Saturday, April 30, 2011

Leaps and Bounds

Things did not go exactly according to plan for the good folks at NASA on Friday.  Thus, the scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour did not take place.  Apparently, there was a "glitch" (highly technical NASA super genius word) in a heater in one of the auxiliary power units.  I do not pretend to know what that all means.  I do know that it meant to the men and women who are in charge of playing the part of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones in the lives of their astronauts that the answer to the question was "Stay".

As far I could tell from the articles I read on-line, as of day's end Friday there was no new set date for the launch.  It sounded as if it was more a case of, "It will launch when it is ready to be launched", which I presume is more than a bit of a bummer for those who had traveled to Florida to witness Endeavour's final flight begin on Friday.  The First Family was in attendance.  If I understood an article I had read earlier during the week on the launch, had Endeavour lifted off as planned on Friday morning, the Obamas would have been the first First Family to witness a Shuttle launch.  It is neat to be a kid whose dad has a gig that gives you the chance to see cool stuff; right? 

Endeavour's Commander in a Jersey guy.  Mark Kelly is from West Orange.  For the past several months, he has been better known by a much longer title, "Husband of United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords".  Congresswoman Giffords was among the several victims of the gunman who opened fire at a Tucson neighborhood event she was hosting for her constituents in January.  She survived being shot in the head.  She has made what appears from afar to be truly remarkable progress - considering of course that in the immediate aftermath of the attack - there was at least one report that she had been killed.  Within several weeks of the attack she was transferred from her hospital in Arizona to a rehabilitation facility in Houston, Texas.  On Wednesday of launch week, she flew from Houston to Florida to be present for the launch.  The video of her on the tarmac, getting out of a wheelchair and then walking slowly but surely up the stairs and onto the plane is remarkable stuff. 

In a perfect world, Commander Kelly and his crew would have launched as planned on Friday afternoon, under the watchful eyes of not only his Commander-in-Chief but his #1 gal.  Methinks that the delay, while an annoyance, is not going to dampen the disposition of either the Rocket Man or his Congresswoman.  Kelly and Giffords have a keen appreciation of the value of time and the importance of perspective.  I suspect that they will make it over this speed bump just fine.  They have handled bigger problems than an irksome heater on an auxiliary power unit....whatever the hell that is exactly.

And on a day when the world's attention was drawn to a celebration of love on the far side of the pond, it is worth pointing out that here in these United States some folks know what love is too....

.....all the way to infinity and beyond.

-AK

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Birth of a Nation

If Donald Trump did not exist - and Hollywood created him as a character either for a movie or a television series - his combination of bombast, bravado and buffoonery would probably have some critics and viewers both questioning whether such a person actually exists in walk around, day-to-day life.  Nevertheless, here he is - in the flesh.  A real-life really rich guy.  I have been reading about Mr. Trump for twenty-five years and know not whether he is a billionaire, a multi-millionaire or a wholly leveraged, constant source of hot air.  It all depends upon whom you ask.

Presumably I am not the only person who thinks that Mr. Trump's declared interest in perhaps pursuing the nomination of the Republican Party as its candidate for President in 2012 is nothing more than bait - designed to reel more viewers to the train wreck of a television show of his that airs on NBC.  I actually saw on-line somewhere last week that at least one NBC executive thinks that Trump's alleged interest in public office is simply his way of trying to put eyeballs in front of the set on Sunday nights to watch his show.  I did not watch the show before THE Donald (perhaps the second most inane use of that article in the English language - or the third if you concur with my friend Eric) began dipping his toe in the political waters.  I still do not.

I care little whether Mr. Trump runs for the Republican nomination or not.  As long as the time he wastes is his own and the money he spends is....well as long as it is not mine, then I can not even feign interest in purchasing a rat's ass (even at wholesale prices) to give to the cause.  I do care though when he and the rest of the idiots on both sides of the so-called "birther" controversy waste the time of the rest of us sowing the seeds of discord over something as absurd as a claim that the President of the United States is not in fact an American citizen.  If we were presently living on the glide in a time of economic prosperity and global tranquility, then it would almost seem simple enough to reserve a portion of the pool for kiddie swim and allow this stupidity to rage on unabated as long as it did not impede upon the adult swimmers among us.  Unfortunately we do not live in such a time. 

Maybe it is because times are tough and real solutions to real problems seem to be in such short supply that there are many among us who find such distractions to be worthy of our attention.  It is human nature to want to avoid for as long as possible dealing with the truly meaty and potentially ugly issues of the day.  How many of us have put off doing a particularly difficult or challenging task at work because of its difficulty while opting instead to fill our day with as many less challenging, less time-consuming tasks as possible?  You could not see my hand because I raised it as I was writing this - and not as you are reading it but I assure you it was raised.

And when the consequences of such frivolity impact only us directly then the cost of time lost to distraction ("Hey a butterfly!"....sorry I digress) is ours to bear.  However, when those consequences resonate outward and impact all of us to a degree, which they do for this reason:  Time devoted to bullshit is time not devoted to really important shit - it must not be tolerated.  For all of those folks on either side of this issue, enough already.  This nation has important business to attend to.  If you want to participate in the process, then commit yourself to it, pull up a chair and get involved.  If however you truly believe that this nonsense is not in fact nonsense, then gather up your ball and jacks and go find another playground in which to spend your afternoons.  Preferably one so far away that if you scream, no one will be able to hear you.

If you have time to waste and the wish to waste it, then go right ahead.  'Tis the land of the free after all.  But stop wasting everyone else's time.  Recess is over.  The grown-ups have work to do.

-AK

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Slim Jim

I must confess that I was a bit surprised when the e-mail from the New Jersey Marathon Race Director popped up in my in-box on Monday afternoon.  Its arrival was not surprising in and of itself as those of us foolish enough to sign up for this undertaking have received a regular stream of them from the Director over the course of the past several months.  The surprise was its content. 

Participants were advised to arrive on site for the race, which has a scheduled 8:00 a.m. starting time, by not later than 6:00 a.m. and were informed that parking near the Start/Finish Line would only be accessible up to 6:00 a.m. What is the effect of that?  For you, nothing.  For Gidg and me it means heading out of 'Squan (Margaret and I are heading south Saturday night) by 4:30 or 4:45.  I get up at 3:00 a.m. or thereabouts every day.  That part is routine.  The wrinkle in the routine will be getting up at that absurd hour and then running 26.2 miles.  Perhaps the theory is that we will be too tired to know what we are doing and it will be the 17 mile mark or so before our brain is completely awake.  By that time, we will be 75% of the way home or so and we can just motor on home from there. 

As the immortal American philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once observed, when you start your Marathon Day at 3:00 a.m. or so, "It gets late early."  If the news out of Columbus, Ohio turns out to be as bad as reported in some corners, Yogi's words of wisdom will be apropos there as well.  A couple of months ago, the head football coach at THE Ohio State University, which might be the single most inane use of an article in the English language, essentially agreed to a five-game suspension to start the 2011 season (the school intended to suspend him for two) arising out of the actions several of his players had engaged in, including selling memorabilia.  His mea culpa seemed sincere at the time he uttered it and in some circles he was lauded for agreeing to (perhaps even insisting upon) getting a suspension equal to the suspension his offending players received. 

Just the other day, the good folks in Columbus, Ohio received a bit of mail from the good folks at the NCAA.  It was the type of mail no college ever wants to receive.  The NCAA served TOSU with a "Notice of Allegations".  Among the more damning allegations are those accusing the 10-year coach of withholding information and lying to keep Buckeyes players on the field who had accepted improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor.  The NCAA informed the school that it considers the allegations it has made against the coach to be "potential major violations".  Considering that the NCAA is the organization that has the final say as to what constitutes a violation of its rules, one might presume that its characterization of these as they relate to Mr. Tressel is not the best news that the old ball coach has received recently.

To their credit, no audible snickering or gloating was heard emanating from either Boise, Idaho or Fort Worth, Texas.  Given that it was only a few short months ago that the President of TOSU, E. Gordon Gee (a/k/a "EGG") belittled both of those institutions, their student-athletes and the student-athletes of each and every other institution against whom both Boise State and TCU compete in football in the utterance of a single sentence, the opporunity presented itself for a well-placed kick to a nemesis who - if not fallen - is at the very least a bit woozy.  Neither school availed itself of the opportunity.  Good for them.  It is not always easy to be the better man. 

As the song teaches us, "You don't spit into the wind."  A lesson being taught these days in Columbus, Ohio on THE campus of THE Ohio State University.  Whether anyone learns it remains to be seen.

