Thursday, June 30, 2011

Living Proof and Baby Bowinkles

I am a person of few friends.  I know a fairly significant number of people but have only a few people who I am fortunate enough to be able to call  my friend (or more properly to have him/her call me his/her friend).  Go figure; right?  Someone who spends his day spreading sunshine such as I do not ending up Homecoming King or being voted Most Popular!  Tell Geraldo to put down that empty soda bottle he scored from Capone's vault.  He has just been handed a real scoop. 

For most of my life, among the people I have been lucky enough to call "friend" is Mark.  He and I have known each other for more than thirty years now.  Perhaps it is the generally sunny disposition of the Scots and the Irish that has bonded us together for so long.  Perhaps it is the fact that I am long-winded, he is deaf in one ear and we have for years positioned ourselves at bars in such a position that I can talk all night and he can hear about 10% of what I say that has enabled each of us to go home happy.  He and I have a friendship that has survived some stuff that one might ordinarily expect to be the death knell of a friendship - including a lot of stuff that happened when we were both considerably younger men than we are now.  It did not.  We simply scuffled our way through it and came out on the other side.  None the worse for wear.

The best thing about Mark is that he and I can go extended periods of time without seeing one another and slip back into the stream essentially at the point where we last left off.  I realized, thinking about him this week on the occasion of his birthday - he turns 44 today (and if he was not in fact younger than I am I would make a snarky comment about his age) - that I last saw him more than four years ago.  He came to our house on the occasion of my 40th birthday.  Bowinkle being Bowinkle, he brought me the largest bottle of scotch whiskey I have ever seen in my life - and Bowinkle being Bowinkle, it was of course Johnnie Walker Blue Label.  He goes top shelf or not at all. 

While we see each other infrequently we chat on a regular basis - usually via e-mail or text message.  In all the years I have known him I do not think we have ever had a telephone conversation of greater than three minutes.  He is a conversational economist and while I have not - and will not - ever be confused for being such an animal myself, I recognize it in him and respect it. 

Over the course of the almost two decades that Margaret and I have been married, he has helped the Missus and me out in any number of ways.  He is a gifted mechanic and knows more about automobiles than anyone I have ever met (with the possible exception of my brother-in-law Joe with whom he might actually share the gold medal podium).  A number of years ago, Margaret was shopping for a new car.  I know less than Diddley about cars, which might go a long way towards explaining Skate's presence in my driveway, and Margaret knows about as little as I do.  But she knew what she wanted.  She also knew that she and I would have no idea whether she was getting a good deal or not, considering we had never been to this particular dealer and had no relationship with anyone there.  I called Mark.  He met us at the dealership, asked the sales guy questions about the car that he had no hope of knowing the answer to, and basically embarrassed him into giving us the vehicle at Margaret's price.  For just one afternoon, I got to experience how Joe Torre and Joe Girardi have felt all of these years summoning Mo in from the Yankees bullpen.  When you have a world-class closer on your side, you fear little.

There are few people I know who work so hard, so relentlessly that they make me feel lazy.  Mark is at the top of that list.  He is blessed with a truly amazing work ethic.  It has served him well all of his professional life. 

And it will no doubt serve him well in a brand-new role:  fatherhood.  Saturday he became a Dad for the first time - and in typical Mark fashion he did two times over.  He reports that Mom and both babies (a little boy and a little girl) are doing well.  I did not need to ask how he is doing.  I know.  That is the nice thing about being friends with a person for most of your respective lives.  There are certain questions that need not be asked because the answer is both known and knowable without having to do so. 

In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused

Searching for a little bit of God's mercy, I found living proof.

He has indeed.  And in doing so, has finally answered a question that has seemed beyond my grasp the entire time I have known him:  what do you buy Mark for his birthday?  Peace.  He wears it well.  It fits him perfectly.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Perils of Gambling in Havana

Thor has already swung his mighty hammer at the box office.  The X-Men have made yet another appearance.  Green Lantern is among us.  Captain America arrives next month.  'Tis the season for superheroes at the multiplex.....although I implore you that you should ignore all of these bloated messes and plunk your hard-earned movie-viewing money down on "Super 8".   You shall not regret it.  

Anyway, I digress.  The appearance of superheroes apparently is not limited to the multiplex. Perhaps you missed the world premiere of "Potty Peeping Man"?   On June 17th, police in Boulder, Colorado responded to a report of a man who had been hiding in the tank of a portable toilet at a yoga festival.  When he was discovered (by a young lady clearly in touch with her inner Rockwell), security at the festival tried to apprehend him.  They failed.  Shirtless, shoeless and covered in poo, he eluded capture

Alas, six days later he was arrested by police in Vail for panhandling.  According to the story in the Daily Camera, "Witnesses said [the suspect] was panhandling near a gas station in Vail, and when police contacted him, an officer realized he resembled the portable toilet suspect."   Just goes to show you I reckon that even when we are covered in human feces we do not all look alike.  Perhaps it was the distinctive pattern of the residual corn niblets that gave him away.  Or the distinctive smell.  Regardless, the police grabbed him up and hauled him off to jail.  As an aside, attempting to panhandle in Vail might be even crazier than swimming in an portable shitatorium in Boulder.  Given the median income in Vail, a disheveled, half-dressed dude hanging around a gas station begging for cash kind of, sort of stands out like a sore thumb.....even without the wads of scrunched-up TP in his hair.

Proving that Willie the Shakes was talented but not all-knowing, when Potty Peeping Man was arrested the police learned his name is Luke Irvin Chrisco, which undoubtedly accounts for his slipperiness.  Last Friday night, the Daily Camera interviewed him from his jail cell in Eagle County.  Chrisco revealed that his purpose in submerging himself in the excrement of others was a holy one, which is interesting if for no other reason than further investigation into this chuckle head has revealed that he has made being a Peeping Tom into something of his life's calling.  His purpose is holy.  His method is hole-y. 

Proof perhaps of his intent to mount an insanity defense, after drilling many a peep Poop Hand Luke has muttered many a peep to law enforcement in the several days since his arrest.  Acting upon information that he provided, Boulder Police have been able to corroborate the existence of upwards of a half-dozen peepholes that Chrisco drilled into women's restrooms around the city at establishments ranging from restaurants to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  The more he talks, the more charges they add to those originally filed against him.  And yet, he continues to speak.  Amazing.  It is as if he has diarrhea of the mouth.

At this point, it is appropriate to point out that Mr. Chrisco is in some deep sh*t.  Familiar surroundings no doubt.  To his credit, he seems remarkably unfazed by all that is now swirling around him....

....even as he takes a moment to clean it off of the fan.  And out of his hair.  And his ears.  And his nose.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

One for the Road

A considerable amount of verbiage has been expended in this space over the course of the past week to ten days or so regarding the life and legacy of The Big Man Clarence Clemons, who died on June 18 at age 69.  As per my usual, I extend no apology for the choice of topic.  My little piece of real estate means it is my call as to what I want to discuss.  For better or for worse. 

Yesterday morning on the website, I came across a piece written by Jay Lustig of The Star-Ledger, whose insights and critiques of both live and recorded music I have read and enjoyed (if not always agreed with) for years.  In this particular piece, he performed a service for those of us who do not listen to Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show on Sunday night.  He shared with his readers some of what Little Steven had shared with his listeners Sunday night on the subjects of Clarence Clemons and the future of the E Street Band.  Speaking of the latter, Little Steven said in part that the show will go on.  As it should.  As it must.  "We will continue to make music and perform.  Let's face it, that's all we really know how to do."  Considering the accolades he garnered for his years of faithful service as Tony Soprano's consigliore (not to mention the proprietor of the hottest little gentleman's club in all of Bergen County), not to mention his gigs as a radio DJ on both terrestrial and satellite platforms, it would appear as if Mr. Van Zandt at least could find ways aplenty to fill his day should space open on his daily calendar.  Nevertheless he indicated that while life in the studio and on stage in the absence of Clarence will never be the same - similar if not identical to the manner in which life changed forever for all of the members of the group when Phantom Danny Federici died slightly more than three years ago, it will continue to move forward.  Perhaps it simply has to.

It was on the subject of Clarence Clemons that he waxed with simple elegance and eloquence.  From my limited and admittedly selfish perspective, I found them to be worth sharing here:

"Band members have a special bond. A great band is more than just some people working together. It's like a highly specialized army unit, or a winning sports team. A unique combination of elements that becomes stronger together than apart. We become a part of each other and experience marvelous, miraculous moments in life that only we truly share. We will continue to make music and perform. Let's face it, that's all we really know how to do. But it will be very different without him. Just as it's been different without Danny (Federici), our first lost comrade....

