Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Road to Recovery

Following the example of the French military in World War II, Continental Airlines officially surrendered yesterday in the battle to find my fugitive luggage. Four weeks to the day after losing it, Tracy Anderson (who is by the way my favorite all-time Continental Airlines employee, which is not the backhanded compliment it may appear to be. She works for a company chock full of a##holes and incompetents. She is neither.) telephoned me from, "Continental Airlines, Houston, Texas" to inform me that the Albatross of the Air had now shifted its mission from rescue to recovery. My bag - and more importantly - all of my stuff that was contained within it - is now officially considered "lost".

Apparently under the Continental Airlines "system" (given that term the widest possible definitional interpretation) once a bag is transformed from "delayed" (which mine has never been of course) to "lost" (which it has been since the moment that the dumb ass who never bothered to put it on the plane in Denver four weeks ago made that decision), cue the Survivor Greatest Hits CD. Indeed, the search is over. The purpose of yesterday's call was to confirm that my bag had not made its way to my house by any other means. I kid not. Tracy Anderson was required by her employer's protocols to telephone me to tell me that she has exhausted her search of their system (a search that likely does not include a search of the car trunk and hall closet of Continental's employee on the ground in Denver who may have pilfered my bag) and that upon the conclusion of that search, she is required to contact me to (a) tell me that her search has turned up nothing; and (b) to ask whether my bag has turned up nonetheless.

To her credit, she laughed while asking me that question. Before I could even say something critical of the airline she added, "Like your bag is a lost dog or something. Eventually it will find its way home." After I chuckled a bit at her self-deprecating humor she did something extraordinary. She did something that no one at Continental Airlines had done in the twenty-eight days since they lost my bag. She apologized for what happened and, on behalf of the company, she accepted responsibility for it happening. Does her refreshingly positive attitude bring back my bag? Nope. But her willingness to say aloud what Continental Airlines and I have both known for the past twenty-eight days but which one of us (Quick - guess which one!) refused to admit was revelatory. A most welcome change of pace.

Easy rule of thumb whether you are an ineptly run commercial airline or just a Regular Joe who practices law for a living: when you screw up, own up. When you mess up, stand up.

Well done Tracy Anderson. Well done. And thanks.

-AK

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

For Bending, For Standing & For Turning Our Backs Into the Wind

Congratulations to us! We, the good people of the State of Concrete Gardens, are the proud owners of an early summer heatwave. I learned while watching the local news on Channel 2 on Sunday night that any time there are three consecutive days with a 90+ temperature and a heat index to match it qualifies as a heatwave. Candidly, I suspect that the weather person on the Sunday newscast was making that up as she went along but really - who the hell cares? Whether Webster recognizes the definition or not, it has been ridiculously hot and humid in these parts the past few days. I am no meteorologist but it certainly has felt like a heatwave to me.

Yesterday morning, having made the trek out to Warren County to begin trial only to be foiled yet again by simple arithmetic (4 ready cases / 1 available judge = wasted time) I found myself heading East on Route 80 in the late morning. Having parked my car on the far side of the little square adjacent to the Warren County Courthouse, which is code for "parked to bake in the scorching sun", I had damn near turned into a human humidifier by the time I made it back to Skate. I know that Toyota's reputation for brakes is matched only by that of Continental Airlines for baggage handling but the folks at Toyota who put my car together certainly knew what they were doing vis-a-vis the air conditioning system. Skate has two settings on her A/C: frostbite and hypothermia. My teeth may chatter but you shall never hear me complain about Skate's extraordinary, walk-in freezer like skills.

As I was wheeling my way back towards the office yesterday morning, my mind -as it often does - wandered just a bit. I thought of times, other than for work purposes, when I carved an East/West path on Route 80. The first such time I could think of was a million years ago, before either Dave and Christine Joy or Margaret and I had gotten married and Dave, Andy McElroy and I killed a summer's day or three making the trip into Pennsylvania to the water rides at Dorney Park. My memory is that typically a day of water-sliding and rapids-riding followed hard on the heels of a night commiserating with Messrs. Daniels and Beam or their comrades in arms. Whether it was the afterglow of life's sweet elixir or simply the pure, unadulterated joy of three college-age guys acting about half of their age I know not. I suspect it was an unbeatable combination.

I remember the three of us making that trip several times over the course of a couple of summers. I remember us always driving - for whatever reason - in the first new used car I ever owned - the "always great for landing the ladies" Pontiac Phoenix. What my chariot lacked in flair, it made up for in unreliability. Happiness was any trip of longer than about an hour in that car in which it did not spontaneously shut itself off. I apparently had the only narcoleptic Pontiac Phoenix GM ever produced.

Years later, after I starting appearing to be a more reasonable facsimile of an adult, I had a new and different reason to make an annual pilgrimage on Route 80. As a Boy Scout, every year except for (I think) his final year in the troop, Rob's troop spent a week camping at a Boy Scout camp in Pennsylvania. I believe the name of the joint was Camp Firestone but there is a reasonable possibility that I have simply made that up. Typically, the excursion out to camp at the beginning of the week was an all hands on deck affair. Rob went annually with Dan (a/k/a his brother from another mother) and Margaret and I used to ride up to camp to drop Rob off with Dan's parents, Joe and Lucy. The six of us would stop for breakfast somewhere along the way before us four adults would deposit the two Scouts (both of whom earned the rank of Eagle by the way) at camp and hightail it back to New Jersey.

Everyone came along on the "drop-off" ride for it was made a bit later in the morning and neither Rob nor Dan smelled particularly daisy-fresh. Usually, a week's worth of living "one with nature" knocked that second one straight to hell. That fact, coupled with the fact that the "pick up" ride took place pretty early in the morning, inevitably turned it into a stag party. Joe and I would ride up together to pick up Dan and Rob.

I used to look forward to that Saturday morning all summer. Without fail, the two of them would regale Joe and I with any number of laugh-out-loud stories of the happenings at camp during the week that was. There is a McDonald's somewhere off of Route 80 in the western most part of New Jersey although for the life of me I cannot recall the specific exit. Every summer without exception Joe and I would stop at the McDonald's on the way home so that Rob and Dan could eat something that bears at least a resemblance to food. All the way home in the car, the two boys would tell stories and eat while Joe and I would listen, laugh and eat. Not to bad a way to pass the time in the car.

The nicest thing for me about not having a lot of substantive thoughts knocking around in the hat-rack I carry on my shoulders is that there is always a bit of room for the acknowledged silliness that helps me get through my day-to-day. I have not been to Dorney Park in a lifetime. I have every confidence that I shall not ever visit it again - presuming that it still is open for business. Rob and Dan graduated from being Scouts a number of years ago and by the time their run in the Troop had ended, the annual camping trip had been relocated - to upstate New York I think. All the kids who went met in the church parking lot and rode together on a chartered bus. The days of "pick up" day tell-alls and pit stops at Mickey D's were forever relegated to the rear-view mirror.

Then again, maybe not entirely. Gone for certain. Forgotten? Not a chance. Too much driving still to do.

-AK

Monday, June 28, 2010

Objects in the Rear-View Mirror

I drive a lot. The little car that I have now will be 4 years old on July 4th (is there anything more patriotic than buying a Japanese car on Independence Day?) and has roughly 110,000 miles on it. Not long-haul trucker type of driving I know but considering that none of Skate's miles have been put on while driving on anything other than New Jersey's highways and byways, it seems to me at least to be more than just a little bit of mileage.

I was thinking about the driving I do because I am starting a trial today in Warren County, a county whose county seat is fifty miles from my office. Our civil justice system in New Jersey is structured in a manner that does not permit attorneys to ask the jurors questions directly. In New Jersey the process of voir dire is handled by the trial judge. Several years ago our courts determined that the voir dire process would be aided greatly by preparing a form questionnaire. The questionnaire is used for all civil trials.

Among the "form" questions posed to all prospective jurors is "What type of bumper stickers, if any, do you have on your car, other than political ones?" Usually it is not a question to which I pay particular attention. In my experience, far more often than not, prospective jurors either have no bumper stickers on their vehicles other than ones supporting a particular candidate or espousing a particular political belief or - during voir dire - they deny having any bumper stickers. For whatever it is worth, they all appear to watch a lot of PBS and listen to NPR but watch no other television and listen to no other radio programs.

On Thursday while driving back from a court appearance in Camden County, which is a whole hell of a lot further from my office than Warren County is, I passed a mini-van on the Turnpike that had not a bumper sticker but a magnetic sign that made me hope that its owner is among this week's potential jurors in Warren County. The sign? "CAUTION: DO NOT TAILGATE. SHOW DOGS ON BOARD." What a demand to articulate aloud; right? Do not follow my car too closely because I have valuable property that I am carrying with me. Really? How wonderfully pretentious one must be to affix such a sign to one's car.