-AK

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Of Rats and Buoys

Skate has been an expensive companion these past few days.  Friday she spent the day getting a combination platter of things done, which set me back several Benjamins.  Then, in the still and quiet of my peaceful 4:00 a.m. commute to work Monday morning, she ran over something (I think) in the center lane of Route 287.  Whatever she encountered demanded that she sacrifice one of her tires in tribute, which she did.  When I pulled over to the shoulder to see whether what the noise I heard escaping from 'neath the car for the previous 40 seconds or so looked at bad as it sounded, I learned that indeed it did.  What used to be my front right tire appeared to have been garroted.  It was not a pretty sight. 

Once upon a lifetime ago, I eschewed membership in Fascist organizations such as AAA and changed my own flat tires, irrespective of the time of day, weather conditions or location.  Now?  Now I am a card-carrying member of AAA, one of the singlemost important alphabet organizations in this country (right up there on the pantheon formerly reserved for groups such as the NFL and MLB), which meant that after surveying the damage, I got back into Skate, pulled my AAA card out of my wallet and dialed the 800# for assistance. It took a while for the assistance to arrive - slightly more than forty-five minutes - which meant that rather than reach the office at some point within my normal 4:30 to 4:45 window, I did not arrive until closer to 6:00 a.m.  Ah, watching the sun begin its ascent from the right shoulder of the nortbound lanes of Route 287 just a couple of hundred feet south of Mile Marker 24.3 was something quite magical indeed.

So, on Monday I was reminded yet again just how right Sir Bob Geldof's position on that damn day has been all these years. And then on Tuesday I was reminded just how right Mr. Einstein has always been. Various news sites, including Steve Politi's piece on nj.com, ran a story on Eric LeGrand of Rutgers University.  Mr. LeGrand - as anyone who has been in or around these parts at all since October 16th of last year - suffered a spinal cord injury while playing for Rutgers in a football game against Army, which injury left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.  His recovery to date has been remarkable.  What the ceiling is for that recovery I would not pretend to know.  Had I graduated at the top of my class in law school I would tell a lie right here about how my full-time devotion to the law prevented me from fully developing my knowledge of all things medical and scientific.  I did not so I cannot.  The real reason for my deficiency?  It is simply beyond my ability to comprehend.

I have never met Eric Legrand or any member of his family.  Yet, every time I read something about him and about them, the more amazed I am by him and by them.  He is a truly extraordinary young man buoyed by an indomitable will as well as a support network of family, including but not limited to his mom, his aunt and his uncle, that has been tireless in their devotion to him and unshaken in their belief that he will one day walk again.

I am struck every time I see a picture of Eric LeGrand or watch an interview of him by the expression on his face.  I am not a bright man but even I recognize a smile when I see one.  Perhaps it is indicative of the fact the injury to his spinal cord occurred at a level where it did not impact upon the muscles of his face.  With no physical infirmity keeping him from smiling, he has consistently demonstrated - to the benefit of all of us - in the six-plus months since his accident that there is no psychological or emotional obstacle that shall keep him from doing so.

Reading about what he told the group of reporters who gathered at his aunt and uncle's home in Jackson about his plans, including his pursuit of a career in broadcasting, made me happy that I had not made too big a deal about the temporary misfortune that befell Skate and me on Monday morning.  After all, we encountered nothing more than a pothole.  It slowed us down for a little while but sooner rather than later we got past it and continued on our journey. 

If life is indeed a highway then the view from the road depends upon your perspective.  It depends upon how you view the road ahead from the place where you happen to be at a particular point in time.  Or as the coach of the best little television show you probably never once watched during its five-year run always reminded his kids, "Clear Eyes.  Full Hearts.  Can't Lose."

If all of us had just a little piece of Eric LeGrand's perspective, then I think we would be more than just a little OK.....

....even on Mondays.

-AK  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Greetings from the Heavy One

The relationship between siblings is complex.  The level of complexity - in my experience - bears a relationship to the number of siblings in a particular family.  The more component parts, the more complex the machine.  Complexity has its advantages.  But is also has its potential pitfalls for the greater the number of component parts, the greater likelihood of a breakdown.

Of all of the intra-sibling relationships, in a family of six brothers/sisters where the span from oldest to youngest sibling is approximately fifteen years it is the relationship between the polar children that one could reasonably anticipate would be the most attenuated.  After all, at the birth of the youngest, the oldest is already in 8th or 9th grade.  By the time the youngest is preparing to shuffle off to kindergarten, the oldest is graduating from college.  It is a relationship that time suggests lends itself to little likelihood of overlap.  It is a relationship that appears to be fraternal and multi-generational simultaneously.

For reasons that have never been entirely clear to me (and seem less so the older I get and the less deserving of such interest that I become) my oldest brother Bill dispelled those notions and took an awfully keen interest in me, the last of the five younger brothers and sisters who intruded upon the peace of his sanctum as Mom/Dad's oldest child.  I never know what exactly to say to the person who took it upon himself to teach me how to read by the time I was two years old.  The person who not only allowed me to tag along behind him while he was an undergraduate student at Rutgers University but who made a point of permitting me to ride shotgun in the Pinto for extended sessions at the Rutgers Library. 

I was so deeply in the grips of epilepsy that I could not run from here to the end of this sentence without the risk of tripping over my own two feet - or my tongue - but I was one of the few pre-school kids in the United States who knew where Vietnam was and what the role of the United States was in Southeast Asia.  I remember along the way getting to meet Bill's friend Nat Clymer - who I seem to recall having a gig as both a writer and a photographer for the Somerset Messenger-Gazette - along with his friends Stu and Marcie Levy.  All of them were college-age as he was and none of them seemed put out at all by the presence of a moppet in their midst.  I realize now what i was astute enough to realize even then, which is that their tolerance of my presence had nothing to do with me an everything to do with him.  He wanted me to be there.  And that was good enough for them. 

One life-altering favor per sibling should be more than enough.  It is not even the half of it.  One day last week I remarked upon the fact that I have been occupying this particular space in the ether for slightly more than three years now.  Over the weekend, while it was raining or during some such time of distraction and limited productivity, I found myself browsing the landscape here - popping in and out of some of the things I have written over that time.  Some of them make me scratch my head now.  Some of them hold up better than others.  Many are utter and sheer nonsense.

Not all.  In late January 2009 I made a decision that I believed at the time was an excellent one.  I left the Firm to practice law somewhere else.  Almost immediately after one door closed behind me I realized that the grass was not only not greener where I was headed, it was not even grass.  It was painted cement.  What I had looked forward to as a decision that would impact my life did just that.  Unfortunately the effect it had upon me was not good.  The tighter I closed my fist around the grenade I was holding, the more substantial and far-reaching the damage was that it inflicted. 

On a Sunday morning in the middle of March, Bill did something that frankly neither he nor I do with any frequency:  he telephoned me.  Ours is a relationship heavy on written exchanges and (when we end up in the same place face-to-face ones) but very light on telephonic ones, which works for me for I hate the phone.  Bill telephoned me on that Sunday because something had read in this space alerted him to the fact that all was not well in my personal Denmark.  We spent a considerable amount of time talking about not only my problem, which was of the self-created variety, but a couple of possible avenues for remedying it. 

While my brother will undoubtedly shake his head "No" quite vigorously as he reads this, he might be among a group of the two or three smartest humans I have ever met or interacted with in the entirety of my life.  When one receives counsel from such a trusted source, one does what I did:  one follows it.  At first, it was uncertain whether the damage I had wrought onto my own life could be undone - even if a Mulligan had been declared by fraternal fiat.  But as time passed and March gave way to April and then April ceded the spotlight to May, a change had indeed come

A change that was made possible in no small part by me doing something at 42 that I had been doing at that point for at least 40 years:  learning the lessons taught to me by my brother.  Today Bill is celebrating his birthday.  Fifty-nine years young.  I know not what to say when neither "thank you" nor "love you" seem to quite cover the debt owed.  For today at least I hope Happy Birthday will do.....

....and we can worry about tomorrow on another day.

-AK

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Week Full of Mergers and Acquisitions

I had not realized that two epic made-for-television events were going to be broadcast this week until I heard some folks in the office last Friday discussing the upcoming NFL Draft and the upcoming royal nuptials.  I do not know your level of interest in either.  For me, it is a flat-footed tie.  I care not at all about the two events equally.  Among the many things about which I know nothing is horse racing.  Thus, I shall defer to my learned friend Tom to answer the question as to whether it would be appropriate to say, "it is a horse race as to which one I can about less." I shall not use that term again pending a ruling from him as to its propriety.

Is it only me though enjoying the irony of the fact that at the same time as the NFL and the owners of its teams have locked out the players who currently are members of each team's roster, the league is hosting some sort of three-day Bacchus Fest for the couch-potato looking element of its fan base, introducing them to each team's newest players?  Welcome to the league where neither you nor anyone else may play for pay or otherwise - at least for the foreseeable future. 

