Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where Eagles Soar

Thursday night, the boys from State U. will begin the 2010 campaign on the banks of the Rar-i-tan against the juggernaut that is not Norfolk State. Having gotten their collective rear ends kicked on national TV on back-to-back Labor Days, this year RU moved its season opener up three days on the calendar and several dozen notches down on the degree of difficulty dial. Here is to hoping that the strategy is a good one and not simply because I root, root, root for the home team. The Missus and I begin our 4th season as RU Football season ticket holders. Thursday night - as I understand it - Suzanne (who has a guy-like appreciation for football) is taking the short trip over to Rutgers Stadium to watch the game. If they lose with her in the stands, I may not hear the end of it until Thanksgiving.

Saturday afternoon, the boys from my beloved Alma mater will begin their season as we tend to do - at a neutral field against our in-state rivals from Colorado State. I hope like Hell that living in Fort Collins has not converted Rob into a CSU fan (although if memory serves when I saw his truck in May he had a CU sticker affixed to rear window). I hope even more fervently that this year - in what would represent a dramatic change of pace from every year to date in the Dan Hawkins Era - that the Buffs from Boulder give him and me and the rest of us who root hard for Ralphie's boys something to actually cheer about. If you think that Suzanne reacts badly to poor play from a college football team she roots hard for, then you have never spent any quality time in the vicinity of my sister Jill (CU Class of '87). Sweet God almighty, it is not pretty. Trust me.

I will spend my autumn rooting hard for Colorado and for Rutgers as I always do although I must admit that at this stage of the game - as an alumni removed from the campus in Boulder by more than twenty years and approximately 1700 miles - I have as much chance of naming the original members of Menudo or Bananarama as I do of naming one-half dozen kids who presently are on the Buffs' roster. I root for the uniform and for the university that it represents. The names to me on the back of the jersey are not particularly important. It is the one on the front that matters.

This season though the kid for whom I shall be rooting the hardest in all of college football will be matriculating up and down the field neither in Boulder nor in Piscataway. He plays his home games in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

In the 2008 college football season, there were few players on the defensive side of the ball who wrought as much havoc on the opposition as did Mark Herzlich of Boston College. Among the honors he won was ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Unfortunately for Herzlich, a damned unfunny thing happened on the way to him defending his status as a senior in 2009. He never got on the field. In the spring of Aught-Nine Herzlich was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. The fact that it is a form of bone cancer that is apparently rather rare - but paradoxically not rare enough for those attacked by it - was likely of little solace to Herzlich or his family.

Herzlich will be twenty-three years old tomorrow. This time fifteen months ago, there likely was at least one or two times when neither he nor his family knew for certain whether he would be here to celebrate the occasion. Or whether he would be well enough to take the field with his teammates three days later when BC opens its '10 schedule against Weber State (and do not check the map Governor Palin for the State of Weber -it is actually in Utah and you probably cannot see it from your porch either). He is quite an amazing young man. Seventy-two hours or thereabouts after he blows the candles out in celebration of his twenty-third trip around the sun, he will lead his teammates out of the tunnel to start his slightly delayed but much anticipated senior season.

The story of Mark Herzlich has been written and told in a countless number of places and spaces. And it should be. If he did not exist, I think Central Casting would have had to invent him. I care not what team you root for in college football or whether you do not even follow the sport. It is impossible not to cheer for this young man. Cancer invades too many families to count in America and all around the world. It appears that against seemingly impossible odds, Mark Herzlich has kicked it hard in the face and in doing so has knocked it on its ass.

Well done #94. More than that, well-earned. It takes a hell of a lot to not lose hope and to remain brave in the face of ever-lengthening odds. As Ambrose Redmoon wrote, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."

It is indeed.

-AK

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Loss to Summer's Wind

The summer wind has indeed been a fickle friend to Margaret and to her family these past few years. In August of Aught-Eight, one week apart, Nan (her grandmother) and her Great Aunt Meni (Nan's younger sister) died. Last summer, the bad news on the homefront came early. Margaret's mom - Suzy B. - went into the hospital for what turned out to be the final time on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. She died on the 2nd of June.

This year, we almost made it all the way to Labor Day. Almost. Sadly we did not. Yesterday afternoon, far too soon after being diagnosed with several different types of cancer Margaret's uncle, Junior, died. My wife and I have been together for two decades. During the entirety of that period of time, I think I heard anyone refer to Junior by his given name - Angelo - less than a small handful of times. He was - and always shall be - Junior.

Yesterday afternoon, in the company of his wife, their son, daughter and daughter-in-law, Junior died. While we accept as a given that death comes for all of us - it is but a part of life after all - it is far too difficult to accept it when it comes for one we love. When it comes for one who seemed to deserve better. When it comes for someone such as Junior.

Joe said it best yesterday when he described Junior and Ann as, "two peas in the same pod." From the first time I met them - approximately twenty years ago - they struck me as being Margaret's family's version of Uncle Jim and Aunt Dot, Mom's brother and sister-in-law who were married for more than a half-century and who were in love with one another their entire lives. Junior and Ann were not a couple. Rather they were a sentence. I rarely ever heard Margaret or Suzy B. or Joe say one's name without saying the other's. Each has spent their life completing the life of the other.

And tomorrow morning for the first time in a lifetime, Ann shall wake up without him. It would have to be a much better situation than it is for her presently just to be awful. Hopefully, sooner rather than later it will improve at least that much. Until it does those of us who know and love her as we knew and loved Junior will do all we can for her to try and help fill the void. To fill up the space between.

We have lost too much already to the summer wind.

-AK

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Boy Scout

I take a fair amount of abuse when it comes to my lack of spontaneity. I am - I must admit - more than a tad retentive. I live life by the 5P's (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance). That behavioral trait is what drives me to do things such as plan ahead - often months at a time - what races I want to enter and to - in fact - sign up for them well in advance of their date. Knowing nothing about them other than the date, the location and whatever information a race director might see fit to include on his/her website, unless the event is one that is readily recognizable such as the Belmar 5 Mile, the Manasquan Turkey Trot or the Bolder Boulder, often times on race day I arrive at the event not knowing how many other runners to expect.

Last Sunday, Gidg and I ran in Lake Como New Jersey at an event that has been contested for seven years and which this year had 114 runners in it. A small number perhaps but an uptick of more than 25% over the 2009 edition. Yesterday, we made the journey to Pier Village in Long Branch to run in the 1st Annual Run, Walk & Roll for Occupational Therapy 5K, whose number of participants made last Sunday's McCormack 5K look like a mob scene. It would not be incorrect to describe yesterday morning's gathering as intimate.

The event was organized by a young woman who is an Occupational Therapist at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute, which is where our Suzanne works as a Speech Language Therapist. The two specialties,while working in connection with one another as part of a multi-disciplinary course of treatment, do not necessarily have a lot of interaction with one another. I know not whether Suz knows the young woman who ran yesterday's show in Long Branch - although when Margaret mentioned Suz's name to her, our race director did not seem to recognize it.

While yesterday's event was small - and whether it attracted enough runners to help accomplish the goals for which it was organized - to make it worth putting on a 2nd Annual edition next year I know not. I suspect that the answer to that question will be known when we are much closer to this time next year than we are presently. I hope that there is a second edition. Not only because we ran at a spot where I love to run - and where yesterday I took approximately 1 minute off of my personal best for a 5K - but because of the effort that the young lady who organized the race clearly put into it. Her energy was contagious and her fingerprints were all over everything that was associated with the event - from design of the T-shirts to signage on the course to the homemade post-race goodies available for runners and attendees alike after the race. The energy and enthusiasm of the young never ceases to amaze me. Or to impress me.

This morning's adventure is the Not Quite Fall Classic 4 Mile race in Cranford, an event that has been contested for the past several decades. I expect Gidg and I will run in the company of far more souls (and soles) than we did yesterday. This too is an event for which I registered quite some time ago, when summer was in its infancy and autumn seemed to be too far away to be anything other than the subject of conjecture. Now, August has just about disappeared entirely and that sound you hear is September knocking on the door.....

....I know this because I have a calendar (or three) adorning a wall in my office and I peeked ahead already to check it out. But I suppose you knew that already; right?

-AK

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Sum of Our Parts

Another early day at the Shore today. The Missus and me are meeting up with Gidg and then she and I (Gidg that is) are going to trod the boards on the Boardwalk in Long Branch as part of the Run, Walk and Roll 5K for Occupational Therapy. Since neither of us had actively participated in any races of any distance prior to the fall of Aught-Nine, pretty much every race we have run in this year has been our "first" annual. This morning, the race matches us with its own newness as it is apparently the inaugural edition of this event. I tried earlier this week to persuade Suz to meet us over in Long Branch this morning to run with us figuring that some of her professional colleagues might be taking part in it. Showing off her mad skills as a Speech Therapist and her gift for non-verbal communication she signalled her intentions to me quite clearly....yet without saying a word. Mad skills I tell you. Mad skills.

