Thursday, September 30, 2010

None Sense

Every now and again I read something in the newspaper (OK I am inherently cheap so I am far more likely to have read it in a paper's on-line edition than I am to have plunked down $1.00 for the print edition) that leaves me numb. Having not lived life 'neath a bubble or at Biosphere or some such place, it takes a lot to shake me. Violence is not likely to do it. Sadly, neither is depravity. At some point unfortunately all of us see too much. The ability to be shocked is blunted.

Still, every now and again something happens that is so utterly senseless that it galls me. It does not shock me. It simply disappoints me to my core. An individual (or individuals) who is presumed to know better appears to set in motion a chain of events that tends to emphatically and entirely rebut that presumption.

Last week, according to a statement released by the young man's parents yesterday afternoon, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman drove his car to the George Washington Bridge, exited the vehicle and then took his own life by jumping off of the Bridge and into the river below. Imagine for a moment - if you are (as I am) a parent - the gravity of what occurred yesterday. A mother and father confirmed to the media that, indeed, their son for whom the entire world appeared to be there for the taking opted instead to take his own life.

It is impossible to ignore the proximity between the suicide of one 18 year-old Rutgers freshman and the arrests of two other 18 year-old RU freshmen. Why? Because the pair, who matriculated to Rutgers from the same high school, were arrested and charged for having installed a hidden video camera in the dorm room that one of them shared with the young man who killed himself so that they could, "broadcast a live feed of a fellow student’s 'sexual encounter' on the Internet." The encounter in question, which these two videophiles did indeed capture and transmit live to countless other persons on campus, was between the roommate and another male. For good measure, the one aspiring filmmaker who was the roommate of the boy who was the unknowing star of RU's version of The Truman Show is alleged to have attempted to broadcast a second such encounter two days later. Foolishly it seems the boy who took his own life believed that he was doing what he was doing in the privacy of his own room.

I do not know either of the two RU students who have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of invasion of privacy. Under New Jersey’s invasion-of-privacy laws, it is a fourth degree crime to collect or view images depicting nudity or sexual contact involving another individual without that person’s consent. It is a third degree crime to transmit or distribute the images. I know not why they did what they did. I wonder if they do. And even if they do, I wonder if whether in their pre-production meeting(s) either looked at the other and asked aloud, "What is the worst thing that could happen?" I suspect that either they did not or if they did neither had a full understanding of the notion of "worst case scenario".

I did not know the young man who appears to have reacted to an utterly incomprehensible sea change in his world by doing the worst possible thing he could have done. I would be willing, again, to wager that at no time prior to taking that first irreversible step off of the bridge did he ask himself aloud, "What is the worst thing that could happen?". I suspect that if he did, he too lacked a full understanding of the concept of a "worst case scenario". It is the concept that shall confront his parents every day they live without him for the rest of their lives. It is the fear that lurks in the shadows for all of us who are parents. The fear that I, the parent, shall outlive you, the child.

A senseless act begat a senseless act, which in turn begat a tragedy the ripple effect of which threatens to destroy the lives of not only three young people but those who love each of them. It is the senseless of human behavior that makes me want to climb to my rooftop and scream to the top of my lungs.

It is the repeated, endemic failure to see further into the distance than beyond either one's shadow or one's reflection, which failure enables or causes (you choose the word) to treat those people around us as something less than human. We ascribe no value to them and maximum value to us. Our actions therefore have no consequences. Consequences are bad things that happen to others and not to us. Ignorance may be bliss but senselessness is our new religion.

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And, as each moment has unfurled, I've been waiting
To awaken from these dreams.
People go just where they will;
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems . . .

Today is a day that has gotten late far too goddamn fast. Far too goddamn fast.

-AK

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Main Event

Last night was bag-packing night at our house. No, Margaret did not come to her senses and leave me. At least not last night anyway. For all I know she was simply waiting for me to leave for the office this morning to skedaddle. Last night was the bag packing party for the Race for the Cure. Gidg, Suzanne and Margaret converted our kitchen table into Race Central. This year Sue's Crew has a larger, more diverse roster than we did last year - when we were big and well-represented by a great mixture of folks. We have expanded beyond family to form a team that features law school friends, softball friends, work friends (including alumni), neighbors and professional acquaintances. It is truly an extraordinary group. I am so looking forward to Sunday morning I almost cannot stand it.

This Sunday marks the second time that our Crew has assembled to participate in the Race for the Cure. We run in the edition of the Race sponsored by the Central and South Jersey Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen organization. There are Races at various times throughout the year but for various reasons - not the least of which is that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month - our team takes part in this particular event. Margaret has been extremely dedicated to the cause of breast cancer awareness ever since her Mom (our namesake) first was diagnosed with the disease in early 2004. Getting a team assembled to run in the October edition of the Race simply makes the most sense for us.

Not every person is able to run 3.1 miles. Not every person is able to walk that distance either. Not every person is able, in these rather trying economic times, to donate financially to a cause regardless of how worthy it is. Those of us who are able to do what we can. We live in a society after all. What is the new age-sounding turn of phrase for it that makes it sound like something other than something that has existed since time immemorial? Pay it forward or some such nonsense. Congratulations. You have been a hipster forever without even realizing it. And you did not need to buy a single Yanni CD, wear a hemp hat or take a toke from a hookah pipe. Pretty nice; eh?

One thing that we can all do as we prepare to turn the page from September to October - and for my fellow males of the species out there I am directing this to you - is make sure that the women we love do all they can do to try to minimize their chances of getting breast cancer. Too many of our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, cousins and friends are being attacked by this goddamn disease. It is relentless. If it arrives at the doorstep of a woman you love, then it is incumbent upon you to join the fight. Her battle is your battle.

Fight hard. She is absolutely worth it.

-AK

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Know He Got It

While I only caught the twilight of his incredibly long professional career I am old enough to remember George Blanda. Yesterday I saw the story on-line that Blanda died - either yesterday or over the weekend (I could not tell from the article) at age 83. He played twenty-six seasons of professional football. The final season he played - 1975 - he was forty-eight years old. He played for so long that he logged more than a decade of service in the NFL prior to becoming part of the Houston Oilers in 1960 in the brand-spankin' new American Football League.

My memory of Blanda is centered upon the fact that he was the field goal kicker for the Oakland Raiders when I was a little boy and that he also served as the team's backup quarterback. I learned after he retired what I was reminded of yesterday reading the story of his death, which was that in 1970 he earned the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year Award, having been pressed into duty as the Raiders #1 quarterback when their starter Daryl Lamonica got injured. At age 43 he capped off his glorious 1970 season by quarterbacking and kicking the Raiders to the AFC Conference Championship. While they lost to the Colts (whose own kicker - long-haired rookie Jim O'Brien - would win that year's Super Bowl (V for those keeping score at home) against the Cowboys by nailing a game-winning field goal) it was not due to a lack of effort on Blanda's part. In defeat, he threw for two touchdowns, kicked both extra points and for good measure added a field goal. The Colts beat Blanda - sorry, the Raiders - 27 to 17.

Blanda was forty-eight when he retired. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. At the time he retired he was the NFL's all-time leader in seasons played, games played, extra points made and points scored but over time he has lost his spot atop the food chain in the second and fourth categories. Weep not for him. Almost thirty years after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and thirty-five seasons after he retired, he remains in the Top 5 in both.

I am a New York Giants fan and thus far this season most of the men of Big Blue are not performing the single job they are paid to perform competently. It is the year of the anti-Blandas in the swamps of Jersey. The Giants to this early point in the campaign (although as the great American philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once observed it is getting late early around here these days) have a roster full of players auditioning to play the role of Hamlet as opposed to practicing to play the positions that they have been chosen to play.

Blanda's longevity was inextricably linked to his versatility. He made his bones initially as a quarterback but by the end of his remarkable career he was paying his mortgage with his leg and not with his arm. He showed up every day and did his job without complaint, regardless of what it was and regardless of whether he was the starter, the backup or both - depending upon which position. He simply strapped on his chin strap and did what he could do to make himself and those around him better. An outstanding attribute in a professional athlete.

More importantly, an outstanding attribute in a person and one that many of us (Yours truly included) could certainly use in greater supply. Regardless of the strength of our throwing arm or the accuracy of our toe.

-AK

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday in the City

Nothing prepared me for yesterday. After exiting the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into the refreshingly cool early morning air of Lower Manhattan, we were greeted by an extraordinary sight. Lining both sides of the street were members of the FDNY. Among their number were 343 who were wearing around their necks large sandwich-board style signs displaying the name and face of each member of the FDNY who died on 09/11. Incredible. Simply incredible.

Even more extraordinary than the sight of the FDNY members paying homage to their fallen brothers was what they did. They clapped for us. Candidly it was a bit embarrassing. All I did yesterday morning was something that I do on a regular basis - I ran 3.1 miles. To have men and women who do something that I know the fella who stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning could not do for even one day applauding me was equal parts gratifying and perplexing. I did - as did Gidg who was running with me and as did several other folks who were running near us - the only thing I could think to do: I applauded them.

