Monday, February 28, 2011

As the Sun Sets on Another of Summer's Boys

My eye passed over it without my brain registering it the first time I came across it on-line yesterday. "It" being an item on reporting the death of Duke Snider. Snider was 84 years old. Snider's career as a big-league ball player ended in 1964. As I did not make my debut until 1967, Duke Snider is a player who I never saw play live.

Yet as my mother's son I felt as if I learned quite a lot about Duke Snider and his fellow Brooklyn Dodgers. While as far as I know the Dodgers ceased to occupy any space at all in Mom's universe once they headed West to California, one of Mom's favorite things to talk about with me when I was a boy was her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. Over the years, any time I come across a new book that touches upon the Dodgers I buy it and send it to Mom. I used to suspect that she just humored me by telling me that she enjoyed reading them.

Then, several years ago, Thomas Oliphant wrote Praying For Gil Hodges in which he made two separate references to Dad who was one of his teachers at the Browning School in New York City. Mom telephoned me to alert me to the mentions of the old man in Oliphant's book. That reassured me that she had read at least that one. Then again, considering her kitchen counter in Florida includes a ceramic trivet I made for her almost forty years ago perhaps I never should have doubted the depth of her commitment.

Until I read the story about Duke Snider's death, the thought had never occurred to me that he and Mom were actually contemporaries. It can be hard sometimes to envision one's parent at a phase in her life different from the one at which you as the child first encountered her. As a boy I listened to Mom tell countless stories about her Dodgers. I suppose that in my mind's eye I always presumed that the players were adults and she was just a little girl. Mom is in her early 80's now. Snider was 84 when he died. While the two may have never made each other's acquaintance they were in fact peers.

The Dodgers have played their games at Chavez Ravine and not at Ebbetts Field for more than fifty years. Duke Snider played for them on both coasts. He won a World Series in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles. He hit the final home run ever hit at Ebbetts Field. And most important of all, he and his teammates - The Boys of Summer - brought joy to a borough for years....right up until the moment when they broke its heart.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Last Dance of the Chicken Man

What will likely be the final weekend the Missus and me ever spend at Union High School was not in vain. Frank's effort to capture the Region 3 title at 189 pounds came up one win short. He fell in the finals. But the weekend's mission was accomplished nonetheless. He will be heading south next weekend. If you are a high school wrestler in New Jersey, your hoped-for destination at season's end is Atlantic City. Frank has earned his way to his destination.

Friday the rag-tag traveling caravan that is the Middlesex High School cheering section shall head south on the Parkway again. The Missus and me are making our third - and likely final - trip to the State Championships. Over the past eight years, we have had the pleasure of watching the brothers Bozzomo ply their trade - something that each has done with more than a measure of success. Joe capped off his high school career with a 6th place finish in the State in 2006. This week, Frank makes the second of back-to-back trips to AC. He finished one match short of the podium (top eight finish) last year. I would not pretend to know what his chances of placing are this year. Other than knowing the names of the kids he has wrestled this season - including those who will join him in AC - I would not know the other competitors in his weight class if I tripped over them. It is a safe wager however to presume that every young man who shall compete this weekend believes that he is capable of making some noise. Each of them has attained enough success in arriving at this point to have earned that confidence.

I have lived here in the State of Concrete Gardens for forty-four plus years. The sewer that is Atlantic City has existed in its present form for close to my entire life. We got into the casino business here in the 1970's. Gambling was legalized here with the promise of economic prosperity and untold riches to be shared by the many. Perhaps that was the dream but in response to the query, "Is a dream a lie if it don't come true or is it something worse?" Atlantic City has been something much, much worse. And its prospects for improvement are not good.

Yet, as much as I loathe the place I am looking forward to making my third trip since '06, which will likely mark the final time I ever set foot in it, other than for work purposes (believe it or not the Superior Court of New Jersey Atlantic County is located on Burt Bacharach Boulevard). I have gotten a lot out of - and have enjoyed very much - spending a portion of the past eight years watching Joe and Frank wrestle. For what they have achieved on the mat and for the manner in which each has conducted himself they have brought much pride and much joy to their family and to all who root for and care about them. This weekend represents the journey's end.

Down here it's just winners and losers and don't get caught on the wrong side of that line. Frank will not.......

....regardless of this weekend's results.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time Bandits

Life span is a dice roll. At birth, scant few if any of us know precisely how long we shall have to rock and roll around this big blue marble. And as we get older that does not really ever change. Given all the ways in which we mark time, upon further reflection it seems to me that when it comes to actually controlling it, impotence is the order of the day. No, you need not swallow one of your little blue pills. It is powerless here.

Because life is an exercise that unwinds sequentially - and not all at once - we often complete an entire chapter of our life before embarking upon a new one. Our life's length may impact not at all on the amount of time allotted to us to enjoy one particular part of it. Certain aspects of our life have a shelf life. Once it is past, it is gone forever.

Joe, the Missus and me spent part of our Friday night at Union High School. We were there to cheer for Frank in his Region 3 quarter-final match as well as to lend support to his teammate Tom Morelli (as well as Ryan's cousin Mike and Matt Albano's namesake). The gym was packed as eight kids per weight class in fourteen weight classes competed in an effort to advance one match closer to their shared dream of the State Championships in Atlantic City. This weekend is a double-elimination tournament. A defeat on the mat last night did not end any wrestler's season (although there were a couple of matches in which a forfeit occurred and I have no idea whether losing without wrestling does end one's season). But it most certainly moved the young men who lost a bit closer to the precipice.

And even though they are all kids - some of whom to me look even too young to be high-school age (which may have more to do with the distance between my high school days and present day than anything else at all) - the eyes of the boys who lost last night told that story better than any writer ever could. It was especially pronounced in the eyes of any wrestler who lost last night who is a senior. He went to bed last night and shall awaken this morning face-to-face with an unshakable truth: I lose today, it ends today. There are a number of top-flight wrestlers among the fourteen weight classes in this tournament, including quite a few who shall most likely have the opportunity to wrestle in college. But for a lot of these kids, the portion of their life dedicated to competitive wrestling ends when their high school career ends. And for the twelfth graders among them, that end could come as early as today.

I have not played competitive sports since high school. While I was not an athlete who lit the world on fire in any of the sports in which I participated, my favorite sport to play was soccer. I am not a big fellow but I have strong legs. Soccer was a sport that played to my strengths. While I was at W-H, where I played soccer for all four years of high school (J.V. the first two years and Varsity the final two) we were never better than mediocre. We neither competed for nor won any championships. Along the way though we played in some games that still - more than a quarter century later - occupy at least a sliver of my memory. And most of those memories make me smile.

The memory of the end of my soccer career is not one of them. We had a couple of regular season games left to play following our elimination from the State tournament. The final one was at the Hun School in Princeton. Although I was a player who rarely - if ever - came off the field, our coach decided that there was little reason to play the seniors in the final quarter (back then we played four twenty minute quarters rather than halves) of a meaningless game. It made better sense to put all of the underclassmen he had available to him on the field so he could get a look at what they could do. He decided to take a sneak peek at his own future. All these years later I appreciate the logic of what he did - and understand why he did it. I assure you however that sitting on the bench on a miserably cold November afternoon wearing my warm-ups and watching the final few minutes of a significant part of my life pass by right before my eyes I had no appreciation for it at all. I raged over it that afternoon. I raged over it for countless days that followed.

The greatest thing and the worst thing about high-school sports is the same thing: everyone competes but not everyone wins. Last night, Frank won his quarter-final match. His teammate Tom lost his. My old friend Matt's son lost his quarter-final match as well. All three boys are seniors. The hope is that for all of them, the wrestling they do today is not the final act of four-year stand. The reality is that it could be. It is quite a bit of pressure to be thrust upon the shoulders of ones so young. The best thing about it? They have a voice. They will be heard from today - as shall all of the kids at all of the venues across the State. They will have a chance to exert control over their own destiny.

Not total control of course. Just a little bit. But given how badly we do in our efforts to control and to mark time, a little bit of control is about as good as it gets.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Home in the Mist-Covered Mountains

For a number of us, this work week was of the four-day variety. We spent our Monday honoring the legacy of Martin Van Buren and the Adams family. For a number of us, the holiday was observed in abstentia. It appeared on our desk calendar but not in our day-to-day.

In weather so dismal that it reinforced the difficulty I often have distinguishing propriety from irony, the Hotsinpiller family of Bridgeport, West Virginia spent the Monday of this week burying 24 year-old Derek. Derek Hotsinpiller was a Deputy United States Marshal killed in the line of duty on February 16. Deputy Hotsinpiller died while attempting to serve a warrant. The man upon whom the warrant was to be served murdered Deputy Hotsinpiller in the little town of Elkin, West Virginia.

Other than knowing that he is somone else's son and knowing that he opted to pursue the same path of public service as another son I know very well, I know not a thing about this young man or his family other than what I read in the days following his death. I understand from that which I have read and that which I have heard that he was quite an exceptional young man. His life impacted positively on those he knew and those he loved and will continue to do so into the future out beyond the point where the road ahead touches the horizon line.

His death was and shall continue to be hard on those who loved him. His memory shall remain alive not only in the hearts and minds of his family but also in the hearts and minds of those with whom he served. It shall remain alive in the hearts and minds of his brothers and sisters in arms who never met him.

