupants of our home. Right about the time I learn any of their names, I shall also learn how to faking giving a shit. 'Til then....not bloody likely.
While we were taking down the Christmas lights yesterday I saw an opportunity and I took it. Margaret was standing on the front lawn near Sparky and I snapped a picture of them together, which I sent to Rob. Sparky is his after all, which is to say that he is the member of the family who brought him home to all of us. I smiled looking at Sparky there standing silently behind my tiny wife, bent ever so slightly up near his head and neck as if he was looking down upon her checking out what she was doing.
Sparky is a great example of perseverance and of the triumph of the human spirit. In this case, while it was Sparky who persevered, Rob was the human with the unquenchable fire. A little background information is probably helpful here. Sparky is an evergreen tree - what type precisely I have no idea. I do know that when he first arrived at our house we did not live where we do presently. We lived over on Third Street. He came home with Rob from school one day - perhaps an Arbor Day or an Earth Day - but most assuredly a day when Rob was in second or third grade.
Rob carried Sparky home from school. While that would be a Herculean task presently, all those years ago it took little sweat equity at all. Sparky the evergreen was essentially a stick with an evergreen hat on top. The class's mission was to take their "tree" home and plant it, which Rob looked to do without delay. Full of optimism and ambition he went into the shed behind our home and withdrew a shovel to dig Sparky's hole. His spirits sagged just a bit when Margaret took one of her much smaller garden spades to dig Sparky's new home for him. The implantation process took all of a couple of minutes.
From minute one in our terra firma, Rob tended to Sparky like a mother bear looking after her prized cub. He was thrilled when Sparky grew steadily - if slowly - and was able to support a small string of Christmas lights by his second Christmas. And as one might expect, much like a well-cared for bear cub, Sparky grew up healthy and strong.
When we moved - from one side of town to the other - ten summers ago a very important part of the move was the transplantation of Sparky. Rob and Ronnie - who worked at the time for Frank - devoted most of their energy that day to making sure Sparky was properly removed from his spot at our soon-to-be-former home and properly planted in his new spot at his new address. That was ten years ago.
In the decade since we moved in Sparky has grown exponentially. I remain convinced that one day in the not-too-distant future the good folks who are charged with the duty of placing the tree in Rockefeller Center are going to come looking to relocate Sparky one final time. In the interim, he has grown so large that we shall need this summer to reconfigure the fence that separates the front yard from the back yard. Sparky needs more room to grow.
And yesterday afternoon as the Missus and me enjoyed the early April sunshine and warmth as we stood wrapping up our outside Christmas lights, I could not help but smile. At Sparky and at the thought of how much we all have grown during his lifetime. And how much has come from such a humble beginning.
From small things big things one day come. Indeed they do.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
This week in his column in the Washington Post E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote of the recent happenings in West Virginia far more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could. I would encourage you to take a moment and read what he wrote. And be a bit angered by it. Not by the language employed or the style in which he expressed himself but by Dionne's recitation of the history of the region and the corresponding history of reacting to a disaster such as the one at Upper Big Branch Mine with the same patterned impotence: outrage into sorrow into apparent apathy. It is a history that has been trod on the path of unrelenting sameness. A path walked in ignorant bliss of the maxim regarding insanity. Relatively speaking or not, Einstein was a f***king genius. Let us not forget that.
In the next several days the PR boys at Massey Energy will undoubtedly have their bleary-eyed CEO Don Blankenship in front of every God damned camera they can find expressing the company's anguish over what happened and the company's promise to do everything it can for the families of its 29 employees whose lives have been lost in the Upper Big Branch Mine. Mr. Blankenship and the boys from Massey Energy would be well-served to remember the words of Oscar Wilde, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."
Dionne's column on Thursday included a quote from an American sociologist named Kai Erikson - an individual whose name I had never read nor heard before Thursday, "We live in a world in which the most vulnerable of people end up taking the brunt of disasters resulting both from natural processes and from human activities."
Sad but true. And a lesson thrust upon us again this week in the coal mines of West Virginia. A lesson forced to be endured now by the families of twenty-nine working men. Twenty-nine working men who have taken one last trip on a country road.
