Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Hear Mariachi Static On The Radio

11/12 of the way through it. 2010 that is. As we reach November's end, I know not what to make of the year to date thus far. There are - as I suppose there are in every year - moments when it seems to have passed by in the wink of a young girl's eye. Conversely there have been moments that have not been able to pass by soon enough not to leave wreckage in their wake. Nights that have seemed as if they were going to last forever. As if there was no dawn poised to appear on the horizon line. Hell, as if there was no horizon line at all.

Perhaps that is the way most years go for perhaps that is the manner in which the original unscripted drama we call life unfolds for most of us - if not for all of us. It is consistent in its inconsistency. It is certain only to serve as a laboratory where uncertainties are created every day. Feel no compunction to take my word for it. Ask Tiger Woods.

One of my favorite movies of all time (one of the great self-important turns of phrase ever conceived - as opposed to..."my impressionable post-high school but pre-marriage years"?) is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Had Matthew Broderick never made another film he would undoubtedly be less financially secure than he is presently but his place in the realm of actors who create a character who rises to the level of an alter ego would have been preserved. His portrayal of the teenage pop philosopher is pitch-perfect. Ferris was clearly a young man wise beyond his years - a fact of which I am reminded every time I watch the movie. While I enjoy the film a great deal it does bother me on at least one level. The title character is a teenager and he possesses a better understanding of life's vagaries than do I - the title character in my own unscripted drama - and I am more than twice his age. In my defense, he had better writers and John Hughes. Me? Not so much.

We wake up tomorrow and it is December. If you are my sister Evan, then it is your birthday, which is reason alone to celebrate. If you are the rest of us (the non-celebrants as it were), then it is "already" December and it is "almost" Christmas. Would time slow down at all if we stopped using so many damn modifiers for it? I know not but it probably could not hurt. We spend so much of the present as a countdown clock for future events and happenings that we not only run the risk of missing something or someone or multiples of both but we factor into our day-to-day just how much we can miss without feeling too badly about it. I have never completely understood what is meant by the phrase, "addition by subtraction" although I might very well have stumbled across an example of it just the other day but I cannot fathom that the typical day-to-day is what is meant by it either.

Enough griping for one day. Stay here too long and I will be late getting somewhere else. You may think I have stayed too long already or wish perhaps that I pawned my Smith-Corona......

....Stop nodding your head while you read - you will make yourself sick. And who among us has time to get sick - especially this time of year. It is almost Christmas after all.

-AK

Monday, November 29, 2010

With Her Killer Graces

While I did not attend it, I discerned from the reviews that I have read from her classmates that Margaret did an incredible job putting together her 30th class reunion. Color me not surprised. I know not how many of her classmates she has stayed in close contact with over the course of the past three decades but as someone who has spent the past two decades with her, her ability to make something out of nothing no longer amazes me.

My wife possesses the ability to make the extraordinary seems effortless.....which might in large part explain why she still puts up with me after all of these years. She remains confident in her ability to make something worthwhile out of me I suppose.

It would be an understatement of colossal proportions to say that Margaret was tireless in her preparation of this reunion for her classmates and for her. I am happy for all of them that they were able to reap the benefits of her efforts. I am also more than a tad selfish. So for all of the members of the MHS Class of '80 who presume that they are going to designate Margaret as the organizer of their 35 year reunion five years from now......while more than a little part of me wishes she would not, I know my wife and I know that if you call her to action she will answer. The one other thing she knows as little about as how to fail is how to say, "No". It simply is not in her DNA.

And for that each and every one of you should be very grateful. I certainly know that I am. And I know who she is.....

....she is the one. Well done Honey. As always.

-AK

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Bad Egg

It is merely one man's opinion but in the opinion of this one particular man, the gentleman who presently serves as the President of The Ohio State University is a clown. It has been written that with age comes wisdom. From my experience dealing with E. Gordon Gee, it appears as if in his case age has brought with it nothing other than......well, age.

In case you missed it, President Gee recently decreed that two other universities - Boise State University and Texas Christian University - are not worthy of playing for the national championship of college football - because in the opinion of President Gee neither school plays a tough enough schedule to merit a berth in the BCS Championship Game. From my vantage point the fact that on the Friday night of the long Thanksgiving weekend, Boise State lost a game and watched its twenty-four game winning streak move from the present to the past tense lends no credence to Gee's asinine declaration. Boise State lost on the road to another team in its conference that is nationally ranked, which is kinda, sorta exactly the circumstances under which Gee's school (and why does the institution call itself, "The" Ohio State University - is there "An" Ohio State University running around out there somewhere?) lost to Wisconsin earlier this season.

"Well, I don't know enough about the X's and O's of college football," said Gee, formerly the president at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt universities. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day." Talk about getting your money's worth. With one slight, Gee managed to insult not simply two other colleges whose football teams have been highly ranked for each of the past several seasons but also each of the colleges and universities whose football teams have opposed Boise State or Texas Christian as well as the other teams who compete against these two juggernauts in their respective conferences. Nicely done Mr. Gee. Nicely done.

About a million years ago - back when he was the President of the University of Colorado - I had the pleasure of spending some quality face-to-face time with him. In the Spring of 1986, shortly after EGG had been hired at CU, he spent some time going dorm to dorm to get acquainted with the student body. I lived in Farrand Hall, which was part of our new leader's tour. While his audience was apparently intended to be limited to Farrand's "God Squaders" (the kids at every college who walk around campus with the lips plastered to the posterior of the powers-that-be) they forgot to post a guard at the door of the room where the meet and greet was taking place. So, after having spent some quality time playing poker, smoking cheap cigars and drinking even cheaper beer, my friends and I made the long trip down from the fourth floor to hear the man himself pontificate.

Gun to my head I cannot recall most of what it was he spoke about. Having just read his faux self-deprecating remarks about not knowing anything about college football, I am reminded of the fact that one of things he spoke of was college basketball. At CU, we have a long and decidedly unspectacular history of college hoops - especially on the men's side. Other than the Golden Years (a/k/a the two years that Chauncey Billups played for the Buffs before taking his talents to the NBA) the Buffs have been fairly dreadful for the past three decades or so. You can look it up. Trust me, all the gory details are there in black and white. I arrived on campus in September 1985, just in time to catch what would be the final year of Tom Apke's tenure as the man in charge of the hoops program. In his final season on the bench, the Buffs won only eight of twenty-eight games and went winless in the Big Eight (0-14). At season's end, Coach Apke was fired.

Given that CU played at that time in the Big Eight Conference, which had some of the nation's better basketball teams in it, a fair amount of attention was paid to the coaching search. And in the first hire of EGG's Presidency, CU hired Tom Miller. Miller came to CU from Cornell, which had in the 1984-85 season finished in second place in the Ivy League. Apparently, that bridesmaid's finish - along with the money to be saved by not having to order new monogram shirts for the head coach since they could foist off on Miller those they had ordered for Apke - was enough to get Miller the job. On April 2, 1986 Tom Miller was hired as the 14th head mens' basketball coach in CU history.

While I do not recall specifically the night on which my path and EGG's path crossed at Farrand Hall, it was within a couple of days of the Miller hiring. When the floor was opened to questions from the audience, against the advice of counsel (my neighbor Bill Winters) I raised my hand and asked Mr. Gee about the decision to hire a coach who appeared to have no shot of making the Buffs competitive in the Big Eight. Our exchange became a bit spirited and much to the delight of those gathered at his knee to hear him talk, EGG pointed out just how great a job Miller had done leading Cornell to a second place finish in the Ivy League. There was far less delight palpable in the room when I pointed out to him that only a couple of weeks earlier in the NCAA tournament the Ivy League champs (Brown) had been dismantled by Syracuse in Round 1 by more than fifty points and asked him - had Cornell played Syracuse - whether he thought it likely that Miller's men would have even scored.

After several minutes of back and forth, EGG forgot that he knew nothing about college hoops (he threw off the cloak of faux self-deprecation that he put on again just the other day) and decreed that under Coach Miller's leadership the Buffs would become national title contenders immediately and would be playing in the Final Four in Denver when we were the designated host school in 1990. EGG hoped that his decree would be the final word on the subject, as did the evening's moderator, but it was not. I laughed out loud when he said what he said, which understandably annoyed him. I then told him that as an out-of-state student I would be willing to bet him that what he had first said that evening was correct, which was that he was talking out of his a** and knew nothing of the subject of college basketball. I offered to make it interesting and to wager him a full refund of my four year out-of-state tuition versus a pledge from me to make donations to CU in an amount equal to that tuition nut over the success of the basketball program under Coach Miller. I told him that his optimism was unfounded and that under Miller's tutelage our basketball team would continue to be cannon fodder for everyone we played and that the only way anyone from the CU basketball program would get on the floor at the Final Four in Denver four years hence would be with a pass. I also told him that I was willing to bet that under Miller the team would never win more than a dozen games in a season and that Miller would be let go when the four-year contract he signed on April 2, 1986 expired. EGG refused to accept my bet, telling me that it would be inappropriate for him to take my money. He seemed really irate when I laughed out loud at that comment.

