Friday, September 30, 2011

We Are Merely Players

I presume that I am not alone among Yankees fans in thinking just what it says about the state of their starting rotation that Freddy Garcia is the Game 3 starter in the ALDS. If it was 1999, then I would be thrilled. In 2011, not so much. Perhaps appropriately in a year in which the Milwaukee Brewers are among the eight teams in MLB whose season has a post-script, the Yankees' pitching mantra is, "Sabathia, Nova and Wake Me When It's Over." The Missus and I enjoyed the hell out of the tickertape parade in 2009. Methinks we will be living confetti-free this autumn. I hope I am wrong.

Sunday morning Sue's Crew runs again. Our third iteration shall convene in what shall undoubtedly be the chilly confines of Great Adventure. The predicted high temperature in Jackson New Jersey on Sunday is 58 degrees. When we gather at or about 7:00 a.m. - a time of day where the sun is in the October sky more for coloring than warmth - it will be nowhere near the anticipated high-Mercury mark.

I think, having gone to law school to escape the rigors of mathematics, the number of members on this year's Crew is the most we have had in our three-year history. The uptick in membership is due in no small part to the recruitment efforts of my sister Kara. She was a Crew member last year and has this year recruited nine additional members, including her youngest son Jordan and her hubby Russ. In my house, we have taken to referring to Russ as "The Ringer" for if there is a member of Sue's Crew who has a chance for a podium finish on Sunday, it is Russ. No pressure old man. Just win your age group.

Sunday is - of course - the Race for the Cure, an event held annually on October's first Sunday. October is - as you may or may not be aware - Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Those of us gathered to run on Sunday morning will comment about the cold when we first get exposed to it. It is human nature after all. But we shall not dwell on it or harp on it. Bitching about what is nothing more than a temporary discomfort for longer than the time it takes to utter aloud once (OK maybe twice), "Holy Sh*t it is cold out here!" when in the presence of individuals who are either waging a battle against cancer or who have done so is simply bad form. We do not do it. No one at the Race does.

Good is being done all over the State of Concrete Gardens on Sunday. There is actually an event being held in Somerset County that - but for the Race for the Cure - our family would participate in. Suzy B. was a patient at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center on several occasions during the final couple of years of her life. The facility is beautiful. All of the people who staff it, medical and otherwise, are top-notch. This Sunday, in Hillsborough Township, several thousand runners shall participate in the Steeplechase Distance Run, which benefits the Steeplechase Cancer Center. This is the third annual running of this particular event. If its organizers could ever be persuaded to bump it back one week, then it would be part of my October calendar.

Among the groups participating on Sunday in Hillsborough Township is "Progin's Players". Ian Progin, 33, is the varsity basketball coach at Hillsborough High School. He is a Hillsborough High alumni, having coached now for the past eight years at his alma mater. He is also a husband and father of two little children. He is also someone who is battling cancer. Specifically, Stage 4 Glioblastoma with which he was diagnosed in early May, 2011. Progin's Players is a group that was formed to help support Coach Progin, his wife Courtney, their daughter Payton and their son Jeffery. A young man of 33 should not have to confront issues such as brain cancer. If life was fair, then he would not. It is not. Thus he must.

And he is not lacking for support. According to Jerry Carino's piece in Thursday's Courier-News, Progin's Players is 700 members strong. He did not ask Coach Progin to provide him with the strengths and weaknesses of this roster but one presumes that using "coach speak" Coach Progin would have listed its depth as a strength but the difficulty getting enough minutes for everyone as a weakness.

Being a good basketball coach, he undoubtedly would have noted that solving the latter is his problem - and it is a good problem to have. And for a young man who has been forced to deal with more than his proportionate share of bad problems this year, it is one that he will welcome gladly. Good luck to the Coach, his family and the unstoppable force that is Progin's Players. Not just this Sunday, but every Sunday thereafter.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Just Sayin'

Age has had quite a deleterious effect on my memory. It appears to me that last season's worth of episodes of Two & A Half Men followed the same trajectory that the previous seven season's worth had: lots of jokes about Charlie being a male whore, Alan being a cuckolded douche and Jake being a lazy, doomed to fail teenager. Margaret and I watch the show. It has never been rocket science. But is is good for a little "unsnap the skull cap" laughter.

However judging by what has popped up on-line all over the place in response to the first two shows of the Ashton Kutcher era on the show, it appears as if my recollection of the quality of the first eight seasons of it is erroneous. Apparently I failed to appreciate that we had been watching Shakespeare in the Park with Charlie Sheen channeling his inner Olivier. Silly man am I. Silly, stupid man.

The baseball season is heading into the post-season with the ALDS starting Friday night for the Yankees at the Stadium. A couple of items off of the diamond caught my attention the other day. Given the time of year, sharing them here seemed appropriate.

I am not an NBA fan. I enjoy playing a number of sports. I enjoy watching many different types of sports too. NBA basketball is not among them. Ernie Johnson is the face of Turner Sports for its NBA coverage. So, through no fault of his own, his is not a voice I hear often or a face I see with any regularity. Thus, I was surprised to read somewhere earlier this week that he is one of the play-by-play men TBS intended to use for its coverage of the ALDS and NLDS. I say "intended to use". The piece I read noted that Johnson had asked TBS to take him off of its broadcast team. His reason is certainly legitimate and very sad:

In a statement, Johnson said his son Michael, 23, "has muscular dystrophy and has been in intensive care for the last two weeks and is expected to remain hospitalized for several more weeks. At this time, my job is to be with Michael."

Ernie Johnson's perspective is refreshing. For him and for TBS, there shall be other Octobers. Here's to hoping that there shall be others as well for Michael. And happier, less stressful Octobers for the Johnson family.

Opening Day seems as if it was about 1,000,000 years ago. Especially so for the San Francisco Giants and their fans. The Giants began the season as defending World Series Champions. They ended it as an also-ran. The Giants began the defense of their title on the road against their long-time rival the Los Angeles Dodgers. Devout Giants fan Bryan Stow did something he had apparently never done before. He ventured to Dodger Stadium to watch a Giants-Dodgers game. And he did so while wearing a Giants cap.

Bryan Stow is not a kid. He is a man in his early 40's. He is a father of two. He is a first responder. By all accounts he did nothing to warrant the vicious beating he received in a stadium parking lot from several miscreant Dodgers fans. Stow was damn near beaten to death.

In the first week or so after the assault, the medical information that his family communicated to the public courtesy of the web site they created was less than positive. It seemed as if he would die or at the very least never regain any type of cognitive function. In baseball, it pays to remember that the season is a long one. Sometimes it is long enough for someone who gets off to a tough start to get his legs under him and finish strong.

Bryan Stow has - at least figuratively speaking - gotten his legs under him. On Monday his family's update on their web site was entitled "Magical". Do yourself a favor. Read the entry. And then remind yourself that while Willie the Shakes was one hell of a writer, he did not know all....

....Just sayin'.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For Those Who Knew Not Where They Were Going

A bit of hooky on tap today. Happiness is a Wednesday spent neither in the office nor in court but instead accompanying the Missus and Joe as the latter takes his first steps in and through the Ellis Island Museum. My father-in-law is bearing down on his 80th birthday, having lived his entire life in the states that surround Liberty Island and Ellis Island. He has never set foot on either. Today, everything changes.

Just for point of clarification, the word "occasional" was inadvertently omitted from the second sentence in the preceding paragraph. In the unlikely event that Messrs. Weiner or Lesniak wander past this space, I do not want to be hoisted on the petard of my own unintentional letter of resignation. I enjoy working on Wednesdays....and every other day that ends in "day".

Proving that Murphy is an Irishman, the forecast today is less than stellar. Then again, as late as 10:00 p.m. on Saturday night, Sunday's forecast for New York City was just this side of atrocious. Sunday dawned bright and sunny and remained in that state until the sun descended into the west that evening. Perhaps we shall experience a similar phenomenon today. Weather will not deter us from our journey and should actually have little effect upon us as we can ride below deck on the ferry that will take us from Point A to Point B (and in the interest of completeness both logistically and alphabetically, Point C) and we will spend most of our time indoors once we get there. Barring Irene Redux, whatever elements we encounter today will be less than those encountered on a day in/day out basis by those who passed through this place out of necessity and not out of curiosity.