I have learned during my rookie year of indoctrination into these events of varying lengths that all of them have a good purpose at their core. A week from tomorrow I am running for the first time in a race that has been held annually for the past several years in New Brunswick. The race, which is also a 5K event, honors the memory of a New Brunswick Deputy Fire Chief James D'heron. Deputy Chief D'heron died in the line of duty on September 3, 2004.

As I mentioned a sentence or two ago, this is the first year that I am running in this particular event, which is in its sixth year. That is not to say that I have not done my part throughout these past six years to honor the Deputy Chief's memory and to assist the efforts of his Foundation to help others. Margaret and I eat at the Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick on a not-infrequent basis. Every time we do, I assist the Foundation by having a Jimmy's Firehouse Red or two (sometimes three). A tough responsibility? To be sure. Yet I have never failed to answer the bell. We all do what we can I suppose. I am no better than the next person.

Certain among our number have the capacity to step up when someone else among us is in trouble. To do what we can to help them even without being asked. Such is the case of Hal Smolanoff. Smolanoff is an Edison resident. He is running next Sunday in the Jimmy D 5K as well (here's a little insider dish for you: bet Smolanoff, not Kenny). According to a report I read on-line, he is friends with the President of the FMBA, which has established a scholarship fund on behalf of Firefighter Pfeiffer's 1 year-old daughter. That connection was enough. Smolanoff has established a website to help raise money for little Carly Pfeiffer. Next Sunday, although her Dad was a man he did not know, Hal Smolanoff shall run in a race that has been established in honor of one hero who died too soon by honoring the more recent loss of another.

Proof positive that Mr. Springsteen is right about the value of the little things. And proof positive that the old saw about the size of actors and the size of parts applies equally well outside of the presence of footlights and greasepaint as it does within. There are no little things. Rather the size of any thing is always relative. Much in the same way that all of us are somehow related. DNA be damned - Kevin Bacon was right after all.

From strength comes strength. And everything else follows....

-AK

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ripples In The Stream

I was jazzed by the news I saw on the Backstreets website yesterday regarding the pending re-issue of my favorite Springsteen album. On November 16, 2010 Darkness on the Edge of Town shall be re-issued and it shall be done in what can fairly be described as grand fashion. Every Springsteen fan has his or her favorite Springsteen album. This one happens to be mine. It contains my favorite Springsteen song, the title of which I have rather deftly co-opted for my own purposes in this space.

Even more than the news about the re-issue of Darkness, my day yesterday was brightened quite a bit by some words of strangers. I forget sometimes that anyone other than several members of my immediate family and a few friends actually reads what gets written in this space. I regret to admit that I am self-absorbed enough to confess that the person for whose benefit I do what I do here is the rapidly-aging gent with the wrinkles 'round his eyes and the graying whiskers on his chin who I see up close and personal in the bathroom mirror every morning. Perhaps if I did not drag my reflection's ass out of bed two hours-plus before dawn contemplates its daily cracking, it would treat me better. I know not. And I suspect that I shall never know.

It sounds totally absurd to say this but this exercise's purpose is not to serve as the foundation of an ever-expanding empire of self-congratulation. Rather, I write daily much for the same reason as I run. Each is an exercise in self-discipline. Each is an exercise that brings serenity and a level of calm to me. I know not whether the right word to describe it is "soothing" because among my many not-too-strong suits is language (running interestingly enough is yet another of my not-so-strong suits and it will be on display twice this weekend - Long Branch on Saturday and Cranford on Sunday) but I believe it fits the bill.

Yesterday I was reminded about connectivity. I was reminded that as we paddle upstream in our little canoes, the water displaced beneath our paddles causes a ripple along the water's surface. While we do not see everywhere those ripples go, they do indeed go somewhere. The change they have on the water's surface - whether subtle or something decidedly more so - impacts those who are elsewhere in the stream paddling their own canoe.

Last Sunday a young man died who I did not know. The circumstances surrounding his death are tragic and the fact that at age 30 he has been forever separated from his young bride and their 1 year-old baby girl is.....(well it is whatever Roget lists in his Thesaurus as the word meaning "tragic beyond the pale"). In this space on Tuesday I wrote about him and the admittedly superficial knowledge I had been able to glean from his life through the two or three articles I had read on-line. He was a young man I never met. Part of a family I do not know. Yet, perhaps unrealistically, I did not feel as if knowing him was a prerequisite to writing about how learning about him for the first time after his death caused me to feel.

For a man whose friends and colleagues described him as a "beanpole" he certainly carried a lot of weight and heft. I had the pleasure and privilege yesterday of reading comments that several people, including those who apparently knew him very well, posted here in response to what I had written here on Tuesday. I wrote what I wrote not knowing that they were out there. They, whether looking for information on a long-lost friend or for information on a story they had read on-line or in a newspaper, searched not knowing that I was out here. Their search and my silliness met. A point of intersection in the stream - if you will - for us canoeists.

While the comments of others that I read were universally extraordinary, the one that I found the most striking was one from someone who - like me - did not know the young man personally but whose home yesterday was among those that served as the route for the funeral procession. I know not whether the person who wrote it is a Mom or a Dad but gender matters not at all. It is a sentiment whose power rings through regardless:

Anonymous said...

His procession passed my driveway this morning. I was stunned at the line up of police and emergency vehicles from different towns, along with fire trucks that i had witnessed. My children asked me what was happening..i responded with "I know its a funeral, and I'm guessing he was from Westfield area, and I'm very sure that this person must have been a very very highly decorated police officer or fireman who was very well respected and loved.' We followed the procession to St. James Church, my church, in tears. Emotional by the outpour of respect I saw he received on his way to his funeral.I told my kids, "See? thats the way you want to go to heaven" my daughter asked me how? I told her it was all about making your mark in this world, being a good person, touching others' lives, leaving a good 'mark' others will remember. it was soo beautiful to watch at this very sad time..but i just knew this person was special and I didnt even know him. May he rest in peace, he is with Jesus now.

Anyone who knows me - or anyone who has happened by this particular piece of real estate - knows I am not a religious man. As a general rule, God and I maintain a safe working distance from one another. My own personal bent notwithstanding, I was struck by the beauty of the words and the ability to convey - at that moment - the message that was conveyed from parent to child. Beautiful, remarkable stuff.

After I read what had been written - and then read it a second time and then a third - I thought again about why Darkness is my favorite Springsteen album. For me - and if my oldest brother who knows more about Springsteen than Clarence for crying out loud tells me I am wrong than maybe I will have to rethink my position - Darkness is not only a great collection of music but it is a collection of music that showcases just how much Springsteen's life had changed and how much he had grown up in the three years since Born To Run. The tone of the album is much darker, the tenor of the lyrics throughout is as well, than that of Born To Run.

Yet the characters on Darkness are not folks without hope. They have been kicked hard in the face by life - to be sure - but even in their darkest hour they have their faith. And in the admittedly bizarre manner in which the mousetrap inside of my skullcap processes information, I thought yesterday how the message in that music never seemed more appropriate than it did yesterday.

Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground.

Based upon what I read and what I saw yesterday, there is more than an adequate supply of faith among those who knew, those who loved and those - like me - who merely marveled at the life this young man lived - to ensure that those he loved are now and shall remain twister-proof (kudos to the men and women of the FMBA who -as reported here - yesterday established a scholarship fund for Fireman Pfeiffer's baby daughter). Buoyed by the strength of countless ripples in the stream - the point of origin of each is different - but whose destination is the same.