If I thought that the crews from the NFL Network and/or ESPN were going to devote any time at all to the issues of (a) how many of the top college players attend the Draft, which is being held this year under the most unusual of circumstances; and (b) how the current NFL players - locked out by their respective teams - are going to treat the new recruits - including but not limited to the ones who stand on the podium shaking the hand of the Commissioner and sporting a baseball cap and the ever-popular "#1" jersey of their new/future employer, then I might set the DVR to record some of the Draft. 

But I presume that such talk would be blasphemous on the NFL Network, which reduces the likelihood of hearing word one on the subject remote at best.  And given the amount of time and energy that ESPN devotes to the self-appointed guru Mel Kiper, who annually explains how the best determination of how well someone will play football as a professional is NOT by watching him play the game but by watching him run and jump and do drills while wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and who - unless he can figure out a way to break the current labor issues down into 40-yard dash times - likely knows less about it than the rest of the stuff about which he blathers on, I doubt highly that the boys from Bristol will delve into it either. 

I fear that the only way to get actual discussion on the issue, which I submit may very well have longer-echoing ramifications in NFL locker rooms than how many squats an inside linebacker prospect from WhatsaMatta U was able to perform at the Combine, will be to create a Reality TV show dealing with it.  For example (and I have not attempted to protect this as my intellectual property so if that Aussie dynamo Mark Burnett swoops in and steals it, I asked for it), one of the networks could pay Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher (in full battle regalia of course) stand at a designated spot on the stage, equidistant to the podium with the spot from which the just-drafted player will begin his ascent and see whether those kids can juke and move as sharply in their cartoonish-looking double-breasted suits (when watching keep count of how many of the draftees appear to auditioning for spots in the horn section of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies) as they can on the football field. 

The NFL and its broadcast partners could add an element of running the gauntlet to the walk to the podium.  I, for one, would enjoy watching it.  It might even render watchable something that is so absurdly dull that the one person whose mental stability I question more than the person who watches it on TV is the one who attends the Draft live.  The NFL has a rule that requires a team - regardless of what has just happened on the preceding play - to run its next play within a fixed amount of time (35 or 40 seconds or whatever the play clock's limit is).  Circumstances be damned.  The rules provide you with only "X" amount of time to run a play regardless of the fluidity of the game's action.  Yet, after having had months to poke and prod the pool of available players like they were a large herd of prized cattle, every team in the first round gets fifteen minutes to make its pick.  Personally, if they installed a 40-second clock at the Draft, they might persuade me to watch.

Meanwhile on the Pond's other side, Friday is the day that Prince William and Kate Middleton shall be wed.  You know that there is a lot of money involved in this match for two reasons.  First, the fact that his name is preceded by the word "Prince" is a good indicator.  Second, they are getting married on a Friday, which is not in and of itself unusual, at 10:00 a.m, which is.  When neither of the participants is worried about giving up a day's pay to get married, you know money is no object.   There are 1900 people expected to attend this wedding.  I hope that when the groom is the heir to the British throne, the traditional rule about the bride's family paying for the wedding goes directly out the palace window.  If not, the Middletons are going to spend the rest of their lives paying for this shindig. 

Perhaps it is just the Irish in me but the British Royal Family holds no particular fascination for me.  I remember catching a bit of grief from friends of mine when,  in the aftermath of the deaths of Mother Theresa and Princess Diana and the world's elevation of the latter to sainthood, I commented more than once on the gossamer quality of Princess Di.  Present company excluded, there appears to still be a keen interest in the wedding of these two young folks.  Perhaps it is because William is Diana's son?  Perhaps it is because it affords millions of people the chance to get a glimpse at how "the other half" lives?  I know not.  I do know that since I do not have the initials "HRH" emblazoned on my business cards in front of my name, my Friday shall be spent working - and not watching.  I was surprised to read that in a break from tradition William and Kate are having their reception at Red Robin instead of Buckingham Palace.  If you have ever eaten a Red Robin burger, then you understand the decision.  If you have not, then get thyself to an eatery!

You can probably even watch both the Draft and the Wedding while you eat.  I am sure there are televisions in the bar.

-AK

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Positivity

Whether it is ironic or coincidental that the final Sunday before the Sunday on which I may have volunteered to end my own life (an opportunity I paid for by the way!) is one on which Catholics the world over celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I do not pretend to know.  I know simply that today is the final pre-Marathon Sunday on my training calendar.  An undertaking that once was months off in the distance now looms squarely ahead:  seven days out.

We live in the Information Age so for the past forty-eight hours or so I have been able to cast an eyeball on the projected weather for this time next week.  A possibility of rain - not raised yet (and perhaps not at all) to the level of a probability - is in Sunday's forecast.  When I last looked at the forecast, the percentage likelihood of rain was somewhere between 30-50%.  At those percentages I am not too concerned about getting wet.  After all, when I took calculus for one interminably long marking period my senior year in high school, I consistently attained test scores in the range of 30-50%.  As Mrs. Eserner was forced to remind me time and time again, those percentages are not indicia of success.  My hope is simply that the same rules that apply to calculus apply to precipitation.

On my desk in my office I have a Post-It with an Abraham Lincoln quotation that I have spent a considerable amount of time both staring at and mulling over these past fifteen weeks.  "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing."  The source is Lincoln so I do not question the veracity of the sentiment.  Its accuracy remains to be validated.  Lincoln was as honest as he was tall but he was also human.  He was wrong occasionally, not counting the fateful decision to take in a show at the Ford's Theatre.  Throughout this process I have found his words helpful.  The road traveled the past four months has featured a hell of a lot of boring, alone time.  Time spent grinding through solo runs of up to twenty miles.  A lot of time to think when you run - especially when you run at the un-gazelle like pace at which I do.  Resolution is of paramount importance.

Talk is cheap.  By day's end this time next Sunday I shall know whether I have done more than simply "talked the talk", which is of course the easy part of the equation, and have "run the run" as well.  I know that Margaret shall be there at race's end, cheering for me, having lived this experience with me for the past four months.  She will be there cheering for Gidg too.  At some point after we complete the race, we shall (presuming that we are something close to upright and functional) repair to Rooney's for a bit of food and an adult beverage or two. 

The preparation is essentially complete.  Now comes the fun part.   As the song says, "It's one thing to start it with a positive jam/And it's another thing to see it on through.".....

....and we all raise a glass to the power of positive thinking.  And to completion of the designated task.

-AK   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wishes and Words

I looked up at the calendar affixed to my office wall yesterday morning and realized that this time one month ago I was preparing for my all-day jaunt to and from Virginia, where I went to preserve for the purposes of trial the testimony of my client who is in a battle for his life with bladder cancer.  A month ago.  I know not whether it seems as if it was only yesterday that I hopped on and off four flights in one day or whether it seems to have happened far longer ago than that.  I suppose at times it feels like either.  Or perhaps both. 

That is the funny (in a maddening and not a "Ha Ha" sort of way) thing about time.  It is incredibly well-focused.  It moves in only one direction and it does so with an efficiency that borders on - and more than occasionally migrates across that border - murderous.  No give backs.  No mulligans.

Given that my professional life is tied to time (billable hours and all that jazz) I am not sure whether it is ironic or appropriate that within the past eighteen months or so running has become my principal recreational activity.  How do I relax and unwind from a profession in which time most certainly matters?  By participating in an activity in which, whether I am running alone through streets of my town at 3:00 a.m. or in a race with hundreds of other runners on a Saturday afternoon, I remain tied to time.  Time most certainly matters to me when I run, whether in a race or all alone.  I never run without my watch and while I run I check it frequently, probably stopping but a step or two short of distraction.

And for all of the time I spend worshipping at the temple of time I would have hoped that by this point in the game, I would have a better handle on it.  That I would make better use of it perhaps.  Nope.  While I occasionally like to kid myself that I do, such as at the end of a truly productive day at work when most of everything I wanted to accomplish is waving to me in the rear-view mirror, I have learned that more often than not I do not.  The reminders come in a million different forms such as occasions that "sneak" up on me or seeing someone for whom the image frozen in my mind's eye bears little resemblance to the flesh-and-blood model standing before me.  I have come to realize that most of my time is spent playing catch up,  trying to get back to even in one portion of my life where I have fallen off the pace a bit because of time devoted to trying to stay even in another area. 

I take some comfort - probably more than I should - in knowing that my problem is not mine alone.  Rather it is experienced - shared if you will - to varying degrees by everyone.  Time.  We spend most of our lives trying to make the best use we can out of it because we never know precisely when we are going to run out of it.  And we cannot bottle it....

....try as we might.