It is Friday. Whether you were an 80% or a 100% worker this week, no doubt you are today feeling both a bit tired and a bit excited. Your work week is completed. The weekend awaits. Regardless of how the week has gone for you and me, it is unlikely that it has gone as roughly as it has for the Hotsinpillers. On Wednesday, Rob sent me a link to an extraordinary piece written by a man I do not know about a young man who I did not know. While I apologize to anyone who has slogged through this piece of silliness to arrive at this point, your faith has now been rewarded. Take a moment or two before extinguishing the light in your workspace to learn a bit about a young man whose name you may not have known until you learned of his death. You may come to find out - as I did when I read it - that you knew him better than you realized - even if you did not know his name.

Be careful out there. Enjoy February's final weekend.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Again A Fool

Hank Steinbrenner could learn a lot from Steve Forbes. During one of his countless, ill-fated attempts to secure the Republican nomination for President, Forbes used to like to quip that, "I came by my wealth the old-fashioned way. I inherited it." People would laugh and then shortly thereafter, when it was their state's turn to hold a primary or a caucus, they would turn out in large numbers to vote for candidates other than Steve Forbes. I never voted for Forbes either but I admired his self-deprecating sense of humor. At least he made me laugh on purpose occasionally. I laughed at Alan Keyes' campaign too even though he thought that he was not doing anything to make me.

Hank is of course one half of the Silver Spoon Twins. He and his brother Hal have come by not just their wealth but the most prized possession that it represents the "old fashioned way". Their daddy died and left it to them. Having lived a life of luxury produced at almost zero sweat equity of his own, Hankenstein has developed a rather annoying habit. He has come to believe apparently that because he now owns a team that his father once owned and occupies office space that presumably dear old Dad once occupied, he has in fact become his father. It is a sleight of hand that might be easier to pull off if he would just embrace the notion of keeping either (a) shut or (b) filled with food that enormous pie-hole in the middle of his face. However, once he cannot resist the temptation of marrying sound to what masquerades as thought, his jig is up. Not only does the new emperor have no clothes, he is not in fact an emperor. He is a jester - relocated to a bigger office with a better view.

For reasons known only to Hankenstein, after directing his General Manager (who spent this off-season by the way working on his certificate from the Hosni Mubarak Negotiation Academy) to kick Derek Jeter around a little before signing him to what will likely be his final contract, he decided to jump start Spring Training by kicking Jeter around a bit more. Anyone who knows anything about baseball can explain in five words or less why the Yankees lost the ALCS to Texas last October: the Rangers hit us silly. The defeat was not due to lack of effort or lack of heart. Rather it was due to a lack of a lack of contact. The Rangers spent a week hitting Yankees pitching as if they were playing for the championship of the Greater Good Gulch 40 and over Men's Sunday Slo-Pitch Softball League as opposed to the American League. The only Yankees starter who managed to get anyone out at all was Pettitte. Burnett was brutal. Sabathia was horrid. Hughes was worst of all.

Somehow, the memory of what happened last fall atrophied inside the vast expanse that is Hankenstein's noggin over the off-season. Instead of telling the assembled media in Tampa that his team needed to pitch better in big spots, he blamed last season's flame out on his team's lack of hunger. For good measure he then launched into some mini-rant about the time certain of his players spent in the 2009 off-season building mansions.

The only Yankees player who occupied himself in such a manner in 2009 was Jeter. Of course Hankenstein's suggestion was inane. Jeter spent as much time actually working on the construction of his own home as......well, as Hankenstein has actually spent working at anything for most of his adult life. I think we can also take on faith that Jeter and Minka Kelly are not going to co-host "This Old House" any time in the foreseeable future.

Jeter - as his been his custom his entire Yankees career - did not engage Hankenstein in any sort of tit-for-tat exchange of barbs over the "mansion building" line. One presumes that Jeter knows precisely across whose bow that shot was fired but showing the respect that it owed to the office - the Owner's office - if not the man presently filling space there he chose not to return fire. Good for him. If I wore his shoes, I know not whether I would have responded in kind.

Wealth can buy a lot of things. It cannot buy class. It cannot buy common sense. And as one suspects Hankenstein will come to find out, it cannot buy respect. Respect is earned. But when one has grown to middle-age without having had to "earn" anything, the expiration date on that particular life lesson may very well have already come and gone. Is the new Boss the same as the old Boss? Seems to me that he is more of a caricature than a reproduction of the original.

'Tis the season of the Fool......and April is more than a month away.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Report from the Road

While we did not attend it - being otherwise engaged as we were rooting for Frank in the District 12 finals at South Plainfield - on Saturday evening the community of Rutgers University did something extraordinary for one of its own. And making a good event even better was the fact that at the tip of the spear leading the effort was another member of the Rutgers family.

Eric LeGrand suffered a significant spinal cord injury while playing football for RU on October 16th against Army. The injury to his spinal cord is one that a lot of folks flying the flag of conventional wisdom suggest will prevent him from ever walking again. If you have seen or read anything about this young man and the equally extraordinary mother who birthed him and raised him, you know that they give not a rat's ass about conventional wisdom. In slightly more than four months, he has made what seems to be extraordinary progress.

It is a road on which progress is measured in baby steps. Yet, while slow and steady may indeed be the recipe for winning this particular race, there is nothing at all wrong with stopping from time to time and celebrating the distance covered. On Saturday night, the RAC served as a stage upon which the 3,000 or so people in attendance watched a night of comedy and laughter that Rutgers alumni Bill Bellamy organized and headlined. The night was a fundraiser for Eric LeGrand's family. Those in attendance might have been forgiven if they expected that they were the ones doing the giving.

Saturday night Eric LeGrand made his first public appearance since his injury. The photographs that accompanied the article in the Courier-News are worth gazing at for a while. He is a young man bound to a wheelchair for perhaps the rest of his life. Yet his eyes are full of hope and joy and his smile stretches from one side of his face to the other. Scroll through them and see if the smile on his face does not put a smile on yours.

I know not how much money was raised for Eric LeGrand and his family on Saturday night. Every little bit certainly helps. I did see that plans have already been announced for a 5K walk at Rutgers Stadium on June 4th. That event is entitled, "A Walk to Believe". Presuming that I live to see a sunrise after May 1st that is something I could easily see myself taking part in. While it is true that I usually run in 5K events rather than walk in them, it is also true that given the rather methodical pace at which I run it is a thin line being walking and running. To the untrained eye I might very well appear to be doing the former already.

The road is long. The journey is not easy. But when you see the look on his face and on his mother's face and realize that neither of them is programmed to fail, you cannot help but feel compelled to do something, anything to help them in their effort to realize their goal. Kudos to all who continue to do whatever they can to help Eric LeGrand make it a bit further on up that road. And kudos to him and to his mom, two human beings long on heart and hope and courage and all of those things that a lot of us (me at least) wish we had more of ourselves.

Keep choppin' 52. Keep choppin'.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

All the Presidents' Men

I hope you enjoyed Tippecanoe Day as much as I did. Certain political slogans are timeless. "Tippecanoe & Tyler too" is one of them. Arguably it pales in comparison to the bastardized version of it that I think all six of the Kenny kids grew up learning in our house, which was "Tippecanoe and an Indian falls out." Egad! The incorrectness of our familial politics. The hell with political correctness. Just typing it still makes me smile. I know not whether the Kenny siblings pilfered it from the Marx Brothers but it is a line I could easily see Groucho uttering. Karl? Not so much.

In an interesting twist - because the Firm rarely closes - my office was officially closed for the holiday yesterday while both the Missus and Suzanne's places of business were open as if it was just a plain old Monday. I played a bit of hooky. I did not amble into the office until about 5:00 a.m. and I left for the day a bit past 12:30 p.m. I did get quite a bit done although being a day of the week that ended in "Y" I did not get accomplished all that I hoped or all that I needed, thus proving the adage about the malleable nature of things and the constant nature of things being often times indistinguishable one from the other. The decision to play hooky is likely one for which I will pay more than a little towards the latter part of the week. Yesterday however it allowed me to get home at a time of day when there was no one else home (all of the real adults were at work), which permitted me to not only do a chore or two that needed doing but also to get my day's training for the New Jersey Marathon completed.

This time next week is March 1. From that day until Marathon Day is only sixty sleeps. So far so good on the whole training thing - save for the decision to run seven miles before falling down, getting back up and then completing the 8-mile training run on Super Bowl Sunday. This Sunday's run was eleven miles, which I ran in a bit less than 90 minutes and which I ran without feeling as if my legs or my chest was going to explode. Being not too much of a fan of spontaneous human combustion I cannot even feign disappointment on having survived yet another milestone unscathed. I would feel better about the work to date if I did not know enough math to know that while running eleven miles without collapsing is - for me anyway - quite an accomplishment, it is still less than half of the distance to be covered on Marathon Day.

While the peace and quiet in the workplace yesterday was a nice change of pace for a Monday, these in-week holidays always manage to throw my equilibrium out of kilter. Before you automatically presume that my inability to grasp the subtlety of the four-day week is merely a reflection of my own stunted intellect, which it very well may be, consider this.

