Saturday, July 31, 2010

Odds & Sods & Ends

We have reached the end of the seventh month of the year already. By this time next month school kids all across the land will have already matriculated back to class with overstuffed packs on their backs and snarls on their faces. Buck up little ones. Some day the 'school' part of your life will be over......as will your annual three month summer vacation.

This being the final day of July means that is the birthday of my pal Gracie. Had Mom and Dad been crazy enough to have a child for every deadly sin, she would be the little sister that I (the tail gunner) never had. I know not what the weather shall be in her part of the world this weekend but I hope it is nice so that she, Joe, Morgan and the rest of the gang can get some quality boat time. Gracie is a good soul. The least whoever it is asserts control over all of these things can do is give her weather by which to enjoy her birthday.

It seems as if the past few weeks at work I have done a lot of running around - seeming to be out of the office at one appearance or another more than I have been in. Conservatively speaking I think I have driven on average 500+ miles a week for the past three weeks at least. When you spend a lot of time in the car, you see any number of interesting things. Some amusing. Some not so much.

An example of the former? The drive home on Thursday night south on 287 included lots of company - as it often does. Among them was an old, somewhat weathered-looking Ford pickup truck with Michigan plates. In the bed of the pickup was what looked like a shack one would see on a frozen lake during ice fishing season. Sticking out of its wall was an air conditioner. An air conditioner. I have seen a lot of things in my life driving all over my home state's highways and byways, including countless air-conditioned vehicles. This was however the first one I had ever seen any other than a central-air system.

Odd? Sure. Something that communicated a sense of foreboding? Not at all. Wednesday morning I had to go to court in Middlesex County. As I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic I noticed that the rather intense-looking fellow in the Lexus sedan next to me had a bumper sticker affixed to the trunk of his car that read, "ARE YOU READY TO MEET YOUR GOD?" Admittedly, I am not what would fairly be described as a religious man so it is possible suppose that his query was more innocuous than it appeared to be in all caps and bold type. Then again, I doubt it.

Nice to know that among those of us who are be-bopping our way through the daily bump and grind is at least one of us who seems not to mind scaring the shit out of the rest of us. OK, at least one of the rest of us although I cannot believe that I am the only one who was around this dude in traffic who found his mobile invitation for divine intervention to be slightly unsettling.

Hell of a way to put a bow on another month.

-AK

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Great Escape

Spent a bit of time yesterday in one of my favorite places. Northern State Prison is a State correctional facility. There are some who will express regret at learning that my stay there was (a) relatively brief; and (b) wholly voluntary as opposed to being of an indeterminate length and at the request of the Governor or some such bigwig. I was there because among the matters that I am defending is an auto accident case in which my client - one of the drivers and therefore one of the defendants in the suit - was killed. Not much of a secret about who killed her or how since the man who did it, while driving drunk, was the reason why I (and the rest of the lawyers in the case) were at NSP yesterday.

We have had to go to him in this case when we need him because he is spending about seven years there as a guest of the Governor and the rest of us hard-working taxpayers in the State of Concrete Gardens secondary to the plea of guilty he entered to vehicular homicide (2nd degree). Seven years in prison is not my idea of a good time. But then again, considering that my client was a 19 y/o girl, the Dad in me thinks that the man who killed her is getting off pretty damn easy.

Apparently we arrived yesterday afternoon too late for lunch (and I had heard it was creamed chipped beef on toast, which sounded scrumptious) so we had to be content simply conducting this fellow's deposition in one of the posh, well-decorated conference rooms at NSP. You would be amazed to see the things that are being done with concrete and steel......most of which is bolted into the concrete by the way. It is almost nice enough to want to make one go out and commit a crime just to have access to the room.

While I am kidding of course - both about the splendor of the conference room and the pleasure I derive from spending time at Northern State Prison - I could not help but laugh driving there yesterday. I think that the facility has been up and running for about twenty-five years or so - although I could be mistaken. I am confident, regardless of how long it has been open for business that there is no more ideally located geographically prison in this country or any country than good ol' NSP.

And it is the facility's location that always makes me smile. I recall a million years ago when I worked for my older brother Kelly that we used to pass by NSP on our way to and from various jobs in Manhattan, Jersey City and Hoboken. Like clockwork, he used to laugh about the fact that only in our beloved state would we locate a prison within walking distance of multiple hotels and directly across the highway from an international airport. Nothing like giving an escapee options; right? He and I used to joke about the commercials that the hotels that are literally located up the block from NSP could make in an effort to appeal to their "incarcerated" demographic. "Take longer to dig that tunnel than you thought it would and so you missed the last flight out tonight to Rio? Need a place to stay? We provide clean rooms at a reasonable rate, free Continental breakfast and free airport shuttles!"

We tend to do some pretty goofy sh*t here in the State of the Sub Shop of Choice of the Commander-in-Chief. We build a prison so conveniently located to lodging, major highways and various modes of mass transit including an airport that our Department of Corrections uses one of the hotels as a landmark in the driving directions it provides for NSP on its website. Yet close to four decades ago, we develop swamp land/burial ground (a little shout out to Mr. Hoffa and Teamsters everywhere) into a Sports Complex that included a 77,000 seat stadium, a 20,000 seat indoor arena and a race track for harness and thoroughbred racing caring not one whit about the fact that it was wholly inaccessible by train and a complete pain in the ass to attempt to enter and exit due to traffic patterns and volume. Only in Jersey can our elected officials spend public funds to situate a facility that they want people to visit voluntarily as inconveniently as possible while simultaneously spending the funds of that same public to conveniently locate a facility frequented and used (overwhelmingly so) by people whose decision to be there is anything but voluntary.

It is a well-known fact that in Jersey anything's legal as long as you don't get caught. And if you do, ask to be sent to Northern State Prison. Your gateway to the world.

-AK

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Flight Is Over

My less-than-epic battle against one of the world's most incompetently run corporate entities ended this week as most of these things do I suppose. Far more whimper than bang.

In my mail on Monday evening I found a letter from the "Continental Airlines Delayed Baggage Center." No, I am not making up the name of the locale from whence my mail originated. One wonders just how many flavors are available and how limitless the supply of Kool-Aid is at the airline's corporate HQ to fuel the delusion that their customers' bags that are either stolen or lost while entrusted to their employees are nevertheless "delayed" somewhere. Then again, I could be wrong. My bag and I had just spent 96 hours together in fairly small quarters. I suppose he could have asked for an indefinite layover somewhere just to get away on his own for a while. But then again, no.

Thus right down to its final word on the subject, the people of Continental Airlines (whose number by my calculation include exactly one good person - Tracey Anderson and countless others who spend part of every work day doing who the hell knows what exactly) refused to admit that either (a) one of their intrepid fellows on the ground in Denver had lost my bag; or (b) one of their enterprising fellows on the ground in Denver had pilfered my bag - specifically the iPod Nano and the Nikon digital camera that I had foolishly secured in it as opposed to my carry-on bag (although in my defense each made the trip from Newark to Denver without incident). Nope. Apparently it bears remembering that one cannot spell "denial" without "e", "n", "i", "a" or "l". Wait one second - I am certain that I can think of another word (Continental) that includes those same five letters. It shall come to me.

I am pleasantly surprised that Continental did not attempt to completely screw me on the adjustment of my claim. They did not reimburse me for the "delayed" electronics, which while annoying is wholly consistent with the "limit of liability" language included in at least the claim forms and (I think) on their tickets as well. Removing my iPod and Margaret's camera from the mix, they paid me 100 cents on the dollar for everything that I lost. That is nice as far as it goes but since it does not go far enough to make items such as my Bolder Boulder race bib suddenly emerge from the mist, forgive me if I do not feel anything close to whole. I may have to see if I can twist Rob's arm to do it again next year just so that I can end up with a memento. Hmmm....

The cherry on top of the sundae o' fun that this whole experience turned out to be the letter that accompanied the check. The check was dated July 21, 2010. The date on the letter? June 29th. Well done Houston. Nothing quite like letting your pi$$ed-off customer know that the lag time between drafting of letter saying, "enclosed please find your check" and releasing the settlement draft is an eyelash short of one month. Apparently in the "Delayed Baggage Center" they have a "Delayed Settlement Check" Department. Again, who knew? Or perhaps they simply used one of their baggage-handling dudes or ticketing agents to ensure the letter's arrival at Point B from Point A. In that case, the "delay" would be wholly understandable.

At day's end, I got no sugar from Continental. No voucher for a free ticket; no complimentary upgrade the next time I fly; no gratis headphones for my listening enjoyment in-flight (perhaps a reminder to put my iPod in my carry-on bag); and no free lifetime supply of Eagle Snacks (had they known what a sucker I am for honey-roasted peanuts perhaps they would have sent me some). Nothing more than a check and some half-hearted, hollow apology and a hope that, "the next time you [I] fly you [meaning me] will choose Continental." Why would I not?

Slightly less than two months after "delaying" my bag (Continental must employ legendary University of North Carolina hoops coach Dean Smith to write its policies and procedures), Continental declared, "Game over." What is done is done. And at this point, it is indeed finished. The Irish in me - of course - will likely ensure that it is some time further on up the road before I forgive either the ineptitude or the attitude displayed by most of the Continental folks I have dealt with since early June - Tracey Anderson excepted. And my Irish heritage shall most certainly ensure that I shall never forget what transpired. I must remember.....