Show dogs are not after all pets. They are assets. My dog Rosalita is an invaluable member of our family and of our household. I think of her not as property. I think of her as my pet. While Margaret and I spent a fair amount of money to purchase her, her value is intangible. We do not think of her as property.

Maybe I am in the minority but the signage struck me as audacious. Particularly so because when I passed the vehicle while I could not see any show dogs inside of it, I did see a small child. Conspicuous by its absence on the mini-van was a sign cautioning other motorists to not tailgate the mini-van because the driver had a child or children aboard. What a thrill it must be to be the child of someone who advertises to the outside world a concern for his or her show dog that trumps that expressed for his or her child.

I want to order my own magnetic sign. I intend to post it on the rear of my car on Sundays for my drive home from the grocery store: "CAUTION! DO NOT TAILGATE. EGGS ON BOARD." They are my property. They are valuable. Unlike the average Rottweiler they are fragile.

I suspect that this week's jury pool in Warren County will contain exactly zero people who confess to having either a magnetic sign regarding show dogs or one pertaining to eggs affixed to their vehicle. Too damn bad. That is the type of person I would like to meet. For if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car.

-AK

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Souls of the Departed

I drive past it six days a week on my way to the office. Yet I must confess that it had slipped my mind that the anniversary of the tragedy that caused the family and friends (or some combination thereof) to erect a roadside memorial adjacent to the westbound lanes of Route 22 in Bridgewater was upon us. Perhaps it is less a reflection on the depth of my character - or lack thereof - than it is on the inevitability of life that I had forgotten that it was the 26th of June one year ago that a young girl from my little town died in a single-vehicle accident at the spot that those who loved her have preserved in her honor. Brenda was but one week or so removed from having walked with her classmates at graduation as a member of the Middlesex High School Class of '09.

I did not know her and to the best of my knowledge I do not know her family. Yet I have for the past year driven past the pitch-perfect memorial that has been placed at the site of her accident. I have marveled about its staying power. I did not think - one year ago - that it would last in that location as long as it has. Not only has it lasted but it certainly appears to be in excellent condition. Those who loved her apparently tend to it with love.

I commute to work at a time that is a chess piece in a perpetual custody battle between "late night" and the "wee small hours of the morning" so I never see anyone at the memorial. Last night though, because I had spent Saturday morning taking part in a 8K race in Lavallette New Jersey and I had spent Saturday afternoon rooting hard for the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful U.S. Soccer Team in the World Cup, I spent Saturday night at the office. Oh, 'tis an exciting life I lead I know.

By heading west on Route 22 at 5:00 PM as opposed to 4:00 AM I saw a small gathering of people standing on the shoulder of the westbound lanes of travel paying their respects to Brenda. It was a site that I must confess I usually associate with cemeteries. I passed by them in only a few seconds so I know not how long prior to my passing by they had gathered there. I know not how long they remained. I know not whether they were joined by others. I know not whether others came by at different times during a day that is etched in sadness on the calendar each of them carries in his or her heart to pay their respects.

I know simply that I am happy for those who erected the roadside memorial to Brenda that it has remained intact for this terrible year. If life tilted more towards the fundamental fairness side than the memorial would be unnecessary. Little girls who are all of 18 years old are supposed to be planning for their future. They are not supposed to die in automobile accidents.

Life is often far from fair. Thus those who are too young to die do so anyway. And those of us who are charged with the joy and the responsibility of raising them are forced to confront a fear that - if we are speaking truthfully - scares the hell out of us unlike any other: the fear that we shall outlive our child. It happens. Perhaps it should not. But it does. And when it does, it is nice that those who shared a common bond - the love for a young woman who they miss so terribly - have a place to congregate and to come together and express their love for her and their support for one another. If sing-along songs can be our scriptures, then there is absolutely no reason why the grassy hill adjacent to the westbound lanes of Route 22 in Bridgewater cannot serve as a cathedral.

And allow those present to say a prayer. A prayer on behalf of brokenhearted babies everywhere.

-AK

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Where The Ocean Meets The Shore

Think in terms of bridges burned. It is impossible not to pay homage to Bob Seger this weekend. The Yankees are in Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers and the kid from Brooklyn who manages them. What is his name again? Rhymes with glory. As in "one of the men responsible for the Yankees' return to". Of course, it is the prodigal skipper a/k/a "Mr. Torre".

If you think that the people responsible for running the Yankees franchise are not sporting a grudge towards their former manager, then consider this. In the years since Major League Baseball concocted inter-league play, how many series have the Yankees played against their all-time World Series rivals? Two. How many home series have the Yankees played against the Dodgers? Zero. Not a single game in the bi-coastal rivalry has been played in Yankee Stadium. When the Yankees return home next week, watch any of their games against either the Mariners or the Blue Jays on television. Take note of those fans in the lower bowl of the stands -in the really, really expensive seats. Take note as well of what an uncanny resemblance they bear to actual empty seats.

One wonders how many tickets the Yankees would have sold for a weekend series at the big ballpark in the Bronx for a visit from Torre's Dodgers. Considering that Don Mattingly is one of Torre's coaches, I suspect that the Yankees would have sold some of those typically empty seats had Los Angelenos made a trip East this summer. What could Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, the co-pilots on the good ship Silver Spoon, value more than money? That is a rhetorical question folks so do not blow out too many brain cells working your way through it.

At the end of the 2008 season, the Yankees said goodbye to the then-Stadium in a very big way: a rather glorious ceremony prior to that season's final home game, which took place on a Sunday night in September against the Orioles. The ceremony featured both live on-field stuff and a very elaborate, detailed video tribute. Torre was not present at the Stadium as he was busy managing the Dodgers. The Yankees' brass made sure that the video presentation, which paid tribute to the franchise's six most recent American League champions and four most recent World Series champions, contained not a single reference to Torre. All he had done was manage all of those clubs. Now he is not even James Cagney. He is Claude Rains.

I love the Yankees but pettiness is pettiness, whether it is dressed up in white uniforms with navy blue pinstripes or in another ensemble altogether. If it does not gall Torre that the Brothers Steinbrenner, who came to their position via an old-fashioned two step (they were born into it and then for good measure fell into it up to their necks when Boss George's anointed successor Steve Swindal went from "heir to the throne" to "ex-brother-in-law" in less time than it took the Yankees to catch the Sox in '78), then he is a better man than either of them. I suspect he already knew that. I suspect that they both did as well.

I laugh when I read that the cause of all of the nonsense being expressed by the Yankee hierarchy towards Torre is his book. I laugh because the more I read about all of the ill feelings stirred up by The Yankee Years the more I think that although it was a best-seller most of the people who bought it never bothered to read it. Sort of like The Da Vinci Code, non-fiction style. I did. Was Torre kind to Alex Rodriguez? Not really. Did he reveal the long-developing schism in his working relationship with Brian Cashman? Yes. Did he call out Randy Levine as an egomaniacal, ignorant d*ck? Absolutely. Were any of those disclosures what one would consider revelatory? Not if one paid even a modicum of attention to the final few years of Torre's reign in New York.

It pleased me immeasurably to see how the Core Four responded to the Yankees' visit to Los Angeles. If a man may be measured in part by the company he keeps, then the mutual admiration society Torre maintains with Messrs. Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera reflects well on all five of them. Those five men have accomplished things together that neither of the Silver Spoon Boys nor Levine nor any of the other angry children in Yankeeland have. Regardless of the franchise's official position, the four players on its active roster who earned their pinstripes as the architects of the Renaissance have demonstrated that they learned their lessons well from their long-time manager.

Class begets class. And as the figureheads at the top of the Yankee ship of state have demonstrated yet again, the opposite unfortunately is also true.

Like a guest who stayed too long
Now it's finally time to leave
Yes, it's finally time to leave
Take it calmly and serene
It's the famous final scene.

-AK

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reflux Redux

I was reminded again just this week of how quickly time passes. By this time next week, we shall all be gearing up for the 4th of July. It seems as if it was only yesterday that Memorial Day was the national holiday squarely in everyone's sight line; right? In fact, as of Monday it will have been four weeks - already - since Memorial Day. Where did the time go?

My reminder as to the rapidity of the passage of time came in the form of an otherwise innocuous e-mail I received from yet another wing commander in the employ of the most incompetently run corporation in these United States. It was on my trip home from Colorado on the day after Memorial Day that Continental Airlines worked its magic and made my luggage disappear. About a week after that happened, frustrated as hell at the institutional ineptitude at Continental that revealed itself to Margaret and me more and more every time we spoke to someone from the airline I submitted my completed Claim Form to them with a cover letter expressing my love and admiration for them and the manner in which they conduct their business.