On Monday morning while I was in the office - and at that time playing every role in a one-man play - I received a telephone call from one of my colleagues, which is to say one of the other attorneys in my office. According to the clock on my computer it was 9:40 when I answered his call, which began with a somewhat curious question, "Are we closed for President's Day?" Arguably one would presume that if one works in an office - and presuming further for the purposes of this scenario - has not started one's career there on the Friday afternoon immediately preceding President's Day at sometime after 4:00 p.m. - then one should know some basic information about one's employer.....including office holidays.

Also, one would presume arguably that if one was uncertain as to whether a particular day was a Firm holiday then the time to ask that question is at some point prior to what would otherwise be the start of one's work day; right? Think about it for a moment. A call placed at 9:40 for the purpose of asking whether the Firm was open for the day. Had I thought about it for a moment - or had I been in the mood for anyone's company - I would have answered, "Of course we are open. And where the hell are you? You are almost an hour late!" Alas, I did not.

Maybe next year the opportunity will again present itself and this time I will take it. Boy, how funny that would be. And speaking of funny - did you ever hear the one about Tippecanoe and the Indian? It is a laugh riot I tell you. A laugh riot.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Hooray for Chester Arthur

We the people of the most politically-correct nation in the world shall take a moment today to observe President's Day. When I was a child we marked separately the birthdays of George Washington - sometimes referred to as the Father of our Country (although if you are a Jets fan you might think that moniker applies more appropriately to this fella) and Abraham Lincoln - whose name you might recognize as the man who freed the slaves and preserved the Union. Poor George. This year his birthday almost coincided with President's Day. Missed it by only one day.

In countless places all over these United States today -as well as whatever other corners of the Earth they have migrated to - the descendants of lesser well-remembered Presidential lights from Harrison (either one) to Polk, from Hoover to Buchanan can wrap themselves in the delusion that today is about their ancestor too. Considering the alternative would be a move afoot to give each one of these dolts his own day, let us just enjoy this PC monstrosity. It creates a long weekend for a lot of people.

I am a slave to time. I suppose to a certain extent all of us are. Regimentation is part of my day-to-day. A lot of it is necessary. A lot of it is not necessarily fun. Among the fun time constants in my life is Sunday night macaroni. For as long as we have been married - and probably longer than that in fact - Sunday night dinner in our house 50 Sundays out of the year has consisted of macaroni with meatballs and sausage. I never would have imagined that a staple of a good Irish boy's life would be macaroni. Funny how life works out I suppose.

The best part about Sunday for me for years has been the fact that it puts all of us in the same place at the same time to eat together. It is the only night of the week that ever happens. And while it sounds like a cliche, it really is an indispensable part of our day-to-day. It serves as more than just a meal. It binds us together. It is multi-generational glue. And it fuels us for the week ahead.

Time well spent. Every Sunday evening at 5:00.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Warriors

After I spent a scintillating morning at the office, yesterday afternoon I accompanied Margaret and Joe over to South Plainfield. Our little town was well-represented in the stands. And we were even better represented on the mat. Frank at 189 and his teammate Tommy Morelli at 130 both placed second in the District 12 tournament, which earned each of them the opportunity to continue on their journey to Atlantic City. Next stop is Tuesday night in Union at the first round of the Region 3 tournament. A win on Tuesday night and they live to fight on Friday night. A loss and the season is over. Each is a senior. A loss Tuesday night ends not simply a season but a career as well. I am admittedly biased but I fully anticipate that each will still be standing Friday night.

As senior co-captains, it seems entirely appropriate that they are each serving as the other's wing man. And given their role as leaders of their team it is nice that they shall be joined on Tuesday night by one of their younger teammates. Jesse Deene is making his first-ever trip to Region 3. Hopefully he will so enjoy the experience that next year, when the void left by Frank and Tom's graduation needs to be filled, he will build upon it to fill that void for his teammates.

This time of year, as the number of kids still competing for the home team is winnowed down to just three. It makes it easier to adopt other kids from other schools for whom to cheer. Yesterday afternoon we cheered loudly for the several kids from Watchung Hills who were finalists in a number of weight classes. Included among their number was Ryan's cousin Mike who lost a very entertaining, competitive final at 140 pounds. He will be competing Tuesday night in Union too. A bit less pressure on him though. He is an eleventh grader. Regardless of what happens Tuesday night, he figures to have one more opportunity next year.

Among the kids I root for the hardest is one who will not be in action Tuesday night in Union - and that too is a good thing. I like to refer to my old friend Matt Albano as the man who my parents wanted me most to be like when I grew up. As luck would have it, after not seeing Matt in a number of years, I reconnected with him through wrestling. Frank is the same age as Matt's son and namesake, who wrestles for Delbarton. Delbarton and Middlesex both wrestle in Region 3. As freshman both Matt and Frank qualified for the Region 3 tournament and lost in the Tuesday night single-elimination portion of the competition. Last year as juniors both advanced out of Region 3 to the State Championships in Atlantic City.

As I understand it from talking to Matt (the Dad), this season has been a tough one for Matt (the Son). He has missed time due to injury on more than one occasion. He entered his weekend's district tournament - Delbarton wrestles in District 9 - as the #4 seed at 125 pounds. Saturday afternoon, after dispatching the weight class's top seed in the semi-finals, he defeated the #2 seed to win his second consecutive District 9 championship. His reward? Tuesday night off.

Overall, a successful weekend for warriors of varying ages, weights and sizes. One down and with any luck two more to go.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Days Like These

We had a little taste of Spring here 'NTSG the past few days. Yesterday was simply terrific. For the first time since the day after Christmas my front lawn was comprised of more grass than snow. In my head I know that we are but two-thirds of the way through February and that winter weather will make at least one more protracted appearance before it bids us farewell. But in my heart, yesterday's mercury rising was the meteorological equivalent of a B-12 shot.

Every week has the same number of days. Still, some seem longer than others. This week has been one of those. Between things that have happened in my day-to-day and events that have gone on in other parts of the world that impact upon those I love, it has felt like "Leap Week" - 366 days crammed into a space normally occupied by only 7.

Yet in the middle of all of the insanity (or more properly stated towards the end of it seeing how it was a Friday), yesterday popped its head up above the horizon line. For anyone who has felt this week a kinship to the two unfortunate divers from Open Water yesterday felt as if someone had finally spotted you bobbing on the waves for all you were worth and tossed you a life rope. Everyone needs to be rescued at least once. Some of us need it more often than that. Whether you are fortunate enough to belong to the former group or you occupy space along with a lot of the rest of us in the latter group, yesterday your ship did indeed come in.

It is still February of course and today's weather forecast contained a "Wind Alert", which usually serves as a cautionary tale for those of us who sport heads that are disproportionately large. Everyone loves a parade float on Thanksgiving but not so much on the 19th of February. And while I drove home yesterday with my car window open, enjoying the sounds and the sights of kids riding their bikes, running around and just being outside in the late afternoon enjoying the weather, I understand that the very real possibility exists that before Spring officially gets here, my windows will again be securely closed and Skate's heater will be again pumping out hot air.......and not just in an effort to keep up with its operator's output in that department.

Yesterday was what it was. It was just a day. But what a day. It was absolutely just what I needed at the time that I needed it the most. Well done Mother Nature. Well done indeed.


Friday, February 18, 2011

The Wall

I never had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Derek Hotsinpiller. I shall likely never have the honor of meeting any member of his family. I pray that I never have to walk a step in his mother's shoes. I do more than that. I pray that I never arrive home one day to find a pair of her shoes in my closet and in my size waiting for me to put on.

Yet because of the path walked by that brave young man and its similarity to the path that another brave young man who I love with all of my heart walks every day, empathy for Mrs. Hotsinpiller and the rest of the family comes easily. It comes easily not only for Margaret and for me but for every member of every family who has ever stood where we stood on a little piece of sacred ground in southeastern Georgia. For every family member who has stood there and watched proudly as a son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father who they love with all of their heart has taken an oath as a member of the oldest Federal law enforcement agency in this country, there is a bond that connects us to the Hotsinpillers. It is a bond that connects each of us to all of the rest of us. It is an unbreakable bond.

A young man - only 24 years young in fact - Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller was killed in the line of duty on Wednesday morning in the little town of Elkin, West Virginia. He was the son of one police officer and the brother of another. According to a news account I read of him on-line, Derek's dad died of a heart attack in December 2001. Mothers should not have to bury their sons. They most certainly should not have to bury their twenty-four year-old sons. Not ever.

As defined by Ambrose Redmoon, "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." It is not a code by which all of us are capable of living our lives. I for one have never earned my living in a trade that provides me - as a standard part of my day-to-day uniform - a weapon capable of taking the life of another if necessary and a vest capable of saving my life if needed should someone attempt to take it. I do not have the stones to earn my living in such a manner. There are those who can. I have the distinct honor and pleasure of not merely knowing but loving the hell of out one who does. And through him and because of him I have had the distinct privilege of making the acquaintance of other men and women who do so as well. I have known his whole life that Margaret raised a remarkable young man. The past three years I have come to appreciate the fact that she was indeed not the only one to do so.

Winston Churchill said, "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." That is far as it goes. Sir Winston did not complete the dance. He did not speak of those of us who learn to never sleep soundly at night because those "rough men" at the ready are ours. Our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. And while we love them and are proud of them for what they do, we never, ever allow to disappear from our minds completely the danger inherent in what it is they do.

