Monday, May 31, 2010

Minutes to Memories

At some point today - while hopefully enjoying terrific weather and the company of at least some of those you love (geography may keep all of yours from being in one place as it is doing with all of mine) try and remember to take a moment or two and remember what today is. And why it exists on the calendar. It is easy to forget - no doubt - since unlike Christmas Memorial Day has no permanent date assigned to it. Rather it has a location: final Monday in May. A location that permits it to serve any number of purposes, including the one that has undoubtedly become its most popular: Unofficial Kick-Off of Summer.

Nothing is wrong at all about assigning multiple tasks to this remarkable day for it has broad shoulders and a sturdy base. It can handle the assignment with aplomb. Today it serves as the day that Rob and I shall join 53,000 or so other folks in running in the Bolder Boulder 10K race. Our wave of runners starts our journey at 7:48:40 this morning, which means that I hope to be reporting to Margaret by not later than 9:00 a.m. Boulder time that the two of us have reached our destination safe and sound. 7:48:40 as the start time for us in this race? A good thing perhaps. If it was later in the morning I might have been able to come up with a reason not to run: cramp, solar flares or the effect of gamma rays on man in the moon marigolds all jump to the forefront of my mind (albeit at different points on the sliding scale of plausibility). By making me run this early in the morning, the race organizers have ensured that it will be over for me before I know what hit me.

Post-race this morning the good folks who put on this race annually host what the Daily Camera describes as this state's largest Memorial Day observance and one of the largest nationwide. The tribute takes place in Folsom Stadium, which is where my Alma mater plays its home football games and where Rob and I intend to wrap up our Bolder Boulder experience. I am looking forward to it a great deal and not only because to see it means that I have made it to the finish line. Life is lived forward. The pace and the rate vary from person to person but the direction is the same for all of us. Yet, living forward should not mean that we lose sight of where we have come from and all that has been done that has permitted us to reach "now". For without "then", there would be no "now".

Let none of us - including Yours truly - ever forget what Memorial Day really is. And let none of us ever forget the sacrifices of all of those for whom life swept away the dreams they had planned.

-AK

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Relative Proximity

A lifetime ago I spent four years as a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Boulder is a great town. A college town plus much more. And it is situated about 30-45 minutes southwest of Fort Collins. Fort Collins is the home to Colorado State University. Presently it is Rob's home as well. But for the latter fact I would not be here this weekend.

Monday morning we are going to be in Boulder running in the Bolder Boulder 10K. While I do not know what today's agenda shall consist of, yesterday we spent the entire day in Fort Collins. We spent a large part of the day in a part of town called "Old Town", which hosted an event for abused and neglected children. It was a day of live music, good food, discount beer and more folks with motorcycles than I have ever seen in one place at one time. Rob owns a Harley-Davidson and although he has told me what type it is not less than a dozen times in the past two days (because I have asked at least that many times) I cannot recall what type it is. I know it is orange and black and looks pretty cool.

And I know that while he did not have his at yesterday's shindig, had he ridden it over there it would have been in excellent company - sharing pavement with a couple of hundred of other bikes - most of which seemed to me to also be sporting Harley nameplates.

We spent a terrific day in a beautiful town that for four years I lived within forty-five minutes of and set foot in but once. Life is indeed a journey. You never know the twists and turns it is going to take. And sometimes it takes you 20 years and 2000 miles to get somewhere that was once right around the corner.

-AK

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Need Fulfillment

I awaken this morning in the home of my son - a home located a couple of thousand miles or so from the one where he grew up. The one where his Mom and me still hang our hats. I suppose that to the outside observer this is the dictionary definition of "a little thing". While that may be true, I would submit that life is not a "big thing" but is - instead - a patchwork quilt composed and comprised of all of the little things; none of which stands alone.

Monday morning Rob and I will head a bit south and west from where he lives to a town where I spent four fun-filled years of my life when I was much younger than I am now. Hell, it was so long ago that I was younger then than Rob is now. It was so long ago that it was an era of my life that began and ended prior to my first meeting Margaret or Suzanne or Rob. In many respects it was a lifetime ago.

Monday morning marks the 29th anniversary since my father died. Dad died in his sleep at the house that he/Mom had built out beyond nowhere's jurisdictional limits in Neshanic Station. That year, like this year, Memorial Day fell on its latest possible date: the 31st of May. While Memorial Day is affixed a location on the calendar (last Monday in May) in a manner akin to Thanksgiving or Easter, it does not fall on the same date annually the way in which Christmas does or New Year's Day does. Because the memory in my mind's eye of Memorial Day weekend twenty-nine years ago is not a great one, irrespective of what day on the calendar on which it falls, Memorial Day is a day that never fails to trick up my heart rate just a tick or ten.

I am at a place in my life now as a father where I know - as a son - my father never was with me and (if I had to work off of my memory only) where I do not think he ever was with either of my older brothers. I am a guest in the home of my adult son, spending a few days with him during which other than run for a little while on Monday morning we have an agenda-free weekend. There is no great occasion that brings me West. There is merely Rob. More than enough by any estimation.

Life being the journey that it is and not the destination that sadly sometimes some of us believe it to be, you cannot get to where you are at any particular point in time without being comprised of - at least in part - the experiences you have lived and have lived through to get there. This morning. This particular point in time. Today I am where I am and with who I am with in part because of what happened twenty-nine years ago, Monday, on Wertsville Road.

But I am who I am and I have lived the life I have lived in the manner in which I have lived it more because of me than because of anyone or anything else. Hopefully wherever you are this morning, wherever this particular point in time finds you on your journey you feel similarly. People may help make us but we cannot afford to allow them to break us. If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected. Decide what to be and go be it.

It turns out John Lennon was right. I suppose had I simply asked Bill whether he was or not, he could have answered that question for me definitively years ago.

Then again, I reckon that some questions simply need to be answered firsthand. And this would be one of them.

-AK

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lightning Crashes

Today is travel day for this old bag of bones. As if I do not usually have enough "awake" hours in my day, today I am adding a couple of more. Making the great migration West to Colorado to spend Memorial Day with Rob.

Perhaps having an additional couple of hours on the docket today is a good thing. I can use them to try to finish drying off from last night's 5K in Somerville. Suzanne, Gidg and I participated in The Legal Runaround, which is a race that has apparently taken place for the past several years. It had a lot of appeal to me including its proximity to our home (about a 10 minute drive), its starting time (a night race! For me, an anomaly of the highest order. I felt like a long-time Chicago Cub taking part in the first night game at Wrigley Field) and the fact that it marked the first time since we both ran in the Race for the Cure in October that Suzanne and I were taking part in one of these events together. Add into the mix that a friend of mine from high school - who prior to last night I had seen exactly one time in 25 years - was running and you had the ingredients for a pretty cool little event. (In the interests of full disclosure I was going to identify Beth as an "old friend" of mine but she was tougher than me all those years ago and I am quite confident she could still kick my ass if sufficiently motivated to do so. Thus I went with a word choice that did not even rhyme with "old'.)

My concern two days ago was that it was going to be brutally hot/thick last night - given the recent spate of "feels like July" weather we have been having. Luckily the mini heat wave broke yesterday afternoon. The temperature by race time was actually very comfortable. The weather forecast was not entirely accurate however. Calling for nothing more than a 60% chance of an isolated thunderstorm for Somerville, the gods of meteorology pulled a Maxwell Smart and missed it by "that much". I had just passed by the 1 mile marker when it got really, really dark, which I knew either meant that the movie was about to start or it was about to rain. Since I had no ticket stub in the pocket of my shorts, while I hoped for the former I expected the latter. And as expected, it started to rain.

Apparently Somerville is a Native American word meaning, "little town of drenching rain and really scary thunderstorms". At least, if last night's weather was any indication. It started to rain just after I passed the 1 mile marker. By the time I reached the 2nd mile - less than 10 minutes later - I was running in what is known in the biz as a torrential downpour. Just for shits and giggles - as if sensing that the drenching rain had sucked most of the ambient light out of the evening's sky - Mother Nature ordered up a light show for us to see the road by as we ran. Thunder clapped and lightning crackled all around.

My pre-race advice to Suzanne, Gidg and Beth - in the event of any lightning - was to find someone taller to run next to/stand by. Just past the two mile marker Beth and her running partner Melanie eased past me. As they did, I told Beth that I never meant for her to use me as her "someone taller". She just laughed and kept going. Me? I spent the final mile and change being repeatedly impressed by just how much water my t-shirt was able to absorb. I think it weighed about 10 pounds by the time I made it across the finish line.

All of us made it through the event unscathed. The only downside to the weather was that it put a quite enormous kibosh on the post-race activities. Margaret (the ultimate Race Mom), Suzanne, Gidg and I headed back to the car almost immediately after we had all finished - unable to resist the allure of hot showers and dry clothing. I exchanged text messages with Beth about an hour after we had gotten home and learned from her that she and her crew had done likewise. Here's to hoping that next year, we get weather that is slightly more boring than we experienced last night.

A memorable start to a weekend devoted to memories - both personal and otherwise, both old and new.