-AK

Friday, April 22, 2011

Faith Outreach

I am not a religious man.  Nor am I particularly spiritual.  Thus while I am aware of the solemnity of today on the Christian/Catholic calendar, it is not a day that holds any significance for me personally.  It has always intrigued me that here in the State of Concrete Gardens, our Superior Court system is shut down completely from the trial level to the Supreme Court.  It intrigues me because but for Good Friday, there is no apparent reason for today to be a "Legal Holiday" (as so noted on the official schedule of legal holidays and court recesses for the 2010-2011 court year, which scheduled Chief Justice Rabner released back in October, 2009). 

The Firm is open today although apparently a number of my co-workers - both attorneys and staff - are taking the day off.  While I know less and care less about organized religion than most people I know, as a casual observer of such proceedings I must confess that Good Friday never struck me as a celebratory day.  Unless you were Barabbas I suppose.

No harm in folks taking the day, whether they spend it being fitted for their own personal hair shirt or in some other equally noble pursuit.  I heard someone comment the other day on the radio that Easter is "late" this year.  I would not pretend to know how one determines that and/or if it is even an accurate statement.  I was contemplating throwing in a line about "being late" is an occupational hazard as a holiday when one utilizes a rabbit as one's symbol (rabbits being exceptionally well skilled at multiplication and "being late" having some pregnancy-related connotations) but I opted against it.  Happy I did too.  No one wants to have to drive home from work dodging lightning bolts. 

My super cool Forever Buffs wall calendar (courtesy of the CU-Boulder Alumni Association) informed me that this weekend is not only Easter weekend but Passover weekend as well, given that Passover started at sundown on the 18th and will continue into the early part of next week.  The calendar does not tell me - and huge surprise I know but I have absolutely no idea - whether the confluence of Passover and Easter is one that happens frequently, infrequently or with "Tonight is the Night I Stop and buy a Power Ball Ticket" rarity.  I do remember - as a 7th grader - celebrating a Seder with my friend Mike Koplowitz and his family at which their afghan hound puppy Travis bounded into the dining room and took the seat at the table that had been left vacant in anticipation of Elijah's arrival.  Thirty-plus years later and I can still hear the pitch-perfect, absolutely deadpan delivery of Mike's grandfather, upon looking up and seeing Travis in Elijah's seat, "The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways."  A line for the ages if ever I have heard one. I hope that Mike and his family have enjoyed and shall continue to enjoy a safe and Happy Passover this year.

While it is not my bag and I have every confidence that at some point prior to my bones being incinerated and reduced to ash, which I hope does not occur until after I am dead, my soul will be cast out into the great black nothingness as opposed to going either to a place where the Gates are Pearly or a place where SPF-1000 is not going to come close to covering it, I respect the fact that many people practice a faith.  I also respect the fact that those folks - including among their number too many to count who I love very much - celebrate their faith this weekend.  I hope that all of them and all of theirs enjoy a safe and happy holiday , whether it is Easter, Passover or something altogether different that they celebrate. 

Because wanting to believe that out there somewhere is someone to hear your prayers is not a bad thing......even if it is not necessarily mine.

-AK

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Greetings From The Revolving Door

The utter absence of congratulations went unnoticed - even here (and if I am not going to pay attention to such well-delineated markings of time then who shall) - and with good reason.  Nothing missed, nothing mourned.  It in fact only occurred to this morning that Tuesday past (two days ago) marked the completion of the third lap around the Sun that I have taken while penning the rants, the gripes and the abject silliness that appears here daily.  A lot of water has passed under this fool's ship since then but how much further on I am along in the stream remains an open question.  It all depends on the current I suppose.

Perhaps soil through a plow's blade is a better metaphor?  It is at least topically similar to the allegedly pithy observation that started this particular snowball rolling downhill on an April Saturday approximately three years ago.  Much has happened to those I love and to me in the interim.  Some of it has been very good.  Some of it has been heartrendingly sad.  Such is the way of the world.  Such is life.  Any undertaking into which you enter unable to care for yourself and - depending upon your age and your overall well-being immediately prior to your death - from which you may depart in precisely the same manner is one in which the odds are against you.  Talk about a joint in which it is tough to bet against the House.  There is none tougher. 

There have been moments over the course of these past three years where my life has seemed to so closely approximate that of the man in Rodney Atkins' song that I swear I can smell the smell of freshly-cut grass everywhere and on everything.  There have also been moments where my life has seemed so far removed from his take on Utopia that the smell of freshly-laid macadam permeates everything.  An unusual experience?  Hardly.  Unique to me?  Absolutely.  As yours is to you.  And so on and so on and so on.

And through it all we continue to matriculate the ball down the field as it were.  We continue to make the most that we can out of the life that we lead and give all that we can to those who we love and who love us.  At day's end, whether we achieve success in that pursuit I know not.  I could not even begin to guess how one might measure "success" although I suspect that it is a flexible measurement.  It is something that is personal to each of us.  It is something that in our life perhaps only we can see.  It is something that perhaps we forever pursue but never achieve.  There is no inalienable right to happiness after all but merely to its pursuit.

And perhaps the joy is intended to be found in the hunt itself.  It is that which fuels us, which motivates us and which carries us forward through good times and bad.  The never-ending pursuit of happiness. 

It is enough to put a smile on the face of a walking dog.  And if that cannot make you happy,  then you are just not trying as hard as you could be.

-AK   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dog Days

For anyone among us who wonders why it is that monkeys and other primates have a tendency to hurl their feces at us - their brothers from other mothers - as we stroll past them on the "freedom" side of the bars in our local zoo, consider that (a) primates are the animals closest to us intellectually; and (b) they remain pissed off at our super funky opposable and apposable thumbs.  They know what we tend to forget, which is that it was our alleged ability to process complex thoughts in addition to our super digit that gave us the evolutionary leg up on our primate brothers.  Is the gap between Tarzan and Cheetah large?  Not really.  Is it insurmountable?  So far. 

Presuming that their cages are wi-fi hot spots, it is reasonable to surmise that at some point earlier this week they saw - as us humans did - a couple of fresh examples of why every human being should carry a pair of mittens at all times.  Protection of the thumb is important above all else! 

We begin our tour of all things stupid in the great state of Ohio.  Mike Leake is a twenty-three year-old man.  Leake has a job that I wish I had when I was his age.  Hell, I wish at my present age I had it.  His job requires him to work but one day out of every five.  Is Leake a lawyer or a member of Congress?  No and no.  He is, however, a Major Leaguer.  Leake is a starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.  Thus far this season he is unbeaten (2-0) in three starts.  He last worked on Saturday when he earned the win in a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Apparently, with four days off until he worked again, Leake woke up on Monday morning and wondered to himself, "Self, what can I do on my day off that will be so incomprehensibly stupid that I might just flush my job right down the toilet?"   And before too long, his inner imbecile answered the question.  Leake was arrested on Monday at a Macy's deparment store in downtown Cincy.  His alleged crime?  Shoplifting.  What was it that he was allegedly attempting to steal when he was nabbed?  Six shirts - the total cost of which was $59.88.

$59.88.  Let me say that I am tempted to start shopping at the Cincinnati Macy's if for no other reason than I have never seen anything in the men's department at the Bridgewater Macy's where I occasionally shop that I could buy six of for less than sixty dollars.  If and when gas drops back below $3.00 a gallon, I am channeling my inner Newman and taking a road trip to the great American Midwest to score me some bargains.  I will resist the temptation to channel my inner Leake and I shall not seek out those of the "five finger" variety.

According to the report I read on ESPN's website, Leake earns $425,000 a year.  If he really has a soft spot in his heart for the $9.98 shirts that he allegedly tried to pilfer on Monday, then one would think he could afford them.  Actually, if he wanted to really look like Beau Brummel, his paycheck this year will enable him to buy more than 42,000 of them.  What one would do with 42,000 t-shirts is a mystery to me.  I have a closet full of t-shirts of all colors and varieties that I have picked up at one race or another over the course of the past year or so - nowhere near 42,000 - and I never wear the majority of them.  42,000?  It boggles the mind to think where one would even store them. 

Leake was charged with a first degree misdemeanor, which if convicted carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail - a place where (just like the big leagues) a uniform is provided.  One can scratch jail off of the list of places where Leake would need to wear any of his 42,000 t-shirts. 

Because the world is so damn entertaining, Leake was not the only person whose recent was of the head-scratching variety.  Closer to home, we encountered wannabe do-gooder Luisa Fisco.  You see, here in the State of Concrete Gardens motorists are encouraged to fink on one another.  If you see someone on the highway who is - in your considered opinion - driving recklessly, then you are to call 9-1-1 and report that person to the police.  Apparently, while she was out and about on Saturday, Ms. Fisco spied just such a motorist with her little eye.  She did what she presumably deemed it was her civic duty to do:  she dialed 9-1-1 to report this ne'er-do-well. 