In Glynco, Georgia upon a patch of hallowed ground soon another name shall be added to a monument that everyone associated with it wishes did not need to exist. But because there is violence in the world and because far too often the price paid for keeping the rest of us safe is paid not by us but by one of those "rough men" upon whom we rely, soon the name of a heroic young man named Derek Hotsinpiller will have to be joined with those whose contributions to this nation stretch back as far as two centuries.

"Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." So wrote the author Bernard Malamud. People such as Derek Hotsinpiller exist to remind us. On Monday his mother shall bury him. She shall bury her 24 year-old son. No mother should ever have to do that. She shall cover ground I hope like hell I never have to walk and shall do so in shoes I hope I never have to wear. To Mrs. Hotsinpiller and to this young man's family, empathy seems like so little yet it is all we have to give to you. In view of what you have given to us, the inequity in the trade-off is almost numbing.

For all the rest of us who hold a membership in this special fraternity, here is to hoping that the warm weather that has visited us in the State of Concrete Gardens the past several days sticks around for a while. It will enable us to do something all of us hope to do for a long, long time.....

....walk barefoot.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Drink From The Tainted Chalice

Often, the most difficult thing to do is that which should seem to be the easiest. Your head may be trying to tell you to slow down and take a deep breath but your motor is racing at a million miles per second and is pushing you to move faster and to make up your mind quicker. Much like the drive home at the end of the work day - a drive on which you may have (out of frustration) weaved in and out of traffic on the interstate to expedite the process of reaching your destination - you exit your vehicle in the same number of pieces that you were comprised of when you entered it but your heart is pumping full-throttle. You admit perhaps to yourself that on this occasion you made it safely but may not be as fortunate the next time.

The instinct to go faster is fueled in part by a desire - whether known or unknown - to outrace your problems. Our hope is to leave our troubles nowhere other than behind us. Happiness is stress in the rear-view mirror.

And it is that instinct that can on occasion really screw things up for us entirely. We accelerate to breakneck speed when that is not in fact what the situation calls for us to do. Ironically, running faster and harder is quite often easier than slowing down and staying put. Perhaps that in and of itself should not be a surprise. A moving target is harder to hit.

On my desk at work I have a quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing." Smart man, Mr. Lincoln. Apparently had a penchant for honesty too. You probably were aware of at least the latter. His advice is sound. Its sentiment is sincere. Yet it is silent in terms of what to do in the darkest of hours. The times that confront all of us during which we reasonably anticipate that the light at the tunnel's end is merely pointing the way to a 1,000 foot drop. Or worse yet that it is the front end of a multi-ton freight train bearing down upon us at breakneck speed. No words of wisdom contained in Mr. Lincoln's charge that advise us explicitly what we are to do in those circumstances.

And believe this - those circumstances will indeed come. If we are truly fortunate, then they will come upon us less than a handful of times during our lifetime. If we are more or less like everybody else, then those times will descend upon us like a suffocating fog too many times to count. And when they do - when they come - it will be incumbent upon us to take a deep breath, evaluate our options and proceed in what we believe shall be the best manner. It must be a decision born from poise, not panic.

Easier said than done. Particularly when we cannot tell our courage from our desperation.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

One For The Road

The team portion of the scholastic wrestling season concluded here in the State of Concrete Gardens this past Sunday. And if you think that a certain Mad Hungarian is not grinning from ear-to-ear behind the Great Wall from the knowledge that one of his favorite wrestlers is the proud father of a member of the first team from Delbarton to capture a State title, then you would do well to acquaint yourself with Doc Rud before too much more time passes. Outstanding effort by Matt the Younger and his Green Wave mates and congratulations to them. Their hard work earned them an opportunity, which they seized with aplomb.

If hard work was a guarantee of success in the brutal business that kids call high school wrestling, then the road to Atlantic City would not just be a difficult one to travel. Instead it would be one whose destination was impossible to reach. Hard work is of course not a guarantee of success. Instead it is a prerequisite. It is a fundamental ingredient of the recipe for success. Without it, nothing can be achieved. With it? You buy a ticket to the dance. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This Friday night those of us who comprise the traveling road show that supports the young men who wear the colors of the Middlesex Blue Jays will make the trip to South Plainfield for the District 12 tournament. This Friday night, in thirty-two gymnasiums of varying dimensions found in schools of varying sizes all across this state, wrestlers in fourteen weight classes shall do what the kids from Middlesex shall do in South Plainfield. For the overwhelming majority of them, this weekend will represent not the first leg of the journey, but its only leg. And for those who are seniors in high school, its final one as well. Only the kids who place in the top three positions in their weight class this weekend continue onward to Atlantic City.

Next week, those who advanced out of the thirty-two Districts compete in one of eight Region tournaments. Every February since Joe was a junior at Middlesex High School, which was 2006, Margaret and I have spent Region Week at the Region 3 meet at Union High School. We hope to make one last visit there this year to root for Frank. Frank, the younger of my brother-in-law's two sons, is a senior this year at Middlesex. I doubt highly that I shall ever have reason to set foot in the gymnasium at Union High School again beyond this year. But I sure hope like hell that I have a chance to spend one final February Saturday there rooting Frank onward to Atlantic City.

I was an abysmal high school wrestler. I aspired to be dreadful - or perhaps comical - but never even developed enough skill to achieve that level. The only pressure I ever felt while on the mat was that associated with my ribs being squeezed so hard that I feared the top of my head might blow open in an effort to relieve the build up. The only way I was going to the State tournament then is the same route available to me now: purchasing a ticket. I cannot even attempt to approximate how it must feel to be one of the kids - and while occasionally a fan or twelve in the stands seems to forget that it bears remembering that is all they are - who does not hope to get there but who has instead set that destination as a goal. It is for him something he expects to achieve and has worked hard to achieve. The pressure - a great deal of it is self-imposed - is immense.

It is basic arithmetic after all. There are too many earnest, hard-working and talented kids at each of the fourteen contested weight classes and there are too few spots on the podium. It should be as easy to explain as it is to rationalize; right? And it is. It is right up until the moment in time that the earnest, hard-working and talented kid whose dream has died at least one step short of the destination he had strove for is your kid. Or your friend's kid. Or your brother-in-law's. It is at that moment that you realize just how goddamn little arithmetic has to do with it.

I know not where this season will end for Frank or how it will end. I am a bit biased in this regard - admittedly - but I think he is a hell of a wrestler. More than that, I think he is one hell of a young man. It seems to me that life has quite a bit in store for him. He works hard. He has a good head on his shoulders. His family support system is nothing short of extraordinary. Will all of those things lead him to a spot on the podium on March's first Sunday? I do not pretend to know. No one does. No one can. It is a story that has not yet been written. It is his story. But it is not yet history. Soon enough but hopefully not too soon it shall be....

....who could ask for anything more?


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pocket Watch

I am not what the fashion world refers to as a "clothes horse". I am, instead, what my wife refers to as a "jackass". As long as she continues to refer to me as "her" jackass, then I shall accept my fate with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

While I am not necessarily tight with a dollar when it comes to things such as my wardrobe, I am admittedly cozy with currency. I tend to not enjoy spending money on items such as clothing - other than for ties (I have a closet full of them) and running shoes (I do not yet have a closet full of them but I hope to soon). I leave for work before the discerning women folk with whom I live awaken. Thus when I let loose with the occasional ensemble that elicits a, "Hey that looks really good on you" or - thankfully far less frequently - when I leave the house wearing a complete train wreck of a get-up, neither of them sees me until I have returned at day's end.

From time to time, Margaret will drop a subtle hint regarding something I own and wear for which her reservoir of patience has been exhausted. If I fail to take the hint on its first utterance (and subtlety is not what one might call my strong suit) then she will repeat it one or two times more. We live by the "third time is the charm"/"three strikes and you are out" rule of hints in our house (feel free to choose whichever side of the coin suits you). Once I fail to pick up the hint after its third dropping, Margaret springs into action. The article of clothing she has deemed offensive disappears. Then, usually not less than three months after it has disappeared and not more than nine months after it has done so, I inevitably notice that it is not in my closet and/or dresser any longer. Margaret helps me in my efforts to locate it until we have spent time equal in that pursuit to the amount of time she spent telling me to get rid of it before she disposed of it. Once the scales of equity are in harmony, she fesses up to the fact that she threw it out.

I am decidedly not hip. I think much of that comes from having a body type that can fairly be described as block-like. Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine explained to Jerry and George the difference between the female form and its male counterpart? I am Utilitarian Man. I am more than that. I am my beloved car Skate's human embodiment. I am fine for getting around. Not likely to set your world afire.

So you can appreciate my quandary as Sunday evening I stood ironing off a suit to wear yesterday confronted as I was by a new dress shirt I had purchased the last time I went to Macy's. Clearly I had a coupon. For while I have a closet containing more dress shirts than anyone wishes he had to own, I have but one bearing this particular label. And I have exactly none of these items (also his). Never have.

As I was ironing Calvin's contribution to my wardrobe my eye was drawn not to what was there but what was not. There is no pocket in this dress shirt. A pocket less dress shirt? I would have thought that such a creation did not exist. It is the stuff of Christopher Nolan films; perhaps. Yet there it was in living color - actually a rather nice shade of gray - staring right up at me from the ironing board. For a moment I wished that I had held onto the packaging from the store. Not because I had an urge to return it but to check to see if the pocket had fallen off and was trapped in the plastic bag. Alas, the carrying case in which this item had arrived several weeks ago had long since become part of a land fill somewhere (the smart money is on Staten Island).