....And for the E Street Band, the heart of us, Clarence and Danny, will always be there, stage right. So thank you, Clarence. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. But I'll see you again, soon enough. Thank you for blowing life-changing energy and hope into this miserable world with your big, beautiful lungs. And thank you for sharing a piece of that big heart nightly with the world. It needs it. You and that magnificent saxophone, celebrating, confessing, seeking redemption and providing salvation all at once. Speaking wordlessly, but so eloquently, with that pure sound you made. The sound of life itself."

The sound of wind in the black elms.  If you listen closely enough, then you can hear it.


Monday, June 27, 2011

The Other Side of Valor

As a kid, one of the pieces of advice I recall getting from my father was his own take on the old adage about discretion and valor.  Dad used to remind me that, "stupidity is the flip side of valor."  I filed that away right next to his #1 Rule of the Playground, "Never write a check with your mouth that your hands can't cover."  He was not a high-quantity font of paternal advice but qualitatively, I reckon he more than held his own.

I wonder though if here in the information age, Dad's advice holds up.  I think that no longer is "stupidity the flip side of valor."  Rather, it appears as if anonymity is.  We live in an age in which expression of thought is available to essentially everyone and at no charge.  I take full advantage of those two facts on a daily basis in this space.  Countless others do likewise.  And here, contrary to what I might think in my moments of most deluded grandeur, all that is expressed is one man's opinion.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  But it is an opinion to which I sign my name.  Every day. 

No one will ever mistake me for being the halcyon of righteousness or the prism through which the the actions of others should be viewed.  Trust me when I say that it is a mistake I never make - and if I am not inclined to venture there then no one else should.  Yet, I think that on this issue there is a reasonable likelihood that I am right. 

The Internet has created a whole new, more virulent strain of beer muscles.  Now, instead of liquor being the intoxicant it appears as if anonymity is.  An individual can hide on-line either through the use of a screen name or simply through complete anonymity and say things about another that one would likely never have the intestinal fortitude to say face-to-face.  The utter absence of courage should be enough to shame adults into acting their age but of course it is not.  Rather, it is business as usual.  It happens so regularly that sadly - and pathetically - it is not surprising. 

I am more than a little proud to say that it shall never be business as usual in this little rest stop on the information superhighway.  Blood may be spilled.  Feelings may be occasionally tweaked.  Occasionally, a nose may end up out of joint.  If and when that happens, then you will not have far to look to find the object of your consternation.  He will be right here.  As he was yesterday.  As he shall be tomorrow. 

Happiness is being easily found after all; right?  Well, perhaps not.  But at least it is not cowardice.  And that counts for something.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The 99% Rule

It is already the final Sunday of June.  Holy smokes.  Where does the time go?  I presume that by this relatively late day all of the kids who were supposed to graduate from high school this year have in fact done so - although given the amount of days lost to snow and other wintry precipitation this year it would not surprise me to see school buses on the road into the middle of July.  I know that Middlesex High School's graduation was Wednesday night.  I wonder - I have not yet seen him to ask - whether my landscaper Frank was the one kid in his class rooting for a rainy day.  Not that he had any interest in putting a damper on his big night but given that his business this time of year is weather-dependent, I had visions of him spending most of the ceremony agonizing over how much money he was losing by walking as opposed to working.  Judging by the photographs I saw, he and the rest of the '11 Blue Jays had a very nice, albeit hot night for their graduation. 

I know that in my sisters' households (well in 2 out of 3 of them at least) there is a child for whom this is a summer of transition:  high school graduate morphing into college freshman.  For parents and children alike in those homes, I reckon that this summer will fly past in half a heartbeat.  Actually, if my memory is not playing tricks on me entirely, then I seem to recall that as a kid summer always seemed to go by too fast.  Lots of fun.  Not enough time. 

My children are not in fact children any more.  They are adults - in their mid-20's - and making their way in the world (for present purposes Suz's way has its home base a room at the top of the stairs in our house, which I suspect thrills both Suz and Margaret more than I could ever possibly fathom).  While they were teenagers in the age of everyone having a cell phone and video gaming systems that made my Atari system look like....well Pong I suppose - they were at least able to enjoy the "moppet" era (what Mom used to refer to as the "single digits") of their life in a pre-technology age. 

Summer days were spent reading books, working on projects (including quite entertaining stage productions), playing outside and simply being kids.  For one month every summer, Margaret and crew packed up and headed south to Silver Beach, which is a little sliver of a community a hairball north of Lavallette.  During that month the kids spent their days either on the beach, in the ocean or hanging around the house talking and playing games with one another and everyone else who was around, including their grandmother and their great-grandmother.   Life was pretty simple.  And life was good. 

I worry sometimes - in the uninformed manner in which one who does not have moppets in the house any longer - if kids are missing out on being kids these days.  There are so many gadgets to entertain them.  So much stuff to keep them busy - or perhaps more importantly from the parental perspective - to keep them (a) quiet; and (b) from driving mom and dad crazy.  And there seems as if there is a veritable glut of things for kids to do:  go here, do this, see that.  It sure seems as if there is a lot going on.  Tough to be a parent of a little one these days and try to channel your inner Goldilocks in assessing your child's summer schedule.  Presumably, "just right" exists somewhere on the continuum between "not enough" and "too much".  The secret is trying to figure out exactly where.

I enjoyed the hell out of summer as a kid.  Through age 13 (the summer of '80) we made our annual pilgrimage to Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania.  With the exception of interruptions to participate in one of the old man's seemingly ceaseless supply of "Idiot Projects", my days were spent swimming and water skiing. 

After Dad died on Memorial Day '81, we never summered there again.  Mom sold the house a few years later - although I do not recall when exactly.  Although the lake ceased to be part of my life, lazing my way through summer did not.  For the next few summers (until I was old enough to drive so I could get back and forth to work), I spent my days hanging out with my pal Doug Carroll.  We lived miles beyond nowhere's middle in Neshanic Station where so few people then lived that no one around us could even get Cable TV.  No cable company considered it economically wise to run equipment into an area where so few lived.  It mattered not.  We spent our days shooting hoops, playing baseball with friends of his from his school and playing marathon Wiffle Ball games in his driveway. 

There were days of my youthful summers during which I was bored.  No doubt about it.  That is the perplexing thing about time I suppose:  one day could seem endless even though the summer as a whole flew by at warp speed.   I have not been a kid for a very long time but I reckon that the same holds true today.

I was driving home from a meeting on Friday and found myself driving through Bound Brook - on Route 28.  While the skies had been clear when I left my meeting about 30 minutes earlier, by the time I had made it to Bound Brook the rain was falling in what could fairly be described as torrents.  Brutal stuff.  And then something caught my eye off to my right on the sidewalk.  Two little boys (I would guess that neither was north of ten years old) splashing around in the pouring rain, laughing their fool heads off and getting soaked to the bone.  Neither looked as if he had a care in the world.  Both looked as if he would have paid cash money to have stayed in that moment - if not forever - then at least for the foreseeable future. 

And then it occurred to me that all I really hope for - when it comes to summer and kids - (even with my little blackened coal lump of a heart) is for every kid to have at least one such moment.  A moment of pure, unadulterated joy, created wholly by him or her (in this case with a glorious assist from Mother Nature) and unspoiled by either adults or high-tech gadgetry.  By the time I drove past them I think my smile was as broad as either of theirs....but given the relative paucity of their heads compared to mine I had a significant advantage.

Life is not available as an "APP"....not yet anyway.  Thank goodness.  It is simply out there.  Hopefully, it is out there for your child to enjoy.  What else is summer for?

Bust out/Bet like you're leaving/
Life ain't about/Just breaking even



Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Run With The Dirty Angels

Waking up this morning I realized that I had been remiss in not using this space on even a single occasion during this past week to give a well-deserved shout out to the Sheehan Family and all those responsible for putting on the George Sheehan Classic.  The race, which is a fun and challenging (including but not limited to "Ball Buster Hill" at Mile 4) 5 mile jaunt through the streets of Red Bank, New Jersey, has been held annually there since 1994.  It honors the life, legacy and memory of Dr. George Sheehan, who was a physician, a philosopher and a runner.  He is a man sometimes referred to as "the father of the running boom" in the United States.  The fact that I am often referred to as the "lazy, drunk uncle of the running boom" is neither complimentary nor particularly relevant to this story.  The less said about that, the better.