The evening ended with no bet being made. EGG and I never spent any time in one another's company again either. He did however spend some time with my sister Jill about a week after he stopped by Farrand Hall. Jill lived in Baker Hall and as the President of the Dorm was involved in scheduling the night that EGG stopped by there to chat with the residents. Upon being introduced to my sister, EGG asked her if she had any brothers and when she told him that she had a brother who lived in Farrand Hall he told her that I was, "quite a headstrong and opinionated young man", which are two traits that I clearly left in the rear-view mirror a long, long time ago.

What he could not have known that evening - and likely would never have admitted it even had he known - was that his headstrong and opinionated young jousting partner was 100% right. Tom Miller coached the Buffs from the 1986-87 season through the 1989-90 season. During his four years at the helm, the team went 9-19, 7-21, 7-21 and 12-18. When the 89-90 season ended so did Miller Time in Boulder. In 1990, the Final Four was played in Denver Colorado and the University of Colorado was the "host" school. The four participants were Duke University, Georgia Tech University, University of Arkansas and UNLV. Apparently, the dozen victories CU earned that year on the hardwood were not enough to garner an at-large bid to the Big Dance.

It is interesting - but not surprising - to see that twenty-five years further on up the road, EGG is still talking out of his a** on the subject of college athletics. Clearly he brings something to the table as a president of major American universities. He should continue to play to those strengths and adopt a vow of silence about those subjects about which he knows nothing. And in the interim he should remember that as the president of one school, he does nothing but besmirch the reputation of the school he leads when he belittles the achievements of student-athletes at other institutions.

Note to self: I shall check back in another quarter-century to see if he has learned anything. Second note to self: I shall not hold my breath in the interim.

-AK

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Bit More Road Running....

Hopefully Thanksgiving was both happy and peaceful for you and yours. It certainly was around our house although I would be telling one whopper of a story if I did not admit that I am very hopeful that some November in the not-too-distant future that all of us shall again be in the same time zone on Turkey Day. That has not been the case the past three years. Next year perhaps.

I spent a part of my Thanksgiving morning running in a 5K race in Princeton. I was under the impression that it was going to be something of a low-key, small affair. Not so much. There were close to six hundred runners who participated in it. Here 'NTSG we actually had to endure a smattering of snow flakes - although mercifully none of them left even a trace of their visit behind them. It made for a bit of a chilly run through the streets of Princeton. Actually, that is not entirely true. The race started at 8:00 a.m. I know not whether the streets on which we ran Thursday morning comprise a particular neighborhood in Princeton but I do know that the mercury never got high enough to approach the neighborhood of "chilly". It clearly enjoyed its stay in the cold 'hood and never bothered to leave.

Cold weather notwithstanding it was quite a nice event. I actually ran my fastest-ever 5K time, which is - in the interest of full disclosure - the running equivalent of being the skinniest kid at fat camp. Perhaps the cold weather was motivation to run a bit faster than I ever have. I know not. I know that it was a fine way to spend a small piece of my Thanksgiving. It was nice to see a lot of other folks out there braving the cold weather - engaging in what might be considered 'anticipatory weight loss' prior to the commencement of Thanksgiving's eating festivities - and giving a little something for a good cause. Thursday's event included a drop-off point for donations of non-perishable food items for those in need of a little help this Thanksgiving. When I last looked into the rear of the truck as I was heading to my car post-race, it looked as if there was quite an impressive amount of food in it. Nice to see indeed.

Yesterday morning I eschewed my own 'black Friday' tradition of getting to the office by 4:30 a.m. (good thing too since all those earlier morning shoppers clogged the highways and byways between home and the office) to take part in another race. I met up with Gidg in Mr. Springsteen's hometown to participate in - for the first time ever - the Born to Run 5 Mile Race. Man, what a blast. We ran not only through the streets of Freehold Boro but also through a trail in Lake Topanemus Park, which was a new and exciting adventure for me (and for Gidg). It was a day that fairly could be described as "raw" in Bruce's hometown with slate gray skies and a bit of a biting wind. Fortunately the rain in the forecast, which had been estimated at percentages ranging from 40% to 70%, never made an appearance. While I have only run in a small handful of five mile races, in my limited experience running five miles in the rain - especially a cold rain - is not much fun at all.

Yesterday's race proved to be quite a bit of fun. Bruce himself did not make an appearance - although I ran accompanied by nothing but his music on my iPod - but several hundred runners did. No - neither Gidg nor I finished in first place - a result that I assure you neither of us found the least bit surprising but each of us had what I would consider a successful race. Gidg went under fifty minutes for the first time ever in a 5 mile race, which made her understandably very happy. I finished in forty-one minutes and one second, which prompted the Missus to exclaim, "One second!" as if I had only leaned into it a bit harder at the finish I might have finished in 41 minutes flat.

Truth be told, she might be right. Maybe next year I can shave that bloody second off of my time. Something to look forward to I suppose. As the man says, "You gotta take 'em as they come." Sage advice indeed.

-AK

Friday, November 26, 2010

In a Town Called Lincoln Nebraska

One of my fondest college memories (admittedly a lot of them disappeared into an alcohol-laden haze shortly after becoming eligible for "memory" status) is the 1986 Colorado-Nebraska football game at Folsom Field. It was played in the early afternoon on the 25th of October - a matinee performance in a sports day that - by the time it ended - would be either famous or infamous (depending on geography) for something else entirely. It was on that day along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that the promise Coach Mac had brought west with him from Ann Arbor when he arrived from Bo Schembechler's staff to save the Buffs actually showed up. For the first time in his tenure as Colorado's head football coach the Buffs defeated the Huskers. For the first time in a generation, they did so at home. Prior to 1986, the home-standing Buffs had last defeated the invaders from the Eastern plains at Folsom Field in 1959.

Mercifully at some point after Jill, Joe and I also ceased performing the Buffaloes Shuffle the two schools decided to move their annual game - we have been conference foes for as long as I can recall - from its mid-to-late October perch to the Friday of Thanksgiving Weekend. Why? Because while the Buffs' colors are black and gold and the Huskers' colors are red and white, both universities are on the march relentlessly for green. Every year since the move was made, the game has been broadcast on national TV. National TV may not be a big deal if you are a certain small, religiously-affiliated school in Indiana and you have your own broadcasting network. But for the rest of the colleges in this country, whether they like it or not, television's cash is King and they are all just jesters in its court.

I say "mercifully" the game was moved after we had completed our time in Boulder because had it been played then as it is now, none of us would have seen the Buffs defeat the Huskers way back when in '86. All of us would have been home for Thanksgiving and would have watched the game on TV. CU is a school that attracts kids from all over the United States to its campus - and if you have ever seen Boulder, Colorado you would understand immediately both the origin and the dimension of the attraction. However, the downside to attracting so many kids from so many different places to your campus is that when school is not in session, the students in Boulder tend to scatter to the four corners of the Earth. Watching the Buffs play the Huskers in Folsom Field on Thanksgiving weekend is nice. Being home, sleeping in one's own bed, eating food prepared with love by someone not wearing a hairnet and having your laundry done without having to jam quarters into a machine and guarding against some frat tool removing your still-wet underwear and towels from the dryer in favor of his own is so much more than nice that it is an unfair comparison.

I for one never quite got how it served CU's interests in the long run to play a home game at the end of its season in which it ensured that at least half of the seats at Folsom Field would be occupied by fans flying its rival's colors. There is not a group of people on this planet who travel as faithfully and as relentlessly as do the University of Nebraska's football fans. They make the Bedouins look like homebodies. Truth be told, if you lived in Nebraska you too would probably pursue every opportunity to escape across the border to anywhere else as often as you could. Football affords the faithful just such an escape not fewer than one half-dozen times every Autumn. Only a fool would pass it up.

In the interests of full disclosure -and while it is easy as a CU fan to poke a bit of fun at the Husker faithful (Q.: What does the N stand for on Nebraska's helmets? A.: Nowledge.) - the Nebraska fans who I saw on at least a couple of occasions in Boulder during game week were among the nicest, most polite folks I have ever met. They are almost to a person very well-versed, intelligent football fans and while their school has had quite a bit more success on the gridiron than has my Alma mater, they were never anything but gracious in victory and (when the occasional upset happened) in defeat. They make excellent guests in your college's town when they come to visit because they travel in large numbers and they like to have fun (a/k/a "spend money") while they are there.

This may very well be the final CU-NU game for the foreseeable future. We have been conference foes for what seems like forever but effective the end of this season, we shall not be any longer. The Huskers are leaving the Big XII for the Big Ten while the Buffs are following the advice of Horace Greeley and heading West to what is now called the PAC-10 and shall be called (effective next season) the PAC-12.....unless some college administrators develop a sense of humor and concede that since it is a collegiate athletic conference it should be called the, "12 PAC". Whether we shall ever again play against NU as a conference foe I know not. I know though that if Coach Cabral and his kids can somehow spring the upset on the turf of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln today, then Ralphie will get one more chance to run this year.

After today, we shall no longer be conference foes. But at least for a while we had us some fun.

-AK

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gobble Gobble Gickel

If you awaken this morning to find that those you love and love care about not only feel the same way about you but are healthy and (allowing for the vagaries and uncertainties of our day-to-day and their relationship upon relativity) happy, then be thankful. I am.