At the starting area in Brooklyn yesterday morning there were so many runners assembled that from our point in the crowd it took us approximately three minutes to reach the starting line. We were all assembled there for more than an hour prior to the start of the race - standing on a Brooklyn street near Coffey Park. I would love to say that I know the street's name but I never bothered to learn it. Next year perhaps. All around us in the crowd of thousands were countless folks like Gidg and me. Regular everyday individuals who may have not suffered a personal loss on 09/11 but who were running to honor the bravery (not to be confused with 'braveness' - a turn of phrase uttered not once but twice by one of the politicians who spoke pre-race) of Stephen Siller and all of the other people who died on 09/11.

There were also people who were running to honor a very personal loss - wearing shirts identifying a particular fireman or firemen who died on 09/11. And there were firefighters from various locales who came to run as their tribute to Siller and to the FDNY. A number of the firefighters were from the New York area - departments from New Jersey, Connecticut and New York (including quite a few from the FDNY). There were also fire departments from Virginia and Maryland represented as well as those from New England, Pennsylvania and Ohio. There were even members of fire brigades from England who had come to New York on a late September summer morning to pay their respects to the memory of their 343 brothers from across the sea.

Yesterday was simply an incredible experience. Not simply the run itself but all that took place post-race in the shadow of the construction that is ongoing at Ground Zero. There were thousands of people in a fairly limited space and yet no one pushed and no one shoved. It was as if the great work of the Siller family served as a self-replicating reservoir of good karma from which all present were able to drink. None of us wanted to do anything to harsh the collective mellow of the morning. And we did not.

Perhaps it was the reason why we were all gathered that brought out the best in everyone yesterday morning. We were present to honor the best of human behavior. To do that correctly, we all had to bring our "A" game......

....Here is to hoping we did.

-AK

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stephen's Disciples of Soles

It is still too early for me to know just what type of weather awaits those of us who are running in this year's edition of the Tunnel to Towers Run. I have been keeping an eye on it all week and the forecast has vacillated, ranging from "mostly sunny" with a less than 10% chance of rain to "showers" with upwards of a 40% chance of rain. Either way, a lot of us this morning - in a few short hours from now - shall run. I have never run in this race before but I have seen video footage of it from previous years, including last year when it took place in a steady, heavy rain. While I am sure it affected those who ran (as it always does me), none of the video footage revealed any discernible impact upon them. Some things are bigger than us. Today's race is one of those things.

Emerson wrote, "So nigh is grandeur to our dust, so near to God is Man. When Duty whispers low, "thou must", the Youth replies, "I can." He never met Stephen Siller or any of the several hundred men and women who died on September 11, 2001 while trying to rescue the several thousand men and women who were trapped in the Twin Towers. He never met those who were trapped in the Towers or on the airplanes that struck them and the Pentagon and - but for the heroic actions of the passengers aboard United 93 - something else as well. Yet even without the benefit of face-to-face contact or even an introduction, the person of whom Emerson wrote was a person to whom each and every one of us was introduced that day, whether we ourselves ever met a single one of them.

This morning, people shall gather to run from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan because we can. And because Stephen Siller did. And because Siller and his brothers and sisters in arms, doing nothing other than that which came naturally to them, were heroes. And because those of us who have never been confronted with the type of circumstance that confronted everyone at the Twin Towers on that terrible September morning slightly more than nine years ago live with the same unanswered question in our own heart: would we - if we had been then where they were then - have done what they did? The question is not only unanswered in the heart of most of us but unanswerable as well.

Bernard Malamud wrote, "Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." This morning those of us gathered to run know exactly how far we can go. We can go the distance this morning that Stephen Siller covered that morning. Our journey shall bring us to where thousands of people - including Siller - lost their lives. Our journey is not his journey for our circumstances are far more benign than those that confronted him. But in retracing this morning his steps from that morning we honor his sacrifice and the sacrifice of the more than 3,000 people who died that morning. Heroes all.

That morning, Love and Duty called them all someplace higher. This morning, we run because love and duty call upon all of us - in one way or another - to find our way to a higher place.....

Even if it just for a little while.

-AK

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Other Lunch Meat

While there is an endless and ever-growing list of things beyond my ability to comprehend (such as the popularity of Lady Gaga), one of the things that is a reliable source of befuddlement for me is the "Spam Filter" on the Firm's e-mail service/server/provider (I do not know what you call the organism that provides e-mail other than knowing it is not the "e-post office" so I decided to group together all of the terms that I have ever heard uttered allowed in casual conversation). My rudimentary grasp of what it is intended to do is that it is supposed to keep inane, purposeless e-mails from crashing the party in my in-box that is otherwise enjoyed by work-related e-mails and those of personal significance.

Clearly I am either dumber than even I have long feared I am or the train has jumped the tracks on this particular device. Every Sunday morning like clockwork I receive an e-mail from someone or something called Postini announcing with great acclaim all of the bad, diseased or otherwise junk e-mails that it has blocked from reaching my in-box. I love that the particularly grizzly little bastards are identified by their red letters - symbolizing that they are indeed the blood enemies of me, my e-mail in-box and our collective effort to live in harmony.

Not only are they written in blood, they are quarantined to their own section of the Postini list. An e-mail placed in lock down to keep him from mixing with the other e-mails? Talk about bad news on your doorstep. Those heavy hitters are kept in a segregated population, away and apart from the rank-and-file junk e-mails whose only crime appears to be that they are offensive to both intellect and efficiency. They are criminals only in the Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan sense of the word. Slap an ankle bracelet on the little miscreants and get on with the rest of your day.

Yet for reasons not entirely clear to me, our magical Spam filter has sort of an elastic notion of what constitutes that which it is supposed to block. For instance, it intermittently blocks e-mails sent by an old friend of mine who used to work with me at the Firm even though all of the e-mails he sends me - those judged worthy of delivery and those barred entry into my in-box - all are sent by him to me from his work e-mail address from the law firm where he has worked since he left us several years ago. There is no apparent rhyme or reason as to which of his e-mails get blocked and which get through.

While concentrating its efforts on blocking my pal Jeff (and admittedly when his Notre Dame Fighting Irish are having a good season his bragging can get a little annoying) my spam filter is seriously screwing with me in other areas. I presume this by the extraordinary number of e-mails I receive every day hawking Viagra. They arrive with such almost metronomic precision that I am starting to think that Margaret is behind them.

Amazingly, every Sunday morning when I check Postini to see who has been ensnared in the web's web, included among the flies are countless ones selling Viagra. Am I too presume that only once a certain number of little blue pill-driven advertisements arrive in the filter they rise to the level of spam? Who knew that the same type of behavioral excess (the four-hour flagpole) that is designed to prompt a phone call to a medical professional applied to the seemingly benign environment of e-mail?

It has been said that one man's trash is another man's treasure. I now know that the man who said that is Mr. Postini. And every day he deposits more of someone else's treasure than any man could stand right there in my in-box.

Boy, do I hate Mr. Postini.

-AK

Friday, September 24, 2010

Step By Step

On Sunday morning Margaret, Gidg and I are making the migration across the river from the Jersey side into lower Manhattan for the 2010 Tunnel To Towers Run. In the limited amount of time that I have been running in organized events, the anticipation level for this race - for me - is as high as any event in which I have taken part.

It is different of course from the anticipation level I associate with the Race for the Cure, which is where the running adventure will take us one week from Sunday. For the Race, unlike the Tunnel to Towers Run, is a way of striking back at something that has taken a steep personal toll on my family and (I suppose) by extension on me. Perhaps my participation - as one person - has the practical effect of one man using a single bucket to try to beat back rising flood waters but it is my bucket and my sweat equity and I intend to never quit bailing. Please do not ask me to do so.

It is different as well from the manner in which I anticipated running in Boulder on Memorial Day with Rob in the Bolder Boulder. That day was also intensely personal - running side-by-side with my son through the streets of a town that meant the world to me at a time in my life when I was my entire world (and for those of you thinking, "How has that changed exactly?" keep your snide comments to yourself) - but in an entirely good way. There was no downside to Memorial Day in Boulder, which was precisely how I had anticipated the day would go.

This Sunday is, for me, different. While there is not a person in this country alive today who was alive on September 11, 2001 whose life has not been affected by the events of that day, it is a day that did not impact me personally. By that I mean that I know how fortunate I am that no one I love died that day. I know people who were far less fortunate.

At approximately 9:30 on Sunday morning Gidg and I will join the large number of runners and walkers gathered on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and spend 3.1 miles retracing the steps of Stephen Siller. Siller was one of 343 members of the FDNY who died on September 11, 2001 attempting to save the lives of the thousands of people who were trapped in the Twin Towers.

In the years since Siller died, his family has turned their loss into something positive. And on Sunday morning Margaret, Gidg and I shall get to be part of their incredible generosity - sharing the memory of their loved one with the rest of us. And in doing so they have created a way in which those families, like theirs, can reinforce their bond with one another.

On Sunday morning Gidg and I will be among the 25,000 or so people heading through the Tunnel towards the finish line, retracing the steps of a incredibly brave man who many of us, such as Yours truly, never met. His is an incredible story -one of the seemingly countless such stories to come out of the horror that was the morning of September 11, 2001.