Even if it takes a million years.

-AK

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exit Wounds

There is an old saw about the relationship between the passage of time and the healing of wounds. While it may very well be so, it is certainly not absolute. History teaches us that some wounds remain open. They continue to fester long after first inflicted by one upon another -irrespective of and immune to the curative power of time. Do not feel compelled to take my word for it. For fun, invite a couple of soul mates named Frazier and Ali to your Labor Day BBQ and wait for the hilarity to ensue. Be prepared to wait for a long, long time.

As a little boy I rooted hard for the Miami Dolphins. While I do not remember for certain why I did, I think the fact that they had one player whose nickname was "Zonk" and another whose nickname was "Mercury" had quite a bit to do with it. It was not until the latter went to prison for his role in a cocaine trafficking ring that I discovered Eugene Morris was not nearly as cool as his nickname suggested. In the early 1970's, the Oakland Raiders were among Miami's fiercest rivals. Even as a little kid, I found the whole concept of "Raider Nation" more than slightly terrifying. In retrospect I think part of that was their team colors. Oakland wore silver and black. Miami? A shade of blue I later learned is called "teal" and orange. Hard to look fierce in teal and orange, even when you are from Miami, unless your last name is Crockett.

What intimidated me the most about the Raiders - even from the climate-controlled safety of my living room - was Jack Tatum. Watching him play when I was a child I thought Tatum was the biggest player in the NFL. He routinely annihilated men of every size, color and shape. Tatum was an equal-opportunity punisher. As long as your jersey and his jersey were not the same, you were fair game. Tatum's nickname? "The Assassin". Conjures up a warm, fuzzy image does it not? He grew up in Passaic New Jersey and was a High-School All-American at Passaic High School. Maybe had he been known as "Jersey Jack" he would have seemed less terrifying to my prepubescent eyes. I know not.

Jack Tatum died yesterday of a heart attack. He was 61. For all of his numerous achievements on the football field, Jack Tatum is most well-known for the hit that ended the career of New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley. Stingley, who was 26 years old at the time was left paralyzed from the chest down. It occurred - unbelievably perhaps - in a pre-season game. A game played during what is sometimes referred to as the NFL's exhibition season on an August night in the summer of 1978.

Much has been written in the past thirty-odd years about the point of intersection between the lives of Messrs. Stingley and Tatum, including whether what Tatum did was legal and regardless of whether it was permitted by the NFL's rules whether it was appropriate given the setting and the circumstances. Tatum was largely vilified - perhaps less for the act (no penalty flag was thrown on the field, no fine was ever levied by the NFL and no suspension was ever handed up by Commissioner Rozelle for the hit) than his reaction to it.

Blame is a bumper crop. We always seem to have more on hand than we need to feed all of us forever. Whether the fact that Tatum never spoke directly to Stingley afterwards, including while Stingley was hospitalized, was something that was of Tatum's creation, Stingley's creation, a combination thereof or mere happenstance matters not. The facts are what they are. And the facts are that at no time after August 12, 1978 did the two men whose lives were forever changed by what happened that night ever talk to one another about it. Not once.

We each travel a distance of indeterminate length on the road to reconciliation. Irrespective of the journey's length it cannot be completed if it is never begun. When at age 55 three years ago, Darryl Stingley died, the causes of his death were determined to have been conditions that were complicated by his quadriplegia. He died without ever having reconciled with Tatum. Whether either man needed to reconcile for the sake of the other is - in my opinion - irrelevant. Reconciliation often is an elixir for the soul. Salve if you will for a long bothersome wound. Apparently neither sought it. Sadly, neither received it.

And therein lies the tragedy. Or perhaps better said, the final one involving these two men.

-AK

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Truth About Companionship

If my wife did not have the misfortune of being married to a real a##hole (and trust me I know him and I know of which I speak), then perhaps we would spend more evenings as we spent Sunday evening. On Sunday the Missus and I took a ride down the Parkway to Red Bank. After eating a wholly forgettable meal at a Thai restaurant located in The Galleria on Bridge Street, we ambled across Bridge Street to the Two River Theatre. Once there, we enjoyed a concert in an extremely intimate setting. To give you an idea of the size of the venue, we sat in the center section of Row I. There were only eight rows of seats between us and the front of the stage and but two rows of seats behind us. I would estimate the distance between us and the stage was at or about 100 feet, give or take a yard.

Over the course of the past decade I have spent a lot of time dragging Margaret from one super-sized venue to another to see the Poet Laureate of New Jersey do the voodoo that he does so well. And while there are a number of adjectives to describe the typical Springsteen concert, "intimate" is not one that usually elbows its way to the forefront of the line. While we were in Bruce's front yard Sunday night (or at the very least in the street in front of his home really, really close to the foot of his driveway) our musical journey did not lead us to the boards of Asbury Park.

We spent the evening instead walking the streets of another town altogether. I do not pretend to know a lot of Marc Cohn's music. But what I know of it I like a great deal. Margaret does as well. So on Sunday evening we did something that we do infrequently these days - we went on a date. And we went to see Marc Cohn and his band play, which they did quite well indeed, at the Two River Theater. He is touring in support of a record he just released called "Listening Booth - 1970", which is an album of covers of songs that were released - in one version or another - in 1970 when Cohn was an 11 y/o boy just falling in love with music. He told the audience that forty years later he traces his decision to have made the making of music the way in which he earns his living and supports his family to his days as an 11 year old boy in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The tracks he played in concert Sunday night and we listened to the copy of the CD we bought in the lobby of the theater all the way home in the car.

I was more intrigued candidly to hear the songs of his that are his own, including the ones from his first record, which are the songs of his that I know best of all. Among those that he played from the first record - in addition "Walking In Memphis", which launched his career was a song that never fails to make me think of Margaret. Cohn told his audience that while he had written "True Companion" prior to his first marriage and had even performed it at his first wedding, he emphasized his use of the phrase "first marriage" to underscore the fact that the song notwithstanding his first marriage turned out to have a shelf life considerably shorter than "when death do us part". Proving however that perhaps a happy ending is possible on the second pluck from the tree of life, he pointed out to all of us that he and his wife (his partner at his second marriage) are delightfully happy living together with their four children.

I can relate to Cohn's story albeit from the perspective of being the beneficiary of someone taking a second pluck. But for Margaret's first marriage not being a storybook story, there would never have been an 'us', which means for me there never would have been no Margaret, no Suz or no Rob. A prospect that is quite sobering to think about.

Sunday night, the Missus and I sat there in the center of Row I listening to Marc Cohn sing about the lasting power of love when the one you love is the only one you need. I threw a quick sideways glance at my bride, singing along softly in the next to me. And I realized that Cohn had hit the nail squarely on the head. And more importantly, so have I.

When the years have done irreparable harm
I can see us walking slowly arm in arm
Just like the couple on the corner do
'Cause girl I will always be in love with you
And when I look in your eyes
I'll still see that spark
Until the shadows fall
Until the room grows dark
Then when I leave this Earth
I'll be with the angels standin'
I'll be out there waiting for my true companion.

I am damn happy that I found mine. And I hope you have as well. Life is a tough enough road to walk without making the journey alone.

-AK

Monday, July 26, 2010

Of Mice & Men

There are a number of words that describe me I suppose but one of them that does not is "spontaneous". I tend to plan things - sometimes twice just to be safe - prior to doing them. I know now what will be written on my little urn of ashes when I die but it is safe to assume it shall not be, "he leapt without looking."

Yesterday morning I actually did something that was at least kind of, sort of spontaneous. I participated in a 5K race in Roosevelt Park in Edison. I actually made my decision to participate on Saturday after reading about the event on-line. Sunday morning I did something that I had never done before, which was drive to an event with cash in hand to pay the registration fee, get my assigned bib (and a race t-shirt) and do a bit of running. Again, while it is not the way I usually operate, yesterday at least it proved to be a pretty cool way to operate.

The event was sponsored by JFK Medical Center in Edison. Apparently this was the second year that they have put on the race, which purpose is to raise funds for the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey. The event is called "Miles for Minds". I was intrigued to find out when getting there yesterday morning that the event's starting line and finish line were each located directly outside of what I presumed to be the front door of the Lakeview School.

The Lakeview School is a facility whose students are young people of varying ages who are disabled. When Suz was an undergrad at Seton Hall she spent (I think) a semester there as an unpaid intern as a teacher's aide/student teacher. Then for several months post-graduation from college she returned there in a paying gig doing (I think) the same type of work. I know that she used to come home from there every day raving about how it was she had spent it. I had never seen the place until yesterday. Given how important a role it played in her life, it was nice to see it firsthand.

Yesterday morning was a lot of fun. For me - a runner whose very essence defines the term "mediocrity" I found the course challenging. It contained more than a couple of substantial inclines, which made things interesting but thankfully - on a 90 degree July morning - it also featured a tremendous amount of shade. We spent more time running in shade than in sunshine, the benefit of which cannot be overstated on a summer day in Jersey.

There is something to be said for this spontaneity stuff - at least occasionally. I plan to make some time in my schedule to be spontaneous again. Sometimes soon perhaps.