If you awaken this morning and act upon the ability you possess, by doing something seemingly ordinary (such as helping someone less fortunate than you are this year by donating time, food or money to a local food bank or shelter) that is in the eyes and in the heart of the one receiving the benefit of your assistance nothing short of extraordinary, then be thankful. It is from small things that big things one day come.

This morning I am doing something that is almost wholly selfish before getting immersed into the family portion of the day. I am bopping on over to Princeton to run in the Trinity Church Turkey Trot. While I am not a religious man by any accepted definition of the term - and my relationship with God is well-documented in this space - I am bringing with me this morning what I imagine most of my fellow runners are bringing with them at the church's request, which is a non-perishable food item that the people from Trinity Church shall put to good use helping to feed those in their community who might otherwise not have the means to eat. I am doing nothing other than something I love to do for me, which is running in a race, and the event creates an opportunity to - with little to no effort on my part - do something for someone else. For this, I am thankful.

Whatever, whoever and wherever your family is, here is to hoping that today finds you in a place - whether geography separates you or connects you - where you are together. Whether we realize it or not, we accomplish much more when we are part of something bigger than we do when we are flying solo. You may not always see eye-to-eye. Hell, there may be times when you do not even like one another very much but at day's end, your "family" (and how you define it and populate is a decision that rests very much with each of us) is there for you - secure in the knowledge that you too are there for them. For this, we too should be thankful.

......and if you want to be thankful for your big brown shoe? Why not. It is Thanksgiving after all.

-AK

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Non-Viable Option

Today is - according to those in the know - the busiest travel day of the year. Apparently for many of us getting over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house requires us - as a first step - to fly from Point A to Point B....and perhaps Point C and beyond as well. I have neither flown nor been at an airport on the day prior to Thanksgiving since 1988. How am I so certain of my timeline? Simple. In the Fall of '88 I was in my final year at CU-Boulder (and yes, regardless of what mean things Jill says about me I did graduate in four years and yes I do put my degree in Political Science to good use every day....it makes a lovely serving tray). On Thanksgiving Eve I poked Horace Greeley in the eye, which was not as easy to do as one might think considering how long he had been dead, and went West to East.

Luckily for me, my travel plans were such that I flew from Stapleton Airport in Denver to Pittsburgh, chilled on the ground in P-Burgh for about an hour before heading south to Atlanta Georgia. Was the Kenny family celebrating the giving of thanks in a Southern clime that November? No. Hot-lanta was simply the travel equivalent of third base - my penultimate stop before flying north to Newark. All these years later I cannot recall whether the first thing I said to Mom upon arriving home on mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving was, "Happy Thanksgiving!" or, "Pass the stuffing!" but considering that dinner started while I was still somewhere over Philadelphia the latter would have been as timely as the former.

Today my travel will be limited to the trek north on 287 to the office in the morning's wee small hours and its companion leg south on 287 to the homestead at day's end. No flying for this boy, which may turn out to be a great thing for any number of reasons. It has been widely reported that today - on the year's busiest day to travel - a loosely organized protest shall take place at airports nationwide. While Hallmark may not have had time enough to print 1,000,000 cards to sell at $4.95 a pop, today is to be our first-ever "Opt-Out Day". Color me not enthralled (and if you are looking for it, that is the color located between blue-purple and burnt sienna in the 64-crayon box). And for good measure, add in not amused.

Far be it from me to make an argument about the non-intrusive nature of the recently implemented security measures courtesy of our friends at the TSA. Hell, the man who runs the agency has publicly conceded that whether one opts for a pat-down or for a trip through the full body scanner is the invasion of privacy equivalent of the old Far Side cartoon set in Hell where Satan says to the new arrivals, "Inferno or no inferno? Just kidding, they are all inferno." It seems to me though that the issue is not whether these procedures are intrusive and one that all of us wish we could avoid altogether. The issue - rather - is whether they are necessary.

We live in a world in which every public security/public safety issue is looked at through a set of commemorative post-September 11 sunglasses. Lest you think otherwise, while they are available in many styles they do not come in rose-colored. As someone who is not entrusted with the responsibility for trying to ensure that the millions of people who pass through this nation's airports every day - including those who enter the United States from a point of origin outside of our nation's borders - I cannot speak intelligently as to whether these measures are necessary and/or whether they are themselves the best methods available for providing a measure of security to everyone who flies. I can appreciate the fact however that the men and women who are entrusted with that responsibility have a responsibility that comes with a "no Mulligan" rule. The margin for error? Think razor-thin and now divide it in half. And half again. And half again. You get the idea.

I understand and empathize with the civil liberties folks on this issue as well. I saw the stories on the news this past weekend of fliers who were particularly humiliated by the pat-down process, including the flight attendant who was forced to remove her breast prosthesis by a TSA employee at the Charlotte North Carolina and the middle-aged man whose cancer has left him dependent on a catheter and whose pat-down search was so rough that it caused his urine bag to break and to spill urine on him and his clothes, which clothes he then was required to sit in while he flew to his destination - having already checked his luggage. There is a legitimate concern - heightened for those who are already battling one form of cancer or another - about the radiation levels generated by the full-body scanner, which may leave those folks no alternative but to subject themselves to a comprehensive pat-down. If the cure is worse than the disease, then we need to rethink the treatment course. It seems to me - however - that those rather drastic examples notwithstanding it is far too early to tell.

Today, in an effort to make their point while basically jamming a thumb in the eye of other people who are simply trying to make it to wherever they hope to spend Thanksgiving, people at airports nationwide shall "opt-out" of going through the full-body scanner and insist on being given the comprehensive pat-down. I saw a report on CBS News on Monday morning that the TSA estimates that while the full-body scan takes approximately ten seconds the comprehensive pat-down averages four minutes to complete. Two hundred and forty seconds versus ten seconds - multiplied by however many individuals in front of you at your airport's security checkpoint decide to join the movement. Suddenly for you and yours "Happy Thanksgiving" seems to be more of a hope than a certainty.

Among the many great things about this nation - and one for which we should all be happy on this Turkey Day - are our freedoms to speak, to assemble and to practice civil disobedience. I have more than a passing familiarity with the Constitution and the jurisprudence that has grown up around it these past couple of centuries and I would fight as fervently as the next man to uphold it and your rights and my rights as established by it. That being said, my long-deceased father used to be fond of cautioning me to stay away from, "Cutting your nose to spite your face." How doing something that really screws your fellow air travelers - and does nothing by the way to the folks on the ground for the TSA - does not fit squarely within the parameters of Dad's cautionary tale escapes me. Note to those who intend to opt-out: the men and women of the TSA who man the security checkpoints at the airport are not the ones trying to get through the terminal and to the gate to actually get on a plane. Unless they get paid by the person they inspect - as opposed to an hourly rate - methinks that they shall give not a rat's a** how long the process takes.

I have a hope that those who have threatened to christen the 2010 Holiday season as the one that sees the launch of "Opt-Out Day" think better of it and put their heads, their hearts and their voices to a more productive form of protest. I am happy that the decision of how to balance security with privacy is not mine to make. Both are important goals and marrying the two for purposes of this exercise is a mission of paramount importance to all of us - whether we ourselves are flying anywhere this Thanksgiving.

We all win when everybody wins. And we cannot all win when some of us opt out. The answer is not "out" there. It is in here somewhere. It is in the best interests of all of us to work together to find it.

Safe travels.....

-AK

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That Is Kotter With A K

It is said that for every problem there is a solution. I presume that to be true. Hell, my ability to earn a living is predicated upon my ability to - more often than not - fashion a solution to someone else' problem. A couple of weeks ago - in this very space - convinced that I had discovered the solution to my particular problem (a somewhat difficult to define feeling of distraction) I de-activated my access to Facebook. It seemed as if I had identified the itch and scratched the hell out of it.

Except I did not. Whatever the malaise is that has settled in my thought processes a bit lately and made me more prone to distraction, Mr. Zuckerberg's baby is not it. How did I figure that out? Simple. I lived the past couple of weeks without dealing with it as a potential source of distraction and am no more or less settled in my own head when I decided to cut it off. Whatever it is that is eating at me, it turns out that this is not it. The investigation continues I suppose.

Glad to be here for this thrilling voyage of self-discovery; huh? It is scintillating stuff I know. Something to occupy your time now that Dancing With The Stars is wrapped up for another go-round. The benefit to this particular decision - presuming there is one? I have undone something stupid and unintentionally thoughtless that I did two weeks ago. Without giving it any thought, I pulled the plug on a line of communication that the westernmost part of the family had to me and to life back home. I must confess that I had given that no thought at all either prior to dropping out or while I was off the grid. Until last Friday that is when Rob sent me a text message asking essentially, "Where are you?" and when being told what I had done, asking me why I did it and in response seeming completely underwhelmed by the "logic" underpinning my answer. The best thing about having children who are every inch their mother's handiwork is that it ensures in our family of four there are always three people smarter than I am from whom to get advice. Thanks Rob.

For all I know, the current bout of innate mental unrest is wholly and completely unrelated to anything specific at all. And for all I know, it will pass with as little fanfare as it arrived. Me? My participation in the world of FB shall be no greater - and probably even less - than it was prior to my hiatus. In the first forty-three plus years of my life, I have never brightened a room by entering it. I take on faith that the same rules apply in the virtual world as they do in the real world.

I brought a note signed by Epstein's mother just in case......