I walked around all day Monday wearing this pocket less dress shirt unable to discern if I was in the unfamiliar position at the tip of the spear in the world of men's fashion or just a jackass with an enormous head wearing a goofy-looking shirt. No one stopped and laughed at me as I walked by. Well, no more people than usually do anyway. I suppose that serves as some sort of confirmation of my coolness; right?

While I spent the whole day yesterday not knowing whether I was teaching the world a lesson in men's fashion or being taught a lesson in buying a dress shirt from the carousel of misfit clothes, I was reminded on countless occasions during the day about the importance of that particular pocket in that particular location. On not fewer than three occasions I attempted to place a pen in my shirt pocket only to listen to it clattering around on the floor a mere moment or two after I had released it from my grasp. Nothing gets between my and my Calvin.....

....except apparently gravity.


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Opening of the Deep Blue Heart

Today is an important day in the lives of men everywhere. Indeed. Pitchers and catchers report to the Yankees spring training complex in Tampa Florida today. As the Silver Spoon Twins and Cashman attempt to spin to the media how little the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the rejection by Cliff Lee will affect this year's rotation, off-season signees Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia will be assigned to a room in the complex decorated with items that were popular in 1999. The plan is to make their heads think it is still a year when either man was actually capable of - on a regular basis - doing the job for which he was paid - in the hope that what the mind believes the pitching arm will achieve. The Yankees have no such accommodations set up for A.J. Burnett. Not for lack of trying. Rather they could not find a year from his career to use as a benchmark. Apparently his Babe Ruth League coach never shot any video.

Of course, today is also Valentine's Day. A holiday that I wish people would refer to by its initials - if for no other reason than to hear, "Happy VD! I love you" shouted from church towers and hill tops across the land in one of several languages. My eldest sib Bill wishes for pony rides on his birthday while I (the youngest of our sextet) wish for chaos on Valentine's Day. If that does not serve as proof of the chance you take when you replicate the same process over and over and over and over and over and over, then I know not what does.

I am a lucky man. Damn luckier than I had any right to be as a matter of fact. Margaret and I have been married more than seventeen and a half years now. We will celebrate our 18th anniversary in late June. I should say that I shall celebrate. I fear that Margaret will likely curl up someplace with a photo album or two in one hand, a jumbo-sized cocktail in the other and mutter, "Why? Why? Why?" as she flips through the pictorial documentation of her life with me. People honor milestones in whatever way works for them. Candidly if I was in her shoes I would mark it in precisely the same way: almost two decades married to me is a tough road for any woman to travel.

We have been together for just about twenty years now. We dated for a couple of years before we got married in 1993. I asked her to marry me less than a year after we started dating. I recall that I asked her as we sat in my car outside of her house on Howard Avenue. Never having asked a woman to be my wife before I presumed that a mobile proposal was a good plan of attack since if she said, "No", I could simply watch her exit the vehicle and then drive off into the future alone. It seemed like a good way to nip any post-proposal rejection feelings right in the bud.

Thankfully for me she did not say no. The fact that she did not say no after being presented with a ring whose stone's size could be summed up in one word - infinitesimal - says everything that anyone ever needs to know about Margaret. She looked right past the pathetic excuse for an engagement ring at the utterly terrified man sitting next to her and saw something (potential perhaps) worthy of taking a chance. I remain happy that she did. Actually, I am more than happy. Significantly so. I know not what course my life would have taken had I - on that rainy April Sunday morning more than twenty years ago - driven off alone in my VW Fox with my teeny-tiny ring box in one hand and the remnants of my life in the other. I do not doubt for a moment that it would not have been a particularly happy one. And it certainly would not have been one that I would have wanted to trade for the one I have lived every day since....

....Today I'm thinkin' about the world we live in
All the love and hate that's floatin' around
All the times I felt so lost and helpless
You stood by me you never let me down

Still I keep throwin' up these walls
Most of them I've built with stones
You tear 'em down and bridge the distance
Knowin' we ain't here to be alone

So let your blue heart open wide
Let's never leave our dreams behind
It would comfort and restore my pride
If you let me be your valentine

Our differences are part of life
Still love will pass the test of time
I want you everyday and night
Girl won't you be my valentine?

Be my valentine
Be my valentine
Be my valentine


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Chase and The Pursuit

I hope I do not jinx us. It is certainly not my intention. But because it is such a wonderful turn of events I am compelled to point out what a treat the weather has been here 'NTSG lately. Yesterday, I ran in Princeton. When we first arrived in Princeton at a bit before 9:00 a.m. it was certainly not balmy. But by 10:00 a.m. - when the starting gun was fired - it had turned into a pleasant morning. It was what all of us who had gathered hoped it would be - a good day to run.

I have no idea now many people participated in yesterday's event. Margaret said that from her vantage point near the starting line it appeared as if there were more people in the race than last year. Presuming that the Missus and her informal arithmetic were correct, an uptick in participation might have been related to a markedly nicer day to run this year than last. It also might have been related to the fact that this year's event marked only the third time that Community Options Inc. has put on a Cupid's Chase 5K in Princeton. When an event is in its infancy it takes time to grow. And its growth is dependent in large part on (a) repeat participants; and (b) word-of-mouth.

As someone who will never finish at the front of the pack in any race competed over any distance under any conditions, I know not how many folks crossed the finish line ahead of me. It sure seemed as if I was looking at a lot of backs of heads as I ran. Too many to count in fact. Irrespective of finishing position, I am pleased that I completed the run yesterday - run over the same course on which we ran in 2010 - four and one-half minutes faster this year than last. Gidg had a similar improvement in her time.

I was even more pleased that the hard work to date training for the marathon is paying off in terms of how my legs feel and my lungs feel after I run hard - even for a relatively short distance. It was cold enough yesterday that breathing was a tad painful and had to be modified in order to minimize pain. Yet at the end of the race, although I had run hard, when I crossed the finish line I was not breathing particularly hard or feeling as if I had run 100 miles. It was quite an enjoyable feeling.

Check back with me after today's marathon training run, which is ten miles. Methinks I might be feeling a bit differently about things..... May 1 looms ever larger on the horizon line.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Archery Practice

This morning I shall do something that I have not done in forty-three days. This morning I shall run in the company of others. This morning I am making the short hop to Princeton to run in the Cupid's Chase 5K. It is an event whose point of origin is the Princeton Shopping Center on North Harrison Street. That is a place from which wonderful childhood memories emanate for me. The good memories have little to do with the stores that were once located there and everything to do with its layout.

The Princeton Shopping Center is an old-style shopping center. It is laid out like a square or perhaps a rectangle (while geometry was the math class in which I performed the best, being my best math class is something akin to be the tallest resident of Munchkin Land. When you say it fast it sounds impressive but upon further review not so much). All of the Shopping Center's parking lots are adjacent to the outside walls of the stores - or what I supposed serve as each store's rear entrance. The inside walls of the stores - their front entrances - open onto a common area that contains a walkway and also a Green. In a mind's eye flashback from my childhood I can see what I remember as a maze that was contained within the Green, which I used to love to run around and through as a little boy. A side effect of using The Shining as bedtime reading? Perhaps.

Last year it was really, really cold the morning of this race. Margaret braved the elements to come with Gidg and me to Princeton and proving just why she is the world's best Race Mom, in a venue where shivering people outnumbered warm, enclosed spaces by a wide margin she commandeered us primo space inside the Dunkin' Donuts. Warmth, hot coffee and indoor plumbing. If they are not the Big Three in the final countdown to the starting line on a winter morning race day, then they are secure in the knowledge that they reside in the top five.

Princeton's streets last Valentine's Day weekend were a bit interesting given their mixture of macadam and ice. We have actually enjoyed an essentially snow-free week here in the State of Concrete Gardens. Hopefully the absence of precipitation and the presence of temperatures north of the freezing mark will have combined to make the course slightly less interesting this year than last. We are not picking up our race swag until we get to the event this morning so I do not yet know if the t-shirts this year shall echo the theme of those provided last year. Everyone who pre-registered to run was guaranteed a long-sleeve shirt. The shirts came in two colors: white and red. A white shirt identified its wearer as "Unavailable" while those who wore red were advertising themselves as "Available".

Before one leaps to the conclusion that this race is organized by the folks who once ran Plato's Retreat in Manhattan, let me assure you that it is not. Instead, it is a labor of love for the good folks from Community Options, Inc., which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to develop housing and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Today, it will put on this race in two dozen cities across ten different states. According to the organization's web site, New Jersey's First Lady Mary Pat Christie is this year's National Honorary Chair. The web site is silent as to whether the Governor will be joining us today in Princeton for a vigorous 5K run. He is welcome to run with me. It is never a problem sharing the road with a fellow Springsteen fan.

As tough as this winter has been so far on everyone everywhere it shall be nice to be able to be outside this morning. I look forward to running in an event, in the company of others, as opposed to indoors on a treadmill by myself like some half-arthritic hamster. Given how many miles I have logged thus far in training for the New Jersey Marathon on May 1, I am interested to see how much speed I have in my legs for what now qualifies for me as a "short" run. Given that the last time I ran outside - six short days ago - I became one with the macadam in a most unfortunate and unintended way, perhaps I am better served making sure that I end the race the same way I start it: upright and relatively unscathed.