Heroes of all shapes and sizes emerged out of that day. Stephen Siller was one of them. It will be an honor to be one of the folks on Sunday morning retracing the steps he ran on September 11 because other's lives depended on it.

-AK


Thursday, September 23, 2010

To Not Going Gentle Into The Darkness

Today is Bruce Springsteen's birthday. Freehold's favorite son (at least now if not always) was born sixty-one years ago today. One of my favorite large-scale misconceptions that you encounter when you travel into a part of these United States beyond the boundaries of the State of Concrete Gardens is that all of the residents here are die-hard Springsteen loyalists. While there are indeed a number of us who are, in the case of music appreciation, as in the case of all things, it is best to heed the words of my old college professor David Armstrong, "Beware the man who speaks in absolutes."

Professor Armstrong's admonition finds support even when using only the small sample pool of my parent's six children. Among this particular sextet there is at least one of us who not only is not a "die-hard fan" but is not a fan at all. Surprised? May I ask why. If you take a representative sampling of individuals (more than two or three will likely prove sufficient), poll them individually as to their likes/dislikes on a number of subjects and find - when reviewing their answers - that each mirrors all of the other's likes and dislikes, then listen to me carefully. Put down your cup of Kool-Aid without sipping from it. Smile politely and then run out of Jonestown as fast as your little legs will carry you. Do not look back. Do not slow down. Run. Run like the wind.

I have as little concern about anyone's dislike of Springsteen's music as I do about anyone's dislike of anything else of which I am especially fond. Unless this is your first time at this particular rodeo you know that I care hardly at all whether anyone at all shares my tastes and preferences in music, sports, television, politics, etc. I encourage one and all to express their own opinion on all things. As long as your enjoyment of your favorite thing or things does not unfairly restrict my enjoyment of mine, I care not where and when you do what you do. I presume you would reciprocate my feelings on the subject. Then again, asking would suggest caring and well if any uncertainty exists in your mind as to my feelings on that subject, just read back to the beginning of this paragraph.

Often my oldest brother Bill refers to Springsteen being the soundtrack of his life. I like the reference. I tend to think of his music in a similar way - as I suppose many of us who have been avid fans for a number of years do. Not every song conjures up a pleasant memory perhaps but since life for all of us whose zip code identifies us as living somewhere other than Candyland is comprised of some less-than-pleasant moments that has to be expected.

Last week at this time I was in Florida pitching in just a little bit to help the ornery one (a/k/a "Mom") through a patch of unexpectedly rough water. One morning, prior to heading over to JMC to check in on JMK I found myself perusing the bookcase (for lack of a more artful term) in her room. Among the treasures she has stashed upon it is the Wardlaw soccer player that Matt Albano made for my father something close to a million years ago. I know not whether it is made out of clay or something else altogether. I do know that that red-uniformed soccer player has made the trip with Mom to each and every place she has called home in the more than three decades since Dad died. It has not aged a bit in spite of the fact it must be close to forty years old.

My eye was drawn as well to a long-forgotten (by me anyway) photograph of my father. It is a candid shot, taken of him while he was doing something that he enjoyed doing very much: coaching. It is a fairly tight shot, capturing him only from the shoulders up. Yet in spite of the limitations of the frame it is a picture that appears to have captured the measure of the man.

He has been dead for quite a long time and he died at a time where he and I - in the midst of our mutual existence - were not especially close. Perhaps given his age, which was 57, and mine, which was 14 and the fact that I was his sixth child, the mutual animosity we felt towards one another in the months (hell - for a year or two at least) before he died was neither surprising nor extraordinary. It was what it was.

I am forced to confess that - perhaps due to the omnipresent Irish gift of melancholy - my memories favor all of the bad things I have done and the disappointments I have experienced over the good times that I have enjoyed (I was going to add "and the good things I have done" but they are memories, not fantasies). My father has been dead almost thirty years and for most of that time it has been the unpleasant memories of our co-existence that have dominated my recollection of him.

Yet for a moment last week - standing in the quiet of a home hundreds of miles away from my own - I was drawn to the look in his eyes captured in an instant that occurred a lifetime ago. And looking at a picture of that father through the eyes of one who was not then but who is now a father in my own right, I had a better understanding of him - and a better appreciation for him - than I have felt in too many years to count.

For most of my life, the Springsteen song that best represented for me the relationship we had at the time that my father died was "Independence Day". In my mind's eye I have seen forever the last night of his life when I kissed him good night as he trundled off to bed, which was something I never did and something that I did that night only because I sensed that the opportunity to do so would never present itself again, in the first two lines of its opening verse, "Well Papa go to bed now it's getting late/Nothing we can say is gonna change anything now." In the song it is the son who is preparing to leave. In real-life (at least in our family) it was the father. Despite the role reversal, it is a song that has simply fit both the mood of that evening, which I recall as vividly now as I did when I lived through it at age fourteen, and the relationship of the principals involved:

Now I don't know what it always was with us
We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind.

In the soundtrack of my life, Independence Day fits as well in 2010 as it did in 1981, "So say goodbye it's Independence Day/Papa now I know the things you wanted that you could not say/But won't you just say goodbye it's Independence Day/I swear I never meant to take those things away." Yet last week, in the cool of my mother's house, staring at a photograph that I had forgotten had ever been taken of a man who I had forgotten ever existed, for the first time in a long time when I thought of Dad, it was not the song that queued up in the iPod between my ears. Instead, staring at his face and seeing the reflection of my own in the glass of the picture frame, I thought of a song Springsteen included on Tunnel of Love, the first album he released after the explosion that was Born in the U.S.A. (first the album and then the marathon world tour).

For the first time to my ear anyway on "Walk Like A Man" Springsteen seemed to lift his musical foot off of his father's throat. While he is not too much of a storyteller in concert these days, way back when he would tell stories at various times during a show most of the ones he told about his father spoke to the difficulties in their relationship. Perhaps there is something about fathers and sons - or at least Irish fathers and their Irish sons? Regardless, the stories about life with father were not nearly as upbeat and hopeful as those he told about his mother and the songs he wrote about the father/son dynamic echoed those sentiments.

Yet in telling the story of a son's transition - from boy to man - on his wedding day and the realization (to a degree at least) of the significance of the lessons imparted to him by his father over the course of his lifetime, it has seemed to me that the balance shifted a bit. Perhaps as a son it is easier to understand that which we watched our father do when we were young once we are not only a bit older but also once we have added a title or two (husband / father) to our own name? Remember the words of wise old Professor Armstrong here kids. There is no absolute truth in anything - present topic of conversation included.

Whether it is true for all or true for none other than Yours truly I blissfully add to the ever-expanding list of things about which I know nothing. I do know though that standing in my mother's house last week looking at that particular photograph the first thing I thought of was Springsteen:

Well now the years have gone and I've grown
From that seed you've sown
But I didn't think there'd be so many steps
I'd have to learn on my own
Well I was young and I didn't know what to do
When I saw your best steps stolen away from you
Now I'll do what I can
I'll walk like a man
And I'll keep on walkin'

....and as I do I know what will continue to serve as the soundtrack of my life. Not even my birthday and I still get a present. Not too bad. Not too bad at all.


-AK

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Ghost of Wally Pipp

I was happy to see - courtesy of my buddy Christian's update on Facebook on Monday night - that my brothers/sisters in arms (and bats and gloves) from the City of Newark Law Department softball team won their quarter-final playoff game, springing the upset on perennial powerhouse Lowenstein. While that may not seem like a big deal to you - I suppose you were watching Monday Night Football, the Yankees game against the Rays or the season premiere of House (the strategic placement of the Mac computer in one of the seemingly endless number of scenes of House/Cuddy canoodling and cavorting in bed frightened the bejeebers out of me - just saying) - for our little ragtag team of softball players it was a historic moment. Thursday night when they take the field in the semi-finals against Patton Boggs it will mark the first time that the Law Department softball team has inhaled the rarefied air of Essex County Lawyer's League penultimate game.

There is an old saw about the relationship between the ability to soar and being free from an association with turkeys that - given my status during the entirety of my farewell season on the diamond - is wholly apropos. For years, my law school friends (and this list is intended to be inclusive and not merely illustrative) David and Diego have toted Yours truly (a/k/a "the anchor") with them from league to league in pursuit of an endless summer of enjoyable, quasi-competitive softball. I am sure that I am leaving some of the places in which we have played out but I have a ready recollection of a Sunday league in Union County, a Sunday Doubleheaders league in Nutley and the City of Newark League as places where we have planted our flag prior to entering the Essex County Lawyer's League. A lot of leagues over a lot of years. I had neither adult children nor gray hair when we first started to play. Now I have both......and have had both for too many years to remember.