-AK

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Road Ahead

Forty-seven years ago today a Presidential motorcade rode into Dealey Plaza in Dallas and everything changed. At or about the same time as the echo of an assassin's bullets faded into history, Camelot did as well. Forty-seven years ago.

I was reminded yesterday of the difficulty associated with keeping same - and protecting - those one loves. While the Missus and I were in 'Squan trotting with the rest of the turkeys and thereafter celebrating the day's events at Leggett's, Suz was dealing with some far less exciting issues. A couple of days ago she thought that she might very well be in THE relationship. Saturday she found out she was not.

The heart - even when broken - has incredible resiliency. Suz's is not different from yours or mine in that regard. Except for present purposes in one very important way: hers is the one that has broken. Hers therefore is the one in need of recovery and in need of healing. While in her head she knows that healing will come in time, in her heart for present purposes she is less than certain.

The Father's Guide Book does not come with directions about how to fix everything that adversely impacts your daughter. If only it did. Or better yet - if it came with instructions for how to keep her safe from life's heartaches and travails altogether. Unfortunately it does not. We are left therefore to do what we can to protect our 'little girls' with our own limited means and abilities. And for the too-many-to-count occasions on which our best is not good enough to keep them safe from harm, then all we can do is offer consolation and encouragement. We do so knowing that she knows that we have little else we can do for her in her time of need. And she accepts our offer knowing that it does precious little to salve the wound. The circle of Life? I have no damn idea. It certainly does seem that way.

The past couple of days have been tough ones for Suz. She does not believe yet herself - having invested a couple of years and all of her heart into something that has now broken - that better days are coming although they most certainly are. It is the path to be walked between now and then that shall challenge, frustrate and at times sadden her. And try as I may there is not a damn thing to be done about it. Life is not a problem that Dad can fix......

....she will see soon enough that it is one that fixes itself. Much like her heart, it is self-healing.

-AK

Sunday, November 21, 2010

At the Top of the Stretch

As of right now, the long-range forecast for the long (indicative of both the number of days that comprise it and how a lot of folks feel after spending time in closer-than-usual contact with various members of one's family) Thanksgiving weekend for us here 'NTSG is cold and clear. Was my sigh of relief audible just now? I am going to be doing a fair amount of running over the weekend - trotting like a turkey in Princeton on Thanksgiving morning, wishing that I had in fact been born to run in Freehold on Friday and channeling my inner Brian Fallon on Sunday and being nothing short of a sissified ninny I prefer not to run in the rain. Cold? Not a problem. Rain? Not so much.

Actually, however, in what I know will be classified as an upset, my principal reason for keeping my fingers crossed (thus excusing any typos) is that my bride has quite a shindig scheduled for Friday night. Margaret is Middlesex High School Class of 1980 (Go Blue Jays!) and has organized this year's reunion: the Big 3-0. Honoring our mutual commitment to not attend one another's reunions I shall be accompanied by Ian Anderson on the flute as I sit this one out. Besides, I already know two of Margaret's classmates and am very fond of both of them. I would hate to ruin my spotless record with the Class of '80, which I could very well do if required to encounter them en masse. Thank you but no.

Apparently when people put together reunions they form committees. For the 25th reunion my class just had in October, the laboring oar was manned (or womanned as it were) by Karen with a hearty assist by Lee. The rest of us? We paid our money and showed up where Karen and Lee told us to show up.

For Margaret's class, the "committee" looks quite a lot like the beautiful woman to whom I am married. I have a very distinct recollection of way back when in the Spring she first agreed to get involved in this being told that there was going to be some sort of collaborative effort undertaken. It has not shaken out that way at all. Instead she has knocked herself out arranging for the location - including the menu, the entertainment, the decorations and even some gifts/prizes for her fellow alums. It has turned out to be quite a massive undertaking. Apparently my understanding that 98.7% of all people born here 'NTSG live here until death has been erroneous. Who knew? Quite a few of her classmates have busted out and moved away - and by that I mean to points further away on the horizon line than the Brooks (Green or Bound). Margaret has channeled her inner Brenda Lee Johnson to locate people all over the state, the country and - in the case of at least two of her fellow '80 Jays - overseas.

She awakens this morning staring squarely at the home stretch. By this time next weekend, all of this will be a memory.....and if history is any guide so shall 98.7% of her classmates until six months prior to their 35th reunion. While I suppose a better person would root for one and all to have a good time, unless this is your first visit to this particular rodeo you are painfully aware of the fact that a better person does not receive his mail at this address. I am both selfish and biased. My principal rooting interest for Friday night is that Margaret has a great time. She has most certainly earned it. Free piece of unsolicited advice to any of her former school mates who attends and who has a bone to pick about any part of the evening's festivities: forward your gripes to me. I can assure you that they will get my full and undivided attention. Keeping in the spirit of the "holiday season", feel free to file that under, "Be Careful For What You Wish".

I am sure that all will come off without a hitch. My wife is simply not programmed to fail. She is most assuredly my favorite human being. She is more than that however. She is amazing. She cannot help it. It is just the way she is.

-AK

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tie Knotting & Turkey Trotting

I presume by now you have seen the news as I have regarding the pending nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I am about the least culturally aware person I know so as a good rule of thumb, I presume that if something has actually popped into my mind's eye it has previously done so for the rest of the world. It must be nice to be the father of a bride who marries into a royal family. I presume (and perhaps I should not) that it permits Daddy Dearest to get off of the hook for paying for the shindig. Right? It should anyway. It also strikes me as unusual that when your daughter grows up to marry a Prince, there is no debate as to whose name she takes. She simply loses a last name together. Add a title, lose a surname. Not a bad gig if you can get it I reckon.

Young William - who is really not too terribly young (both he and Kate are 28 - I think) - has demonstrated some interesting style thus far - at least as seen through the prism of my admittedly nowhere near rose-colored glasses - in terms of the planning of this event. Apparently the two are going to be married at some point in 2011. Perhaps since he has selected the 30th anniversary of the year in which his parents tied the knot, he can persuade Kate to exchange vows on what would have been their 30th wedding anniversary......had they not imploded well short of reaching the halfway point. While I understand the whole maternal devotion thing and how much William loves and misses his mother - Princess Diana, is it just me or does anyone else think that giving the engagement ring that his father gave to his mother is NOT the best way to say, "You and Me Forever!" to his beloved?

While Will and Kate are spending their Saturday celebrating their "newly engaged" status, several thousand of us are descending upon the streets of Manasquan for the Twenty-Eighth Annual Turkey Trot. This is only the second annual one of these events for me and once again this year I will share the streets of 'Squan with the aunt/niece dynamic duo of Gidg and Liv. I think that this year we have recruited one of our younger members of Sue's Crew - Ryan - to run as well. I mean not to jinx us but if the weather holds we could end up this year as we did last year with a simply gorgeous late November Saturday on which to run. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy. It is as if Goldilocks went to school to study meteorology.

Manasquan is among my favorite places to run. First, much like the top of my head it is pancake flat. I enjoy running in any town where a curb constitutes a significant change in elevation. Second, it always seems to me whenever I race in Manasquan that everyone in the town is located in one of two places during the race: on the road running with me or on the side of the road cheering on the runners as we pass. Last year, between the third and fourth mile (we turkeys trot for five miles) there was an impromptu relief station set up in front of one home presumably by the people who lived there where a runner - if he or she stopped - was rewarded not with ice cold water or Gatorade but with freshly poured beer....and a hearty salute from those manning the station before he or she continued onward to the finish line.

After the race ends, in all likelihood the entire race-day population of the town (including interlopers like the Missus and me) will migrate to one of Manasquan's local watering holes to imbibe a few adult-like beverages and regale one another with stories of our epic achievement. At least the first half of that sentence is true. All things considered, it is a hell of a nice way to spend a Saturday and coming as it does at the start of the weekend that leads into the week that leads to Thanksgiving, it is a truly cool kickoff to the Turkey Day festivities....

....and a damn sight easier than planning a royal wedding.

-AK

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Downing of the Sopwith Camel

At least that appears to be the case for a baker's dozen of Charlie Brown's Restaurants whose apparently indiscriminate placement across the topography of the State of Concrete Gardens tended to make New Jersey in the morning look like a lunar landscape. As of the Ides of November (no one actually calls November 15 "The Ides of November" but why should March have all the fun?), thirteen of the eateries were suddenly and unexpectedly shuttered by the company that owns them. Not that having a stated reason for closing without warning would have had done anything for the psyche of the good folks who earned their daily bread in one of them or for the grumbling bellies of prospective customers who consumed their daily bread...and salad......and prime rib in one of them.

Monday proved to be simply a preview of what was to come - an appetizer if you will. On Wednesday, five more locations were closed in a similarly stealthy fashion. No word as to whether the owners will purchase my suggested slogan for what remains of their business, "Charlie Brown's - The Magic is Back! We Are Making our Restaurants Disappear!" although I do not hold out much hope. That slogan in its original, uncorrupted form did not work very well for the New York Mets in the late 70's/early 80's.

I know not whether Margaret has yet broken the news to Joe. The Greenbrook Charlie Brown's was one of her parents' favorite places to eat out for while it was nothing particularly fancy or spectacular it was a reliable source of good food at reasonable prices. Suzy B and Joe liked everything about it - from the self-serve salad bar to the bigger than Joe's head desserts - and while it has never been among my favorites, I used to enjoy going there with them to watch my mother-in-law do something that she rarely ever did in any setting: relax.