Friday, February 11, 2011

A Barrow In The Marketplace

The great Pete Hamill wrote, "Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie." Around here, just like everywhere, no one wants to get caught on the wrong side of that line.

I had the chance to spend a bit of time last evening at the Alma mater (high school version). While I was there as an attendee at an event organized through the Alumni Association, I was really there to see my long-time friend Doc Rud. Doc is home briefly from his Asian adventure. The original plan of attack was for several of us to get together for dinner and adult libations. It morphed into something quite a bit different. Candidly, my preference would have been to have proceeded as originally intended. At the risk of sounding immodest (quick everyone give me your best, "No Way! Not You!" face on the count of "3"), I favored the original idea in large part because it was mine. I like the ideas of other people fine....just usually not as well as I like my own.

While what it was was different than that which was originally intended, it was quite a nice evening. Doc was given long overdue recognition for all he did as the wrestling coach at W-H. If you need proof of how good he was at what he did, then consider that he not only survived an assault on his program by talentless fish such as me but a decade and a half after I wrought the havoc that I did upon him, he was winning Team State Championships and coaching young men to individual titles as well. The fact that my presence on his roster in the winter of 1981-82 neither destroyed his program nor his belief in his ability to teach and produce actual wrestlers is a testament to the man's commitment level.

In addition to Doc being honored, last evening also shone a spotlight on a couple of men who starred on the hardwood while students at W-H. One of them, my friend Rob Rizzo, was honored for his status as a 1,000 point scorer. Rob actually scored more than 1,000 points but since he went to Wharton and I opted for law school, I will leave it to him to provide the precise calculation. The final honoree was Brian Roach, who graduated from W-H in 1980. He is the school's all-time leading scorer. In his career he scored more than 1,700 points. At the risk of him punching me in the nose for making this observation, it needs to be pointed out that he played high school hoops in an era that pre-dated the 3-point field goal.

At the risk of sounding immodest yet again, I am constrained at this juncture to point out that during my varsity hoops career at W-H, a career that consisted of one season and sadly was so long ago that the 3-point field goal had not yet seen the light of day, I tickled the twine for 3 points. I mean not to look downward at either Rob or Brian's accomplishments but unlike them, I put up all of my points in one game - and on one play. What you might call insignificant I prefer to think of as "the economization of one's accomplishment."

Life is an event lived forward. That being said, it is useful from time-to-time to cast an eye towards where we came from while keeping the other firmly fixed on the road ahead. Last evening, in addition to honoring Doc, Rob and Brian for the things they had done, the school also paid tribute to the young men who played their final home game for the boy's varsity team. It was not just "Remember When?" Night. It was Senior Night at well. High schools are interesting places because while scant few I suppose have turnstiles at the entrances (in fact none that I have ever seen), such a design would not be inappropriate. We enter, we do what we do and then we head off on our way. And as we head out, a new body heads in and fills what would otherwise have been a vacuum.

Oh Bla Di Oh Bla Da. Life goes on. Indeed it does....

....And all the while we strive to stay on the right side of that line.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

On The Commuter Bus to Hell

In the unlikely event that - even for a moment - I were to forget that upon death I am going straight to Hell without passing "Go" and without even getting a whiff of $200, yesterday afternoon brought me a reminder. In the interests of full disclosure, I anticipate my soul's eternal resting place shall not only be somewhere really, really warm (one of the best The Far Side cartoons ever featured the Devil at Hell's front desk checking in new arrivals, "Inferno or no inferno? Just kidding. They're all inferno.") but it is a destination that shall be reached only after an interminably long trip on an overcrowded city bus.

A city bus on which I occupy a center seat.....sandwiched between two obese men both of whom are sweating profusely. In the event I opt for burial over cremation, Margaret shall have, "Dress light", etched upon my tombstone.

The nice thing about being a truly rotten bastard is that I never forget who and what I am. A failing perhaps but one that actually enables me to anticipate a moment such as the one yesterday afternoon before it has completely unfolded, to anticipate how it is going to play out and to savor it in its entirety.

At some point not too terribly late in the afternoon I went to the bank to cash a check. There is a branch of our bank just a mile or two from our office, which I matriculate to on an average of one time a week. Such has been my practice for the past several years. While it has long seemed to me that this particular branch has had an exceptionally high retention rate during the time I have banked there, yesterday they broke in not one, but two, new tellers.

While neither of the youngsters looked familiar to me, I would not have known either was "new" absent them sharing that information with the several customers who were in the bank while I was there. One of the newbies was a young man. His time was being occupied by a guy who was whining to no one in particular about the fact that the roots of a tree on his property had done something to his sewer line, which necessitated him to have to spend $15,000 to repair the damage and to install a new sewer line. He looked my direction for support. I was tempted to say aloud, "Do I look like I give a shit?" which - given the subject matter - would have been wholly appropriate but judging from his reaction to my reaction (his "re-reaction"?) my look alone conveyed that sentiment succinctly.

While Captain Poopy Pants was regaling Newbie Male with his tale of woe, the hyper-caffeinated little flibbertigibbet ("Take me to the volcano!") who represented the distaff side of the new wave of employees almost knocked herself unconscious making me aware of her availability at the far end of the counter. I did not realize that this little bundle of energy - in order to make eye-to-eye contact with me the customer was standing atop a box or a platform of some sort until after I handed her my check and she had to step away from her side of the counter momentarily. She damn near disappeared from view. Thankfully, with a voice occupying a space on the sound spectrum normally reserved for dog whistles and V-2 rockets even when out of sight, she was impossible to put out of mind.

An experience that felt as if it took all afternoon likely wrapped in less than five minutes. At its conclusion, I had what it was I had come to the bank in search of, which was a cashed check. However, during the experience it took all I could muster to not free the omnipresent counter pen from its chain and poke it squarely through the eye of the young woman on the other side. No single human being should have as much faux good cheer and positivity as was permeating through this young woman's tiny frame. On more than one occasion I thought she was going to spontaneously combust for she was manufacturing so much enthusiasm and energy.

Most assuredly somewhere there is a "New Employee Customer Service Manual" or some such thing for this young woman's employer that lists what to do and what not to do when interacting with customers. I am willing to wager that the print in the manual is black and white and to date no one at the Parsippany branch of my bank has explained to Princess Pep that life is lived in the gray areas. I hope they do so - and soon. I am far too lazy to drive the extra five miles to the next closest branch of the bank to my office. I fear if she does not temper her ridiculous enthusiasm I will one day scale the counter, crumple her up into a little ball and try to send her to the drive thru window in one of those pneumatic tubes.

And while her more experienced cohorts are teaching her the ropes at the bank, I hope they tell her that the lollipops are for customers only. If there is one thing this kid does not need, it is unfettered access to a stimulant.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Like Wine & Cheese

Well, I am already 1/52nd of the way to 45 and I still do not feel a day older than 43. The first week has been pretty uneventful. If the next fifty pass in as unspectacular a fashion, I can do 44 years old standing on my head. Considering I spent part of Sunday falling on my ass while attempting to run on my feet, standing on my head does not really sound too bad after all. A nice change of pace. Really.

Since I was out of the room when they passed out the wisdom side salads that accompany the main entree of age, I remain child-like in my fascination with things that I do not completely understand. "Such as?", you ask. Well, I am happy you asked. Let me share.

Margaret is a smoker. It takes something hardcore, such as the flu or pneumonia, to keep my wife from putting a cigarette in her mouth. While I know not whether she would admit it or whether she is even cognizant of it, she seems to smoke more than usual when she is feeling stressed out by one thing or another. No secret there as I understand it. Apparently stress is one of those things that prompts folks who smoke to light up. I am a non-smoker but I grasp the concept.

Riddle me this then Batman. How is it possible that Barack Obama gets himself elected President of the United States as a cigarette-sneaking, nicotine-chasing fiend and THEN is able to quit smoking? I saw a piece in the New York Times yesterday that the First Lady told a gathering at the White House that he last smoked approximately a year ago. Get elected to the most stressful job on the planet and then kick the habit. While I am happy for him, given that he is a young man and he and the Missus are the parents of two young daughters, I worry that I have seen this film before and know how it ends. No one in the audience at the gathering apparently asked Mrs. Obama if the President's abstinence had withstood his Super Bowl Sunday conversation (to give that world its broadest possible definitional meaning) with Baba O'Reilly. If it did and if he is midway through another week with his suckometer still functioning properly, then I would appreciate it if he could share his secret for success with my wife. I voted for McCain but I will gladly take help in this battle anywhere I can get it......including 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As I get older, I find that I have no greater interest in automobiles than I did when I was a boy, which is to say not much at all. Schiff, I apologize profusely for my apathy. I would point out as well that my status as a "non car guy" does not mean that I do not know where one can buy or lease a truly fantastic vehicle. I am never more acutely aware of my limitations in the car-buying arena than I am on Super Bowl Sunday. It seems to me as if at least one-third of the spots this year were - as they always seem to be - car commercials. Car commercials fascinate me and beguile me for a number of reasons.