Funny thing happened on the way to her earning her first star as a digital deputy.  While dialing 9-1-1, Fisco somehow lost control of her own vehicle.  She ended up exiting the travel portion of the roadway and crashing into a tree.  She struck the tree with sufficient force that she was taken from the scene to Jersey Shore Medical Center for treatment and examination in the Emergency Department. 

The article on nj.com said that the police know not what happened to the allegedly reckless motorist who Fisco was in the process of dropping a dime on when she crashed her own car.  Presumably the "reckless driver" existed in the first place and was neither an apparition nor a glimpse that Fisco caught of herself in her rear-view mirror as she was motoring down the road.  A story from the on-line version of the Asbury Park Press suggested that Fisco herself might have been the one driving erratically.  The Press story also contained a photograph of Fisco's vehicle post-accident with its roof where its wheels should have been and vice versa.  The story also contained a bit of happy news:  Fisco was discharged from Jersey Shore Medical Center after being treated in its Emergency Department. 

Stupid is as stupid does.  There goes your proof. 

-AK

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Calling an Audible

There is nothing that has a shorter memory than the weather.  'Round here on Saturday it rained so hard for so long that it seemed for a little while as if it was never going to stop.  Sunday, while it dawned a bit overcast and iffy, matured into a simply gorgeous early Spring day. 

It was the type of day on which it behooves the soul to spend a bit of time out of doors.  That is why - after spending the morning exercising my soles by running in a race at Rutgers - I spent a bit of my late afternoon/ early evening soothing my little chestnut of a soul.  How?  By doing something so simple that even a hardened agnostic like me could do it with little difficulty.

Sunday night is usually macaroni night in our house.  Margaret makes sauce, Joe joins us (usually Suz and Ryan are there with the Missus and me) for dinner.  We eat macaroni with red sauce, Italian sausage and meatballs.  It is something so inherently enjoyable that one almost overlooks the fact the next day shall be welcomed by the alarm clock's tolling, which serves as the entry point to another work week.  It is a nice way to put a bow on the weekend while fueling up for the week ahead.  And it puts us all in one place for a little while, sharing stories as well as food. 

This Sunday though I called an audible.  I know not whether it was a reaction to Saturday's weather, Sunday morning's run through Rutgers, a combination of both or something else altogether.  Whatever the case, we dined not on macaroni and meatballs but on hot dogs and burgers.  Sunday was the day on which we christened the 2011 grilling season. 

I love grilled food.  For my money pork chops, steak, chicken and the like never taste better than they do when you grill them.  Grilling during the winter months is a tad impractical (although one would think that a guy who gets up at 3:00 a.m. to run outdoors in January could suck it up long enough to man a grill occasionally between November and April - I suppose the briquettes are not the size one might have hoped for) so although we have a terrific, enormous Char-Broil grill that we bought a few summers ago, we cover it up and store it indoors all winter.  I rolled it out of the garage a week ago Sunday in hopeful anticipation of using it sooner rather than later.  It took but one week.

First time out of the box was nothing elaborate.  It was not exactly a meal on which culinary careers are launched.  But it was a thing of joy.  Rosie likes the grill almost as much as I do.  It is almost extraordinary to watch the transformation of my dog from four-legged crackhead into Shetland Sheepdog statue as she inhales the aroma of grilling food.  I am not sure that a dog can smile but if it can, then Rosie does every time the grill cover comes off and it is fired up for business.  Whether a dog is indeed man's best friend I know not but I do know that when a man is standing before a grill cooking anything, if not his best friend then his dog is at least assured of a spot on the medal stand.

Winter was long in these parts.  Saturday reminded us that the transition from winter to spring shall not be pain-free.  But Sunday reminded us that Mother Nature is quite fond of simply wiping the board clean and starting over.  And when she does and she presents us with a day like we had on Sunday, we should suck the marrow out of every minute of it.  There is no way of knowing when or if the next such day will come along again. 

-AK

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Sunday in April

Yesterday an intimate crowd of several thousand runners gathered at Rutgers University for the second annual Unite For Charity Half Marathon.  Unfortunately Hoyle - whoever the hell he is - had different ideas.  The Noahesque amount of rain that fell on Saturday night had an effect on yesterday's race.  It actually required the race to be modified since it rendered a portion of the course unable to be run upon - knee deep water will have that effect on runners.  Thus what was advertised as a 13.1 mile race was - in fact - a ten-mile race.

It was for us (Gidg and me) a productive morning as part of our marathon-training program.  The program that we are both following for the May 1 race had called for yesterday's 'long' training run to be a nine-mile run.  We had both happily been looking forward to a run slightly more than four miles longer than our scheduled training run.  While that did not turn out to be the case, we still were able to get in a run that was a mile longer than called for in the training plan.  With only two weeks to go until Marathon Day, a free extra mile is nothing to sneeze at.  Not to mention how potentially messy it is when one sneezes while running.

The shortened race course notwithstanding, this event this year was as well-run as it was during its maiden voyage in 2010.  While the ground was saturated, the sky was sun-splashed and the temperature was ideal.  It was a terrific day to run - as if Mother Nature found it in her heart to reward the organizers for their hard work. 

And two weeks out from Marathon Day I would be lying if I did not say that I was happy to see my own hard work rewarded.  Ten miles covered in slightly more than seventy-eight minutes.  While there are those for whom that would represent a jogging pace (Russ and Jill both leap immediately to mind) for me it represented a bit of a milestone as I had never covered a distance as long as ten miles at a sub-eight minute per mile pace.  More importantly, it provided me with more than a bit of positive reinforcement.  Two weeks out and I am feeling pretty damn good.

Fourteen weeks down.  Two to go.

-AK

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mother Knows Best

While the weather in these parts was borderline brutal yesterday - particularly so in the latter half of the day where there were reported sightings of trios of animals playing rock, paper & scissors for the two spots on Noah's big boat - Mother Nature's hissy fit was not without its benefits.

For reasons neither known nor of any interest to me at all, a bunch of knuckle-dragging hate mongers who identify themselves as the National Socialist Movement, picked yesterday afternoon to descend upon the Statehouse in Trenton for a rally.  Who are the members of the National Socialist Movement?  They are neo-Nazis.  Because Naziism was such a great idea in its original iteration, one never can have enough neo-Nazis.  Especially suburban New Jersey neo-Nazis.  As if ignorance is a new idea. 

Whether it was the weather's influence I know not, but according to the story I read on-line, only 50 of these colossal thinkers assembled for yesterday's MENSA meeting.  They were met by a number of counter-protesters.  Lucky for the State Police; eh?  They had the pleasure of refereeing Saturday's festivities.  And of course they did a thoroughly professional job. 

Saturday's rally ended less spectacularly than a rather well-known gathering of one of this bunch's sister organizations in the great state of Illinois.  Well played Joliet Jake.  I for one second your emotion.

-AK   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sweet Charity

While it is too early to tell (being the wee, wee small hours of the morning and all that) the weather in these parts today is supposed to be somewhat unspectacular - gray with a side order of rain.  It is always a bit of a bummer to me when the weather is at best punkish on Saturday or Sunday, especially when we get into the "easier to spend time outdoors" part of the calendar.  Here, that part of the calendar can be incredibly condensed, wedged as it is between the "so cold that my boys have frozen into one solid unit" portion of the year and the "so hot I fear I might spontaneously combust" portion, so when it first pokes its head above the tree line the prudent thing to do is run at it as fast as possible, embrace it tightly and hold on to it for dear life.  Your grip will weaken eventually and it shall be lost to you again - as it was last year.  It is inevitable.

If I had to be selfish (try not to gasp so loud in astonishment as to disturb your neighbor) for a moment, and if I was only permitted to have one good weather day this weekend, then I would ask Mother Nature to unleash the cats and dogs today and permit tomorrow to be - at the very least - hospitable.  Tomorrow morning I am doing (along with Gidg) what we did at or about this time last year:  running in the Unite For Charity Half Marathon at Rutgers University.  At this time last year the thought of running 13.1 miles struck me as something akin to terrifying.  While I do not now consider it to be a walk in the park, having run a distance equal to or longer than that at least once a week every week for the past six weeks - including twenty miles this past Sunday, I no longer am intimidated by the distance.  Feel free to check back in this space on Monday to see if I write with the same sense of bravado post-race as pre. 

Perhaps I was spoiled by my experience in this event last April but I am really looking forward to tomorrow.  If the weather tomorrow is a reasonable facsimile of last year's then it shall be absolutely terrific conditions in which to run.  There was a good turnout of people in last year's inaugural edition and I presume that there shall be a field at least as big tomorrow.  Last year, live bands played at spots along the race route, which started on the Piscataway side of the Raritan River in the area of the Werblin Aquatic Center and finished on the New Brunswick side of the river in the area of the College Avenue Gym - or "The Barn" as it was known when Bill was matriculating his way through R.U. back in the day.  From start to finish, the runners enjoy a nice tour of the campus, which is itself quite beautiful. 

