Monday, January 31, 2011

Running Time

Three weeks into my marathon training and I am pleased to report that I am still alive (a sentiment I recognize might not shared universally). Actually thus far things have been going well. The training plan I am following mixes runs of not too horribly a distance several nights a week with one longer run on the weekend. Well at least thus far the weeknight runs have been of reasonable distances - nothing more than five miles. As January gives way to February and thereafter as February in turn gives way to March the weeknight runs will extend to as much as ten miles. Candidly I have no idea how or from what source I am going to find the time to run ten miles on one day - let alone multiple days - during the work week. In the words of the late, great Edward Kennedy, "We'll drive off of that bridge when we come to it."

Yesterday's run was seven miles. While it is a distance I do not usually run, I covered the distance in slightly less than fifty-seven and a half minutes. Best of all was at the end of it, while I was hot and quite sweaty, I felt fine. My legs were not especially sore. I was not breathing uncomfortably. I completed my run feeling pretty damn good about myself and my prospects of being able to actually run a marathon.

At some point after the initial euphoria wore off I realized that while it was good that I felt good after running seven miles, the race distance on May 1 - which as of tomorrow is exactly three months away - is three and one half times as long as I was pleased to have run yesterday. And suddenly I realized that while I have been putting in the work that I need to do in order to tackle this thing, I have much, much more work to do. At some point in time I hope that the weather in these parts becomes good enough to enable me to get out on the road to run as opposed to logging miles on the treadmill. At seven miles the only thing I was missing was a large chunk of cheddar dangling in front of my face serving as motivation as I ran.

Spring will be here soon enough and hopefully by the time it arrives - if not sooner - I will be able to take my show on the road.

Honey here's one to glory
Here's to bad weather
And all the hard things
We've been through together
Here's to the golden rule and survival
And to stayin' alive
It's the runnin' man's bible.

-AK

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Candle Power

As a parent you know that your children have grown far beyond the boundaries of "childhood" when you wonder not whether your daughter shall read your birthday wish to her written here. Rather you wonder whether she shall read it upon arriving home in this morning's wee small hours from last night's celebratory decadence or wait until early this afternoon......after she wakes up. Either way, today remains what it is: Suzanne's birthday. Here's to hoping honey that you have a wonderful, happy one. You most assuredly deserve it.

The combination of the ever-graying hair on my head and in my beard and the ever-deepening lines (crevices seems to be a more apt description) on my face reinforces the fact that while I did not opt in to the Parenthood game at the moment of inception, I have nevertheless been at it for quite some time. And the successes that I have witnessed Suz and Rob grow up to become reinforces the fact that the time I spent driving the car, ensuring that we had sufficient money in the bank to do those things that needed to be done and otherwise staying the hell out of the way so Margaret could shepherd their growth appropriately was time well-spent.

Occasionally, Suz and Margaret are so close to one another that they are too close to see just how much alike they actually are. Margaret carries with her in this world the gifts and all of the best things she took from Suzy B. and the lifetime spent with her and at her side. Suz, whether always cognizant of it, carries all of the best of her mother/my wife with her on her day-to-day. One is the greatest living testament to the other.

At age twenty-six, Suz is itching to stretch her wings and head out on her own completely. Methinks that this birthday shall be the final one she spends as a resident of "under my roof". It is, I think, probably time for her to go - although both my wife and my daughter will weep like infants on Moving Day (a fact that the former already is acutely aware of and - I suspect - that the latter is in deep denial about) - regardless of the fact that neither the Missus nor I are coercing her into doing so. Suz is one of the brightest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (up there in the pantheon of 'scary smart' right alongside my brother Bill and my old high-school classmate Dave Russ) so whether the voice inside of my head and my heart is in agreement with her own on this issue matters not. As a parent often times the most important thing you can do for your child - irrespective of age - is say nothing. Decisions ultimately must be entrusted to those who are directly impacted by them. Worse than being wrong about something is being afraid to be wrong. Far worse.

Sooner rather than later I suspect we shall help her carry boxes down the stairs and into either the trunk of her car or the back of a U-Haul truck or some such conveyance. And soon thereafter both it and she shall be gone. Well, that is not entirely accurate. Not at all. For whether your child is here or there or someplace else altogether, they remain where they have always been. They remain firmly inside your heart. And you carry them with you forever. Wherever you are. Wherever they go.

Happy Birthday Suz. Be happy. Be safe.....

.....whatever road you choose.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stars in the Heavens

I was born in the winter of 1967. I was less than two years old when first MLK and then RFK fell victim to an assassin's bullets in 1968. I was only two and a half (or thereabouts) when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. All are events that occurred within my lifetime. None is an event of which I have any firsthand recollection. Everything that I know of them - at least as far as I can recall - is after the fact knowledge. It is something that I have learned from reading about them or from watching a program about them.

The first "Where Were You When" moment of my life occurred a quarter-century ago. In late January 1986 I was a freshman at the University of Colorado. While I do not recall what day of the week the 28th was, I remember being up and getting ready to go to class. Having attended class during the preceding semester (my first semester of my freshman year) in a manner that to have been considered "irregular" would have had to been considerably more consistent than it actually was. I paid for my sins with a GPA after that first semester that left Mom wondering what positio, I played on the football team. It is funny now. I assure you that Joanie K was not laughing then.

Anyway, the spring semester had begun in mid-January and I was still embracing my new status as an active member of the Farrand Hall academic community on the 28th when one of my down-the-hall neighbors (Brian Cellar I think) came to my end of the hall to tell my roommates, neighbors and me that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded almost immediately after it had lifted off that morning. All of the astronauts aboard were killed. Among the crew of seven was a school teacher named Christa McAuliffe. Up until January 28, 1986, NASA was so confident (some might say cocky) in its ability to make the extraordinary things it does seem routine that it had opened up the shuttle doors to ordinary folks. Ms. McAuliffe was the first. In a moment frozen in time forever in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean that January morning NASA was reminded - as we all were - that sending astronauts into space is not something that is ever routine.

A quarter-century ago a lot of us - including Schneeds, Chip and me - did not have television sets in our dorm rooms. Next door to us, John and Bill had a small 13" color set that one of them had brought from home. All five of us, joined by Brian and Boo (the late, great Scott Bouchard - who lived on the other side of Bill and John) stood in their dorm room and watched the footage of the unthinkable. We watched it over and over for it was played over and over almost in the hope that if it was repeated enough the error that had doomed all of those aboard would be corrected and the Challenger would make it to 74 seconds and beyond, safe and sound. Except it did not. And twenty-five years later, hope that it ever shall has been long abandoned.

CU-Boulder has a long history of involvement in the space program, on every level. Scott Carpenter is a Buff. Jack Swigert (Apollo 13) was a Buff also. Aboard Challenger twenty-five years, the crew of seven included Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, a Buff (class of '69) and a shuttle veteran. Among the items that were recovered from the wreckage of Challenger were the CU flag and football he had intended to take into space with him.

A memorial to Ellison Onizuka was erected on the Boulder campus and the CU flag and football are part of it. While my memory is not now what it once was, courtesy of the twin demons of too much age now and too much alcohol then, it is my recollection that the 1986 home opener for the football team included a pre-game tribute to Colonel Onizuka that included a fly-over by jets in the "missing man" formation.

A quarter-century is both a long time and an eye blink. While reading the Daily Camera's coverage yesterday I could see myself standing in Bill/John's room on the 4th floor of Farrand Hall as if it was happening as I was contemplating it. Yet while reading the articles my eye was drawn to the mention of people such as Christa McAuliffe's husband. He is twenty-five years a widower. I would wager that for him and for the families of the seven who died that morning, January 28, 1986 feels as if it was a long, long time ago indeed.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.

-AK

Friday, January 28, 2011

Forests and Trees

Today is the second anniversary of my final day at the Firm. Huh? If you have just tuned in and have heard me refer often to the Firm as my present employer then this apparent change of tense might surprise you. Perhaps you think you heard me wrong. You did not.

It was on this date two years ago that Skate and I pulled out of my "AK" parking space for what I believed at that time was to be the final time. For reasons too long and boring to recount again here (if you are long on time and short on constructive things to do with your day then peruse the archives of this particular space as the entries from February through May 2009 will answer all questions you might have on the subject), the "too good to be true" opportunity was indeed just that. The thing that could not miss did. And it missed badly.

I am not a man of science or of medicine. I make a once a decade trip to the doctor whether I need to or not and other than that, I keep those who practice medicinal arts at arm's length along with those who practice religion. Good thing I have two arms; eh? I believe chiefly in the power of one - the one whose ever more wrinkled and graying face stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning. I am a simple man. I adhere to Patton's teaching that, "You have to make the mind run the body." If I can will it to happen, it can happen.