First, because no matter what the car is that is being advertised, the manufacturer of it displays it as if it is the hottest, hippest ride in the world. KIA had a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl designed to make the car-buying public think that one of its new sedans was the object of some sort of intergalactic tug-o-war and a Native American prayer chant or some such thing. Was I the only person watching at home thinking, "Aliens travel millions of light years to get to Earth so they can steal our KIA?" before bursting into laughter. I take on faith that it is a well-made, reasonably affordable, not hideous-looking car. But it is what it is. It is a KIA. Not a Jaguar. Not a Mini. Just how much alcohol does KIA's advertising department think is consumed on Super Bowl Sunday? Quite a lot apparently.

Second, because car commercials always contain the disclaimer, "Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do Not Attempt." I have long admired the gumption of an industry that peddles its wares via the "forbidden fruit" approach. This is especially so in the spots that show the car in question doing nothing that from my den appears to be the least bit extraordinary. A few years ago, Nissan had a commercial for its Pathfinder that showed people using their cars in lieu of ponies to play polo. In that scenario, I completely grasped why their legal department slapped the "PD/CC/DNA" tag on it. And I was happy that I saw it flash across the screen when I did for it saved me the embarrassment and inconvenience of driving to Efinger's to see whether they had any polo equipment in stock.

It is when the "PD/CC/DNA" disclaimer appears during a spot when the car appears to be doing nothing other than doing what one purchases a car to do that I scratch my head. Wild stuff such as going straight while being driven in a wide-open space. I drive a lot for work. I am by no means a "professional driver". Yet Skate and I spend a great deal of time doing things such as driving straight - usually without incident. Attempting things that car manufacturers of every nationality tell us we are not to dare without ever telling us why. Rule breakers are we.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rambling Man

Was your work place dominated by folks moving half a step slower than usual yesterday? It was Super Bowl hangover perhaps. Stupidly, in my case my lack of alacrity had less to do with staying up late (for me anyway) to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday night than it did with my decision to break free of my treadmill and run outside on Sunday afternoon. My marathon training plan for Sunday February 6 called for an 8-mile run (between you/me I am much more excited for Monday February 28, which calls for a full frontal lobotomy. That should trick up the enjoyment level of this whole experience quite a lot.)

I have been trapped inside all winter, running on the treadmill because the twin evils of Mother Nature and the Boro's Department of Public Works (no truth to the rumor that the Department's nickname is "the Oxymorons" although that might be half-right) have conspired to fill my days with lousy weather and even worse road conditions. So Sunday, with the mercury tickling forty-five degrees, I became an outside runner again. I took to the streets of my (not quite) hometown to fulfill my training obligation. All was well - relatively speaking - until I hit the seven mile mark. Unfortunately I hit it both literally and figuratively. A piece of ice cleverly hidden by a piece that had gotten my full and undivided attention moved deftly - particularly in comparison to our narrator Fred Astaire - and in the immortal words of Joanie K., I ended up falling, "ass over teakettle."

I did no permanent damage to either of the aforementioned body parts. My right ankle was not quite as fortunate. Having sprained my ankle too many times to count I know precisely how it feels to do that. I am happy to report that I did not do it again on Sunday. I twisted it pretty well. Well enough at least that I had to hobble home on it Sunday afternoon to complete my run and that I spent all day Monday still hobbling around the office.

The prognosis for a complete recovery is excellent. My research of top medical journals (OK, Wikipedia) revealed that no one has died from a twisted ankle in quite some time. All in all, not too terrible a Super Bowl Sunday. I won no money in the Super Bowl Pool we had for our party but given my history of success in such endeavors that came as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

My Super Bowl Sunday went better than the several hundred folks who got into the stadium only to find out that the seats they thought they had purchased did not exist. If I understood what I read (try sticking the landing on that prodigious leap of faith on a bum right ankle) then these folks had bought tickets for what would have been temporary seats put in place for the Super Bowl only. Apparently there was some issues regarding building codes, fire codes or some such things and they were not permitted to sit there. On Monday the NFL announced that all of the folks affected by the snafu would be reimbursed at three times the cost of their tickets AND guests of the NFL at next year's game in Indianapolis.

Candidly, I could not discern from what I read on-line whether those with no seats ended up being put someplace else in the stadium from which to watch the game or whether they missed it altogether. If it was the latter and a fan who was impacted by the decision was there to root for either the Packers or the Steelers, then the promise of a trip to next year's event to perhaps watch two teams other than the one that is my team may not be the panacea it appears to be. If they were in the stadium and able to watch the game on Sunday, then while respecting how completely pissed off they were - with 100% justification - over what went down in Big D, the consolation prize of a full refund x3 and next year's game on the NFL's dime is arguably more than adequate recompense. Of course, if the owners lock the players out, then there may not be a game in Indianapolis in February 2012. Regardless, I am certain there are many fun things to do there in February.....such as go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and pray to get run over by a car testing tires or engines.

At least in the comfort of my den, I have the ability to mute both Christina Aguilera and the Black Eyed Peas. For the life of me, I know not why at major sporting events we insist on trotting out pop stars to butcher the National Anthem. Radical suggestion: allow the USMC Band to play it as an instrumental piece and allow the assembled multitude to sing along off-key. Whenever a pop performer does an adequate job with the Anthem the reaction is a cocktail comprised of equal parts relief and surprise. Let us dispense with it completely.

And while we are dispensing with things completely, let us delete the Xanadu-like halftime shows from future games. The NFL spent a lot of money all season hyping its Play 60! program. Once whichever network that is broadcasting the game gets through its intermission presentation, which is always scintillating television in its own right, introduce America to some of these kids. Or the kids from the Punt, Pass and Kick competition. They could have the finals of the PPK on the field at the Super Bowl. Hell, had Mike Tomlin seen a 12 year-old nail a field goal at halftime Sunday, he could have suited him or her up to kick for the Steelers in the second half. As it turned out, their kicker's second-half field goal attempt threatened A-Rod's bucket of popcorn far more than it did the goalposts. Nice job, Shankapotomus. At this point I am compelled to point out that fellow Buff Mason Crosby scored seven points (4 for 4 on extra points and 1 for 1 on field goals).

Besides rewarding America's youth for a job well-done, substituting the PPK for the halftime show would ensure that the Black Eyed Peas never come up again in the performance rotation. I learned Sunday that whoever produces and mixes their albums is worth his/her weight in Grammy gold. The young woman (Fergie?) who is one of their singers would have had to improve considerably to be atrocious. She sounded as if she was under attack by the blinking lights that adorned her costume. Always nice to see Slash emerge from hiding to play a snippet from "Sweet Child O' Mine". Even nicer not to see Axl Rose emerge from under the wreckage of his career to join his old band mate on stage.

The person who had quite possibly the worst Super Bowl Sunday though was Robert Cook. Mr. Cook is a 79 year-old Packer fan. He is one of the quartet of gentlemen who Visa immortalized in their commercials for the "Never Missed A Super Bowl Club". Apparently as he and his wife were preparing to travel from their home in Wisconsin to watch their beloved Pack play in the Super Bowl for the first time in more than a decade, Mr. Cook took very ill. Ill to the point that not only did not he not make the trip to Texas but to the point where he had to make a trip to a hospital instead. His two daughters (or two of his daughters as I know not whether he has more than just the two who attended the game) went to the game in his absence. What a tough break. I did not see any stories about him after Sunday's showdown regarding how he was doing and feeling but I hope that he is well enough to embark on a new streak next year. He just might have the chance to see his Pack win again.

On second thought, he probably had a better Super Bowl Sunday than President Obama. After all, he may have had to spend his day in a hospital bed but at least he was not face-to-face with Bill O'Reilly....

....Mr. Cook's doctors probably figured he was enduring enough discomfort.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Tonight at Liberty Hall

On Fridays I tend to sneak home from the office earlier than I do the first four nights of the week. Shoot me. I am human after all - or perhaps just a reasonable facsimile thereof. Nevertheless close enough to pass inspection, albeit not a probing, incisive one. Monday through Thursday it is past 6:00 p.m. when I head out the door and get into Skate to begin the trek home. Fridays however I tend to try to have ass in driver's seat by 5:15 or 5:30 at the latest. Burning the midnight oil? Not this guy. But since my work day starts at 4:30 a.m. I offer no apology whatsoever for its ending time in the p.m. - even on Fridays.

Winter here thus far has been much like winter across the North American continent has been: brutal. The pattern thus far has been a series of frigid days back-to-back-to-back that warm up just enough to permit the sky to shake loose snow in a quantity that I have no memory of ever having seen before. Perhaps we have gotten more snow in winters past than we have had gifted upon us in winter present and I have simply blocked out the memory. I know not.

Friday night I did not actually get out of the office and into my car until slightly after 5:30. Apparently a lot of people are on the road at that time - at least on the stretch of Route 287 South in the Parsippany area - for shortly after getting onto the highway I found myself sitting stopped on the highway. Too many cars, too few lanes and no one was moving. As I sat in traffic, I did one of my favorite things to do. I took a look at the folks in the vehicles around me. While they were by and large a nondescript lot - except for the two young ladies (I am awful estimating ages but if I had to guess I would have placed their ages somewhere in the early 20's) who appeared to be having as much fun listening to music inside of their car as I have seen some people have at concerts. I grew exhausted just watching them flailing around in the front seat of their vehicle.