-AK

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Photographs & Memories

If ignorance truly is bliss, then I have no good explanation for why I do not spend more time walking around with an ear-to-ear grin. Among the many things about which I know very little is photography (just for sh*ts and giggles right there I was going to write "the law" but just in case anyone who (a) signs my paycheck; (b) pays me to represent their interests; or (c) provides the Firm's professional liability insurance I thought it wise to keep that little nugget to myself). I cannot recall actually owning a camera at any time in my life - other than the disposable kind - and up until the point that I bought a 35mm camera for Margaret a number of years ago for Christmas I do not think I had ever had regular access to one.

Times change and even creaky-kneed, ignorant dinosaurs change with them I suppose. The cell phone I currently have (and without my all-knowing technology whiz of a nephew Patrick around to confirm what it is I do not know its type other than it says Nokia on it) takes pictures and videos. The time limit on a video is 40 seconds but - not surprisingly - there is no time limit on the pictures. And it actually takes fairly good pictures, any number of which I download onto my office desktop, my laptop or both. They serve as the screen saver on both computers.

In addition to the photos I take with my trusty cell phone, since buying Margaret a digital camera two or three Christmases, I have become quite attached to the ease and convenience of digital photos. It fascinates my little brain that I can take a picture and 2 seconds later see what it is I have taken, which allows me to decide right then and there whether it is a keeper or not. Completely by accident I have become a fairly decent photog using Margaret's camera, although I get subjected to brutal criticism by my human subjects over taking too long to take a picture once they are all in position. Who appreciates genius? Not my wife. Perhaps Margaret would if the lummox to whom she is married ever did anything that approximated it. I snap a picture correctly and I wait in eager anticipation for the parade in my honor to follow.

Yesterday morning I was at the office working - and trying to keep myself from spontaneously combusting in the stifling heat (memo to building management: air conditioning is as much of a need on a 95 degree Saturday as it is on a 95 degree Friday) - and as I was doing so from time-to-time the screen saver popped on. When it did it winded its way through a rather dizzying array of photos from any number of events that have taken place over the course of the past couple of years. Included among their number were photographs that were taken one year ago today. Photographs that were taken in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains just west of the CU-Boulder campus.

It is mind-boggling to me (considering the size of the mind the boggle is not too much of an accomplishment actually) that one year has already passed by since those pictures were taken. July 25 Aught-Nine was the final full day of the Western adventure that Margaret, Joe and I went on last summer. Poor Rob. We essentially took over his home, which was then located on the Wyoming side of the Wyoming/Colorado border, for a week as we took in the sights and sounds of Cheyenne Frontier Days. On this date last year, wanting Joe to see Boulder and CU, the four of us drove to Boulder and spent the day roaming around all over. We spent part of our time on campus. We spent some time downtown on Pearl Street. We ate lunch at my all-time favorite pizza joint (and a former employer of mine back in the day albeit in a far smaller locale than it presently occupies).

And we spent a considerable amount of time up in the mountains outside of town so that my Brooklyn-born and raised father-in-law could see what the world looks like from a mile above sea level. Among my favorite pictures is one of Joe and Margaret standing together in front of the sign marking, "Flagstaff Summit - Elevation 6850 FT". July 25 Aught-Nine followed pretty damn closely on the heels of their worst day ever. Yet, less than two months after saying goodbye to Suzy B. there they stood - father and daughter - in a place that they likely never could have imagined they would ever be together doing what people do; living life.

How much fun the week that was this time last summer was is firmly etched into my mind's eye. And how great a time we had in Boulder on the final Saturday of July last year is as well. Yet, I never tire of seeing the pictures of that day. Hell - it is not as if while I get older I am in fact getting any wiser. It certainly cannot hurt to have a back-up plan.

-AK

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Black And White Memories

While I like to think of myself as a fairly hardy soul (not to be confused with being a Hardy Boy although I do wonder what ever happened to Joe and Frank, both of whom seem to have Da-Do-Run-Run away from being TV stars), I am prone from time-to-time to complain, to gripe and to bitch about one thing or another. Although experience has taught me repeatedly that the particular thing or event that has me feeling so aggrieved is likely to be - in the larger scheme of things - not too much of anything at all, it does not short-circuit the process of me bitching about it.

Yesterday, in the span of just a few hours, I was reminded twice of what a whiny bag I actually am and what a lucky S.O.B. as well. For reasons not entirely clear to me, in October my high school classmates (including me) are assembling for our 25th reunion. Perhaps someone is motivated by the chance to see everyone else again before all of us die or some such thing. While I saw a fair number of my fellow alums with regularity in the years immediately after we graduated high school - because Lee's parents still lived in that big ranch house on Cooper Road and she had a kitchen table ideally suited for both Quarters and Mexican - in the past twenty years I could likely count the ones I have seen on the fingers of both hands. Nevertheless, as we appear to be a group of 40-somethings hip-deep in the Facebook hoopla, a number of us who presumably had lost contact with one another have connected anew over the course of this past year. Voila! Reunion time.

It was in the spirit of re-established connections that I had a chance to chat yesterday via e-mail with one of my classmates who was (and likely is still) always a first-class human about another member of our little tribe with whom she was very good friends and about whom I had not heard one word in the past quarter-century. I found out that unfortunately the classmate about whom I had inquired has endured a really, really tough road since we were all a bunch of dumb ass high school students. And while what she has endured is not something that I would wish on anyone the fact that it has been foisted upon a young woman who never did me - or anyone who I am aware of - a bad turn made the story even sadder for me to hear. (It is no doubt at this point in the narrative that someone reading this who fancies himself or herself a religious person will chime in with, "God never gives us more than we can handle." I do not intend to write it so if that is you - and that is what you were thinking right there - the F*** U reply is implied.)

Last evening the Missus and me spent a bit of time with her aunt and uncle. I have had the pleasure of knowing this dynamic duo for the past twenty years. They remind me very much of my own aunt and uncle, Dot and Jim. Up until the time that Aunt Dot died several years ago, I never thought of them as two separate people. They were never "Aunt Dot" and "Uncle Jim". Rather they were one unit with one name, "AuntDotandUncleJim." So it is with Margaret's Auntie Ann and Junior (it took me years to learn that Junior's given name is Angelo b/c everyone calls him "Junior" or "Jun"). I never think of one without thinking of the other. They too are a singular, dynamic organism - "AuntieAnn&Junior."

Junior is himself waist-deep in a rough patch these days, battling hard against a myriad of health issues. We spent a bit of time with the two of them last night watching the first few innings of the Yankees game. It was nice to see A.J. Burnett actually look like a Major League pitcher. It was nicer still to spend a bit of time in the company of the two of them. We went there in part to provide a bit of comfort to them in what has been an exceptionally difficult time for them - and again one of those "let me put my foot on the throats of those who do not deserve it" events that makes it hard for me to suppress the laugh out loud reflex at those among us who believe blithely and blindly in the Almighty - but I left their home feeling as if I had gotten better than I had given.

I have a Post-It on my computer at work of a line written by Bernard Malamud that reads, "Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." Today, tomorrow and all the tomorrows to come after it, every time I think I cannot go any further on up a particular road, I shall rewind the tape in my mind's eye to yesterday. And I shall stop bitching and keep moving. For the soul, the soul always yearns.

-AK

Friday, July 23, 2010

Simply Stellar

Because I am at least one-tenth as smart as I am self-absorbed and the very real possibility exists that I could get caught up doing something that is all about me tomorrow and miss it altogether, I am jumping the gun today and sending a birthday shout out to my sister Kara a day early. Kara is one of the world's truly great souls. If there is one among our familial tribe who deserves an additional day of birthday good vibes and wishes, I sure as hell know it is not me and I would lay money that it is Kara. What the Hell, I will say it, "Happy Day Early Birthday!"

Our family of six siblings is neatly divided into two little subsets of three kids each. Bill, Evan and Kelly comprise the first half of the train. Mom and Dad took a respite and after a few years (Kara is I think five years younger than Kelly) they resumed the production line - popping out Kara, Jill and (saving the best for last - he says tongue firmly planted in cheek) me. Kara, Jill and I essentially went to school together (kindergarten through high school) our entire lives. Kara graduated from W-H in 1981 when Jill was wrapping up tenth grade and I was doing likewise to eighth grade.

Once upon a time, in a lost era I like to call "the 1980's", our mutual Alma mater used to field varsity sports for girls in sports such as field hockey and lacrosse. W-H not only fielded teams in those sports but State Champions. Kara and Jill played together on at least one of W-H's State Champs in field hockey. Kara was the goalkeeper and Jill essentially roamed all over the field scaring the living bejeebers out of the opposition. My memory tells me that their championship season was 1980 when Kara was a 12th grader and Jill a 10th grader but 30 years further on up the road, I would not bet August's mortgage payment on the accuracy of my recollection.

What I recall most pointedly about the girls' field hockey and lacrosse teams - other than riding all over the New Jersey countryside with Dad to watch them play - was that at some point the players developed a code for communicating with one another out on the field, which code involved not referring to one another by a player's real name but instead using a "little old Jewish woman's" name. Here in 2010 I cannot recall what all the nicknames were for all of the players way back when during the Carter Administration. The only one I remember for certain was the one Kara either was given by her teammates or adopted as her own. Perhaps I remember her nickname so vividly because I never quite understood of using a coded system to identify one's goalkeeper. Everyone knew where Kara was during the game - at least during field hockey - as she was the player positioned on the goal line making sure that nothing got beyond it or her.