At the time I submitted my Claim Form (which I sent via FedEx to ensure that the idiots at Continental Airlines would not be able to lose this parcel in transit) I spoke with a woman from the Claims Department who told me - quite candidly - that the airline had no idea where my bag was and she considered the likelihood of them finding it to be quite low. She did tell me (much to my amusement I must point out) that Continental Airlines immediately assigned (upon receipt of my completed Claim Form) a retriever specifically to the task of searching for and recovering my bag. Yes folks it is true. If you are willing to have valuable and irreplaceable personal items lost due to the carelessness of Continental Airlines then you to can have access to your very own Luggage Retriever. An honest to God human being whose task it is to retrieve your lost article. Safe in the knowledge that nothing more at all was to be gained from screaming at this amalgam of idiots I decided to sit back and wait for my retriever to........well who knows exactly.

As it turns out, the Luggage Retrievers at Continental Airlines are apparently selected from the people in the applicant pool who do not quite pass muster as Luggage Handlers. After having heard nothing for almost two weeks - and deciding that there was nothing to be gained from calling them to inquire as to my bag's whereabouts other than another 20 points or so on my next blood pressure test - Wednesday afternoon brought an update from my PLR (those of us in the know like to "drop" the acronym for Personal Luggage Retriever into our day-to-day chat now and again. It gives us street cred.)

Into my inbox at about 1:00 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon popped an e-mail from Tracy Anderson of Continental Airlines. Tracy is my PLR. I know not whether Tracy is a man or a woman, which is why he/she and I appear to be on a first-name basis. Regardless of gender, the purpose of Tracy's e-mail was to express regret about the fact that my bag was lost. Well, then again not really. The e-mail said that, "I am sorry that the bag did not arrive with you at Newark." Interesting word choice; right? I appreciate the fact that Tracy elevated my luggage to the status of a trusted traveling companion. However, I resent the implication that my bag either missed the flight to Newark or, exercising free will normally reserved for luggage of steamer trunk size or larger, opted to blow me off. To jilt me and to pursue its fame, fortune and freedom out there on the open tarmac.

After the expression of condolences, Tracy got right down to the heart of the matter. "I am finishing the final search for it now." I was pleased to read that considering that Tracy has been on the case for close to two weeks. Actually I was a tad impressed. I had visions of my PLR all jazzed up with climbing gear and night vision goggles, searching every nook and cranny of the Continental Airlines' empire for my bag (sort of like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure). Sadly, my enthusiasm was sucked right out of me when I read the next line of her e-mail asking, "Other than your personal identification, did the bag have any other outstanding features on the outside?"

An odd time to ask that question, is it not? Would you not have asked it at the commencement of the search? It would seem to be the sort of question that would be asked prior to undertaking the task; right? "Hey disgruntled customer whose bag we have lost! Before we start to look for it would you please tell us everything you can about it that might make it stand out as that will help us immeasurably in our search?" I would ask what sort of idiocracy waits until it has already allegedly spent almost two weeks in a recovery operation before asking for a bit of guidance in the performance of its task but being a Continental Airlines customer I know the answer to that query.

The final line of her e-mail did little to re-warm my little heart's cockles. "I will finish up with a physical search here in our warehouse." Two thoughts leaped immediately to mind. First, now the process of looking in Continental's warehouse actually starts? What the hell has the search to date consisted of? Second, these idiots lose enough luggage that they actually have a warehouse in which they keep the bags that their intrepid staff manages to separate from its destination? Shit - I would have felt better had Tracy told me that she needed to check their storage locker or their cubicle. A warehouse? Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack of needles.

My kingdom for a seamstress.

-AK

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Games and Fun

Raise a glass to stoppage time. And while we have our hands raised and our arms outstretched let us toast the magic of Landon Donovan. Donovan - having been sent galloping up the field on the receiving end of an outlet pass from New Jersey's own Tim Howard that was reminiscent of the halcyon days of Bill Walton at UCLA - willed our national team into the Knockout Round of the World Cup. I admit that I have a fervent pro-soccer bias. I played the game for four years a lifetime ago (high school) and have always loved it. I always chafe a bit at those who are not fans and whose pat gripe about soccer is that the typically low final score is somehow reflective of the lack of excitement that goes on during the game. Yesterday's game was extraordinary.

Perhaps some of the non-believers were watching the telecast or listening to the radio broadcast (as I did driving North on the Turnpike back to my office from a court appearance in Camden County). If they were and they woke up this morning still non-believers, then the cause is hopeless. Yesterday's game, while it produced just one goal, produced non-stop, end-to-end action and the play - while sometimes ragged - was spirited.

On the soccer pitch of South Africa was not the only place in the sporting universe where memorable moments occurred yesterday. I know less about tennis than 95% of the world and at gunpoint - with my life on the line - I could not correctly identify John Isner or Nicolas Mahut if the three of us were the only people in the room. Yet I marvel at the fact that the two of them spent seven hours yesterday playing a single set of tennis at Wimbledon and at day's end - having played 118 games - they stood tied at 59. At some point today they shall return to the court in an effort to finish a five-set match that has thus far taken 10 hours to play. All of us are familiar with the old saw, "to the victor goes the spoils". What are the spoils at stake for Messrs. Isner and Mahut? A spot in the second round. Nothing more. Merely an opportunity to play another match....one that hopefully does not require the winner of this one to spend another 10 hours to complete.

Sports are often times a useful metaphor for life. An opportunity presents itself and we do all that we can to avail ourselves of it. We do not always succeed. And even when we do, we know not whether the success we have achieved - at that moment in time - is our one and only or if it is a harbinger of things to come. Yesterday afternoon Landon Donovan and his teammates won a memorable game. And all it assured them is the opportunity to play another day. Neither Isner nor Mahut won a damn thing yesterday. Or did they?

Didn't we all?

-AK

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Culture Clubbed

By day's end today the United States may in fact have played its way out of the 2010 World Cup. While I hope that shall not occur - and I think that history might be on our side (we flamed out in '90, did OK in '94, bit turf in '98, showed well in '02 and showed up not at all in '06 so this year appears to be an "ON" year) - at least our national team has shown up in South Africa. Lose or win today, their effort has been genuine.

The host nation's World Cup ended yesterday. South Africa will not play in the knockout round. They are one of two teams in their group who did not qualify for a spot in this Cup's Sweet Sixteen. Yet the squad that is known as Bafana Bafana in its homeland did their countrymen proud. Sports is actually quite a lot like life. The result is often something we cannot control. But the effort we put towards attempting to achieve the result is entirely ours. It belongs to us.

Their tournament is over. The result something short of what they had hoped to achieve. Yet the Bafana Bafana gave all of the home folks something to feel good about. In a land whose history is as checkered and as troubled as that of South Africa, a good feeling that knows no cultural or racial limitations is certainly worth applauding.

The antithesis of the South African story was written by the French. Given France's history, one would have assumed that the French national team putting forth an effort that made its military's effort in World War look positively Herculean would have proven to be Le Mission Impossible. Right about now it is worth remembering what happens when we assume.

If one believes that what goes around comes around, then the French got what they deserved and they deserved what they got in this World Cup. Their ticket to South Africa was hand-punched after all.

Karma is a many-splendored thing; is it not? One might even call it a chameleon.

-AK

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Journey Into Night at the End of the Longest Day

I spent yesterday toeing the line at the point of intersection between literal and figurative speech. Yesterday was indeed the longest day in terms of hours of sunlight/daylight on the calendar for those of us who reside here in these United States. It was our Summer Solstice. As my brother Kelly has long been fond of pointing out (much to the dismay of those around him) even though we are just in fact starting summer this week we have already begun the long inexorable march to winter. Today was slightly shorter than yesterday. Tomorrow will be more of the same until - six months from yesterday - we run headlong into the Winter Solstice, which is daylight's nadir in this hemisphere.

Yesterday was also an incredibly long day for me, figuratively speaking. While it is true that I slept in a bit, not hopping out of bed as per usual at 3:00 a.m. but, instead, luxuriating in sleep until 3:30 or so, it nevertheless proved to be a very tiring, albeit ultimately satisfying day.

My law partner Arnold Gerst is the fella I affectionately refer to in this space as my running guru or running Yoda. He, much like my brother-in-law Russ and my sister Jill, is a no bullshit, honest to goodness runner. He is an "l". A couple of weeks ago he asked me if I would consider signing up for a race that he has run in countless times and that he intended to run in (and did in fact do so) this year. The race is the President's Cup Night Race in Millburn, New Jersey and according to the registration form I completed, this year marked the 31st annual edition of it. This is an event that not only attracts a rather large field but also one that attracts quite a large number of spectators. And - as its name suggests - it is one that takes place at night.

It is important to point out that it is not an "evening" race. It is in fact a "Night" race. We did not start last night until after 8:00 p.m. (or as I like to think of it on a Monday night "bed time"). I enjoy the hell out of running but I must confess that I enjoy it less so when I am doing it almost seventeen hours after the start of my day. The source of my lessened enjoyment is simply that by that time of the night all of me is tired from the day's events and it is hard to get energized enough to run competitively (or in my case quasi-competitively) at 8:00 p.m.