Joe was born in the United States but - at least if I have understood the stories accurately all these years - both of his parents were born in Italy (or perhaps Sicily) - and we shall walk today the steps that they took once their ships came in to New York Harbor. We shall see the various processes to which they were subjected and which they had to completely satisfactorily in order to be permitted to complete their journey. Joe has spoken often of his desire to see this particular place. I hope it not only meets but exceeds his expectations....

....and gives him pause to consider whether it exceeded those of his mother and father when they passed through this place. Hallowed halls? Perhaps. The portal to the land of hope and dreams? Absolutely.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 23 Skidont

It it the final Tuesday of September. By week's end we will have reached month's end, which means that three-quarters of 2011 will be an object viewed through the rear-view mirror. Time does not simply pass. It flies by. Remarkable.

Being more than a bit addle-brained, it completely slipped my mind until this morning that this past weekend my sister Kara and her husband Russ celebrated their wedding anniversary. I could be wrong about this, my math skills being something less than legendary, but I believe that this year is their 23rd as husband and wife. I recall flying home from Boulder for the wedding, which took place in September of my senior year at CU.

I think - and I could be wrong as both age and alcohol have had a deleterious effect on my memory - that Russ and Kara's wedding reception was the last time that I saw either my Uncle Paul or my Uncle Jim. They were two of Mom's brothers (the third being Uncle John who died far too young what seems now to have been at least a lifetime ago) and both of them were larger-than-life men. In the two-plus decades since Kara/Russ married, both of them have died. Uncle Paul, although the younger of the two, died first a number of years ago. Uncle Jim, with whom Mom was so close it was as if they were of one mind always, died a bit more than three years ago. Twenty-three years brings about a hell of a lot of change.

In the twenty-three years (plus now since I am several days late with this particular salute), Kara and Russ have brought into this world three remarkable young men. Two of their sons are matriculating their way through college as we speak. Jordan, the youngest, is still a few years away from higher education. It only seems right that he complete elementary school first. He did after all just celebrate his 10th birthday on Monday. Let us not do anything to hurry the final one along too quickly; right? Time moves fast enough without giving it a shove.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." I have never spent time with Kara and Russ and their kids, whether at their home or elsewhere, where I have not been more than a bit impressed at the amount of joyful noise and energy rising off of all of them. Their enthusiasm has indeed served them well. Emerson was right.

And here's to the next twenty-three years of the greatest story the two of them shall ever write. Congratulations, much love and all the best.

No skidoo in these two....they never saw the need.


Monday, September 26, 2011

And We Ran....

Yesterday was a day that shall remain etched in my mind's eye forever. I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in the Tunnel to Towers Run for the second consecutive year. The weather forecast as late as 11:00 p.m. Saturday night put the likelihood of rain at 70%. We all learned Sunday morning that Mother Nature is too damn smart to spit in the eye of the Siller family. Not only did it not rain but the sun shone down brightly on us as we lined up to start in Red Hook, Brooklyn as well as when we emerged from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into Lower Manhattan.

While I presume there are those who can put the emotions of the day adequately into words, that ability is beyond a man of limited means such as Yours truly. If it is true that one picture's value is equal to one thousand words, then permit me to shut up....

A simply extraordinary day. In the company of extraordinary men and women. We'll talk again tomorrow....


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Let Us Do Good - A Final Lesson

This morning - rain or shine or a combination thereof - is the 10th edition of the Tunnel to Towers Run. Last year, we awakened on the Jersey side on race day and made our way across the Hudson. This year we have pared down our journey considerably. We spent last night in Manhattan so that we could attend the pre-race pasta dinner held annually on the Saturday night of Tunnel to Towers weekend. What an extraordinary event.

I know not who - other than me - has visited this space each of the past eight days (although the prime suspects are those with at least some DNA similar to my own). This is a space usually reserved for declarations and observations about whatever is on my mind on a particular day. It is not tied to any particular topic. This week has been the exception to that rule. I offer no apology for it.

Life is lived forward. But the human body is designed to allow us to turn our heads sufficiently so that we can glance back from whence we came. As much as we might not want to be - or as it might pain us to be - we are forever tethered to our history. Often we seek safety in numbers. We think "macro" when something bad happens - such as the murder of thousands on American soil at the hands of cowards - because of the numbing quality of numbers. By going big we focus less on the detail. We focus less on what we know to be true, which is that the collective is comprised of separate, individual pieces, and that the fallout from such an event is not spread out equally among all of those affected by it. The converse is true - for each person killed the impact visited upon her or his family is everything. They cannot dissipate the force of the impact by sharing it with anyone else. It is theirs. Every day.

FF Vernon Cherry of Ladder 118 was as renowned for his beautiful singing voice as he was for his valor. He moonlighted as a wedding singer. He was also the FDNY's official singer. He performed the National Anthem at departmental ceremonies. He also performed across the New York City area with his band. FF Cherry was forty-nine years old. He was a twenty-eight veteran of the FDNY. As if his job as a firefighter and his second job as a singer/performer were not enough, FF Cherry had a third one as well. He was a court stenographer in small claims court in Lower Manhattan.

He and his wife Joanne, parents of three, were married for thirty-one years. “It was love at first sight,” said Joanne Cherry, who met her husband at a high school dance. “We couldn’t take our eyes off each other.” His colleagues in the firehouse heard him often extol them to take as much joy and pleasure as they could out of every day because, "Tomorrow is promised to no one."

Firefighter Shawn Powell was a member of Engine 207 in downtown Brooklyn. FF Powell was thirty-two years old. He was a veteran of the United States Army. He married his high school sweetheart Jean. He and Jean had one son, Joshua, who was five years old at the time of his father's death.

His colleagues noted that he brought unusual skills to the Fire Department. An artist and woodcarver, he had built props and volunteered at several New York City theaters, including the Apollo Theater, and studied architecture at New York Technical College. At Engine Company 207 — where the slogan is "The House of Misfit Toys" because of the company's specialized, somewhat bizarre-looking fire-fighting equipment — he made the point in comic relief with a poster that includes a square- wheeled fire engine.

Firefighter Stephen Siller was a member of Squad 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He joined the FDNY in 1995. He was thirty-four years old. By age ten, FF Siller was an orphan. His mother died of cancer. His father died due to a blood clot. The youngest of seven children, he was raised by his older siblings. He and his wife Sarah, married in 1990, were the parents of five children (two sons and three daughters).

On the morning of September 11, 2001, FF Siller was not working - having just completed a shift. A passionate and talented golfer, he was on his way to meet his three older brothers at the Glenwood Country Club Golf Course in New Jersey, so the "perfect foursome" could play a round of golf. He was listening to his scanner when news of the World Trade Center disaster came across. He called his wife telling her to let his brothers know he would meet them later; he was going to get his gear and join his company, Squad 1. According to his brother, Frank, his family has pieced together the details of Stephen's final actions. They believe he drove his own car from Squad 1's Brooklyn firehouse to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, where traffic was at a standstill. He probably ran through the tunnel and was picked up by Engine 224, and after arriving at the disaster site most likely hooked up with his squad. Mr. Siller and 10 other members of Squad 1 did not survive.

A decade later, his legacy and that of those who died that morning - including those who died trying to save others - survives. Ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds. The faces of what a hero looks like.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jackie MacLean and Her Gang of Green - Lesson VII

Tomorrow is the Tunnel to Towers Run. It is an event that - while everyone involved in it wishes that the reason for it did not exist - is simply extraordinary. Tomorrow's edition shall be the 10th. I am participating in it for the second time.

A lifetime ago, when I was a student at Wardlaw-Hartridge, the girls did not play soccer. In the fall, in addition to tennis (which they still play) the girls played field hockey. My two sisters who also graduated from W-H played field hockey. And if I may be permitted a bit of bragging on Kara and Jill right here (and how exactly do you propose stopping me?), both of them played it very, very well. That was a generation ago. At W-H these days, field hockey exists only in decades-old championship banners and in black and white photographs from old yearbooks. Dylan was right. The times, they are a-changin'.

Jacquelyn MacLean is the Varsity Girls Soccer Coach at W-H. Her team is very good. Through their first half-dozen games this season, they were unbeaten and had given up four goals while scoring thirty-four. As impressive as their on-field exploits are, they ain't the half of it. They shall this October - as they have done during Octobers past under Coach MacLean's tutelage - be actively involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, raising money through their own charitable works. Works performed as a team.