As I have long ago learned (marriage will do that to a fellow), what I think is of little consequence. Kara became "Stella". And all these years later it is a good thing she did. If I was to hazard a guess I would have to say that I probably refer to Kara as "Stella" or "Stel" four to five times as often as I do by her given name. Jill does so as well. My kids are as likely to call her "Aunt Stel" as "Aunt Kara". It is a mystery to me at what point in our collective life experience she underwent the conversion from Irish Catholic daughter to Jewish grandmother but she did. And it stuck. And it still sticks to this day.

Whether by her given name or her nom de plume, she truly is one hell of a fine human being. While I could try to chalk some of it off to the fact that she is a bit older and a bit taller than I am, I know in the little charcoal briquette that I call my heart that her being a significantly better person than am I comes neither from her age nor her height. It comes from her heart. Always has. Always will.

Happy Birthday Stel! I know I am a day early. In my humble opinion, it is an occasion worth getting a jump on celebrating. Enjoy your day tomorrow. And here is to hoping that a safe, healthy and happy year is ushered in with it for you and your own version of the Four Horsemen.

-AK

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Living Life By The Slice

What a great way to bid adieu to the nighttime portion of the summer's running calendar. My running guru Arnie, my running sidekick Gidg and I each participated in the Downtown Westfield 5K and Pizza Extravaganza last evening. And I must say - from my selfish perspective - that I had one hell of a good time.

Westfield is a town that I had the chance to spend a lot of time in when I was a kid. A number of my friends and classmates lived in Westfield - or in one of the neighboring towns such as Scotch Plains or Cranford. I saw more than my share of movies at the Rialto Theatre and ate a meal or ten at Ferraro's. It is not - however - a place that I have seen very much of at all the past quarter-century or so. Life takes us where it takes us and it has - in fact - taken me places I did not necessarily anticipate going when I was a boy.

It has been a heck of a trip to be sure and note for the record my utter absence of complaints. Nevertheless I could not resist the opportunity to spend a portion of my Wednesday night running through the streets of Westfield. And I am happy I did. While yesterday was a typically hot and humid day for Jersey in late July, it felt as if we got a bit of a respite last night. There was a bit of a breeze and it was not stifling hot. All in all, quite a pleasant night to run.

I do not know how many people entered last night's race. I stopped counting at 3 although there appeared to be quite a few more (at least judging by the six-foot high stacks of empty pizza boxes I saw stacked all over the finish area post-race) contestants than just us. There were countless people who lined the streets as well cheering all of us on. I appreciated the fact that none of them snickered audibly when a dad pushing two sons in one of those high-tech racing strollers blazed past me at or about the 2.5 mile mark. Considering the kids he was pushing appeared to be 9 and 11 respectively, their willingness to mute their laughter was indeed commendable.

All in all, quite a nice way to put the bow on the evening portion of this summer's running program.

-AK

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Once Upon A Midsummer's Night

It is almost inconceivable to me that today is the 21st of July. Tonight, I shall run - in the company of my running partner Gidg and (at least at the start of the race until he leaves us in his dust) my law partner and running guru Mr. Gerst - in what is the final nighttime race I shall participate in this summer. While I have found over the course of the past couple of months it to be a challenge to run outdoors in Jersey's heat irrespective of time of day and for it to be especially challenging for me to do so at night, I could not pass up the chance to participate in something known as the "Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza". They put pizza in the name for crying out loud. While it is not quite as enticing as, for example, the "Downtown Westfield 5K & Ice Cold Beer at Reasonable Prices Extravaganza" would have been to me, it certainly has a firm hold on a spot on the medal stand.

This evening's shindig shall indeed be the final nighttime race of the summer for me. And I caught myself this morning realizing that the first of the group took place almost two months ago - in Somerville. We ran in a thunderstorm of Biblical magnitude on the Thursday night before Memorial Day weekend. Before I went to Boulder to run with Rob in the Bolder Boulder 10K. Before those incompetent, mouth-breeding stooges from the airline where incompetence and arrogance go hand-in-hand lost my bag. (Memo to Continental: Tracy Anderson gets a pass because she has reinforced the notion that it is the exception that proves the rule but the rest of you shall enjoy no such respite. I promise.)

The mystery of where the past two months has gone is not quite as deep as either (a) which Continental Airlines employee ripped off my bag after I checked it at the gate in Denver (it is not as if 1,000,000 people work for them there; or (b) just how badly they shall attempt to screw me in the handling of my claim (no restitution has yet arrived or even been offered), but it is an eye-opener nonetheless. It was already one month ago that Mr. Gerst and I ran in Millburn at 8:00 p.m. on the Summer Solstice in celebration of the longest day we enjoy annually in our hemisphere. How much of difference does thirty days make? The Millburn race had an 8:00 p.m. scheduled start time and practically all of the runner completed the 5K course in sun-splashed daylight. Tonight the scheduled start time for this particular 5K is a full hour earlier. And for anyone who makes it to the finish line at a time north of 45 minutes or so, he or she may find a race not only against the clock, but against the darkness.

As a newbie to the world of running, I must say that in spite of the rather predictably hellacious weather we have had here in the State of Concrete Gardens this summer I have enjoyed the hell out of myself. I have participated in (I think) eight races, including tonight, of varying distances since coming home from Colorado and have had a chance to run all over the joint, from Hillsborough to Lavallette, from Cranford to Belmar and a number of other locales in between. Presuming my somewhat cranky legs hold out - and I intend to assist them in that regard by staying off of water skis and the softball field for the foreseeable future - I hope to be able to not only complete the ones Gidg and I have on our calendar in August but to do them all over again next summer.

It is a bit too early to start thinking about next summer; right? One event at a time. One step at a time. And tonight when it is all over, one slice of pepperoni (well, maybe two) at a time. Not a bad way to spend a midsummer's night. If it was not going to be so damn hot, I might even think I was dreaming. Lord what fools these mortals be.......

.....well, one in particular anyway.

-AK

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sixty Seconds' Worth Of Distance Run

In the course of my education, I had countless teachers. And among that relatively large number, there was a smaller sub-set comprised of those who not only taught me but from whom I learned something. Usually not just something confined to the four corners of the textbook we used in that particular class. Usually it was something far beyond the jurisdictional limits of the classroom.

What seems now to have been a lifetime ago - and was in truth close to thirty years ago - I was among the students at W-H who learned something from Les Rudnyanszky - a good Irish guy (by way of Hungary, which the Irish never quite got around to annexing) who I and everyone else got to know simply as, "Doc Rud". I am lucky I suppose in that the avenues available to me to learn from Doc were many, including as a coach and as a teacher. I knew him long before I ever actually interacted with him in any of those capacities. My older sisters Kara and Jill each had him for one American History class or another prior to my reaching 9th grade at W-H. Also, he and my mom worked in the same building. He and Dad were members of the same faculty and they were both frighteningly passionate Notre Dame football fans. Come to think of it, I have known him for so long that I am hard-pressed to recall either (a) a time when I have not; or (b) how exactly I first met him. Thirty years or so up the road, neither seems to matter much.

The funniest conversation I ever had with Doc was shortly before the season-opening match of my 9th grade wrestling season, which turned out to be (much to the disappointment of wrestlers like Al Schnur and Frank Riggio in my weight class) my only season on the mats. Doc announced that me - one of his newbies - would not have to compete in a "wrestle-off" (think "bake off" with fewer brownies and more black and blues) against the projected starter at my weight class, which declaration was wholly consistent with my thinking on the issue since I had no intention of challenging him. The funny part was when Doc told me that I would not have to challenge him because on the eve of the season-opener our projected starter had decided not to wrestle. Suddenly, I was no longer just the newbie but the newbie who would go out there every match as the varsity starter at 108 pounds.

After starting my career with the flukiest, luckiest win in the history of scholastic wrestling, I - much like water - found my level. Sadly, my level was usually in immediate proximity to the mat while I kissed my own knees, ankles, ass or some other body part. To say I was terrible would be an understatement of Herculean proportions. Doc had a plaque on which he had a laminated copy of Kipling's "IF" that each of us would read prior to taking the mat for our match. I doubt Tom Byleckie at 115 pounds ever had time to make it through the first line or two of that poem. My matches ended that quickly.

Yet when I quietly opted to play basketball in 10th grade, I did so without telling Doc of my plans. Candidly, I thought both he and the school's insurance carrier would greet such news with much relief and the thought of sharing my decision with him never occurred to me. It never occurred to me right up until the point he sat down in the locker room with me the first day of Winter Sports practice and asked me not why I was not wrestling that year (he had the videos from the previous season) but why I had not taken the time to talk to him about it. He made no effort to talk me out of it. He simply made me "man up" as it were and extend him the courtesy that I most certainly owed him of telling him I was not going to wrestle. A man stands up. I am embarrassed to say that until I got a little good-natured paternal nudging to do so, I fully intended to remain seated. That conversation took place in November 1982. Almost twenty-eight years later I recall it as if it was yesterday.