-AK

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Now Batting.....Mr Misery

I might have never suspected that former Yankee Johnny Damon currently resides at the point of intersection between Jon Bon Jovi and Thomas Wolfe. I most certainly never would have thought that at that point of convergence, Damon would lean more towards the latter than the former. Something new can indeed be learned every day. There goes Damon a/k/a "The Proof".
In the interests of full disclosure, while I used to believe that my rooting interest in the sports teams I favor was a passionate one, as I have aged I have come to realize that while I am indeed a fan I am not nearly invested personally enough in any of the teams to be considered passionate. I think the realization came to me as I read one article after another on-line on Tuesday about Damon's decision to not waive his "no trade" clause, a move that would have cleared the way for his present team - the Detroit Tigers - to trade him to one of his former teams - the Boston Red Sox.
Damon was a Red Sox player who, I suppose, had he not escaped the home base of the true Evil Empire (a little insider humor girls and boys but if you have been here since Aught-Nine you know of which I speak) for a four-year hitch in the Bronx would be best remembered in Yankee Land for the grand slam he hit off of Javy Vazquez in Game Seven of the ALCS in 2004, which broke the game open for Boston, won the Sox the pennant and reversed the Curse. He did escape. He did get his hair cut, shave his beard and in the final year of the four years he spent in pinstripes, he did help the Yankees win the 2009 World Series........much as he had helped Boston do in 2004.
Apparently Red Sox Nation prides itself on never removing its collective foot from the throat of its former heroes who - for whatever reason - end up plying their trade in another zip code after completing service for the Sox. I have never met Damon. I do not pretend to know the man. However based upon what I have read recently it appears as if he expected to be spared that treatment when he returned to Fenway Park as a visiting player in 2006. He apparently expected to be spared it even though he returned to the Fens wearing his Yankees road uniform. He was not.
And if at least one published report is to be believed, he never forgot. And it appears as if he forgave the fans for their treatment of him as much as they forgave him for leaving in the first place. I had not realized until I read it in print that Damon apparently was booed in Fenway Park when he played there this season......as a Tiger. That does seem a bit harsh. But perhaps par for the course in the Town of Beans.
Whether time does indeed heal all wounds is a question open to debate. Gun to my head (quick - guess where the wound would be) I would be forced to confess that I have always found that statement to be representative of a woefully oversimplified view of the real world. I know not whether all wounds heal or whether they simply scab over, putting a covering atop that which becomes hidden from view. Healed? Not healed? One cannot know for certain unless and until one is bold enough to pull back the scab and take a look inside.
This week baseball fans in New England, Michigan and in all points between and beyond got to see 'neath the surface of a professional athlete's psyche. While there is a wound there that remains unhealed, it is one that has nevertheless managed to scar.
At the point of intersection between Jon Bon Jovi and Thomas Wolfe, perhaps Johnny Damon sees the world from a Costello-ian point of view. Home is not where it used to be.
-AK

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Far Away From Happily Ever After

It seems to me that a lot of time is spent in these United States grappling over big picture stuff. Any one of the countless folks who is smarter than I am noted a long time ago that it is the details where the Devil lies. Often it appears to me - in my self-created role as dispassionate observer (well - more or less anyway) that these days we spend too little time examining the details. Too little time peeling that first layer of skin off of the onion to really consider what lies beneath. Too few of us take the words of Shrek to heart. Or take the time to consider that the big stinky green fella was not speaking solely of onions being complex characters....or of ogres for that matter.

Regardless of your personal politics - and I beg you to take me at face value on this point for I care less about the politics of others than any human being I know - and your point of view on the (a) wisdom, (b) legality, or (c) purpose of our involvement in either theatre, for close to the last ten years there have been men and women who wear the uniforms of this nation's several military branches fighting a war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It somehow always seems to me to make it sound equal parts romantic and benign when we speak of men and women "in combat" as if we are speaking of a particular place. We describe it as if "in combat" is a neighborhood or an enclave of some type - perhaps just up the coast a bit from Malibu or a bit further west on the Island than the Hamptons.

Jazzing up the language a bit permits us perhaps to dull our own senses to what the men and women who are presently spending their day-to-day in a combat zone are required to do just to make it from one day to the next. They do not simply "engage" the enemy. They are often times tasked with the responsibility of killing other human beings who are tasked with a responsibility that mirrors their own. With the exception of one or more members of the FIJI fraternity on a night or two a long, long time ago while I roamed as a Buffalo (only ten days until opening day vs. CSU!) I have never consciously put my head on my pillow at night in the presence of an individual or individuals who not only wanted harm to befall me but were prepared to do what they could to make it happen. I have never in my life caught a whiff of anything that even passes as a distant relative of combat. I do not know - and I would not pretend otherwise - how those who do live in such a pressurized environment survive the experience.

The problem (I think anyway) with big picture analysis and the effort (often foisted upon us by one of more of the talking television Towers of Babel who spew forth their opinions on every cable "news" network) to paint a multi-color world exclusively in black and white is that the bigger the screen is, the harder it is to break the image down into its individual pixels. We grasp I guess that the whole is composed of its parts. We forget I fear that the parts - the layers that make up the whole - are not in fact statistics. They are not pixels either. They are people. They are someone's family. And when they are killed, the ripple upon the surface of the lives of those of us who occupy the world at large is nothing compared to the effect that most of us do not have to see - the effect upon the lives of the family who has lost one who its members loved.

Yesterday's Star-Ledger announced the death in Afghanistan of U.S. Army Specialist Pedro Millet. According to the paper, Millet was from Elizabeth and he is the twenty-fourth service member from New Jersey to die while serving in Afghanistan - joining somewhere in the neighborhood of 1oo of his brothers and sisters in arms from the State of Concrete Gardens who have died while serving in Iraq. Millet was twenty years old. I do not know what a Specialist in the United States Army does although the article said that Millet's unit's first assignment upon arriving in Afghanistan last Friday was sweeping for mines. In the photograph of him that accompanied the article, proudly wearing his uniform, he looked closer to sixteen than to twenty.

His death leaves a void that his family (including three younger siblings) will struggle to fill. The point, from my admittedly limited perspective as a father of two young adults who are a few years older than Pedro Millet - including one who has a job that I admit makes me nervous most days and scares the hell out of me on the rest of them - that Pedro Millet died while serving his country is a valid one, an honorable one but not necessarily the most important one. Not now.

His service and his honor are among the things that hopefully shall comfort his parents and his brothers and sisters in their time of grief. They are the things that hopefully shall comfort them and bring solace to them months from now - or perhaps even weeks from now given the collective ADD from which we all seem to suffer - when the world-at-large has moved on to mourn the loss of other service men and women and to debate the merits of the conflict in which they were engaged when they died.

For now and for always the rest of us - me included - need to be mindful of the fact that 20 year-old Pedro Millet was not and is not simply a number. He was not and is not simply a statistic. He was not and he is not simply a casualty of war - an anonymous reference point to be relied upon in a cable television pseudo-debate. He was and he is his parents' son. He was and he is his younger siblings' big brother. He was and he is everything to them. His death was and it is their loss. We hear of it, we express our sadness/regret/sorrow over it and we are permitted to resume our day-to-day. For them it is not so simple. It is not easy now. It may not get any easier later on.

'Neath the shiny outer layer of numbers and statistics lies the substance of the thing; right? It is not numbers or statistics that comprise the layers underneath. It is the heart and the soul of the whole. It is the individuals. It is now - and sadly so for his family - comprised in part of Pedro Millet - a 20 year-old kid from Elizabeth, New Jersey who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday. And who died in Afghanistan on Sunday. It is a parent's worst nightmare to outlive and to have to bury a child. It is an upsetment to what is perceived to be the natural order of the universe. It is one of the two things I fear most of all.

Now the sun's gone to Hell

And the moon's riding high.

Let me bid you farewell,

Every man has to die.

But it's written in the starlight

And every line on your palm.

We are fools to make war


The proof is found not in the statistics and I for one do not give a rat's ass about them. It is found in the layers underneath. Peel away the onion's skin......

...and try not to shed a tear. I double dog dare you.


-AK

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Fallen Hero

A thirty year old man doing yard work on a Sunday afternoon is supposed to enjoy dinner with his family on Sunday night. A thirty year old man who is a husband and a father of a one year old daughter should live a life long enough to grow old with the young bride who he loves and to watch his one year old grow into a young woman who he walks beside on the journey down the aisle on her wedding day. A thirty year old man is not supposed to die. Yet on Sunday afternoon, for reasons inexplicable, James Pfeiffer, Jr. died. He was apparently working from a ladder trimming a tree when a branch of the tree struck the ladder, causing him to be knocked from it and to strike his head on the ground. Pfeiffer was only thirty years old. He was a Westfield firefighter, having been a member of the Department since 1999. While I sought refuge in law school to escape hard math, my arithmetic is good enough to calculate that at the time he died Pfeiffer was already a veteran of more than ten years on the job.

At age 30, Pfeiffer spent more than one-third of his life in a career chosen by men and women who run towards danger while the rest of us head from it as fast as we can. According to the newspaper account I read, fighting fires in Westfield is the Pfeiffer family business. His great uncle, Norman J. Ruerp, retired as the department’s chief in 1970, and his uncle retired as a lieutenant in 2001. Three years later, Pfeiffer’s father, James Sr., retired as a captain. A family that devotes itself to the service of others deserves a better fate than to lose one of its own in the manner in which the Pfeiffer family has.


If the world was as just as it is unpredictable, then Sunday would be a day that the Pfeiffer family would long celebrate the day five years ago when James Pfeiffer, Jr.'s "beanpole" status permitted the happening of a miracle. Sadly it is not. It is a day that will be forever shrouded in sadness. A man who lived his life heroically deserved a better fate. And a longer life. As did his family.