Those fundamental precepts by which I live my life were shaken absolutely to their core starting on this very date two years ago. At some point in time between this date and a date in May that I shall recall with clarity equal to this date for the rest of my waking days the train jumped the tracks completely. I have never felt more helpless or more hopeless than I did during that period of my life. I do not pretend to know what forms the basis of a diagnosis of depression. I do know that for four mornings out of five for a period of roughly four months I contemplated finding something to drive my car into or off of in a manner that would assure instant death (I am a stalwart coward after all) and nothing more than a perfunctory investigation into its accidental nature. I am heavily insured and had little interest in screwing Margaret and the kids out of the money they were entitled to receive. Being completely useless during that period, I could not even formulate an action plan to accomplish that goal. I was - and in retrospect maybe it was not a totally bad thing - completely adrift. Never in my life have I been in as dark a place as I was right at that moment. So dark that I could not even wrap my head around a strategy that involved an unseen exit. Too little light. Too much tunnel. A potentially devastating cocktail.

Although they could not prevent me from having leaped off of the precipice in haste, courtesy of a couple of well-timed and well-placed helping hands, I was able to hold fast to that lone tree branch jutting out of the rocks and avoid dropping into the abyss forever. I hung there for all I was worth until someone placed a safety net beneath me and assured me it that now it was safe to let go. I believed that it was. And I am happy I did. For it was.

Life is a journey. And it is a journey that moves forward, keeping pace with the staccato beat of time. Yet sometimes to get ahead you have to circle back from whence you came, re-examine the various paths that lie open in front of you and decide best how to proceed. For years, master carpenter Norm Abrams has preached, "Measure twice. Cut once." Two years ago, on this very date, I ignored his wise words. I did so at my peril. And my ignorance and my arrogance came pretty damn close to costing me everything I love.

It has been said that you cannot always see the forest for the trees. I suppose that describes what I brought crashing down upon my own head this time, two years ago. Lucky for me that there was more than just one tree in that forest - another source from which I could draw a fresh piece of lumber. A piece that I now always make certain to measure twice before bringing the blade anywhere near it.

Live and learn. Indeed I have. And I am damned thankful for the opportunity.

-AK

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Missive From the Ministry

Silly me. I had no idea when I lampooned the proposal of New Jersey Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker to require every bicycle on the road or trail here in the State of Concrete Gardens to have a license plate affixed to it that she was merely the Tip of the Spear as it were. While Ms. Tucker's convictions proved to be short on courage - she withdrew the proposal if not in the next breath then in the one only one or two removed from its original utterance, she has been proven to be but one mason puttering around on Hell's highway.

Perhaps because I am not a cyclist but a runner - or more properly "a person who runs" as the former denotes a proficiency level not required by the latter and not present in Yours truly - the latest barrage of proposed personal policing legislation seems to me more intrusive than amusing. According to an article in the New York Times, "The ubiquity of interactive devices has propelled the science of distraction - and now efforts to legislate against it - out of the car and into the exercise routine." In New York and in several other states across the U.S. of A. there is a move afoot (pun intended) to enact legislation of various types regulating the wearing of and listening to iPods and other devices by runners, joggers, walkers and by that great unlicensed scourge known as cyclists.

The New York legislation proposes to ban the use of mobile phones, iPods and other electronic devices while crossing the street. The article in the Times employed the word "use" to describe the conduct that the legislation proposes to proscribe. Having not seen the proposed legislation, I am curious as to how the word "use" is defined within it. Is the mere wearing of an iPod or the carrying of a mobile phone "use"? If it is not - and I would presume that it would not be, then how is "use" defined? And more importantly, how is "use" to be enforced? Theoretically an officer would have to be able to hear the sound emanating from the device or to see the person talking into the phone receiver while the offender was in the process of crossing the street. Good luck with that on a crowded Manhattan street.

And presuming that the officer can detect a sound emanating from an electronic device, at what decibel level is the noise deemed to be a distraction. Candidly, while I presume that the legislators who propose such nonsense would like their enactments to be strict liability statutes (a/k/a "any audible noise is illegal noise") it would surprise me to see such legislation withstand judicial review. Think not? Try this on for size: every State in these United States has an established blood alcohol concentration that when one meets or exceeds it he is presumed to be legally intoxicated. Here in the State of Concrete Gardens, our "limit" is 0.08% BAC.

New Jersey law requires that the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt not simply that a person has consumed alcohol but that a person has consumed an amount of alcohol sufficient to meet or exceed a specified limit to prove that someone has operated a vehicle while intoxicated. Does it not follow therefore that the law shall require the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that not simply that a person listened to his iPod while running across a street but that he did so at or above a level where he was running while distracted? How much noise is too much noise? More importantly, upon whose back is the impossible task of making that determination going to be placed? While I do not pretend to know the answer to the former, you know the answer to the latter as well as I.

Human beings are animals. Animals are creatures of habit. Animals shall engage in the same self-destructive, counter-productive, injurious behavior irrespective of how much effort is expended preventing us from doing so. Protection against stupidity is a noble cause but a fool's errand. I prefer the Social Darwinism construct myself. Stupid, inattentive people will continue to get struck by automobiles and other such horrible things until such time as they lower the decibel level on their iPod or put down their cell phone and concentrate sufficiently on what it is they are doing and the environs in which they are doing it. At some point if enough of them are killed in this exercise, then their genetic lines will die out. Survival of the fittest; right? If one really is too stupid to live, then who are we to intercede? That might be a touch cruel. We could perhaps erect signage in areas where we know these idiots are likely to cross streets much the same way that we post "DEER CROSSING" signs in high-traffic areas. I have no objection to the signage. However, it remains my position that it is neither the responsibility nor the right of the government to remove the "self" from self-regulation.

I am not the cutlery drawer's sharpest knife, although with the over sized nature and round shape of my head I am sometimes mistaken for the largest ladle. Even I possess the common sense and self-awareness to recognize that when I run through my neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours of the morning I leave my iPod at home and put on my reflective vest and my head lamp in an effort to not only heighten my sense of what is occurring around me but also to increase my visibility to those motorists who are .....well who are out motoring at 3:00 a.m. and might not expect to see some idiot running towards them. I police myself. I neither expect nor invite a member of the 'NTSG PD to do so.

I am not sure but I fear under the new world order envisioned by the do-gooders, this just might be an offense punishable by a hefty fine and a mandatory minimum hitch in the county jail. Potentially lousy day to be a jogger but one hell of a day to be a lawyer......

.....and who did you think comes up with these stupid laws anyway; the Teamsters?

-AK

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Digging Deeper Into The Chocolate Box

Frustration is endemic to the practice of law. It simply is. I have been practicing my trade (I would call it a 'craft' but the combination of what it is and the manner in which I do it would merely elicit another cease and desist letter from the Einstein Estate vis-a-vis my continuing abuse of the theory of relativity) for close to two decades now and I do not think that that particular element of it has lessened or abated at all. If anything it seems to have grown greater over the years.

That might have more to do with the fact that the passage of time has brought with it the gift of experience - a gift presumably visited not merely upon me but upon each and every one of us the longer we toil at a particular endeavor. The gift of experience carries with it the burden of recognition. As we gain more experience doing something we also recognize more clearly when someone is stroking us or blowing us off than we likely did way back when. There is a reason, after all, that experience is not bliss but ignorance is.

I never cease to be amazed by how effortlessly people who seem to be otherwise intelligent, capable individuals disregard, ignore and otherwise flush the advice of their counsel. Doctors have no idea how easy they have it as opposed to those of us who have J.D. as opposed to M.D. affixed to our names. A person choosing to tell his/her doctor to stick a diagnosis or a prognosis in a pipe and smoke it is considered to be such an event that it has its own name/description. When it occurs, it is said that, "The patient sought a second opinion."

In the law it happens so frequently that no pomp or circumstance is attendant to it. Your client asks you a question. You answer that question to the best of your ability and ultimately offer your client a considered opinion, which might not be precisely what your client wants to hear. Time passes and your client finally responds to your opinion by telling you that after having talked to "other people" (maybe another lawyer, maybe some equally clueless wonk in the adjoining office, maybe the stuffed potato knish guy - try to track down the guy who used to be right outside One Police Plaza in Lower Manhattan), he/she has decided to ignore everything you recommended and do something else completely.

Thanks for playing our game now here's your hat and what's your hurry. Remarkable. Simply remarkable. In my experience, too many to count are the clients who love their lawyers when the lawyer is the bluebird of happiness - source of a continuous flow of good news. Conversely too few to count are the clients who love their lawyer when he or she is the perceived harbinger of doom, which more often than not is not even a reasonable facsimile of "doom" but nevertheless something that the client does not want to hear.

Parenthood is a good complement to the practice of law because much in the same way that a parent cannot easily persuade a child to stop holding his or her breath when that child is in mid-tantrum it is nigh on to impossible to convince a true believer of the error of his ways. A lot of time is spent putting out fires before they blaze too long - of silencing the ringing bells before they have rung for too long to ever be unrung.