I still use today the lessons I learned from Doc in A.P. American History my junior year. I still laugh when I think of how my fellow Republican stalwart Dave Russ and my soccer teammate and supposed good friend Cesar Capio sold me out the 2nd day of school, telling Doc that they knew that I had left my textbook in my locker. The penalty for no textbook? A crash, which carried with it the responsibility of bringing in Dunkin' Donuts for the whole class on Friday. For years thereafter Doc used to bust my chops that I held the record for the quickest crash in the history of any of his classes. Considering mine occurred on the second day of school, I suspect that unless PEDs invade the world of A.P. American History my record shall indeed stand the test of time.

Doc used to sometimes survey the class assembled before him when we were 11th graders and remark how much sense the seats we had chosen made to him. Dave and I sat to his right while to his far left sat the only member of our class who proclaimed himself to be a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. There is no communist quite like the son of two immensely successful, rolling in money physicians but while I doubted the sincerity of Erick's claimed political belief system, I never doubted the amount of energy he expended trying to convince all of us. And I never doubted the manner in which Doc taught us about American History. When I was a father of two school-age kids there were too many occasions to count when I shared with one or both of them a nugget of information that I had first learned years earlier from Doc.

I read somewhere once that the hallmark of education is not short-term memorization but long-term retention. It is not enough to simply recall facts or figures or the like for the purpose of passing one test. Rather, it is to absorb the information being taught to you with sufficient breadth and depth that once inside of your mind, it belongs to you to take it out and share with others at any point further along life's highway. Irrespective of the distance between the point of absorption and the present.

Dad died when I was in 8th grade. I did not necessarily adjust effortlessly or smoothly to life without him in larger part due to him having died with a lot left unsaid between us than due to the "absence" of him in my day-to-day. I was truly fortunate that while I was tripping the light fantastic thru W-H from 9th grade through 12th grade and from time-to-time doing something that made me less than popular with the man who at the time ran the school, I had Doc as one of my principal protectors. Between Doc, Evan Peterson and the late, great Bob Vietor I got extended just enough rope to cut off the circulation to a finger or two perhaps but never enough to hang myself. No matter where you are in your life, you reach that point only by walking the journey you have walked to get there. We may not live life in reverse but we should never forget from whence we came.

Some years after I graduated from W-H, Doc took his talents and his passion for teaching south from Edison to Pennington. It is a testament to the man that he is and to the teacher that he was that he never lost contact with those of us whose lives he helped shape a generation ago, still coming back to W-H for Alumni events and catching up with his students, whether those from my era at school or those who preceded me or followed me. He has embraced the whole "Facebook" world and I think - conservatively speaking - has about 1,000 friends. That number includes a sizable percentage of us who once upon a lifetime ago were his pupils.

I am pleased that over the course of the past three decades or so, Doc and I have become friends. From time-to-time I used to pop in on one of his classes to talk to his students about one thing or the other in law. I loved doing it because it gave me a chance to spend a bit of time with Doc in his favorite environment - the classroom. I miss that I have not done it in several years. Perhaps one day again in the not-too-distant future.

I know it shall not be this coming school year. Doc is going to spend this year in China. China! He will be doing what it is he does best and loves the most. He will be teaching. It is my understanding that the gig is for this school year only but if his students there take to him like his students here have for countless years, we may have one hell of a lot of trouble getting them to let him come home. I admire his courage in making this journey. Hell, I am so adverse to change that my system practically shut down in early 2009 and all I did was move 5 miles up the road from one job to another. Not so with Doc.

I hope that I have the chance to see him, buy him a beer and wish him well between now and when he leaves in late August. He will be very busy between now and then with a lot of people tugging at his sleeves looking for just a moment of his time. If we cannot get together, while it will bum me out a bit, I shall understand. Time is a funny thing. We waste so much of it trying to figure out what to do with it all.....until that day when we realize just how little we have. The day when we can see the cap on the jar as it were.

Good luck Doc. Safe journey and much success. And just in case you are in need of something to read on the plane might I suggest a little Kipling......

-AK

Monday, July 19, 2010

Birds Of A Feather In The Wild And Reckless Breeze

Yesterday evening I hopped onto my computer to see whether any progress had been made in the effort to find a young man who tragically is presumed to have drowned in the water off of Point Pleasant Beach on Saturday night while he was apparently rescuing two members of his family who were struggling themselves. If there is any solace, any comfort at all for his family then hopefully it is found in the fact that his heroism, which cost him his life, saved their lives. Sadly, as of 8:00 p.m. last night - when I made my on-line search - he had not been seen and his body had not been recovered. A horrible end to what likely had been a wonderful day at the Shore for his family. And one that shall now be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

In search of better news I popped onto Facebook and immediately found some. Yesterday was the 18th wedding anniversary of Dave and Christine Joy. It was 18 years ago yesterday that I stood up for Dave as his Best Man when he and Christine exchanged vows in a little church in Vermont. I remember the weekend as if it was yesterday. Margaret and I drove up from New Jersey to be part of a ceremony in which a Jersey boy married a Long Island girl. Two kids who met while in college together at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. And we gathered in Vermont for their wedding. Stu made the trip North as well. As did Mark.

As I recall it was a historically hot weekend in Vermont, the weekend in July 1992 that Dave and Christine married. A fact that became important to all concerned when the happy couple, the wedding party, the minister and all of their invited guests were assembled in the centuries-old (a/k/a "without air conditioning") church in which they wed. Holy smokes was it hot.

As I recall it was a beautiful ceremony in spite of the heat. The reception that followed was terrific as well. Eighteen years later the Joys are raising a beautiful family. And continuing to take the journey that they started together eighteen years ago yesterday. They are now - as they were then - two of my favorite people (an honor that I am sure they would rather not have shouted from the rooftops). Margaret and I do not see them very often these days. Dave and I have known each other since we were little (well since we were kids anyway. He has been upwards of 6'5" or so since the first day I met him roughly 30 years ago) so absence of face-time does nothing to lessen the bond. Perhaps he and Christine will make the trip in October for our 25th reunion.

And in the wild desert sun,
we drove straight on through the night.
We rode a fever out of Boston. Dreamed of California nights.
Come July, we'll ride the Ferris Wheel.
Go round and round and round.
And If you never let me go, well I will never let you down.

A formula that has worked with tremendous success for Dave and Christine. And not a bad formula to copy.

-AK

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Where The Aurora Rises Behind Us

If there is a more entertaining yet terrifying laboratory in which to examine countless varieties of human beings than a boardwalk on the Jersey Shore on a summer's Saturday evening, then someone please enlighten me. For my money, it has no peer.

Yesterday after I wrapped up the day's mortgage-paying activities at the office, the Missus and me headed down the Shore. We spent the afternoon just hanging out in 'Squan with Gidg and Chris. He and I compared water skiing war wounds from a week ago. We both agreed that the torn muscles or ruptured blood vessels that has made the upper part of my left leg more closely resemble something Alice would have bought at Sam's as dinner for the Bradys than a human being's appendage was enough for me to be declared the winner. The full dimensions of the prize package have yet to be decided upon but as long as there is a jumbo-sized bottle of Advil, all is right with the world.

After dinner the four of us drove to Point Pleasant to spend a bit of time "on the boards". Truth be told we did it for my benefit. My inner six-year-old has - for more years than I care to admit - absolutely loved playing "Frog Bog" and we trekked to the Point Pleasant boardwalk so that I could play it. For the unitiated, Frog Bog is a boardwalk game that truly tests one's reflexes, hand-eye coordination, ability to reason and nerves to a degree that lesser pursuits such as tightrope walking and piloting a fighter jet in a combat situation only can hope to achieve. One must be certain that one's frog is properly positioned on its launch pad, that the launcher is properly aimed and that a reasonable target has been selected prior to swinging the rubber mallet that sends your frog airborne towards its target: a moving lilypad. It is not a game for the weak of heart, my friends, I assure you.

Last night the gods of Frog Bog smiled down upon us. I dropped one squarely into a lilypad and won Margaret a stuffed animal. When one makes but one trek a year to the mountaintop to test one's marksmanship in this most difficult of shooting galleries, the satisfaction of "bagging" one is significant. Once we scratched my Frog Bog itch with my once-a-year visit to the Bog, the four of us all tuned in our inner six-year-old. We spent the next hour or so people-watching, eating ice cream (or in Chris's case a watermelon Italian ice that was the size of his head......and was a 'small'!) and riding the rides.

We were fortunate to get Margaret onto the bumper cars. The minimum height requirement is 52". My wife is but 57" tall. And I was impressed to see that the kid in charge of the ride enforced the height restriction, which on a hot Saturday night in July in the face of sobbing little kids and their severely pissed off parents took more courage than his minimum wage plus a nickel salary is paying him to display. The four of us had fun on the bumper cars although I found myself wishing that the track had been "old school" - with the median in it and traffic required to go one way around it. This one is shorter than I remember them being and had no divider. A lot of cars ended up spending a lot of time trying to get far enough away from another car that they could actually bump somebody.

After we banged into one another on the bumper cars, the four of us jammed ourselves into a single car on the Tilt-A-Whirl. I am hard pressed to think of when the last time is that I laughed as loud or as long as I did while our car was whirling us around. The looks on the faces of the parents who were waiting next to the ride for either their kids to complete it or - perhaps - for our ride to end so that their child could go as a car with four adults in it went spinning past them with its occupants laughing our fool heads off was, by itself, worth the six ticket per rider cost of the ride.