-AK

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bookends

Tonight - less than twenty-four hours before heading west to spend the weekend with Rob in Colorado, a mini-vacation that shall include Rob and I running together in the Bolder Boulder 10K (along with about 53,000 other folks) on Monday morning - Suzanne and I shall spend about a half hour's worth of quality father-daughter time together.

The two of us are participating in a 5K race in Somerville on terrain that is significantly less hilly than that which I shall encounter on Monday morning in Colorado. Not to mention that Suz and I shall run tonight at about 6,000 feet closer to sea level than Rob and I shall on Monday morning. The trade off for us this evening? Here 'NTSG it is going to be upwards of 80 degrees with about 1000% humidity at race time tonight. Welcome to summer - Jersey style.

While for me and my limited skills running 3.1 miles in the suffocating "humdidities" (an homage to the original Squarehead John Hilbert) tonight and running 6.2 miles in the "hey where did all the oxygen go?" altitude of Boulder on Monday shall present two very specific and trying challenges, I am really, really looking forward to both of them. For had I not decided to start running I never would have had the opportunity to spend a portion of their long holiday weekend doing just that with Suz in this time zone and Rob in one two time zones away.

My 'kids' are not kids any more. They have not been so for quite some time. Given their place in the world as upwardly mobile young adults, I am happy that they are willing to make a bit of time and space for this old man to pop my over-sized head into every now and again. For me, it makes the time memorable....

Irrespective of the date on the calendar.

-AK

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Ballad of Mister Mulligan

One year ago today I returned to the Firm from my winter's hiatus at the Reservoir. While this morning I am in the office with no appearances on my calendar, at this time last year my first piece of business on my first official day back in the fold was to appear in the Appellate Division in Trenton in support of an appeal I had filed prior to commencing my semester at sea (or at least across Route 46 from the Reservoir).

Given that it was an appeal of the only truly unfavorable verdict I have ever taken in a jury trial, it was quite nice indeed to have the chance to unring that bell. And to have it be the first order of business on Day One of Term Two made it even nicer still.

Two months after my Tuesday morning in Trenton the Appellate Division handed up its opinion in the matter I argued on the very first day of my return. Agreeing with me that errors made by the trial judge warranted setting aside the jury's verdict, our intermediate appellate court wiped the verdict off of the books and ordered a new trial. Ultimately the case settled without being retried in a manner that made my client and me much happier than we had been at the trial's conclusion.

Professionally speaking, it has been a very good year. I am a much happier little dude now than I was either when I migrated north a year ago January or during the relatively brief time (although it felt much longer while I was living through it) I spent away. So today I very happily - and quietly - will celebrate the commencement of Year Two - The Sequel.

A comeback......Kind of, sort of.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Song is Over

As recently as three years ago, I would have been saddened by the thought that I was not going to play softball with my core group of friends with whom I have played in one league or another since graduating law school in 1994. Presently, I am surprised but not disappointed to find out that parting is not even such sweet sorrow. It simply is what it is.

Do not misunderstand. As a person of few friends (out of choice.......mostly theirs) I will miss tremendously the regular, seasonal renewal of acquaintances with the crew with whom I have played for most of the past decade and a half, including the Brothers Rubino (Dave and John), the Brothers Navas (Diego and Christian) and my fellow Springsteen fan LD 17. But when the snow started to melt this winter and we started to inch closer and closer to Opening Day I realized that I left my desire to continue to play in a different bag apparently.

After having had our first several (three I think) games rained out, we finally trotted into action last night. I realized that last night's season opener shall serve as my swan song. We are not slated to play again until the 10th of June, which gives me adequate time to tell my mates that I am calling it a day and them adequate time to find my replacement. As if! The search for someone to play my position shall last for about as long as it took President Present Tense to wake up the echoes of President Immediate Past with his less-than-slick handling of an ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Memo to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: after telling BP for more than a month that we "really, really, really" expect them to do a better job of trying to clean up the mess that they made before they kill every Goddamn living thing between the Port of New Orleans and the Atlantic Ocean, how 'bout we start swinging that big stick we carry around at them?

But I digress. Last evening we played our first game of the season, which we won. I realized though in the middle of the game - having taken myself out of the lineup because my right knee decided that it had had just enough fun - thank you very much - crouching behind home plate - that I was essentially disconnected from what was going on out on the field. It was the half-inning in which we allowed a blowout to become a close game. As happens sometimes in slow-pitch softball - where the average player's attitude exceeds his or her aptitude - we had an inning defensively in which we threw the ball all over the place without any apparent purpose. Our opponents scored a lot of runs. How many? Beats the hell out of me. I did not bother to count them.

And it was at the end of that half-inning, realizing that I had no idea what the score was in the game in which I was a participant, when I realized that my softball career was over. I have never been better than a mediocre player, which given the dizzying heights of mediocrity I have strived to attain in all aspects of my life (both personal and professional) comes as no surprise to anyone at all. Irrespective of my limited skill set, I do everything that I do at full speed. I do not commit anything less than 100% of my energy and attention to the things that I do - even those that I do badly. Last night I breached my own internal code of conduct. It was a silent breach - unnoticed no doubt by everyone other than the one who committed it....

Like a breath rippling by.

-AK

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tooth and Nail

On this very day one year ago, a very important thing - if not everything - changed for Margaret and for the entire family. It was on this date last year - which was a Sunday - that Suzy B. went into Somerset Medical Center in an effort to remedy an ever more intense, ever more virulent series of infections. She never came home.

The remarkably tragic juxtaposition between what happened in our little corner of the world in the span of forty-eight short hours at or about this time last year was not lost on me when it happened. And it remains fixed firmly in the forefront of my mind. Last year Memorial Day came early (May 25th) and the weekend that was Memorial Day weekend started off in a wholly celebratory fashion for me. That Friday - May 22 - I enjoyed my final day of an admittedly abbreviated course of employment at my own personal mistake by the Lake (OK it is actually a reservoir but you get the point) in anticipation of return the very next week to the Firm. Margaret and I spent all day Saturday at the Meadowlands Arena with the Sisters Kizis, et al. taking in what was for the two of us our first show of Springsteen's Working On A Dream tour, which show featured one of the NextGen Kizis gals, Laura's daughter Olivia, singing with Bruce on "Waiting on a Sunny Day". A long holiday weekend off to a blazing hot start.....

And then everything changed. Less than twenty-four hours later we commenced our journey through the looking glass. Three hundred and sixty-five days further on up the road where we all are is anyone's guess. We are most certainly still standing. A bit beat up but unbowed. A bit better attuned to the importance of valuing one's time and the manner in which it is spent. For even here - across the river on the Jersey side - time moves pretty fast. Especially when the unit of measurement is a New York minute.

-AK

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A New Suit of Clothes and a Pretty Red Rose

And it's over before you know it. It all goes by so fast. The bad nights take forever and the good nights never seem to last. Applying Professor Petty's interpretation of Einstein's theory of relativity to Suz's graduation party weekend - and the eastern trek of Rob's that it inspired - the past couple of days have zipped past in an eye blink.

With an assist from Mother Nature - whose precipitatory forces stayed away from 'NTSG until late in the evening and who did not thrust upon us a 'surface of the Sun' temperature setting as she had the last time we had one of these gatherings - yesterday's graduation party for Suz was simply terrific. The Missus and me will have to spend a bit of time today putting the back yard back together - crawling from the wreckage as it were - as we have had to do after each and every one of these but it is a labor of love. As we meander about the joint putting things in their appointed place we invariably talk about the party and since we tend to spend more time apart than together at these things, inevitably we share with one another a story or ten that one knew but of which the other was unaware.

By day's end today, Rob will be back in the Mountain Time Zone, all of the tables and chairs we rented will be neatly stacked, the multitude of recyclables will be in their designated containers as will the garbage and the yard will be restored to its typical, pristine condition. But yesterday, in spite of having ceded its starring role on the calendar, will remain firmly engrained in a good place in my memory - and more importantly to me - in the collective memory of those I love the most dearly - for a long time to come. Perhaps even a lifetime.

These are indeed better days.

-AK

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Digging of The Shins

If you play a sport - or have ever done so - then you are familiar with the pre-game ritual. While I think it is an overstatement to say that every one has one, it is probably fair to say that more do than do not. I remember as a 5th grader on the W-H boys' basketball team insisting that Mom make London broil for dinner the night before every game. Why? She had made it for dinner the night before our season opener and the next afternoon we won.

As we continued to win, I continued to eat London broil as my "eve of" meal. We ended the season undefeated and at season's end Dad and I went to the hospital for father/son angioplasties. As a boy of 9 or 10, I believed in the power of the cow. As a man of 43, I long ago came to the realization that our success that season on the court had far more to do with how little time I spent on the court while the game was going on than how much time I spent at the dinner table the night before. Rest in peace, John T. Chandler - our coach and the smartest man ever (clearly).

Later on today our backyard shall be the scene of some joyful noise. Margaret and I officially retire from the graduation party business today with the "Master's for MacMaster" celebration for Suzanne. Me who rarely works only a five-day week has now laid two "DNA-HD" (Did Not Appear - His Decision) in the scorecard on consecutive Saturdays (good thing I am sneaky and bring work home, eh?) Another advantage to starting one's work day not later than 4:45 or so in the a.m. every day is that when the need arises occasionally to sit a dance out you can do it without screwing yourself too badly. There are not a lot of things that keep me from my appointed rounds on a Saturday. Today is one of those things.