At the beginning of the season I had decided myself that this was to be my final year. Not only have my always marginal skills diminished to the point of - if not embarrassment - then at least occasional discomfort and irregularity - but my desire to play had been reduced to a level somewhere south of passionate. Not one of us has enough time in our day-to-day to do everything that we would like to do vis-a-vis leisure time activities, which sometimes leads to us favoring one thing over another. That is what befell me. As of this time last year I had competed in exactly one running event, which was the 2008 Big Chill 5K in New Brunswick. In the span of the past twelve months I think I have competed in more than two dozen races of varying distances ranging from 3.1 miles to 13.1 miles. I have gotten hooked on running. It supplanted softball as my favorite sports activity. And with no more time in my day in 2010 than I had in 2009, trying to find time to play softball became more of a chore than a pleasure.

Thus I embarked on a plan to participate on a substantially reduced level this year - playing as an "emergency (a/k/a "we are short a player and will have to forfeit if you do not play") player. All went according to Hoyle until one night in late June when I popped the groin in my left leg while running the bases and felt as if I had been shot out in the middle of the diamond. The fact that I was playing on a balky knee likely exacerbated the impact of the groin injury. Then again, how the hell would I know? I neither practice medicine nor play a doctor on TV. All I know is that since the end of June, while my ability to run straight ahead at a consistent pace on a relatively level surface - such as on a road or on a treadmill - has remained fine (relatively speaking that is) my ability to move laterally, to accelerate and decelerate rapidly and to get up and down from a crouch (kind of, sort of the tool set one needs to be able to play softball - especially the position of catcher) has been non-existent. When I hobbled off of the field at Orange Park on that late June night, it marked the beginning and the end of my famous final scene.

Considering I had hoped to rocket off into softball retirement in a manner akin to the way Ted Williams did from baseball (when his head and his body were still one and before either had been transformed into a cryogenic Popsicle), it would not be unduly critical to say that I have fallen just a bit short of my own expectations. Contrary to what Dylan Thomas might have hoped for me, when it comes to slow-pitch softball I did indeed "go gentle into that good night".

And freed from the albatross hung perennially around their necks, my teammates have not only survived but have thrived (drop a footnote here to Walt "Clyde" Frazier"). Talk about your classic example of "addition by subtraction". For that I am neither unhappy nor surprised. And I hope that their run continues for two more nights. I recall back in the summer of Aught-Eight when we completed our season undefeated - only to have to wait about one month at the end of it to start the playoffs. We lost in our first game to a team we had summarily thrashed in the regular season. Last year, we actually won playoff game - our first one ever in this league - before losing in the quarterfinals in a tough, well-played game to the Lowenstein team.

It is a silly thing I know but when I think of all the days and evenings I have spent in the past sixteen or seventeen summers playing softball with Diego, David and John (David's brother) (Christian and Dave P joined the ranks several years into the annual insanity), it makes me smile. We try our damnedest to fight off the ravages of time. We do it in a million different ways. This bunch has found a terrific way to do it that is drug-free (not counting the post-game beer at the Star Tavern), chemical-free (save for those found in the aforementioned post-game beer and post-game pizza at the Star Tavern) and, above all else, fun. The end came for me this season - and it came earlier than I was ready for it to do so. Maybe that proves that I am not quite ready to walk away from this completely? I know not. I have a long time to contemplate it. May 2011 is, after all, a lifetime from now......

....whereas tomorrow is only a day away.

-AK

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the Point of Intersection between Perdition and Redemption

I must have fallen and struck my head. I could have sworn that I heard on the radio yesterday and read in yesterday's papers that the big dude who plays running back for the New York Football Giants (a full title that has grown more and more ludicrous with every decade (we are now 1/3 of the way through the sixth) since the New York Baseball Giants moved west to San Francisco), Brandon Jacobs told the press after Sunday night's debacle in Indianapolis that his hurling of his helmet into the stands was "unintentional".

He claimed that, in fact, he was aiming for the Giants bench (a/k/a "the place where his teammates and coaches are") and missed. The helmet, once launched, traveled in flight until it came to rest some half-dozen rows deep in the stands, which suggests two not necessarily mutually exclusive things to me. First, Jacobs' explanation about how his helmet ended up where it did is....shall we say...."unfactual" (Does anyone else wonder if the Republican candidate for the United States Senate might be able to conjure up a spell to make herself sound less like an idiot and is anyone willing to bet on whether there is enough magic in the moonlight to make that possible?) Second, he has been taking his throwing lessons from his quarterback. I guess this is not the season in which the G-Men make the halfback option pass part of their offensive repertoire....although judging by Sunday night's performance using the word "repertoire" to describe the Giants' offensive attack is generous to say the least.

Jacobs did what all public figures do these days after getting caught elbow-deep in the Jar O' Chips Ahoy. He offered a pseudo-apology. Par for the course, his was of the half-hearted, half-assed variety and relied more heavily on the incredibly inane alibi at its core than on a genuine expression of remorse. He is not the first one to do so. He most certainly will not be the last. For our purposes here and now he is merely the latest one.

I could not help but wonder - on the subject of apologies involving present or former members of the New York sports universe (as if you did not know that is the subject we are discussing) - in whose back the hatchet has been buried in Yankeeland. Perhaps it was the announcement that Joe Torre was not going to return to manage Los Angelenos next season that paved the path to reconciliation? Or maybe it was the related announcement that his protege and Yankee legend Don Mattingly was going to take over the job from him salved enough of the wound that has festered between Torre and his own Axis of Evil (Cashman, Levine and the Silver Spoon Twins) since he was thrown overboard after the 2007 season that permitted Torre and Mattingly to appear at the Stadium last night. They were there for the occasion of Boss George's plaque being added to Monument Park. Torre being in the building was not only okay, it was appropriate.......as it was when in late September 2008 the Yankees played their final home game across the street at the "old" Yankee Stadium. Except on that September night, Torre was not in the building. And his name was not uttered aloud one time.

Over this past weekend Brian Cashman continued to spout the same unbelievable pap he has been dishing out ever since Torre left about the non-existence of any feud between the Yankee hierarchy and the man who managed them to four of their twenty-seven world championships and continued to proclaim that Torre was welcome any time.....as long as the day fell at some point between the third Sunday of never and the day on which Hell officially froze over. Yet, in an astounding change of pace rather than the gap between what is said and what is meant by the Bronx Billionaire Boys Club representing the difference between what is proper and what is petty, the Boys stepped up.

On the occasion of the installation of the monument memorializing who the Boss was and what he achieved for the Yankees during his time at the helm, the Yankees decided to invite, "those who had a significant role in the Steinbrenner years." Inasmuch as Torre's Yankees won twice as many World Series titles in the twelve years he managed the team as the franchise won in the two-plus decades that Steinbrenner owned them prior to Torre's arrival, Torre's place at the ceremony was self-evident.

Doing a good thing does not always erase the memory of having done something less than good -at least in my experience. But perhaps every now and again enough water passes beneath our bow that bygones sometimes can be forgotten.

-AK

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cool Change

Regardless of what your calendar might indicate, at the corner of Decatur and Delaware here 'NTSG, summer officially exited the stage yesterday. The Missus and I spend a lot of time during the summer months enjoying our back yard. When we have a party - such as way back when in May for Suzanne's graduation - we usually have it in the back yard. We tend to grill a lot and as you might have guessed the grill is located in the back yard. Several years ago, to assuage my wife's need to have water nearby in between trips to the Shore, we put a pool out there. Suffice it to say that irrespective of its location on the property - it is kind of towards the back of the premises - in the summer it moves front and center.

Yesterday Margaret and I did what we do at or about this time every year. We closed the back yard for the year. Furniture was put away, the hammock was broken down and stored and her oasis - the pool - was treated and covered for its long winter's nap. A part of our home, a piece of our family that is such a vital and important part of our day-to-day during the summer now looks bare. It still is awash in colorful flowers. Yet subtly it has shifted from the set for summer action to a still-life.

It is not yet barren for there are still flowers everywhere one looks. Soon enough they will be gone again. I know not whether they know what has transpired around them. Whether they sense a change in the neighborhood. Whether they know that yet another summer has come and gone.

Whether they do I know not. But I know it. And that is indeed all that matters. Regardless of the date on the calendar.

-AK

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wacka-Wacka

Yesterday was one of those days that - if I possessed the ability to do so - I would have taken a picture of in order to freeze the frame on a moment or two of it forever. Home from FLA (and thrilled to know that JMK is now home in FLA after spending eight fun-filled days at the JMC), the Missus and I headed south to the Shore yesterday morning.

The first leg of the journey took us to Lake Como where Gidg and I participated for the first time ever in the Fallen Heroes 5K. A race sponsored in large part by firefighters whose purpose is to raise funds for the families of firefighters injured and killed in the line of duty, it is an event that is incredibly well-intended by firefighters. Among the things I have learned during the year or so that I have participated in a number of these events is that not only do firefighters run towards Hell when common sense and self-preservation would suggest that heading in exactly the opposite direction is the prudent course of action, but that firefighters (like their brethren who are police officers) show up and run to support one another with enthusiasm. And they do so regardless of age, physical condition or geographic proximity.