But it is summer time in Jersey. While it is already beastly hot and humid during the heat of the day - and it had in fact cooled down to an Arctic-like 85 degrees by the time we started last night's festivities, soon enough it will be too damn cold here outside at night to do anything save for learning to start a fire by using the sparks one's chattering teeth generate. So Arnie, his running pal Tom and a lot of other runners - and some wannabes including Yours truly - decided to brave the elements and go for a quick jaunt through a beautiful little town in celebration of the longest Monday of the year.

And although I was tired before I started last night - feeling the full effects of a long day at work - I was glad that I took part in it. I did indeed get more than slightly energized by seeing the other folks taking part and checking out those who lined up on the sides of the streets through which we ran, some rooting hard for a particular runner and some simply rooting for all of us.

And you will run your time, a shooting star across the sky. And you will surely cross the line. Last night, at the end of a challenging, fatigue-defying 5K run through the streets of Millburn I was plenty happy to do just that.......

....especially since for just a little while before I started to run I was not entirely sure that it was a line I was going to be able to cross. Or make it to at all.

-AK

Monday, June 21, 2010

'Cause Summer's Here

As a kid who grew up in the New York City metropolitan area, I was an avid listener of what was in my admittedly limited experience the best rock and roll radio station in the world: 102.7 WNEW-FM. I was only born in the late 60's so by the time I developed an ear for things such as FM radio, the on-air lineup at 'NEW (better known as "The Place Where Rock Lives") included the Professor Scott Muni, Pete Fornatele, Dennis Elsas and Dan Neer (who was called "Dano" after the character on Hawaii Five-O and who signed off his program daily by saying "Aloha"). The on-air jocks also included my favorite: Dave Herman. For the first several years that I discovered 102.7, Herman was the guy on the air in morning drive. We used to listen to him in the car on the way to school daily.

One of the staples of Dave Herman's morning drive show was his daily playing of Springsteen, which he referred to as "a shot of Bruce Juice". On "Two for Tuesdays" he played two Springsteen tunes. Mom's car had no cassette deck so for a young wannabe rock and roller, the radio provided the only mobile means through which I could hear Springsteen. Thankfully, Herman was reliable. Without fail every morning at some point during our daily commute I would receive my daily shot of Bruce Juice.

Springsteen has been my favorite artist for as long as I have possessed the ability to consider such a question. Among his records, Darkness on the Edge of Town is my favorite - the dark, brooding, long-delayed due to litigation follow-up to Born to Run. Among the songs found on Darkness is my all-time favorite Springsteen song, "Racing in the Street". For whatever it is worth (and it is likely not very much at all), my love of it explains my co-opting of its name for my own purposes here.

Today here in this hemisphere it is the 21st of June, which is the Summer Solstice. It is the first day of summer. It is the longest day of the year. Whenever this day fell - as it falls this year - on a weekday Dave Herman would make sure that Racing was this day's shot of Bruce Juice. It is an exquisite piece of music but not something that finds its way to often on-air at any radio station. I would imagine that the reticence to drop the needle and play this particular record has two bases. First it is a long song (and closes with a piano-driven instrumental that is several minutes in length). Second, it is a slow-moving, lyrically dark piece. In the final verse the narrator - speaking of the current emotional state of his life's great love - sings that, "She stares off alone into the night/With the eyes of one who hates for just being born." Not exactly the type of image you want your office suite mates playing on a continuous loop in their respective minds' eyes as they step off of the elevator.

But the story told in "Racing" does not end in that final verse. Rather it ends on an emotional uptick. It may very well be desperation dressed up as optimism and nothing more than our storyteller's very own deluded effort at a happy ending. Yet there it is. And there it remains, the bridge between the abject sadness of the final verse that precedes it and the haunting piano fade that follows it. And in that final chorus lies the promise of the song. The promise of the day. The promise of the season. For it is summer after all. And possibilities abound.

Tonight tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street.

-AK

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On the Road to Breaker's Point

Happy Father's Day to Dads everywhere, including both of my brothers, all four of my brothers-in-law and my father-in-law. Loud, polyester ties and World's Greatest Dad coffee mugs for everyone!

Fatherhood is a helluva gig. It is not a lark. But it should not be looked at as a dark ride either. (A nice pseudo-obscure Springsteen reference to get your mind working early on a Sunday morning.) I have written in this space that the jukebox containing the soundtrack of my life is jammed to the gunwales with Springsteen music. One of the themes that Springsteen has visited repeatedly throughout his career is that of his relationship with his father. A relationship that is spelled out in a way that allows any of us who has been a son, a father or both to walk a bit in the shoes of the characters in the song.

My father died on Memorial Day weekend in 1981. He and Mom had six kids of whom I am the youngest. I was 14 when Dad died. Of his three sons, I was the only one who still lived home. Both Bill and Kelly were men - adults with their own families and their own lives outside of the four walls of the parental home.

Christmas 1980. Among the presents I received (if I had to wager I would say that Kara and Jill bought it for me) was "The River". You have to understand that listening to records in our house took a bit of finesse and finagling. I did not have a record player in my room and my sisters did not have one in their room either. Instead along the wall of the dining room sat my father's Fisher Hi-Fi, a piece of furniture noteworthy for three things. First, it was the approximate size of a small car measuring at least eight feet in length and weighing what felt like several hundred pounds. Second, it had a sound quality that could generously be described as terrible. Third, it was among my father's prized possessions, which meant that accessing it to listen to one's own music required either securing Dad's permission or waiting until he was not home and using it without his knowledge. Given the infrequency with which he granted permission to use it in my experience least resistance's chosen path was using it without his knowledge, which I did whenever I could.

Thirty years after its release, The River remains among my favorite Springsteen albums. Its sheer size likely has something to do with it. There are twenty tracks on it. Its variety also has something to do with it. The songs on the album range from sing-along songs to haunting tunes awash in sadness both musically and lyrically. The central reason however is Independence Day.

Independence Day is a track that stands high in the pantheon of those that Springsteen has written about the relationship between fathers and sons. It was certainly not the first one he wrote about the topic. Among others, Adam Raised a Cain from the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" album dealt with the subject as well: You're born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past/Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain/Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame/You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames.

The tone of Independence Day was less one of anger and more one of resignation. Or perhaps of frustration. It is a song about a flawed relationship - one that yielded only limited benefits to father and son - from which the son had decided to escape. You see the world of the two characters only through the eyes of the son but you get a glimpse through his eyes of the fact that life has not been a joy ride for the old man and - more importantly perhaps - that the son recognizes that fact and recognizes as well that a lot of external forces have been responsible for making the father the man that he is. He himself is not solely responsible for what - as seen through the eyes of his son - he has become: Cause the darkness of this house has got the best of us/There's a darkness in this town that's got us too/But they can't touch me now/And you can't touch me now/They ain't gonna do to me/What I watched them do to you.

As a boy of fourteen - and not being even fully in possession of the admittedly limited powers of observation that I presently possess - I did not understand why my relationship with my own father became as tense and as strained as it did during what turned out to be the final couple of years of his life. I used to joke with my friends in college that it seemed to me that Dad liked the notion of sons far better when we were little but wished he possessed a way to either trade us for daughters after we reached a certain age or simply flip a switch and make us so. It was as if he was mindful of his own self-created health issues and his rather limited physical prowess that came with them and worried about his ability to retain some type of command presence with a son who had reached a certain age. It was never something he and I discussed while he was alive so I know not the answer to the riddle and never shall.

I remember though listening to Independence Day and thinking that Springsteen had written a piece of music that captured the essence of the father/son relationship in my house. Dad and I never reached the point in the program where I felt I had to escape. Life intervened. I know not whether had he lived we would have reached the point where I would have felt the need to do so. Yet another riddle to which I know not the answer.

I think though as I have gotten older and as I have watched my own kids grow from children to adults I have a better understanding of my father than I ever did while he was alive. It is true that the prospect of being a father was one that for a long time terrified me. It is also true that I am thrilled beyond words that the two children I love the most in this world carry not a shred of my genetic material. Better safe than sorry; right?

Life is a journey after all. We have arrived at the point on the horizon line where we find ourselves today only by having traveled the distance we have traveled to get here. And while we do not carry with us every bit of every step we have taken along the way, there are trace elements of every step we have stepped stuck like gum to the bottom of our shoes. One of the great joys of my life is being a father. And I think of the things I have experienced with my kids both when they were children and now that they are adults and I marvel at them. And they would not have been possible without the lessons, both good and bad, I learned from my own father a lifetime ago.

Papa now I know the things you wanted that you could not say. Happy Father's Day.

-AK

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You & Me & Our Memories

For reasons that remain blissfully unclear to me, today marks the seventeenth anniversary of the day on which Margaret said, "I do." Candidly, it has long been a mystery to me just what the upside of this relationship purports to be from her vantage point but I long ago learned not to ask such a question aloud.