Last Saturday morning in Red Bank dawned as the prototypical Jersey early summer day.  It warmed up rather quickly and when the course moved inland the air got almost thick enough to chew in spots.  Neither detracted one bit from the event or the experience.  Red Bank is a quite beautiful little town, situated as it is on the Navesink's banks.  I spent a considerable portion of my pre-race "prep time" walking along the waterfront and using my phone to take pictures of the sailboats in the river and the shoreline. 

Did it help my race performance?  Of course not.  Big deal.  I entered the Sheehan Classic with a reasonable expectation of finishing somewhere in or about the middle of the pack.  Mission accomplished.  I doubt highly that the fifteen minutes or so I spent taking pictures pre-race as opposed to stretching had much of an impact on that result. 

One of Dr. Sheehan's sons (I do not recall his first name) spoke to the runners as we stood at the starting line waiting to begin.  Among the things he shared with us was his father's mantra about running:  I do not run to add years to my life.  I run to add life to my years.  As mantras go, that one strikes me as particularly solid.  And in consideration of the fact that last Saturday was not only the day on which the Sheehan Classic was run but also the day on which Clarence Clemons died, Dr. Sheehan's philosophy strikes me as something that suits every person and every pursuit.  It certainly seemed to fit the Big Man to a "T".

I am already looking forward to next June.  I welcome the opportunity to add a bit more life to my years. 


Friday, June 24, 2011

The Other Man's Grass Is Always Greener

Mercifully, things are going so well for the populace of Phillipsburg New Jersey that its elected officials can devote their time and attention to critically important issues.....such as the height of Nicole Hodgskin's grass.  According to a story in the Express-Times, Hodgskin has not been living at the home she owns in P'Burg for some time.   She and her (soon to be former) husband are in the process of divorcing.  Exhibiting the communication skills that undoubtedly led to several minutes of happiness throughout the life span of their marriage, he was not staying at the home either.  He had apparently moved without telling her. 

Without boring you with the details or showing off too much of my vast knowledge of science, suffice it to say that when you have grass and you do not cut that grass, it tends to grow. 

Apparently it grew to a height at Nicole Hodgskin's home in P'Burg that it got the attention of the powers that be.  The Town sent her a "cut your grass or else" letter, which according to Hodgskin she was unaware of since she was already living "else" in elsewhere.  When she failed to respond to the letter or - more importantly from the Town's perspective - failed to cut her offending lawn, the Town took action.  They answered the question as to what was meant by "or else" in their notice to her.  What did P'Burg do?  It cut her grass. 

All kidding aside, given the time of year and the tendency of little winged and other vermin to take up root in areas where grass has overgrown, I understand the Town's concern.  Candidly, I would presume that Hodgskin's neighbors were none too disappointed to see the grass cut.  It probably helped them locate items that had been misplaced or mislaid for some time, such as small children and foreign-made compact automobiles (as if anyone in P'Burg would drive a foreign car!) and also assuaged their concerns that they or their loved ones would be attacked by a squadron of mosquitoes who had moved in next door. 

From my admittedly selfish perspective, the entertainment value of this story is not that the Town cut the lawn.  It is that the Town sent Nicole Hodgskin a bill in the amount of $650.00 to cover the cost of the cutting.  $650.00.  Hodgskin apparently has grass that would make Carl Spackler proud.  I hope to hell that Frank is now and remains forever unaware of this story.  I pay happily every week for the great job he does for me.  But at the rates charged by the Mayor Wyant of P'Burg I would be forced to either (a) go back to cutting my own grass; or (b) pouring concrete all over my property to replace the grass. 

And the Mayor's take on the amount of the bill that the Department of Public Works charged Hodgskin to cut her grass?  His was a reaction consistent with someone endowed at birth with a set made from pure titanium, "Based on the amount of employees and rain, we had to do our work orders on an overtime basis," Wyant said. "We also had to move debris from the property."  If any tax-paying resident of P'Burg ever is inclined to make an OPRA request for the DPW's personnel records and time sheets for this particular assignment, I hope that they receive them and publish them someplace.  Ought to make for some interesting reading.

The Town of Phillipsburg's tax rolls confirm that the Shangri-La in question is a 0.137 acre parcel of property - at least a portion of which is occupied presently (and presumably was on Shearing Day) by Hodgskin's house.  The same tax rolls confirm that in 2010 Hodgskin's estimated property tax was $5,056.66.  For those of you keeping score at home, on the Wyant Scale her estimated property tax last year was roughly the cost of eight Town-provided lawn cuttings.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.

The bad news for Hodgkins is that she will likely have to pay the bill.  The Town has apparently informed her that if she does not pay they will place a lien against the property - or even worse they will come out and cut the grass again.  Who the hell can afford to pay that bill a second time?  The good news?  Applications for the Phillipsburg Department of Public Works have gone up 478% since this story first appeared in the Express-Times earlier this week.  Who would not want to have a gig where the hourly rate for pushing a lawn mower is in excess of $100?  Besides, it gives the able-bodied men of P'Burg something to do until high school wrestling season starts - or until the annual Thanksgiving Day football game against Easton. 

My interview for a position is scheduled for Monday at 9:45.  I will be sure to let you know how it turns out.....

The other man's grass is always greener
The sun shines brighter on the other side
The other man's grass is always greener
Some are lucky, some are not
Just be thankful for what you've got.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bright and Lined with the Light of the Living

I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen play live more often than I can count.  Some of the best evenings of my life have been spent in the company of Margaret, Rob, Suzanne and our friends, including "The Sisters Kizis" (a/k/a the best-ever tailgate tandem - you have not tailgated at a concert until you have done so with Lynne and Gidg believe me), have been spent enjoying Springsteen's music.  And as anyone who had the opportunity to see him perform live when supported by the "Mighty E Street Band" can attest, musically it is hard to find a better return on your investment in the price of a ticket than at one of their full-band performances.

Mortality has had an evil, albeit inevitable and natural way of breaking up that old gang of theirs.  Slightly more than three years ago Danny Federici lost his battle against melanoma.  Less than one week ago, Clarence Clemons died from complications arising from a stroke he suffered on the previous Sunday.  When someone dies who we know of but do not know, with whom we have a great deal of familiarity but of whom we possess little to know intimate knowledge is it appropriate to mourn the death?  I would submit that (much as I tried in vain to persuade my calculus teacher in high school) there is no right or wrong answer to that question.  It is a personal choice.  It belongs to each of us, wholly and absolutely.

Mourning is a part of the process for many.  How long is that process - the process of grieving - supposed to last?  Again, from where I sit there is no right or wrong answer to that question either.  The choice is a personal one.  Several years ago my friend Phil Ayoub - a man so good that his only flaw is his blind allegiance to the Red Sux - posed that question artfully in a simply terrific song he wrote regarding the events of September 11, 2001, "Some ask when do we dance, Hope needs repair faith’s in a trance, Schoolbus window paper heart’s our only chance."  At some point, turning the page and looking ahead must become the order of business of the day.  Life goes on.  It must.  The alternative is simply unpalatable.

Tuesday afternoon in Florida, a number of people - some famous and some not - gathered for the Big Man's memorial service.  While I know not who was responsible for designing the Program for the service, I thought the choice of this passage beneath a photograph of Clarence was inspired, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."   The older I get, the better appreciation I have for just how prescient Dr. Seuss was.  On a day when friends gathered to celebrate the life and to mourn his passing, the service served as a way to connect the musical with the Seussical. 

According to published reports, in addition to giving one of the eulogies Springsteen also performed a solo rendition of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, which originally appeared on the Born To Run album and tells the tale as it were of the first meeting of Bruce and Clarence and (on the off-chance you have never listened to it all the way through) Clarence's taking up residence on E Street.  While it is a song I love and have sung along to (always on key by the way!  This is my story and I get to tell it as I wish!) with great enthusiasm, yelling and bursting into applause where indicated, I must confess that it is a song I prefer better in its stripped down, bare-bones form.  Why?  For no reason other than Bruce has a damn good story to tell and with a lot of the noise blanched out, it is far easier to not only hear the story but to listen to it as well.

It has been a story worth listening to for the past four decades.  Tuesday it took on - perhaps - a new, slightly deeper meaning.  For regardless of the depth of the night's darkness, the sidewalk remains bright and lined with the light of the living.  In a time of mourning, that is something worth celebrating.....

....and worth listening to


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saving Bacon

Boulder Colorado is now as it has been since I first visited it in the Spring of 1985, one of my favorite places.  Not only did I have more fun than I likely should have - and certainly more than I could ever hope to remember (thanking the good people from SONY for having concentrated their techno efforts in the 1980's on the Walkman and NOT on the digital camera) - during my time there as an undergraduate, but I have enjoyed every visit back since.  There have not been many return trips but each holds a place in my heart.  And given that my body contains fewer liquid calories now than it did a quarter-century ago, each holds a firm place in my memory too.