In the not-quite-immortal (but perhaps they should be) words of Dwayne F. Schneider, "Always remember and please never forget" that there is a fine line between determination and obstinacy and that doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result might be entertaining as hell but it is nevertheless insane. Life may be a box of chocolates but sometimes even we know what we are going to get and that it is going to make us sick, we still pop it in our mouths.

At the end of the day, stupid is as stupid does. Same as it was yesterday. Same as it will be tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Miami 2017?

I have older siblings who are avid and long-suffering fans (cue Colonel Nathan Jessup please) of the New York Jets. While I have been a Giants fan for as long as I can recall, I spent Sunday evening rooting for Sonny Werblin's one time toy to win the AFC Championship and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since joining the NFL. They did not. This year in Dallas the Steelers and the Packers will play in Super Bowl XLV. The Jets made their only appearance - and they made it count damn it - in Super Bowl III. For those of you keeping score at home, it has been XLII years since the Jets upset the supposedly invincible Baltimore Colts. And for those of you keeping score at home who did not attend grammar school in the Greater Ancient Rome Public School District that translates to 42 years. A long time indeed.

The Jets got caught standing around during the first half Sunday night as the Steelers unloaded kegs of Iron City whoop ass all over them. But they refused to cave in. One play after getting removed from the playing surface via spatula courtesy of a hit that resulted in the last touchdown the Steelers would score, Mark Sanchez was back out there chucking and ducking. Sanchez has an incredibly big heart - not surprising for the son of a firefighter perhaps - and significantly more skill than he is given credit for - and both his guts and his talent were on full display in the second half. His team fell five points short. XLII years between Super Bowl appearances rolled with ominous ease into XLIII but Sanchez gave everyone who roots for Florham Park's favorite sons reason to believe heading into next year.

Tougher day in Chi-town for the man who earns his paycheck as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Jay Cutler injured his knee during the first half of the NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers and after coming out of the game due to the injury, he never returned. Apparently his non-return to the hostilities turned a fair number of his fellow professional football players - all of whom had seen their seasons end prior to yesterday - into armchair orthopedic surgeons. From their living rooms and their dens all across America, each was able to diagnose that Cutler's problem was not an injury to his knee but, instead, an absence of heart.

The good news for Ricky Gervais is that even if he is on the Golden Globes sh*t list forever, he apparently has a standing gig to emcee any NFL banquet/awards show for the rest of his life, given the venom with which members of what is a small - and I had thought until yesterday fairly close-knit - fraternity attacked a fellow member of the fraternity at the first whiff of blood in the water. From afar - armed with the newest, latest means to defame another (Twitter) - players emerged all over cyberspace chirping about Cutler's apparent lack of intestinal fortitude. Incredible stuff. And all the while their tweeting gave ammunition to sports reporters and columnists who were looking for a story about which to write. If another player thinks a particular player is a quitter, then how can a writer not write about that; right?

Cutler's incredibly scary-looking teammate Brian Urlacher stood up at a post-game press conference and had his quarterback's back. Whether Urlacher believed what he said or said it simply to protect his teammate I know not. But I do know that watching Urlacher snarl at the press post-game led me to write his name - in ink - atop my "People To Not Piss Off Under Any Circumstances" List.

And lost in all of the assault on Cutler's manhood on Sunday afternoon and evening was the fact that he apparently did injure his knee - much to the chagrin of the orthopedic group of Dockett and Jones-Drew. Cutler underwent a MRI study on Monday, which revealed that he had sustained a medial collateral ligament sprain in Sunday's game. How bad an injury was it? Should he have been able to continue to play with it - and through it? I do not pretend to know the answer to those questions. And there is no way that the other players sitting at home watching the game could have known either. Hell, I would bet you $1000 that most of the genius players who were Tweeting about Cutler's injury could not spell the word "knee" let alone explain to you where the MCL is located and what exactly it does. Yet from their various vantage points yesterday they felt secure taking a pot shot at another player. Pathetic. Simply pathetic.

I would breath a sigh of relief if I was any of the mad Tweeters who is heading to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, given the fact that Urlacher announced on Monday he is not playing in the game. He has withdrawn due to an injury. Imagine the inspired Tweeting emanating from the accounts of those who bashed his quarterback last Sunday only to find themselves trapped on an island with him this Sunday if Urlacher showed up in Hawaii half as pissed off as he was in his post-game interview. Might actually have made watching what is always a dreadful exhibition of football worth tuning into for a change.

This year for Pittsburgh and for Green Bay, there is one more game to play. A 50/50 shot to finish the season as the last team standing. For everyone else - including the Jets - it is a long way to Opening Day 2011. Again this season, the lights have dimmed on Broadway sooner than the Jets hoped they would. Next season beckons. Another year. Another opportunity. 'Til then life will go on beyond the Palisades. Same as it always has. Same as it always will.

-AK

Monday, January 24, 2011

And Apparently It Is A Jersey Thing

My least favorite piece of human garbage - Fred Phelps - and his band of miscreants from the Wasteboro Bastard Church got a geography lesson on Saturday. Lest they forgot just where they were trying to peddle their particular type of hate this weekend, they were given a firm reminder when they showed up on Saturday and attempted to disrupt the funeral of Army Specialist Benjamin Moore.

When protesters arrived Saturday in Bordentown New Jersey at Specialist Moore's funeral they learned right quick that they were most definitely not in Kansas any longer. Authorities preserved the right of these idiots to protest......by setting up an area for them in which to do so that was so far removed from where the service was taking place that they could not see or hear anything. Given that their stated reason for being at these military funerals is pretextual - and that the real purpose in being there is to announce their arrival and to inflict their presence upon the family and friends of the deceased - when they saw that their best efforts to be disruptive had been totally blunted, they went away quietly.

Trenton - our state capital - has a sign that says, "What Trenton Makes, The World Takes". On Saturday those who sought to wreak havoc in Bordentown learned that that adage is not limited to the geographic boundaries of Trenton. On Saturday, a lot of folks from all over New Jersey made a commitment to stand together and to stand up to a bully pulpiteer. And in doing so, they showed the rest of the world the right way to handle a bully. Hopefully the rest of the world took notice.

Let us hope so. When dealing with the unholy man and the blind mice who follow him, it is useful to remember that he and his brood are worse than just publicity whores. He is a bully. And the only way to deal with a bully is the way it was done on Saturday. Stand up to him and punch him in the face. Over and over. Eventually he gets the hint.

And a family gets what it deserves, which is the opportunity to say goodbye to to a young man who lived a hero's life and who died the same way.

-AK

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A View From A Mountain Looking East

An old high-school friend and soccer teammate is a regular reader of this silliness. There is many a day on which Schiff reads and goes about his business without comment. I enjoy the days he decides to say something before he goes. Yesterday was just such a day. In response to my lament about the (even for us) unusually brutal winter weather, he suggested that I might want, "to open a bar in Jamaica (not the one in Queens)".

I smiled and laughed a bit at what he wrote -when I read it - and upon further reflection realized that his recommendation to me was straight out of Running Scared, which was a stand-alone buddy picture from the mid-1980's starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Detectives in the Chicago Police Department. At one point in the movie (in response to almost being killed in the line of duty) they decide to put in for retirement and buy a bar (albeit in Key West instead of Jamaica). Damned entertaining film. If you have never seen it then check it out on DVD. The scene where Gregory Hines persuades an attorney who is looking for Billy Crystal that he (Hines) is Italian is worth the rental price by itself.

I do not know why no sequel was ever made - perhaps Schiff does. The absence of the existence of a "Running Scared II" or a "Still Running Scared" or whatever it might have been called - had it been made - is a mystery to me but it is not the only thing I cannot understand. Far from it.

For instance, I cannot understand why certain police departments (the NYPD is one) have a unit identified as "Anti-Crime". Are not all the units in every police department "anti" crime? I understand the notion of specialization, i.e. the homicide squad, the organized crime task force and the like but "anti crime" seems more like a slap at the other men and women in blue than a way to identify one particular unit. Unless somewhere in the same precinct house there is a unit known as "Crime Facilitation", the whole "anti-crime" thing seems a tad unnecessary.

I do not quite get it either why my e-mail server (Outlook) sends me an e-mail to tell me that one of more of my mailboxes is "over its allowable limit". Would it not be better for them to be part of the solution and not part of the problem? Do not misunderstand me. I have no idea how they would notify me if not by e-mail. Nevertheless it seems that there has to be a better way. I am sure that somewhere there is a twelve year-old computer whiz working up a solution to that conundrum right now.