Margaret and I were married under a blistering hot June sun on the 19th of June 1993. The significance of the date we chose was simply that it represented the Saturday of the weekend that marked two years since we had started dating. Nothing more. Nothing less. I think the date was probably my idea - figuring that years from now there it would be patently unfair for me and my addled little mind to try and remember two separate "anniversaries". One thing at a time is about all I can process intellectually.....and that presupposes that it is a rather tiny thing at that.

With a divorcee and a lapsed Catholic (had they continued to dip the Nilla wafers that they passed out at snack time at Sunday Mass in the wine perhaps I would have continued to attend) joining forces, we eschewed the church service. We were married, instead, outside at the Bridgewater Manor in a ceremony performed by a judge. Go figure - I was still in law school, not yet even practicing law and I walked headlong into a lifetime sentence. My sister Jill served as Margaret's Maid of Honor. My long-time friend Dave Joy was my Best Man (and by far the tallest too). Margaret's brother Frank sang. It was really a very nice affair albeit one conducted at 12:00 noon on a day when the temperature was ominously close to 100 degrees. An outdoor wedding at 12:00 noon in June in New Jersey. While I hope it is true that with age comes wisdom, I acknowledge that back in the day I set the bar at "step over easily" height. I know not at this point whether any apparent uptick in mental acuity represents in me intellectual growth or inevitability.

There are times when it seems to me as if the seventeen years of road we have traveled from that day to this one have passed at an infuriatingly brisk pace. I closed my eyes but for a moment and the two mighty mites who were but children when we wed are now both full-grown people making their way in the adult world. I closed them again and the clean-shaven youngish-looking man of twenty-six who Margaret married has ceded the stage to a graying, bearded, showing every second of every day on his face man of forty-three. My bride, as beautiful today as she was the day we married, has aged gracefully and is already counting the days (with anticipation I might add) to her 50th birthday.........which is still more than two years away.

We have made our way in this world together, joined at the heart through better and through worse. I wonder sometimes whether Margaret wonders at what point with me the latter starts to catch up with the former. I would like to say, "Soon" in order to assuage her concerns but the truth is I do not know myself. I would like to tell her that I am looking forward to it as much as she is but I am not sure whether that is quite the elixir to her ear as it sounds like exiting my mouth.

Over the course of the past seventeen years we have been kicked hard in the teeth by life on countless occasions and faced down more than one or two seemingly endless days. Once upon a time I practiced law at a firm whose payroll practices were so sketchy that we - the employees - used to refer to payday as "theoretical payday" - because there was no guarantee that the check given to us was actually worth the paper on which it was printed. Margaret and I have enough distance and space between our present and our past that we can laugh about those epic misadventures now. I assure you that it was not humorous at all at the time it was happening. And as anyone who reads this silliness I write here on a regular basis knows, having landed at a place that was my first employer's polar opposite way back at the end of the last century I up and bolted from it at the beginning of Aught-Nine seduced by the allure of "something more". Luckily - and I have long suspected that Margaret somehow had her hand in it - after only a few months of realizing that "more" was indeed less, I somehow managed to find my way back to home base.

In addition to the residual scars from my self-inflicted wounds we have suffered our share of blows from the outside world as well, the worst of which to date occurred about a year ago when Margaret's mom died after battling hard against breast cancer for five years. As one-half of a couple you do all you can to try to keep your partner safe from the blows of the world at large and protected from all of those things that lurk in the darkness. The failure to do so hurts both of you. But you do what you do and keep on keeping on.

I do not pretend to know how other folks' marriages work. I live only inside of the four walls of my own home. I know though what works for the Missus and me even if I cannot attach a name to it or put my finger on it precisely. We are who we are. I have enjoyed immensely the first seventeen years of this grand experiment. If the remaining 80% or 90% of the journey is as much fun, then I will have nary a complaint. Again, one day I may be brave enough to ask the Missus whether she concurs but that day is not today. And tomorrow seems pretty full already as well.

While it could without saying that I love her completely, it probably does already go without saying more than it should. We are who we are. Margaret and me. This is us.

.....And I would not trade it for anything.

Happy Anniversary Honey.

-AK

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Twofer

This may be my favorite weekend of the year.....unless there is really an exceptional pair of National Semi-Finals on tap in the Final Four. I kid of course. Even when there are two potentially great match-ups that Saturday and the Yankees and Red Sox are the opening game of the Major League season on Sunday Night Baseball this weekend stands alone as my favorite.

On the weekend that was Father's Day Weekend seventeen years ago I became a husband and a father of two at precisely the same moment. And since Suzanne and Rob were already both here at the time Margaret and I exchanged our vows there was none of that typical mess and bother one normally associates with childbirth to impede the progress of the wedding. I went from a solo act to a member of a quartet in less than an hour. Talk about your murderously efficient uses of time; eh?

I was twenty-four when I first met and fell in love with the woman who is now my wife and the two children who I now call my kids. Suzanne is twenty-five now so if memory serves me correctly she was all of six years old when I met her for the first time and Rob was a couple of months beyond his fifth birthday. It is a great, funny story in our house - the story of my introduction to the two of them. It was in an era when Margaret's family rented the same house annually for the month of July down the Shore in a little town called Silver Beach. Way back when, the kids spent every other weekend with their Dad. He had dropped off them down the beach on the Sunday that I met them both for the first time shortly before I met them.

What makes the story of my meeting Suz and Rob so funny is the shape I was in when I met them both. Being a fair-skinned Gael and also woefully dumb, I had spent the day on the beach and in the ocean with my olive-skinned, would not burn on the surface of the Sun at high noon girlfriend. I had done so while wearing little to no sunscreen and my Ray-Ban sunglasses. While stubborn pride would have prevented me from acknowledging this at the time, it is indisputable that I looked ridiculous - not to mention that I appeared to be 8 or 9 minutes away from an all-out sun stroke. I looked particularly ridiculous when I removed my sunglasses to reveal skin that was paled to the point of snow white around both of my eyes, which stood out nicely against the over-sized tomato that the rest of my face resembled.

Resisting both the temptation to run away screaming and to fall down laughing, the kids stuck it out. They survived their meeting with "Mom's new boyfriend." And off we went. The rest, as some say, is history.

Tonight, to kick off my favorite weekend of the year I am running in a 5K race that is taking place at Colonial Park. Long before I met Margaret, Suzanne and Rob Colonial Park was one of my favorite places to go for as a little boy we lived less than ten minutes from it and used to go there on a regular basis to play on the playground and to feed the geese. One of my favorite days from the first summer that Margaret, Suzanne, Rob and I were first bonding with one another (or more correctly I with the three of them) was a Sunday we spent in Colonial Park. We went on the paddle boats and the kids spent quite some time feeding the geese. Being five and six, Rob and Suz were both physically quite small back then, which became an issue (thankfully only temporarily) when a few of the geese started to object to how frequently they were getting fed and literally attempted to bite the hands (and the legs and the butts) of those who were feeding them. In one of the countless photo albums she has chronicling the close to two decades that the four of us have been tripping over each other, Margaret has photos of our day in Colonial Park. I smile every time I look at them.

I was twenty-six years old the weekend I married Margaret and celebrated Father's Day as a Dad for the first time. Whatever you do and wherever you go this weekend I hope your time is enjoyable and your journey is safe. Me? I intend to savor every moment of it.....

They only comes 'round once a year. Days like these.

-AK

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Long, Long Time Ago

I realized this week that it has been 4 Worlds Cups since I graduated from law school and sat for the bar exam. Given my sieve-like mind, the thought was not fully formed in it until I read a piece about two documentaries that are airing on ESPN this month, which each deal with events that made news sixteen years ago today.

It seems both longer than and not anywhere as long ago as sixteen years ago this very day that the phrase "White Ford Bronco" became a permanent part of the American lexicon. Remember the crazy days before the talking heads on every cable pseudo-news network had to devote their energy to the news and not simply beating every ounce of breath out of one story 24 hours a day, everyday? When Orenthal James' search for the real killers takes him through your area - as it invariably will since he continues to leave no stone unturned in his quest for justice - be sure to thank him for his part in creating that phenomenon. Ask him too what happened to AC Cowlings after he parked the Bronco that evening as he appears to have slipped through a hole in the time-space continuum and disappeared.

I remember that June 17, 1994 was a Friday. I remember that solely because on what was the weekend of both Father's Day and my first wedding anniversary (Margaret and I having gotten married on the 19th of June one year earlier) I was spending more quality time than I wanted to with several of my friends and hundreds of other folks I did not know in a ballroom at the Hilton Gateway Hotel in Newark. We were all attendees at the PMBR Multi-State Bar Review, which was an intense, weekend seminar given by hyper-caffeinated little dude and was designed to help all of us get through the "universal" portion of the Bar, which was the Multi-State multiple choice portion of the test, which everyone is required to take irrespective of where you are taking the exam and what state or states into which you seek admission.