Having watched all ten episodes of The Pacific this spring on HBO (and if you did not see any or all of them for whatever reason make every effort to do so - trust me) I can say without hesitation that Margaret would have been Chesty Puller's kind of Marine. She has spent a portion of every night for the past three or four weeks drawing, tearing up and drawing anew a schematic for the backyard to ensure the "proper" placement of tables, chairs, coolers for cold beverages, etc. When I last looked at it last night it was unclear to me whether we are preparing to host a party or to invade Dunellen. Perhaps tomorrow I will report back which occurred.

She and I could not be more different in our planning for such an event as this. Given the overwhelming number of "young people", which I define as anyone whose date of birth occurred at some point after Reagan was elected President the first time (that would be November 1980 for those of you playing along at home) and that they are gathering here more to be in the company of one another, I likely could have entertained them sufficiently by making sure they have beverages to drink and food to grill - nothing more, nothing less. Margaret's approach to parties takes on a "slightly" more comprehensive tack than does mine. To her credit, no one has ever left our home after one of these get-togethers complaining about not having had enough of.......anything and everything.

I am enjoying the still-quiet status of our home this morning. The Commander is still in bed and the honoree and the deputy are as well......not too surprising since they rolled in this morning shortly before I got up for the day (the kids - not the Missus). My pre-game ritual? I popped a couple of Advil and allowed my cranky knee to take me on a nice, short (2.5 mile) tour of our neighborhood just as the sun was starting to poke his head over the horizon line. While I suppose there will be hell to pay when Margaret gets up if she has "overslept" by 1 minute, I am inclined to let her go for a while. You see part of her pre-game ritual is to toss and turn all night the night before. While she ends up perfectly toasted on both sides like a Panini, she ends up not really getting a good night's sleep. So if it takes until 4:30 in the morning for fatigue to kick in and force her to sleep finally instead of fitfully, so be it.

In a few hours, the pre-game portion of the day's festivities will be over. And in an eye blink thereafter so will the day's main event. Off we go, one more time with feeling.

-AK

Friday, May 21, 2010

To The Place Where Thoughts Escape

Last night in lieu of a night's sleep, I got two half-nights of slumber. Usually I meander off to bed in the 10:00 o'clock hour hoping (usually in vain) to make it all the way to the 11:00 o'clock news and awaken to the alarm clock's ring at 3:00 o'clock (in the ante meridian hours). Last night I deviated from the plan, which typically I hate to do. Much like every good rule, it is the exceptions to it that make it what it is.

At shortly after midnight (which technically falls on the "this morning" vs. "last night" line of demarcation - speaking of which one could, I suppose, make an argument that the New Jersey Nets are the Portugal of professional sports) I was at Newark Airport, picking up Sir Rob of the Rockies - who is home for the weekend to help his big sister celebrate her graduation. He is home this weekend because even though I shall spend next weekend with him in his time zone, I somewhat selfishly wanted him to be home to share this last big festive moment with Suzanne and with Margaret and with Joe....and with me. Money is not a magic elixir. There are countless problems it does not solve and needs it does not address. However, when it comes to getting a loved one from Point A to Point B when the space between the two is rather vast, in my experience there is nothing better. On occasion my sanity is called into question by those who wonder aloud who voluntarily starts each work day in the wee small hours of the morning and works deep into the evening on most days. Today - watching Rob strolling up the jet way at the airport - served as my answer to that question.

Whether irony or coincidence I know not but Wednesday's mail brought a copy of a letter that Rob wrote to himself as part of a senior project in high school. It was a letter written to him by his "five years from now"version of himself. One might wonder why this five-year letter was sent by his Alma mater this week - fast approaching the sixth anniversary of his high school graduation. I know that the question crossed my mind. Setting aside the question of religious arithmetic for a moment, the timing of its arrival was really extraordinary. As part of his letter, "five years up the road Rob" asked how Nanny, Nona and Grandpa Joe were doing and commented that he hoped all of them were doing OK - especially Nona who had just started her battle with breast cancer. What Rob could not have known when he wrote that letter to himself six years ago was that by this point in time Joe would be the only remaining piece of the Trinity.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the rapidity with which life rushes at me and - more often than not - blows right past me. In an eye blink, everything can change. In six years' worth of eye blinks a hell of a lot has. There is nothing to be gained from missing out on a moment - except regret. And who the hell wants more of that to tote around?

For a day at least, Rob is homeward bound. A moment worth not missing.

-AK

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Price of Vanity

Fellow Garden Staters - rejoice! Sure it seems as if we are adrift in our little balsa wood canoe careening down the rapids in a river of despair left without a paddle with which to steer our vessel and with only one life jacket for all to share. But cheer up. Cheer up for things must be better than they seem. What seems like a dark ride apparently is not so dark after all.

If things were not in fact better than they seem, then one would certainly find better uses of time and money by our Motor Vehicle Commission (we used to call the "MVC" the "DMV" but since visiting its locations was an experience akin to spending time in the "DMZ" we changed the acronym to protect the innocent......only to go on a fact-finding tour to discover that are none to save) than order the "recall" of a set of vanity plates that was issued by..........(cue the drum roll) the MVC four years ago. On second thought, forget the drum roll. Cue up this instead.

Here is the story. A woman who lives in Manville apparently felt compelled four years ago to order vanity plates for her car in an effort to express herself to the rest of the motoring public. Full disclosure compels me to admit that among my least favorite things on the planet are vanity license plates. I have no objection to those that simply identify the bearer by his or her initials - although as a man whose career choice requires me to wear dress shirts more days than not and who has not succumbed to the pretense of monogrammed shirts the rationale for driving a monogrammed vehicle eludes me. I do find the plates with the cutesy catch phrases and nicknames to be nothing short of clarion calls for attention and - likely - indicia of ever-advancing mental illness. Be that as it may, if you are willing to fork over the additional dollars to our beloved State for the privilege of having "BUTCRAC" or "SNOTTY" or "CUTIEPI" or some such nonsense bolted to your car, then be my guest.

Perhaps it is indicative of my abject lack of interest in the lives of others that it would never occur to me to contact the Motor Vehicle Commission and demand that they recall another's license plates on the grounds that I find those plates to be objectionable. Sadly, not all of my fellow residents feel the same way, which is what prompted the Special Plates Unit of the MVC (kind of like the Special Victims Unit of the NYPD except not at all) to contact Kim Romano earlier this month to tell her that her "special plates" (to be viewed by all of us - and not just those among us with "special eyes") are on the State's hit list.

Romano received a letter from the SPUMVC (look I just created my own potentially objectionable acronym!) telling her, "The commission, in processing your request, erred and assigned a combination which is considered objectionable. The commission has no alternative but to immediately recall the license plate ‘bioch.’" The basis for the MVC's reversal of field re: Romano's plates? Someone identifying him/herself as a "retired police officer" wrote to the MVC to complain about them. And the MVC, momentarily devoid of ideas as to how to poke us tax-paying residents of the Garden State in the eye with a stick, succumbed to the pressure and told Romano that her plates are no longer permitted to be used. And how might they enforce this edict? Rather effortlessly actually since the MVC is the same governmental agency that issues vehicle registrations here in New Jersey. Romano was shown some new, cool MVC math: no new plates = no new vehicle registration.

The article in the Star-Ledger mentioned Romano's choice for her new vanity plate, a privilege at this point that she will presumably have to pay another $50.00 (the cost of a set) to enjoy. I suppose that she has learned her lesson regarding "objectionable" content on her plate since she has chosen not to honor the whiny bag who outed her to the MVC, which (it bears repeating) is the same agency that authorized the "BIOCH" plates four years earlier, by asking for "DUCE" or "IL DUCE" as her new vanity tags.......

....although on second thought, license plates that others might think are paying homage to Benito Mussolini might not pass Romano's own personal definition of "objectionable".

-AK

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Age of Wisdom

Great, succinct reminder of the difference between perspective and point of view was provided to me last night on my drive home from the office. As I was motoring south on Route 287 in full embrace of my somewhat flexible relationship with the posted speed limit, my cell phone buzzed to alert me to the fact that I had a new text message. When I picked the phone up to see the source of the message, I saw that Rob was the sender.

When a young adult f/k/a your "child" is 2/3 of a continent away and living solo, you tend to not delay in acknowledging, reading and responding to (as necessary) communication from him, whether verbal, oral or otherwise (is a text message verbal or oral communication given that while it is something I read and write it is also something I transmit via my cell phone?). So, after turning down the volume on the radio (for reasons that made little sense at the time I did it and - in the soon-to-be light of the new day still seem to be just a tad illogical) I opened my phone and opened Rob's message. Rob is a man of few words (clearly a trait inherited from his mother) but he chose four that delivered his message with unmistakable clarity, "I survived the tornado." Being as obtuse as I am - and having the sweet tooth that I do - my initial reaction to the word "tornado" was (a) an amusement park ride akin to the Cyclone at Coney Island; followed thereafter by (b) a new type of ice cream treat similar to the Blizzard at Dairy Queen. My secondary reaction to reading his message was to type, "?" in response to it.