I am not entirely certain that we all watched Brian Cashman plotting his exit strategy last week but his public declarations - basically washing his hands of a transaction that landed his club an 8th inning set up man for Mariano Rivera.....while the guy they just signed was in the building for his "Welcome to the Yankees" press conference - and then confessing to the fact that he had actually spoken to Carl Pavano's agent and discussed BRINGING PAVANO BACK TO THE BRONX to pitch for the Yankees in 2011 - certainly suggest a guy who is thinking of his next gig. Huh? Signing Soriano was a bad idea but re-signing Pavano is a good one? Cashman is the one person alive who thinks that Pavano could actually get in and out of the Stadium wearing pinstripes. Then again he is the genius who engineered a second act for Javy Vazquez, which ended not quite as ignominiously as the first go-round. But considering the Yankees stopped allowing Vazquez to pitch in actual games shortly after Opening Day in 2010 that is not nearly as much of an accomplishment as it might have appeared at first blush.

I also do not understand why exactly the Scientologists have taken to buying advertising time on network TV but on not less than three occasions this past week there they were - selling whatever it is they peddle exactly smack dab in the middle of prime time. If it turns out that we have Ricky Gervais to blame for this, his punishment should be having to host the Golden Globe Awards every year for the next decade.

I did laugh at the fact that among the shows on which they bought time was "HOUSE", given the good doctor's well-stated position on God and religion. But then again, given how well things did not turn out when L. Ron's crew ventured into the motion picture business , perhaps television is a better medium for them to operate in.

And among the myriad of things I do not understand at all is who I know who lives in or near a place called Mountain View, California. On a daily basis - or pretty close thereto - someone who apparently lives there reads what is written here. And I have absolutely no idea who it is. I actually Googled Mountain View to see where the hell it is (California is a tad bigger than Rhode Island after all) but even having a general understanding of where it is has not helped me figure out who it is.

For a person who fails to comprehend a lot of things, it is just another log on the fire. And given how damn cold it has been in these parts these days, maybe that is not such a bad thing after all.

-AK

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Far Side of Winter

Welcome to the endless January - at least for those of us who reside here in the State of Concrete Gardens. Yesterday, I had the sheer joy of driving to work in a raging snowstorm. Actually, truth be told it was a pretty damned entertaining trip. Nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of schussing up the interstate through fresh powder with eighteen wheelers as your ski buddies. All that was missing was a crackling fire.

We have gotten an incredible amount of crappy weather in these parts thus far this winter. After we got hit hard last winter by multiple incantations of "The Storm of the Century" one would have thought we had paid our penance. Apparently Mother Nature is one pissed off mutha at those of us who live around here these days. So much so that at or about 4:00 yesterday afternoon my assistant Lucia walked into my office to announce that it had resumed snowing. I knew not whether to be impressed with her visual acuity or depressed about my lack of perception when she made her announcement - considering that she had seen the snow while looking in the direction of the window while standing outside of my office more than fifteen feet away from the window and I had failed to notice it while seated at my desk only about three feet from it. Then I looked out the window at the second squall of the day and decided just to be depressed about the weather. It seemed to make the most sense.

This weekend no snow is forecast to fall. While that is - in and of itself good news - the apparent reason that we are going to experience 48 snow-free hours is that it is simply going to be too damn cold to snow. On last night's Channel 2 news at 11:00, the audience learned that we could be experiencing the bliss that is sub-zero temperatures at points over the weekend. Even snow is smart enough to stay out of town when it is that damn cold.

Happiness is? These days - for this fella - happiness is getting to a date on the calendar where my two options for weather are not endless snow or bone-numbing cold. It is the real-life equivalent of the old Far Side cartoon. Guy arrives in Hell and Satan asks, "Inferno or no inferno?" Before the guy can answer, Satan says, "Just kidding. They're all inferno!"

Actually, these days in these parts an inferno just might be a nice change of pace.

-AK

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Ray of Light

Yesterday was a flat-out brutal day for law enforcement families all around these United States.

The morning included a shootout in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami that left two Miami-Dade police officers dead. Officer Roger Castillo died at the scene from a gunshot wound. According to a published report I read, Officer Castillo was a twenty-one year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department. He was the father of three. Officer Amanda Haworth died while in surgery after having suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Officer Haworth was a twenty-three year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department. She was a single mom. Her son is thirteen years old.

As horrific as yesterday was for the families of those slain officers, here at home yesterday brought thousands of mourners to Lakewood New Jersey to honor a fallen hero and to become acquainted with another. Lakewood Police Officer Christopher Matlosz was buried yesterday, six days following his murder while in the line of duty. People knew who the hero was they were coming to honor yesterday at the time they arrived for the service. During the funeral mass, however, they were introduced to one of whom they may not have been aware.

Kelly Walsfier and Christopher Matlosz were engaged to be married. Yesterday, she eulogized the young man with whom she had hoped to one day exchange wedding vows. And she did so with grace and courage that belied both her youth and the overwhelming circumstances that now confront her. An extraordinary young woman.

And a welcome source of hope on a day on which it was in tragically short supply.

-AK

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"It Ain't A Democrat Thing Or A Republican Thing"

Seven-plus years ago - during a period of time that some people refer to lovingly as "The Summer of Bruce" (and now a bit sadly at the thought that it was so long ago already) - during every concert Mr. Springsteen strode forward to stage center and gave what he referred to as "the nightly PSA". Way back when in the Summer of 2003, we the people of the United States of America had only recently committed several hundred thousand of our fighting men and women to Iraq. That deployment - following as it did on the heels of the deployment of thousands of fighting men and women to Afghanistan - committed a lot of men and women of varying age, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation - to fighting on foreign soil under one flag.

Subtlety in expression of his political beliefs has never been one of Springsteen's strong suits. If you are perhaps unfamiliar with his history of expressing what he feels, which I assure you is a long one, then run a Google search for his November 5, 1980 concert. It was a show performed in Tempe, Arizona. It was a show on The River tour that he and the E Street Band played the night after Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States. In his introduction to "Badlands" he expressed his sentiments about the results of that election. Skip the Google search. Click here instead.

Anyway, the "PSA" during the summer stadium leg of The Rising tour centered upon his skepticism over certain of the the Bush Administration's claims concerning Saddam Hussein. While his criticism was directed squarely at the President, his point (or point of view) was broader. It was that throughout American history our Presidents have occasionally taken it upon themselves to massage information in an effort to sway public opinion and that it is our fundamental duty as American citizens to be willing to make informed choices and not simply act upon blind faith. It is our duty - said Mr. Springsteen - and it is not a duty grounded in politics. It is neither a Democrat thing nor a Republican thing. It is an American thing.

Benjamin Moore was a 23 year young U.S. Army Private when - on January 12 - he was killed in action in Afghanistan. Private Moore was apparently in a truck that struck an improvised explosive device. Private Moore was a Jersey boy. On Saturday his family shall lay him to rest in Bordentown. Given that this funeral shall be a military funeral, it has caught the interest of the Unrighteous Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist band of idiots. Phelps has decreed that his crew intends to be present at Private Moore's funeral. In the event that you have not yet been exposed to Mr. Phelps and the cretins who populate his flock, they are an anti-gay group that travels the country picketing military funerals. They believe military deaths are God's punishment for America's tolerance of homosexuality.

I know no member of the Moore family. Other than knowing that it is located somewhere between Trenton and Delaware I know nothing else about Bordentown. Neither of those things is relevant here. Neither is the fact that Reverend Phelps and his followers are despicable, deplorable human beings. Neither - candidly - is the fact that people such as Benjamin Moore may in fact have volunteered to serve in this nation's armed forces to protect individual freedoms, such as freedom of speech........including the freedom to assemble and to protest.

What is relevant is that this Saturday is not about Phelps, his followers or their individual freedoms. It is about the Moore family. It is about them having a final opportunity to say goodbye to a son and a brother far sooner than they could have ever anticipated having to and having that opportunity to say their farewells - to their boy - in an atmosphere of solemnity appropriate to the day.

A funeral is not a circus. Standing up and standing fast against Phelps and his Misery Makers and their efforts to turn military funerals, including that of Private Moore, into some sort of carnival sideshow is not a Democrat thing nor a Republican thing. It is an American thing.

And it is the right thing to do.....here in the land of hope and dreams.

-AK

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Completed Journey

Patrick Francis Xavier Fitzpatrick died on January 15, 2011. He had an apparent preference for the date - and who could blame him inasmuch as it was his birthday. Maybe he was just being economical - saving his family the cost of carving two different dates into his headstone. Now all they need is one date and two years. Judge Fitz was seventy-one on the day he died.

Judge Fitz retired from the bench in Bergen County in 2005. Truth be told, other than receiving an announcement that he had entered private practice upon his retirement I cannot think of a single conversation I had with him after he retired as a Judge. But during the time that he was on the bench in Bergen County he was an invaluable teacher. He was cantankerous, opinionated and occasionally outrageous. One had to learn to accept that Judge Fitz operated according to his own set of rules, which included among them chain-smoking Camel cigarettes in his chambers.......in a no-smoking building. And being Irish, he could at times appear to the uninitiated to be more than a little gruff or profane. Over the course of the years that I appeared before him I was called a, "Stupid Irish son of a bitch" too many times to count. I took it as a term of endearment. Because it was.