Our Friday evening session started at some point prior to OJ and AC's long, slow jaunt down the 405, which serves as my excuse for not knowing what the hell was going on when - during one of the 15-minute breaks our lecturer took - one of my friends and I sauntered up to one of the bars in the Hilton to get a liquid refreshment and to check on the score of the Knicks/Rockets game, which was (I think) Game 5 of the NBA Finals. (Forgive the tangent/rant right here but answer me this: Why the hell is the NBA season so long? It starts prior to Columbus Day and it ends at or about Father's Day? Tonight, in celebration of the 16th anniversary of the slowest moving parade Los Angeles has ever seen the Lakers will try to defeat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Given how absurdly boring professional basketball is, must they drag the season out forever.) While we were at the bar waiting for our beers we thought we were watching a commercial for Ford - looking at the screen of the Bronco driving down the highway. We thought that only until we realized that after sixty seconds the spot did not end. It simply continued to run.

The bartender did what he could to try and find alternative programming but to no avail. At least not while we were standing there. I later found out that at some point that evening NBC rigged up some sort of split screen so that it could continue to broadcast the NBA Finals game while simultaneously attempting to exploit as much mileage as it could out of the chase. I know not whether that happened after we completed our "intermission" beers or whether the bartender ended up on another channel but we saw none of the game during our time at the bar.

We did spend a few minutes talking to some of the World Cup fans who were staying at the hotel. The World Cup had just started - if I recall correctly - and folks in our neck of the woods were thrilled by the fact that Giants Stadium was hosting games that included Ireland, Italy, Norway and (I think) Mexico. I recall there being a number of Irish fans in the bar that night - along with their Italian counterparts, drinking with one another and having what appeared to be an incredibly good time. Then again, we were there studying for the bar exam. Had they been holding magnifying glasses over each other's forearms in an effort to singe one another's arm hair they would have been having more fun than were we.

I played soccer for four years in high school. I love the sport. I love watching the World Cup. I sat glued to my TV set on Saturday afternoon when our boys played the Brits in our first game in Group play. I cheered for Clint Dempsey when his most unlikely of goals made its way to and then through British keeper Robert Green and into the goal for the equalizer shortly before half-time. It did make me think back however to the '94 World Cup and the ultimately fatal mistake that Colombian defender Andres Escobar made against the United States, scoring an own goal in a game that the U.S. won 2-1. That game happened on the 22nd of June. Less than two weeks later - on July 2 - Escobar was murdered in Colombia. He was shot multiple times by an assassin who reportedly yelled out "GOAL!" in a style similar to that favored by Spanish-speaking soccer broadcasters after firing each shot.

In '94, as my friends and I occupied ourselves preparing for the bar exam, the American side acquitted itself very nicely in the World Cup it hosted and O.J. Simpson and his cast of characters were just settling into a drama that lasted close to a year and a half and provided fodder for lawyer-hating people everywhere.

Have we come a long way in sixteen years? Or have we moved not very far at all? Sometimes it it is damn hard to tell.

At least we will always have Kato.

-AK

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The First of Forever

Suzanne - who turned 25 on her most recent birthday (in the spirit of the occasion I gave her a quarter) - has worked at a myriad of jobs for the better part of the past decade. They have all shared one common thread: they have been jobs. Nothing more, nothing less. She has been a bit busy during that same time period completing first high school then college and most recently her Master's Program.

Today, all of that changes. Suzanne arises this morning to do something seemingly familiar yet completely new. Today truly is the first day of the rest of her life. For today, she is not "going to work". Rather she is going to her first day in her chosen profession as she officially enjoys the family of skilled therapists in a dizzying array of disciplines at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute. While I doubt not for a moment that she will love what she does and that she will be a scorching success at it - for she is her mother's daughter and is simply not programmed to fail - I have no doubt that this morning some first day butterflies are competing for time and attention in her belly alongside her green tea and mini-wheats. As it should be. Nothing worth achieving or having would be so if the thought of not having it did not scare us just a little.

The trick is of course keeping the butterflies under wraps enough to enable you to perform the tasks at hand. And if you're scared of the future tonight, we'll take it each hour one at a time. I am already looking forward to the end of my day today. I have no doubt that at the end of her first day, Suz will come home with what sounds like a month's worth of things that she loved about her first day to share with Margaret and me. While there are any number of things in this world about which Suzanne cares not at all (and if you do not believe me ask her yourself but be prepared to be a while) she has unrivaled enthusiasm for those things, those pursuits that she loves. And she loves doing what it is today she will do for the first time as a full-time professional person: helping individuals entrusted to her care.

When your kids are young you listen to them tell you as a parent any number of things that they want to do "when they grow up". Some are fanciful. Some are impractical. Some simply fall by the wayside as they do in fact grow and their interests change. All you really hope for - if you have done your job adequately - is that you have done all you can do for them to put them in a position where once they figure out what it is they truly want to make their life's pursuit they can go ahead and pursue it. And once that make that decision, all you want for them is to be happy. Life is a tough enough game without the added encumbrance of arising every morning to go off to earn your living doing something you hate. Or worse, something for which you have no passion at all.

Today, Suzanne does more than simply dip her toe into the water. Today, she cannonballs off of the high board. I am sure that for a moment or two she will struggle to get her bearings and make her way to the surface. Once she does she will realize that there is not a single spot in this pool where she cannot simultaneously touch the bottom with her feet while keeping her head squarely above the water safe and dry.

Jump on in kiddo. The water's fine.

-AK

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Room for Forgotten Ghosts at the Redmoon Inn

The single coolest thing about the fact that both of my kids are full-fledged adults (they are too I have seen the photo identification) is that we have reached the point in our parent/child relationship where I learn more from them than they learn from me. OK. In the interests of full disclosure we probably passed that point two decades ago. Being a tad slow on the uptake it took me until just about now to become cognizant of it.

When Rob was little I indoctrinated him into the pseudo-religious musical experience that I consider Springsteen to be, which is why even when he was considerably younger than he is now his Springsteen chops were full-formed. In what can be viewed fairly as him returning the favor, over the course of the past several years he has worked hard at expanding the old man's musical horizons. Among the work to which he has introduced me is that of a Jersey-based rock and roll band The Gaslight Anthem.

Again, full disclosure compels me to admit that I likely would know none of this band's music - or their name for that matter - but for my son's passionate support of them. I consider myself fortunate for the introduction. There were days (back in the halcyon days of iPod ownership - before a big bird swooped down and stole it from me) that I swore I ran faster and longer than I otherwise would have considered possible with the songs from one of their CDs pulsating in my ears. An incomparable elixir. Better than water. Better than Gatorade. Better than even GU. Yes, I said it - even better than GU.

If you have happened past this space at any moment in time prior to this very day than you have waded through my oft-repeated disclaimer about not caring what others read, listen to or watch. I am compelled to give it again right here. I own no stake in the things such as music, books, movies that I proclaim a rooting interest in so whether you share my enthusiasm for them does not impact my bottom line at all. Nevertheless, if you are a person like I am who finds it increasingly depressing trying to wade through all of the mind-numbing dreck that occupies the shelves of most record stores (presuming you can even find a "record store" anywhere), then you might want to do yourself the favor of checking out "American Slang", which is being released today. Will not checking it out kill you or injure you in any way? Not that I am aware of. But doing so might in fact put a smile on your face and that will certainly not kill you.

Having had the pleasure of listening to this latest disc on-line via a link Rob sent me several days ago I already have carved out a spot in my musical heart for the song that speaks to me most directly. Thematically, "Old Haunts" reminds me of something that I have beaten my kids over the heads with their entire lives: life is a journey lived going forward. There is always a bit of room for nostalgia and for looking back happily at rivers crossed and steps taken but the time devoted to glancing backwards cannot be permitted to infringe too greatly on the time devoted to the "as yet un-lived" portion of one's life.

You grow personally, emotionally and/or professionally and you live. You stop growing and you die. Maybe not physically at first but most assuredly emotionally and mentally. And once that occurs, your body becomes nothing but a carrying case. It is my understanding from the primers that Rob has given me repeatedly on this band that their lead singer Brian Fallon, whose lyrics and music they perform, is not yet 30 years old. Remarkable stuff indeed.

And God help the man who says
If you'd have known me when
Old haunts are for forgotten ghosts.
Old haunts are for forgotten ghosts.

Pressing onward and forward takes more than just a bit of skill and good fortune. It takes courage, which after all is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. And here's the damned thing about it: there is always something else more important than fear.