Remembering apparently the simple-minded rube with whom he was communicating, Rob informed me in his response to my text message that a tornado had graced northern Colorado in the immediate vicinity of Cheyenne Wyoming (a/k/a "the place where Rob works") with its presence yesterday afternoon. I had heard nothing about it. I knew nothing of it until he made me aware of it. While thankfully it appears as if this twister did not lay waste to the ground upon which it touched down or to the people whose presence it touched, it presumably got their attention.

In this space yesterday I lamented the manner in which the occasional vagaries of what I do to earn my living make the doing of what I do more difficult than it otherwise needs to be. And while I stand by what I said, upon further review I feel a bit stupid (even more so than usual) for whining about it. Good lesson for me to remember: when dealing with something that you think is the worst problem in the world, do not look in the mirror. Instead, open a window or a door and poke your head outside taking in the sights and sounds of the world around you. You might indeed be proven correct - you might very well be dealing with the worst problem in the world. On the other hand, you might just be reminded that things could be worse - and for at least one other someone somewhere else, they already are.

-AK

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Slowly I Turn

Do you ever have a day that makes you tired just because? Just because of all that you have to do or - worse yet - all that you may have to do but due to circumstances beyond your limited capacity to control you simply do not yet know for certain? Today is just such a day for me. And given that as recently as 24 hours ago I had no inkling of that with which it is fraught, while my feet have only been on the floor for about two hours as I write this, I am already exhausted.....mentally at least. I await the arrival of physical exhaustion sometime in the early afternoon hours.

I drove out to Warren County yesterday to have a pre-trial conference on a case that I fully expected to start trying at 9:00 a.m. today. However when my adversary and I arrived at the courthouse yesterday the Judge before whom we are going to try the case told us that we are not her #1 trial this week (a fact that either I failed to appreciate or the court failed to communicate at any time prior to yesterday morning). The consequence of being #2 on the Hit Parade? Much time spent in limbo. And time spent in limbo is time spent struggling to maximize one's time. Why? For me at least it is because the simultaneous pull in 1 million different directions is a guarantee only of the fact that while I feel as if I have covered much ground, I have not in fact left the parking lot.

Perhaps at some time today I will be summoned to Warren County to start trial. Perhaps at some time today Her Honor shall inform my adversary and me that her #1 case is being tried and that we shall have to come back at a later, as yet to be determined date. As of this moment, I know not. On any other day of the week this type of intrusion into my world's order would be not only unwelcome - but unexpected. Today? Today is "The Day After Monday", which is of course the week's worst day. Nothing is unexpected.

Would you agree Mr. Papelbon?

-AK

Monday, May 17, 2010

Under a Million Miles of Vagabond Sky

Two weeks ago yesterday I endured an experience running that could only be fairly described as disheartening. My running partner Gidg and I took part in a 5 mile race in Summit. The event was terrific. The cause was fantastic. However the race was dreadful. Gidg had been sick all week and could not breathe properly. Me? Having babied my right knee for the two weeks following the 1/2 Marathon at Rutgers, I had run something in the area of 2 miles total to prepare for the race. Add an early May day that felt more like early July at race time, which was 1:00 a.m. and you had a recipe for disaster properly assembled and ready for baking. I did not disappoint.

I am new to the whole running game. Up until the Race for the Cure in 2009, which took place on October's first Sunday, I had - in the first 42.5 years of my existence - participated in exactly one race. In the seven months since, I have participated in a dozen, ranging in distance from 2 miles to 13.1 miles. I have a pretty shallow reservoir of experience from which to draw confidence and faith. Thus, when the Our House 5 Miler was as incredibly bad as it was, it was a body blow. Especially coming as it did on the heels of the successful, respectable completion of the 1/2 Marathon. And with the journey westward to Boulder to run in the 10K Bolder Boulder looming at month's end, the disaster that was the Sunday in Summit had the potential to have long-term ramifications.

Thankfully there was yesterday. On what was a letter perfect day to run, Gidg and I ran in West Long Branch in the 8th Annual Michael W. Thorne Scholarship Run. The event is a four-mile race that has been conducted to fund a scholarship that is named for a young man who in 1984 - at age 20 - died while working as a volunteer fireman for the West Long Branch Fire Department. I do not think I had ever been in West Long Branch for any reason before yesterday morning. I picked a great day for my first-ever visit. Not only is the Thorne Run a wonderful event, which it is. Not only was yesterday one of the half-dozen or so best weather days of the year thus far, which it was. But personal redemption comes in a lot of different shapes, varieties and sizes. And yesterday I got a bit of it simply by lacing up my running shoes and putting one foot down after the other for forty minutes.

And when there is only a ring in your ears
And an echo down memory lane
Then if it’s all for nothing
All the road running's been in vain.

-AK

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pride, Dignity and Truth

It takes a lot for me to not work at all on a Saturday. For the entirety of my professional life, Saturday has been a work day. But not yesterday. While work is exceptionally important to me, yesterday it was trumped by something else. And it was not even a close call.

Yesterday morning Suzanne had conferred upon her a Masters of Science in Speech Language Pathology at Seton Hall University. What seems like a lifetime - but was actually sixteen years ago - I had my Juris Doctorate conferred upon me at Seton Hall University. Sitting yesterday morning in Walsh Gymnasium watching Suzanne receive hers, I know that I did not feel nearly as happy for myself sixteen years ago as I did for her yesterday morning. And I know that I was not nearly as proud of myself for what I had achieved sixteen years ago as I was of her yesterday morning. Once upon a time Suzanne was just a little girl. Yesterday she not only earned her Master's Degree, she was inducted into an Honor Society and won the award for Academic Achievement in the Speech Language Pathology Program. Actually, she "won" nothing. She earned everything.

And it was particularly terrific that yesterday her grandfather also did something that is out of the ordinary for him. Joe took the day off. And I know he is glad he did. Instead of being at work, he was there to see his granddaughter graduate. His ear-to-ear grin while watching it all and the big "grandfather-sized" bear hug he gave her after the ceremony was over served as proof positive of the propriety of his choice. And it gave Margaret and Suz equal shots of happiness that he was there as well. Ours is a family that has been through a hell of a lot over the past couple of years. Yesterday was yet another opportunity to shift the focus away from what we have lost and back to what we have. And to who we are.

A parent's wish - or at least it should be - is to provide a template or a baseline of security for his or her child from which that child can grow, mature and flower before heading off into the world. We strive to give them a life at least a bit better than the one we had at their age and to assure that when the day arrives to give the youngster a loving shove out of the nest that he or she is ready to fly solo and while turbulence will undoubtedly be encountered, the landing will not be fatal.

We want them to have the wisdom of the ages. Yet we wish for them to remain at least in part forever young.....

....and to allow us to share in a day - such as yesterday - that allows us to do likewise.

-AK

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Moment's Reflection

"...Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard." - President John F. Kennedy, 1962

I am not a veteran of our nation's armed forces. Among the six Kenny children (none of us are kids any longer but it makes all of us feel younger when I use the word "children" to describe our sextet in our present, collective state) only one of us is. Bill, the oldest of the tribe, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. While as a kid I thought the coolest thing about the time he spent stationed in Europe was the fact that he got to meet and interview a lot of top-drawer musical talent such as Springsteen, I suspect - given the course that his life has run the past three decades or so - that he views meeting his life's great love Sigrid and welcoming their two children into the world as occupying higher rungs on the Ladder of Cool. I shall defer to him and honor his ranking system. Besides I know just how much of a Springsteen fan Sigrid is....

Other than Bill, as far as I know the only military veterans in our family were Mom's brothers: Uncle Jim and Uncle John. I believe that both of them served during the Korean War - Uncle John in combat and Uncle Jim as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Margaret's family has some military services in its bloodlines as well. Her great uncle Pat Barbato served in the United States Army during World War II. He was killed in action by friendly fire. When Rob and I visited Washington DC in November 2008 we visited the World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War Memorials. Simply amazing and inspiring places to visit and to spend a bit of time.

Today is Armed Forces Day. Thank you veterans - one and all. Those who have served previously. Those who serve presently. Those who served in peacetime. Those who have fought in our Nation's wars. Regardless of their branch of service, American soldiers all.

-AK

Friday, May 14, 2010

It Is Closer Than You Think

1998 was a long time ago. How long ago? Long enough ago that the jig was not yet up for Messrs. McGwire and Sosa and the Maris family did not yet know just how badly they had screwed over again by Major League Baseball.

It was long enough ago that the older of my two young adults - who at the ripe old age of 25 shall be tomorrow morning among those receiving her Master's Degree at Seton Hall's Graduation and Hooding Ceremony - was still a child. She was 13 years old and in the summer of '98 (when the "Big Mac/Sammy Baseball Fraud Fest" was in full bloom) was getting ready to enter the 8th grade. It would be a lie for me to suggest that 1998 - when viewed in that manner - seems to have been a lifetime ago. Truth be told, it feels more like five or six.