What pleased me even more than the impromptu bit of performance art that unwound in the middle lane was the fact that I could see them. And I could see the other people in the other vehicles around me. I could see them and not their silhouettes illuminated by the headlights of another. The people themselves were plainly visible. As I was to them, which is how I know that the a##hole behind me who laid on his horn when I failed to move with urgency when the vehicle in front of me moved forward roughly eleven feet saw clearly my response to his directive, which was since he was riding solo he might try sexual self-gratification as a way to pass the time. While I did not know at the time how well he read lips, when he pulled out around me to the right at his first opportunity and shared with me his belief that I was indeed #1, I realized that he was quite skilled in that discipline.

We are only in February's first week and I fully expect that more lousy, bone-chilling, stormy weather awaits us. But all hope is indeed not lost. The amount of daylight contained in each day grows just a bit from one day to the next. Pitchers and catchers shall report to big league Spring Training facilities across Florida and Arizona within the next week or so. February is the shortest month after all. By day's end today we will have already passed its quarter pole. March will be but three short weeks away.

Three short weeks. Stay hard, stay hungry and stay alive if you can. That light guiding us all home at day's end is not merely daylight. It is the light leading us out of this hard land. Spring will soon be here. Here is to hoping that it arrives right on time.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

One Nation Under Pigskin

Today is America's #1 unofficial national holiday. Super Bowl Sunday. Seventeen and one-half hours of over analysis and pontification and one-plus hour of hype and overproduction serve as bookends to what one hopes is an entertaining football game. As a New York Giants fan I have no particular rooting interest. As a CU-Boulder graduate, I suppose I favor the Green Bay Packers. The only Buff alum who is playing in the game for either team (I think anyway) is Mason Crosby. Crosby kicks for the Packers. If they win - and particularly if he has some role in the positive outcome - then the University's Annual Fund will put the full-court press on him for donations. That invariably works to my benefit. Go Cheese Heads! Parenthetically the Packers also employ another Buff alum, linebacker Brad Jones, but his season ended prematurely when he was injured in October and underwent shoulder surgery.

The Missus and I shall host a little informal, impromptu Super Bowl party this afternoon. What an original idea; right? I think among our number shall be at least one or two staunch supporters of the men from the Steel City but given that the passion level of our crowd will be keyed more on the food and the adult beverages than the action on the field, I am not worried at all about any fights getting started. Good thing too for I would hate to absorb a drubbing in my own home on Super Bowl Sunday.....although I have to start trial on a case this Wednesday on which I shall likely absorb a drubbing so anything to engender jury sympathy might not be a bad idea.

Today is also the birthday of one of my oldest and unquestionably my tallest friend. Welcome to Club 44 David. He and I served as best men at each other's wedding. He is married to one of the world's true jewels. Christine is a remarkable woman. The two of them have been Maryland residents for longer than I would have hoped - although the setting serves them well and they are raising a family of gorgeous, terrific kids there so again goes to show what I know. Margaret and I have not seen them in far too long but the wonders of virtual communication being what they are, I have been able to keep in reasonably good contact with David over the years and across the miles. Happy Birthday David. Here's to hoping today kicks off (note the topical Super Bowl humor) a very happy year for you, your bride and your brood.

This weekend falling as it does also marks the second anniversary of the death of an old friend of mine with who I did a far worse job of staying in touch over the years and across the miles. Stu Solomon died two years ago yesterday. He was forty-one years young. I tend to think of Stu when I think of David because both of them are men who are considerably bigger than I am and are two of the kindest, gentlest souls I have ever known. Whoever is in charge of these things knew what he or she was doing when making these two. Each was equipped with a heart big enough to match their frame. Rest easy Stu. You earned it.

Enjoy your holiday. May the game match the hype, which it seems more often than not in recent years it has. Apparently once that rule was passed barring the Buffalo Bills, the Minnesota Vikings and any team coached by Dan Reeves from playing in the Super Bowl, the competitive balance of the game increased exponentially. If you want to have some fun, then at 6:25 Eastern time whip out your cell phone and call the one person you know who will be most irritated by getting a phone call right at kickoff of the Super Bowl. If you are hosting a party, then you can even create a pool for your guests as to the over/under for how long it takes the person you call to get you off of the phone and back to the game.

And if you have my phone number and think, "Hey that is a good idea!" my phone will be on vibrate and will remain unanswered. Leave a voice mail. Perhaps I will call you back after the game....

....right as FOX starts its extended episode of GLEE. You're welcome.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

And Then There Were Three

An era ended yesterday morning. At a press conference at Yankee Stadium, Andy Pettitte said goodbye. The story actually broke on Thursday, which now gives me yet another reason to wonder whether Mom really did me a favor by standing fast and refusing to announce my arrival to the world until February 3 as opposed to February 2. Eight years to the day before I was born, the music died. Forty-four years to the day after I was born, the Core Four died as well.

Driving home from the office on Thursday night I heard the story on the radio that Pettitte had called one of the Silver Spoon Twins (although I do not know whether that conversation took place yesterday or at some earlier time) to tell him that his baseball-playing days were through. Almost immediately I smiled at the thought of the Missus and me and our decision to play hooky from work on that frigid Friday morning in November 2009. We skipped work that day to head to the Canyon of Heroes for the ticker tape parade celebrating the World Series win over the Phillies. We made the trip - the first one for either of us - because something in my gut had told me that that go-round would be the last go-round for Messrs. Jeter, Posada, Rivera and Pettitte as a group. Although they remained together for one more try at a brass ring in 2010, my gut was right. 2009 was indeed the last dance.

Andy Pettitte is an athlete for whom I shall always have a fondness because of the impression he made in the mind's eye of a young baseball fan - Rob - when he was just starting to learn and enjoy the game. Pettitte was always better than advertised even if the Yankees brass and certain elements of the Yankees fan base had a difficult time comprehending that and appreciating him. Invariably there shall be debate in the days ahead - it started in fact from the moment he announced his retirement - regarding Pettitte's bona fides for the Hall-of-Fame. Whether he did enough on the field to get in. Whether he did too much off of the field (his admission regarding his use of performance enhancing drugs) to get in. At last check, I was not a member of the Baseball Writers of America so I have no vote. And while I have my own thoughts on the subject, they are no better or worse than yours - whatever yours may be.

He played in the major leagues for sixteen years. He spent thirteen of those sixteen years in the Bronx pitching for an organization that knows a thing or two about the importance of excellent left-handed pitching. Whitey Ford and Ron Guidry blazed that path before Pettitte and he carried on in their footsteps masterfully. Likely for no reason other than Boss George always coveted the toys in the neighbor's backyard more than those in his own, at the end of the 2003 season - a season that ended in a disappointing six-game World Series loss to the Florida Marlins that ended at the Stadium with Pettitte on the hill for the Bombers as his mates were shut out by Josh Beckett - inexplicably the Yankees stiff-armed Pettitte. He was a free agent who likely never intended to leave New York but whose shabby treatment led him to head home to Houston. He stayed there for three years.

From 1996 through 2003, the Yankees made the World Series six times. They won the World Series four times. They made the playoffs every year during that stretch - losing the Division Series to the Indians in '97 and to the Angels in '02. Over that eight-year period, Pettitte was part of a team that won twelve American League playoff series and six American League pennants. During the three years that he was away in Houston, the Yankees won a grand total of one playoff series. They were three-quarters of the way to winning a second when the Roster of Imposters they had imported in a half-assed effort to fill the void left by Pettitte's departure revealed their true colors. In the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Yankees learned the hard way some new math: Kevin Brown + Javy Vazquez were less than Andy Pettitte.

During the Houston hiatus, the Yankees won zero pennants and played in zero World Series without him. He won a National League pennant and played in a World Series without them. In 2007, he came home. In 2009, he was as responsible for the Yankees' 27th World Championship as anyone else on the roster. He started and won the clincher all three rounds of the playoffs: the Division Series against the Twins, the ALCS against the Angels and the World Series against the Phillies.

Pettitte's most endearing quality as an athlete - to me at least - was his toughness. He never was the prettiest girl at the prom. He never was the first name ticked off on anyone's list in response to, "Who is the best pitcher in baseball?" Yet, every time you looked up, there he was. When he won, he did so with class. When he lost, he did so with grace. He would - after a bad performance - offer an explanation of what he had been trying to do out on the mound but never put forth an alibi or an excuse for a less than stellar result. And facing the realization that while his arm is willing his considerable heart is not, he stepped away.

Perhaps the best thing about Andy Pettitte's three-year hitch in Houston is that it helped prepare us Yankees fans for today. There were too many among our number, and I happily exclude myself from this group, who did not fully appreciate Pettitte's importance to the team prior to his exile following the '03 season. None shall make that mistake this time around. He did his job. He did his job well. Now, this time on his own terms, he is going home. This time for keeps.

Well done #46. Many thanks for many thrills. Presuming that the Jumbotron-sized plaque of Boss George that was installed in Monument Park last summer did not consume all of the available real estate out there, methinks that on a summer afternoon a few years further on up the road, Pettitte will join the other Yankee greats in the Bronx's very own locale of fame. The Bronx's best apostle standing with his hands on his own hardware....

....and with five World Series trophies, you better believe he will need both hands.