Yesterday there were departments running together in their team t-shirts from all over New Jersey - not simply Monmouth County and Ocean County. The Bayonne Fire Department was well-represented as were the departments from Elizabeth, Rahway and Jersey City. During the post-race festivities there was a moment of silence and a pipes and drum corps - comprised of firefighters from all over New Jersey - played "Amazing Grace". Not a dry eye in the joint at the end of it. Not one.

Among the firefighters who participated in the 5K yesterday was the same Montclair firefighter who I had met briefly after the Jimmy D 5K in New Brunswick a couple of weeks ago. He did yesterday what he had done on that day, which was to run in full turn-out gear - trading only running shoes for his standard-issue boots. A hell of a sight.

The race itself was terrific. We hooked up with our friend Mike and then Gidg and I watched as he rocketed off to his usual 21 minute and change finishing time. She ran her best time ever yesterday - getting below 29 minutes for the first time. Me? I ran a couple of seconds slower than my best-ever 5K time. Having spent more time flying than running during the week leading up to the race, I cannot pretend to be disappointed with my own effort either.

At some point yesterday afternoon - after the post-race festivities wound down a bit - we ended up migrating a bit further south to Point Pleasant for something called (I think) "The Festival of the Sea". I am not a huge street fair guy but it was a gorgeous day, the company was excellent and the crab cake sandwich I had was delicious. I am learning flexibility I suppose as I get older (although judging by the ever-diminishing range of motion in my left ankle and the ever-increasing amount of hobbling I do on my left leg) the flexibility appears to be more meta than physical.

If the number of people on the streets of Point Pleasant yesterday is any indication of the Festival's success (and I reckon it is) I suspect that it will be there to be enjoyed next September as well. I know that the Fallen Heroes 5K shall. And I even know the date: September 10, 2011. Yep, 9/10/11, which shall put it on the eve of the most somber of tenth anniversaries. Leg willing I shall be there. Mike likely will be as well. And we know Gidg will be. How do we know? She already put it in her iPhone's calendar.

Nothing like being prepared; right?

-AK

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stepping Out

I am a self-confessed creature of habit. I get up at the same time every day. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. I live on the same rather limited amount of sleep every night (I have come to the conclusion that for me to die in my sleep is going to require something quite serendipitous to occur). Someone, somewhere may be an agent for change. That dude looks nothing like the rapidly-aging one who stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning.

This week brought a disturbance in the force. I stepped out of my day-to-day for only a couple of day-to-days to deal with some unpleasant - but certainly not as bad as either anticipated or feared - stuff affecting a loved one. In the process of doing so, I unplugged from the world around me (I have not entered the patch and become part of the Blackberry revolution) - having opted to put work on the back burner to concentrate my rather limited mental acuity on someone substantially more important. There may be those who walk among us who are able to focus 100% on divergent things simultaneously. Again, none of those individuals looks anything at all like the man I see in the mirror every morning. As the great American philosopher and gunfighter Josey Wales observed, "A man's got to know his limitations." This man certainly knows his......and if you have ever had the (mis)fortune of making my acquaintance within about seven minutes of doing so you knew them as well.

Part of my habitual, repetitive behavior is that every morning - having nothing clever to say and caring not to share news of how well I brushed my teeth or the position in which I slept the night before - instead of posting anything onto Facebook, I simply post the link to whatever I have written here on that particular day. Without access to a computer the past couple of days, what was written here was accessible here but was not similarly accessible elsewhere. Consequently, upon my re-entry into my day-to-day life last evening I retrieved a message from a very good friend of mine who (proving the depths of his friendship) reads this silliness every day lamenting (I suspect that I am overstating his emotional reaction just a....well, just a lot) over the fact that he had not been able to read it - presumably because it was not where he is used to seeing it. I sent him a message letting him know that he could access it at the source if he so desired and thanked him for (a) reading it; and (b) lying about missing it when it was not there to read.

Nice to know that I am not the last remaining metronome. Nicer still to know that what caused the "interruption" in this creature's habit was absolutely worth it - as she always has been.....even if I as the consumate horse's ass lack the chops to always remember and recognize that.

-AK

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Bargain At Any Price

I have written about it in this space before - and since it does not count as plagiarism when you rip yourself off (do not feel compelled to accept my position on this - ask John Fogerty) - I shall do it again here. One of the things I like the most about participating in the various races in which I have run during the past year (in addition to the t-shirt and the occasional LUNA bar or single-serving size box of cereal) is the endless variety of truly cool and worthy causes for which these events are organized.

Tomorrow Gidg and I shall be among the runners gathered in Lake Como (f/k/a South Belmar) for the Fallen Heroes 5K. This is the 8th Annual Edition of this event. Its purpose? According to the race application, "The proceeds raised from this eventdirectly support the mission of the
FMBA foundation to improve the health and safety of our brothers and sisters and to secure the well-being of the widows and children of our fallen heroes
." Among the worthy causes that the FMBA foundation supports are the St. Barnabas Burn Foundation, the Connecticut Burn Camp, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Leukemia Society. In the event that none of those strikes your fancy, there are others as well. The list is intended to be illustrative, not exhaustive.

For a reasonable fee, I get a smart looking t-shirt and unless the weather dude is lying to me a simply gorgeous final Saturday of the summer on which to run a bit at the Shore. Looking at it big picture for a moment, it seems to me as if I am getting - as all of us who are running - quite a bit more from this event than we are giving to it. Considering we are running to assist those who voluntarily run towards Hell while the rest of us run from it as fast as we possibly can, I doubt that the inequity of the transaction is something that bothers them even for a moment.

Me? I call it a bargain.

-AK

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toeing the Rubber for Everyman

If you are a fan of the baseball team that plays its home games in Flushing, Queens then this season has been (much like the several that immediately preceded it) the season of your discontent. Whether attributable to bad luck, bad management, bad play or a combination thereof (as a Yankees fan I tend to think the utterly classless way they fired Willie Randolph a few years back has a little something to do with it), again this season Flushing has borne a striking resemblance to Mudville. Both are towns bereft of joy.

As a general rule, when your star reliever has accumulated more criminal charges than saves in a season you have a pretty good sense that things are not going to be going your way. Add to that the fact that a number of the players upon whom the Mets pinned their hopes for contention this season have been either injured, traded or exiled and you have a recipe for a season that ended short of expectations. Whether those expectations were grounded in fact or in gossamer is a conversation for another day.

Yet because baseball is such a maddeningly beautiful game, it has this season permitted a rose to grow from the midst of the Mets' crab grass patch. R.A. Dickey is thirty-five years old. He shall turn 36 in late October. Dickey is a professional pitcher. According to the baseball-reference.com website, Dickey first pitched in the Bigs way back when in Aught-One as a member of the Texas Rangers. In his first shot at the majors, he pitched in four games, earned one decision (a loss) and a trip back to the minor leagues. He made it back to the Rangers in Aught-Three. Since the start of the decade of the Aughts - this season not included - Dickey had pitched in the Major Leagues for three different teams (Texas, Minnesota and Seattle) in '01, '02 through '06 and then '08 & '09. Prior to this season his career record was 22-28 and his career ERA was close to 5.50.

Conspicuous by its absence from the back of Dickey's virtual baseball card is any Major League statistical information for the 2002 season. Similarly absent is any for the 2007 season. Twice in the span of the past eight years, Dickey's career path had taken him back to the minors - and not for momentary stopovers - and both times he had scrapped his way back to "The Show". At the end of the 2009 season however he again found himself a man without a home. More pointedly, he found himself a 35 year-old journeyman pitcher without a contract or a job for the 2010 season.

To much applause and enthusiasm (click on the link and scroll down to the comment posted by Hater4Life) from their fan base, the Mets signed Dickey to a minor-league contract on December 22, 2009. Dickey started the season at their minor-league affiliate in Buffalo but when the Mets had to place one of their starters on the disabled list in mid-May, Dickey got the call. To say he has made the most of the opportunity would be an understatement.

In the four months since he was called up, Dickey has been living the Life of Aaron Small and on Tuesday night he won his eleventh game of the season. Sports is often dominated by the great player. As someone who was never that guy (not even in video game sports - In Mattel Intellivision football my friend Mike Koplowitz used to run the same play over and over that I never figured out how to stop), I find it easy to admire the great player and sit jaw agape at his or her talent. I find it much easier however to stand up and cheer for the player who is not the great athlete. The player who is living in the moment, secure in the knowledge that absolutely nothing that has preceded this point in time has come easily for him or her and that there is absolutely no guarantee that this moment will be followed by another one that brings equal joy.

By all accounts, Dickey is just such a player. I root for him the same way I pulled hard for Aaron Small during the magical run he had in the second half of the 2005 season. Small was a career minor-leaguer who the Yankees called up when their high-priced but essentially spineless starting rotation imploded in the heat of the summer. All Small did was win his first ten decisions in the regular season. But for his efforts the Yankees would not have made it to the post-season.....where they promptly were kicked to the curb by the Angels. When the '05 season ended, so did his magic. He started the '06 season with the Yankees (after a stint on the DL) but when he did so poorly, he was gone. But the memory of what he accomplished during his magical moment remains. It is not diminished by the fact that he never replicated it.