When I am called to duty, God, whenever flames may rage;
Give me strength to save some life, whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child before it is too late
Or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout,
And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
To guard my every neighbor and protect his property.
And if, according to my fate, I am to lose my life;
-AK

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Day at the Beach

While it was not as nice a morning to run yesterday at Lake Como as it was last Saturday in Asbury Park, it was nevertheless a terrific morning. Gidg and I participated for the first time yesterday in the George McCormack 5K. The race is a great little event. It is put on annually in memory of George McCormack, who was a Lake Como Police Captain who died in 2004. The proceeds from the event benefit a Scholarship Fund established in his honor.

As someone who is new to the whole running game I know not why this is an event that appears to be underattended. According to the article I read before this year's race, the 2009 edition attracted 82 runners. This year, there was an uptick of approximately 25% with somewhere in the neighborhood of 112 participants. A neighborhood of 112 is a pretty damn small neighborhood to be sure. Having taken part in it for the first time this year and having enjoyed the experience quite a lot I hope that the neighborhood continues to grow so that next year and in the years to come the people who work hard to put this event on are still able to do so.

The humidity notwithstanding, yesterday was a terrific day at the Shore. Gidg ran a hell of a race, I shaved six seconds off of what had been the personal best I set for myself last week in Asbury Park and Margaret, Gidg and I spent quite a nice morning after the race at Bar A. I ran into a friend of mine who I had not seen to talk to in too many years to count before the race started. After finishing his run several minutes earlier than either Gidg or I did, he hung out with the three of us post-race for a while. It turned into quite a nice morning - a most unexpected delight of a day.

-AK

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday at the Lake for George

My favorite thing about running - other than being in a position to be humbled on a perpetual basis by both young and old regardless of gender or race - is the fact that it seems to me that on a weekly basis in one town or another across our State of Concrete Gardens, both runners and people who run gather at races to run, to compete and to lend a helping hand. For some reason, getting an ass whooping while engaged in an activity that is doing something for someone else seems OK to me.....as opposed to all of the trouncings I absorbed for no good cause while wrestling in high school.

This morning in the Shore town of Lake Como (not the one where George Clooney has his villa but the other one) there is a 5K race in honor of George McCormack. He was a Lake Como Police Captain who died unexpectedly in 2004. In the years since his death, this has become an annual event. I did not know the man. Hell, until someone explained to me that Lake Como is the town formerly known as South Belmar - sort of like "the artist formerly known as Prince" but without the annoying symbols - I had never heard of the town either. I take on faith that those who knew him knew him to be worthy of an honor such as this race. He died in 2004 and the first edition of this event took place the very next year. And in the several years since, it has been held annually without fail.

Notwithstanding the celebratory luau I foresee taking place in the immediate aftermath of news of my death being broadcast - whenever that fateful moment shall arrive - I have difficulty envisioning someone putting on a similar event in my memory. George McCormack clearly made quite an impression on those who knew him while he was alive. In the years since his death, they have staged an annual event whose purpose is to help fund a scholarship established in his name but whose inspiration is doing for others in his memory as he did for them in his lifetime.

He did the hard part - living his life in a way that others recognized (and continue to recognize) as laudable. All we are being called upon to do this morning is run a few miles in his honor. Talk about your sweetheart deals; right? A morning well spent indeed.

-AK

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stick Figures and Stones

When you are the dictionary definition of ordinary - as I am - it is hard to ever seriously consider the possibility that another's behavior (especially when the person in question is a stranger to you) is directed towards you personally. Yesterday morning however I was sure that I almost ran headlong into the exception that proved the rule.

A couple of weeks ago or so I made several unflattering observations about those who feel the need to share with their fellow motorists the exact composition of their families through use of those inane stick figures that resemble chalk outlines across the tailgate or rear window of their vehicle. Yesterday morning as I was heading south on the Parkway towards the Monmouth County Courthouse (located in a certain someone's hometown) for the first of the day's two adventures, I slid into the left lane behind a mini-van (is there any type of vehicle - regardless of make and model - that clutters our highways and byways more than the mini-van? The damn things are like Gremlins: run them through a car wash and they multiply), the back window of which featured not less than ten (10) chalk/stick figures.

While most of them happened to be of the human persuasion, little Sally Shares-Too-Much behind the wheel also had the obligatory dog and cat stick figures as well. Next to the cat (on the far right of the panorama) was one that was a new sight for me: a goldfish in a bowl. Really? As a human being your time is of so little value to you that you spend a moment of it - instead of in a legitimate pursuit such as working, spending time with family, sleeping or using a magnifying glass to light your leg hair on fire - attaching a stencil to the rear of your automobile in honor of your goldfish. Pathetic. And for sh*ts and giggles, you place the goldfish on the rear window directly next to the cat and far away from the protection of the household's seemingly endless supply of humans. I was tempted to pull the mini-van driver over to ask whether the goldfish is still alive but I figured there was little chance that its owners take better care of its flesh-and-blood incarnation than they do its chalk outline version. I presumed that I kind of, sort of knew the answer to my question. And then it occurred to me that perhaps the use of what looks to all the world to be a chalk outline to represent the goldfish was actually foreshadowing.

I drove the rest of the way to Freehold - and later from Freehold to Fort Lee - without incident (on 57th Street or otherwise). Happiness is not a Friday work schedule that first takes me an hour south of my home and then an hour-plus north of my home, which guaranteed that I headed towards the George Washington Bridge with the early-arriving Yankees fan and thereafter south towards home with everyone looking to squeeze another beach weekend out of the quickly-expiring Summer of '10. I remained proud of myself that I had resisted the temptation all those hours earlier to visit bodily harm on the idiot who chronicled the life and times of her goldfish on the rear window of her automobile.

Sitting at a dead stop in traffic heading south on the Turnpike (having decided to stay off of the Parkway to avoid Shore-bound traffic.......a sentiment echoed by the 37,000 other motorists with whom I shared the southbound lanes of the Turnpike apparently) I had to flip down the visor in my car to get a bit of a break from the light and heat pouring through the windshield. And then it occurred to me that the light and heat were both presents brought to me by the sun, reminding me subtly perhaps that in the universe one of us is at the center while the other.....

....The other is merely a flawed little human as taken aback at the perceived failings of others as they undoubtedly are of his. The key after all is not recognition of another's failings but tolerance of those that - in the larger scheme of things - really do not matter very much.

-AK

Friday, August 20, 2010

Not Zài Jiàn But Merely Zhídào Wǒmen Zàicì Jiànmiàn

I spent a portion of last evening in the company of some old friends. The purpose of the get-together was a bit melancholic, which of course makes it the perfect Gaelic event. We gathered to wish a safe voyage and a happy and healthy year abroad to our favorite mad Hungarian.

Les Rudnyanszky is a man who three decades ago or so first made an impression on my life and in it. It proved to be not only a positive one but a long-lasting one as well. I have known him for most of my life, first as a coach and a teacher but for far longer as a mentor and as a friend. He is off to do something that I know I lack the courage or the intestinal fortitude to do - spend the next year in China doing what he loves: teaching.

I initially thought that this decision was one he had made back in the Fall of 2010 when it was still unclear whether his beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish were to be led onto the gridiron in 2011 by the corpulent one. Charlie Weis had arrived in South Bend several seasons earlier as a legend - in his own mind at least - but was kicked to the curb after the 2010 season generally reviled as the Round Mound of Dumbfound. I thought that perhaps Doc had taken the job in China in an attempt to seek refuge in a foreign land unfamiliar with the mythical powers of the Touchdown Jesus to save himself the agita associated with yet another disappointing season.

Given my hypothesis I wondered if the arrival of the newest designated savior from Cincinnati had caused him to rethink his plans. He assured me that another season under Weis did not factor into his decision-making. I believe him. He did after all survive the Willingham era, the Davies era and the eminently unforgettable Gerry Faust era way back when in the 1980's. In Doc's A.P. American History class in the Fall of '83 we had a nickname for Coach Faust. We called him "Quiz A Week" because every Saturday afternoon collapse on the field led directly to a Monday afternoon quiz in Doc's class. I wonder what Gerry Faust is up to these days. I know that he is not accompanying Doc to China. I asked.

We sat last night in one of my favorite places having a beer or two, breaking bread and waxing nostalgic. It was - as it always is - good to be in the company of good friends. At night's end, it was a bit difficult for one and all to say our good nights. Doc is only heading out for a year. However he is off to the other side of the world. And he is headed to a walled society, both literally and figuratively, as well. He will be out of sight but never out of mind.

I chose last night not to say goodbye, which according to a neat little Google translator service I found on-line is Zài Jiàn. Instead I said, "Until we meet again", which is "Zhídào wǒmen zàicì jiànmiàn". It has a nice, hopeful ring to it; right?