My favorite memory of Judge Fitz is the Friday afternoon that he called my office looking for me. I was out at a deposition and Judge Fitz had called my office to follow up on a case that had been the subject of a Settlement Conference before him earlier that week. Gracie telephoned me in a panic to tell me that, "Joe Fitz" had called looking for me and needed me to call him back. While I did not know who Joe Fitz was as soon as she read me the phone number I realized it was Judge Fitz. Not wanting to keep a member of the Judiciary waiting, when I asked the other attorneys at the deposition if I could have five minutes to contact His Honor, they happily obliged.

About ten seconds into the conversation I realized that Judge Fitz was about as concerned about the case that I had appeared before him on that week as was I, which is to say not at all. After asking me if the case had yet settled (because one does not settle almost thirty thousand civil cases while a Judge without being willing to do a little leg work) he asked me what my wife and I were doing that weekend. It turns out he called simply to chat. And we did. We spent about five minutes on the phone until I told him that I was feeling badly about leaving all of the other lawyers on my case cooling their heels at a Friday afternoon deposition while I was bullshitting with him. He laughed and told me to tell them it was their own fault if no Judge they knew ever felt like picking up the phone just to talk to them. He was kidding of course. His laughter punctuated the remark. And then he was gone.

Hearing the news that Judge Fitz has died really filled me with a sense of loss. He is a Judge around whom I grew up as a lawyer - came of age if you will. He was not the tea of choice for everyone. No one is. He did what he did in the manner in which he did it because it worked for him and to him it made the most judicious use of the system of civil justice of which he was a part. His courtroom was one of my favorite places to spend time as a lawyer. I never was hurt while there and I do not know of any lawyer who was.

Rest in Peace Judge Fitz. It is indeed well-earned.

-AK

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Millennium Man

When I sat down to write today I actually noticed the fact that this marks the one thousand and first of these little missives, which undoubtedly gives rise to the question, "How can one with so little to say say it for so long?" I do not know the answer to that question. Seeing that I had turned the virtual page to a second millennium prompted me to gaze backwards for a moment to the point of inception for this little experiment.

As has been the case throughout my life on too many instances to count the inspiration to do this (a/k/a the source of the idea that I brazenly burgled) was my brother Bill. Occasionally he would forward me something that he had written for his blog, which I presumed (having not taken the time to ask him the whys or wherefores associated with it) had been written for publication in a magazine or newspaper. One day - if memory serves me correctly - in or about March 2008 I actually paid attention to the link that was identified at the bottom of the piece. I copied and pasted it into my browser and had my eyes opened wide - and my mind even wider. Simply amazing stuff. Over the course of the past (almost) three years I have learned much by making him my first read of the day. You could do far worse than to do so yourself.

While I grasp why it is I read what Bill is thinking about and writing about on a daily basis, I fail to grasp why folks pop by this particular piece of virtual real estate regularly. My wife and children will attest to the fact that if I am not the planet's most selfish human being I am assured of a place on the medal stand. What I do here I do for me. And because I do it for me I sign my name to it. One of the things I think that has happened as we have become more and more like passengers on a virtual train together is that the concept of "beer muscles" has transcended its original meaning. Now, with on-line, Internet anonymity there are those among us who utilize screen names as shields behind which they say brutal and sometimes cruel things to one another - even if they are members of a larger community. My word need not be your proof on this issue. As a passionate Springsteen fan, I belong to a fan site that is dedicated to all things Springsteen. Yet the "boards" there are replete with incredibly damning comments aimed from one person to another....with whom presumably there is a shared bond.

Anonymity can promote a lack of civility among neighbors as easily as it can among strangers. Presently I live 'NTSG in a town that has perhaps 5,000 residents. Among the local population there are two very politically active (if not astute) factions who wrestle for control of the local governing body. While I have lived here for close to two decades I am hard-pressed to recall when exactly one side has campaigned against the other on anything bearing even a casual resemblance to a real issue. More well thought and articulate political debate takes place between children in sandboxes across this country every day than takes place within the geographical boundaries of my little town. Again, I need not serve as your barometer of the truth on this point. Invest a moment here and read the nonsense that is flung back and forth between people who probably know each other very well and who are willing to attack each other on-line in a way that they would be unlikely to do face-to-face.

Not a huge fan of beer muscles. If I have something on my mind that I think (and likely am in an exclusive group in so thinking) is worth saying, then I shall say it. And I shall attach my name to it. That way there is no misunderstanding about who said what and what was the meaning of what was said. You can complain right at the source.

1,001 days of saying nothing seems like a lot. I cannot pretend to know whether this exercise shall end tomorrow, continue on for another 1000 editions or cease to exist at a point between or a point beyond those mileposts. If I did this only as long as I had something to say, then I likely would never have published even the first one. Sadly I suppose I shall do it for as long as I need to do it. I shall do it for as long as I need both the therapeutic boost and the cathartic cleansing associated with it. That could be a very long time indeed.

To infinity and beyond? No. Something closer to being hopelessly lost but making good time. Either way it is a journey for which the destination lies ahead on the horizon line just beyond my line of sight.

-AK

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mothers and Sons

If you have a loved one who earns his or her living as a firefighter, a soldier or a law enforcement enforcer, then you know that there is no such as a normal day. There are days that you hope - for the one you love - have both an uneventful beginning and a happy ending. Sadly, for some families, the blissful ennui of one day rolling into the next, comes to a tragic, horrible end. It takes but one day to ruin the streak. It takes but one moment to change a life. Or to end one.

On Friday afternoon, Lakewood Township Police Officer Christopher Matlosz was killed in the line of duty. Officer Matlosz was murdered while in his patrol vehicle, allegedly by a 19 year-old man named Jahmell Crockam. Officer Matlosz had apparently stopped Crockam - a pedestrian - to ask him a question or two and while being questioned Crockam is alleged to have shot Officer Matlosz three times at close range.

Prior to Friday afternoon this had not been the best of times for Officer Matlosz's family. His father killed himself several months ago. Yet for the young police officer - 27 years old at the time of his death - things had taken a turn for the better. He had become engaged to be married. A 2012 wedding had been planned.

It was not too terribly long before dinner time on Friday in Lakewood Township that Jahmell Crockam took the life of Officer Matlosz. It was early Sunday morning in Camden - some seventy miles away from Lakewood Township - when a task force comprised of local police, New Jersey State Police and the Fugitive Task Force of the United States Marshal's Service captured Crockam. With laudable efficiency - and no loss of life - a coordinated effort by law enforcement agencies of various sizes and levels put an end to Crockam's fugitive status.

Catching the bad guy does not make it all better of course for the ones who have suffered irreparable harm. Officer Matlosz's mother still must steel herself for the worst thing that a parent ever has to do. She has to prepare to bury her son. While we all may wish that it was not true, we know it is when she says, "I'm glad they caught him. But it doesn't bring my son back."

Nothing can. Nothing will. And that is of course the most tragic part of this whole terrible story.

-AK

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Grim Business

Friday afternoon in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, Police Officer Chris Matlosz died in the line of duty, murdered while seated in his patrol car by a pedestrian who Officer Matlosz had apparently moments earlier stopped to ask a few questions. Published accounts reported that Officer Matlosz was shot three times at close range. Officer Matlosz, who was engaged to be married, was twenty-seven years young. As of this morning the search for Officer Matlosz's accused killer was still on-going.

There is scant little information provided as to Mr. Crockam's political preferences, talk radio predilections or web postings. Funny how none of that seems to matter here. All that matters is that a twenty-seven year-old police officer - doing nothing less than his job - paid for his public service with his life.

If my shift does end and I don’t make it home
I loved them so much I just hope they know
When its all done and at the back of my mind
I never worry for me just for the ones I leave behind


Officer Matlosz, in addition to every man and woman who serves and protects at any level (local, State or Federal), is survived by his mother, his brother and his fiance Kelly. He and Kelly were to be married in June 2012.

-AK

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Forever Indebted

Irrespective of how old you are and how old you live to be, you are forever someone's son or daughter. You cannot out kick your coverage in that regard. It is Oscar Wilde who once wrote, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past." It is equally true that no one is rich enough or old enough to ever throw off the yoke of the ones who made him entirely. It will not stop one from acting as if he or she has done so but at day's end you cannot change biology.

In the "son of" department I made out better than I should have I suppose. My father was no one's day at the beach to be sure but as I creep to within a couple of weeks of my 44th birthday I also can see on the horizon line the 30th anniversary of Dad's death. Thus, while it is true that his legacy outlived him it is also true that he has been dead a very long time - 2/3 of my life give or take a year.