All in all, a fun way to wrap up what was a terrific day. Now for me this boardwalk life is through.......

......until next year anyway.

-AK

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Never-Ending Story

Sometimes I forget - and perhaps you do as well - that history has a present as well as a past. I should not I suppose. Any time I hear an advertisement on television for a weight-loss system that is both foolproof and exercise-free or for an investment company (like the one that Sam Waterston has been shilling for on TV for years) or for one of my ambulance-chasing brethren touting their successes, the smoke-blowing always includes a note of foreboding, "Past performance is no indicator of future results."

Now - of course - in the case of those firms and their commercials, in order to get you in the door to become their client they hope like hell that you disregard that disclaimer. I do not pretend to know the percentage of folks who do so and sign on as a client or a customer regardless of the "out clause" but I presume it must be pretty high. A presumption admittedly based upon nothing other than the fact that it is the same type of advertising that has been used for years. Presumably it is used because it is successful.

This past week, the world's favorite corporate bad boys finally appeared to have gotten something right. BP has behaved atrociously since the April 20th oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed eleven workers and sent enough oil to rock all of our casbahs cascading into the Gulf. On Thursday afternoon they confirmed that that they have been able to stop the leak. The cynic in me expected that announcement to be followed by one admitting that the oil stopped pouring out of the leak simply because there was no more left to spew. The cynic in me also wondered - given the apparent early success of the cap they have now installed - why it took until we were almost ninety days post-explosion before we pulled this index card out of the corporate suggestion box.

Whether the cap continues to work remains to be seen (and that is not me being unfair to BP, it is the opinion of the scientists and engineers who the company employs) but for the first time since April 20, the good people who earn their livings and who live their lives on and in the Gulf of Mexico experienced a 24-hour period that did not include oil pouring into the Gulf. A baby step? Absolutely. But its size does not and should not serve to undercut its significance.

-AK

Friday, July 16, 2010

For All The Diamonds And All The Hands

I spent yesterday where I shall spend today - in Bayonne, New Jersey. My client is involved in a wrongful death action and these two days are devoted to conducting the depositions of individuals who the plaintiff (daughter of the decedent) obtained statements from and upon whom (for reasons that were not entirely clear to me as the completion of yesterday's session) she hopes to rely for testimony at trial. Writing that sentence just made me realize that one of my favorite legal redundancies is the concept of 'wrongful' death. Does anyone sue for 'correct' death or 'appropriate' death? Not in my experience anyway.

Not once have I represented a defendant who has received a letter from the plaintiff who is suing it due to the death of a loved one that says, "Thank you for what you have done. Thanks to your negligence, old Aunt Fannie was injured and later died of her wounds. Now all of us can finally do all those things we always wanted to do but could not when she was still alive because she was such a pain in the a##." Maybe next year I will defend my first "rightful" death action but I will resist the temptation to hold my breath in eager anticipation of doing so. When one says the phrase "I am defending a death case" it seems to me that the "wrongful" is understood or implied.......sort of like the "s" in Illinois.

I have lived my entire life in New Jersey, except for the four years I spent living principally in Boulder while I went to CU. To date I have spent disproportionately more time gazing across the river at Manhattan's skyline than I have spent walking on its sidewalks. Driving into Bayonne yesterday morning I had a truly spectacular view of that skyline. The sky above Manhattan was slate gray. But not entirely so. There was a break in the clouds at what appeared to be about the mid-point between the Empire State Building and the Battery that cast down a simply gorgeous and ethereal ray of light onto the buildings below.

It was a beautiful enough sight that I found it difficult to look away. Even while looking at it - and absorbing what I was seeing - my eye was drawn towards the southern tip of the City. And to what was no longer there to be seen.

This morning we are officially in the second half of July. Already. Before you know it, it will be August. And then it will be September. Again. Nine years. Already.

Another fast fading, nothing lasts forever summer is half the way gone.

-AK

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Time To Kill

At one point yesterday afternoon I swore - looking out my office window - that I saw two geese playing rock/paper/scissors for the final spot on Noah's Summer Cruise. Considering how difficult it is for a goose to form its wing into the shape of a rock....or paper....or scissors for that matter, you have an immediate appreciation of the height of the stakes for which they were playing. We have had a fairly mercilessly hot and humid summer here in Levelland thus far. For the past twenty-four to thirty-six hours rain hurtled down upon us like so much celestial sweat that it appeared as if it was not going to stop.

While I shall not awaken in Utopia this morning, if the weather dudes and dudettes are to be believed and if today is indeed yesterday's tommorow, then it appears as if a certain little red-headed siren was right after all.

Last night Suzanne, the Missus and I spent a bit of quality time in one of our local municipal courts. For the uninitiated, municipal courts are what we call in New Jersey our "courts of limited jurisdiction". Traffic violations are disposed of there as are non-criminal offenses (a/k/a petty disorderly persons and disorderly persons matters). In New Jersey we grade crimes by degree (first, second and third). Criminal charges are not adjudicated there.

We were there last evening because at some point last fall, while Suzanne was using the facilities of the gym she belongs to, the miscreant who was parked next to her in the parking lot paid little heed to that law of physics about two objects not being able to occupy the same space simultaneously. His truck struck Suz's car and left in its wake a couple of thousand dollars worth of damage. He then did what a real stand-up American boy does far too often these days: he ran away.

It took some handy work by the Green Brook police to find the young fella in question and to examine his vehicle in order to confirm that the evidence of damage inflicted on his truck matched up perfectly to the evidence of damage inflicted upon Suz's car. The police officer in question did what local cops sometimes do with the best intentions - he wrote the offender enough tickets to last him a lifetime.

All of this took place in the fall. I am notoriously poor with time but my best recollection of events is that all of the above unfolded in either October or November. Which of course brings us to last evening. We made our second appearance in connection with the matter of State v. Greco, an event in which Suz has two intertwined roles: witness and victim. And once again last night we got all dressed up and had no place to go. The defendant did not appear. Rather his lawyer did in order to offer an utterly unbelievable excuse as to why his client was not present. Fortunately for the defendant, when we arrived at the court last night we learned that the State was not ready to proceed. Thus, the judge had no choice but to adjourn the matter yet again.

Green Brook is not a big town. Thus its court does not meet every night or even every week. There is an excellent chance that by the time this little loser either forces the State to try him or enters a plea to some combination platter of reduced charges that we will be or about the first anniversary of the accident that started it all.

I hate to say it - being what it is I do for a living - but maybe, just maybe, Willie the Shakes had a point.

-AK

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Boss Time

Happy Bastille Day! A day that celebrates a period in the history of France where men were born with spines...coincidentally centuries prior to the formation of a national football team to compete in the World Cup. Sit down and enjoy yourselves mes amies. Marie will be around shortly to take your order. Might as well tell you now that all there is to eat is cake. Marie and I both hope there is enough for all.

If you have seen any of the hundreds (thousands perhaps) of live shows that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band have put on worldwide since the Reunion Tour in 1999, then you likely are familiar with the scene that usually takes place during the encores. Steve and Bruce are together, front and center, on stage and they start riffing about how late it is getting, how tired the audience appears to be and how it must be time for the show to end. Then, Bruce asks Steve what time it is. Steve responds, "It's Boss Time" (what else), Bruce lets out a, "Wooo!" and off the band goes for another song....or three....or four. Sure it is schtick but much in the same way that the average 12 y/o boy relates to professional wrestling, knowing the ending does not ruin the story. We in the audience all cheer mightily. We know what time it is. And we are all having the time of our life.

Close to forty years of Boss Time in New York sports ended yesterday morning with the announcement by the Steinbrenner family that the owner of the New York Yankees - George M. Steinbrenner, III - had died of a massive heart attack in Tampa, Florida. Mr. Steinbrenner had just turned 80 years old last week. His date of birth? July 4, 1930. While he was not the original Yankee Doodle Dandy, it is impossible to argue against his importance - some good, some bad, all newsworthy - to the Yankees, to the City of New York, to Major League Baseball and to professional sports in this country. He threw a big shadow. And in his wake, he will leave big shoes to fill.

If you get the time, read William Nack's piece (or watch it if you prefer) on Mr. Steinbrenner that is available on espn.com. In it, Nack points out that when Steinbrenner's group purchased the Yankees from CBS in 1973 for $8.7 Million, Steinbrenner declared that, "I won't be active in the day-to-day operation of the Yankees. I'll stick to building ships." Years later, the on-again/off-again relationship Steinbrenner had with Billy Martin as manager of his baseball team was turned "off" when Martin publicly declared - speaking of his star player Reggie Jackson and his employer Mr. Steinbrenner, "One's a born liar, the other's convicted." Judging by how far Mr. Steinbrenner ended up straying from his original stated intention of not being active in the daily running of the Yankees, perhaps Martin was only speaking of the latter?