Friday, April 9, 2010
This week has seemed to me to be interminably long. Truth be told, while I have friends who are apoplectic with delight over the fact that here 'NTSG it has felt more like August than April this week, it has been too damn hot for my taste. I am not a person who "perspires". I sweat. I sweat when I run in the wee small hours of the morning in February - when it is zero degrees. I need not endure something quite far removed from pure unadulterated joy such as the sensation of sweating my ass off while sitting in my office working in the wee small hours of the morning in April.
Happiness to me is a temperature nestled comfortably between the mid-50s and the mid-70s. From a climatological perspective, I am a Nixon man apparently. I have lived in Joisey my whole life. Soon enough we will be mired in the midst of back-to-back-to-back days of temperatures in the mid-80s and higher with accompanying and complementary humidity levels. I can do without my Easter eggs being served to me sunny side up - thank you very much.
And the news this week all over has not exactly been an elixir for the soul either - chockful of stories detailing tragic, brutal and asinine conduct from far and wide. I know that it is not solely the combination of things tropical and topical that has set me off a bit. I am annoyed as well at the fact that I have not been able to run at all this week -either inside on the treadmill or outside in the balmy breezes - as I seek to pay heed to my doctor's recommendations and my wife's admonitions. The deal I made with Margaret calls for two weeks' shelf time. I woke up this morning trying to be excited about the fact that I am almost halfway home. I am not nearly as persuasive as I had hoped I was.
There are countless things about which I care little - if at all. There are significantly fewer things about which I care a lot. Had you told me a year ago that running would have moved from the "do not give a rat's ass" column to the "must do" column I would have laughed out loud.....after checking your head for bumps or spider bites. But it has. I cannot explain it. All I know is that there is a calming feeling (a sensation if you will) that I feel when I run, which feeling I now get from no other source. For the past six days and for the next eight I shall be cut off from it. I know that right now in the world there are people confronting far more serious issues than am I. There is little solace in that knowledge - I assure you. And there should be. I assure you that I know that as well. I am a seriously flawed human being. Unlike a certain piece of lying dreck to whom the world at large has been introduced this week, I am man enough to acknowledge it. Hey Don Blankenship - have you bought yourself any West Virginia Supreme Court Justices yet this week? Yet another nugget of evidence in support of Chris Rock's theory of the color of justice in America.
Eight days. Is eight days a long time or no time at all? Depends on one's perspective I suppose. You wanna run/How long how far how fast/You wanna run/But you can’t out run the past. I am not fleet afoot enough to outrun anything. I simply cannot wait to get back out there and get back at it.
Running down a dream - a dream of peace of mind.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
As of mid-Wednesday afternoon - approximately forty-eight hours after the explosion that killed twenty-five West Virginia coal miners occurred, that state's Governor and the families of the four as-of-yet unaccounted miners continued to hope against hope for a happy ending. In a situation where they appear to have had their lives ripped to shreds by a tragedy whose roots may or may not be found in the bastardized business practices of their loved ones' employer, they are choosing to believe in the possibility of the impossible. And unless and until they are presented with evidence sufficient to convince them to stop embracing that possibility, I hope their resolve remains strong. Strong enough to sustain them. They are willing to wait for a miracle. No one can possibly challenge their decision to do so.
You believe what you want to believe and I shall be free to do likewise. I believe that there are scant few truly unavoidable occurrences that happen in this world on a day in, day out basis. And the more I read about the people who own and operate Massey Energy, the more it seems as if Monday's events were the result of a marriage made in hell: the tempestuousness of nature and the callousness of man.
According to the Associated Press and MSNBC, in January 2010 Massey Energy was cited by regulators at its Upper Big Branch Mine for having significant safety issues, including one that - while corrected almost immediately after being called on the regulatory carpet for it - had gone known but unacted upon for three weeks prior to the regulators' arrival. How important can it possibly be to ensure that the system you have in place for your miners - the one designed to pump fresh air to them in the event of an emergency - actually is operating correctly so that the fresh air is actually being pumped into the mine and now out of it? If you lack the moral fortitude to recognize that as a rhetorical question then I know not whether to weep for you or to invite you to contact HR at Massey Energy. You just might be their kind of folk.