Slightly more than a month ago in this space I wrote about having stumbled across a story in the Daily Camera documenting the demise of a store on the Pearl Street Mall.  The store is/was called "Paper Dolls" and as I acknowledged at the time, I have/had zero familiarity with the place.  Yet, courtesy of my fun-loving father-in-law Joe I have a very vivid recollection of the Pearl Street Pig, located outside of the establishment's front door.  Joe, proving himself to be every inch of a Brooklyn Cowboy, hopped on Porky and rode it like a champ while we were in Colorado on our great migration West in July of Aught-Nine:

In Monday's Daily Camera I stumbled across yet another story about the Pearl Street Pig.  Apparently with the store having closed its doors forever, the Pig is to be sold by the store's owners through a silent auction at month's end.  Well, not so fast!  Boulder being Boulder, a group has been created whose purpose could not be swiner (I meant to write "finer") or more noble:  Save the Pearl Street Pig.  The Camera  in Monday's edition referred to the group, which has a website (   as, "A group of college students who grew up in Boulder is soliciting donations in an attempt to save the Paper Doll's iconic pig."

Their goal?  The preservation of the pig in the public space for the community to enjoy.

I know not whether their efforts will be successful but being a sucker for an underdog (or "underpig" I guess) I am rooting hard for them.  I communicated via e-mail with a couple of the folks who are apparently in charge of putting this effort together on behalf of the Pig and at the request of a fellow named Nick Quinlan, I sent him the link to my May 20 blog so that he could reprint an excerpt of what I wrote there here along with a photo of my father-in-law simply enjoying the hell out of himself during his ride on the Pig. 

Above the West entrance to Norlin Library on the Boulder campus is an excerpt from a charge that CU President George Norlin gave to a graduating class at CU.  During our trip West in Aught-Nine I managed to get a picture of it as well (albeit not as nice a shot as occupies June on the Forever Buffs 2011 Calendar):

"Who knows only his own generation remains always a child."  Who takes the time to enjoy life's simple pleasures, such as a well-placed Pig in an open air mall, remains always young at heart.  It is truly a distinction with a difference.  A difference as obvious as the smile on a seventy-eight year-old man's face.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

With One Eye Fixed Upon the Horizon Line

Summer is officially here.  It arrives today in the Northern Hemisphere at 1:16 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time.  Perhaps it is just me but its timing seems wrong somehow, juxtaposed as it is against the death of Clarence Clemons.  But then again, perhaps its timing is wholly appropriate.  After all, life goes on.  I presume that countless Springsteen fans have done what I have done these past several days:  spent quality time with some of my favorite CDs to enjoy the sound of the Big Man's saxophone.  Ah, the joy of audience created recordings.  They allow us to continue our trek forward while keeping a toehold in a place in time that brought us great joy.  Joy is a treasured commodity at any time but particularly so at a time in which, "You can hear the whole damn city crying."

I did not realize until I read about it in USA Today that Clarence had recently published an update to his 2009 memoir, which chronicled (among other things) his 2010 spinal fusion surgery and his efforts to rehabilitate himself afterwards.  In the updated version of his book, he wrote:

"As I write this I'm sitting on my porch looking out at the Bay toward the horizon where the ocean meets the sky. I intend to keep on keeping on until the day the music swells and giant letters rise out of the sea and spell the words The End."

While one might not know it from the harm I inflict upon it in this space on a day in, day out basis, I love language.  His use of language in that excerpt hits me just right.  I immediately pictured him as he described himself:  sitting gazing out over the water with an eye fixed upon the horizon line.  The point where the sea blends with the sky.  The point where there are not two distinct things but simply one, all-encompassing thing.  A beautiful, haunting image.

Summer arrives as scheduled this afternoon.  It arrives regardless of whether all of those we love and we had hoped would be here to herald its arrival are - in fact - here.  As it did last year.  As it shall do next year.  In the words of the great Pete Hamill, "Time itself is long, even if the time of man is short."   And as we were reminded just the other day, even when the man is big, his time is still short.  Life is a forward-moving exercise.  And for those of us who are here, Summer has officially arrived.  We need not enjoy it if that is what we choose to do.  Ignore it or not, enjoy it or not, it is here.  And given that life comes with no guarantee, including whether you or me or any of us shall be here twelve months from now to herald the arrival of Solstice 2012, there seems to be little to be gained from not soaking every bit of enjoyment from it. 

Irrespective of recent events, the time is right after all.  And so it goes.  As do we....with a purposeful stride and with an eye fixed forever upon the horizon line, trying to absorb as much as we can out of this life right up until the day when our own set of giant letters rise up out of the water.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Paradise by the C

An era ended in a Florida hospital room on Saturday.  Clarence Clemons - "the Big Man" - died at age sixty-nine.  In his memoir published in 2009, Clarence had a single page right up front entitled, "From the Massive Desk of Clarence Clemons".  In that section he wrote about his relationship with Bruce.  In pertinent part, he wrote that "I wanted to give the reader a glimpse into the personal and private side of our relationship without getting too personal and private.  I hope we accomplished that.  My heart will always be filled with gratitude to Bruce for one simple reason:  without Scooter, there is no Big Man."   

On Saturday as the Big Man was living the final hours of his glorious life there with him - as he always seemed to be - was Springsteen.  According to reports published on the Backstreets site, Bruce and his two sons spent the day in Clarence's room with him playing music for him and keeping him company.  Having spent the better part of the past forty years entering and exiting stages together it strikes me as wholly appropriate that as the Big Man exited the stage one final time, there was Scooter right there with him.  Same as always.  And how it shall never be again. 

I have been a fan of Bruce Springsteen's music for as long as I can remember - a debt owed to my brother Bill that I shall never be able to repay.  It is impossible - in my humble opinion - to be a Springsteen fan and not love Clarence Clemons.  The two were - and shall forever be - inextricably linked to one another.  It has been my great pleasure to see Springsteen perform live too many times to count.  While not every one of those performances included the E Street Band, the overwhelming majority of them did.....including on Springsteen's 36th birthday in September 1985 at Mile High Stadium in Denver, a couple of particularly glorious nights on the Reunion tour in the Summer of 1999 where I passed the gift of the music I had received from Bill along to my son.  It is a gift Rob has carried with him happily since - including over seven of the ten nights at Giants Stadium during what we refer to still as the "Summer of Bruce" in 2003 as well as two of the final three nights of The Rising tour at Shea Stadium during October's first weekend.....well after the Mets had finished using the joint for the season. 

Yesterday morning, while immersing myself in a day spent listening to the music I love so much while mourning the passing of a man I met only once but felt as if I knew very, very well, I thought of the final time I saw Bruce and the E Street Band play live.  My good friend Dave Puteska and I sat way upstairs at Madison Square Garden on a Saturday night in November 2009.  It was the night that the band played "The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle" in its entirety for what was advertised as the first time ever.  Once upon a time, when CDs were called albums, WIESS had one of rock and roll's truly great album sides:  Rosalita flanked by Incident on 57th Street on one side and New York City Serenade on the other.  On that November evening slightly less than two years ago, the band tore through each of them with passion and ferocity.  It was a tremendous night of music.  Simply tremendous.  I know not whether Dave thought leaving the Garden that evening we might have seen Clarence playing for the last time.  I most certainly did not.  Life too often does not turn out the way we hope I suppose.

On his website, Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence:

Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

And in the heart of this fan and of every fan of their music until each of us reaches our own end.  And no worries Big Man, your #1 fan Liv took to heart what you told her when she met you during your book signing back in October 2009.  She never plays only the half notes.

Rest in Peace, Big Man


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Out Here On The Dark Road

I knew that I was going to ask Margaret to marry me by the time I said, "Good night" to her twenty years ago.  True story.  When I asked her to marry me about nine months after that first date, I did so while we were sitting in my car outside her house (I swear there is a Springsteen song lyric in there someplace), figuring that if she said, "No" I could flee the jurisdiction quickly.  I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that that too is a true story.  It is.  And I am not.

Today is Anniversary #18 for the Missus and me.  I am thankful every day that she answered, "Yes" instead of in the alternative.  I am thankful also every day that she has not yet rescinded her original answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that her marrying me was the best thing that ever happened to me.  With her, I have spent two decades living a life better than I deserve.  Without her, I know not where I would be but I know that the view out the back door would not be a pretty one.