How I wish that tomorrow's adventure represented the longest distance event on my docket for this Spring.  Alas, it does not.  The 800 pound gorilla in the room - the New Jersey Marathon - looms now but two weeks ahead.  In my head I believe I am ready for it.  Tomorrow will give me a good test - a measuring stick if you will - by which to gauge whether my legs and my breathing match my head's level of preparedness.

Here's to passing.  And to a good day for a run.

-AK

Friday, April 15, 2011

And in a Single Moment....

It is a time-worn cliche.  From time immemorial people have observed that, "In a single moment, everything changes."  And the change wrought by that moment's appearance is not always good.  Under certain circumstances, the change can be tragic for all impacted by it.

In the wee small hours of the morning of July 31, 2010 (3:30 or so to be precise - a time at which I am up for the day save for days when I do something half-assed such as sleep through my alarm) the Bridgewater Township Police Department responded to the area of Linden Street, alerted by a 911 call to a report of a "fight in progress" in the street.  Upon arrival, the officers found two men who they identified as Brian Johnston (age 18) and Douglas Uhler (age 18) lying in the roadway.

Investigation revealed that Messrs. Johnston and Uhler ended up where the police found them as a result of at least one - and in the case of Uhler apparently a second - bad decision.  Johnston and Uhler were on Linden Street running away from Alex Montalvo.  Montalvo lives on Oak Street in Bridgewater.  That night he and his wife were awakened from their sleep by the sounds of Johnston and Uhler breaking into their car (the horn apparently went off).  Montalvo pursued Johnston and Uhler to Linden Street.  Once there, Johnston decided to stand and fight, which resulted in Montalvo knocking him down - and presumably out - with a single punch.

At some point after Johnston and Montalvo had completed their "fight" (if Tyson vs. Spinks is considered a fight then I suppose anything is possible),  and Montalvo was retrieving from Johnston whatever personal items Johnston had stolen from his vehicle, Uhler jumped out of some bushes, yelled out, "Do you want a piece of me [insert expletive of your choice here]?" and  attacked Montalvo.  Montalvo and Uhler struggled, which struggle ended when Montalvo placed Uhler in a submission hold.  According to the police, Uhler was unresponsive when they arrived due to having had the flow of oxygen to his brain cut off by the submission hold.

Johnston and Uhler were both arrested and charged with third-degree burglary of a car.  On December 15, 2010 a Somerset County Grand Jury handed up an indictment against both men for the crime charged.  The same Grand Jury also considered charges against Montalvo for his actions and declined to indict him.

Uhler died at Morristown Memorial Hospital on April 10.  At the time of his death, he was nineteen.  He  never recovered from the effects of the submission hold and spent the final eight-plus months of his life either bedridden or in a wheelchair, unable to speak.  At the time he died, he was no longer facing criminal charges.  In March a judge dismissed the charges against him on the grounds that Uhler was not competent to stand trial.  His cohort, Johnston, has already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

In the immediate aftermath of his son's death, Uhler's father reacted as a father might.  He demanded that charges now be brought against Montalvo.   While I practice law on the civil side of the justice system exclusively, I would think it unlikely that any criminal charges shall be filed against him.  A Grand Jury declined to indict him several months ago for his role in the events of July 31, 2010.  While the consequences of those actions have now grown graver, the actions themselves remain static.  He should be judged now as he was by the Grand Jury in December. 

I know none of the players involved in this matter.  I suppose anyone who happens to Google Uhler and happens upon this piece will accuse me of being unfair in my portrayal of the young man and the events that ultimately claimed his life.  My response?  Do not shoot the messenger.  The description of the events presented here is taken from the official information that the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office released announcing the indictments of Uhler and Johnston back in December.  And to me - recognizing it is but one person's opinion - the critical piece of information is Uhler's decision to attack Montalvo after Montalvo had fought with Johnston.  Uhler is described - in the Prosecutor's description of events - as having jumped out of some bushes, challenging Montalvo to a fight and thereafter attacking him physically.  Much has been made - and I anticipate that more shall be made of it upon the filing by the Uhler family of the inevitable civil suit against Montalvo - of whether Montalvo's response was appropriate in light of the fact that this fight arose out of two idiots attempting to burglarize his car. 

Respectfully, I do not believe that is the issue at all.  Presuming that the information provided by the Prosecutor is accurate, then Montalvo's actions need to be viewed through the prism of a man defending himself - and perhaps his wife as well (she was present according to the Prosecutor) - from physical attack.  I do not pretend to know what would have happened had Uhler - upon seeing Montalvo starch Johnston - either (a) run as fast as he could away from Montalvo; or (b) stepped out of the bushes giving himself up and waiting along with his fallen friend for the arrival of the police.  No one can answer that question. 

Irrespective of one's position on the propriety of Montalvo's action - and based upon the information the Prosecutor has disclosed publicly I think his response in protecting himself and his wife was not only appropriate but predictable - I would wager that all would agree that what happened on a street in Bridgewater Township in the early morning hours of July's last day is a tragedy for two families.  One which did not reasonably anticipate having to bury its son at age nineteen and one which did not reasonably anticipate having to protect itself from attack at the hands of the other's son.  Where either family goes from here is uncertain.  I suspect that they have not yet reached the end of their interaction with one another.

One thing is certain.  Neither can go back from whence they came.  Once a single moment changes everything, it changes everything forever. 

-AK

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Shoes of Another

There is a cliche about mileage walked while wearing the shoes of another as being the surest way to know what someone else has experienced or is experiencing.  I am a bit fuzzy on the exact verbiage but I am confident that I have properly captured its gist here.

I spent part of Tuesday at a deposition, which in the parlance of the our civil justice system (at least here in the State of Concrete Gardens) is nothing more or less than sworn testimony given verbally and in the presence of a court stenographer and which is usually taken in the phase of the case we call "pre-trial discovery."  In the course of my legal career I have defended a lot of them and have taken far too many of them to accurately calculate.  Tuesday's affair was a bit of a hybrid for me in that I appeared on behalf of one of the two entities that is a defendant in the action for the plaintiff's deposition, which was conducted by the attorney for the other defendant principally because his client shall be responsible to pay 94% of any settlement agreed to with the plaintiff or or any award entered in the plaintiff's favor.  My client is on the hook for only 6%.  Life is good when you are the 6% defendant.

Tuesday's proceeding arose out of an incident in 2007 during which the plaintiff - who is a police officer - was run into by a suspect attempting to flee from a motor vehicle stop.  As a result of being struck by a car moving upwards of twenty-five miles per hour at the time it struck him, the plaintiff sustained injuries to a shoulder and to an elbow that ultimately required surgery to repair.  He missed a bit of time from work secondary to each surgery as he went through physical therapy but eventually returned to work full-time as a member of his police department's patrol division.

Among the intriguing things he told us on Tuesday afternoon was that in addition to being a member of his department's patrol division he also is a member of its ESU (Emergency Services Unit) team, which is the designation his department gives to its SWAT unit.  He told us that he serves two roles on the ESU team:  he is part of the entry team and he is a sniper.  In response to a question, he testified that although his department is located in a sprawling, mostly suburban township, the department's ESU team has been called upon to respond to a number of incidents in the past several years.  Then, without giving a lot of details, he told us that its last action had occurred in March 2011. The ESU team responded to what he referred to as, "an officer-involved shooting."  He was not pressed for a lot of details about that particular incident as it had little to do with the matter for which he had appeared to testify.

When the proceeding was completed, he thanked his questioner and me both for our time, shook our hands and then after saying goodbye to his attorney, simply headed off to the rest of his day.  After he left, his counsel told us that the "officer-involved shooting" of which his client had spoken arose out of an incident involving a former colleague.  The incident "wrapped" with the former colleague (who had barricaded himself in his home) firing multiple rounds from a machine gun at the ESU team to which, in response, the plaintiff performed his job.  A single shot stopped the madness.  His shot. 

I cover a lot of ground on my feet these days - running many miles in many different pairs of shoes.  I do not know whether I could take a single step in his.  I hope that I never am placed in a position where I am - and other are - dependent upon my ability to answer that question affirmatively.

-AK

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Sundance Kid

The Star-Ledger had a story in Monday's edition about a rather remarkable teacher named Agnes Zhelesnik.  Here in the State of Concrete Gardens much has been written by and about teachers during the past year and one-half or so.  Much of it, irrespective of one's position and/or level of interest in the ongoing battle between the NJEA and the GUV, has been laden with vitriol.  It is as if when the rest of us had our eyes elsewhere, someone amended the 3R's and replaced all of them with, "Rhetoric, Rhetoric, Rhetoric."