I know not what the future holds for Dickey but I hope he does have another season in the sun to accompany this one. Whether he shall I could not pretend to know - or even guess. I shall continue to root for him to do well. I presume that a lot of others - perhaps even Hater4Life - will as well. Root for a man whose presence inspires a bit of hope in all of us who were never the star athlete or the one for whom success came readily.

Rooting for a man who may be just another dreamer but who - for this season at least - is living the dream. And perhaps allowing any of us sitting in our living rooms who ever dreamed the same dream to ride shotgun on his for a while.

-AK

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time Pilot

Show of hands please. Who has been having more fun than they can stand thus far in September? All you school-age kids who are raising just one finger on your hands are not going to have your votes recorded if you do not follow the rules. I just realized that the finger of the moment is your middle one.....never mind, I suppose I now know where you stand on this issue.

How about the rest of us? Those of us who are non-seasonal humans (a/k/a "adults") for whom summer was not a vacation period but simply a pretty g*ddamn time to put on our big boy pants every day and go to work. How is your September fun level thus far? Does it exist? Is it pinned to the max? Who knows. Better yet.....who cares.

Time most certainly does not. If you do not believe me, I suppose that is your right. You do after all have the right to be wrong - and to be silent, neither of which you have to fight for, which seems odd considering that you apparently do have to fight for the right to party. Go figure.

On the issue however of the fleet-footedness of time there really can be no debate. Today is already the halfway point of September. Was it not just summer a minute and a half ago? Hell, was it not at least August? Suddenly, we are not only in September but we are halfway through it. Before you know it we will have speed-dialed our way through the remaining half and be staring October squarely in the face.

I have no idea how to stop time and I gave of hope of even being able to contain it years ago (although I have a sneaking suspicion that fitting it with a SlimT would do no good whatsoever). Yet it seems to me that the older I get, the faster its pace. Maybe it is simply mine slowing down a bit. I know not. What I do know is that almost effortlessly the days spill over from one into the next and before I realize it, another week or another month or another year has been completed.

From the time we are children we are implored to 'make every second count'. How are we to do that exactly? No one provides us with either instruction or explanation (not unlike those sneaky bastards who peddle that Rosetta Stone "learn a foreign language" software under the guise of "learn a new language the same way you learned your first one". Huh?). That omission is by deliberate design - intended to make us reluctant to ask for either as if both are self-evident. We learn as we get older that there is not only no secret plan for making every second count, there is no blueprint for it at all. To the contrary, we muddle through as best as we can, loving those we love and hoping that they love us back, doing whatever it is we do to provide shelter, warmth and nourishment for us and for our families and trying to enjoy the one-way trip we are all on.

And from time to time, we are so immersed in what we are doing that we lose track of time altogether. We awaken from our reverie to discover that it is already the 15th day of September and we realize the significance of what that means.......

.....there are only one hundred shopping days 'til Christmas. Ho Ho Freakin' Ho.

-AK

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Four Course Men of the Avoirdupois

We males of the human persuasion are an interesting breed. We are after all the folks who - while standing with our Little General at attention for three hours and fifty-eight minutes will spend every second of the next two minutes debating internally the merits of calling our physician to advise him of a pending serious medical problem versus setting our watch back fifteen minutes to give ourselves a little "just in case" time. If you do not think that the "any woody longer than four hours call your physician" warning was not decided upon after careful calculation (performance time plus time to call every girl and woman who has ever rejected you and brag a bit afterwards) then you currently reside on a planet where no men live......or have ever lived.

It was nice to discover on Saturday afternoon that our best scientists do not solely concentrate their efforts on finding ways to ensure that the Magic Flute does not turn into the Incredible Mr. Limpit prematurely. I saw a commercial for a product called "SlimTs". What is the SlimT you ask? Well, I am glad you did. It is apparently some sort of upper torso girdle for men. The selling point of this particular product, which really made me laugh as I saw the spot after having just finished running on the treadmill, was that it promises to do several things, including making its wearer look firmer, younger and more toned without the dual annoyances of exercise or diet. Who needs exercise or a healthy diet? Apparently not any man with access to $19.95 (plus shipping and handling).

Do not deprive yourself the entertainment value of scoping out the SlimTs website. Click on the video link to the commercial that is on there for the full experience. I have watched it several times and still cannot decide whether it is the participants' faux sincerity or the fact that it hearkens back to the capitalistic stylings of Cosmo Kramer and Frank Costanza that makes me like it so much.

Or perhaps it is the fact that a product as inane as the SlimT serves as a microcosm of what has become an endemic problem in this country. Once we pursued happiness. Now it appears as if at least some of us have decided that the mere pursuit of happiness is too much effort. We choose to remain sedentary and wait for happiness to come back for us. Apparently for some of us, as long as we look fit, the fact that we cannot move ourselves from here to the end of this sentence is of little moment.

Call now. Operators are indeed standing by.

-AK

Monday, September 13, 2010

On The Banks of the Old Rar-I-Tan

Made the short trip over to Rutgers University yesterday morning for if it is a Sunday then there must be a race someplace, somewhere going on where I can run. Yesterday was the High Speed Chase For the Cure, which is a 5K race put on to raise money for the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. I tend to spend more time running down in Monmouth County and Ocean County than I do running close to home. It was a nice change of pace to run a time I was happy with (26:34 on the D-Tag) yet still spend more time running in the race than I spent driving in the car to and from the race.

I confess that it is often the little things in life that impress me. Yesterday morning one such thing was the presence of Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano at the pre-race festivities. Rutgers played in Florida on Saturday night against Florida International. I fell asleep watching the final few minutes of it. And when I called it a night it was in the neighborhood of 11:00 p.m., which means that Rutgers likely did not even get out of the stadium and onto its flight home until after midnight and likely did not touch down at Newark Airport until the wee small hours of the morning. Yet, at or about 9:00 o'clock yesterday morning there was Coach Schiano standing on the back of a truck outside of the RAC thanking all of us who were participating in the event for being there and wishing us well. A little thing? I suppose. But what is life but an amalgam of the little things?

Nice event yesterday morning although we were reminded of the not-too-subtle difference between summer weather and autumn weather here in the State of Concrete Gardens. The day dawned gray like hardened steel with a sky full of threatening clouds. We started under overcast skies but by the time I was about halfway through, the threat had in fact materialized. Once the rain started to fall, it came at us with a bad purpose. By the time I finished it was raining very hard. I do not moonlight as a weatherman so I know not whether the rain was falling hard enough to qualify as "pouring" but I was wet to the point of saturation.

This was apparently the 8th edition of this event and I enjoyed the course and its convenience and will - balky left leg willing - run in it again next year. I hope they enjoy some better weather next year. Apparently rain bit them in the rump last year as well and no well organized, well-intentioned event, which this one certainly is, deserves to have its parade rained upon three years running.

Then again, it is only rain after all. Juxtaposed against cancer it seems like nothing at all.

-AK

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Culture Club

Margaret and I are not what one would call "a couple who goes out a lot". Do not misunderstand. We do not live a life of quiet reflection, spending evenings in silent splendor working on the crossword and arts and crafts projects. Typically though, an evening "out" for us consists of dinner - usually eaten at a time that minimizes the risk of me falling face-down into my broiled tilapia. When the day starts at 3:00 a.m. it is best not to push the edge of the dinner-eating envelope too far into the p.m. part of the day.

This weekend however we lived something akin to the secret life of Walter Mitty. On Friday night we were in Newark at the NJPAC to see Jerry Seinfeld perform. He did not disappoint. Back in the day his show was - for me - the funniest thing on television. Candidly, many nights it still is.....even in the form of a 12 to 20 year old repeat. We had never seen him do his act live. It was fantastic. He was laugh-out-loud funny and throughout the one-hour set, with the exception of one bit where he said, "A**hole" (except without the asterisks) the only 'bad word' he uttered was, "Hell". I make that observation not because my virgin ears appreciated the respite from the typical stand-up, profanity-laced routine (my ears have many issues but I assure you that virginity is not among them) but because I could not recall when the last time was a stand-up comic made me laugh as hard as Seinfeld did on Friday night without doing a lot of cursing and swearing. Fantastic stuff.

Last night the Missus and I made the trek a bit north to Morristown for the season-opening event at the Community Theatre. I lied a bit right then. The joint in Morristown used to be called the Community Theatre. Now it has a far more involved name, which I have never bothered to learn, but that I know contains the word "Mayo", which I presume is either the name of a benefactor or the name of the artistic director's favorite condiment. Regardless, Margaret and I were there last night to see "her Bruce Springsteen" - Mandy Patinkin.

Among the half-dozen hearty folks who pop by this little rest stop on Al Gore's crowning achievement daily may be some who do not know who Mandy Patinkin is. Thirty years ago, he won a Tony Award for his role as Che in the original Broadway production of EVITA. More recently - if you watch TV - you may have seen him on the CBS series Criminal Minds. Patinkin played FBI Profiler Jason Gideon during the first few seasons of the show. Margaret absolutely adores him. We have seen him perform live on three or four occasions throughout the years - including last night - and while the Patinkin "concert experience" is not to be mistaken for the one starring Mr. Springsteen, it is nevertheless an incredibly entertaining one. Last night he performed with his long-time friend Patti LuPone. She too is a longstanding Broadway star. A few years ago she won a Tony award for Gypsy. Thirty years ago, playing opposite her co-star of last evening, she won the Tony for her star turn as Eva Peron in EVITA.