If goodbye remains unspoken, then there is no reason to be afraid.

-AK

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Direction and Pace

One of the residual effects of all of the work around the house that the Missus and I did on Sunday is that - for present purposes at least - the treadmill in the spare room upstairs (we call that room "the office" - which is such a stretch that it actually tests the definitional limits of the word euphemism) has now been re-directed. For most of its life it has been facing back-to-front (although I think it did have a brief period in which it faced front-to-back). Now - or at least for the time being - it faces left-to-right. Quick, we will do this by show of hands: right now, who while reading this is asking him/herself, "Who the F*** cares?"

Sorry, having I realized that I cannot type with only my left hand while holding my right one aloft, allow me to continue. The neat thing about the treadmill's new position is not how it faces but what it faces. We have in our spare room upstairs along the right wall a series of floor to almost ceiling shelves, which are home principally to my audience-created-recordings collection of various and sundry Springsteen shows. Gun to my head I know not how many I have although I do know that once I passed the 250 mark I simply stopped counting. Chances are if you are looking for a particular show, I have it. Actually, chances are even if you are not looking for it, I have it. My possession of it remains the same after all. It is simply your level of interest in it that changes.

Apparently for several years now Margaret, Suzanne and Rob have housed other items on the shelves in the spare room. I am embarrassed to admit though not surprised to acknowledge inasmuch as I live most of my life as my alter ego Captain Obtuse that I had never really noticed what else was on those shelves until Sunday afternoon. It was then that for the first time I ran on the right wall-facing treadmill.

There is a shelf devoted to a combination of Yankees/Buffs paraphernalia, which includes among its number an item I had forgotten I owned. Several years ago now, when my friend Gracie was still working with me at the Firm, her mother Helen sent her to work one day with a present for me. Helen had apparently signed up for a department store credit card at a local mall on a day that the "hook" to get applicants to sign on the dotted line was a Derek Jeter bobble head doll. Helen wanted the card and knowing from Gracie that I am a Yankees fan, accepted the bobble head for the sole purpose of giving it to me. In the interests of full disclosure, the bobble head in question bears as much resemblance to Derek Jeter as this guy does. But what this particular piece of artwork lacks in actual art it more than makes up for in sentiment.

I presume that the entire time the treadmill has been in the spare room upstairs - and the Jeter bobble head has been located on a nearby shelf - that the bobble head has moved much like a chicken on speed at feeding time. Having only just become aware of the phenomenon within the past couple of days, I must confess that it really helps pass the time on the treadmill (and provide the impetus to continue running at a fast pace) to watch Jeter's bobble head's head pop up and down with the certainty of a trip hammer and the speed of a hummingbird. Sue me, I am easily amused and since we have no TV in the spare room upstairs it is not as if I can pass the time watching the comedic styling of Maxwell and Mrs. A while I run.

Sunday afternoon while laughing at Jeter's be bopping bobble head my eyes moved from left to right and I happened upon something that was not amusing but was a sight to see nonetheless. While I do not know whether Suzanne put it in there or Rob did, one of them placed a photo of the two of them, which had to have been taken when they were perhaps 11 and 12 years old, on one of the shelves. This too had escaped my normally eagle-like eye until Sunday afternoon because now the treadmill faces towards it and it is located at or about eye level. It is simply a great picture. Both of them were captured in mid-laugh. Consequently, each has a bright-eyed, happy look. They do indeed appear to be the picture of happiness. I cannot help but look at the two of them staring back at me as I run without smiling myself. It is a photo that still generates warmth a decade and a half or so after it was taken.

It resonates with me because I know what became of the two smiling children in that picture. I know the young adults that each has grown up to become. I know of the path each has climbed (well I know there are any number of "not suitable for Dad" stories to which I have not yet become privy and shall not until the appropriate Statutes of Limitations have run. I get it, Jill and I have still never told Mom the story about how the piece of railroad tie ended up in the front right tire of her red Chevette when we were in high school although I think we hinted once that the words, "Let me drive - what is the worst that can happen?" might have some import in the tale) to get from that point, frozen in time forever, to the one where each is presently. It resonates with me because I know their story.

And it resonates with me because looking at them with their matching baby faces it reminds me that I am proud not only of who they are now but that I have always been proud of who they are - regardless of the particular point in time on the continuum. They are two remarkable young people, the best things ever made and nurtured by Margaret. Every inch of each of them is a walking, breathing testament to her and the way in which they she raised them.

I hope that for as long as I run and for as long as we have the treadmill occupying a space in the spare room upstairs for me to run upon that photograph of Suzanne and Rob occupies its appointed space - on a shelf and at eye level where it can be easily seen. At the point of intersection between what has been handed down and what picks me up. Right where it should be. The place where it belongs.

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down.

-AK

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And In A Single Moment.......

One half of one of the most storied combinations in the most storied of American sports died Monday. On October 3, 1951, if not in the gloaming then at the very least on the exit ramp leading to it, Bobby Thomson struck a home run known by its somewhat understated sobriquet, "The Shot Heard 'Round The World". Thomson danced a jig, Russ Hodges blew a blood vessel or ten and Ralph Branca hung his head and walked that long walk off the field (the Dodgers had to access the visitor's clubhouse via dead center field), forever linked to Thomson as the man who threw the pitch that catapulted Thomson into baseball immortality.

Branca threw. Thomson swung. And the Giants won the NL Pennant by a two games to one count in the best-of-three playoff. They won by virtue of a home run in the bottom of the final inning of what would have been the Giants' final game. Had a Hollywood screenwriter written it as a script, it would have been ridiculed as having been too heavy on the schmaltz. Of course, here in the 21st Century it would have been written by Nicholas Sparks, caused cavities to cause in the teeth of men everywhere and been an international best-seller before being turned into a film starring Greg Kinnear and Kevin Costner. But I digress....

For almost sixty years since that fateful day in early October in the middle of the last century, Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca resided on opposite sides of conjunction junction from each other. Thomson regaled for his feat and Branca lauded for the dignity he displayed not only in the immediate aftermath of throwing that fateful pitch but that he displayed on the countless times since when the two men made an appearance together. No more. On August 16, 2010 the man who manufactured the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff died. Bobby Thomson died in Georgia at age 86.

While there was undoubtedly some tension between the two men when it was revealed several years ago that the '51 Giants had fostered quite a home field advantage at the Polo Grounds - a rather elaborate system to steal signals from the visiting team's catcher (which may have aided the Giants in their frantic pursuit of the Dodgers, making up a 13 game deficit and forcing a 3-game playoff)-and the Dodgers intimated that they believed Thomson knew what was coming when he hit "The Shot" off of Branca (a charge Thomson always denied), Ralph Branca's reaction to hearing the news of the death of his long-time nemesis was classy and predictable. "I'll miss him," Branca said. "I mellowed over the years and we became good friends. I enjoyed being around him."

In the course of sixty years much has changed in all sports, including but not limited to, baseball. As is the same with everything I suppose, not all of the change has been for the better. Everywhere we look we see players applauded for what candidly appear to be displays of poor sportsmanship or at the very least examples of questionable class. For close to sixty years, in spite of having spent most of their mutual existence in glare of the spotlight generated by their singular, defining moment in the sun, neither Branca nor Thomson ever displayed anything other than respect and admiration for one another. On too many occasions to count, I either saw them on television, heard them on the radio or saw something attributed to one or the other of them in print expressing surprise that all these years later people still made so much of one pitch. Of one swing. Of one game.

And I saw Thomson on more than one occasion express his genuine appreciation for Branca's ability to talk about it and to relive it all the while with his eyes fixed straight ahead and his head up. He might have slumped and slunk his way off of the field at the Polo Grounds all those Octobers ago, but Ralph Branca never did anything other than walk like a man. It always seemed to me that Thomson understood what others might have failed to, which is that being a gracious winner is far easier than being a good loser.

I hope that being posterity's poster children put more than a bit of coin in each man's pocket over the years. Both are famous in baseball for a single moment as opposed to a career's worth. Proof that in one moment everything can indeed change.

And proof that in one moment maybe nothing changes. I suspect that Thomson and Branca each were the men the world came to know them as long before Branca threw, Thomson swung and the Giants won the pennant. Exposure to extreme light simply permitted them to grow bigger and made them easier to see. And to appreciate.

For what made their moment memorable was not the shot. It was the echo. We hear it still.

-AK

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Old 97's

My partner Alan is quite an accomplished golfer. Do not feel compelled to take my word for it. Ask him. He will tell you the same thing. (Just kidding. Well, kind of, sort of.) I do not golf (or play golf or whatever the proper turn of phrase is). It is not a sport that I watch often on TV.