As luck most assuredly has it, Mom is still living La Vida Joanie in Florida. Just as I entered what I understand some folks consider to be among the most important stretches of a young person's life, she became the whole show parentally speaking. An absolutely remarkable woman my mother is. She might very well be the bravest person I have ever met. For in the immediate aftermath of the death of her husband - who died intestate, with no life insurance and almost negligible assistance from the Social Security System into which he had paid for close to four decades (the first one was Dad's doing but both the second and the third were done onto him and onto us by others) - and with three kids still to try to get through college, she could have curled herself up in a ball and cried herself off into oblivion. She did not. When within eighteen months or so of his death she was diagnosed with breast cancer and required to undergo treatment that was equal parts excruciating and terrifying, she could have taken her bat and her ball and gone home. She did not.

One learns a lot about the thin line that separates standing and fighting from turning and running when one grows up at the font of everything she has been and continues to be. Among the things one learns - especially when one possesses the propensity to screw up that the aging idiot whose reflection I see in the bathroom mirror every morning - is that you never outgrow the empty feeling associated with doing something that disappoints her. That feeling that makes you reflect upon the fact that if only you possessed the ability to throw a meaningful punch you would sock yourself squarely in the nose.

Being who she is she believes now as she has believed for at least forty-three years and eleven-plus months of which I am aware that if she does not express her disappointment in something done to you that you will not pick up on it. Fortunately I was raised by a woman from whom I inherited my ability to read people, the things they say and those that need not be said. While her effort is selfless and valiant, it is ultimately unsuccessful. As it should be.

It should be for while one remains forever the son or daughter of one's mother and father, one cannot remain forever a child. One may not grow any smarter. To a certain extent that remains a matter of choice. But one must grow up. And in so doing accept responsibility for things done and those left undone.

Regrettably, not too old to screw up. Mercifully, not too old to be forgiven....

....though I suspect that is a far better reflection on her than upon me.

-AK

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Mitten-Wearing Porcupine Walked Into A Bar

Those of us who belong to the species known as humanus beingus (and somewhere my father just rolled over in his grave.....literally) have a few things working for us that separate us from the rest of the inhabitants of the animal kingdom. I am positive that one of our distinguishing characteristics will leap readily to mind. It is the other one that sometimes is hard to remember. Candidly, seeing us in action does little to help advance the cause of recognition.

You see in addition to our neat, super cool thumbs we are alleged to possess the ability to think through complex processes. As Mr. Hiatt once observed so presciently we ain't no amoebas......and somewhere a single-cell organism is heard to applaud.

OK, so we are more than allegedly in possession of the ability to think. It is in fact one of ours. It just can be hard to discern sometimes - especially when one of us converts a thought held heretofore quietly inside of one's own head into speech that is shared aloud for all to contemplate.

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Lakers apparently administered a beating of historical proportions to the LeBron-less Cavaliers of Cleveland. While I am a fan of many sports, NBA basketball is not among them. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. While his achievements as a coach are many and impressive, his signature is singular: the 2-3 match-up zone defense. He has taught it better and his Syracuse teams have for more than a generation played it better than anyone else. Yet the defense that has helped propelled Boeheim to a historic career was - until fairly recently - known in the NBA by a different name: an "illegal defense". I have little use for a basketball league that declares something as strategically savvy as a zone defense to be illegal. And do not even get me started on the favorite device of the ADD generation: the 24-second shot clock.

But I digress. Earlier this week in Los Angeles the Lakers beat the Cavaliers 112-57. In a sport where people can score in increments of 1, 2 and 3, losing by 55 is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Neither is getting doubled up, which the Cavs avoided by a mere two points. In its game recap, ESPN.com reported Phil Jackson of the Lakers saying post game (apparently searching for a way to explain his team's extraordinary defensive effort) that, "We had a defensive goal. We wanted to try and limit them to as few points as possible." Recognizing that one of us has won more NBA championships as a coach than any other person living or dead and the other one of us is me, I cannot help but wonder, "Huh?" when I read the old ball coach's explanation. At the risk of sounding snarky, is that not the team's defensive goal every night? And does the index card of successful strategies not contain on its reverse side, "Our offensive goal is to score at least one more point than the other team"? Thankfully he did not refer to his players as "victorious warriors" or applaud the fact that they all had given "150% effort" in the win.

To be fair, I have only read what Jackson said post-game. I have not heard his comments either in an audio clip or in a video highlight. It is possible therefore that his tongue was planted very firmly in cheek when he said it, which would not be evident simply from reading the printed word. I sure as hell hope so.

Unfortunately and far closer to home this week a member of the Assembly of the State of Concrete Gardens opened her mouth and emitted a sound so immediately recognizable as a paving stone from the highway to Hell that the media form in which you first encountered it was irrelevant. An Assemblywoman proposed legislation that would have required everyone in New Jersey who owns and rides a bicycle to pay $10.00 for mandatory license plates for it. We have become a society in which parents bestow presents of smart phones and iPads on their elementary school-aged children. Perhaps Assemblywoman Tucker simply wanted to get New Jersey ahead of the curve with the next "it" item for pre-teens everywhere: vanity plates for their trike or bike. Hmm, on second thought maybe it is not as silly an idea as I first thought. Imagine the joy inmates at our various State correctional facilities would have cranking out Jersey plates for the prepubescent set.

I have a good friend - a classmate of mine from law school - who being a far more principled and intelligent man than I am - expressed immediate concerns about the impact, intended or otherwise, this legislation could have on the rights of an entire segment of our population whose bicycle provides transportation to the job they need to feed and support their family but who may not want to provide a State governmental agency with an address. Being less of a Constitutional scholar than he is (and being less of a human being as well), my initial reaction to this proposed legislation was one of pure chagrin.

My reaction was predicated in large part on having read what the Assemblywoman offered as the rationale behind her proposal complaints she had received from elderly constituents who allegedly had been run over, down and into by children on bicycles and frustrated in their efforts to identify their assailants by the absence of a distinguishing characteristic - such as a license plate. I must confess that I am unaware whether there has been an uptick in the number of reported Big Wheels hit/run incidents in Essex County or a spate of pedestrian knockdown incidents involving a Schwinn or Huffy product. Yet I fail to see how this "idea" (stretching the definition to - and likely beyond - its allowable limit) seemed to this particular legislator to make any sense at all.

The anticipated difficulty in enforcing this new law (municipalities of varying sizes all over this State have been shedding police officers due to budgetary issues and perhaps the Assemblywoman saw her proposed legislation as justification for hiring them back), was apparent presumably to everyone other than the Assemblywoman. Perhaps she should ask those in law enforcement in her Legislative district just how vigorously New Jersey's helmet law for minor children cyclists is enforced in their communities. It seems to me that 'NTSG we could balance our annual budget simply by enforcing that particular law, which we seemingly choose not to do. The suggested addition of yet another piece of "show" legislation to our everyday lives is reflective of a legislator whose level of disconnect from the actual issues of the day is startling. Or perhaps of a legislator who has already been victimized by a gang of marauding tots.

Whether for reasons political or practical less than one day after having floated an idea that even Lloyd Braun would have recognized as not so good, the Assemblywoman backpedaled. (Pun very much intended.) Rather than thinking that perhaps her proposal stopped short of its desired goal and suggesting instead that every child have a license plate affixed to him or her, she withdrew her proposal altogether.

Sadly, much in the same way that toothpaste does not return politely to the tube from which it has been expelled, a truly stupid idea - once voiced aloud - does not simply go gentle into that good night. If only Mr. Peabody had in fact built his WABAC Machine, then an otherwise anonymous member of our State Legislature might have remained so.

Keep those mittens handy kids. It is only mid-January. Winter has a long course yet to run.

-AK

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Enemy Mine

Happiness is a Wednesday morning that begins with an invigorating one hour and forty-five minute exercise in the relocation of frozen precipitation from my driveway and sidewalk to areas that are neither of the above. Actually while I am not certain what it was that I was feeling by the time I finished my now-weekly chore of shoveling my driveway (this time courtesy of "Snowmageddon - Part II"), I am confident THAT it was not happiness. Delirium perhaps but then again, no.

Kudos to the Middlesex Boro DPW plow truck driver who - upon watching me shovel my driveway including the apron clear of snow - on not one but two separate occasions made certain to refill the apron with the snow he was clearing off of Decatur Avenue.......on not one but two occasions. There is nothing quite as much fun as moving a half-foot of snow at 4:00 a.m. except for - perhaps - having to do it over and over again. The notion of rewarding one of your residents who is up at dawn's ass crack and who is - in addition to clearing out his own personal piece of real estate - doing something that I am not in any way obligated to do such as clearing out the street and the curb around the fire hydrant that sits on the grass strip between my sidewalk and the curb - by not being a jagoff and dumping heavy snow to fill the space created by the light, fluffy snow I had already moved was apparently lost on Knuckles McDumbAss. Actually I do not believe his name was/is Knuckles McDumbAss. While it was dark (it was 4:00 a.m. after all) I am pretty sure that his uniform said, "Richard". At least I think I am pretty sure. Even though I do not know the man and it was therefore presumptuous of me to do so, when I hollered "Dick" he stopped the truck and turned his head towards me.