Not so Monday's piece on Agnes Zhelesnik.  She is apparently the oldest American full-time teacher.  What is so extraordinary about that distinction?  She is 97.  I was tempted to write "years old" after 97 but after reading the profile of her, that last word is not only superfluous but inaccurate.  If there is one thing Agnes Zhelesnik is not, it is old.   She has been at the teaching biz for only a decade and a half, an amount of time that might seem lengthy in and of itself but given that this fifteen year veteran of our State's blackboard jungle was born five and one half months before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated on the streets of Sarajevo, a little context is necessary.  Perhaps if you have ever been a student of Agnes Zhelesnik then you already know the historical signficance of that event

Actually, according to the article, while history is among the many things that interest her, Agnes earns her living teaching pre-school at the Sundance School in North Plainfield, which counts among its distinguished alums my brother-in-law Frank who is - much like Agnes - one hell of a multi-tasker.  He is not only a phenomenal chef but he can sing more than a little.  (Do not cheat yourself, click on the link and before you work up an appetite checking out all of the incredible stuff Frank can make for you, put your mouse on him in the upper right corner of the home page and listen to him sing a little bit for you).  I shall wait for you.  Having had the pleasure of listening to him sing and eating his cooking for close to two decades now, I now how enjoyable each is.  When you are ready, read on (or just click back on Frank's site and order tonight's dinner.  More pleasure from the latter than the former - of that I am certain).  Actually it is Frank's son Frankie who attended the Sundance School and given that he is a high school senior presently, he might actually have been one of her students and since you have to eat anyway....

I actually saw the piece on Agnes Zhelesnik on-line on Monday and I looked at the photos of her prior to reading the article.  The headline gave her age so I knew it before I started to look at the photos.  After looking at the photos I found it almost impossible to believe that she is almost 100 years old.  She appears (to my eye anyway) to be at least a couple of decades younger than her stated age.

From time to time, it is nice to come across a person - even if the contact is only tangential such as through reading about her in a newspaper article - who appears to brighten the lives of those around her and the orbit they all inhabit together by doing nothing other than that which makes her happy.  She is not merely a happy person.  She is a carrier of joy and happiness and she spreads it all around her every day, teaching children who are only nine and one-half decades younger than she is.  Generation gap?  Think again.  One look at the photos of her surrounded by and interacting with her children reveals only one gap:  the one present in some of their mouths courtesy of as-of-yet-unreplaced baby teeth that have fallen out, which is delightfully easy to see given their ear-to-ear grins. 

A nice piece of writing about a woman whose most remarkable quality is that she does not view herself as remarkable but merely as Agnes - doing something she loves for those that she loves.  And doing something that hopefully she will be able to continue to do for years to come. 

Undoubtedly her best years are still ahead of her.

-AK

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Takeoffs and Departures

While it seems like it was just yesterday (or last evening to remain consistent to the time of day at which he arrived) that I was picking up Rob at the airport to begin his latest journey East, it is in fact this very day that I shall deposit him back at the airport to begin his latest migration West. Once again geography shall separate him from the rest of us.  The principal focus of this edition of his Eastern adventures was work-related.  I hope that all went well on that front - although I suspect that no answer to that question shall be known for some time yet. 

For my son I hope that when that question is answered, however it is answered, it is in fact an answer that brings him peace.  I see him infrequently any more and even when he is in the same time zone, most of my time with him is spent in the car to and from the airport but I recognize the look - not in his eyes but buried someplace just a bit further out of view (behind them perhaps) - for I have seen it on my own face too many mornings to count over the first four and one-half decades of my own life.  There is a trace of something unsettled there - a tell-tale sign of discord.  Something akin to a stone being skipped across the surface of the Sea of Tranquility perhaps.  Dissonance where one would hope to find resonance in residence.  Such a condition may be unavoidable.  We are Irish after all - a people prone to bouts of melancholy. 

This morning Rob and I shall perform again what has been a ritual of ours several times a year for these past three:  the airport farewell.  And as I weave my way back into the line of cars pulling away from the "Departing Flights" area outside the terminal, he will walk through its automatic doors on his way to catch yet another flight.  A flight transporting him from the place where he was born to the place he currently resides.  Is it taking him home?  Is it returning him from home to someplace else?  Or is it simply moving him from Point A to Point B?  I know not for certain.

I simply hope that Rob does.  He is the only one who needs to know.  And there is nothing worse than not knowing the answer to that question.  For the answers to all of the other questions lie beyond the answer to that one and answering them without knowing the answer to that one can be difficult....

....if not impossible altogether. 

-AK

Monday, April 11, 2011

Twenty Twenty

Yesterday I reached the outer limits of my marathon training program.  In twenty short days I shall run (along with several thousand other hardy souls) in the New Jersey Marathon.  For the past thirteen weeks, I have been adhering to a training program that I found on http://www.marathonrookie.com/.  Yesterday, on the Sunday that marked the end of Week 13 I ran the longest run that the training program mandates I run in preparation for the Marathon.  I remain not entirely convinced that running 20 miles will in fact prepare me to run 26.2 but having now completed it, I do not intend to attempt any distances longer than 20 miles between now and Marathon day. 

The good news is that I completed it.  The even better news for me is that I did so in slightly less than three hours.  My goal for the Marathon is to finish in less than four hours.  At least by completing the twenty-mile training run under three hours, I have succeeded in keeping my goal within reach.  Of course, a goal contemplated on the 10th of April is not the same as a goal realized on the 1st of May.  Whether it shall be made remains to be seen.

A question that shall be answered one way or the other in twenty short days.......

.....well nineteen short days that shall be followed by one very long one.

-AK

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hear the Echoes

We are two weekends deep into April already.  My inability to grasp the rapidity with which time moves is a recurring topic here but regardless of the ever-accruing mileage on my tires, my comprehension level as it comes to time's passage remains static.  If it was static and at an elevated level, then I suppose I could pretend that I have it covered.  It is not.  Therefore I cannot.

It is incredible to me that this time three years ago Rob was wrapping up the collegiate chapter of his life's story and preparing to turn the page to its first full-time professional chapter.  While I do not recall for certain, it seems to me that it was at or about this time three years ago (maybe it was closer to May) that he told his mother and me that his first stop - after seventeen and one-half fun-filled weeks in Georgia - was going to be Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Margaret's reaction to the news of learning that he was going to spend  at least the first three years of his career in a town that is only four hours away - by airplane?  McMurtryesque.

Rob has been home (at least that is what I call it.  My blog - my noun) since Wednesday night.  His reason for being in the Eastern Time Zone is work-related.  It is a visit high on expectation and tantalizingly light on certainty.  As a disciple of the great American philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra, I never attempt to move the cart by placing it in front of the horse or to take a beak count (even a quick one) on unhatched chickens. Even so, if the Daily News calls me this morning to ask me for the dope, I know exactly what I intend to say.  

But that is a hoped-for conversation for another day.  For now, I shall just sit back and watch the years fall into the fading light.  After all, the sun does set in the West. 

-AK  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Push and Pull

Wednesday afternoon I made my every-other-weekly sojourn up Parsippany Road from my office to the Bank of America (a name so "tug at your heart strings" that one wonders why every bank founded prior to BOA did not think of it first) branch to cash my paycheck.  As I was stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Parsippany Road and Lanidex Drive I noticed a rather disheveled looking man walking on the sidewalk adjacent to my lanes of travel walking vigorously in the direction of oncoming traffic - a group to which at that very moment I belonged. 

Now, having gotten up and gone for a 5 mile run Wednesday morning before leaving the house - a run that I started after 3:00 a.m. and completed before 4:00 a.m. - wearing only a long sleeve t-shirt and shorts, it may seem surprising (or hypocritical even) that what initially caught my attention regarding this particular pedestrian was his wardrobe.  I know not whether it was the stained wife-beater t-shirt (original color appeared to have been white or some offshoot thereof) or the bright red cargo shorts that originally nabbed my attention.  Perhaps it was the manner in which the strengths of the individual pieces brought the whole ensemble together that reeled me in. I simply do not know.  For all I know it might have been the fact that he was striding a purpose-driven stride while carrying under his left arm a simply enormous plastic shopping bag. 

Upon further reflection I know that while each of the above was charming in its own particular way, none was the "one".  What brought this gentleman from side-view curiosity to center-ring main attraction for me was not what he wore or what he carried.  Rather it was what he did.  Upon crossing over Lanidex Drive, which he did in a pseudo-sprint so as to minimize the inconvenience to any motorist attempting to turn from Parsippany Road onto Lanidex, he dropped to the sidewalk.  Once there he assumed the position - and starting cranking out push ups.  I kid you not.  Push ups.  By the time the light had changed and I had contnued on towards the bank, he had zipped through twenty-five of them.