I do pay enough attention to it that I know that this past weekend was one of this season's Major Championships - the PGA. Sunday evening as we were sitting down to dinner, Uncle Mike and Joe were watching coverage of the final round. Candidly, as a viewer whose knowledge of the guys who play the game drops off dramatically once we have completed an exhaustive discussion of all players named "Tiger", I had no idea who the hell any of the golfers were who they were watching. And, refusing to give in to the temptation to Google the information, I have no idea who won the tournament.

I understand that on the 72nd hole, which for you non-duffers out there is the final hole of regulation, one of the guys who was battling for the win was Dustin Johnson. He went to the 18th tee with a chance to win the tournament. However when the 3-hole playoff started about thirty minutes later, only two players participated in it and neither of them was Johnson.

While hitting a shot on the 18th hole from a bunker (think big sandbox sans toys and cat dookie), Johnson "grounded" his club. According to my partner Alan that means he did what it sounds like he did - he allowed his club to make contact with the bunker prior to hitting the ball. While he did not do so for any apparent reason such as trying to better his lie in the bunker, the mere act of doing so violated a rule. And apparently - silly pants notwithstanding - those golf fellows take their rules and the violations thereof very seriously. Johnson's violation cost him two shots, a chance to (at least) participate in the playoff in a Major and a couple of hundred G's.

Golf apparently is a sport that has a lot of rules. Alan attempted to give me a primer on some of them yesterday morning but after a few minutes my head started to hurt. I felt better knowing that Alan - the resident expert - had the same take on what had happened on Sunday in Wisconsin as I did. I was more than a bit at a loss as to why the majority of pieces I read on what occurred blamed the course and excused the athlete. Posted in the locker room for all of of the players to read from before the first day of the tournament was a sign telling the golfers - and reminding them on a daily basis - that all of the bunkers on the course were hazards and that grounding a club - as Johnson did - would result in a two-shot penalty. Neither Johnson nor his caddy apparently bothered to read the posting.

The posting in question was ninety-seven words. Ninety-seven words that he could not be bothered to read. It has been written countless times that a picture is worth 1000 words. Late on Sunday afternoon, the picture of Dustin Johnson grounding his club proved to be worth far fewer words than that. And yet cost him so much more.

-AK

Monday, August 16, 2010

Going Retro

Yesterday was a bit of a retro day at our house. We are - as it seems we all are - plugged in to the world at large via personal e-mail, work e-mail, text messages, cell phone and Facebook. And it seems that at a substantial part of every day is spent on-line, whether out of necessity or by our choice. It is neither good nor bad. It is simply part of life.

Not yesterday however. The Missus and I spent a very constructive Sunday doing quite a lot of things - both inside of the house and outside of it - that we had been meaning to do but had not gotten around to getting done. And we did all of it old school style.

Being connected is a wonderful thing. It affords me the opportunity on a daily basis to chat with my siblings who - like me - are busy with their own families, their own stuff, their own lives. But for the virtual connection we would have little opportunity to stay in regular contact with each other. The information superhighway sure shortens the distance between Point A and Point B.

Before we knew it yesterday, we were sitting down to dinner with Uncle Mike, Joe, Suz and Ryan. Everyone spent all day doing many things and then gathered around the table to discuss our respective days. For one day at least, everything old was new again.

-AK

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The August Preservation Society

If I worked in the Department of Time, Preservation Division yesterday would have been a day worth preserving. Most of this summer here in the State of Concrete Gardens has been fairly rough weather-wise with a number of extended periods of extreme heat and humidity. Yesterday however, on the cusp of August's halfway point, Mother Nature treated us to a drop-dead gorgeous day. And while any beautiful day is to be appreciated, irrespective of where it falls on the calendar when it falls - as it did for me - on a day that includes a race and also some quality seaside time with family then it is a day to be savored. A day to be cherished.

In the not-quite-a-year since I started running on a regular basis and started running in races of varying distances I have learned that in every race those of us who are running have different goals. Of course there are those among the entrants who - irrespective of the number of runners - enter the race expecting to win it. For ease of reference, I refer to those runners as, "Not Me". There are those who enter knowing that they will likely do as much walking as running but they are in the event to get some exercise, to spend some time with friends and to do some good - helping raise money for whoever is slated to benefit from the event's fundraising efforts.

The third group whose presence I have become acquainted with in slightly less than a year on the road(s) in New Jersey is comprised of people who run not only to do good and feel good but also to push themselves in an athletic endeavor. Those runners whose only real competition in the event is the person who they see in the mirror every morning. I belong to this group. In an event with 11 entrants there is a reasonable chance that I would finish outside of the Top Ten. If I did so however while pushing myself to run hard and was able to achieve a good result, then I would go home satisfied.

Yesterday morning in a town whose glory days have seemed on more than one occasion to have passed it by forever but for whom better days certainly now seem to be on the come, on what was a picture-perfect day to run, I ran the best race of my life (bearing in mind of course that while I am 43 and change I have been running in such things for about 1/43 of that time). The good folks who organized the Asbury Park 5K had a day better than they could have hoped for for their event. The air had a feel more akin to late September than early August. The skies were clear. And sunshine was everywhere. It is almost impossible not to feel good while running on such a day.

As if the conditions atmospheric (natural division) where not enough to put a smile on my face yesterday morning, then the conditions atmospheric (man-made division) clinched the deal. The race organizers constructed a course that took us on two loops. From the starting line on 5th Avenue (about two blocks off of the water at Kingsley Street), we ran west to Grand Avenue, south on Grand Avenue to Cookman, northeast on Cookman to Ocean Avenue and then north on Ocean Avenue. The first loop required us to travel north on Ocean back to 5th in order toc complete it/start the second loop. However when we reached Ocean Avenue the second time around we were moved a block further east......so that we ran north on the boardwalk towards the waiting arms of Convention Hall and across the finish line.

Asbury Park is a town that has received its share of knocks over the years and candidly not every section of it is a place where I would do a dance of joy if my car happened to break down. However there is a serious effort afoot in Asbury Park to restore its long-lost luster. Based upon what the Missus and I saw yesterday, they have made some wonderful inroads in that effort already. The Boardwalk is beautiful and the beach is spacious and gorgeous.

Against this backdrop I ran the best 5K of my life yesterday. Prior to yesterday morning my personal best 5K time was 26:54. Yesterday I ran 26:35.54. To underscore just how mediocre to average a runner I am, my all-time best effort dropped me just about in the middle of the pack for overall finishers as well as for my age group. Now you know why I am one of those runners who competes against myself. All those other folks kick my ass......even on my best-ever day.

From Asbury Park yesterday morning Margaret and I headed south. We spent the rest of the day at Jill and Joe's, just relaxing on the beach with them and our two nieces (I did get a reminder as to how bad an uncle I am when I realized that Simone is getting ready to start her senior year in high school and Julia her freshman year when in my mind's eye each was still somewhere south of 12 years old) and Mom. Mom migrates north in the summertime, which enables her to not only escape Florida's summer heat but also to spend time with people she loves at a place she has loved her entire life - the Shore.

Traditionally I am not a huge beach guy. Given the fact that I am historically pale (I have the two skin settings innate to the Irish: white and sunburned) and prone to carry more weight on my frame than I should, it gets old hearing someone shout out, "Beluga!" moments before getting ropes wrapped around my ankles in an effort to drag me "back" into the ocean to save me from beaching. Yesterday though was simply terrific. And the best thing about it was that we really did nothing other than sit on the beach together talking. The surf was too rough for swimmers to be permitted into the water but with a nice cooling breeze coming off the ocean all day, it mattered not. There was no extreme heat from which anyone needed to seek refuge.

I was reminded yesterday - as Margaret and I headed home - just how right Mr. Einstein was with regard to relativity. We spent hours on the beach yesterday with Jill/Joe, Mom and the girls. The time passed in the wink of a young girl's eye. The memories however have a much longer shelf life.



-AK

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Greetings From Asbury Park

If you are up early this morning reading this, after looking yourself squarely in the mirror and asking yourself, "Why?" you might want to head towards the home of Madame Marie and Tillie, towards the home of the boys from the Casino and all those wonderfully silly New York virgins. She is not one. Neither is she.

Perhaps - like me - the idea of spending time in Asbury Park after sunrise on a Saturday morning strikes you as being antithetical. After all, this is a place well known for the music that has come out of it and the various places where it can be enjoyed - with plentiful adult liquid refreshments - late into the evening. Historically, most of my leisure time spent in Asbury Park has been spent either at The Stone Pony or at Convention Hall.