Tomorrow morning Coach MacLean's kids will run for the third consecutive year in the Tunnel to Towers Run. They shall run as a team - in uniform (be on the lookout for a fast-moving bunch of girls wearing lime green shirts with gold lettering) - as they have done the past two years:

On Sunday, for the third straight year, Wardlaw-Hartridge’s girls soccer team will participate in the annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation Run. It follows the footsteps of firefighter Stephen Siller, who was off-duty and on his way to play golf on Sept. 11, 2001, when New York was attacked.

After his truck was stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the father of five raced on foot to the Twin Towers with his heavy gear strapped to his back.

The run honors the memory of Siller, emergency service workers and others who lost their lives on 9/11. It’s also a fundraiser. The Rams already have raised $1,350 in registration.

Though the girls soccer team has no personal ties to Siller, all Americans have ties to that day, coach MacLean said.

“I wanted to have my players experience what this firefighter went through, which doesn’t compare to things they go through, especially on the field,” MacLean added. “When they are tired and want to quit, they can remember the race and Stephen running to save lives in full firefighter equipment.”

If you espouse the belief that coaches are coaches AND not teachers, then please feel free to give me a shout. I enjoy a good debate more than most. You can offer whatever evidence you want in support of your position. I got Jackie MacLean. I win.

"As long as a body draws breath, there is time to contribute something." - Dennis Smith.

Firefighter Richard Kelly, Jr. was a member of Ladder 11. FF Kelly was a member of the FDNY for twenty-four years. He spent the final twenty-three of those years at Ladder 11. He was the senior man in the house. Music was his passion with a collection of more than 400 compact discs including The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, two of his favorite groups. He was a nationally acclaimed boom bah player and instructor. FF Kelly was fifty years old, husband to Carolyn and father to Michael.

A year or so prior to his death, FF Kelly and his wife had purchased a home in Pennsylvania where they vacationed and where they had at least discussed retiring to in the not-too-distant future. Speaking of her husband Carolyn Kelly said, "He always made everyone feel comfortable and loved. Whether you were a commissioner, the president, a loved one or a homeless person on the street, it didn't matter to Ricky. He would treat you with the same kindness and dignity. Ricky would always say that we could have fun in a paper bag."

Firefighter Thomas Kelly of Ladder 15 had an interesting history with the World Trade Center:

As a 20-year-old apprentice in the steamfitters' union, one of Thomas W. Kelly's first assignments took him to the World Trade Center. It was 1970, and what would become New York City's most prominent landmark was climbing upwards. He was responsible for spraying asbestos to provide heat and insulation on the 40th floor of Tower 1. He wrote his initials and 638, his United Association union local, in the stairwell. Next to it, he wrote "UA forever." In September 1971, he showed this marking to his future bride when he took Kitty Murphy out on their "first big date."

His use of the World Trade Center must have worked. Kitty Murphy became Kitty Kelly, his wife and the mother of his two sons. A Brooklyn boy, FF Kelly once paid $1420 for an original seat from Ebbets Field, a gesture that to this son of a devout Brooklyn Dodgers fan brings both a tear and a smile.

Firefighter Thomas Kelly of Ladder 105 followed the career path of his dad Emmett, who had been a member of Ladder 142 in Ozone Park. FF Kelly was thirty-nine years old. He was both a Mets fan and a Dead Head, piling into a van with his two brothers James and Robert to follow the Grateful Dead up and down the east coast.

In the New York Times tribute to him published in the Autumn of 2001, FF Kelly was remembered as a man whose life revolved around family, the water and bike trails as he embraced any opportunity to spend time with those he loved the most doing the things he enjoyed the most.

Lives well lived. And lives to be measured by their breadth and depth even if their length was taken from them by violent means.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Actions Unspoken - Lesson VI

Here on the 23rd of September, two days away from the Tunnel to Towers Run, a couple of idle thoughts. First, today is the birthday of my favorite rock and roller and fellow Jerseyan Bruce Springsteen. Happy Birthday Mr. Springsteen and may God continue have mercy on us men who doubt what we're sure of.

Second, today is he beginning of another round of Yankees vs. Red Sox at the Stadium. While the Division title is sewn up, this weekend will include Saturday's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the date on which Roger Maris established the single-season record for home runs. On that day, which was October 1, 1961, the Yankees played the Red Sox as they shall this evening. In view of the system that Commissioner Ford Frick insisted on employing to protect Babe Ruth's record - by distinguishing between the 154 game season in which Ruth played and the 162 game season in which Maris did, this lawyer salivates over the intricacy of the disclaimer that Frick would have doubtless insisted upon to distinguish Ruth's achievement from the 'Roid Boys - McGwire, Sosa and Bonds. It would have been a year's worth of work for an army's worth of lawyers. I take some solace in the fact that this being America, you can choose to posit who you view as the legitimate holder of the single-season home run record. Me? I prefer the quiet man from Hibbing, Minnesota.

There is something to be said for someone whose actions speak louder than his words. Someone whose actions embody the words of Mark Twain, "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear."

Firefighter Thomas M. Butler was a member of Squad 1 in Park Slope. FF Butler was the son of FDNY Captain Bill Butler. FF Butler's younger brother Stephen is a Lieutenant in the Port Authority Police Department. FF Butler was 37 years old when he died on September 11, 2001. He was last seen - in the company of other members of Squad 1 - entering the South Tower. He was a husband to Martha and a father to their three sons Sean, Kelly and Patrick. At the time of their dad's death, Sean was five, Kelly was three and Patrick was but five months old. Patrick was christened just two days prior to his father's death. Sadly - and cruelly in fact - FF Butler's body was never found. His father and brother spent countless hours down at Ground Zero searching for him. Their search ultimately proved unsuccessful.

In an article that ran in Newsday honoring FF Butler, his wife Martha explained how the couple first met: Tom Butler was a uniformed police officer, working the corner of 114th Street and Atlantic Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, in the summer of 1987. That's where Martha Butler got off the bus after work, and where she first saw her future husband. "It was love at first sight," she said. "I asked him a question about getting somewhere, and that's how we met." Proving once again that from small things, big things one day come.

Firefighter Dennis O'Berg took a somewhat circuitous route to the family business - his father being FDNY Lieutenant Dennis O'Berg. FF O'Berg was an accountant. Feeling dissatisfied with what he was doing, he took the exam for the FDNY. He had only been on the job for a few months - assigned to Ladder 105 in Brooklyn - when he was killed at the World Trade Center on 09/11. He was twenty-eight years young. He had recently married. His bride Christine spoke of how well the new career had suited her husband, "He was so much more cheerful when he came home. Now he is a hero, but he was a good man back then."

The day his son died became Lt. O'Berg's final day in the FDNY as well. He had spent 31 years of his life fighting fires. After the towers fell, he searched for his son, but located only his fire truck, smothered in debris. He decided to retire on that day, after 31 years on the force.

Firefighter Gary Geidel was preparing to retire. FF Geidel, a member of Rescue 1 in Manhattan, had been on the job for more than nineteen years. Being a firefighter is something of a calling in the Geidel family. His father Paul also was a member of Rescue 1 prior to his own retirement and two of FF Geidel's brothers, Ralph and Mike, are also firefighters. FF Geidel was among the members of the FDNY who had the distinction of not only responding to the World Trade Center when the complex was attacked in 2001 but also when it was first attacked in 1993.

Fighting fires was in his blood. Modesty was in his veins. In his 19 years at the Fire Department, Firefighter Gary P. Geidel received seven citations for valor. His wife, Mathilda, knew nothing about them. Her husband was that way. He left his work at the firehouse. He lived life at home. Later, she learned that one citation was for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On what turned out to be the last morning of his life, on the final occasion on which he would see his wife, he stopped on his way out of the house, turned around, walked back to the front porch where his wife had remained standing and gave her one final hug and kiss goodbye.

Actions not words. The true measure of a man. Indeed.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Little Boy Blue and Moon Men - Lesson V

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite people. It has been my pleasure and privilege really to have Lonnie Wojtasinski call me HER friend for close to two decades now. One day, one of us will write a book about our adventures in the Wild West of the law, which was the period of time we each worked at Frost & Rhodes in Plainfield, New Jersey. As Tom Petty might sing, "Oh the stories we could tell." They are stories - if they are to be told at all - to be told on a another day. The Polish Princess celebrates another trip around the Sun today. Being inherently cheap, I will do anything and everything to avoid investing in a stamp - especially since now my sis is USPS Emeritus. Happy Birthday Jolanta....or should I say, "z okazji urodzin!"