As a lawyer you can imagine how it warms the cockles of the little briquette masquerading as my heart to see the passion Massey Energy brings to bear in one aspect of its operation: appealing penalties and fines assessed against it by the Federal Government. MSNBC reports that, "Massey Energy Co., which owns the Upper Big Branch mine, the site of Monday's explosion, is still contesting more than a third of all its violations there since 2007. In the past year, federal inspectors have proposed more than $1 million in fines for violations at the mine in Montcoal, W.Va. Only 16 percent have been paid. Among the violations that have been appealed are the company's two largest fines on record, assessed in January for problems with the mine's ventilation systems." While it is unclear whether Massey added to its auspicious collection of citations on Monday before or after the explosion occurred at the Upper Big Branch Mine, Federal regulators did indeed tag the company for two more violations on Monday, including one involving inadequate maps of escape routes from the Upper Big Branch mine. Underground coal mines are required to have maps detailing escape routes, oxygen caches, and refuge chambers.
Again, if one who knows squat about coal mines such as Yours Truly is able to recognize the importance of an item such as a well-mapped escape route then one would suspect that those in the business of making money off of the owning and operating of a coal mine would be kind of, sort of familiar with the importance as well; right? For Christ's sake, if you are traveling on I-95 between Florida and New Jersey and at the end of a day's driving you pull off of the highway and into a motel or hotel for the night, you can damn well be assured of the fact that the joint into which you have spilled yourself - be it a Motel 6 or a Four Seasons - will have a map on the back of your door detailing your emergency escape route. If hoteliers consider it essential, then one presumes mine operators recognize its importance as well. Right? Apparently not.
This is America so you are free to ascribe this company's material breach of its responsibility to the people who work for it in its mine and the families whose very lives are dependent upon its mine to whatever makes you least uncomfortable: ignorance, inadvertence, stupidity, carelessness, etc. Me? I believe it is likely not ascribable to any of those. Nope. In the land where coal is king, the almighty dollar is the fuel that powers the kingdom. Somewhere, someplace in the bowels of the Massey offices I suspect there is an actuarial study or ten that the Company commissioned for the purpose of running the numbers on the cost of compliance/correction against the cost of rolling the dice (a/k/a the expense of litigation and the associated payouts in terms of verdicts and/or settlements.)
Human beings are animals. Animals are creatures of habit. From time immemorial those in a position to take advantage of those unable to protect themselves have done so. The story's always the same. And not just in the coal mines of Appalachia. It just happens to be where this week's demonstration of the timeless lesson is playing itself out. The boys from Massey did not invent the game. This week they just happen to be the ones in possession of the ball.
For the people whose loved ones have died this week - and for those families who still do not know whether they too belong in that number - they care about something significantly more important than the seemingly egregious business practices of a coal mining company. They hurt because a most terrible loss has been visited upon them. And while there may be a day in which it does not ache to simply inhale and exhale, that day is not today and it does not appear to be tomorrow either. So, they wait and they hope. They hope and they wait. In a life that has given them too few options thus far, they find themselves again without any.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I know enough to know that I am essentially a simple man. And I am not musically inclined. Thus, I know that I could not at gunpoint, save myself by pointing out the technical reason why I have always enjoyed Springsteen's music as passionately as I do. I know simply that it speaks to me - regardless of the situation. And in that knowledge there is great comfort. A feeling of being a bit less alone in the world I suppose. The ominous feeling that wish as we might it is not only the sing-along songs that end up serving as our Scriptures.
The world can be a tough racket. For some of us, it never eases up. The combination of genetics and geography ties our fate to a future that is the by-product of inevitability and not of choice. We do who we are. And we become what we do and who we are by virtue of the fact that it is what and who are fathers were before us and their fathers were before them. We are indeed born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past.
My favorite Springsteen album has always been Darkness on the Edge of Town. I recognize the wisdom of convention points to the opus that preceded Darkness as Springsteen's de facto classic contribution to rock and roll and I too love Born To Run. Yet my entire life Darkness has spoken to me far more loudly and more clearly than its renowned brother. Maybe it is my Gaelic soul. I know not. All I know is that the stories told on Darkness - a record whose release was delayed by three years while Springsteen and his manager Mike Appel beat the living hell out of each other in court - are told in a voice that I recognize more closely with my own. It is no longer the voice of a young man convinced he could grab the world by the balls and escape the town full of losers in which he found himself. It is the voice of a still-young man but a man whose time in the fire left him at the very least singed around the edges and with his eyes far more open as to this world's meanness than he was only a few years earlier.