1998 is not a year - or a concept - about which I think often. But driving home from work last night, flipping aimlessly around the radio dial, a song came on that made me think of it. And made me smile. It made me smile because way back when in '98, Suz and Rob were still of the age that the Missus and me were on the right side of the cool/not cool divide. If you are a parent and your kids have already passed through their teens then you now the phenomenon to which I refer. Up until a certain age, you are the focal point of your child's universe. He or she wants to do all that can be done with Mom or Dad. Then, almost overnight, you become persona non grata. You are but an answer to a question that you hear so often you think if you hear it one more time it will make your ears bleed, "Can you give me a ride to.....?"

While living through it as a parent it is often hard to come to grips with - hard to fathom why you who were once the Sun have now been relegated to a status normally reserved only for Pluto. Once you get through it you realize that it was merely an inevitability and that for your child to continue his or her journey on the path to adulthood, there had to be a point in the journey where they moved on not without you but apart from you. And if you manage to maintain your cool through it and not read too much into it then you get the reward on the other side. Your child passes through that portion of his or her life and upon continuing the climb to adulthood while looking back over his or her own shoulder at childhood rediscovers you.

Way back when in 1998, when our two were still on line waiting their turn to get aboard that dark ride, the four of us used to make it a point to try to go to the movies every Sunday night. At that time, I played softball in a men's league in Nutley in which all teams played doubleheaders on Sunday afternoons. On my way up to the first game, I would swing by a theatre near our house and buy tickets for a night-time performance of whatever movie we wanted to see. Over the span of those few summers we saw our fair share of popcorn flicks including Independence Day, Con-Air, Twister, Face Off and Deep Impact. There were others as well but being dumbed down and numbed by time and age they escape me presently.

Well, not all of them perhaps. Last night driving home from work I heard one of my all-time favorite cheesy movie soundtrack songs from one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies and immediately it brought a smile to my face. It took me back in time to when none of the hairs on my head or whiskers in my beard were gray and when Margaret and I were the proud parents of two elementary school-aged children. And I thought of Rob and how much he has grown up in these past twelve years and the mark he has already made for himself. And then I thought of the little girl then who is the young woman now upon whom tomorrow an advanced degree shall be conferred in a discipline that is beyond my limited ability to fully comprehend. And I thought how damned lucky I am to ever have been invited along for the ride with these three.

And it reminded me why it is I live my life on less than 5 hours a sleep every night. Harder to miss things when you are awake.

-AK

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mr. Barnum's Dandelions

"Football's biggest game should finally be played on the world's biggest stage," New Meadowlands Stadium CEO and president Mark Lamping said, "and finally receive the star treatment it deserves." Apparently the church bell-sized testicles the folks who run the Giants and the Jets strapped on when they hatched the plan to soak each team's season ticket holders for Personal Seat Licenses can also be fitted to be worn when poking a stick into the eye of the folks who have put on the first forty-plus Super Bowls.

I am a Jersey guy. I have lived here my entire life - less the four years I lived in Boulder while going to the University of Colorado - and I will likely live the remaining years of my life here. Our family has had season tickets (two in the upper tier courtesy of Dad's connection to Sonny Werblin) to the Giants since the G-Men crossed the river to the Jersey side in the mid-1970's.

And yet, in spite of my own geography and my allegiance to one of the two teams that shall call the new PSL Stadium home, there are few ideas that strike me as being more inane than the NFL holding the Super Bowl in an open-air stadium in our renowned Jersey swamps. Nothing says fan-friendly quite like needing a portable space heater just to melt the ice that forms between your kneecaps simply from sitting in your seat watching a sporting event outdoors in early February. And if you think I am joking about the portable space heaters know this: Lamping said the Meadowlands host committee is responsible for raising $40 million — a higher figure than for any other city because of prices in this area and the cost of cold-weather provisions, including hand and feet warmers and self-warming seat cushions for all fans, heated concourses and fire pits in the parking lot. Fire pits in the parking lot? I hope that both local teams make it to the Ice Bowl. Nothing says, "high-spirited post-game hijinks" quite as well as liquored-up Jets and Giants fans with readily-available sources of fire to utilize in the inevitable post-game skirmishes that will occur throughout the parking lot. Although if Capt. Band-Aid does not sell a significant number of his remaining PSLs, the Jets could make the Super Bowl in the home stadium and their local fans be unable to watch it on television.

Of course, Messrs. Johnson, Mara and Tisch - who love us Garden Staters so much that although they play all of their games here, the only appearance New Jersey makes is in their mailing address and not in their team names - have every intention of having most of the significant Super Bowl activities take place in Manhattan. "I think it’s safe to say most of (the economic stimulus) probably goes across the river to New York," Giants co-owner John Mara said. "But there is a significant benefit (in New Jersey) as well." If you hurry folks, you might still be able to find a space in the "How to Parse Language" seminar that John Mara is hosting this weekend at the Meadowlands Hilton. What Mr. Mara means is that he and his fellow fat cats have not gotten to the points that they have gotten to in their respective lives thinking that anyone in the world wants to spend their time in the 'burbs of Jersey when they could be styling and profiling under Broadway's bright lights so we the people of the State of Concrete Gardens should be happy for whatever scraps fall off of the bandwagon as it makes its way over the George Washington Bridge.

Football in New Jersey under the stars of early February. Further proof of Mr. Barnum's theory of human behavior? It appears as if we may find out soon enough. And the nice thing about sheep - the thing that the football barons are counting on more than any other to fuel this particular dream - is that sheep come with their own wool coat. Better for keeping them warm. And ready-made for fleecing.

-AK

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Age of Rocks

On the wall of my office is my University of Colorado diploma. On the top shelf of my bookcase is a photo of Mom and me, standing on a patch of grass outside of the Events Center with the Fiske Planetarium and the Rocky Mountains in the background. The diploma was earned and the photograph was taken on the same day. 21 years ago today.

I keep the photo of Mom and me in a spot where I can always see it. 21 years ago today I graduated from college. The youngest of her six kids. We stood side-by-side, Mom holding my cap on which I had taped the letters "A D S E Y" so that - in a sea of 5000 look-alike, black gown-wearing graduates of the College of Arts and Sciences - she could see her "baby" while he basked in his moment in the sun. We had stood side-by-side slightly less than eight years before Graduation Day when my father was buried. In the eight years between the day he died and the day I graduated college, I had been standing by her side while Mom went through a lot: First Kara and then Jill had graduated college. Thereafter Jill and then Kara had gotten married. Before any of that occurred Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Come to think of it, Mom had been through one hell of a lot. She came through it all. So did I.

21 years ago today. A moment in time captured forever, either by Kara or Jill or Joe. In the 21 years since that picture was taken one of us looks as young now as we did then, buoyed by the ocean, the sand and the salt air. . The other one? He practices law for a living. And in another few days I will be part of the audience and perhaps the after-ceremony photo op when Suz graduates from the Master's Program at Seton Hall. I have already cleared off the space on my shelf for the picture.

The circle of life? Hell if I know.

Twenty years now
Where'd they go?
twenty years
I don't know
sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they've gone.

-AK

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Rangely Rifle

Thanks to the world of virtual communication, I was reminded by the lords (or the lards I am not sure which) of Facebook, which is not by the way to be confused with The Lords of Flatbush (as if it could be!) that today is my friend Loku's birthday. Full disclosure demands that in my sieve-like mind "being reminded" is a feeling eerily similar to being "informed". Gun to my head I recall not whether I have ever been aware (on either side of the century line) that today is the birthday of the man we used to call the "Nepalese Nightmare" in the hallowed halls of Farrand Hall. Whether I am being reminded of it today or it is information that I have finally processed in its entirety for the first time here in 2010 matters not. Today is his birthday and I hope like Hell that he has a happy one.

He and I have known one another for what seems like a million years. It sometimes seems longer than a million years, such as when I look at a photo of either of us now as opposed to one from college and see gray and/or white hair having overrun the well-established outposts of darker, vintage shades that once resided there in peace. I think that other than one visit Margaret and I had from Schneeds shortly after we had gotten married, Loku is the only one of my college friends who I have seen face-to-face in the twenty-plus years since graduation. Perhaps if I tried sneaking up on, instead of announcing when I was going to be in the vicinity of, one of them he or she would be easier to catch. Thus far, no such luck.

Margaret has not only had the good fortune of meeting Loku in the years since he and I roamed the wilds of Boulder, but she and I have both met his wife and their children. The longer you live, the move life becomes compartmentalized: a particular person or group of people becomes associated with a specific time or place. Scant little interaction may take place between a person from one era and a person from another era. I have enjoyed being able to bridge the gap between a piece of my past and my present by introducing Margaret to one of my comrades in arms from "back in the day".

As much chaos as we enjoyed creating together while we were both undergrads at CU, my most vivid, laugh out loud memory of Loku is one of an experience shared after we had both graduated. Loku decided to return to Boulder for the Fall 1990 semester to further his education. At the time he and his parents lived in suburban Virginia, a short drive from Washington DC. He had one bad-ass Hyundai Excel (bear in mind it was circa 1990 "bad ass") and was packing it up, preparing to drive it across these United States to Boulder. His parents thought it might be a good idea for him to not drive cross-country alone and having never met me, actually thought it might be a good idea for me to be Ku's co-pilot.