Our journey from Day One to Year Eighteen has not been without its bumps.  The road to forever does get riddled with potholes from time to time after all.  We live life in the flesh-and-blood real world.  A happy ending is not guaranteed.  It is earned.  To date, we have experienced more highs than lows.  As someone who believes fervently in the adage that one tends to make one's own luck, I am comfortable saying that our good fortune is the result of our hard work.

I have noted in this space at least once or twice (not including the first paragraph today) that Springsteen is the jukebox of my life.  Once upon a time, Springsteen wrote zero "love songs".  Whether he did not or simply could not, I know not.  But beginning with "The River" he found his voice in that area and love songs started to pop up and occupy space on his albums.  One of my favorite Springsteen songs is one that originally appeared on the "Tunnel of Love" collection in the late 1980's.  It is a song that never fails to make me think of Margaret.  It is a love song for grown-ups.  It tells the story of two folks who find each other after having tried and failed at love with other people and in other relationships.

And in language far better than that I could ever hope to create, to my ear and to my heart it tells our story.  It tells the story of Margaret and me.  We are now what he have been since Day One and what I hope we continue to be for too many years to come for my math-challenged brain to compute....

....tougher than the rest.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

From the Nest of the Early Bird

I am a notoriously early riser.  That is not the reason that I use this space today to convey a "Happy Father's Day" wish to my brothers, my brothers-in-law, my father-in-law and to all the other Dads out there who will be celebrating and celebrated tomorrow.  This year, Father's Day happens to coincide with my wedding anniversary.  Today, here at least, Dads get their due.  Tomorrow?  Tune in and find out.....and pretend to be surprised; OK?  It makes me feel much better inside, even if I cannot see the look on your face as you are reading.  Often I can guess what it is but I never know for certain. 

To fathers everywhere, I hope that tomorrow is an enjoyable day for you and for those you love.  I am confident that I do not suffer alone from the infirmity of ceaselessly reflecting on the decisions made when my two were still children and wondering just how good I have ever been as a parent.  I have my doubts.  With no trace of false humility (I assure you that I have difficulty enough projecting actual humility) I know that while I am at least reasonably good at what it is I do to earn my daily bread, I am mediocre at best in most other facets of my life.  My two have benefited exponentially from two things:  (a) a complete absence of any of my genetic material; and (b) an abundance of Margaret's.  Both Rob and Suzanne are adults in their mid twenties now.  I presume that at some date in the future I will have the chance to add the title of Grandpa to my resume.  While I would like to say with confidence that it is a responsibility I would handle with a certain amount of aplomb, I know better.

My brothers are both sufficiently older than I am that they knew our father far better than did I.  He died at age 57.  I was 14.  By the time I was of the age that I could actually comprehend Dad and interact with him, he was living what turned out to be the final decade or so of his life.  Our father was a pretty intense fellow, able to dazzle with his ability to speak with intelligence on a given topic in one breath and befuddle with his ability to speak without thinking at all in the next one.  When I was a boy, his favorite thing to call me when I did something that displeased him was, "Gonif."  Given his expansive vocabulary and his familiarity with several languages I presumed that he knew what it meant.  It was not until years after he died that I learned that it is a Yiddish word meaning, "thief, scoundrel or a dishonest person (often used as a general term of abuse)".  From that point forward, I have hoped that he spoke it without knowing what it meant.  

In the years since Margaret and I got married I have developed a far better understanding of my father than I had possessed either in the fourteen years that we cohabited the big blue marble or in the first dozen following his death.  Until I said, "I do" and became not just a husband but a father as well I had not walked a single step in his shoes.  Almost two decades further on up the road, I have worn through the soles of too many pairs to count. 

Several years ago, for reasons not entirely clear to me and likely less so to Mom and to my siblings, I became obsessed with finding out more about Dad's life at The Browning School in New York City.  I was ably assisted in my pursuit by a wonderful woman at Browning named Rachel Leanza.  At no cost to me - and I am quite confident considerable expenditure of time and effort to her - she went into the school's archives and unearthed a copy of the Yearbook from the time that Dad taught there.  She scanned the photographs and sent them to me on a CD.  Remarkable stuff.  The pictures opened my eyes to a man of whom I heard rumors but who I did not know myself had ever existed.  Hell, in a lot of the pictures he even had dark hair!  By the time I arrived his hair was completely white.  Just between us, Mom places the blame for that on Jill but we do not speak of it aloud for fear of upsetting her. 

My favorite photo from the group that Rachel unearthed for me is one of Dad from 1964.  He was in his most favorite place - the classroom.  He was forty years old or so and already a father four times over.  If I look hard enough at his face, I see Bill's and Kelly's and my own as well.  And that is how it should be I reckon.  You live your own life, you make your own way and your own decisions.  Some good.  Some bad.  You might think that you have made the decisions you have made independent of anything or anyone's influence.  You might be right. 

But maybe, just maybe, you look for a moment at a photograph.  And in doing so, you see not merely an image but a reflection as well.  

....and maybe, just maybe, you hear a bit of his song in your soul

Happy Father's Day.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Miller Time

The most exciting part of trying a case - which is coincidentally also the most exhausting - is that from the start of jury selection to the conclusion of your summation you are actively invested in the process.  Even when the case is someone else's (such as when in a civil action the plaintiff (person seeking damages) is putting on his case) you are actively engaged.  You are tuned into the questions being asked and the answers being given to see when and if you need to interject an objection and also to see what nuggets of information you can latch onto during cross-examination.  Invariably when I am on trial I spend more time sitting than I do standing but because it has the aura of activity associated with it, at day's end I am usually exhausted.....which sadly may say more about my physical conditioning than it does about the process.  Although in my defense may I point out that I have run a marathon.  Not well.  Not particularly quickly either but I have run one.

The most stressful part of trying a case is jury deliberations.  I am a bit of a control freak and there is no time when I feel less in control than during jury deliberations.  Yesterday in this space I wrote of a matter that I had spent this whole week trying and the fact that yesterday would be the final day on it.  It was indeed.  Much to my surprise the jury spent close to three hours deliberating the fate of my client and the man who alleged that my client injured him. 

At the risk of sounding horribly immodest, I did not think based upon the manner in which the case had been tried and the evidence had presented that the jury's decision was going to be particularly difficult to arrive at but there I was as we approached 4:00 p.m. pacing the hallway of the 4th floor of the Historic Court House in Newark outside Judge Vena's courtroom as I had been doing since shortly after 12:00 noon.  The longer it took, the more I was reminded that I had no control at all over the process.  I could not wish it to its conclusion.  I could do nothing.

Finally, shortly before 4:00 p.m. our jury of eight announced that a verdict had been reached.  Although there were six questions on the jury sheet they spent their time and energy focusing on just the first one:  Has the plaintiff proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the defendant was negligent?  In an unanimous 8-0 vote, they determined that he had not.  Thus endeth the deliberations.  Thus endeth the case. 

I do not spend a tremendous amount of time spreading joy and good cheer.  On occasion - and with good reason might I add - I have been called "grumpy".  Late yesterday afternoon upon returning to my office I got so spread a little cheer.  Mr. Miller (my client) - my favorite octogenarian Virginian (his sister occupies the Silver Medal podium) - is battling some really, really tough health issues.  Tough enough that we went to him in Virginia in late March to preserve his trial testimony out of concern that he could not come to us in Newark in mid-June.  I called him to tell him that the matter was over.  I informed him that a jury of his peers had exonerated him and that he had been held "not liable" for causing an accident that he had spent the past four and one-half years telling anyone who would listen to him that he had not caused. 

When he answered the phone I could hear the fatigue brought on by his age and his infirmities in his voice.  He told me that it has been a rough couple of weeks - in the throes of chemotherapy and all.  But when I reported to him what had happened, I think I heard him actually say, "Yea!" on the other end of the line.  And then he did the damnedest thing:  he thanked me.  He thanked me for all I had done for him and for taking care of him.  And then he said goodbye. 

Mr. Miller is one hell of a terrific old man.  I love the Hell out of him.  I am happier for him than I am even for me (and trust me I am plenty happy for me) as to the result in his case.  He has other battles to fight.  Battles that are far scarier than this one and far more important too. 

Here's to hoping that his luck of favorable verdicts continues.  He certainly deserves it.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scaling the Scales

Today is the anticipated and expected end of our fearless hero's latest litigation adventure.  And for those of you who wonder who exactly our fearless hero is, he is me of course.  I have been on trial in Essex County (Newark) since Monday.  Some cases just have to be tried.  This one did.  It is the case for which I spent a day in late March flying from Newark to Richmond Virginia via Charlotte North Carolina and back.  Happiness is not a work day that ends 21 1/2 hours after it began.  If I did my job properly then at some time today I shall be able to report pleasant news to my client.  And the trip to the Great American South (toe-dipping edition) will have been worth it. 