I do well what it is I do for a living. I do not mean to sound immodest but I more than hold up my end doing what it is I do to earn my daily bread. I enjoy what I do. That being said, I lobbied long and hard against either Suzanne or Rob pursuing the same career arc. Much longer and harder than necessary as it turned out since neither had an interest in it.

That is not of course how it is in some families. In some families, a father reaches a point in his life where the bathroom mirror reveals not one but three reflections every morning. Those of his father and of his son flank his own. "And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me/He'd grown up just like me/My boy was just like me." Cradles and cats. The circle of Life.

Firefighter John Vigiano II was a member of Ladder 132. He grew up in Deer Park, New York. He was the son of FDNY Captain John Vigiano and the older brother of NYPD Detective Joseph Vigiano. When FF Vigiano joined the FDNY in 1991, becoming a third generation New York City Firefighter, he carried Badge 3436, which had been his grandfather's. FF Vigiano and his brother Joseph both earned the rank of Eagle Scout. The two brothers were so tight and so close that although John was two years older than Joseph, when younger brother asked older brother to wait for him so that they could attain the honor of Eagle Scout together, he did. FF Vigiano was a devout New York Rangers fan. He was sadly only 36 years old when he died on September 11, 2001, and was survived by his wife Maria and his two little girls, Nicolette and Ariana.

Tragically, his younger brother Joseph, 34 years old, did not survive him. On that terrible morning NYPD Detective Joseph Vigiano, a member of ESU Squad Number 2 also responded to the World Trade Center. He and his brother were doing what they loved to do, what they had watched their father do and what their father's father had done as well. They were helping others. That selflessness cost both men their lives that morning. NYPD Detective Joseph Vigiano died with his brother at the World Trade Center. Detective Vigiano was survived by his wife Kathleen and their three young sons, Joseph, James and John.

Firefighter James C. Riches of Engine 4 had only been on the job at the FDNY for roughly eighteen months at the time of his death on September 11, 2001. Prior to joining the FDNY, Firefighter Riches had been Officer Riches of the NYPD, assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics. He was 29 years of age. FF Riches' father is retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches. It took the family nine months to recover FF Riches' body from the rubble of the World Trade Center but when they did, Deputy Chief Riches and his three other sons - all of whom apparently became firefighters after 09/11 - carried him out of there and brought him home. In a May 5, 2011 interview with WINS Radio, Deputy Chief Riches said that his son's body had been found in the North Tower, “When we did find his body down at Ground Zero, there was a stretcher with a woman right nearby his body, so you know he was helping her and consoling her all the way down, I’m sure. That’s just the way he was.

Firefighter Thomas Schoales of Engine 4 held a position in his family to which I can relate. FF Schoales was the youngest of six children, which made him of course the once and forever "baby brother". His father, Battalion Chief Edward Schoales, apparently was his bunk mate when FF Schoales first joined the ranks of the FDNY and was assigned to Engine 83 in the Bronx. Prior to joining the FDNY, FF Schoales - who had turned 27 in August 2001 - spent three years as a member of the NYPD prior to switching gears and careers and moving over to the FDNY. His is a family of public service, including not only his father but his brothers Daniel and Edward, Jr. as well. As a member of Engine 4, FF Schoales was one of the first first responders into the North Tower. It is believed that he was in the lobby of the North Tower - having helped evacuate people on floors 30 through 40 - when it collapsed.

Sunday's Tunnel Towers Run encourages participants to "follow the footsteps" of FF Stephen Siller. Following the footsteps is something of a tradition in the FDNY. And even though many who had gave their lives on September 11, 2001, one suspects that never for a moment did they regret the path they had chosen. Or the footsteps they had followed.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dreams in Color, Dreams In Red - Lesson IV

Apropos of nothing - and I say this with a decidedly pro-Mo bias - professional sports could use more athletes like Mariano Rivera. His level of excellence, which he has maintained for more than a decade and a half, will likely never be seen again by anyone doing what he does. As remarkable as that is, the best part of Mo is his professionalism. He does not throw cream pies or otherwise conduct himself like a buffoon. He simply does what he does to maximum effect with unparalleled class. A remarkable athlete and by all accounts an even better man.

Firefighting is a family business. The FDNY has long been a multi-generational operation: sons take up a profession worked by their fathers and their fathers' fathers before them. The family network extends horizontally as well: brothers join brothers and cousins join cousins in what is nothing less than a communal calling.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 three separate members of the Angelini family responded to the World Trade Center. Michael Angelini was not a member of the FDNY but instead the Fire Patrol of New York, which operates under the New York Board of Underwriters, which acts to protect the interests of insurers during and after commercial property fires. Michael Angelini was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center early that morning and was among the individuals who carried the body of FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge out of the North Tower after Father Judge was struck and fatally injured by debris from the collapse of the South Tower. Sadly for Michael Angelini, the performance of his sad duties on Father Judge's behalf was not close to the saddest thing that he - and his family - endured that morning.

Joseph Angelini, Jr., Michael's older brother by five years, was a member of Ladder Company No. 4 in Manhattan. His company's beat was the Theater District. Its motto? "Never miss a performance." On September 11, 2001, although he had worked the day before and was scheduled to be off, FF Angelini did not miss the performance. He was 38 years old. He was Donna's husband, he was Jennifer, Jacqueline and Joseph III's father and he was Anne and Joseph, Sr.'s son. Speaking of her husband shortly after he was killed in the line of duty in the South Tower Donna Angelini said, "He was the air in my lungs, and now that air is taken away from me. I keep waiting for him to come off a 24 [hour shift] and come through the door and say, 'You wouldn't believe what happened to me today.'"

Time does not lessen the pain of all wounds. Shortly before the tenth anniversary of his death, Donna Angelini said, "We lost the heart. When he walked in the door, anything wrong seemed so senseless. The kids' eyes would always light up. They don't have that anymore. That's what's so hard."

An argument could be made - without an attempt at rebuttal from this corner - that the price extracted from the Angelini family was more than high enough when Joseph, Jr. was killed in the South Tower. Sadly, Joseph, Jr. was not the only Angelini who died while doing his duty that morning. Joseph Angelini, Sr. - the family patriarch - was a member of Rescue 1 in Manhattan. FF Angelini, Sr. was the most veteran firefighter in the FDNY with forty years on the job. Speaking of his father Michael Angelini said, "Three things were important to my father: his family, the church and the department, and I'm not sure in what order."

Joseph Angelini, Sr. was sixty-three years of age. He was one of eleven members of the FDNY's elite Rescue 1 unit who died at the World Trade Center. And even worse, he was one of two members of the Angelini family. There may be no crueler, incomplete way to measure loss than arithmetically. Two is not typically thought of as a "large" number. Until it is.

FF Jonathan Lee Ielpi, Squad 288, Queens was his father's son. Considering that his father is Lee Ielpi, a legend in the FDNY as a highly decorated member of Rescue 2, it was and remains a well-earned compliment. FF Ielpi had been a member of the FDNY for five years. In addition to working with Squad 288 in Queens, he was also the First Assistant Chief of the Volunteer Vigilant Fire Department in Great Neck, Long Island, the town where he was born. And the town where he lived with his wife Yesenia and their two boys Andrew and Austin.

There is an old adage about fathers and sons and the sins of the formers being visited upon the latter. It is not always the bad stuff that passes from generation to generation. And death cannot sever an unbreakable bond. FF Ielpi's father, Lee, spent every day at the World Trade Center site taking part in the search through the debris for bodies. When a body of a firefighter was recovered, he assisted in the process of getting that fallen brother out of the debris and on his final journey home.

For close to three months after his son died, Lee Ielpi searched in vain for Jonathan. Finally, on a cold December day - the 11th to be precise, the body of FF Ielpi was recovered. The father who never stopped searching brought home the son who was taken from him but who was not lost to him. And who worked side-by-side with Lee Ielpi on his search? FF Ielpi's younger brother Brendan, who was a probationary firefighter ten years ago in Brooklyn. Together the Ielpis - father and son - brought FF Jonathan Ielpi out of hell and carried him home.

A decade later, Lee Ielpi runs the Tribute WTC Visitors Center. A decade later Brendan Ielpi is still fighting fires out in Brooklyn. What else would you have them do?