I am not entirely certain but I think either the final time we ate there was Joe's birthday in March (although that might have been the penultimate trip). I have a couple of photos I took of the birthday boy enjoying his hot fudge sundae while Margaret and I sang him, "Happy Birthday". It is impossible to look at Joe with that child-like joy in his eyes, simply taking in and enjoying the evening, without smiling. I smiled just now writing about it.

The heroes who run the company that owns Charlie Brown's were full of positive-sounding bluster after Monday's closings, making vague promises to help those who were suddenly jobless - having in some cases showed up for work on Monday only to be greeted by a sign declaring to the world that their place of employment no longer existed - find jobs at other, still viable locations. After Wednesday's sleight of hand no such nonsense came down from the corporate mountaintop. Methinks that some of my legal brethren might be interested in exploring whether the boys in the corporate office complied with state and federal laws known as the WARN Acts.

Sadly, I would be willing to wager that at day's end the now former employees are going to find out themselves what it feels like to be Charlie Brown - a kind soul for whom the simple acting of trying to kick a football turned out to be a nightmare....

....all because the document was never notarized. A word not worth the paper it is printed on.

-AK

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pending Patton

2011 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year; huh? In case you missed it, I have decided - likely against my better judgment and the wise counsel of anyone who has a brain occupying the space in their head currently marked "For Rent" in mine - to run a marathon. On May 1, 2011 I shall participate for the first time in the New Jersey Marathon, which begins and ends in Long Branch. Why this marathon? Why any marathon at all? Fair questions - both of them. I have opted for my home state's marathon as my maiden voyage at 26.2 miles because I am a Jersey boy and it is very close to home (I can get from Middlesex to Long Branch in less than an hour......driving time of course). I figure that if I need emergent medical attention, I will end up in a hospital with which I have at least a passing familiarity. If I die, Margaret can simply have them roll me out onto the beach, light me ablaze and then scatter my ashes over the ocean....or pour them into an empty Coke bottle, whichever is easier and less stressful for her.

I suppose that a downside to entering the New Jersey Marathon for me is that it does take place on May Day. I will have to remember to call specifically for "Help!" and not to shout out, "Mayday! Mayday!" to minimize the chance of some quasi-imbecilic spectator confusing my call for help for a calendar update. While saying the following requires one to embrace to the point of strangulation Professor Einstein's proclamations about all things relative, I am presently in the best shape of my adult life. I have already printed up my training plan off of the same site (www.marathonrookie.com) that I used to prepare for the Half Marathon at Rutgers last April. Presently, I presume I possess the physical ability to run a marathon and that I possess the modicum of common sense necessary to follow and to adhere to the training plan. I suppose that I will find out for certain at some point in the early afternoon hours of May 1, 2011 whether that I am right on both counts or not. For those keeping score at home, if on May 2, 2011 this space is either vacant or contains something authored by someone other than me, then you will have your own independent confirmation of the correctness of my presumptions.

When I trained for the Rutgers Half-Marathon last year, I kept posted on my computer at work and on my refrigerator at home a quote of George S. Patton - helpfully identified on the marathonrookie.com site as a WW II General and a 1912 Olympian, which quote I have already taped to my computer in preparation for May's adventure. Patton said, "Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."

Pretty heady stuff courtesy of Ol' George; eh? Now all I have to do is find a pair of size 9 1/2 Asics running shoes for my mind and I shall be home free.

-AK

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Upside of Early to Bed

I am quite confident that those folks who earn their daily coin in the world of advertising and in television are thankful each and every day that their ability to earn what they earn is not entirely dependent on penetrating my super thick skull cap. Whether it is age, ignorance, ambivalence or a perfectly blended cocktail of all of the above I know not. I know simply that the more I see the more I come to comprehend the fact that the target audience and I bear no resemblance to one another.

Case in point is the apparent resurrection of Conan O'Brien. I must confess that I had completely forgotten that (a) he had hosted the Tonight Show on NBC; (b) he had been off of television for some period of time after losing the Tonight Show to (back to) Jay Leno; and (c) he has a profile that looks to humans the way Nevada appears from space to the astronauts until I saw promos on TBS a couple of weeks back for his late-night television show. I know from seeing those promos that the show airs at 11:00 p.m. Eastern time and I know from watching the Yankees on TBS during the recently-concluded baseball playoffs that TBS is either 245 or 247 on Direct TV. I know nothing else at all about his show. Well, I do know that unless the same team of wild horses I waited for in vain to drag me in front of my set to watch him on the Tonight Show finally appears I will watch the same number of these broadcasts as I did of those broadcasts. Without giving away the answer, think of a really, really, really small number. Now, divide it by 2. Again. If the number you came up with is something greater than zero, then you are wrong.

I am sure that he is a nice fellow - as I am reasonably confident that David Letterman, Jay Leno, George Lopez, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel and whoever Jimmy Fallon is are all nice fellows also. I am an early-morning riser and while I watch none of their programs ever I am confident in reporting that none of them ever has aired something that dictated me staying up until past my bedtime to watch. And I am equally confident saying that none ever shall. Candidly, since Johnny Carson retired from the Tonight Show close to two decades ago, I have not watched any "late night television". Once upon a time, before there were 8,000,000 television networks/channels and every one of them had its own talk/entertainment programming, it probably made sense to have a broadcast network platform for a singer, actor, athlete to appear and promote his or her latest and greatest. Now? Not so much.

I have no idea how Leno does in the ratings vis-a-vis Letterman or how well or not Conan O'Brien does in comparison to either of them. I remain fascinated from afar at just how much mileage O'Brien appears to have been able to get out of the manner in which NBC "screwed" him. I vaguely recall reading somewhere that to go away, NBC had to pay O'Brien something in excess of $32 Million. No one has ever offered me $32 Million to do anything and even fewer people have ever offered me $32 Million to NOT do something. Please forgive me if I seem to be unable to generate actual, substantial empathy for Mr. O'Brien. But for $32 Million I would have been amenable to going away - even further away than TBS.

I doubt that the whole cadre of Chilean miners who spent more than two months trapped beneath ground would have earned 10% of that amount of money collectively for the rest of their lives for their work in the mine. Now of course that they have survived an incredible ordeal they have the chance to earn some righteous non-mine money. Given that they all were literally buried under ground whereas O'Brien was only figuratively so still makes it seem more than slightly unfair - at least from my perspective. Especially for the wannabe Romeo on the mining crew whose wife found out about his extra-marital hi jinks while he was trapped beneath the Earth's surface. Captain Smooth might be the only one out of that entire crew who is actually looking forward to the chance to to back in the mine. It is safer for him down there than it is up here.

If you are someone who mourned the absence of Conan O'Brien from your airwaves these past however many months he was off of them, then I hope his return is all that you had hoped it would be. If and when they start putting something worth watching back on TV late at night - such as repeats of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, then feel free to wake me up to watch. Unless and until that happens, ask Conan and the rest of the boys to keep it down. Some of us are trying to sleep. We have to get up early for work.

-AK

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Like A Shot Straight Through The Heart

I write a lot. I spend a small portion of every day writing. One could hope that repetition leads to honing and sharpening of a particular skill but I remain less than confident of that fact. Irrespective of the amount of "Practice! Practice! Practice!" I put in, I remain unable to see Carnegie Hall from where I live.

My handicap is not one that is shared by everyone who writes a lot apparently. Today is the day on which the rather enormous box set "The Promise" is being released by a New Jersey musician who has managed to cobble together a little bit of a career for himself with his original compositions. There are many treasures to be unearthed in this collection - I assure you - and for Springsteenphiles such as my brother Bill is and such as I am (this abbreviated list of names is intended to be illustrative and not exhaustive), the unearthing process shall be a labor of love. In this brave new world of music, the previously unreleased audio tracks (22 in all) have been available for a free on-line listen from sources as diverse as NPR (although they apparently did not fire Juan Carlos Williams over his reported, "Springsteen? Are you f***king kidding me?" comment in response to NPR's free stream), Rolling Stone and Spinner for the past several weeks.

Having immersed myself in all of the free Springsteen I could get my ears on these past few weeks I was reminded just how good he is at expressing himself - but not merely for himself. The gift lies in his ability to speak not only in the voice of one but in a voice that is both portable and transportable. A voice available to save the ass of a wretch such as me. A voice available to me to say that which I otherwise would screw up attempting to say on my own.

Too many times to count I screw things up in my day-to-day. And being my father's son most of my mistakes and miscues are registered on the home front and not in the work place. I can at times raise ineptitude to dizzying, almost stratospheric heights. And far too often it takes me far too long to (a) recognize the problem; and (b) do what should be done to rectify it. Eventually, I muddle through to the solution on my own irrespective of how long it takes to get there.

Every once in a while however a little divine guidance appears above the horizon line. One of the songs that did not make the "cut" for inclusion on Darkness on the Edge of Town back in the day is one of the songs that absolutely leaped through the speakers to me the first time I heard it. You can read in any of a number of sources Springsteen discussing his fear - which manifested itself into a reluctance - to write love songs on his first several records. He simply did not do it. However, by the time the calendar page flipped from the 1970's to the 1980's he had developed a knack for it and as of this point in his career has written too many exceptional songs about love, romance and relationships between actual grown-ups to catalog here. But buried among the nuggets on this collection is a remarkable little piece of music - less than three minutes from start to finish - that reveals the existence of a gift long before he took it public.