We shall see.  Sometimes you are the windshield.  Sometimes, just the bug.  Last time out I was the latter.  That happens to me not frequently I say with more than a small amount of immodesty.  I will be not happy at all if it happens back-to-back.

"Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  Dr. Seuss.  The Patron Saint of Trial Lawyers everywhere.  Who knew?  Other than Horton of course.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Of Rangers and Homecomings

While I suppose that most right-thinking people who paid attention at all to the NBA Finals thought of either Dirk Nowitski's towering success or LeBron James' stunning failure immediately upon the echo of the final buzzer fading into the ether in Miami on Sunday night, I thought of Rich Fox.  Rich and I were classmates at Seton Hall University School of Law.  If memory serves me correctly, Rich did his undergrad work at "The Hall" as well.  Way back when in the early 1990's, Rich was the only person I knew - and probably one of fewer than three dozen whose zip codes were outside of State of Texas - who was a fan of the Dallas Mavericks.  What leads a kid from Jersey to root for a basketball team from Texas, which was at that time probably the worst of the three NBA franchises located in Texas?  Who the hell knows.  I never asked because it was not my business. 

My first thought on Sunday night as the Missus and I watched the final ten seconds of the NBA season was of Rich.  Anyone can root for a team when that team is on top.  Rich was a fan through the Quinn Buckner Era in Dallas.  Google it and see for yourself just what a commitment that was truly was.  Congratulations Rich to you and Mavs fans everywhere.  I still give not a rat's ass about NBA hoops but I know you do and I am happy for you that "your" team won it all.......and even happier to read that their billionaire owner Mark Cuban is going to foot 100% of the bill for the victory celebration in Dallas.  Nice touch, Mr. Cuban. 

While Sunday was a red-letter day in Big D it was nothing short of a dreadful day on E Street.  Clarence Clemons - 69 years young - suffered a stroke.  I read a lot of information on line in the day or two after he was stricken and what I gleaned from it was that (a) the stroke was significant; (b) his condition was fairly dire for at least 12-24 hours afterwards; (c) he came through two separate procedures that were performed Monday on his brain in good shape; (d) he was hanging tough and battling hard; and (e) no one dared speculate as to what his long-term prognosis is or might be, either physically or professionally. 

One of my great joys is Springsteen's music.  One of my favorite elements of the music is the Big Man's saxophone.  His role in the live shows, while age and health have deprived him of some of his mobility over the past ten years or so, remains sacrosanct.  It is not hard to find a fan of Springsteen's music who is an enormous fan of Little Steven, Nils Lofgren, Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent or Roy Bittan.  But you have accepted a sucker's bet if you agree to wager that will find one of the residents of E Street who is more universally loved by the fans than Clarence is.  His popularity is surpassed only by his buddy Scooter, who occupies the above-the-credit position in front of the ampersand. 

Tuesday, on his official web site, Mr. Springsteen posted the following statement:

By now, many of you have heard that our beloved comrade and sax player Clarence Clemons has suffered a serious stroke. While all initial signs are encouraging, Clarence will need much care and support to achieve his potential once again. He has his wonderfully supportive wife, Victoria, excellent doctors and health care professionals, and is surrounded by friends and family.

I thank you all for your prayers and positive energy and concern. This is a time for us all to share in a hopeful spirit that can ultimately inspire Clarence to greater heights.

-- Bruce Springsteen

All across the universe of Springsteen fans, all of us are counting on a miracle and hoping for the best possible result for the Big Man....

....tonight in Jungleland.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hi Ho

Timing is everything I suppose.  As I was giving some consideration on Sunday to things about which I might write this morning, I took a second or two to soak in an observation shared by someone I have known since high school in response to something I wrote on Sunday.  He apparently reads what is written here from time to time - or at least he did for the first time on Sunday - and his take on what I wrote was both concise and not inaccurate, "you are grumpy."   Not always Obes but from time to time, indeed I am. 

Life is about perspective.  This space is the mechanism I employ to keep those things that interest me, irritate me, exhilarate me and infuriate me from knocking around within the four walls of my enormous, over sized head.  I appreciate that it might be difficult for anyone who ever reads this space to believe but what appears here does so solely for me.  Selfish?  You bet.  Apologetic?  Nope.  I am who I am.  Change is not on my "to do" list. 

I know not whether anyone actually keeps such a list.  If you do and among the things you enjoy as an entertainment is going to the movies, then invest a couple of hours at "Super 8".  Margaret and I went to see it on Friday night.  It was two hours well spent.  An absolutely entertaining, popcorn movie.  The kids who are the leads in it were all terrific and as someone who enjoyed Kyle Chandler's work as Coach Eric Taylor on "Friday Night Lights", getting to see him in another role in which he was simply outstanding was joyful as well.  The movie is set in 1979 and the group of kids who serve as its center are a crew of 13 and 14 year-olds.  I was a bit younger than that in '79 but their day-to-day was not too different from my own.  Simply terrific stuff.  If you elect to spend a bit of your money and your time on it, I do not think you will regret the decision. 

The Missus and I spent Saturday in Atlantic City.  Margaret is a Michael Buble fan.  Other than knowing that he is a young man who sings Sinatra-style music I know nothing about him.  But considering that Margaret has not only accompanied me to too many races to count both across New Jersey as well as out of state and has also come with me to dozens of Springsteen concerts, taking in an occasional concert of a performer who she loves regardless of my level of knowledge of or interest in the artist's music is really not a great sacrifice.  Atlantic City is a toilet.  But the concert was terrific.  Mr. Buble is quite an energetic performer.  He sold out Boardwalk Hall, which seats 11,000 people and I think he sent everyone (including those of us who had no idea what to expect) home happy. 

Between Buble's performance, the utterly epic black bean soup at Cuba Libre that I enjoyed for dinner and the company of the woman who I was lucky enough to be smart enough to marry just about eighteen years ago, it was one hell of a way to spend a Saturday.  

It was such a nice, relaxing Saturday that we celebrated by sleeping in on Sunday.  Did not marry feet and floor until 8:30.  We drove home - traffic notwithstanding - all smiles.  Nice to remind myself that I am not always Grumpy......

.....some days, I suppose, I am just Sleepy.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Add A Candle

Today is the birthday of my hero.  Joan Kenny celebrates her birthday today.  I will not reveal her age - for she is spending the summer here in the State of Concrete Gardens, which puts me squarely within "bopping on the nose" range.  And besides, age is a state of mind for Mom.  She seems to get younger every time I see her.  And I am hard-pressed to think of anything that makes me happier than that.

Mom is a remarkable woman.  She is the bravest person I have ever known.  Every opportunity I have ever been afforded to accomplish anything in this life is one that was created by her for me.  The mistakes made are mine and mine alone.  But the positioning of me in a place to do something - even when it turned out to be a less-than-bright or less-than-successful something - is something she did for me. 

I look daily at the Post-It note I have on my computer at work (OK I only look at it five or six days a week) on which I have written the words of Ambrose Redmoon, "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear."  A lesson I learned from Mom in the wake of Dad's death as we dined on a regular diet of scrambled eggs with toast and hot dogs for dinner as she did what needed to be done to keep a roof over our heads with 80% of the household income having been buried with him.  I am quite certain that there was more than one night she put her head on the pillow more than slightly terrified by the prospect of the following day.  Hell, I know that I did.  Yet, because she is the bearer of the world's best game face, I never saw her fear. 

Today is Mom's birthday.  Happy Birthday to Joanie K!

And if it's a funny old world, mama, where a little boy's wishes come true
Well I got a few in my pocket and a special one just for you.

New year.  Same wish.




Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Lullaby of Disenchantment

"Ain't that the way it always starts.  A simple round of conversation.  Became a shameful equation.  I flipped you station to station."

No, the four pack of lines that comprise the preceding paragraph are not from any of the now interminable number of faux apologies/explanations that Congressman Anthony (I Am What My Name Says I Am) Weiner has offered since he was caught with his pants down, virtually and otherwise.  They are the opening verse to Dave Grohl's homage to his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia on "Wasting Light", which is the latest release by The Foo Fighters.  Among the things I care about not at all is what others spend their money on and since I receive no income from Mr. Grohl's musical endeavors, recommending to you to spend a bit of your money on "Wasting Light" puts no coin in my pocket.  Trust me on this:  if you buy it, you shall be happy you did.  Mr. Grohl will be also.  Parenthetically, my apathy towards you and your personal consumerism will remain unchanged. 