We actually drove fairly purposefully cross-country but the rapidity of our journey neither (a) prevented us from appreciating how much prettier the American Midwest looks out of the window of a jumbo jet - especially in late August; nor (b) kept us from having one hellaciously fine time as we made our great migration West. Our journey got off to a hysterical - and decidedly death-defying turn - in West Virginia on Day One. We stopped at a jam packed McDonald's at the height of the lunch rush. Much to the delight of the patrons, all of whom save for two (guess which two) were wearing "JOHN DEERE" baseball caps, upon reaching the counter Loku - who speaks the King's English - decided it would be fun to pretend that he spoke the language exactly as all of our new redneck friends presumed he would.

Even in the late summer heat of West Virginia, once he started placing his order things in the Mickey D's got perceptibly chillier than they had been moments earlier. While it had been our intention to eat our food there, it became quickly apparent to us that the only chance of our lunch being a happy meal without simultaneously being our last one was to saddle up the Excel and go. Once we safely got out of town alive, I stopped contemplating just how close to death young Olivier had walked us with his cheeseburger soliloquy. When Hugh Laurie takes on an accent in a performance, it merits Emmy consideration. When Loku did it, it almost earned us matching toe tags.

Our final full day on the road was spent traversing the great state of Kansas. Anyone who does not think that Dorothy's being wasted on all of those poppies on the Road to Oz is the only reasonable explanation for her unquenchable desire to return to Kansas has never seen Kansas in all of its splendor under the heat of the summer sun. From East to West on the Interstate Kansas was approximately six hundred and fifty miles. I know not whether the engineers at Hyundai intended the 1990 Excel to travel at 80+ miles per hour for upwards of eight hours. Never having ridden in the car once we successfully landed in Boulder I know not whether Loku's Excel ever recovered from the beating we gave it to get cross-country.

Life is what you make of it so on our final full day driving West we were happy to make camp in Salinas, Kansas. Happy solely because it was relatively close to the Colorado border. We found a place to stay and found ourselves some local fare to eat. OK, it was a Pizza Hut but it was located within the city limits. I remember it being one of the most lifeless restaurants in which I have ever dined in my life. And I remember as well Loku's non-brown, non-American car standing out in the parking lot like Dotty's ruby red slippers. Apparently, not a lot of Americans of Nepalese descent stop in the Pizza Hut in Salinas Kansas, judging by the looks we got as we sat at our table eating our food.

On the way out, it was my turn to test the limits of our hosts' hospitality. I told Loku that I wanted to play some selections on the juke box, which was jammed full of both kinds of music - country and western. Inexplicably, there was an entire row of selections on the juke box of New Wave-type music that had likely had never been played anywhere in Kansas, least of all in the Pizza Hut. Truth be told, I have never been a particular fan of that genre of music myself but thought - for shits and giggles - how funny it would be to leave about ten or twelve such tunes queued up and ready to play on the juke box. So I did, dropping quarters and punching buttons as quickly as I could in an effort to get as many as possible loaded into the machine's memory before the needle dropped on the first selection. I ran out of the front door of the Pizza Hut and flew into the passenger side of Loku's car just as the first strains of Echo and the Bunnymen or some such artist started to permeate the silence of the Pizza Hut. For all we know, the folks inside not only did not hate the music, they got out of their seats and started to dance. We did not stick around to find out.

My cross-country adventure with today's birthday boy represents the one and only time I have ever had the experience of driving across America's heartland. While it it not something I would make a regular habit of (or ever do again unless Rob needs a co-pilot on any future migration East), it is something worth doing at least one time. All you need is a fast car and a good traveling companion. Or at least one of the two.

Happy Birthday to my old Farrand Hall neighbor and friend. On your birthday, always remember that while happiness may not be Salinas, Kansas in the rear-view mirror, it sure as hell is not a bad first step.

-AK

Monday, May 10, 2010

Heroes

An argument could be made - I suppose - that the best thing that has ever happened for the countless men and women who served this country in World War II is the film-making exploits of Messrs. Hanks and Spielberg. I mean no disservice to the assorted works of Tom Brokaw regarding the people he glowingly refers to as The Greatest Generation, having read all of his books on the subject at least once (and recommending to you if you have not done so to peruse at least one of them in the three weeks between now and Memorial Day lest you forget that it is not simply a day about picnics, blockbuster movies and 10K races), but I truly believe an argument could be made that Hanks and Spielberg have done more to tell the stories of WWII than anyone else.

It seems to me as well - as someone born more than two decades after Fat Man and Little Boy descended from the skies above Japan onto Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 - that the greatest service that Hanks and Spielberg have done for our WWII veterans is that they have added very little sweetener to their stories. Rambo need not apply for duty here. These are stories told in far more straightforward fashion. A fashion that recognizes that the line between the day-to-day and the heroic is one that may be transversed in extreme circumstances such as war one million times a day - and the crossing may not be immediately recognizable when it occurs.

The Missus and me have spent the past nine Sunday nights watching The Pacific on HBO. Last night's penultimate episode focused on the campaign in the Spring of 1945 to take the island of Okinawa, described in the narration at the episode's beginning as the final step to be taken in advance of an American invasion of Japan. Having watched this miniseries from its beginning, we have seen and have heard the statistics associated with those killed and those wounded in the campaigns for Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. Thus when Hanks' narration at the top of last night's episode described Okinawa as the costliest campaign of the Pacific in terms of the number of men wounded and/or killed, it certainly got my attention.

As did something else. One of the characters who we met for the first time last night mentioned to his comrades that he had been "drafted" to which his fellow Marines responded, "what type of Marine has to be drafted?" It did make me think how many Americans who died in combat in a setting akin to Hell or at the very least a reasonable facsimile thereof had volunteered for the privilege. And then it made me think about all of those today who still do. It is as incredible to contemplate now as it must have been close to seven decades ago.

In one of Brokaw's works about the Greatest Generation he includes a letter he received from a WW II veteran commenting upon - and thanking him - for writing the original book. The letter-writer included a passage from Emerson that summed up why he and his fellow combatants did what they did then and which I would suppose sums up why those in hostile places presently do what they do:

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near to God is Man,
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The youth replies, "I can."

-AK

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Perpetual Search for That Little Rock N Roll Bar

"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love." On this very first Mother's Day since the death of Suzy B. in early June last year, I anticipate that Margaret shall be in the presence of at least a small contingent of Washington Irving's messengers.

Today is - of course - Mother's Day, the day set aside on the calendar by the good folks at Hallmark to pay homage to Mom. Here 'NTSG it has dawned clear and a bit crisp and is supposed to a beautiful, sunny day. Surprised? You should not be. Nature is a Mother after all. She takes care of her own. As she should.

Born into a family where Dad's eyes often were windows into a world so deadly and true, Mom was an invaluable source of strength, compassion and love. Dad died fourteen years into our mutual time on the planet - and given the odds against her at that particular moment in time Mom could have (with justification) curled herself up in the fetal position and never left her room again. If that doomsday thought ever even occurred to her once she did an exceptional job of not sharing it with me. From Day One Post-Dad she was a rock. A pillar of strength if you will. We are fast approaching the 29th anniversary of my father's death, which means Mom has lived now almost as long as his widow as she did as his wife. She grows stronger every day. Happy Mother's Day Mom.

There are six Kenny sibs. Each of us is married and each of us has children. A couple of us - Evan and Kelly - have grandchildren already (I shall drop the phrase "youthful grandparents" right here in the event either pops by here to read this) so the bramble bush to which Mom has tended for all these years has now extended its roots into a new generation. She has always been a great mother and a great grandmother so it seems fitting that she is now a Great Grandmother. It is a part for which she was prepared long before she was asked to play it for the first time.

Today is the first Mother's Day that Margaret shall not spend in the company of her Mom. I smiled last night thinking about taking Margaret, Sue and Suzanne out to Perkin's last Mother's Day and how happy Sue was simply to be sitting with her daughter and her granddaughter, enjoying the morning. It saddened me to think that less than thirty days later, Margaret, Suzanne and I were at Sue's funeral. Time is a bastard. There goes your proof.

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.

Happy Mother's Day to my Mom and to all of the other moms I know and love - especially to Margaret, my wife and the mother of our children. A remarkable woman who brought into and has helped guide thru this world two exceptional, beautiful kids. Her greatest legacies. Her greatest gifts.

-AK

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Words and Other Fun Stuff

Language fascinates me. If you have spent 20 seconds here on any given day, then you know that the bridge from fascination to intelligent usage has been "OUT" in the over sized velodrome atop my shoulders for some time. Nevertheless, it does not stop a boy from dreaming.

I am fascinated by the use of words - both in a private sense (such as conversation or a letter) and in the public sense (such as on a marquee or a store front or in an advertisement or announcement). I am a bit frightened that the language center in our brain and the part of the brain that controls our thumbs operate at cross-purposes to one another, which is why the faster we text, the less it seems that we know how to articulate whole thoughts to one another.