-AK

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time Out

Yesterday was what we in the Garden State sometimes call a "changeable weather" day. It dawned hot, sunny and steamy but by early afternoon the steam had organized itself into actual precipitation. For a period of an hour or two it rained quite hard, which undoubtedly put the kibosh (to a degree at least) on the party that our next-door neighbors were having in their backyard for their twin daughters to celebrate their graduation from 8th grade.

I took advantage of the somewhat mellow tenor of the day to continue my efforts to undo the damage that the dumb asses from Continental Airlines did to my personal property. On Saturday the Missus and me bought a new watch (as cheap as I could find for the limited purposes I need it) and on Sunday I replaced several other items, including a new pair of sunglasses and a new Camelbak Hydration Pack (it is the "Rogue" model - go figure!) to replace the one that I had purchased in Boulder on the Sunday afternoon prior to the Bolder Boulder. There is nothing quite as annoying as having to buy the same damn thing twice in two weeks' time - unless it is something that you expect using up and having to replace such as beer.

Proving that the good folks who program HBO have a sense of humor, Margaret and I spent the late afternoon/early evening watching Cast Away. The scenes in that movie after Tom Hanks washed up on the shore of his island paradise in which he walked along in the surf retrieving the Fed Ex boxes as they made the beach now represent black humor to me. The plane crashes, four of its five occupants perish and yet the parcels on board survive. Sort of the antithesis of entrusting one's bag to Continental Airlines.

We live and we die by time. And we must not commit the sin of turning our back on time. True I suppose but not as an absolute. Sunday afternoon I had quite an enjoyable time paying little attention to time and doing a whole lot of.....well, nothing. I do not know if I turned my back on time altogether but I did enjoy giving it the side-eye.

Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

-AK

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Unsinkable Joanie K.

Today is the birthday of my #1 hero: Mom. I am smiling as I write this - merely thinking about her - and I hope that if and when she reads it it gives her cause to smile as well.

Mom has long been a marvel to me. She was married for more than thirty years to my father - an incredibly intense, brilliant and ultimately self-destructive personality - who made his living as an educator. Yet, for all of the stuff Dad taught me during our joint tenancy here on the Big Blue Marble, Mom was the teacher of the important life lessons that I carry with me to this day. At least I hope I do honor to them and to her by carrying them with me.

At this point in her life, Mom has been widowed for almost as long as she was married. I know not what emotions if any that fact stirs up inside of her. It always makes me feel a bit sad. Not for my father necessarily but for Mom. You exchange vows, you take one another for better or for worse and until death tears you apart. No one ever bothers to point out to you that death may come a-callin' for one of you decades earlier than the other.

I suspect that I dwell on Mom's solo status far more than she ever has - or shall. You have to know my mother to appreciate her duck-like ability to allow water to roll off of her back irrespective of its temperature or its temperament. Her #1 life lesson to me when I was a boy was, "Everything happens for a reason........even if the reason is not immediately clear." While I am not sure I understood that philosophy at all when I was 16 or 17 and might still only partially grasp it at 43, my life is a testament to it. Upon graduating from college in 1989 I intended to take only one year off before beginning law school. Being perpetually short-sighted I failed to account for the possibility that I might not get accepted into law school. I was not. Each school I applied to in the Spring of 1990 with the hope of starting my studies there in the Fall of that very same year turned me down - including the one I ultimately earned my J.D. from in 1994.

I was devastated. Hell, more than that I was screwed - or so I thought. I had no "Plan B". I cobbled one together on the fly. It consisted of, "I guess I will move back out to Boulder." That was it, you ask? Indeed it was. Elegant in its simplicity; right?

Mom being Mom listened to me formulate this master plan for most of the Summer of '90 and made no overt effort to talk me out of it. She left me alone to do that which I thought I had to do and what I thought I wanted to do. Finally, in or about early August she mentioned to me that she thought that it might be better to proceed with smaller, safer steps. She suggested that rather than packing up all of my worldly belongings into very cool VW Fox for a permanent relocation West that perhaps I should simply go on a road trip. Take a vacation and allow my head to clear. She did not insist upon me doing it. She simply tossed the idea out there and left it for me to consider.

I ultimately did what Mom suggested. My buddy Loku and I ended up trekking West together so that he could get settled in back in Boulder to complete his work on his graduate studies. I spent a day or two simply walking all over Boulder - feeling like a stranger in a strange land as I watched thousands of kids arriving on campus to begin the school year. I realized right then and there that while I love Boulder and I love CU, it is a place I shall always enjoy visiting but shall never call home. On either the second or third day that I was in town, I wandered over to the UMC, bought myself a one-way ticket on a flight East to Newark and headed home. Amazingly enough, although I flew on Incompetent B*st*rd Airlines my bag arrived in Newark at the same time as I did.

A couple of weeks after I decided not to run away from life, I started a job working at a collection agency, making telephone calls to folks who had past due car loans and credit card bills. I was a decidedly mediocre cog in the machine, performing the mundane tasks of my gig with little sense of purpose. While the job itself was not memorable in the least, it turned out to be a life-changing place to work. I met Margaret there. But for that dumb job I may have never met my wife.

Mom is a gracious winner. In the day or two immediately preceding Margaret/my wedding in June of '93, without saying, "I told you so", she and I spoke about the great summer of my discontentment. She reminded me of her mantra about things happening for a reason and reminded me that but for not getting accepted into law school for admission in '90 I would not have ended up working in a place where I met the woman who saved my life....

....Actually Margaret is the second one to do so. To the original life-saver today, I say Happy Birthday Mom! This one's for you.

-AK

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Essayists

My "kids" are no longer children. I am thrilled that two of the three of us have actually matured. No promises regarding the one with the over sized head who was left behind. I think - looking through the admittedly rapidly diminishing hindsight through which I see the past - that the two of them lived what could fairly be described as innocuous childhoods. No irreversible or impossible to overcome trauma. No boldface, above the type moments either. Just a couple of suburban kids living their lives essentially incident-free.

No doubt because the two of them blessed the Missus and me with a virtually trouble-free existence (at least until they each got a driver's license that is) I think if I live to be twice as old as I am now I shall remember their great bike adventure, which landed them in a doghouse built for two. If memory serves me correctly, neither was older than perhaps 3rd or 4th grade (Suz being one grade ahead of Rob). At the time we lived in what we later came to call the "flood house" as our homage to Hurricane Floyd. While I cannot recall exactly where the lines were drawn, I know that Margaret had laid out very specific geographic limitations as to where Suz and Rob were allowed to ride their bikes. The idea was to keep them fairly close to the house - if not within plain sight, then within ear shot.

One afternoon while they were hosting their cousins (at the time it was only the Bozzomo Trio as the second half of the sextet had not yet made their respective debuts) the Five Amigos apparently decided to flaunt Margaret's Line of Demarcation. In a move destined to show off their his/her matching rebellious streaks to their cousins, they took their bicycles (and their cousins) through an area that was off limits to them. A perfect plan. Margaret did not know that they had gone over the wall. Neither did I. Neither did Frank and C. Ah, sweet freedom.

Alas, they did not count on one of the members of the gang getting frightened and/or all of them getting lost or some such thing (after all this time the Devil may remain in the details but the details remain locked away in the recesses of my mind forever), which ultimately necessitated a call from frightened child to soon-to-be-very-torqued off parent. And with that single phone call, the jig was up.

I remember that Margaret and I were both more scared by where they had been when they called for help than we were pissed off that they had flipped us the virtual bird to get where it was they had gotten to. Being my father's son, I managed - with nary a Feather upon which to rely mind you - to channel my fear into anger long enough to threaten the two of them with punishments handed down to me from a grandfather they never knew. My kids were made of tougher stuff than I was when I was their age. And the fact that they were both - in spite of their tender years - considerably smarter than I was they allowed my biggest and baddest threats ("Do you want me to give you something to cry about?" and "How about I take away your birthday!" - Dad always taught me to bring out the heavy artillery right away) to bounce off of them like feathers. Wholly unfazed were they.

Punishment was demanded however so Margaret and I finally managed to cobble one together. We required each to write an essay of a seemingly extraordinary length (I think it was either 250 or 500 words) on the subject of why it was important that they listen to Mommy about where they were supposed to go and what they were supposed to do. Suzanne can fill 500 words on counting to 500 so she completed her assignment begrudgingly but quickly. As if to show us both one final time that she was operating at a RPM we simply could not match.

Rob took a far more creative approach in his essay. Whatever the word count was that he was required to hit, he did. Right on the nose. Not a word to spare. While his work was not necessarily one that contained a riveting narrative, it was laugh-out-loud funny. Rob channeled his inner Roget. He pointed out that by disobeying Mommy and going someplace he had been told not to go that he could have encountered a killer/murderer/slayer, etc who could have grabbed up his sister and him and taken them away in a car/truck/van/school bus/tractor, etc.......You get the idea. He wrote only a handful of sentences. Yet he managed to make each one of them at least twenty-five to fifty words long. It was remarkable.