This morning however (on what is supposed to be a pretty nice morning on which to run) I shall be in AP in the AM running in the Asbury Park 5K. This is of course my first time running in this event. While I have been looking forward to it since the day I signed up for it, reading the description of the course - including where the race finishes - really has me excited for this morning. Finishing on the Boardwalk near Convention Hall? Not too shabby at all. As long as I am not the last one across the finish line, it should be pretty cool. Actually as long as I am not the last one across the finish line and I arrive after they have broken down the clock and the other race-related accouterments it will be pretty cool. Given that we are only covering 3.1 miles I like my chances of finishing while evidence of a race having taken place is still present on the Boardwalk for all to see.

While I know not if I shall get the chance to meet him this morning, I am proud to have the chance to occupy the same real estate (at least for a half-hour or so) with a gentleman named Chris Cerrelli. According to the web site of the Jersey Shore Running Club, he is a member of that group who shall - over the course of the next year - train for his first marathon while spending that year in the service of this nation in Afghanistan. While I suppose that training at the elevations he will likely encounter there will be beneficial to him, I would think that some of the other ancillary factors one must deal with in Afghanistan are potentially less so. If the opportunity to shake his hand and wish him well arises today, then I shall take it. In the event it does not, then right here and now to him and to all of the other men and women who shall be there with him I wish a safe journey and a speedy return home to family and loved ones. And I extend my thanks to him and to all of his brothers and sisters in arms for doing a tough - some might say impossible - job well.

Wake up Sandy. On this morning at least, that thing rising behind us in the East ain't the Aurora. Rise and shine.

-AK

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Sure Thing

This weekend marks the halfway point of August, which explains the veritable spate of school buses and vans I have started to see on the highways and byways here in the State of Concrete Gardens and the ever-burgeoning Sunday edition of the Star-Ledger that my paper man leaves on my driveway every week. When I was a kid I do not recall supermarkets taking part in back-to-school sales but apparently now, nothing says, "C'mon kids it is time for the school bus" quite as well as a deal on Poland Spring water.....unless it is one on Sun-Maid Raisins. Literally every purveyor of every good or service available within the geographical boundaries of these United States is selling something (or several somethings) that is being marketed as "indispensable" for your child's imminent return to the classroom or the campus.

I accept as a given that thirty-plus years ago I was a far less sophisticated cat than the 21st Century's imprint of an elementary school student. But has the world changed that much in less than two decades that what comprised the "Must Have" list for a 3rd, 4th or 5th grader when my two young adults were the ones for whom Margaret and I were doing the shopping has been rendered completely obsolete? Apparently the answer to that question is "Yes".

It is forever for me an uncomfortable tug-of-war between technology's convenience and innocence's end. You can make an endless number of solid, rational arguments in support of your lower level grade school student being sent off into the big bad world with his or her own assortment of electronic devices, including the omnipresent cell phone. Yet, the rational man I am notwithstanding I cannot help but think that most of your arguments are silly. It seems as if parents equip their wee ones with "emergency" gear much in the same way that a parent sends a son or daughter off to college with an "emergency" credit card. If more college students took a Bradbury-ian approach (as in Alison) as to what constitutes an emergency then their parents would not recoil in horror at the prospect of sending them off matriculating with adventure in their hearts and plastic in their hands. I have not asked Schneeds about it in a number of years but I do not think his father has ever accepted Alex's claim that the dinner he purchased at Mataam Fez in Boulder for the three of us (Alex, Jay and I) constituted an actual emergency and that was more than twenty years ago.

Do little kids really need to be ready to be full-on participants in the technology race at age 8 or 9? I suppose it is my inner dinosaur poking its head up above the tree line but it simply does not seem so. Small children go to school equipped with iPods/MP3 players and cell phones/blackberries, the latter justified by parent and child alike on the grounds of, "What if my child needs to get in touch with me?", which is not a silly or trite concern to be sure. I would be willing to wager however that less than 1% of all communication one's elementary school age child has on his/her cell phone during any given school day, week or year is secondary to an actual emergency - unless what Archie thinks of Veronica's new sweater constitutes an emergency in the pre-teen universe.

Connectivity is the new benchmark. We strive to be connected to one another, to our jobs, to our social networks, to our virtual existence 24/7. Why? Who decreed that 6th graders should be more concerned with Twitter than Twister or with Facebook than Wiffle Ball? Whoever that person is we should punch in the nose as hard as we can. In the ever-escalating race to be cool, children are given precious little time to be something innately special: themselves. Life is a forward-lived experience. The summers, the autumns and yes even the winters or our youth - once gone - are not coming back. We will spend our lives dedicating ourselves to the pursuit of coolness, of being one in the know, of being a member of the 'in' crowd. Knowing what we are setting them up for later on, do the parents of school-age children not owe it to their kids to allow them to enjoy just being kids? It has been said that youth is wasted on the young. If that is indeed true then it is due in large part to the interference of the old into the lives of the young.

We have not abandoned the old saw of asking a child what he or she wants to be "all grown up". But it appears as if we have shortened the time line from youth to adulthood. And for what good reason? From one man's admittedly jaundiced point of view, nothing pops up in my field of vision.

I think that what got me thinking about this (giving the word 'thinking' its broadest possible definitional interpretation) was something I saw while driving back to the office from court in Middlesex County on Thursday morning. I was stopped at a traffic light on Hoe's Lane and when I looked to my right I saw a group of kids of varying heights, colors and ages goofing around together on the lawn of either a school or perhaps a church in what I presumed was some sort of summer camp program. I was at the light long enough to see nothing more or less extraordinary than kids being kids, running after one another on the lawn, laughing and having what looked to be one hell of a good time. Not a cell phone, iPod or PSP visible in the bunch. Lots of smiles. Not a lot of gadgets.

It is mid-August already. The days grow shorter. Summer is no longer measured in months but in weeks or days. It will be over before we know it. And sooner than they know it now, so too shall the childhood of our kids. Let us not be in too much of a hurry to see either depart. Because unlike the former, once the latter goes, it is not coming back.

-AK

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thinking Pink

It is worth me forcing myself to remember that it was only two or three years after the old man tripped the mortal coil that Mom came home - as cool as the other side of the pillow (as Stuart Scott might say) - to inform me that our planned vacation to northern California to see San Francisco and to visit Kara in college had to be cancelled. Mom's cool was actually a bit unnerving inasmuch as we stood in the living room of the house on Wertsville Road (the home that Dad - who would have lasted as long in retirement as Paul "Bear" Bryant did had he ever bothered to live that long - built as, "the place where we shall retire") on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening having this conversation (well - more of a monologue really as she spoke and stood there mouth agape) and the trip to California upon which she had just put the mighty kibosh was scheduled to begin about 36 hours later.

While this will not seem fathomable to anyone reading this who does not know Mom, anyone who does will have no difficulty at all accepting the fact that the next sentence she uttered, "We can't go because I have breast cancer and have to go into the hospital to undergo something called a radical mastectomy", was spoken with as flat an affect as, "I picked up a can of turnips on the way home from work for dinner." It was right then - standing face to face with my mother a/k/a my sole surviving parent - that I felt what it was like to have one's life impacted by the prospect of losing one you love completely to such an insidious disease.

If memory serves me correctly, I was sixteen when Captain Matter O' Fact broke her news. It thrills me that more than twenty-seven years further on up the road, she is still here raising hell and living her life. She had a scare or three in the first few years that followed the initial diagnosis but all these years later here she is - a tough old Irish broad kicking breast cancer squarely in the face. And if you know the indomitable Joanie K. you recognize that as the compliment that it is intended to be.

Sometimes though no matter how tough, no matter how brave, no matter how resolute the person suffering from the disease is, breast cancer proves to be impossible to defeat. Fourteen and a half months ago (give or take a couple of days), breast cancer killed Margaret's mom - Suzy B, whose small, somewhat frail physical frame belied the size of the heart that beat within. Breast cancer first came calling for her slightly more than six years ago and once it got its hooks into her, it never let her go. There were times when its grasp seemed relaxed and it appeared as if she had extricated itself from it and was skipping along down recovery's road. Those good times - as great as they were - seem in retrospect to have been mirages. Seem to have been nothing more than a cocksucker of a disease having figured out a way to completely f*ck with a wonderful woman and the family who loved her.

Last summer sucked at our house. In the wake of her death on June 2, with the exception of a few counter punches that were landed here and there (Megan/Adam's wedding, our trek West to see the boy man-child in Wyoming jump immediately to mind), my little family unit spent the Summer of Aught-Nine getting kicked in our collective face. But just when it seemed as if we were going to continue to get our brains bashed in mercilessly, an amazing thing happened. Suzy B.'s two oldest grandchildren: Suzanne and her cousin Megan decided not only to start kicking back but to do so with a vengeance.