Perhaps the more that we rely on the text message with its own highly-stylized system of abbreviations and pseudo-acronyms, the lazier we become about articulating our thoughts in complete words and full sentences? A week ago Friday I was in court. While all of the lawyers who had a motion pending before the judge were waiting for the session to begin, a number of us were chatting with one another. One of the folks I was standing near said something funny. A few of us laughed. One of our group instead responding by saying, "LOL". How lazy has one become when one offers a "LOL" in lieu of an actual laugh....while standing in the immediate vicinity of the person who uttered the original humorous line?

Language usage is fun to consider, to contemplate and to study because it is a never-ending source of entertainment and occasional amusement. As a guy I find it incredible that there is a women's clothing store named "dress barn". Judging by the number of them I see when I drive around and the foot traffic in and out of them, presumably it is a chain of stores that does pretty well. Yet I cannot help but wonder who it was who green-lighted a store name that conjures up an image (at least in my mind's eye) of farm animals and tractors for a target audience that is female. Then again, perhaps that is not the target demographic. There are after all also stores identified as "dress barn Woman", which seems a tad redundant. I presume that the intended customers at "the barn" itself are women. The "woman" is understood as it were; right? Or is "the barn" a shopper's haven solely for cross-dressers while "the barn woman" is a ladies-only affair? I find myself hoping very, very much that it is the former.

Consider the language on if not all then the overwhelming majority of "No Parking" signs you have ever encountered on private property, whether commercial or residential. You are warned not only that your vehicle might be towed if it is left there illegally but that the towing will be (wait for it) at "the vehicle owner's expense". No duh; right? If I park illegally on your property and you foot the bill for Skate playing the part of the automotive interloper, then you have cut in half my disincentive for disregarding your "no parking" sign. Is it necessary to specify that the cost of removal will be borne by the owner of the car? Have we so dumbed ourselves down that we require hand-holding all the way across the sentence's finish line?

Perhaps we do. 'NTSG over on Lincoln Boulevard we have a Pathmark grocery store. While it is not my store of choice - I do not do our weekly grocery shopping there - it is just around the corner from our house so occasionally the Missus and me will do the pop in there to pick up a few things. As is the case with every grocery store in which I have ever shopped, the Pathmark has a seemingly endless amount of signage advertising items that are on sale at any particular time.

One would think that the process of making a sign advertising a particular item as being on sale - and thereafter placing said sign in front of said item - would be an idiot-proof operation; right? Not so at the Pathmark. About a month ago Margaret and I were in there and one of the "Special" items that week was a 5 pound bag of sugar (I forget what brand's sugar but it is not important for this story). There was a display at an aisle's end with the biggest assemblage of sugar I have ever seen in my life. And there, directly in front of it, on a big yellow sign written in big, block, black letters was "SUGER - 5 POUND BAG". The other night Margaret and I ran over there because she wanted to pick up something. We ended up in the seasonal aisle (a/k/a the aisle where this time of year you find BBQ stuff, beach bags, etc.) Among the items prominently displayed were solar-powered lights, which you can use to line your walkway. (As an aside, do not ever buy them unless you live in the Mojave Desert or some such place because you never get enough sunlight to keep them adequately powered.) There was shelf after shelf of solar lights. Directly in front of one company's packages - boxes all readily identifiable by the words "solar lights" written on them - was a big yellow sign on which the Pathmark had written in big, block, black letters "SOALAR LIGHTS". What is the likelihood of entrusting one who can apparently neither (a) read, nor (b) spell with the task of creating the signage in one's supermarket? In your neighborhood perhaps not so good but 'NTSG it appears to be considerably higher. Here is a friendly, unsolicited tip for the good folks at the Pathmark including the one responsible for murdering the English language on the store's signage and the higher-up who is an accessory to the crime by entrusting this assignment to one so obviously overmatched by it: when life gives you a lay-up, take the ball to the hoop strong. Do not pass up the easy deuce for something less certain.

I am eternally grateful that genuinely silly stuff such as abuse of language goes on in the world every day. Life is, after all, the ultimate simultaneous participation event/spectator sport. Where would we be without such readily available amusement? I know not. But I know where I am since it is here for me.......

ROTFLMAO.

-AK

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Song of Freedom

Thanks to those good-looking Caesar boys - Julie and Augie - our year is divided into twelve months as opposed to its original ten. While that causes a bit of confusion on the back end of the annum, with VII-ber having become IX-ber and X-ber being converted into XII-ber (being men blessed with egos as vast as the great outdoors they dropped their tributes in the middle of what is the time of the year when hot air is most prevalent - at least in this hemisphere), their calendarus interruptus left the first half of the year alone.

While a calendar year has a fixed beginning in January and a fixed finish line in December, one can really configure any twelve-month period one chooses and hang a "year' moniker on it. Consider us bipeds. We do not turn a year older automatically every January 1. Our birthday represents the point of demarcation for the year to come. And if you are really cool, then that stating point annually for you is in early February.

Point is that since "the year" is a fairly malleable unit of measure, we can whip out a "Happy Anniversary" for any number of occasions on any number of different dates. And I choose to do so today.

A year ago on 28 January I walked away from a place of employment that I had called home since 5 January 1998. 11+ years is a long time to remain in one relationship, which I remember hearing for the first time from my wife when we were out years ago celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. But I digress.....

After 11+ years at the Firm I left. While the reasons I had in my head for doing what I did were crystal clear when I made the decision, they seem far less so now. And truth be told, during the month-plus that passed between the date when the decision was made and the date when I pulled out of the parking lot for what I believed was the final time, they seemed far less so. But by that point, the die had been cast. What was to be was to be. And what was to be was that I was to be someplace else.

Almost immediately upon moving further on up the road - both literally and figuratively as I moved due north on Parsippany Road - I regretted the decision. There are a number of things that made me painfully aware that I had erred. I shall not go into them here. If you are that intrigued by them, then I would invite you at your leisure to peruse the archival portion of this little endeavor, paying particular attention to the months of March, April and May 2009. Suffice it to say that by the time I had reached the end of the first full week of May last year, I was ready to kill myself or everyone else. Expediency screamed "Look inward!" but vanity compelled me to look outwardly first.

It was on this very day last year - the Friday at the end of May's first full week that something extraordinary happened. An opportunity that presents itself infrequently - if at all - in the day-to-day or our lives presented itself to me: an opportunity at a do-over. For reasons that remain unclear to me (and candidly of little moment to me as well) the gent who the Firm hired to replace me walked into the office of my partner Howard on this very day - one year ago - and announced that he was leaving the Firm. His departure created a vacuum and nature - much like a dust ball abhors a vacuum. The place that I had called home for more than a decade needed to fill it. And I needed to be the one who was offered the chance to fill it. Having not realized how much I loved where I was and what I was doing until I was somewhere else doing something else, I think I needed it more than the Firm needed me.

And it happened. On this very day a year ago, I found my way back to what has long been for me (even years before I realized it apparently) the perfect space. Howard and I - in a caper directly from the pages of Mad Magazine's Spy v. Spy cartoon - ended up chasing each other around Parsippany for quite a while that Friday afternoon trying to find a fairly discrete place in which to sit and chat face-to-face for a few minutes. It took a bit of doing but we did it. And when I returned to my then-employer that afternoon to tell them that I was preparing to do something for the second time in four months something I had not done in the previous 132 months, which was change jobs, I felt as if a tremendous weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. A weight that my own decision-making had thrust upon my shoulders to be sure but one that I could not weight to have lifted off of me. I called Margaret to tell her what had transpired. I think she cried. Tears that were one part joy and one part relief, having wrestled with whether to commit me or kill me on more than one occasion during the months that preceded it.

I, like Shane Falco, know a thing or two about quicksand. And I too know a thing or two about redemption. For me, the journey on the road to it began one year ago. Still have miles to go, but I have a good pace and a clear focus. I shall be just fine.

-AK

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Gospel According to Falco

A guilty pleasure of mine is the genuinely schmaltzy, corny sports-themed movie. While there are classic, terrific films that happen to have sports at their core such as Slapshot, Hoosiers, Rocky, Field of Dreams, Bang the Drum Slowly, Bull Durham, The Bad News Bears (the original version with Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal and Jackie Earle Haley) and Breaking Away there are countless others that leapt for greatness and fell short. Perhaps because I like sports - and I usually find a film that has sports as its (or one of its) central themes to be nothing less than moderately entertaining - I have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of the less-than-epic sports pics as well.

One of my favorite cheesy sports movies is The Replacements with Gene Hackman and Keanu Reeves. I know not whether I enjoy it because I have always been a fan of both of the leads, or because in the film the most evil team around is Dallas (as a Giants fan I like when art imitates life), or because it features one of my favorite Rolling Stones tracks "Blinded By Rainbows". Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above. Or something else completely.......And yes, I did acknowledge being a fan of not only Gene Hackman but of Keanu Reeves as well.

Hackman plays the head coach and Reeves is the quarterback on a team of replacement players (a/k/a "scabs") that the owner of the Washington franchise fields during a player's strike in professional football. Reeves' character - Shane Falco - was apparently a fairly big-time college player whose career was marred by his spitting of the bit in the National Championship game and the fallout of that collapse was that he never got a shot in the NFL. Thus, he becomes the perfect candidate to lead a bunch of other pseudo-players being that he is himself the poster child for squandered opportunity.