During the performance last night Patinkin told us the audience that he and LuPone have been great friends since they were first brought together by the winds of their profession in 1978, when they were both cast in EVITA. It showed last evening. They did not simply stand on stage together and sing songs from their various projects and shows. Instead they immersed themselves in the characters from the various shows in putting on entire scenes (without costumes or scenery from the show) and performing one song or multiple songs from them. It was extraordinary stuff.......even for someone like me who knows that it has been said that the neon lights are bright on Broadway but who - other than that - knows scant little else.

I will admit that I was a bit out of element last night in a show where Broadway show tunes were the order of the day. But I will gladly occupy space outside of my comfort zone when that space is simultaneously occupied by my wife - eyes sparkling, smile omnipresent and totally immersed in what she is experiencing. I know that I will never bother to learn the names of 96% of the songs that the duo of LuPone and Patinkin performed last night. But I also know that the next time he comes around to do his thing, I will plunk down the money for a couple of ducats for me and my baby.

Happiness is not free. That does not mean it is necessarily difficult to attain either.

-AK

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Late Indian Summer Morning Nine Years Ago

The death of someone we love affects us the rest of our life. Since each of us is a unique individual we each grieve in a manner that is unique to us. That - in my experience - holds true not only in the immediate aftermath of the loved one's death but also as time marches on - as it inextricably does. As it must.

I have buried my share of loved ones during four-plus decades on this planet. Death of a family member is something that hits all of us and does so at more than one time in our life. It is the maddeningly non-discriminatory thing about death; right? It cares not what one's color, race, creed, gender, sexual preference or religious persuasion is. We are all equal in its eyes I suppose.

The line between private grief and public mourning often times gets blurred. And today, given the solemnity of the day and given the fact that nine years later it remains a day that continues to resonate emotionally - and in some cases viscerally - among the many of us who count ourselves fortunate to not have lost one (or in some cases more than one) we love to the deliberate actions of cowards, it remains also a day on which that line is especially blurred.

Those of us who have never had one we love murdered by another cannot ever understand the full depth and breadth that the events of September 11, 2001 had upon those who were added forever to that luckless list on that particular late Indian Summer morning nine years ago. We may empathize with the families of the murdered but we cannot approximate their grief. Outrage is shared by all of us. As is anger. As is horror. Grief is not. We cannot fully grieve those we ourselves did not lose.

I know not whether enough time will pass to allow this day, while belonging forever to the families of those who were murdered, to belong exclusively to them as well. I do not think it shall. And, selfishly, as an outsider I am not sure that I would ever want it to. Empathy may be all that I - and perhaps you if you too escaped a direct loss that day - ever have to give to the grieving and for this event, for this incomprehensible outrage and immeasurable loss, the reservoir of it is limitless.

My friend Phil Ayoub - a man whose only recognizable character flaw is his blind devotion to the Boston Red Sox (and which is more likely the result of genetics and geography than anything within his control) - shortly after September 11, 2001 wrote a song about the events of that day. The song, White Feather, was included on "School bus Window Paper Heart", which is a CD he released several years ago. It is among the most thoughtful, evocative pieces of pop music I have ever heard regarding that horrible day (and consider if you will the depth of my affection for Mr. Springsteen and his own opus on the subject) and includes the lyric that served as the title for the CD:

Some ask when do we dance
Hope needs repair faith’s in a trance
School bus window paper heart’s our only chance

He has said that the inspiration for the lyric came from footage he saw on the news of little children riding on school buses in the days after the attack, which the windows of the buses were adorned with hearts the kids had made themselves as a symbol of their own sorrow over what had happened and their support for those who had been directly impacted by it. A simple gesture made by little ones. It means as much today as it did nine years ago when they did it. It - like empathy - was all they had to give to try to help assuage the grief of others.

-AK

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Fall Guy

The calendar indicates that fall will not arrive for another couple of weeks (on Bruce Springsteen's birthday by the way). You could not tell that though by the temperature. Admittedly I have been a bit more wrapped up in my own world this week than even I usually am (trial does that to me). Nevertheless I could swear that when I left the courthouse in Hackensack at day's end on Wednesday the temperature was significantly higher and the air was significantly thicker than it was yesterday. What a difference a day makes.

I am certain I have mentioned previously in this space that fall is my favorite time of year. Any time I can get a bonus autumnal day and night - especially when it pops up in the calendar wasteland of early September (still hot enough to be summer but after school's traditional starting date) I embrace it. Yesterday was just such a day. Simply terrific.

Last night I did something I have not done too often in the past several months - I drove home with my car windows open. I am woefully overdue for a haircut so with windows down I am sure I looked quite the mess to drivers in passing vehicles. I cannot tell a lie - I care not at all.

A day like yesterday reminds me that we are in the baseball season's stretch drive. Soon enough - presuming their pitching holds up and their shortstop starts hitting in a manner approximating the back of his baseball card - the Yankees will be playing games when the night air is crisp and cool and the stands are filled with fans wearing sweaters, scarves and wool caps who occasionally bang their hands together just to stay warm against the night's chill.

My kind of weather. My time of year.

-AK

Thursday, September 9, 2010

American Idiot

Yesterday afternoon - at the conclusion of another interminably long and only marginally successful day in court in Bergen County - I was walking towards my car when my attention was captured by the sound of an airplane flying overhead. I thought immediately of the morning of September 11, 2001 and the fact that on that morning - as was the case yesterday morning and will be the case this morning - I was at the courthouse in Hackensack.

It seems almost incredible to me that it has been nine years since that terrible Tuesday. A day that has served since as a line of demarcation for the world at large. A day on which everything changed. It is an oddity of my personality I suppose that nine years later I find myself looking up to the sky every time I hear a jet engine overhead since at the time nine years ago that the terrorists flew those two jets into the Twin Towers I was inside. I neither saw nor heard what had occurred in spite of the fact that from the Bergen County Justice Center in Hackensack one has a fairly clear view of the skyline of Lower Manhattan.

How long it takes the wound created by a loved one's death to heal is a question better posed to someone significantly smarter than am I. How long it takes the wound created by the murder of a loved one is also something to which I would not pretend to know the answer. I either listen to or watch at least a portion of the memorial ceremony held annually at Ground Zero - as if one more set of ears or eyes of a stranger does anything to assuage the grief of those who lost one or more loved ones that morning. I am almost embarrassed to admit that while it likely does nothing for them, it somehow makes me feel a bit better. Honor through audience participation I suppose.

I have been a bit pre-occupied this week so I must confess that I paid no attention at all to the story emanating out of Florida about the "'minister" (giving that word its widest possible definitional interpretation) who announced that he shall burn a copy of the Quran on Saturday. The idiot in question has a name, which shall not be published here, since a significant component of this crusade appears to be an effort on his part to start the clock on his 15 minutes of fame. After all, how many other ways are there for a Pentecostal minister who tends to a flock (50 or so) that is smaller than that which vaulted Mary (she of "Mary had a little lamb") to fame to get his name above the tree line? Yet another a**hole attempting to hijack an event of profound significance to those directly affected by it for what have become this nation's favorite dual purposes: political and religious reasons.

While it is not an absolute truth, it is nevertheless a good barometer to measure the scope of one's stupidity when wrapping oneself in the flag of jingoism to assess the reaction of the intellectual tag team of Palin and Beck to your proposed action. Neither of them has ever passed up an opportunity to remind the rest of us just how "patriotic" each is. Yet even these two knuckleheads recognize the impropriety of this proposed act. If you take a position and Palin takes an opposing view and your position is such that hers actually seems reasonable and well-conceived, then you need to seriously reexamine what the hell it is you are doing.

Perhaps Reverend you should go pray on it a while. Quietly.

-AK

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Kindergarten Cop

Yesterday was an extremely long, ultimately unproductive day on the trial front. We spent the entire day taking another run at resolving the case without having to commit lots of time and almost as many resources to trying it. At 5:00 p.m., those of us involved in the case left the courthouse and went our separate ways. The nice thing about leaving the courthouse at 5:00 o'clock in the afternoon is that it made it very easy to locate my car. It was one of four or five still parked there.

It was not a total loss of a day however. One of the other attorneys in the case took a "time out" in the middle of the day (late morning) to meet his wife and his little girl at the latter's first day of kindergarten. On a day when the five attorneys involved agreed on little else, all of us agreed that it was more important that Andy be there than be with us trying to negotiate an end to our matter. The judge excused him and off he went.

He was probably not gone for more than 90 minutes. When he came back he was grinning from ear-to-ear. His daughter is his only child. While he did not bring them back with him, he told us that his wife had taken countless pictures of their little girl as she lined up for the first time with her new classmates. Andy told us that she was all smiles. He did not say whether he or his wife told her how many days after this one stand between her and the completion of her schooling years. That is a conversation for another day apparently.