Theirs is, after all, a family business.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Revere Respect Remember - Lesson III

You may bury me with an enemy in Mount Calvary
You can stack me on a pyre and soak me down with whiskey
Roast me to a blackened crisp and throw me in a pile
I could really give a shit - I'm going out in style

On the subject of going out in style, kudos to Jason Katims and Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights. Katims won the Emmy for Best Writing in a Drama Series at Sunday night's Emmy Awards for the series finale, "Always". Chandler won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series. If you never watched the series while it was on, find it on-line, rent and/or buy the DVD box sets. For the most part (Season Two being the exception that proves the rule) Friday Night Lights was television's best hour every hour it was on.

Today is September 20th. Sunday's Tunnel to Towers Run is now five days away. Although weather is about as reliable as A.J. Burnett, the forecast for Sunday (at least as seen from Tuesday) is nothing short of spectacular: 73 degrees, sunshine and 0% chance of rain. Regardless of the weather, we shall run. Considering in whose footsteps we are running, it is the only thing we could do.

James Amato was a Captain with Squad 1 in Brooklyn. Captain Amato, 43 years old, was a married father of four. According to his brother Lee - who is also a firefighter - Captain Amato loved to be part of the action. He enjoyed his job and the challenges it brought to him and to his fellow firefighters. In the New York Times profile of him, Captain Amato was referred to as "A Fireman's Fireman". In September 2001, Captain Amato was only forty-three years old. Yet, he was already a twenty-year veteran of th FDNY. When one decides that he shall spend his life coming to the assistance of others, he apparently gets into it as early as he can. During his twenty-year career in the FDNY, Captain Amato received four individual citations for valor.

Calixto Anaya, Jr. was a Firefighter assigned to Engine 4 in Manhattan. Prior to joining the FDNY, FF Anaya was a member of another proud organization. He was a United States Marine from 1984 through 1988. After war commenced in Iraq in 1991, he re-enlisted in the Corps and, after serving in Operation Desert Storm, he was discharged for a second time in 1992. On April 27, 1990 he married his bride Marie. In the eleven-plus years between that date and the early September morning on which he lost his life while saving others, he and Marie expanded their original duo into a quintet. FF Anaya was the father of three, including his two daughters Kristina Marie and Rebecca and his son Brandon. Marie, remembers the New York City firefighter everyone knew as Charlie as "very attentive to the little things that keep love alive," whether it was taking days off for activities with their three children or showing up with flowers when she did not expect them. FF Anaya was only 35 years old.

Joseph Campbell was the favorite author of FF David Arce. FF Arce was a member of Engine 33 in Manhattan. In the Introduction to his seminal work The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell wrote, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." FF Arce was off-duty when he made the decision on the morning of September 11, 2001 to hop on one of his Company's trucks and respond to the World Trade Center. He was thirty-six years old. According to his mom, Margaret, when she went to complete the tragic task of opening up his apartment after his death she came across numerous "Dear Santa" letters written by poor, underprivileged children. FF Arce enjoyed playing Santa as - according to his Mom - he delivered toys to countless children year after year after year. "He has always been like that, always bringing home stray cats, stray dogs, stray kids," she said. "Growing up, it was the same thing; he was always bringing someone home to me who needed a meal, or who needed a coat."

A hero in the company of heroes. A hero with 1,000 faces....and at least 343 names.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Lesson II of the Rule of Three

Lieutenant Brian Ahearn of Engine 230 in Brooklyn. Lt. Ahearn was a husband, married to Debra. Lt. Ahearn was a father. He and Debra had one daughter Lauren and one son Christopher. Lt. Ahearn was a brother to his sister Betty. Lt. Ahearn was a son. His parents, Edward and June, endured every parent's nightmare. They outlived their child. On October 27, 2001 they had a Memorial Mass for their son. It is not unreasonable to think that his parents were acutely aware of the possibility of outliving their son better than parents might otherwise be. Edward Ahearn was himself a Lieutenant in the FDNY with Ladder 42. It likely did not make it hurt any less.

Firefighter Eric Allen was a member of Rescue Squad 18. Allen was all of 5'5" tall but cast a shadow far longer than his physical stature. In addition to being a member of Rescue Squad 18 he had two other jobs he loved passionately: being husband to Angelica and father to Kathleen, who was only three years old when her father died in the line of duty. In the New York Times profile of FF Allen it was written, "As he drove on jaunts to the country with his wife, Angelica (whom he nicknamed Schnauzer) and their 3-year-old, Kathleen (whom he nicknamed Mouse) he would make up songs about how much he loved them, yelping happily."

Firefighter Richard Allen was a member of Ladder 15 in Manhattan. He was thirty-one years old. On September 11, 2001 FF Allen was off duty. When the call came in that a plane had struck the North Tower, he jumped onto an Engine 4 Truck and joined the effort at the World Trade Center. In his obituary, his family spoke of him as follows:

Richie loved the beach and worked Rockaway’s beaches as a lifeguard for many years and he treasured it. The beach was a peaceful place for Richie and brought him comfort; it was Richie’s Heaven on Earth. He loved the ocean, which is where he surfed, fished, swam and paddled.

Before becoming a fireman and when not lifeguarding on the beach in the summer, Richie spent his winters as a New York City Public School teacher. He quickly and easily gained the admiration and respect of his students as they could tell that he was not like their other teachers. To his students, Richie was someone they could relate to and they described him as “laid back” and “cool”.

People become firemen for many reasons. Richie’s family believes that he became a fireman because saving people and helping is what gave him life. During his short life, he saved many people; some he saved as a fireman, some he saved while lifeguarding and some he saved from themselves. His family believes that this is what God put him on this earth for. Once people met Richie, their lives were changed forever.

Three men. Three of the 343.

I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire


Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Rule of Three - Lesson I

One year ago, on a late September Sunday, I took part in what has been to date one of the most amazing days of my life. The 2010 edition of the Tunnel to Towers Run was the first one in which I had participated. I had not yet crossed the finish line when I knew that I would participate this year. And every year going forward on which it is run. You cannot emerge into the daylight on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and see the column of FDNY members who line both sides of the street, wearing large sandwich board-sized photographs of the 343 members of the FDNY who died on September 11, 2001 without noting the palpable lump in your throat. And even if you could, when they burst out into applause (you read that right - the firefighters are clapping for you), it is game over.

The series finale of Denis Leary's "Rescue Me" wrapped up the series where it had started seven years ago with a new class of FDNY recruits getting reamed out by Tommy Gavin. For good measure, in the finale Gavin turned over the indoctrination to Lieutenant Franco. As the recruits stood before a tapestry/mural bearing the names of each of the 343 FDNY members killed on September 11, Franco made it their homework to learn something about 3 of the 343. Each recruit was assigned three names. Driving to work Friday morning, it occurred to me that Franco's assignment was an excellent one.

So, although between today and next Sunday I cannot - at a rate of 3 a day - share the results of my "homework" on all 343, this space shall be devoted to the application of this particular "Rule of Three" between this day and that one. If it is something you would rather not read, then feel free to step out for a while. Even if I had feelings, your decision would not hurt them. Promise.

Father Mychal Judge was the Fire Department of New York's Chaplain. Father Judge was a Franciscan friar, having started on his path towards it at age 15. He was ordained a priest in 1961. At the time he was twenty-eight years old.

Father Judge became the Chaplain of the FDNY in 1992. His charitable works and good deeds during the decade that he was the Chaplain were the things from which legends and fables are often woven. Father Judge died while in the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killed by debris that entered the lobby from the South Tower when the latter collapsed. His helmet and his fire jacket, recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers were enshrined earlier this month in the Fire Museum as part of its permanent collection. In "Report From Ground Zero", Dennis Smith described seeing him in the lobby of the North Tower in what turned out to be the final moments of Father Judge's life:

Father Judge is again left alone with his prayers. He has no one to counsel, no one to console, no one to shepherd. It is only him and God now, together, trying to work the greatest emergency New York has ever seen. It is obvious that Father Judge is trying to make some agreement about the safety of his firefighters.

Joseph Agnello was a firefighter with Ladder 118 in Brooklyn. FF Agnello was thirty-five years old. He was married. He and his wife, Vinnie Carla Agnello, were the parents of two little boys. Salvatore turned three two months after his father's death. Vincent was nineteen months old. FF Agnello's company, Ladder 118, was among the first companies to respond to the World Trade Center on September 11.