During a team meeting Hackman asks his players to admit to one another the things they are afraid of. Falco volunteers, "quicksand." He explains to his mates that his fear is of metaphorical quicksand as opposed to the real variety. He tells them that "quicksand" is that feeling one gets when you think you are in control of a situation until one thing goes wrong. While you are trying to do what must be done to correct that initial error, another problem occurs. You work harder and harder trying to patch the leaks and repair the problems but it seems the more you do, the faster they multiply. The faster they multiply, the more anxious you become. Until you reach the point where you feel as if you are suffocating. Quicksand.

Quicksand is a feeling that all of us have experienced or shall experience at some time in our lives. If we are lucky, then perhaps its appearance will be a one-shot deal. Experience has taught me - and has likely taught you as well - that unfortunately it may not be. Regardless of the terrain 'neath your feet it may in fact be lurking right around the corner.

It would seem to be that the key to surviving it is not exhausting yourself by trying to scout out all of its possible locations and working hard to avoid them but rather recognizing it for what it is when you encounter it. Once you recognize it, you regain - and thereafter retain - the ability to control it. And to survive it. I am wounded but I am not slain. I shall lay me down and rest a while and then I will rise and fight again.

It is the ability to keep your head when those around you are losing theirs - and perhaps inviting you to the beheading - that will enable you to get out of it. Take a deep breath. Remain calm. Help is closer than you think.

-AK

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Boys and their Big Sticks

One cannot help but wonder if the City of Trenton has any plans to build a boardwalk. In honor of the escalating hostilities between the various branches of our State government and the place of honor that Mr. Springsteen's music occupies in the heart and mind in several of the principals, it might indeed be appropriate. Boardwalk or no boardwalk, it appears as if Trenton is getting ready for one hell of a fight.

Our newly minted governor just this week declared that he is not going to grant lifetime tenure on our State Supreme Court to one of the Court's Associate Justices. I do not know the Justice in question - never having appeared before His Honor - but I have no reason to disagree with this assessment of him as a man who, "has earned respect and admiration for more than 30 years as a municipal court judge, trial and appellate judge, and justice of the Supreme Court. He is an intellectually honest, wise, and independent thinker, a fair-minded jurist, a gifted, thoughtful writer, and a model of integrity and character. His exemplary and honorable record speaks for itself, and his departure is a loss to the Judiciary." I take on faith that his boss knows him better than I and I accept the Chief's characterization of him.

Truth be told, the "lifetime tenure" appointment - in real numbers - equals two years as the mandatory retirement age for our Justices is 70 and the soon-to-be former Associate Justice is 68. Nevertheless, the Gov's decision has prompted a rather interesting and most decidedly pointed response from the Legislative branch. The President of the Senate has declared that the Senate will not hold confirmation hearings for the woman who the Gov nominated to replace Wallace for 22 months......which is coincidentally when the then-70 year old jurist would have been required to retire. I do not pretend to be a State Constitutional scholar (quick show of hands as to which two of the three previous words were unnecessary) so I know not whether the folks in the Senate have the right to do what they propose to do although given the number of Senators who are attorneys methinks that they believe themselves to be on solid ground legally in espousing this particular position.

I do not know the nominee. I certainly have no reason to doubt her qualifications to do the job for which she has been nominated or to reject as untrue the flattering things that have been said about her both personally and professionally. I wonder though whether in short order this whole imbroglio will cease to be about her and the man who she has been nominated to replace. I wonder in fact if the train has not already jumped the track on that point.

I say that simply for this reason - and I truly care not whether you think the Gov acted rightly or wrongly vis-a-vis this particular decision for you are as entitled to your belief as I am to mine. A number of those who have expressed particular outrage over this decision have pointed out - correctly - that no Governor has failed to give lifetime tenure to a sitting Supreme. Yet in reporting this truth they fail to tell - as Paul Harvey used to call it - the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that in our not too distant past a young, hard-charging candidate made a central theme of his campaign his plan - upon election - to refuse lifetime appointment to a sitting Justice whose initial seven-year term was set to expire in the middle of his initial gubernatorial lap. Rather than be formally dis-invited to be a member of the Court, the Justice wearing the bull's eye t-shirt resigned. Thus, while it is technically true to say what has transpired this week is something that has never happened before, whether he is truly plowing a path thru virgin soil or merely stirring up dirt that had lain undisturbed for a little while is left for someone far more skilled in the horticultural sciences than am I to ultimately decide.

This is Jersey after all. Sometimes close is as good as it gets.

-AK

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

They Might Be Iron Men....

I was excited to be reminded of the fact that Rob was on the East Coast this past weekend - even if he was a few hundred miles south of home. As I understand the scenario, he and a number of his college pals rendezvoused at the digs that two of the crew now share either in DC or somewhere in the immediate vicinity. While the curious bones in my body wonder what the weekend's festivities consisted of the paternal bones that occupy the bulk of my mass know better than to ask.

Certain things impress me quite a lot. Among them is the fact that since he was very young Rob has had the ability to recognize the importance of friendship as a qualitative and not a quantitative exercise. His best friend essentially since Day One has been Dan, which was an incredibly easy friendship to maintain when they were young and were classmates at OLMV. At the end of one school year (I think it was grade six but I might be mistaken) Dan's family punched a hole through and escaped from 'NTSG. When that happened I tried to think back to all of my school-age friends who I had stayed friends with once one or the other of us had changed schools and/or moved to a new town. It is a non-existent list. Yet Dan and Rob - whose relationship is more fraternal than friendly - refused to be foiled by geography. While they ceased attending school together by age 12 or so, their friendship never wavered. And it never waned.

As the years have passed, Rob has added a few more wing men to the squadron. And at the risk of revealing my utter absence of objectivity, each of them is a first-class individual. I have really grown to appreciate the times that Rob has been home since he began his transcontinental migratory practices not simply to see him and to catch up with him and his latest adventures but also to watch him and his friends interacting like complementary pieces of a puzzle.

Presumably he gets this trait - this drive to set down a finite number of sturdy roots deep rather than an infinite number of them in shallow soil - from Margaret. I regret to say he did not get it from me. At his relatively young age he has shown a deftness at recognizing the importance of cultivating the relationships that are important to him that me - almost twice his age - have never possessed. I used to, upon running into someone I had not seen in forever, reflexively tell the, "We'll stay in touch" lie, knowing upon uttering the words that it was not true. And presuming that the one to whom I said recognized it as a lie and was so nonplussed by its utterance (or its utterer) that it neither affected nor offended.

No sins of the fathers on this front for Rob. A fact that makes me happy if for no other reason than it makes him happy. The point of intersection as a parent between things that bring our children happiness and those that bring us comfort is not always readily apparent. When we are able to find it and to reach it without difficulty it is indeed a good thing.

When eyes meet in silence, a pact can be made. A life-long alliance that won't be betrayed. A lesson learned well. At least by some of us.

-AK

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Best of Sunday

With it feeling considerably more like the run-up to Quatro de Julio than Cinco de Mayo and me taking the "I am a big baby" approach to my wounded knee in the two weeks since the 1/2 Marathon, it probably would have made sense to have bailed out of yesterday's 5 mile race in Summit. But given how infrequently anyone mistakes me for a smart man - and with a 10K on the hilly streets of Boulder on the docket at month's end, I honored my entry fee. Yesterday with my tag-team running partner Gidg we set off to Summit to participate in the 11th Annual Our House 5 Miler.

In the interests of full disclosure, I signed up for this race some time ago because of (a) the distance; and (b) the topography figuring that both would help me get ready for the Bolder Boulder. I was ignorant as to what the purpose of this race is annually. Yesterday I was able to see for myself just what it is all about and in spite of the extreme weather for early May (upper 80's with "breathing into a smelly sock" levels of humidity when we started at 1:00 p.m.) and the fact that I was woefully unprepared to run this type of challenging course - having run one mile on Suz's treadmill in the last two weeks, I am glad that I did.

Our House is a not-for-profit organization that operates group homes and other residences for developmentally disabled adults. I know not how many people either work for or volunteer for this particular organization but there were dozens of them in attendance yesterday, handling every conceivable element of pre-race preparation. The most important thing they all did involved a second race that took place yesterday and involved none of the entrants in the 5 Miler.

About forty-five minutes prior to gun time yesterday, the race organizers held four or five "Everyone Wins" races for the adults who reside in one of Our House's residences and who receive the benefit of its services. Each one of the entrants wore Bib #1. Each one of them - regardless of disability - tried his/her best to cover the short, straight and (because it is Summit after all) slightly uphill course. From start to finish, it probably took about ten minutes to complete all of the Everyone Wins races. It was the best ten minutes I spent yesterday. Even the most hard-hearted among us - and that typically includes a fellow who looks quite a bit like the fellow who stares back at me from the mirror in the morning - felt a lump in the throat and the sting of a tear or two in the corner of an eye.

A hell of a thing. And I am damn happy that I was there to see it and to experience it... Hills or no hills.

I remember way back then when everything was true and when
We would have such a very good time such a fine time
Such a happy time
And I remember how we'd play simply waste the day away
Then we'd say nothing would come between us two dreamers.

-AK