It is impossible as well to have ever rooted for the Yankees without appreciating the passion with which Mr. Steinbrenner owned his baseball team. Lost in the hubris of "big market/small market" nonsense in baseball is - among other things - the fact that Mr. Steinbrenner was not nearly as wealthy as some of his fellow owners. The Yankees became his business and he, unlike some of his fellow owners, poured the money made by his business back into his business. Compare that tactic to the one espoused by the late Carl Pohlad. In 2008, shortly before he died Pohlad's estimated worth was $3.6 Billion. Yet he spent as much time with his hand outstretched, crying poverty and lamenting the fate of his "small market" Twins as any owner ever has. Pathetic. And most assuredly not a play taken out of the George M. Steinbrenner, III playbook.

This has been a decidedly rough week in Yankee Land. First Bob Sheppard dies - and if you want to be reminded just how beautiful the written word is then invest a few moments in this tribute to him - and now the Boss has tripped that mortal coil. A few of us were standing around in my office last night joking about the most assuredly certain sequence of their deaths - insisted upon by Mr. Steinbrenner so that Bob Sheppard can introduce him at the Pearly Gate - when one of our number observed that the introduction, "presupposes that they are ending up in the same place." One never knows. If the Almighty is still tweaked about the Ken Phelps for Jay Buhner deal, Mr. Steinbrenner might have some 'splaining to do.

It was at about this time two years ago that the Yankees hosted the All-Star Game being as it was the final season of the "old" Yankee Stadium. I remember thinking - and writing - at that time that I did not think Mr. Steinbrenner would live to see Opening Day 2009 in the "new" Stadium. I am happy that he did and happy that he got to see his team win the World Series last November (November?) to culminate their first season in their new abode. I hope for his sake and for the sake of his family that his final few years were not as challenging for him and for them as they were sometimes portrayed as being in the press. If they were, then I hope for his wife, his children and their children that his death -while sad - brings a bit of peace and comfort to one and all.

It is idiotic to be sure but upon hearing the news of Mr. Steinbrenner's death yesterday morning the first two people of whom I thought were Yogi Berra and Joe Torre. Two legendary baseball men - each of whom achieved the highest heights of their respective careers while wearing pinstripes. Two legendary baseball men - each of whom had a very public fracturing of his relationship with Mr. Steinbrenner during the transition from "present" to "former" Yankees manager. Years ago - perhaps that it does indeed get late early around here for all of us - Yogi and the Boss made amends. I do not pretend to know whether the man Derek Jeter called Mr. Torre for a dozen years and Mr. Steinbrenner ever did. To his credit, the former displayed true class when asked to comment upon the death of the latter.

What time is it Steve? For the first time in a long time, what feels like and may in fact be a lifetime to a number of Yankees fans, the answer may not be, "Boss Time!" We shall find out soon enough. The page turns and a new boss takes the stage. As for Mr. Steinbrenner, it was a life well-lived. And now he is on the 3:10 to Yuma. Here's to a safe trip.

-AK

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Then There Were Three.......More

Let me extend my thanks to the heartless taskmasters at the NCAA. As if my March is not hectic enough, they have now chosen to allow another degree of difficulty to the mix. Annually, I run a March Madness Pool for the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship, a tournament that has been comprised of 65 teams for the past decade all playing their way down to the first Monday night in April. Yes, I know that the tournament is still known as March Madness even though the title game is played in April (and sometimes the Final Four is as well). Take up your complaints over the continuing accuracy of the name with those folks who run it. None of whom by the way even looks remotely like me.

Yesterday the NCAA announced that beginning in 2011 (a/k/a "next year") Madness will get three additional invitees. The field will be expanded to sixty-eight. All sixty-eight combatants will be unveiled on Selection Sunday. However, whereas the past decade has featured one "play-in" game leading up to Thursday's first slate of opening round games, now four games will be played in the space between Selection Sunday and the tournament's first Thursday. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the First Four.

The good people of Dayton, Ohio should benefit from this scheduling largess. Dayton has hosted the play-in game since its introduction and the NCAA is considering having Dayton host all four of the "new" first round games (although rumor has it that the NCAA is just paying lip service to Dayton and shall announce on Selection Sunday that all four games are going to be played in Miami, Florida instead). Just think of how pissed off Dan Gilbert will be then; huh? The NCAA knows better than to cross him. He has access to the Internet and an abject lack of common sense and dignity and he is not afraid to use that combination to get his way.....or at the very least to vent his spleen.

While I am happy for the people of Dayton (Go Flyers!) I am less than happy for....well, for me. I am not happy about this expansion of festivities at all. What the NCAA has done - bless their blackened little hearts - is create more work for hard-working, well-intentioned people such as Yours truly who operate and manage March Madness pools. I am an old school pool master. I do not use an on-line resource to tabulate everyone's scores and to keep track of the standings as the tournament progresses. I do everything by hand. Adding four more games into the mix in what is usually the calm before the March Madness storm for me is not exactly the answer I was hoping for to the question of , "What have you done for me lately?"

Life is funny. No matter how much I might want to see myself as the center of the universe in the cozy - albeit uncluttered - confines of my own mind invariably something or someone comes along to remind me of my true place in the world. It is all good. Life has taught me that things usually work about better when I am not the focal point of the exercise. And besides, the NCAA has added three more spots on the dance card, which increases the likelihood that either or both my beloved Alma mater or good ol' State U will make like the proverbial blind squirrel and find a nut.......probably not even a little bit at all.

Swell, while making me do more work than ever before to organize a bracket that I never have come close to winning once in the decade and a half that I have run it, the powers-that-be have opted to kick me in the face for good measure. Come mid-March there will be three schools very happy to see their names in lights as a member of the field for the Big Dance secure in the knowledge that in every year prior to 2011 they would have been home watching the games on TV just like you and me.

Let the Madness begin........

-AK

Monday, July 12, 2010

Going Cali With The Captain & The Voice Of God

You may have missed the news yesterday that the man immortalized in Monument Park as "The Voice of Yankee Stadium" died. Bob Sheppard worked full-time for the Yankees as their public address announcer from the 1951 season until he was stricken with an infection late in the 2007 season, which forced him out of action. 1951 was Joe DiMaggio's final season in pinstripes. It was also Mickey Mantle's first season. Sheppard's first game as the P.A. announcer was Opening Day 1951 when DiMaggio's Yankees hosted Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox. Not a bad way to start a new gig; eh?

Derek Jeter is one Yankee who has never been introduced at the Stadium by anyone other than Sheppard. Even after Sheppard was no longer able to come to work and someone else took over his job as the P.A. announcer, Jeter requested that an audio tape of Sheppard introducing him still be used - not out of disrespect to Sheppard's successor but out of respect to Sheppard. I read on-line yesterday that Jeter intends to keep on using Sheppard's taped introduction of him for every at-bat he has at Yankee Stadium for the rest of his career. Jeter will be playing Tuesday night in Anaheim in the All-Star Game. Major League Baseball announced on Sunday that all of Jeter's at-bats will be announced by Sheppard. Sheppard spent fifty-six years as the P.A. announcer for the Yankees. That seems to be a hell of a long time to wait to take one's show on the road. Tuesday night he will introduce a Yankee player at a non-home game for what I believe shall be the first time ever.

In addition to getting to hear Sheppard at Yankee Stadium for years, if you were a fan of the New York football Giants you got to hear him when he served as their P.A. announcer as well. I used to love hearing him during home games at Giants Stadium when I was a kid. As the P.A. announcer in football, he used to announce the results of a particular play in addition to the pre-game introductions. I used to get a kick out of the way that he used to not simply say, "tackled by" a particular player. Rather, ball carriers were "spilled by Taylor", "jarred by Carson" and so forth.

Bob Sheppard was part of the fabric of Yankee Stadium for more than a half-century. His bust is in Monument Park - as it should be -with other Yankee legends. Reggie Jackson referred to Sheppard as "The Voice of God".

If Jackson was right, then introductions at the Pearly Gates are about to be elevated to never-before-scaled heights. And the thought that while he is doing his gig up there, Jeter will ensure that his voice shall remain heard at Yankee Stadium for as long as the Captain is wearing pinstripes. I hope that hearing two different voices doing player introductions over the course of the next several years prompts some of the fans in the stands to ask who that is introducing Jeter. It may very well encourage them to learn about Sheppard and all he meant to the Yankees and to the folks who had the pleasure of hearing him do his job. On Sunday, watching an interview that had been done with Sheppard in 1998, I saw him tell his interviewer that he never got up to to work. Instead, every day he got to go to the Stadium and watch a game.

Not bad work if you can get it. And if you do it well, maybe just maybe you can get to do it for more than fifty years.

-AK

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Trick Of The Elbow

Time has a funny way of doubling back on itself. A million years ago - or so it seems - my parents owned a "summer vacation" home. We spent our summers when I was a child at Harvey's Lake in Pennsylvania. We had a home on the lake, a dock and a boat. All these years later it remains one of life's great mysteries to me how my parents - especially during all of the years that Mom's primary job was raising their seemingly endless supply of children - afforded a "vacation" home - not to mention all of the neat stuff that came with it.

Neat stuff included of course the motor boat behind which I spent hours as a child learning how to water ski. It was a pretty good gig as a kid - spending summer days swimming in a crystal-clear lake and skiing on its surface,which during the week when the tourists (I do not think they were called Bennies) were not there was often glass-like.