Among FF Agnello's attributes was the understated way in which he went about his business. "People on my block didn't know my husband was a fireman," said his wife, Vinnie Carla Agnello. "He never need to talk about himself or the job. He wasn't the type of person who needed attention."

Firefighter Raymond R. York, Jr. was forty-five years old. He was married. A father of four. Firefighter York was a nineteen year veteran of the FDNY. In 2000, a shoulder injury had forced him to light duty. On September 11, he was at the Fire Zone Store in Rockefeller Square teaching children about fire safety when the first plane struck the North Tower. Upon hearing the news of the attack from a news crew, he jumped on a fire truck passing by. That truck got stuck in traffic. So, he jumped into an ambulance headed for the Trade Center. He arrived just before the collapse of Tower 2.

Joan York, speaking of her husband said, "We're so proud and we just want everybody to know what a great guy Ray was. Everybody's saying, 'He's a hero, he's a hero.' He was always my hero. Now the world knows he's a hero."


Saturday, September 17, 2011

She Ran Nightly, Lightly Through The Jungle

Or perhaps not. Perhaps she flew first class out of DIA - jammed perhaps into a pouch in a bag that the good folks (sorry - tongue stuck firmly in cheek) at Continental Airlines "lost" on some unsuspecting traveler such as a father spending Memorial Day weekend with his son - all the way to JFK. I know not. All I know for certain and all that anyone will likely ever know for certain is that five-plus years after Meadow the cat sashayed out of her family's home in Broomfield Colorado, she turned up in New York City. Meadow is no dummy either. Where was she located? Gramercy Park.

And she turned up safe and sound although just how many of her nine lives she bartered with to remain that way remains a mystery to me. Meadow got her own tongue on that subject as well. Her humans are understandably overjoyed that she shall shortly commence making her very own great migration West especially since after a while they had presumed that something other than Manhattan had taken Meadow. “We got a call asking us if we had a cat named Willow, and we thought that was pretty strange, since we thought Willow might have been eaten by coyotes,” her jubilant owner, Jamie Squires, 37, told The Post.

Maybe all Meadow wanted was the chance to live in Boulder. Apparently the Squires family moved from Broomfield to Boulder while Meadow was off looking for America. Perhaps news of Coach Embree's hiring at CU was all Meadow was waiting for to signal to her that reason and common sense had returned to the Front Range and it was time to return to Colorado? There is no truth to the rumor (started right here) that Embree's team has dedicated its effort today in the Mile High Showdown against CSU to Meadow. Ditto for that rumor (coincidentally also started right here) that Meadow will join Ralphie leading the Buffs out onto the home turf at Folsom when the Buffs tangle with USC under the lights on November's first Friday. However, judging by the photo of her in the Daily Camera that might be simply to hold down the University's mascot food costs.

We often hear said, "All's well that ends well." Less often do we hear it applied to a half-decade sojourn of a domesticated animal that terminated 1600 miles away from whence it began. But it fits this story quite nicely. After five-plus years away, Kitty's back in town.... she comes now.


Friday, September 16, 2011

The Sea of Love

Quick PSA (tailored not to the "P" at large but the percentage of you who are W-H Alums circa 1980-1989, which makes you the "WHAP" I reckon): we are now less than one month away from the "All 80's Reunion" scheduled for the evening of Saturday October 15 shortly after the conclusion of Homecoming-related activities. If you are planning to attend but have not bought your ticket yet, then go to this place from this place (not now dammit!) and do so. If you remain undecided, noncommittal or any other polysyllabic word that translates roughly into, "Well, I don't know", then be advised that Emilie Marvosa is coming to your house and kicking you hard in the ass. She is little but Lee is tough as hell. Consider yourself warned.

We the people of the United States are a funny bunch. Too often we find the pursuit of new ideas exhausting. It is simply far to difficult a task to undertake. So, instead of pursuing new ones we find those that attained a modicum of success - however fleeting - and dust them off, polish them to a bright shine and then launch them anew (well, sort of) on an unsuspecting public. A generation ago, Evangelical loudmouth (a redundancy if ever one was written) Reverend Falwell mounted his soapbox to warn one and all that the TeleTubbies were going to be the undoing of Western civilization. Jowly Jerry was particularly concerned about one of them - Tinky Winky. It was his suspicion that the Tinkster might have been homosexual. Interestingly, the nickname of the athletic teams at Falwell U. (sorry - Liberty University) is the Flames. Nope. I am not making any of this up. Sometimes comedy just writes itself.

Just this past week, a beloved (in some circles anyway) star of children's television programming took a show across the bow. SpongeBob SquarePants has been identified as the root of ADD evil in small children. In the September 12, 2011 edition of Pediatrics there is an article entitled, "The Effect of Fast-Paced Cartoons" that examined - well - it examined the effect that viewing fast-paced cartoons had on a small sampling of young children. Apparently SpongeBob wreaked havoc on the test subjects. As reported by the New York Times:

The study, which appeared in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved 60 children whose parents reported similar levels of television-watching and attention skills. The children were randomly assigned to one of three groups: one watched nine minutes of the cartoon, another viewed nine minutes of the educational program “Caillou,” and the remaining group spent the time with drawing paper, markers and crayons.

The tests were administered immediately after the children watched the program and were designed to assess what is known as children’s executive function, which underlies attention, working memory, problem-solving and the delay of gratification. The children were given tasks that involved following instructions, reversing the order of numbers and resisting treats.

“The children who watched the cartoon were operating at half the capacity compared to other children,” said Angeline S. Lillard, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and one of the paper’s authors.

"Delay of gratification" and a 4 year-old child's inability to master it laid at the feet of SpongeBob. Really? Maybe we should all hop into the WABAC Machine and visit a time when extended family car trips were not passed in silence while each passenger - adult and child - tuned in to watch his own personal DVD player but were actually spent in conversation. Or perhaps we can visit the time when children under the age of ten did not sit at a dining room table (be it in a restaurant or at home) playing Game Boy or some such device to alleviate the adults at the table of the responsibility of actually engaging the child in conversation. Ah the joy of the portable babysitter. Then again, that would presuppose would it not that any conversation was in fact taking place. And in a world of PDAs, iPhones and Blackberrys that might be as farcical as anything escaping Jowly Jerry's pie hole.

Once upon a time I was a little kid. Every summer we made the trek from the boondocks of New Jersey to Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania, which trip took at least a couple of hours. I recall - fondly actually - trips that were spent in spirited conversation and even the occasional argument. But they were spent engaging with one another. Ditto for family dinners, whether in a restaurant or at home.

I am also the parent of two young adults who were not children so long ago that I have forgotten the experience of child-rearing. When Suz and Rob were small the four of us spent a lot of time in the car together and most of that time was spent in conversation or singing along to whatever we were listening to on the radio. Activities that encouraged and permitted us to engage with one another. It was not terribly hard to do.

Let us not extricate our own heads from our own arses; right? Instead let us lay the blame for difficulties potentially awaiting a generation of little ones as they begin the ascent through childhood and adolescence on an animated sponge. Patently ridiculous. And sadly our favorite kind of solution here in the 21st Century United States. One that places the responsibility for creating the problem on the shoulders of someone other than us, which allows us to ask the sales clerk for a pair of victim's shoes in our size. Sorry folks, you cannot pin this on good ol' SpongeBob....

....everybody knows it is that damn Patrick who is the corrupting influence. And rumor has it that he may even carry a purse. Or at the very least be the one responsible for teaching SpongeBob self-defense. Someone call Rev. Falwell quick. 'Neath the sea there is a starfish with some 'splaining to do.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tis the Sound of Lilting Laughter

Full disclosure demands - up front - that I acknowledge that my bride's heart is Italian, not Irish. Well, not by birth anyway. By marriage? Certainly. By indoctrination? Perhaps. As my good friend Governor Rick Perry likes to remind me - it is important to not allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. But I digress.

Margaret is a remarkable woman. I am reminded of it every morning when I stare at my reflection in the bathroom mirror and then glance in the mirror beyond my reflection to her still sleeping in our bed and think, "Go figure." I am reminded of it when one of our two young adults does something - or opts not to do something - that reflects her influence upon them and serves as an affirmation of how she did what she did to guide them along their path of travel when they were more young than adult.