I dare you....No wait. I double dog dare you (if we are going to play the game then let us play for keeps; right) to think of the woman or man in your life who you love the most, listen to "Save My Love" and not know before the last words from the first verse have been sung that you are listening to someone describe exactly how you feel.....in words and in sentiment that you wish you possessed yourself. I know that I cannot.

Hold me in your arms and our doubts won't break us.
If we open up our hearts, love won't forsake us.
Let's let the music take us and carry us home.

Home. That place where one's heart resides.....

and a pretty damn fine place to be.

-AK

Monday, November 15, 2010

MacGyver's Alarm Clock

Margaret is as handy as I am not. In the almost two decades we have been together one of us has asked for - and received - a number of handyman tools for Christmas. I am not the one.

I loathe change. A lot of people do not like it. I take it to a new and entirely different level. I will do whatever I can to resist it. In retrospect I should have realized that my level of enmity that I have for all things different likely would have doomed my move from one end of Parsippany Road to the other even if I had not hated the gig from the moment I arrived there.

For as long as I can remember I have awakened to the sound of the same alarm clock. Once upon a lifetime ago I purchased it at some now-defunct retailer (Caldor's or Bradlee's) for a ridiculously low amount of money for my parsimony knows no bounds. I have had it at least since my junior year of college. It has awakened me in the Mountain Time Zone and in the Eastern Time Zone. For years it aroused me out of too many drunken stupors to count during (principally) my bachelor days. It has for years without fail awakened me at 3:00 a.m. six days a week. It has faithfully served me both at home and on the road on the rare occasion when I travel. It not only provides its own distinctive alarm bell but it answers the bell.

Given how faithfully it has served me it should come as no surprise that when I was awakened Sunday morning by the other reliable pre-dawn alarm in our house (one of our animals shrieking for no discernible reason), reflexively reached over to turn off my alarm clock and discovered that the alarm button was broken, I was horrified. Only a couple of days removed from saying goodbye to T, I was not in the mood to be face to face with having to replace yet another invaluable member of my support team. It was as if the wheels were coming off the wagon completely.

I fought through my depression to go grocery shopping. All the while through the aisles of the A&P at least part of my focus was fixed on the next errand of the day: replacing Old Reliable. I was not looking forward to it for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that I have no confidence that my model alarm clock is still available for purchase.

However while I was at the grocery store, Margaret was channeling her inner MacGyver. Using an array of tools and gadgets that was as unlikely as it was diverse, Margaret managed to coax at least one more morning's work out of my beloved alarm clock. I think the technical term for what she did is called, "glue the plastic pocket tab from the clicky pencil to the bottom side of the alarm button on the clock."

That may be the technical term for what she did but the better description for what she did is perform a miracle. It may be a reflection of the far-flung scope of my mental illness but I smiled this morning when my alarm went off. Welcome back old friend. Welcome back.

-AK

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Absence and Fondness

I have two pronounced rooting interests in college sports: my Alma mater and my hometown team. While the two compete in athletic conferences geographically far removed from one another and rarely encounter one another in any sport, yesterday afternoon my two favorite universities had something in common. Kind of, sort of anyway.

Earlier this week in the foothills of Boulder the Dan Hawkins Era as Head Coach of the football team came to an arguably overdue, indisputably abrupt end. Coach Hawkins was fired with three games remaining in what had been his fifth season as the man in charge of the Buffaloes. To his credit, while he was certainly disappointed in the way his course in Boulder was ultimately plotted, on his way out of town he kept his head up, accepted responsibility for his own demise, thanked those who had presented him the opportunity to coach at CU for doing so and begged the home fans to show up in droves to support the kids on the team during these final couple of weeks of the season.

I read quite a bit on-line in the Boulder newspaper, The Daily Camera, this week from individuals who identified themselves as a CU alum and/or a CU fan who declared that in honor of change at the top of the coaching staff they were going to do something they had not intended to do: attend the second-to-last home game of the 2010 season. Yesterday's game was not close to a sell out and having had the chance to watch at least some of it on TV it gave me pause momentarily to contemplate just how empty Folsom Field would have looked had their been two Hawkinses wearing the home team's black and gold instead of just the one who was: the senior quarterback Cody.

It was nice to hear the home crowd cheering for the kids who were out there on the field trying their hardest to represent the University - even if some of those present still harbor the delusion that our now former coach was the personification of evil in Boulder County. To be clear for those of you who have a comprehension problem, let me make it simple for you. This son of a bitch IS the personification of evil in Boulder County. This man is not. And it was especially nice to see that for this particular afternoon anyway one Hawkins was all that the Buffs needed to win the game.

Yesterday on the banks of the old Rar-i-tan the home team came home for the first time since the life-altering injury sustained by Eric LeGrand. While it seems as if it was a lifetime ago, it was in fact only a month ago that Eric was injured - during RU's October 16 game against Army. Rutgers won that afternoon to raise its record to 4-2. In the thirty days since they have played three times - including yesterday. Their record now stands at 4-5. It is starting to look more and more as if the Rutgers renaissance that Coach Schiano has orchestrated the past half-dozen seasons is going to take a bit of a step back this season. A fact that is of course not lost on the folks here in the State of Concrete Gardens.

Not only has the football team felt the loss of Eric LeGrand, the entire university has been touched by his plight. It was evident at the Stadium yesterday in the impossible-to-count number of people who wore the special t-shirts that have been created to honor him. And it was evident to anyone watching on television who saw the enormous banner that was unfurled across the back wall of an end zone, which banner actually functioned as the largest "Get Well" card I have ever seen (and one that I hope is hand-delivered for I would not want to be responsible for the postage). That card was signed by countless thousands of people including his teammates and friends and - of course - many who have never met him but are nonetheless moved by what has befallen the LeGrand family. The outpouring of love and affection that the Rutgers family has provided to the LeGrand family, while prompted by the most tragic of circumstances, has nevertheless been beautiful to watch.

On the field, this autumn has quickly dissolved into a season of discontent for RU. From a football perspective, their troubles have far more to do with a brutal, almost unwatchable offense than the loss of one of their emotional and inspirational leaders. But from a human perspective, one cannot accurately measure just how much his absence is felt by his teammates. Even young, hearty, athletic kids with strong backs and broad shoulders can carry only so much weight without bowing. This autumn it seems from afar as if Eric's teammates have exceeded their carrying capacity.

If life was even a reasonable facsimile of an event grounded in fundamental fairness, then yesterday in Boulder Colorado a football coach in the midst of his fifth straight successful season would have led his team - quarterbacked by his son - onto Folsom Field and yesterday in Piscataway, New Jersey a rugged defensive and special teams stalwart would have done likewise at Rutgers Stadium. Life is not only not fair but at times it is downright cruel.

-AK

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Never Ending Story

At the risk of popping my AC joint attempting to pat myself on the back, in my life experience I have encountered scant few other humans who I cannot and do not outwork on a regular basis. It is in the genes I reckon. Dad made little to no attempt to take care of himself yet he worked in a fashion akin to a whirling dervish. He could not run from here to the end of this sentence and yet he worked practically everyone he knew into a pile of ash around him. Me? I figured that I could add some longevity to the model if I at least acted as if I gave a rat's ass about taking care of myself. So far, so good. Then again, considering that I am now merely the age Dad was when I was born, it may be too soon to know for sure.

Among the other members of the human population who actually can make me feel like a slacker in terms of work is my brother-in-law Joe. I must confess that I bring to the debate a very pro-Joe bias. I have known him for what seems like forever. He and Jill have been married twenty-three years (and as her little brother I can throw in the obligatory "I'm sure it seems longer than that" crack). I have known him since the two of them started dating, which was way back when in high school. All three of us are CU-Boulder graduates. While I have only over the years met his two sisters on a couple of occasions, I have had the pleasure of seeing his parents on an infrequent but regular basis throughout the time I have known Joe. Whoever coined the phrase about apples landing on ground in close proximity to the tree from whence they came did so after meeting them. Of that, I am confident.

The entirety of the time that I have known my brother-in-law he has been immersed shoulder deep in "the family business", which for the past ninety-one years for the Christen family has been Lahiere's Restaurant in Princeton. To call Lahiere's an institution would be to engage in understatement. In a town steeped in tradition, Lahiere's has been a fixture for close to a century. While it is historic, it is not dated. Rather it has been a testament to the manner in which this particular family tends to its business that it has successfully kept one eye on its history to recall readily the steps it has taken to get where it is while keeping the other on the road ahead to always pay attention to where it wants and needs to go. Not easy to do. Yet something that Joe has faithfully and tirelessly done for years.

Today marks the end of an era in Princeton, in the restaurant business and in the Christen family. Last month, Joe sold the building that has housed his business for all these years and on this very night, the restaurant that has given him life while extracting its inevitable toll in return will be open for business one final time. There are few people I know - and I daresay that I will ever know - who have earned the right to sleep through their alarm tomorrow more than my brother-in-law Joe. I hope he does. I hope he takes the "vacation" he mentioned here. Methinks I will flip him a copy of our Alma mater's home football schedule for 2011 on the off chance that we can get paroled on the same weekend. Perhaps we can go West to Boulder to watch the Buffs (and whoever their new coach shall be) play? Hmmm......