I am the tailgunner in a squadron of six Kenny siblings. My older brother Kelly is eight years or so older than am I. When I was a kid he was the one who taught me how to water ski, which seemed appropriate as he had been the one who had also taught me how to snow ski. Kelly was an absolute freak of nature as a kid - blessed with both the best hand-eye coordination and balance of anyone I have ever known. He was a supremely confident skier, whether on water's liquid version or its more frozen cousin, and he brought that confidence to the way in which he taught me how to do both. He was a tough teacher. I still recall learning how to "skate" on my snow skis as a drill for developing leg strength and being taught to do so while pointed up the mountain on one of the beginner trails at Big Boulder desperately trying to remain ahead - for as long as I could - of the car on the chair lift that Kel designated as the one I had to "beat". At the beginning I thought he was trying to torture me but as my leg strength continued to grow at a rate that amazed me, I recognized the genius in what he was doing.

He is the one who not only taught me how to water ski but who also decreed, when I was about 10 or 11 that I was no longer going to ski on two skis. He taught me how to slalom. It bears pointing out at this juncture that on a lake full of folks who could really water ski, Kelly in my opinion had no equal. From the time he had dedicated himself to learning to ski on one ski, he had relentlessly and tirelessly honed that skill until he was an absolute joy to watch in action behind Dad's boat. I remember as if it was yesterday the day he purchased what was, at that time, the single coolest thing he owned: an O'Brien Team USA slalom ski with a concave keel and with a fin that had holes drilled into it (five I think) that allowed the skier to create a rooster tail. As a kid it was among the coolest things I had ever seen.

Once armed with the appropriate weapon to leap headlong into the battle of 'Best of the Lake', Kelly quickly reduced the other competitors to also-ran status. When I was not skiing I spent as much time as I could in the spotter position in the boat just to have a bird's eye view of him in action. I think I probably morphed into the role of designated spotter for him because I understood that from the time the boat pulling a skier moves from neutral to full throttle forward, it takes anywhere from five to ten seconds for the slalom skier to get completely free of the water and in the upright position. It is important as the spotter to not blow the call - to not presume that your skier is down simply because he is not yet completely up and when the skier in question is skiing on a ski with a fin designed to throw off its own spray of water, it can be hard to keep an eye on him during that critical beginning of the trip. I knew that Kel would never fall during his rise out of the water so I always erred on the side of giving him more time than I might another skier to fully clear the water. Not once did I make the wrong call.

And my faith would be rewarded by watching him from my front-row seat once he cleared the water. I recall when he added the "elbow trick" to his repertoire, a move that requires the skier to remove his back foot from the ski and essentially sit down on the ski while holding the tow rope in one hand. As he holds it in one hand, he cocks the other arm so he looks like he is resting his head upon it.....and then leans over to one side so that his elbow and his head are on the water. All the while this is happening, he is continuing to ski forward. My description does not do justice to this trick, I assure you. If YouTube had been around in the 1970's, you would be clicking on it right now searching for the video.

Kelly was a legend on the lake by the time that Dad died and Mom sold the house and my summers of water-skiing seven days a week slid permanently into my rear-view mirror. By the time of Dad's death, Kelly was out on his own, married and starting to raise his own family. The role of designated teacher fell to me. I was pretty good at it - having learned from a master certainly helped in that regard - but I never was the instructor he was. And try as I might I was never anything more than a mere shadow of the skier he was. I was leaps and bounds better than any of my friends but the distance between me at my best and Kelly at his best was greater still than that.

In the thirty years or so since I last spent a full summer at Harvey's Lake I have been water skiing on less than a half-dozen occasions. The most recent experience I can recall was close to two decades ago - prior to Margaret and I getting married - when her cousin Tommy pulled me behind his boat in the bay. Given how piss-poor my Jersey Shore geography is I have no idea which bay other than to say it was one very close to Silver Beach.

Yesterday, after Gidg and I spent the morning participating in the Belmar 5 Mile Race, running in weather conditions akin to the inside of a used gym sock, the Missus and me spent the entire day in Manasquan with Lynne, Gidg and Chris. Part of our time was spent on Lynne's boat in some body of water (I know it was not the Atlantic Ocean), during which Chris and I each tried our hand (and our legs I suppose) at water skiing.

Having not attempted to get up on two skis since I was single-digit human, I tried yesterday to get up slalom-style. I was reminded of just how great the distance is between forty-three and twenty-five (when I had last skied) and how much greater still it is between forty-three and thirteen, when I was at the apex of my abilities. While I was more than a bit disappointed by my efforts - and heartily applauded Chris's as he got up on two skis and actually did a bit of skiing (something I did not do) - I was happy to have had the opportunity to try. And I was happy to know that while my body betrayed me, the lessons learned a lifetime ago remained with me. I knew exactly what I needed to do to get up. I simply could not will my body to do it.

A lot of water has passed 'neath the hull of the boat since I was a kid and Kelly was teaching me how to ski. And not all of it has been tranquil. Most of it in fact has been pretty damn choppy. Yesterday I was reminded of a time and of a place where that was not the case at all. And it made me smile, which is not easy to do while picking seaweed out of one's teeth I assure you.

-AK

Saturday, July 10, 2010

When One Is Out Of Sticks & Stones....

Did you catch BP's admission - made on national TV on Thursday night at about 9:30 Eastern Time - that their new "plan" for cleaning up the mess they have made in the Gulf of Mexico is simply to let all of the oil wash ashore. Amazing stuff it was. BP acknowledged that since the oil rig explosion that launched this whole snafu they have not actually been doing a damn thing to fix the problem. They simply have gotten tired of having to try to successfully bullshit the whole world every day and on Thursday night they decided to abandon the charade.

What? You missed that stunning disclosure because you were watching "The Decision" on ESPN? Truth be told you missed nothing. What is written in the preceding paragraph is 100% fiction. Well, all except for the part that since creating this nightmare BP has not done a f*cking thing to remedy the problem. That is 100% true.

My favorite fake emotion is faux outrage and ever since a professional basketball player announced on Thursday night that he was trading in one uniform for another, it has been in bloom to a degree that would make Washington D.C.'s famed cherry blossoms green with envy. It sprang up from all corners of the globe almost simultaneously. My favorite example of it? No contest. It sprung from the font of sanctimoniousness who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert.

Gilbert posted a letter on his team's web site Thursday night essentially decimating his former employee and star player. Conspicuous by its absence from his asinine rant was an acknowledgment that the same human being whose ass he kicked on-line was the same human being whose ass he had waited in line to kiss 24 hours earlier. Hypothetical question time: if James was the gutless, feckless bastard Gilbert claimed he was in his letter, then why did Gilbert not post a letter thanking Miami for relieving the Cavs of the burden of having to tote that anchor around for the next five seasons?

Almost as ridiculous - but not quite - are the declarations of Otis Smith, who is the General Manager of the Orlando Magic. Smith, who as far as I can tell works for a team that has no responsibility fiscal or otherwise to pay any portion of James' salary, has weighed in by questioning James' heart as a competitor. One might be tempted to ask my man Otis what the hell business it is of his what type of competitor someone is who plays for a team other than his own. Presumably someone did.

At least in the Eastern sky over us here 'NTSG the sun did indeed rise on Friday morning. Good thing. Had there been an eclipse Gilbert likely would have posted another letter on his franchise's web site blaming James for stealing the sun away when no one was looking.

There are enough truly horrific and consequential things that go on here on the big blue marble on a daily basis that merit genuine outrage and anger. We do not need to expend any on manufactured, contrived nonsense. Perspective is a beautiful thing ladies and gentlemen. The next time someone offers you the opportunity to get some do not pass on the chance.

And while you are at it, take a little extra for Dan Gilbert. He certainly seems as if he could use it.

-AK

Friday, July 9, 2010

Was This Not Supposed To Be The Summer Of George

Wednesday afternoon while driving home from the office I heard Mike Francesca on WFAN (the sports radio station in New York City) discussing the mystery that then surrounded where LeBron James will play professional basketball next season. Francesca informed his radio audience that while he had no definitive information one way or the other he knew of people who hoped like hell that The King decided to make Madison Square Garden his court because these folks - certain that James would follow in the path of greats such as Antonio McDyess and Frederic Weis - had purchased Knicks season tickets for 2010-11 in anticipation of being able to turn around and sell them for a substantial profit. I recall as a small boy being told of a story by my grandma about chickens, eggs and the importance of not counting one or both too soon. I am admittedly fuzzy on the details of grandma's tale (for it was too many years and far too many beers ago) but I think it fits here.

At about 9:30 Eastern Time on Thursday night the Knicks and their fans came face-to-face with the realization that their stated philosophy of (at least) the past two seasons of being abysmally bad while having a roster of not-quite-ready-for prime time players while they created as much "cap space" as possible for the 2010 crop of free agents was an unadulterated failure. The notion of "If you clear it they will come" did not quite go according to Hoyle for the Knickerbockers; eh?

Professional basketball has been largely irrelevant in New York City for the past decade or so. Maybe the best thing about LeBron James choosing Miami as his new NBA home so that he can play with his buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh is that now Knicks fans will have something to get excited about: hating the Miami Heat. Once upon a time, it was a rivalry that actually gave Knicks fans to be excited about.

'Tis summer in the City. Time for Knicks fans to taste the fruits and let the juices drip down their chin. Sour grapes all around.

-AK