In the interests of full disclosure it is not simply another's personal consumerism about which I am generally apathetic.  I was reminded again on Friday that I just do not play well in the sandbox with everyone else.  I had forgotten that a few months ago one of the female associates at the Firm gave birth to her first child.  The attorney in question is a person with whom I have zero professional and little personal interaction but I was happy to hear - upon the baby's arrival here on the Big Blue Marble - that both newbie and Mommy were healthy and happy.  Upon hearing the news whenever the big day actually happened, I promptly forgot about it (meaning the birth), the baby and the attorney's ascension into motherhood.  No one lives the credo of "out of sight, out of mind" quite like yours truly apparently.

Friday was apparently "Bring Your Crying Baby To Work" Day - at least in Parsippany.  The attorney/mother has not returned to work yet (apparently) but in anticipation of her return shortly after the 4th of July she came into the office to take the "stroller tour".  And much like Iowans drawn to a baseball diamond carved out of a mythical cornfield, people came from all corners of the office to see the baby.  By all accounts, he is very healthy - although judging by the amount of wailing he did while positioned less than fen feet from the door or my office his happiness is very much at issue. 

Conspicuous by his absence from the throng who found the magnetic pull of the stroller impossible to resist was a fellow who likes quite a bit like me.  Huge surprise; right?  Color me jaded that I do not think it is appropriate to descend upon a place of business toting an infant.  A woman was pregnant.  The woman gave birth.  Is it surprising to some degree that the offspring is a little human?  Of course not.  Why therefore the game of office show and tell is necessary - let alone considered to be appropriate - eludes me.  I recognize my position in the minority on this issue. Being a conscientious objector is not always easy. 

But what else is a boy to do?



Saturday, June 11, 2011

An Aversion to Conversion

To steal a line from the musical powerhouse known as Dave Grohl, "I've got another confession to make", which is that I am not a fellow who understands the appeal of the convertible automobile.  Truth be told (what can I say?  Congressman Weiner is my inspiration when the topic is truth-telling) I have always been sort of vain when it comes to my hair.  To date, I have been lucky.  I have a lot of it.  A good, thick head of hair I have - indeed I do.  The older I get the more men I see who belong to the legion of the follicularly challenged.  'Tis an army whose ranks grow daily.  New recruits appear to be enlisting on a regular basis at the Firm as well as other places. 

Fortunately for me, baldness does not appear to be a bridge that I shall have to cross - at least any time in the foreseeable future.  That is most assuredly a good thing.  Based upon the circumference of the World's Fair exhibit I call my head, encountering it sans vegetation on top would frighten me at first glance every morning and would frighten those with whom I come into contact with every glance thereafter.  Bald may be beautiful but it most certainly would not be in the case of Yours truly.  Trust me. 

I am not as vain about my hair as I was when I was a kid.  Back in the day, I was the ticket-taker at the Theatre of the Absurd when it came to my hair, which always had to look letter-perfect.  When Kara, Jill and I were teenagers (or thereabouts) I had a friend in Harvey's Lake - the summer home of the Kenny family - who hung the nickname "Lance Romance" on me.  The nickname had nothing to do with my success attracting female companionship - not by a long shot.  It had everything to do with my obsession with my mane, which obsession necessitated me carrying a comb the size of a ruler in the back pocket of my blue jeans wherever I went.  If a rumble ever happened between two rival hairdressing gangs, such as the Redkens and the Jhirmacks, then I was the guy you wanted on your side.  My comb was not simply a styling tool.  It had serious, practical application as a weapon in a close combat situation. 

Anyway, while my level of vanity regarding my mop up top has lessened perceptibly over time - once it started to go gray I decided to limit my damage as much as I could by keeping it short and neat while otherwise attempting to shift focus away from it - I was reminded again this week that I still go not understand the appeal of the convertible automobile.  'Round these parts we had a couple or three days this week on which the Mercury tickled 100 degrees.  Not the most pleasant of circumstances to be sure.  And as sure as there is a run on Italian ices and portable air conditioners when a heat wave breaks out, there was an upswing in the number of convertibles I saw tooling around the local thoroughfares. 

The folks behind the wheels of those cars sure looked happy enough but I simply do not understand it.  I almost understand the attraction of having the wind blowing in your face, tossing your hair a hundred different directions and moving everything that is not welded in place all around the passenger compartment of your car when the temperature is in the 60-80 degree range.  At those levels, nothing is too hot or too cold.  It is as if Goldilocks has finally scored her driver's license - and she is driving topless. 

But when the temperature reaches the heights it did these past few days, there is nothing invigorating or refreshing about driving around exposed to it - as opposed to hiding from it in air-conditioned comfort.  Driving in a convertible in the weather we had the past few days 'round here is akin to being launched from a slingshot through a forest fire:  a true rush for the first couple of moments and a recipe for stark, irreversible harm almost immediately thereafter.  Happiness is getting punched in the face by hot, moist, humid air that for sh*ts and giggles mixes in the added bonus of exhaust fumes and bugs?  Not to this Mohican.  Not even close.  Unless my last name is Andretti or Earnhardt, sweating and driving are to forever be pursuits enjoyed with equal fervor but separate and apart from one another.  

I reckon I am simply a guy who refuses to become a convert.  Not me.  I am damn happy being an air-conditioned gypsy.  And that will never change....

....regardless of the color or (let us all hope it never comes to this) the amount of my hair.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Slán agus go n-éirí an t-ádh libh

Among the many hats that I wear poorly, which is a bit of a surprise I guess in view of cranial circumference and all of that jazz, is that of "Uncle".  Between my five sibs and Margaret's brother Frank I have not less than a dozen and a half nieces and nephews (Do not hold me to an exact count.  I went to law school to elude mathematics.) and the only one I see on anything approaching a regular basis is Frank's son Frankie.....who happens to be my landscaper.  And who apropos of nothing does excellent work.  If you live in central New Jersey and need a landscaper, I will put you in touch with the boy entrepreneur.  You will be happy I did, I assure you.

Anyway - I am as bad at being an uncle as I am at pretty much every other interpersonal/familial task that has been assigned to me throughout the first four and one-half decades of my life.  I am fairly good at my job.  I am below average at pretty much everything else.  My perpetual failure at all things familial is what makes me happy to use this space today to wish congratulations and good luck to Jill's oldest Simone and Kara's middle man Randy as each graduates from high school this weekend.  Both of them are matriculating off to college in the autumn and I am confident that each has a very big future.  Biased?  Sure I am.  I have known their mothers my entire life and know the parental stock from which they have come (and truth be told - both of their fathers more than hold up their end of the bargain also) and the abilities with which they were imbued at birth. 

Simone will walk the walk this morning and Randy will follow suit on Sunday.  If I understood what Kara told me correctly, Mom will be here in the State of Concrete Gardens to enjoy one of her most favorite grandma activities two time over:  watch one of her grandchildren do absolutely anything. 

Life is a journey walked in an indeterminate number of steps.  Over the course of the next forty-eight hours or so, Simone and Randy shall each take a very important one.  Here's to them, their proud parents and doting Grandma.  Congratulations on the steps completed to date and good wishes for the ones yet to be taken.  Opportunity awaits both of them.  They must grab hold of it in their hands and fight like hell to never, ever let it go.

There is an old Irish saying , "If you are the only one who knows that you are afraid, you are brave.  Fortune favors the brave." 

So stay brave....


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Genies and Bottles

Was sitting down to write this when it occurred to me that today is my Mom/Dad's anniversary, which given that he has been dead for thirty years may or may not be a day that Mom still marks on her mental Rolodex.  It is a question that I have never asked her and never would.  'Tis simply not my business.  They were husband and wife long before they were my parents.  As the tail gunner in a family of six, they were parents long before they were my parents.  Whether or how she marks the day I know not.  However she does is entirely appropriate as far as I am concerned.  I only wish I knew what number they would be marking today - had Dad lived to see it.  My recollection is that when he died in May 1981 they were nine days away from their 31st anniversary but given  my propensity to be wrong about countless things, color me "not surprised" if I have erred yet again.

The amusing thing to me about human beings is the inability of certain of our species to learn from the mistakes of others of our species.  To me it reinforces my personal belief that we are who we are at our core and while our behavior may fluctuate, adjust and adapt over time, who we are at our core is who we are.  Human beings are animals after all.  Animals are creatures of habit.  We possess of course the ability to learn.  Yet when the going gets tough, too often to count do we see an otherwise smart member of our tribe do something inane or ill-advised.  And sadly too often to count we learn while combing through the wreckage of that individuals life that both the behavior and the response were all too predictable.  He was simply doing what he always does.  We just happened to be part of the expanded audience.