Perhaps in a better world spontaneous calisthenics would not seem to be a strange sight to see while sitting in mid-day traffic.  Maybe it is not the world that needs to be better - but merely me - in order to better appreciate the undertaking without questioning the mental well-being of the one undertaking it.  Then again....no.  As I looked at the other motorists who were also waiting for the light to change from green to red, their eyes were as full of slack-jawed wonderment as I imagine mine were. 

It took me about fifteen minutes to wrap up my business at the bank (42 seconds for me to hand my check to the teller and approximately fourteen minutes and eighteen seconds for her to process it for me).  On my inward leg on Parsippany Road, I passed by Jack LaTwoLane again.  He had walked a considerable distance in the interim.  While he was still carrying his valise-sized Quick Chek bag, I did not see him drop and give the voice in his head another twenty-five.  Thus I do not know whether what I witnessed on the way to the bank was an aberration or merely a part of a recurring pattern. Honestly, I do not know whether it is the prospect of the former or of the latter that I find more frightening.... 

....although suddenly a new candidate emerges.

-AK  

Friday, April 8, 2011

Walking 'Neath the Ever Unfurling and Darkening Sky

Every now and again it is helpful to take a moment to stop, take a deep breath and examine why it is you do what you do.  All of us need something to get us through our day-to-day.  Gibraltar be damned.  No man - or woman - is in fact an island. 

I know not if all of us are guilty of it - although regrettably I know I am - but it is likely more common than not that on occasion we all lose our sense of perspective.  Our sense of knowing the distinction between mere gossamer and items of substance gets knocked asunder.  Maybe the best for which we can hope is that our lapses of reason are merely momentary.  Then again, I think that perhaps the best we can hope is that when we regain our senses, all that we have worked hard for remains intact - that it has survived us.

There always has to be something more than just us that keeps us going.  I am not a religious man.  I do not subscribe to the notion of a higher power, which I find to be more palatable than signing on to the notion that there is a higher power and he is a vindictive, vicious prick who has for years wreaked havoc and rained misery down upon those I love with a lunatic's delight.  I find at least that saying the former aloud in polite company requires far less conversation and prompts significantly less hand-wringing than the latter.

For me, the "something" is not "the man upstairs" as Mom used to refer to him.  I was seven before I realized that there was not in fact a man living in the attic of our house on Canal Road.  The something is the amorphous, impossible to define thing that fuels me and is provided to me by those in it whose presence forms the bridge between simply being alive and living a full life.  Living is more than just inhaling and exhaling.  If all you are doing is gulping in air and expelling it thereafter, then you are nothing more than mechanical.  That simply cannot be all there is to you - or to your life. 

While I doubt (OK - "hope") that I am not the only bi-ped in the animal kingdom who loses sight of the distinction between that which is important and that which is not, I know that I have done so on too many occasions to count.  To date I have been fortunate in that the harm wrought by my lapses has been momentary.  I am not so dumb as to not recognize that the transient or temporary nature of the harm has far more to do with the strength and quality of those around me as opposed to anything I might bring to bear upon the situation.  I am not the bunch's brightest bulb but even I can recognize that fact....

...and for a life-long prisoner of self-inflicted blindness, recognition does not always come as easily as perhaps it should. 

-AK

 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Words of Wise Men

Hey kids, it is basic math day: 4/7/11.  Again, I mean not to mock those who seem obsessed by all the allegedly cool numerical references related to 2011.  Actually that is not true at all.  I most assuredly mean to mock them.  If you are among their number (get it? "their number"), then consider yourself thusly mocked!  Move on - there is nothing else to see here on this subject.

Two campaigns got underway this week.  Charlie Sheen kicked off his "Let Me Separate These Suckers From Their Coin" Tour in Detroit on Saturday. Apparently he was not a huge hit.  The crowd was more than a bit rowdy and allegedly booed Sheen to the point that he left the stage.  Before doing so, he confronted them with the evening's one inescapable truth.  He told one heckler, "I already got your money, dude."  Apparently his performance the following night in Chicago was better-received.  He finished what he started and the Chicago crowd had a less bloodthirsty quality to it than its Detroit predecessor (although attempting to posit a place's lesser level of bloodthirstiness vis-a-vis Detroit is sort of like giving someone kudos for being the second skinniest kid at fat camp). 

I know that at some point in the not-too-distant future Sheen's tour is supposed to bring him either to the State of Concrete Gardens or right across the river in Manhattan.  Candidly, while his television show has made the Missus and me laugh quite loud and quite often since it first became airborne several years ago, whether he returns to it or it returns to the air are not questions that keep me awake at night.  Unless someone surprises me with a team of wild horses between now and his area engagement (the better to drag me to the theatre), I will be opting to sit this particular form of "entertainment" out. 

Good for him that he has managed to figure out a way to separate people from their money.  Barnum was right.  And if you opt to part with your cash but refuse to recognize that your are the only one to blame for the evening you are wasting as you watch a guy perform live who has made all of his money uttering aloud words on film or on tape written for him by another - with as much rehearsal time and takes built in as permissible by the bounds of time and with an APPLAUSE sign directing the audience's responses - then you deserve what you get from him and you get from him precisely what it is that you deserve.  If one purchases a ticket to a train wreck, then one cannot complain after the fact at the impossible-to-remove stains that the aforementioned wreck's debris left on one's clothing.

On Monday, President Obama announced that he intends to seek re-election.  T minus eighteen months (or so) and counting until Election Day.  How far away are we really from the election cycle for the Presidency mimicking that for the House of Representatives in which the morning after getting elected the successful candidates start running for re-election?  Probably not as far as you or I would care to think.  Or to admit.  Your politics are your own - as are mine.  I do not care whether you are a fan of the President or not and whether you intend to vote for him in 2012 or not.  Your politics are your business.  I shall not ask what you intend to do because it is none of my damn business.  Whether you are a fan of this President or not, you have to wonder (at least I do) why anyone who has the job would want to compete for the chance to spend four more years doing it.  It is a task that appears to suck the very marrow out of the bones of the person who holds the office, regardless of political party affiliation.  While it is not true that the writers of Seinfeld originally wrote this episode to show the effects of being President on Kramer, they could have.

One wonders if at some point the geniuses who formulate strategies for the candidates of the two major parties will realize that we the people have reached our saturation point.  If they will consider for a moment that we want candidates for national office who are as better-equipped to govern than they are to compete for the right to do so.  Perhaps they have already done the math on that particular scenario and they know what I do not know, which is that we the people in fact want no such thing.  As long as we have the chance to get together with our friends occasionally and commiserate about how politics is right up there with WWE Wrestling and Jersey Shore as representative of all that is wrong in this nation today, while reserving our right to run home and watch our MTV or Wrestlemania in the privacy of our home without having to answer to anyone for our viewing choices, then we have little to no interest in change. 

We like standing close enough to the train wreck to feel the debris spray on our clothes.  We just need to remember to pack an extra set.  Something to change into for the ride home....

....or for that ride to the local venue to see the Apocalypse's Fourth Horseman when his tour plays in your town.  You will need that extra set of clothes for certain.  It is damn hard to get Adonis blood out of almost any fabric. 

-AK

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Poet and a One-Man Band

This evening I have a happy detour on my way home from work.  Tonight, prior to making the trek south on 287, I shall make the trek east from Parsippany to Newark.  My mission is a happy one.  I shall pick up Rob at the airport as he commences what shall be (as it always is) a too-short stay in my favorite time zone. 

It is true that in only six short days I shall perform one of my least favorite tasks, which is dropping him off at the airport to wing his way westward once again.  But being a short-sighted coward I choose not to see next Tuesday from here.  At some point I shall be forced to acknowledge its presence above the horizon line.  That point is not today.

Rob's trip home is work-related.  Fortunately though it coincides with a family event - the baptism of Megan/Adam's twins.  Margaret has one sibling - her brother Frank.  A couple of months ago, Frank's oldest daughter and her husband Adam (is it just me or is his name really, really cool?) welcomed not one but two babies into the world:  Halle and Nicholas.  Sunday each of the bambinos takes a turn in the holy dunk tank. 

While the Lord and I have a relationship that has been well-documented here, which relationship centers principally on our agreement to not darken one another's door, Sunday an exception shall be made for the baptism.  I will be certain to wear my lightning rod hat and to stand at least 30 feet away from everyone else in the audience in order to minimize the impact of a stray shot or an errant ricochet.  I care not at all about the dunking from a religious perspective.  I am excited however that because of the post-dunking party, Rob will have a chance to see a lot of family who he might not otherwise have a chance to see during this particular road trip.

I would not pretend to speak for Rob.  At age twenty-five he is more than capable of speaking for himself.  But in my mind's eye, I still see here as his home.  And today - even if it is for just a metaphorical cup of coffee - he is homeward bound

-AK