A toast to Joe, to Jill and to their family on what is most assuredly a day of swirling and conflicting emotions. A toast to all that you have done and all that you shall yet do. If history is any guide, then while the destination is presently a mystery here is to wishing that the journey is a success. The road never ends. It is merely the view out of the car window that changes.

-AK

Friday, November 12, 2010

The View From a T Intersection

Life is the original unscripted drama. You may think or believe you have a handle on all that is going on around you and while perhaps occasionally - or even often - that is true, it most assuredly is not so 100% of the time. For each of us a certain percentage of our day-to-day is devoted to dealing with things, situations or scenarios (the verbiage employed is yours to choose freely) that have leaped out of the tall grass on the side of the life path we have chosen in an attempt to bite us on the ass. The bites will come. They are unavoidable. The trick is being able to limit the blood loss.

I am where I have spent the overwhelming majority of my professional life for what is fast approaching thirteen years. I recognize the fact that this time was not without its interruption, which is how I refer to my four-month hiatus during the winter of Aught-Nine (also known by its Nicholas Sparks' working title, Winter at the Reservoir). I am now roughly eighteen months into my second tour of duty.

During the time I have been here - and even during the time I was away as I spent that brief period of time working with my pal Gracie - I have been fortunate to have had a secretary/assistant (Hallmark never sends me the memo with the updated job titles) whose numerous skills include keeping her boss from committing malpractice. I have been even more fortunate that during the past ten years or so, I have had exactly two women who have worked with me in that capacity. Margaret can attest to the fact that I am a complete prick of misery to deal with on a day in/day out basis. Candidly there are times that I think she thinks "but for" the legalities of our relationship she would seriously consider viewing me through her rear-view mirror. Yet since in or about June of 2001, the critically important role of secretary/assistant/fire putter-outer has been filled by only two different individuals. While each has her own style and her own way of doing things, the results achieved are remarkably similar.

Relationships however, much like milk, cottage cheese (and everything that is not a Twinkie I suppose) have a shelf life. And part of that shelf life is an expiration date. If you have not been paying particularly close attention, then the expiration date might sneak right up on you without you realizing it. Trust me on this point, I know of which I speak. One day you wake up and.....well, one day you wake up and you are at the expiration date.

It was once written, "If the decision were mine to make and time were mine to tether, I snap a picture of this moment now and freeze this frame forever." Alas, it was not. And with a more than a touch of sadness, and in full recognition of my own limitations, I know that I cannot.

All good things come to an end they say. I know not who "they" are, but I had long suspected that there is more than a kernel of truth inherent in it. I no longer suspect it. Today I am face to face with it. I see and therefore I believe. I had long known that this day would come. I only recently was made aware of the fact that "this" day would in fact be this very day. And in what the world at large likely considers an upset, the timing of it all has left me with little knowledge of what to say. Perhaps keeping it simple is best.

Good-bye and good luck, T. And even more than that - Thanks. You shall be missed. And remembered well.....

.....May the road always rise to meet you.

-AK

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playing For Keeps

If professional football is a sport you follow, then you most assuredly have a favorite team. For as long as I can remember I have rooted passionately for the New York Giants. Kara and I were in the building when Joe Pisarcik fumbled away a certain victory against the Eagles. Russ and I were there when Flipper Anderson caught the game-winning TD in overtime for the Rams in the playoffs, ending yet another Giants season prematurely. I was also there for the Divisional Playoff Game the year they won their first Super Bowl when Jim Burt hit Joe Montana so hard that they needed a spatula to remove poor Montana from the playing surface. And I was there with Mike way back when - in LT's rookie season - when on a frigid Saturday in December the Giants had to beat Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys just to have a shot to earn a wild-card playoff slot and they did, making the Cowboys wear the blue jerseys they hated so much, when Joe Danelo nailed one from long range in OT. When you are a football fan you root for your team through good times and through bad. As a Giants fan, I have seen more than my share of both and I am certain that countless more examples of both ends of the spectrum shall follow.

I have never been a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. I do not root against the Vikings although I find their quarterback to be equal parts egomaniac and charlatan and I root hard against him with every fiber of my being. I know that their coach is Brad Childress. Coach Childress is a man who I must confess until Monday evening I most readily associated with being the fellow who each summer for the past two has been Favre's driver when the Lord of the Bayou decides to un-retire and play NFL football for "just one more season". Since no one who cashes a check written on one of the Vikings' accounts seems to mind that Favre's epiphany occurs annually on the day that the team concludes its pre-season training camp, then decency demands that I not fake giving a rat's ass either.

Monday night I was flipping around the dial and I came across a story on one of the ESPN channels that totally caused me to rethink the manner in which I think about Brad Childress. Coach Childress is something far more significant than an NFL coach. He is the father of one of our United States Marines currently serving this nation in Afghanistan. His son - who is all of 21 - is the "Point" for his unit. According to the piece that means that Andrew Childress spends a lot of his time as the first guy in the group on foot patrols charged with the responsibility of checking for Improvised Explosive Devices (known as an "IED" to those who it is designed to maim and to kill). The piece on ESPN focused on two remarkable men: Childress father and son - and a simply incredible meeting that the pair had when Coach Childress was part of a group of coaches who went to Afghanistan this past summer as part of a USO tour.

The few moments you spend today watching the video of this story will do nothing to you or for you. Nothing except perhaps warm your heart a bit. Nothing except make your chest swell with pride when you see the type of men and women who serve in this nation's armed forces. Nothing except make your eyes well up with tears when you get to sneak a glimpse at the bond between a young man who is a hero and his father who is equal parts proud of him and terrified for him. You might spend time better today than the several minutes you spend watching this piece. But then again, you most likely shall not. And you know what? There is nothing in the world wrong with you if you do not.

Watching it on Monday night reminded me of a poem that was read aloud at the Race honoring Lt. Dennis Zilinski II on Sunday morning. It is a poem entitled, "The Veteran":

It is the VETERAN, not the preacher
who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the VETERAN, not the reporter,
who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the VETERAN, not the poet,
who has given us the freedom of speech.

It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer,
who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer,
who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the VETERAN, not the politician,
who has given us the right to vote.

It is the VETERAN who salutes the Flag.

It is the VETERAN who serves under the Flag.

And all of us are all the better for their service, for which we owe them our gratitude not simply today but every day. Thanks to my brother Bill, to Margaret's Uncle Andy Bozzomo, whose name appears on the list of names at the World War II Memorial of those who served, to Margaret's Great Uncle Pat Barbato, whose name appears on the list of names at the World War II Memorial of those who died in combat, to my Uncle John who fought in Korea, to my Uncle Jim who guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, to Jill and Joe's great friend from college "Hanklin" Gonzales, to my law school classmate Tom Roughneen, to my law partner George Hanley, to my paralegal Ron Quinlan, to Doc Levine and to all who served with all of them. Thanks as well to all who serve today. Each of you is a remarkable human being, whether or not you realize it. Perhaps recognition of that fact rests not with you but with the rest of us.

And perhaps if we have not yet done so previously, then doing so starting today seems to me to be a damn fine idea.

-AK

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

His Fate Decided

It must be uncomfortable. It must be a singularly horrible feeling. The feeling that your die has been cast. The sense that your fate has been sealed. The knowledge that there is indeed a pale horse coming and you, you shall be the one riding upon it. You cannot see it. You are not entirely certain that you can hear it. Yet you know it is coming. It is tumbling out of the sky above you, hurtling towards the ground as it prepares to drop. The dreaded other shoe.

At the end of the 2005 college football season my Alma mater fired its head coach. Gary Barnett had achieved a fair amount of success during his time as the man-in-charge in Boulder but he also had his name associated with a fair amount of unflattering and, candidly, unsavory stories. Sad to say - but perhaps par for the course in big-time college sports - when the Buffs were hanging 62 points on Nebraska and playing on New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl, little was said about anything other than the wins and losses. But in the 2005 Big XII Championship Game when Texas hung 70 points on CU (and it could have been 100 but for the mercy shown by Mack Brown) and the Buffs were playing in the Pizza Hut/Car Quest/Squeegee Town Hamburger Bun Bowl in East Bum F*ck New Mexico on Boxing Day, the University's attention focused a bit more sharply on what was happening off of the field. It is all about wins and losses in college sports. If you do not believe me, then ask any coach who has not earned enough of the former while absorbing too many of the latter. You can probably find him or her doing TV or radio commentary somewhere.

By the time the Barnett Era had dragged to a close in Boulder, the program was a train wreck. CU plucked a young up and comer out of the potato fields of Idaho to lead us back to salvation.....or at least to respectability. When Boise State coach Dan Hawkins accepted the CU job, alums around the country (including Yours truly) were excited. He won with seeming ease at Boise State and did so in an exciting, entertaining fashion. The sky was the limit. Boulder was awash in a sea of "Hawk Love".