An important step in the big payback was the organization of a ragtag yet spirited group of runners and walkers to participate in the 2009 Race for the Cure - the Central and South Jersey Edition, which takes place annually on October's first Sunday at Great Adventure. Running in honor of Suzy B. the name came easily - "Sue's Crew". It was one hell of a day. There were thousands of men, women and children there that morning (including the 24 or so of our Crew sporting our pink t-shirts). A lot of those present were family members who had lost someone to breast cancer, a lot were survivors and all were there doing a little something to push back against this truly soulless bastard.

Despite our sternest warnings that it should cease and desist, breast cancer remains as real a health problem for (principally) women in the hazy days of Summer 2010 as it was twelve short months ago. So, doing what we can do, Suzanne has marshaled our troops together again. On October 3rd, we shall run - and walk - again. Sue's Crew shall run anew. We have not yet settled on (a) a t-shirt design; or (b) an inspirational slogan for our shirt. Last year we went with, "Life is Good". This year I suggested, "For the Cure we come to Race/To kick breast cancer in the face". Both Margaret and Suzanne seem hung up on the fact that breast cancer does not have a face to kick. I say that is a mere technicality but having seen this film before and having a fairly keen sense how it ends up, methinks that Sue's Crew II shall have a different catchphrase festooned across our chests than the one I have suggested.

If you are interested in participating, whether on Sue's Crew or at the Central and South Jersey Race for the Cure or on a different team and/or at a different location entirely, then I would urge you to do so. If you are a woman, you can chalk up your participation to nothing more than following the sage advice of Sister Aretha and Sister Annie. If you are a man, you need to do nothing more than look at and/or think of the women in your life and all you are doing for them by getting involved.

-AK

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jet Blew

Pardon the interruption into your normal train of thought but did you see the item on the news Monday night and in the papers yesterday about the somewhat eventful landing of the Jet Blue flight from Pittsburgh that landed at Kennedy Airport on Monday? In the interests of full disclosure, the landing itself was uneventful. It was the behavior of Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater that was considerably something more so.

According to the New York Post, as the plane landed at Kennedy and was be bopping along towards its arrival gate, one of the passengers did what people sometimes do. He got up out of his seat in order to grab his carry-on bag. I know what you are thinking - What a tool. He could not have waited another few minutes to get his bag out of the overhead compartment? In fairness to this guy, he may have had some experience flying on Continental Airlines and merely wanted to check as soon as the plane touched down to ensure that his bag had not mysteriously disappeared while in flight. I know the struggle. I am now not quick to judge.

Anyway, after the premature evacuator got up out of his seat to retrieve his carry-on item, Slater did what flight attendants always seem to do when such an event occurs: his job. Slater directed the passenger to sit down and to wait to retrieve his bag until after the plane had stopped moving. The passenger, having had the chance to take a look through the windows to the world outside the aircraft, and having been fully satisfied that the aircraft was within the jurisdictional boundaries of New York, gave Slater a stereotypical response, apparently telling Slater to, "f*ck off". For shits and giggles, the passenger (in one news story I read the passenger was identified as a man but in another was identified as a woman so I opt for gender neutrality) did in fact retrieve the bag from the overhead compartment and in the process of doing so, apparently nailed Slater in the melon with either his bag or the compartment door.

At that point - as I and all of my brothers from other mothers like to say - it was "on". Slater responded by taking control of the plane's P.A. system (the one used to broadcast the emergency instructions you ignore at the beginning of every flight) and.....well......telling his passengers just how happy he was that they had chosen to fly Jet Blue, "To the f*cking a**hole who told me to f*ck off - it's been a good 28 years." Slater then apparently grabbed his own carry-on bags, a beer from the plane's galley, and then popped the lever for the airliner's inflatable chute before sliding to the tarmac outside the terminal door. No word as to whether he left $6.00 to cover the cost of the beer.

Once off of the plane, Slater boarded an AirTrain to the lot where his car was parked. He got into his car, drove home and was at his home when, several hours later, the police came to his door. They arrested him for criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. Personally, I always feel more anxious when the plane I am on is zipping across the yonder at 35,000 feet and 600 miles per hour than I do when it is rolling across the tarmac at 0 feet and 25 miles per hour so I have a hard time believing anyone was actually endangered by Slater's Indiana Jones routine. It is not as if he was the one piloting the plane for God's sake.

His arithmetic notwithstanding (the news reports list Slater's age as 38 and I find it unlikely that an airline would have hired him at age 10 to be a flight attendant although the dumb bastards who run Continental Airlines likely would have permitted him entry into their management-training program by 11 or 12), it is not impossible for me to empathize with Slater. Hell, unless we are the person looking down from the mountaintop at those beneath and below us, I think it is impossible for any of us to not empathize with Slater. Candidly, I have never understood how people in service industries, such as flight attendants, do not go completely insane about four flights into the job. It is a gig akin to being a corrections officer: you are outnumbered - surrounded by potential hostiles - and unarmed with no place to get away if and when the shit hits the fan.

I hope that the long arm of the law, presuming its investigation uncovers an actual offense that merits punishment, fashions a punishment that fits the crime for Slater and not something unduly harsh or excessive. Justice tends to not always be tempered with either mercy or common sense so I hold not my breath. Jet Blue might want to start cranking out free ticket vouchers to the hundred or so passengers who were on the flight right now because as sure as I am sitting here, seconds after Slater enters a plea of guilty/is found guilty of anything (if not sooner) the civil suits are going to start pouring in. Frivolity loves company so those riding in the theoretical ambulances and those running furiously to catch them will eventually find one another. And when that happens, Jet Blue will likely come to realize that they cannot simply shout "f*ck off" and exit the stage via the emergency chute.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming with your host Howard Beale.

-AK

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Valor's Flip Side

As a boy, I was the undefeated, all-time champ in the Kenny household of "Who Can Hit The Lightest" and since ours was the only household that sanctioned that particular sport, I was the one who walked around with arms outstretched (well, not immediately since one the spoils of victory included arms too bruised and sore to fully extend for several days thereafter) as the recognized Who Can Hit The Lightest World Champion. There was no prize money involved. Now that I think about it, other than the bruises there was damn little in terms of an actual, tangible prize.

Long I wandered through this land thinking that I was the last pure athlete. Thinking that I was indeed the last competitor who raised his game to the highest allowable level simply for the pure satisfaction derived from a job well done - from a performance in which 100% of effort had been wrung. Reading yesterday's newspaper I learned that there are titans still walking this Earth. Men whose combination of unparalleled toughness and - well - unequaled stupidity may not be seen again.

Apparently for the past ten or eleven years, the World Sauna Championship has been contested (hotly no doubt) in Finland. Feel free to peruse its official website for more details. The rules - and there are one dozen of them - read like something that a bunch of college kids would have dreamed up (with the exception of Rule #2, which forbids the use of alcohol) after a night of too much drinking and 'shrooming. In the Men's competition, the finals start with the sauna room's temperature at a robust 230 degrees Fahrenheit. While that might be a tad chilly if you are a muffin, it is a bit warm for us humans.

And that is after all only the beginning of the competition. No one gets crowned "Champion" at the starting temperature. The action heats up (sue me) from that point forward as a half-liter of water gets poured on the stove every thirty seconds thereafter. Sounds like fun; right?

This past weekend in Finland, one of the two finalists for the World Championship died. Russian Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy died, apparently, from injuries suffered due to the excessive heat to which he voluntarily subjected himself in his quest to win the title. Presumably he knew what he was getting himself into when he entered this year's competition as he competed last year and according to one report I saw finished in third place, which I think means he won the "bronzed" medal.

Thankfully it appears as if his death will be the final one associated with this indisputably asinine competition. Saija Jappinen, Finland's cultural secretary, later announced the end of the event. "After this incident we decided that this game is over and done," he said. Is anyone else wondering how broadly the Finns define the word "culture" if this contest falls within the purview of the cultural secretary? I suppose not every nation can be lucky enough to have "Jersey Shore".

It has been said that to the victor goes the spoils. What exactly are the "spoils" associated with being World Sauna Champion? Apparently not too much. According to a spokesman for the competition, there was no prize other than "some small things" although he would not specify whether those small things included Chap-Stick and some type of moisturizer. The lengths to which we go as humans to poke our finger in Fate's eye never ceases to amaze me. I still know not what strikes me as more surreal about this story: that Mr. Ladyzhenskiy died or that in the eleven previous editions of this craziness no one ever had.

Most of the English-speaking world is familiar with the old adage about discretion being the better part of valor. As a boy, Dad explained it to me a bit differently. According to my father, "Stupidity is the flip side of valor." I reckon he nailed it. Quite succinctly too.

Life is like a box of chocolates
You never know what you're gonna get.
Stupid is as stupid does,
And all the rest of that shit.

-AK