My wife is very much an "everybody else first" person, an attribute owed in large part to her genetic material but reinforced in some part due to the fact that she is married to a self-absorbed twit. Trust me, I know him. While her skin of selflessness is one that she will never be able to shed, it pleases me more than a just a little when she opts, time and again, to buck it.

Margaret has worked where she works for the past four years. Over the course of the past year or so, as the economy has creaked to a limp, the industry in which she works has slowed perceptibly. When you are blessed with the ability to do one million things at one time, at full speed and at 100% accuracy and are suddenly constrained to do only one thing at a time and asked to do it as something less than full speed, it can kill you more than just a little bit inside. Such has been her life at work for most of the past year. While she enjoys the people she works with quite a bit, she had been dying on the inside for quite some time.

No more. Opportunity knocked and Margaret ran to the door to answer. Beginning next month she starts a new adventure in a new field about which she seems terribly excited. It took me close to the past four years to understand fully what it is she does presently so I shall not pretend to understand presently what it is she is off to do starting in October. It matters not. She is happy to have the opportunity. I am happy that she is happy. And at day's end, that is really more than enough.

How do like that Mr. Soderbergh? Happiness as a contagion.

Congratulations honey as you gear up for the next, newest adventure. And I love you very much. Always have. Always will....

Peg O' My Heart.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Price Paid For Living Like A Good Homo Sapien

Springsteen's admonishment is not 100% true, 100% of the time. Sometimes on at least one of the 57 channels there is something worse than nothing on. Such was the case on Sunday afternoon. Setting aside for a moment DirectTV's willingness to give me for the day for free something I would never pay for in 1,000,000 years, which is their Sunday Ticket package, permitted me to spend about twenty minutes flipping around the dial taking a look at all of the football I would otherwise have been unable to view in the New York area. Twenty minutes was all the time it took to persuade me that I am not missing a damn thing.

Kudos to the folks at HBO for a bit of "counter-programming" in the early afternoon hours on Sunday. I had hoped to stumble across an airing of "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" but instead walked headfirst into "Any Which Way You Can". In the interest of full disclosure, I am compelled to confess that I have been an enormous fan of Clint Eastwood since I was a little boy. I enjoy not just the films in which he is in front of the camera ("The Outlaw Josey Wales"), but also those when is is behind the camera ("Mystic River") or both ("Gran Torino").

That being said, for a period of time from the mid-1970's through 1980 or so, Clint was in a bit of a rut. So much so that he made two fairly lousy films in which one of his co-stars was Ruth Gordon and the other was Clyde the orangutan. As luck would have it, HBO chose to use at its particular pointed stick to thrust into my mind's eye the lesser of the two orangutan movies ("Every Which Way But Loose" is "Unforgiven" by comparison). But for the presence of "Bronco Billy" and "Pink Cadillac" on his resume, "Any Which Way You Can" might be the singlemost dreadful film he has ever made. And no, I do not care how much money he earned from it. Dreck is dreck regardless of its bottom line.

In both movies, Clint's simian co-star engages in some fairly questionable and occasionally amusing behavior. Behavior that presumably would not be tolerated in Malaysia.

In Malaysia these days, Clyde's long-lost sister (no, not really) is all over the news. Apparently, Shirley had been living in a state-run zoo in the southern part of Malaysia and the visitors to her zoo, while being cautioned to not feed the animals, failed to comprehend that giving her a Marlboro or a Pall Mall was against the rules too. If you throw enough lit cigarettes into an orangutan's cage, eventually she starts smoking them. Poor Shirley got hooked. So much so that people report being able to observe discernible mood swings in Shirley when she was Jonesing for some nicotine.

Since my middle seat on the oversold, jammed to the gunwales commuter flight to Hell between two morbidly obese, sweathogs was bought and paid for years ago, 'tis no skin off of my nose to admit that the photograph of Shirley blowing smoke out of her nose did not outrage me. It made me laugh. Truth be told, if she could blow the smoke in the form of rings, Jack Hanna would buy her and take her around the United States making a tour of every late night TV show. But for her inability to form a vowel she is sentenced to a life in Borneo. Poor Shirley.

And alas there is no truth to the rumor - started here of all places - that in Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston orginally spit out the words, "Take your stinking paws off of my Camels, you damn, dirty ape" only to see the reference to Camels edited out due to licensing concerns. I suppose it would have made Uncle Jim much happier in its unedited form although I suspect we shall never know for certain.

It appears as if Shirley will have to content herself with other traditional Malaysian fare, such as heroin. Here is to hoping that the withdrawal from the nicotine does not kill her....

....and to think, all she was really trying to do was look sophisticated. All over the world, the price of being fashionable remains high. If you have to ask what it is, then you likely do not have the bananas needed to pay it.

Right Shirley?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

No Sacrifice Forgotten

Sunday morning I did not do something that I have done more often than not since 2002. I did not watch the ceremony from Lower Manhattan honoring the victims of the 09/11 attacks and their loved ones. In my defense (in the event one determines that I need one), I had a very good "excuse".

I spent this Sunday morning in the company of a number of extraordinary people. An organization called put on the 4th Annual Rutgers Army ROTC Run For The Warriors, which offered both a 5K Run and a 1 mile walk. Because I think running serves him well - both physically and mentally (as it does me) - and because I think exposing young people to serious things does likewise, my young wingman Ryan accompanied me to RU for the event. I am embarrassed to admit that in spite of the fact that: (a) I run in a lot of races; (b) honoring those who were murdered on 09/11 is a cause near/dear to me; and (c) I live within ten minutes of Rutgers, I was unaware of this event's existence until about one month ago. By that I do not mean simply the date of this year's race. I mean the race. Period. How I missed it the past three years I know not. I am pleased that my losing streak did not reach four.

Among the amazing people who Ryan and I were exposed to on Sunday morning are Mr. and Mrs. Koch, whose son Steven R. Koch joined the United States Army after the attacks of September 11 and became a member of the 82nd Airborne. CPL Koch was killed in action on March 3, 2008. He was twenty-four years old. The Kochs have formed the Corporal Steven R. Koch Trust Fund (CSRK Trust Fund for short) and the Trust Fund was one of the sponsors of Sunday's event.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Koch arrived in a seriously cool vehicle

their mode of transportation was perhaps the least impressive thing about them. Mr. Koch spoke briefly but passionately about his son and about why he/his wife had established the Trust Fund and gotten so intimately involved with Hope for the Warriors. As he described it, "Steven volunteered. We were drafted." He meant that his son's sense of duty and love of country had proven infectious and that in the wake of his death his parents have been driven to honor his life and the lives of his brothers and sisters in arms by doing all they can to assist veterans in need of medical care, financial assistance and - most importantly - help assimilating back into a world that is nothing at all like the ones in which they have been living in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mrs. Koch stood fast during a pre-race ceremony that honored her son that was so moving, I felt fortunate to have my eyes shielded behind my dark sunglasses. Absent someone seeing me wiping the corner of either eye, my tears went unnoticed. She stood front and center as people spoke of a young man who was not simply a soldier or a hero but who was her little boy. From where Ryan and I stood we could see her battling her emotions, which she did beautifully. Upon the completion of the ceremony she did what Ryan and I did. She moved to the starting area and competed in the 5K. A remarkable woman.

As for my wingman, he appeared as happy to have been there as I was to have had him. He ran well, which is always good but got as much I think out of the ceremonies before and after the race as he did out of a quick 3.1 mile jaunt on a Sunday morning in September. I might have had some explaining to do had he not been able to move away from the Army's Recruiting tent with only a small American flag and a hat.

He is but sixteen years old presently. Whether he decides to renew acquaintances with them at a later date is a decision left up to him and his parents. It is a decision left for another day.

Perhaps a day as remarkable as Sunday was. Or perhaps it just felt that way, courtesy of the company I kept.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Five Tough Mudders

I run in a lot of races. Do not take my word for it - ask my wife. Margaret has endured more than her share of Saturday and Sunday mornings at one event or another over the course of these past couple of years. On Saturday though I did something that was a bit out of the ordinary for me - I joined my wife on the sidelines as a spectator. We went to McGuire Air Force Base with Lynne to form the cheering squad/support crew for a team entered in the Beast of The East Mud Run.