Death has yet again visited the coal mines of West Virginia this week. I cannot fathom the intestinal fortitude needed to get up every day and go to work in a coal mine. I do not believe that I possess it. I exaggerate not when I say that I hope to hell I never, ever have to find out. There are countless thousands of people in this country who earn their living daily by working in America's coal mines. People doing a job daily that I would not wish upon the person who I most despise - or any of the other inhabitants of my Top Ten. Reading this quote from the piece on MSNBC, "There's always danger. There's so many ways you can get hurt, or your life taken," said Gary Williams, a miner and pastor of a church near the southern West Virginia mine. "It's not something you dread every day, but there's always that danger. But for this area, it's the only way you're going to make a living.", made me think of The Outlaw Josey Wales and the scene in which Josey Wales kills the bounty hunter who has been chasing him. Immediately before Wales kills him the bounty hunter tells Wales that he had no choice but to come after Wales; it is after all how he earns his living. Wales responds, "Dying ain't much of a living boy" and then a moment later shoots and kills his pursuer.
Perhaps it is simply my level of unfamiliarity with the business of mining that has me so pissed off about this particular story - this latest disaster in the mines of West Virginia. Consider for a moment that you have not been able to pick up a newspaper or turn on a TV or radio in the past 90 days without hearing the stories (some of which have been manufactured out of whole cloth apparently) of people's life and death encounters with Toyota's Prius. Toyota has taken a beating in the media over that model's difficulties. Me? I think the Prius is about the most pretentious, emasculating little piece of tin ever cobbled together to house an internal combustion engine and if you are the type of snooty little priss who drives one, then you deserve whatever Hell befalls you once you get behind its wheel. Relax - I am kidding. At least you hope I am; right?
My point is simply this: Toyota has gotten savaged for its allegedly clandestine handling of the problem when it initially surfaced and - as a result - it has been heavily fined by the Federal government. Toyota has been kicked and stomped upon in the most public of fashions. But what about the fine fellows who run Massey Energy, which MSNBC describes as one of America's Top Five coal producers and among the industry's most profitable. Massey Energy? I for one am forced to confess that until this week I had never heard the company's name. Apparently no one gives a rat's ass about Massey's "spotty" safety record - including its perpetual indifference to violations at the Upper Big Branch mine where twenty-five of its employees have died this week. According to Tuesday's Charleston Gazette, "it was reported that Federal citations and enforcement orders at Upper Big Branch doubled between 2008 and 2009 to more than 500. Fines assessed by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration tripled over the same period to nearly $900,000.....And last year, more than 10 percent of the enforcement actions taken by MSHA at the Upper Big Branch Mine were for "unwarrantable failure" to follow safety rules, compared to about 2 percent at mines nationwide." Toyota has been kicked and stomped upon in the most public of fashions. Massey? I for one am forced to confess that I had never heard of them until this week
"Unwarrantable Failure". I am no scholar and have never worked a minute for the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration so I do not have one of their decoder rings. But nevertheless I get the impression that if one was to invert the first letters of "Unwarrantable Failure" one would see pretty clearly that Massey is telling the Feds and the people who risk their lives daily to help coal be king exactly what it thinks of those pesky safety rules.
It seems to me occasionally as if the train has jumped the tracks in this country and sadly that derailment is not confined to the coal car. The Golden Rule, irrespective of what it once might have been, is now, "He who has the gold rules." In the coal mining country of West Virginia, the ones with the gold are never confused with the ones who mine for coal. And somewhere along the way it appears as if the ones with the gold have been allowed to - if not encouraged to - view those who do the digging, who do the mining and too God damned often do the dying as less than equals. They are assets, not individuals. They are property, not people. Once I cease to see you as a person, it makes it far easier for me to do whatever the Hell it is I want to do; regardless of what it does to you. My sole focus becomes what it does FOR me. You? You are no longer part of the equation.
A working life should still mean what it once meant. It should still be considered to be something of value. It should not be mean a death sentence. And certainly should not mean "unwarrantable failure".
Early in the morning factory whistle blows,
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,
It's the working, the working, just the working life.
Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life.
End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes.
And you just better believe, boy,somebody's gonna get hurt tonight,
It's the working, the working, just the working life.
Because they are not and cannot all be sing-along songs, those which are our Scriptures. If only they could.