It was also worth keeping. So we did. Somewhere in the impenetrable fortress of all things important she has in our home, Margaret has each kid's essay. All these years later, she still has them someplace where she can pull them out on a moment's notice and look at them if she wants to. Folks, therein lies a valuable life lesson for all of us, whether you are just a regular working stiff or a multi-million dollar business that makes your money overcharging consumers for your service. If you take the time to preserve and protect things you will always know where they are. You shall not lose them, which is really, really important when the stuff in question is not yours but someone else's that you inexplicably fail to transport from Point A to Point B.....but I digress.

If you do not know that she is holding onto them as invaluable Grandma swag to share with the next generation some day for use as props to support a "do you know what he or she did at your age?" story to a little one, then you simply do not know my wife.

I thought of all of this silliness in the wake of reading about Abby Sunderland. In the interests of full disclosure I must confess that I had no idea who she was or that she - or any teenager for that matter - engaged in a seemingly inane stunt such as sailing around the world alone until I read the story on-line on Thursday that she was feared lost at sea. I was thrilled to read on Friday that she had been located and that a rescue boat was on its way to pick her up and - presumably - bring her home.

Apparently Abby is a part of an adventure-seeking family. Her older brother (who I believe is 17 or 18) went on a similar jaunt at some point last year. Both kids have undertaken these adventures with the support, knowledge and backing of their parents. According to a piece on msnbc.com their father owns a yacht management company (I wonder if yachts are harder to manage than say the Kansas City Royals) and encourages his two children to live life to the fullest. Candidly, Papa Sunderland sounded just a touch defensive in his chat with the Associated Press after Abby was found, "Sailing and life in general is dangerous. Teenagers drive cars. Does that mean teenagers shouldn't drive a car? I think people who hold that opinion have lost their zeal for life. They're living in a cotton-wool tunnel to make everything safe."

I get his point - to a degree at least. Hell, when Suzanne first got her license we spent more father/daughter time together in Municipal Court than we did anywhere else. Still - his sixteen-year-old was thousands of miles away from home. Alone. On a boat in the Indian Ocean. We have no shortage of ex post facto bravado in the world today. I would wager - as a Dad - that had this search for his 16 y/o little girl ended with sadness instead of gladness, Mr. Sunderland would have bought up as much cotton and wool as he could lay his hands on and wrapped it around his family.

Discretion is the better part of valor. Or as I like to put it - Stupidity is the flip side of valor. The tricky part is not realizing that the coin has two sides. It is figuring out which one is which. And just how close one is, always, to the point of know return.

-AK

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Toast to Something Unpredictable

At some point this afternoon, the Class of 2010 shall graduate from the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, New Jersey. It is an event that unless you are among the graduates or their families has likely not been denoted on your social calendar. No apology necessary. For reasons not entirely clear to me, I am a member of the Board of the Alumni Association at my high school Alma mater and I shall not be there. Again, no apology necessary from me either. While I am connected to the alumni end of the operation at W-H these days, I do not know any of this year's graduates.

While I shall not be on Inman Avenue this afternoon to watch this year's group complete this leg of their academic journey, I cannot help but think about them just a little bit today. It was a quarter-century ago that I stood where they stand today - with my friends and classmates as the Class of 1985 bid adieu to a place that some of us had called home since we were of elementary-school age. Twenty-five years. I suspect that time is for me as it is for most of us a concept that is both easy to and and impossible to measure. At times, twenty-five years ago seems like twenty-five lifetimes ago. Then again at times it seems closer to twenty-five minutes ago.

I subscribe to the Pete Hamill school of thought on the distinction between sentimentality and nostalgia: New York toughens its people against sentimentality by allowing the truer emotion of nostalgia. Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie. I have no delusions about the boy I was a quarter-century ago. I think about the boys/girls graduating from high school this year - including my Alma mater - and wonder if they will be as surprised as I sometimes am to see the journey that I have taken over the course of the past twenty-five years and left to wonder sometimes how surprised eighteen-year-old me would be by some of the steps that forty-three year-old me has taken to bridge the gap from then to now.

This year for the first time (at least the first time that I am aware of but it is entirely possible that they have had one ever year for the past two dozen and simply made the high-percentage move of not telling me about them) my class is going to have a reunion. The convenience of the Internet has allowed a number of us to reconnect (virtually anyway) and since a number of us have reestablished some degree of contact, the next logical step (I guess) is to get together in the same place. To make "FB" stand for "flesh and bone" instead of Facebook for at least one evening. It should be an interesting evening.

The life I live now is not the one I necessarily thought that I would be living way back when in 1985. Way back when Ronald Reagan was but a few months into his second term, baseball had but two divisions per league and only two playoff qualifiers from each and the scrappy tag team of Doc Brown and Marty McFly were preparing for their first little bit of cinematic time travel........in Jimmy Fabricatore's DeLorean. It is not necessarily the life I thought I would be living now but it is most certainly a life I would not trade for another.

A lesson learned in time. And still being absorbed.....twenty-five years further on up the road. And being taught anew today to one and all. Some things remain constant. Irrespective of time's passage.

-AK

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Field, One Arm, Many Dreams

Too often it seems that at the point of intersection where the rubber meets the road, things end up being something less than they were cracked up to be. Regardless of how mechanically inept we might be (and as soon as I can pull apart the hands I inadvertently super glued together I will raise one of mine and be counted), all of us recognize and know how to operate the hype machine. P.T. Barnum did not die. He multiplied.

But every so often - as we elbow our way to get to the front of the line of folks waiting to see "The Great Egress" - a moment occurs where what actually happens is even better than what we were told was going to happen. Tuesday night was such an occurrence. Because one cannot live by blind hatred alone - even for the most incompetently run corporate entity currently operating in these United States (on land anyway as the dullards from BP appear to have the aquatic competition locked down), as I sat in front of my computer thinking of mean (albeit well-earned) things to say about Continental Airlines I remembered that a much-heralded rookie pitcher was making his Major League debut for the Washington Nationals. I was half-watching the Yankees dismember the Orioles when I remembered that the good people of DirectTV bring me MLB Network as part of my programming package. I turned to that channel and there he was: the future had arrived.

Baseball has appeared in more incantations in our Nation's Capital than anyone or anything else this side of William Howard Taft. The present wearers of the Washington, D.C. name are the Nationals (or the Natinals as they unfortunately appeared - at least some of them - during one game last season). While term limits have not yet come to the United States Senate (and Robert Byrd of West Virginia has announced his plans to serve two terms after he dies), someone in the MLB hierarchy decided that "Senators" would not serve a third team as the Washington club's nickname, which given that former Senators are now Twins and Rangers was probably a good idea.

Tuesday night in D.C. a remarkable thing happened. The Nationals filled their ballpark to its gunwales in anticipation of the debut of Stephen Strasburg, who is but a season removed from having been the nation's dominant collegiate pitcher. And the kid - in his first big league game - brought the stuff. He pitched seven innings, during which he struck out 14 Pirates batters while walking none. He yielded only two runs. For good measure, in inning six and again in inning seven he struck out the side. He was not as good as advertised in his debut. He was better. Whether he can come close to replicating that performance in his second game, which will be in Cleveland against the Indians, I know not. We shall all have to wait and see.

For one magical late Spring/early Summer night in Washington D.C., no one cared about what might occur at some point in the future. That is not entirely true. Strasburg represents something of critical importance to his team and to their fans: HOPE. He is the Promise of better days ahead. More than that though, they cared about what they were seeing. They cared less about his promise and more about his performance. The type of performance that reminded them that if we keep just a bit of faith in the magic that exists out there in the ether and in the night air, our faith might very well be rewarded.

And on TV the energy in Nationals Park was palpable - and stood in stark contrast to the somnambulant nature of the somewhat sparse crowd relaxing at Camden Yard as the hometown O's got their beaks kicked in by the Yankees. Faith is indeed a powerful thing. It was in plentiful supply in the District of Columbia but nowhere to be found further East on the Baltimore Washington Parkway.

Watching Strasburg pitch Tuesday night I was reminded that faith and hope, much like despair and fear, are infectious and extremely communicable. And watching him in action, I could not help but smile. I am a Yankees fan. But more than that I am - and have been my entire life - a baseball fan. And while no one knows what the story of young Mr. Strasburg will be until it is written, on Tuesday night he was good for more than just his club. He was good for baseball. I hope that not only was his debut a portent of things to come for him but that his future unfolds for him wearing the uniform of the Nationals. The easiest way to speed up the spread of hope and of faith is not try to stockpile it all in one place. Rather it should be spread around - readily accessible for all who might want to have a taste of it.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

I hope that Mr. Strasburg, his mates and the Nationals' fans have a whole lot more Tuesday nights like the one they just had. It shall be good for him, good for them and good for all of us. We can all always use a reminder of all that once was good and that could be again.

-AK