It has been one hell of a couple of weeks for New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose surname has become a case study in the endless conflict between coincidence and irony.  I have no sympathy for him.  The mess he has made is of his own creation as a result of (a) his behavior; and (b) his refusal to own up to what he had done when the story first broke about him tweeting his petey all around the town.  For a man who invested so much time, effort and energy to selling females who he did not know on the notion of what a man he was - allegedly going as far as to offer proof of Anthony and Little Tony in the altogether to at least one woman - his blustery denial of what he had done and his refusal to act like a man when the wheels started to come off was galling.  His faux apology on Monday appeared to be the actions of a man sorry not for what he had done but for the fact that he had been exposed as a liar, a fool and an imbecile.

He turned a story that likely would have gone away in due course has he simply answered, "Yes" the first time he was asked about his on-line activities into a moment that will define the rest of his career and possibly (cue the melodramatic music) the rest of his life.  He deserves what he gets and he gets what he deserves.  If only he had given a moment's consideration to what he was doing to his wife and how little she appears to deserve anything she has gotten - and shall undoubtedly continue to get - relative to this incident.  If only.

The best news Congressman Weiner received all week?  The Colorado State Police recovered his Ford Excursion SUV:

Just kidding.  Dopey bastard could not be that lucky.  It is, of course, not his car.  Judging from the inscription on the rear windshield, it is not a good week to be wearing Dave's shoes either; eh? 


Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I noted in this space just about this time last week that the 31st of May marked the 30th anniversary of the death of my father.  Too many kids in this country and - I would surmise - in a lot of other countries grow up sans at least one parent.  Sadly, it is nothing close to extraordinary.  Except when it happens to you and you are a fourteen-year-old kid whose world has been rocked to its foundation.  Then - in that context and at that moment - it seemed quite extraordinary. 

The week that kicked off with Dad's death (he died on a Sunday) was among the longest weeks of my life.  Its length was tied directly to its solemnity.  No one laughed.  Hardly any one smiled.  We all tried not to drown.  We tried to keep clear of the quicksand that threatened to envelop all of us. 

The length of the days that week was extraordinary.  It seemed as if a lifetime passed between the day Dad died and the day of his funeral.  Perhaps it did.  I know not.  I know that there was more than one day during that week when I doubted my ability to make it from that particular day to the next.

While it has been thirty-plus years now, I remember vividly just how much I leaned on a very good friend of mine for help.  Jill was a classmate of mine at W-H.  We became friends almost immediately upon her arrival at school when we were 7th graders.  Her older brother Joel was a classmate of my sister Jill and those two were close friends throughout high school too.  One of my most fond and most treasured memories of Hell Week was my friend Jill's presence at our home, keeping me sane.  Talk about a life preserver.  I recall having no idea where to turn or what to do.  I do remember finding a particularly deep reservoir of solace sitting in the seats that we had on our front porch from Yankee Stadium, which we ended up with (how I know not) when the Stadium was renovated in the 1970's.  In hindsight, our front porch was "white trash" before it was cool I reckon.  Not a lot of folks have three blue stadium seats (bolted together of course) on their front porch in lieu of chairs or a glider.  We did.

During the week that was, I spent a lot of time sitting out there on that porch, expressing anger, sorrow, confusion and whatever the hell else it is that one expresses when he is fourteen and scared sh*tless.  And through it all, Jill sat out there right along with me.  We were 8th graders.  Our year-end class trip was to Great Adventure.  The trip was scheduled for the same day as Dad's funeral.  Jill blew off the trip to attend the funeral and then spent the rest of the day at our house as we all crawled from the wreckage of the week and made our way through the repast.  I hate Great Adventure but on that particular day I would have given my eye teeth to have able to be there.  She could have gone and opted out. 

I remember those moments as if they happened yesterday.  If I live to be 100 I do not think my memory of them shall ever fade.....but then again I did not think my eyes would ever need help to see things on a printed page either so who can speak with certainty although I would wager that my memory of those events will remain imprinted on my mind's eye until I close it for the final time.

Jill and I have been friends for more than thirty years, although it has been more than twenty years since I last saw her.  I had a chance to swap e-mails with her the other day - in connection with an event that the Alumni Board of our high school has planned for October 15th.  The event is an "All 1980's Reunion".  Jill, her husband and their children live out of state now and geography is among the reasons why she does not anticipate making this particular reunion.  I understand her position completely although I would love to see her, to meet her husband and to introduce them both to Margaret.  Life is a forward-looking exercise after all.  We spent a bit of time talking about the passage of time including Dad's death and the week that followed it.  When I reminded her how amazed I was then - and remain now - regarding her decision to go to a funeral instead of a class trip, she reminded me how easy a decision it was for her.  I remembered then what I suppose I had known since we were kids.  She was a remarkable woman - even when she was but a girl of fourteen.  I hope the world is treating the forty-four year-old version of her well.  She has earned it.

One cannot get ahead without being mindful of the place from whence he came.  Me?  I would not ever have seen this point in the program had I not gotten by with more than a little help from my friend during those brutally dark days.  A friend who reminded me that what follows the dark of night is the light of day.  And no matter how dark is dark,  the light of day is just around the corner


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Me 1.0

The point of intersection between perception and reality was re-routed to my house on Sunday - at least for a little while.  Sunday morning as the Missus and I were preparing to tackle our "to-do" list and I stood outside in the driveway waiting for Margaret, a friend of ours who lives around the corner from us passed by.  She apparently walks for exercise and we are on her regular route.  Truth be told, for the past several years most of our interaction with one another is what I like to call "conversation in motion".  It happens when one or both of us is in our car and passing by the other. 

Sunday morning marked the first time in quite a long time that she and I had seen each other face to face to chat.  I know not for certain what it is she does for a living - although based upon our conversation I suspect professional bullshitter is on her C.V. somewhere.  She complimented me on my appearance and told me that, "You look like a teenager."  I thanked her for the kind words (although I wonder just how many teenagers have gray hair on their head and a beard that is more salt than pepa at this point) and encouraged her to continue to walk past our home on a regular basis and suggested that perhaps a bullhorn or a megaphone (if neither proved to be too cumbersome) would be a nice addition to her walking gear. 

Truth be told, I feel much better these days than I did this time last year.  I am approximately thirty pounds lighter now than I was then.  While I am not going to blow away in the next stiff breeze, I think I am finally as tall as I am wide, which for a number of years I had not been able to accomplish.  My interest in maintaining some level of fitness has more to do with mortality than it does with vanity.  For years, my father told anyone who was within earshot that he was, "the perfect weight for someone nine feet tall."  He was approximately five and one half feet tall.  It was one of Dad's favorite lines.  It always brought a laugh.....right up until he dropped dead at age 57.  Then the humor contained within the passage seemed a bit more obscure.

Fresh off of being paid quite a nice and unexpected compliment, I commenced the "doing" of things on the "to do" list with the Missus.  Among the stops we made was at the local CVS.  While there I picked up something that reminded me that appearances are merely that.  Reality bites and sometimes with sufficient ferocity so as to leave a mark.

For an indeterminate period of time (let us say a few weeks just in the event that the Missus ever reads this), I have been having real difficulty reading small print and small type.  I do the grocery shopping in our house.  On more than one occasion recently I have found it impossible to make out impossible to make out the expiration date on a coupon. Reading the paper is more of a challenge than it used to be as well - sadly only from the perspective of visual acuity.  In terms of intellectual capacity, that challenge remains inviolate.

Thus while we were in CVS on Sunday we stopped by the display where they sell the magnifiers (a/k/a "non-prescription reading glasses") so that Captain Old Fogey could hustle himself up a pair.  I am constrained to point out that I only required the lowest magnification level (1.0).  Yet, having lived the first forty-four years and change of my life with nothing needed to assist my vision, the 1.0 magnification felt more like a 100.0 change. Worse yet, when I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror with them on, my already gynormous noggin looked big enough to have its own ground crew to help steer it safely down to Herald Square.

The knee and ankle joints that produce a sound akin to small arms fire every morning when my feet make contact with the floor and my ass gains separation from my bed I have grown accustomed to.  The pain - sometimes searing but usually no worse than throbbing in the lower part of left leg when I stand - let alone when I walk or run - is something that I have grown used to as well.  These things are well-established parts of my day to day.  Having never worn anything on my eyes save for my sunglasses, this latest annoyance feels as if it is the greatest one of all. 

I know that I am biased in this regard but I happen to think they look much better in their case than they do on. 

I wonder how much being in the case as opposed to being on my face limits their effectiveness.  The difference is probably negligible.