The first time he did it I simply dropped the F*** bomb on him and gave him a traditional Jersey salute. The second time he did it I asked why he seemed so dedicated to the cleanliness of the streets in my neighborhood after this snow-round when he and his DPW brethren treated us as if we lived across the boundary line in Bound Brook after Snowmageddon - The Original. Not a terribly conversant chap was he. Maybe the next time it snows, he will come back past my house and I shall get an answer to my question.

Boy do I love the town where I live. Each year, irrespective of the combination of earnest folks elected to the Boro Council, the local governing body manages to produce reduced services in exchange for increased property taxes. Perhaps if once - just once - the people elected to govern devoted themselves to the task at hand as opposed to looking to undercut each other and badmouth each other at every turn, something productive might actually get accomplished. Perhaps one day soon all of my hair will grow back over my lobotomy scar as well. Perhaps one day my brother Bill will actually get that pony too.

Among the reduced services for which my increased property taxes are not paying here in 2011 is twice-weekly garbage collection. For most of the year, my garbage is picked up by the (wait for it) Boro DPW two times a week. However, in the late Autumn the fancy of the young men who work for the DPW apparently turns to leaf pickup. Alas, something has to give. And someone has to give that something. In this scenario the someone is me and the something is my Friday trash pickup.

In years past the once-a-week trash pickup has lasted only from mid-November until Christmas. Not this year. This year we who call 'NTSG home are truly blessed. Since our DPW is going to be busy working on "special projects" we are not going to see a return of twice-weekly trash pickup until at least April. I read the article in the paper noting that the DPW Superintendent gave a general recitation to the Boro Council of the other projects that his men would be freed up to tackle thanks to the continuation of the once-weekly garbage pickup. Conspicuous by its absence was the, "Additional time to figuratively kick in the balls the residents whose taxes pay our salaries" Project. Curiously, in spite of its apparent status as an "under the radar" project I was nevertheless privy to a display of its full effect yesterday morning.

Just another day living in the Idiotocracy where Pogo rules........and where the rest of us battle over the short end of the stick.

-AK

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Midwinter Night's Discontent

Forgive me if I am the only person outside of the Fort Worth, Texas zip code who finds this funny but I cannot help but look at this and smile. Or if I am the only person outside of the Columbus, Ohio zip code who thinks that at some point during this off-season the consummate gentleman who runs the football program for the Buckeyes (and just to and try to find someone who says a bad thing about the principled manner in which Coach Tressel does his job) is not going to want a do-over on his decision to win a battle but possibly lose a war in the process.

At this point in time - with its flame finally extinguished after flickering on for at least nine days beyond its natural expiration date - I care not if you forgive me for saying that I am ecstatic that the college football season is finally over. I love college football. I pay for the Fox Regional Sports Network package on my DirectTV simply so I can watch college football from all around the nation on Saturday afternoons when I get home from work. Yet, I cannot shake the fact that I have grown to detest each season by its end for the fact that each seems to drag on more interminably than the one before. Thus, in spite of no new episode of "House" on Fox and no new episodes of the CBS Monday Night Comedies to hold my attention, I watched scant little of the BCS Championship Game between Auburn and Oregon. While it was nice to have the nation's attention centered on Arizona for something as benign as college sports, I could not drag myself to the television to watch. Maybe next year.

Perhaps it is not entirely the fault of the gods of college football for my feeling of exquisite boredom (and a continent away from California no less!). Thus far this winter here in the State of Concrete Gardens they have gotten precious little assistance from the weather gods. Whether it has been every week - or it simply feels as if it has - I do not know but I know that we all drove home from work in my neck of the woods under some sort of "DANGER! DANGER!" weather alert, which remains in effect as we make the great migration to our various and sundry places of business this morning. By my admittedly inexact calculation, this is the 1187th such warning that has been in effect since Thanksgiving. Enough already. I am already exhausted from dealing with winter. I suppose that in my one size fits all anger I have tossed college football into the pot of things that have f***ing worn me out, right along with inclement weather, Brett Favre and the perpetually-teary eyed new Speaker of the House. Enough already, all of you.

I find myself watching the daily countdown of days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training? I am a Yankees fan. You can gauge the depth of my wintry discontent by the fact that I am actually looking forward to seeing Captain Underachiever and the rest of the battery's component parts make their initial appearance in Tampa. Of course, by mid-June I shall be sick of looking at him, especially if I am only seeing him 4+ innings at a time as it seemed I did last season. Here in winter's dog days (does that make them chilly dogs I wonder), beggars cannot be choosers.

-AK

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Leader of the Band

Perhaps it was because of the time I spent following the coverage of the heinous events that took place in Arizona this past weekend and learning about the lives of those directly impacted by them. Perhaps it was because my gnat-like attention span simply caused me to miss it. Regardless of the "why", it was not until yesterday morning that I learned of the death of Major Dick Winters.

If you are a person who has neither read Stephen Ambrose's "Band of Brothers" nor watched the epic HBO mini-series of the same name based upon it, then the possibility exists that you do not know who Major Dick Winters was. If you are in that group, then do yourself a favor: make time to make his acquaintance and the acquaintances of the men with whom he served. Get an introduction to the boys in the Band as it were. You not only shall never regret the investment of time, you shall be happy for the rest of your life that you made it.

Winters was the acknowledged leader of an incredible group of men - many of whom were still boys when they were brought together in the 101st Airborne Division as Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The men of Easy Company were part of the D-Day Invasion in June 1944 and fought their way to Hitler's Eagle's Nest at the end of the war in Europe slightly less than one year later. Their story is an utterly fascinating one, which is made all the more remarkable to me in view of the average age of the members of the group. Imagine if you will a time in America when men of varying ethnic backgrounds, religions, political ideologies and personal beliefs were able to set aside their differences and focus on a common goal. It is not hard to do for it happened. It really did - and not really all that long ago either even if these days it seems more like sixty five million years ago than merely sixty five.

Knowing nothing about him than what I have read and/or watched over the past decade, Winters appears to have been a man who eschewed publicity. He did not seek out the spotlight but much in the same way that water finds its natural level, notoriety and well wishes for what he did while in the service of his country found him. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine gave me a rather extraordinary book. The book is written by Larry Alexander, "Biggest Brother: The Life of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led The Band Of Brothers". Add it to your, "Read it and never be sorry for a moment that you did" list also.

In a world of folks who scream for attention, often times for doing nothing of moment at all, Winters was an anomaly. I smiled reading one account of his death, which noted that he had died on January 2, 2011 and had been laid to rest on January 8, 2011 but having instructed those he left behind that his was to be a, "private, unannounced funeral service", his family did not announce his death when it happened. Apparently news of it started to leak out only after he had been buried. Talk about commanding respect of those who follow you. Even after he was dead, his last order was followed to its letter.

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near to God is Man.
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The Youth replies, "I can."

And much like Emerson's Youth, Dick Winters responded each and every time Duty called upon him. Safe journey Major Winters.

-AK

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Slippery Slope

When one ceases to view another who espouses political views that are opposite to one's own as an adversary and - instead - views that person as an enemy, it makes unspeakable and seemingly unbelievable events such as what happened in Tucson utterly and eerily believable. At some point in the not-too-distant past we crossed a line in this country.

We the people of these United States have taken to doing more than simply discounting the opinions of those who disagree with our own. We have taken to devaluing them altogether. Once one can devalue completely that which another stands for and believes, it is all too easy to devalue that person. Worse yet, once someone has no value, then it is all too easy for you to feel that it is your right to inflict your will upon them.

We the people of these United States have crossed the line from spirited political discourse to vile, inane personal attacks. And if you do not believe that it is an offense of which multiple folks at either extreme of the political spectrum are guilty, then you are simply not paying attention. Or worse yet, you are simply not being honest with yourself. And if I have been ignoring it too, then neither have I.

Memo to us: wake the f*ck up.

There's diamonds in the sidewalk , the gutters lined in song
Dear I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There's treasure for the taking, for any hard working man
Who will make his home in the American Land.

An assassination of a Federal judge, the attempted assassination of a member of the House of Representatives, the murder of five other people and the wounding of thirteen more on a street corner in Arizona on a January morning makes this land in which we live sound and seem nothing at all like the one described by my fellow Jerseyan. I know not for certain where we are. But I know I woke up this morning feeling as if we are indeed a long, long way from home.

-AK

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Shining Sun and Sleeping Dogs

Today is the 9th of January. In all likelihood, unless today is your birthday or you have a rooting interest in either of the two professional football games being played today and/or whichever college bowl game is being contested, you shall elect to hold onto your rat's ass as opposed to giving it here in recognition of today's date. That is your prerogative, which is not to be confused of course with his prerogative or hers for that matter. Although it does lead one to ask the musical question, "How many times can a terrible song be recorded, released and make $ for the artist?" to which the answer appears to be, "At least two."