Absent from our cheer crew - because she was a tad busy leading her gang through the mud - was my usual running partner Gidg. Saturday she led her team, "The Dirty Divas" through the 6.2 Mile course replete with seventeen obstacles that included a "naturally occurring swamp" and (as we saw with our own eyes from the spectator zone at the five mile mark) back to back obstacles that combined knee deep mud and muddy hills. Way back when in the late Spring when she signed up for this event and mentioned to the rest of us that she had recruited four other women from her office to compete with her (not a ringer in the bunch), I think that for half a heartbeat she probably wondered if she could actually do this. She was alone in that question....if she asked it at all.

Gidg is among the most hardheaded people I know. And I mean that in the best sense of the word. We have run together in races of lengths ranging from 2 miles to 26.2 miles and in weather conditions running the spectrum from single digit temperatures and snow-capped roads to sweltering heat with humidity pushing the heat index into the triple digits. She worries. She frets. She makes so many pre-race trips to the porta-john one thinks that she thinks it is a time share. Yet she never fails to answer the bell. And she never fails to finish what she starts.

Saturday there was a bit of unintended pre-race angst for Gidg and her team of Dirty Divas (their team name - not a characterization). The plan was for all five Divas to meet at the base by 8:00 a.m. However, poor Janet got lost on the way there and then upon arriving at McGuire she was caught in a very long line at the security checkpoint. Thus, it was not until only a few minutes were left before they had to report to the starting area to begin their 9:40 heat that the Divas were at full strength.

But once united, they proved to be an unstoppable force. Lynne, Margaret and I took a bus out onto the course and picked up the action at the five mile mark. We got to see firsthand just how well they were doing:

Gidg (or as I shall now refer to her - the Alpha Diva) and her Divas (Janet, Jen, Melissa and Yvette) completed the course in slightly less than one hour and forty minutes. They probably could have finished in at least ten minutes less time had we not compelled them to stop and pause for photographs:

Whether their experience on Saturday was a life-changing one I do not pretend to know. I know that judging by their reactions post-race it certainly appeared as if each of them had one hell of a good time. As they stood posing for their proof of life shot with ear-to-ear grins, four of them were probably thinking of how they were going to spend their Saturday once they got all cleaned up and de-mudded. Not their fearless leader. I know Gidg. She was already planning for the next one. How to squeeze more enjoyment out of it. How to shave a minute or ten off of the finishing time. She cannot help herself....

....someone has to be the Alpha Diva.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Shoes and Steps

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

Ten years removed from the murder of 2,996 and from the events of the worst, most memorable day of those that I have yet seen I continue to look hopefully for paper hearts wherever I can find them. As someone who did not endure the loss of a loved one(s), I would not pretend to comment upon how well the search for those endearing items goes for anyone who did. Irrespective of how many pairs of shoes each of you may own, your closet does not contain a pair in my size. I cannot walk a single step in yours. Never have. Never will.

Those who did not experience loss directly cannot ever comprehend the significant difference between what this day means to us and what it means to you. For us, it is a day of remembrance. For you it is an above the fold, bold type reminder of a loss for which no reminder is necessary. You have our empathy. It is that which we have to give. You have our regret as well. We wish there was something more we could do - pile all of us (every one of us) into the WABAC Machine perhaps to a time when this date marked not THE DAY but simply the day that served as the bridge between September 10 and September 12. We cannot.

Wilder wrote, "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." May all who suffered injury ten years ago this very day and all those who have suffered injury since due to the lingering effects of that day have time today - and every day - to spend some quality time on Wilder's bridge.

We of the human variety mark the passage of time in a way that is unique to each of us. We mourn in a similar fashion. There is no right way or wrong way to do either. Those whose loved ones were murdered on this day a decade ago will spend today perhaps at one of the ceremonies, whether in New York City, in Pennsylvania or at the Pentagon, designed to commemmorate the lives of those lost. The FDNY lost 343 active duty members on September 11, 2001. Today, a group of 37 cyclists comprised chiefly of FDNY members shall arrive at the Pentagon having completed a journey they began several days ago on Long Island's eastern end. The distance covered in their travels? 343 miles.

There is an old saw with which we are all familiar regarding the elixir of time and its effect on wounds. Not all wounds heal at the same pace. Perhaps, although you hope is it not the case, some never heal at all. It seems to me - and perhaps me alone - that only those who sustained a loss directly can ever know how well if at all their particular wound shall ever heal. And if it does, just how steep a price will be paid in terms of scar tissue.

Outwardly, a sign of healing directed to the collective has emerged in Lower Manhattan. At the Tunnel to Towers Run last September, I took two pictures of the progress of the construction

In less than one year remarkable progress has been made on this new building, especially when one considers how brutal the weather was this past winter. As of September 4, 2011 one gazing at the Manhattan skyline saw something where nothing has been for the past decade

A decade after New York City had her heart broke, she has indeed begun to rise again. Here's to hoping that all whose hearts were broken on a Tuesday morning in September a decade ago who do not enjoy the advantage of being constructed out of concrete and steel do so as well.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

At The Point of Intersection Between Crosses and Diamonds

Why not you?
What do you think, you're special?
Bad things happen in the world.
Bad things are going to happen to you.
It doesn't mean you are a bad person.
In the same way, good things happening to good people doesn't mean they're good.


This summer was the first one in a long time in which I did not play softball. For just about every summer since the three of us graduated law school together almost twenty years ago, one of my two very excellent friends (a reflection of the quality of their character is having a millstone like me as a friend does not detract from it) Diego Navas or David Rubino has put together a team and found a league in which to play softball. When we were much younger than we are now, we played in a Men's League in Nutley on Sunday afternoons. Every Sunday was a doubleheader. Several years in that league, catching doubleheaders in the heat of Jersey Julys and Augusts taught me that Ernie Banks was either a liar or a sadist.

As we have aged (sorry - "matured") we have toned down the level of competition a bit. For the past four or five years our team has played in the Essex County Lawyer's League. The arguments over blown calls are more spirited and well-researched than they were in the old Nutley league but the risk of violence is substantially less. It is in the Lawyer's League where - this summer - Diego and David played. And did so without me.

As a person of few friends (by choice - almost universally theirs), my favorite thing about playing softball was spending time with Diego, David, Christian, John and Dave (LD 17). Truth be told on the softball field and at the Star Tavern afterwards were the only places I ever saw any of them - at least as a general rule. But as I have aged, my knees have continued to betray me. And while they carry me in a not wholly embarrassing fashion over generally straight roads in races of varying distances, they can no longer change direction well. Nor can they assume a crouched position. When one's position is that of catcher, those are fairly significant limitations.

The other thing I miss the most about playing softball was the opportunity it presented me to meet some really outstanding people. No, not other lawyers. A couple of Septembers ago our season ended relatively early. Diego was still working for the City of Newark and he ended up putting together a couple of games with different fire houses in the Newark Fire Department, including one in which a number of folks from our team simply filled in positions on two different Fire Department teams so that they could play one another.

The games I was able to take part in all took place right around this time of the year. I do not know enough about firefighters to know whether prior to 2001 the month of September had a significance greater than that of any other month on their calendars. In the decade since, it certainly seems to. Newark, New Jersey has a professional Fire Department. Here in the State of Concrete Gardens many of our smaller cities and towns (such as where I live) have fire departments comprised of volunteers. Newark is an exception. And while I have no familiarity at all with the relationship forged between members of a volunteer brigade, I was simply blown away by the interaction I witnessed among the men and women of Newark's Bravest.

At the end of every evening on which I was privileged to spend a bit of time on the softball diamond with this particular band of brothers and sisters, I came away feeling as if I had spent the evening at a family function. I had been invited to come into someone's home and not merely observe but fully participate in a love-filled get-together. I drove home smiling contentedly as if I had just eaten an amazing meal. And I had not eaten a damn thing.

Over the course of a dozen or more years playing softball, we played in our share of memorable (to us anyway) games (I swear that if someone with a video camera had been in Yanticaw Park all those years ago to record John Rubino's laser from right field to cut down the guy from Fedway (a/k/a "the fastest guy in the league") trying to score from third base in a game we ultimately one 1-0, it would still get YouTube hits in the six digits annually). None of them though were as memorable as those impromptu, drop-in affairs with the men and women of the Newark Fire Department.

I hope this September Saturday finds all of them well. And that when dawn breaks tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that it continues to find them well. And to keep them that way. And I hope that same spirit protects their brothers and sisters irrespective of zip code. And continues to keep them safe.... they make their way through the darkness to make certain that the rest of us are safe as well.