Unfortunately, the honeymoon lasted only until Opening Day 2006. The Buffs lost their home opener to Montana State, which is not as it turns out the school that Craig T. Nelson coached to a National Championship. Perhaps had it been, the worm would not have turned so quickly and so viciously against Hawkins. He went from savior to pariah in an afternoon.

In the years since little has happened to reverse the trend. The Buffs have not had a single winning season on his watch. The closest they came was a 6-6 season a few years ago, which became 6-7 after they lost to Alabama in a bowl game. The past couple of seasons they have been dreadful. The final straw for the administration was this past Saturday in Kansas. The Buffs were pounding the snot out of the equally dreadful Kansas Jayhawks 45-17 early in the fourth quarter. They appeared well on their way to winning and snapping a four-game losing streak. It turned out that they were not and they did not.

It takes some effort to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when up by four touchdowns with about fourteen minutes to play in a football game. Yet, Hawkins' Buffs did just that. They managed to surrender 35 points in less than fifteen minutes after having allowed less than half that many in more than three times that amount of time. They lost 52-45. Clearly this was not the type of history that the University had signed up for when it hired Coach Hawkins five years ago. It was also clear from the moment that the game ended that his coaching career in Boulder had as well. It had to. Not only for the sake of the school but for his.

Yesterday's Boulder Daily Camera told the tale: "Hawkins out as CU Buffs coach". Not surprisingly in the world in which we live where heroes are not measured - regardless of how much the ignoramuses who fit this description believe to the contrary - by the vitriol spewed in anonymous postings to Internet newspaper articles, the news was accompanied by a seemingly endless series of comments hailing the news and assailing Hawkins one more time. I have never met the man. I do not live in Boulder. I do not pretend to know what type of person he is. I know from having read the remarks he gave at his farewell press conference that on his way out the door he handled himself with grace and with class. History has taught us that not everyone in a similar situation has responded in a like manner. I know from watching the team he is paid to coach play during the five years he has coached them that he has not been a successful coach in Boulder. I also know that being a failure as a coach is not the same thing as being a serial killer or a puppy strangler or some such other horrible thing. Thus the exercise in kicking him in the face after he has been fired from the position to which he was hired with much fanfare seems a wasted one. At least from my vantage point.

The circle of life being what it is at some point in the not-too-distant future CU will begin a search for its next coach and hopefully fairly soon thereafter it will hire one. He will no doubt meet the media much as Coach Hawkins did at his first press conference full of confidence and hope and speaking optimistically of the future. And those who listen to him speak will undoubtedly embrace him and applaud what he says for two reasons: (1) we want/need to believe him; and (2) he is not the man he replaced. On that day, much as it is seemingly unimportant on this one as well, none shall give pause to consider that the man he replaced arrived in Boulder with equally high hopes for his team, his university and for himself. He did not come to Boulder either intending to fail or hoping to do so. Regardless, he left as yet another victim of life laying waste to man's best-laid plans......

.....and limping off down Highway 36 wearing but one shoe while looking skyward for the other.

-AK

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Gift From An American Soldier

I was reminded again on Sunday morning just how much of an impact the life of one can have on the lives of others. I participated in the Memorial Run/Walk that the family of Lt. Dennis Zilinski II has organized every year for the past five years since Lt. Zilinski at age 23 died in combat in Iraq while in the service of this country. Prior to Sunday I had last run a race in New Jersey two Sundays earlier - on the 24th of October. I had run in a race in Long Branch on a morning that was remarkably warm for late October. It was almost balmy. In other words it was nothing at all like this past Sunday.

November's first Sunday dawned windy and cold here in the State of Concrete Gardens - at least in the parking lots of the Garden States Art Center in Holmdel. While the mercury did its best to avoid rising and the wind did its best impression of one bad whistlin' mutha, neither the lack of absence of warmth nor the abundance of breeziness did a damn thing to temper the enthusiasm of the folks running in the event, those putting on the event and those doing yeoman's work as the volunteers who assisted in the running of it.

There was an exceptionally moving pre-race ceremony that lasted close to one hour and featured a pipe and drum corps, a high school chorus that looked to me (judging by the different letterman's jackets the boys and girls were wearing) to be comprised of students from a number of different schools and there was a fly-over by a New Jersey State Police helicopter. There were presentations of scholarship awards and there were two of the most moving speeches I have ever heard in my memory about the young man in whose name everyone had gathered. The first of the speeches was given by Lt. Zilinski's best friend at West Point, a young man named Captain Kramer, and his description of the friend he knew and the friend he still misses badly was stirring. He made it through his remarks without crying. Not all of us in the crowd were so fortunate.

A short time after Captain Kramer completed his remarks, Lt. Zilinski's mother spoke. Among the things she shared with the crowd were excerpts from his "final letter" home. She explained to the crowd that now when a unit is going to be sent off into a combat zone prior to them leaving each member of the unit composes a "last" letter. If that serviceman or servicewoman is killed in combat, then the letter is delivered to the fallen soldier's family. I write every day and I know not how one has the wherewithal to compose such a thing.

Lt. Zilinski had and upon his death in Iraq on 19 November 2005 the letter was presented to his parents. The excerpts she read aloud were nothing short of heartbreaking - words of a son expressing his sadness to his parents at a life that was not as long as he would have hoped but moreover expressing his gratitude to them for giving him the tools to live a full, rewarding and above all else a happy life. Two days later I am still at a loss as to which I find more remarkable: his ability to write such a letter or her ability to read it aloud without breaking down. I think I will consider it a draw and move on.

Sunday was a remarkable day. The race was very well-attended. Lt. Zilinski was a captain of the swim team at West Point and this year's edition of the USMA swim team attended the race en masse and ran together. Other colleges and high schools were well-represented as well. There was a class (Class 80) from the Monmouth County Police Academy who ran together over the 3.5 mile course. There were countless veterans and active duty military and law enforcement members who ran as well.

The course over which we ran was without exception the hardest, most challenging course I have run on in the year or so since I started doing this on a regular basis. In his pre-race remarks, the event's emcee described the course as "daunting". That it was. But probably it was appropriately so. For while I never had the pleasure of meeting a young man who sounded nothing short of extraordinary, I certainly got the vibe from listening to those who spoke of him and about him on Sunday morning that the only way to honor him appropriately was to design a course that would challenge those who tackled it to the fullest every step of the way. It was, after all, the manner in which he lived his life.

And for a little while on Sunday morning in the cold and wind of Holmdel New Jersey, I did as well. And I am most assuredly a better man for it. All because of the too-short life of an extraordinary young man and the extraordinary men and women who served before him, who served beside him and who shall serve in the future.

I'm just tryin' to be a father, raise a daughter and a son
Be a lover to their mother, everything to everyone.
Up and at 'em bright and early, I'm all business in my suit
Yeah I'm dressed up for success, from my head down to my boots.
I don't do it for the money, there's bills that I can't pay
I don't do it for the glory, I just do it anyway
Providing for our future is my responsibility
Yeah I'm real good under pressure, being all that I can be.
And I can't call in sick on Mondays
when the weekend's been too strong
I just work straight through the holidays
and sometimes all night long
You can bet that I stand ready when the wolf growls at the door
Hey I'm solid, Hey I'm steady, Hey I'm true down to the core.

-AK

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lock Step

I have never met her. I have never met any of the young women who play for her. Yet Jackie McLean of Wardlaw-Hartridge is among my favorite coaches and teachers of young people. Her approach to coaching clearly seems to embrace more than simply preparing her players for success on the field. Her players are not simply being prepared for success while they are on the field but off of it as well.

This season her varsity girl's soccer team has done my Alma mater proud. Yesterday they played for the Prep B State Championship at the home of the #1 seed - the PDS Panthers. W-H lost but considering that they made their way to the finals out of the #3 hole by upsetting the #2 seed Gill Saint-Bernards in a shootout at Gill in the semi-finals, their run through the Prep B playoffs was outstanding. In addition to their trek through the Prep B tournament they are moving through the NJSIAA playoffs as well. To my knowledge this is the first season that W-H has competed as a member of the NJSIAA. Coach McLean's girls won their first game in the NJSIAA sectional playoffs last week and on Wednesday will play in the sectional semi-finals at St. Rose of Belmar. If they win they play in the sectional finals on Veteran's Day. If they lose, then I presume any number of them shall trade in their soccer cleats for swim suits, basketball sneakers and volleyball regalia as they begin practice in the winter sport of their choosing.

Whether the season continues past Tuesday or not, Jackie McLean and her girls have brought nothing but pride and honor to the school they represent - a school that a lifetime ago my sisters Jill, Kara and I all graduated from, a school where my Mom worked and a school for which Dad gave his life. The fact that they have won 18 of the 21 games they have played to date is only half of it.

Coach McLean's team ran as a group in the Tunnel to Towers Run in New York in late September just as they had done last year. In October they hosted their own breast cancer fundraiser - as they had done last year. Sometimes when we as adults think of children and/or teenagers, we tend to do it in generalities. We opt for the lowest common denominator as well thinking of them and what they do under the heading of "worst case scenario".

And then we are introduced to young people such as the young women who wear the uniform of the Wardlaw-Hartridge varsity soccer team. We are reminded that for every rule, there are exceptions. And there are exceptional young people as well.

And there are of course exceptional adults who help guide those young people as they make their way in the world. Jackie McLean is such an adult. Well done Coach. Well done indeed.

-AK