Another reason perhaps to be interested by today's date is that tomorrow is January 10, 2011. Not only is tomorrow another "basic math day" (01/10/11) but it may very well be for me the first day of the final sixteen weeks of my life. Forgetting for a moment that stupidity is after all the flip side of valor, several weeks back I voluntarily signed up to run the New Jersey Marathon. This year the race shall take place on May 1, 2011. In fairness to me, I am not especially bright. Thus, I am quite easily smitten by splashy, shiny things that appear before not only my mind's eye but before the two eyes that sit squarely affixed in my over sized melon head looking outward. When perusing the event's website way back when in November 2010 (sounds so much longer ago than saying "two months ago"; right?) I was seduced by not only the sights i saw but also the reference to the event as the, "New Jersey Marathon Festival at the Shore".

It is a well-established fact that notwithstanding Altamont a "Festival" is a happy, fun place chock full of laughter and good times. A real "feel good" experience. Who cannot feel good at a festival? The obvious answer I suppose is a 40-something year-old imbecile whose feet and legs are ablaze and whose chest is ready to explode as a proximate result of his decision to run 26.2 miles....all at once. Man has got to know his limitations. So sayeth Josey Wales. He is as correct now as he was when he first uttered those words.

Do not misunderstand. Lots of people, including too many to count who are older than I am now (43) and shall be in May (44), run marathons. Hell, I think if challenged to do so that both my sister Jill and my brother-in-law Russ could complete one the whole distance either hopping on one leg or running on their hands. Better yet, both would likely still finish with a better time than someone who resembles me quite a lot likely shall in May. I should know better. I know me - at least I should. Running is a diversion for me. An activity that allows me a wonderful release of work-related stress while also helping me maintain some level of physical fitness.

While I have been running regularly for more than a year now and I run quite often (usually 4-5 days out of 7 each week) I do not cover a tremendous amount of distance when I run. I typically run between two to five miles. To prepare to run in a race that covers 26.2 miles, between tomorrow and May 1 there are days on which - according to my training plan - I shall run anywhere from fifteen to twenty-plus miles. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I have run more than ten miles at one time exactly once in my life - in April last year when I participated in a half-marathon.

Clearly this was not a well-reasoned, thought out decision on my part. I still am not entirely certain what happened. I am well-versed in my limitations and live my life paying strict attention to them. I avoid prolonged exposure to the sun and the beach during the summer. I avoid exposure to the dance floor at weddings. I avoid "do it yourself" projects under any and all circumstances. Yet this trip outside Ye Olde Comfort Zone I not only failed to fail to avoid, I volunteered for it.

Stupid is as stupid does? I reckon we shall find out soon enough. Stay tuned.

-AK

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Kid with the 1000 Pound Thumb

All you need is money and nerves of steel. I know not how much of the former Eric LeGrand and his family possess. I do know however just how well-stocked he is - and they are - with the latter. It has been just about two and one -half months since the life of the 20 year-old changed forever. If you are skeptical when you hear someone say, "In a moment everything can change", then consider asking this particular family if it is something in which they believe. I have never met any of them, but I am confident that their answer is known to me - even if they are not. They believe.

For this is a family long on faith. At the front and center of it - given all he has endured these past two and one-half months - is a young man whose bravery is nothing short of inspirational. And if you pause for one moment to wonder where he could have learned to be so brave, so stalwart, so stout, then watch the entire interview that ESPN aired Friday morning. Spend slightly less than seven minutes in the company of Eric's mother Karen. You shall wonder no longer. Pay particular attention to the portion of the interview when she talks about the moment she decided - having been given the unspeakably horrific news (after he underwent nine hours of surgery) that he had roughly a 5% chance of ever regaining neurologic function - that she would not ever share that information with him.

Her whole world had just collapsed around her. Yet her first thought - and likely her only thought -was to protect her child. A mother prays, "Sleep tight, my child, sleep well/For I'll be at your side/That no shadow, no darkness, no piercing bell/Shall pierce your dreams this night." The mother's prayer speaks not at all about her going sleepless herself to ensure the sanctity of her child's dreams. It is a duty unspoken. It is a duty unbroken as well.

If you had a bad day yesterday and you grumbled upon putting your feet on the floor this morning, then do yourself the great service of - prior to running out to Party City to pick up the favors for your pity party - getting to know Eric LeGrand and his mom Karen. Hopefully for you, there has not been a day of your life that has been as hard as his has been - and as hers has been - every day since October 16, 2010. I know that none of mine has come close. Presuming that you are as fortunate as I in that regard, consider not the plight of Eric LeGrand but the outlook. Look beyond the injury to the energy and to the attitude.

Among the many things about which I know nothing at all is spinal cord injury and the likelihood of recovery therefrom. I have read items on-line from people far better versed in it who continue to preach caution in assessing Eric LeGrand's long-term prognosis. I question neither their credentials nor their science. Likewise I do not discount the motor that powers Eric LeGrand. A motor that not only keeps him going but inspires countless others to do likewise. Kudos to Rutgers alum Bill Bellamy and everyone associated with the just-announced February 19th event at the RAC.

During the piece on ESPN, Eric LeGrand said that as he was being carted off of the field on October 16, 2010 he wanted to do something to reassure the crowd - to give them a sign that he was OK. He wanted to give them a thumb's up. He could not. At that moment, he felt as if he was the possessor of a half-ton thumb. In spite all of his considerable strength and prowess he could not raise it.

That's the thing, I reckon, about apples and trees. Where they land upon leaving the tree is never too far from the tree that birthed them and raised them - at least as long as the tree is strong and nurturing and enabled the apple to grow up strong.

Eric LeGrand is an inspirational young man. His mother Karen is nothing short of remarkable. The odds are long. The cards are stacked against them. Yet as long as they have a card to play and a chip to wager they shall remain in the game - shortening those odds one hand at a time. Perhaps when considering all that he has done to raise the game of those who know him - and those of us who do not - in the two and one-half months since his injury happened, it is ironic that in the immediate aftermath of his injury, Eric LeGrand could not raise up his thumb. By this point in time, his message has reached all of us, clear and true......regardless of the disagreeable nature of his digit.

BELIEVE. If he can and she can, then how can any of us not?

-AK

Friday, January 7, 2011

Night and Day

I have heard it said by those who not only actually know how to write - a category of person I would be hesitant to place myself in - but who earn their living doing so that a thing that a writer must do is find a voice in which the writer may speak to and communicate with his audience. Easier said than done I would think. For while it may appear at first glance to be simple to do, it must be considered that the exercise is one that involves what amounts to dialogue on seven-second delay.

Typically the audience neither reads nor hears the writer's words at the moment of creation. Rather, they are digested at an indeterminate time thereafter. Perhaps something has changed between the moment they were made and the moment they were read or heard. Perhaps that something is nothing more than a little thing - mere gossamer if you will - and the lapse of time impacts nothing. Perhaps, on the other hand, it impacts everything.

It is beyond my ability to comprehend just how one who writes finds his or her audience. How one knows intuitively how to reach the other. I am resigned to the fact that I may never know how to do it.

And it occurs to me that the quest of one to intuitively know how to reach the other is not one undertaken solely by those who write. It is in fact a quest that any person who belongs to a family or a community has undertaken too many times to count at this stage in his or her lifetime and probably with too many people to count. And it is a quest that those of us who are members of a family realize has to be made over and over and over again. No, we are not obtuse - well not completely anyway. We are merely malleable.

And because the river of life as we navigate and negotiate our way through it tosses us about time and again, there are times when we are perhaps just a touch out of whack or out of focus. It may in fact make us - a person heretofore accessible and reachable by one or more who love us and who we love - temporarily not so. And when it does, its effect is felt not only within our core but also within the cores of all those who love us and who we love. Our shift in position - however slight and however transient it might be - emanates from us in ever-expanding concentric circles much like ripples along the otherwise pristine surface of the water. And it impacts everything with which it comes into contact. And everyone also.

The trick it seems - the writer's secret if you will - is to recognize the change in your audience, whether subtle or substantial, whether permanent or temporary, and adjust our message accordingly. For if the audience can neither read nor hear the writer's words and discern the meaning of them, then they shall not be an audience at all. The dialogue between one and the other will no longer be one delayed. Rather it will be one denied altogether. Such a result is not beneficial for anyone.

The maddening thing about it - and the part of it that seems both the easiest and the hardest to fix - is recognizing that it is an easy problem to correct. The key seems to be remembering that it is fine to continue talking to one's audience as long as one remembers to listen to them as well. And that sometimes the best way to reach one's audience is to remember that some things are better left unsaid.

For it matters not whatever is written on the page or spoken aloud. Whatever's written in your heart, that's all that matters. Remembering that provides you with a damned good chance of consistently reaching your audience. And of them making you aware that you have.

-AK