Yesterday was not a successful day from a work perspective. The 800 pound gorilla in the room - the unresolved case - shall be this morning where it was yesterday morning, which is staring all of us squarely in the face. From a human perspective though it was a hell of a day. It is nice to be reminded - even when you think as a lawyer that the case you are immersed in is the most important thing in the world - that 10 times out of 10 the real world trumps it.

It certainly did yesterday.

-AK

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Trial Runs

Put a very nice bow on the summer's running events yesterday. Gidg and I ran (for the 3rd time this summer and the 4th time since April) in Long Branch at Pier Village. Margaret did her thing as the Race Wife/Sister for us. While the day dawned a bit chilly by the time the starting gun sounded (I think it was a gun although I must confess I paid scant little attention) it had warmed up quite nicely. Nothing like a nice intimate gathering of close to 1000 runners to kick off summer's final day. Gidg ran well. I did also - about 50 seconds slower than I had run the day before but no complaints - especially given the fact that my left leg has been barking quite a bit lately (it hurts less to run than it does to walk) and I had run in a race a day earlier.

Post-race we were chatting about the summer that was (from a running perspective) and how it seemed as if it was only yesterday we were kicking off the Memorial Day weekend by running in Somerville on that Thursday night. In increments of 3.1 miles and further, we covered a lot of ground this summer. Maybe that is why it seems as if the season flew by so quickly. When your unit of measurement is typically something less than a day, time moves with greater rapidity.

Today is Day One of the resumption of activities in the Adult Swim portion of the pool. I will kick off my unofficial start to autumn by likely commencing trial on a case that - once started - will take close to three weeks to try to a verdict. Three weeks. We are gathered this morning on this matter because after coming close to resolving it in May no one wanted to "ruin summer" by trying it at any point during the past three months. Like summer, the respite did not last forever. Thus, this morning here we find ourselves again - at the point of intersection between the unstoppable force and the immovable object. Something's gotta give; right?

-AK

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hail To The Deputy Chief

Yesterday morning in New Brunswick was an exquisite time to run. Do not feel compelled to take my word for it. Ask any of the several hundred people who gathered in the cool of the morning at Memorial Stadium for the 6th Annual Jimmy D 5K. This race honors the life and legacy of Deputy Chief James D'heron of the New Brunswick Fire Department. It was slightly more than six years ago - on September 3, 2004, that Deputy Chief D'heron died in the line of duty while rescuing people from a house fire. Those he rescued lived. He, the rescuer, died.

As a tribute to him and all he meant to them, his family has been the driving force behind not only this now annual rite of early September (as I learned yesterday its date is designed to coincide as much as possible with the anniversary of his death) but behind the Foundation that bears his name. Yesterday his daughter Erin Vargas handled the starter's duties for the 5K and emceed the post-race awards. His niece and nephew sang the Star-Spangled Banner together shortly before we started our race. Usually I feel salty discharge in the corners of my eyes at or about the 2 mile mark of a 5K and the salty discharge I feel is sweat. Yesterday it was present before I had run even one step. And it most certainly was not sweat.

A group of Harley Davidson-riding firefighters served as the escort vehicles for the lead runners. There was a bagpipe and drum corps. And there were firefighters from all over New Jersey out on a drop-dead gorgeous September Sunday to honor the memory of their brother. Whether they knew him or he knew them was irrelevant. Trust me, I know of which I speak. I am one who never met the man. Yet it was most assuredly my honor and my privilege to have participated - in my case for the first time ever - in what shall now become for me an annual rite of September.

While I did not equal or better my personal best 5K time, which I set last Saturday in Long Branch, I came within fifteen or twenty seconds of it. And the fact that I did so while running on a course that was more challenging than its Long Branch counterpart left me with a feeling of great personal satisfaction. But the race was not the whole story yesterday. Not even close to it. Margaret and I spent about ninety minutes post-race just taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the post-race picnic/barbecue that was part of the day's festivities. Deputy Chief D'heron's family has figured out a way to make this event transcend a mere 5K race. It is something more like a spirited Irish wake. And true to its model, everyone appeared reluctant to leave.

It takes a hell of a human being to run towards danger when the better bet is to find an alterate route of travel. It takes the type of human being who would trade his life for the lives of strangers and not once think to complain about the apparent inequity of the transaction. It takes also the type of human being who honors the sacrifice of his fellow firefighter by running 3.1 miles while wearing his full turn-out gear (from the helmet down) - save for the running shoes he wore in place of his boots. Margaret and I met a young firefighter from the Montclair Fire Department who did just that....and in doing so completed the course is just a hair under 30 minutes. Being a dumb ass I forgot to ask his name when I spoke with him for a moment or two post-race. I merely wanted to tell him what an incredible thing it seemed to me (and to the dozens of others standing near Margaret and me near the finish line when he finished) he had done. He said thank you and smiled when he did so. I thought I detected just a tinge of self-consciousness in his smile.

It was simply an incredible morning. One that I am happy that Margaret and I had the chance to experience firsthand. And one that I suspect caused Deputy Chief d'Heron to smile ear-to-ear, looking at all which his family has made out of one singular terrible moment. And if you look at him hard while he smiles, just a tinge of self-consciousness is surely present in his grin.....

...and perhaps just a bit of salty discharge in the corner of his eye as well.

-AK

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Request For A 10 01 Wake Up Call

Today is a day to be on the lookout for Dead Head stickers affixed to Cadillac bumpers. Summer's last gasp. You know you have reached the end of the season when you find yourself pinning your hopes to a Monday as the calendar equivalent of a stay of execution.

As is the case when the execution is merely stayed and the sentence is not commuted altogether, summer's dying breaths shall be breathed today and tomorrow. Fall will be on us in the person of Tuesday morning before we know it. And the memories of this season, while recent in time, will seem locked away in the far corners of our mind's eye.

It seemed to be only yesterday that I was cutting out of work early to catch a Friday evening flight to Denver so Rob and I could spend Memorial Day together. What a weekend that was. As someone whose father died before I reached high school and with whom in the final couple of years of his life I had a relationship that was strained (perhaps merely typically so for an adolescent teen and his male parent), one of the great days of my life was May 31, 2010. Twenty-nine years to the day after my father died in my parents' home, I ran 6.2 miles in the town where I attended college twenty-plus years ago.

And I did so - side by side and stride for stride - with Rob. We ran into Folsom Stadium - a place where as a much younger man I had spent many an enjoyable Saturday (including one in October of 1986 when the Buffs defeated Nebraska in Boulder for the first time since Ike had been President) - together. As I ran across the finish line, located on the visitor's side of the football field, having first run up the home sideline, past the student section and around the enclosed end of the stadium, I looked to my left at my son. Immediately I knew what was - and what shall be even if I live another 1000 years - the best moment I would ever have at Folsom. I smile every time I think about it. I am smiling now.

Suzanne completed work on her Master's Degree shortly before the summer began. She started her career - at Kessler in West Orange (the job she called her "dream job" from the moment she interviewed for it) in mid-June. She is a Speech Language Therapist for patients in the Institutes's Brain Trauma Unit. I must confess that I have little grasp of what it is she does for a living, which is a reflection on either the unknown trauma to which I have subjected my own brain or its innate limitations. I know however that I love the joy and the passion with which she describes to Margaret and me at night the million little miracles that comprised her day. Suzanne is every inch her mother's daughter. She is passionate, whip smart, driven and (even though she does not always realize it) fearless. Like her mother, she will be successful throughout her life because the possibility of being anything but does not ever enter her mind. I smile every time I think about the life-changing steps she has taken over the course of this summer. I am smiling now.

Summer in our family - at least the past three summers anyway - has not come to us without extracting a price from us. Two years ago it took Nan and Meni. Last year it cut us to the quick when it claimed Suzy B. Just this past week, it took Junior. I was thinking about Junior yesterday afternoon as I watched Marcus Thames (a/k/a as the Best Off-Season Acquisition in a winter that saw perpetually disabled Nick Johnson and perpetually disappointing Javy Vazquez return to the Bronx) blast a two-run home run in the bottom of the 7th inning, which proved to be the difference as the Yankees won their eighth consecutive game.

Junior was an avid Yankees fan (Auntie Ann is as well). Earlier this summer, when cancer was really starting to exact its terrible toll upon him, Margaret and I popped by their house to drop off for him a pair of Yankees lounging pants that Margaret saw while we were in a store somewhere. He was a small man so while the pants were either a size Small or Medium they were nevertheless far too long. Ann took them to a friend of theirs who is a seamstress to have them shortened.

When Ann picked up the pants in their tailored form - her friend had a surprise for her. Rather than discard the extra material, she used it to make Junior a little pillow. His Yankees pillow became one of the items he valued most of all during the final few weeks of his life. In the week since his death, the team he and his beloved bride rooted for so hard has provided her and hers a modicum of solace. They have refused to lose. In a week that has been nothing short of brutal, their beloved Bombers have done their part to pick them up. The Boys of Summer indeed. Wayfarers optional.

Summer has indeed come and passed..........again.

-AK