Sunday, July 31, 2011

Once Upon a Saturday Afternoon

If my arrival as Kid #6 in the Kenny Family batting order had not so thoroughly convinced Mom/Dad to get out of the baby-making business, then I might in fact have been given the chance to be a big brother. Sadly it did so I did not. Had I though been given that opportunity and had my younger sibling been a sister, then I think she would have been much like my pal Gracie. She and I have had an older brother/younger sister relationship since we first worked together and became friends more than a decade ago. Like any big brother, I cringed silently at some of the "choices" she made...right up until she met Joe. Today is her birthday and she and Joe are celebrating it in the home they just bought about a month ago. When good things happen to good people, it is of course good. When it happens to good people who you know and care about, it is better than good. To Gracie, I wish a Happy Birthday and countless years of better than good. A present she has more than earned.

You might have missed the item in the newspapers from earlier this week about the death at age 42 of former Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu. According to published reports, the police in Los Angeles were investigating his death as a likely suicide. Sad and more than that - given the neutron bomb he detonated into a family already apparently dealing with its fair share of strife - selfish.

I have known in my lifetime people who have committed suicide - including at least one with whom I was good friends. I shall never be able to understand it. It is an act of desperation. Yet is also an act of abject selfishness. Not knowing what finally breaks in one's mind and in one's spirit to make one act upon an impulse of self-destruction I do not pretend to know whether if one contemplating it spent more time considering just how selfish an act it was he would be able to talk himself out of it.

Irabu was a member of two of Joe Torre's four World Series-winning teams. He was along for the ride in 1998 and 1999. He did not throw a single pitch in either Series, both of which (perhaps not coincidentally) the Yankees swept in four straight games. Irabu came to the Yankees from Japan (via a trade he forced from the San Diego Padres) heralded as the Japanese Nolan Ryan. He never came close to living up to his pre-arrival hype. Sadly, the thing his time in a Yankees uniform might be best remembered for is George Steinbrenner's reference to him as a, "Fat, pussy toad" because Irabu failed to cover first base during an exhibition game.

When I heard Irabu had died the first thing I thought of was not Steinbrenner's infamous line or all of the times that he did not pitch up to expectations while in the Bronx. I thought instead of the October Saturday afternoon in Boston in the 1999 ALCS. It was on that Saturday afternoon that the Yankees and the Red Sox played Game 3. It would turn out to be the only game the Sox would win. It was the game that pitted Red Sox Ace Present Pedro Martinez against Red Sox Ace Past Roger Clemens.

After the 1998 season the Yankees had traded Boomer Wells and a couple of other players to Toronto for Clemens. Clemens had revived his career in Toronto after the Sox had kicked him to the curb - allowing him to leave Boston as a free agent. In 1999 Clemens came to New York to win himself a World Series ring (the Yankees having demonstrated one hundred and twenty five times the previous season just how little help they needed from him to get one themselves). His Game 3 matchup against Pedro Martinez was easily the most-hyped, most anticipated game of the ALCS. Unfortunately, only one of them showed up to pitch. Worse yet for the Yankees, that one was not Clemens.

Thanks to Clemens' live, in-game BP the Red Sox were up 6-0 in the third inning. The Rocket's day was done. Since there is no mercy rule in Major League Baseball, Joe Torre needed someone to eat up innings in a game that was already a lost cause. No one likes to be the "mop up" guy. It is the job given to the pitcher in the bullpen in whom the manager has the least amount of trust. A man summoned to fill up the boxscore so that those in whom the manager places his trust can live to pitch another day.....like in Game 4, Game 5 and so son.

Torre turned to Irabu. Given the hype that carried him across the Pacific and to the United States, one might have expected Irabu to balk at the assignment. He did not. Instead on an afternoon when he knew that no one was coming to save him no matter how bad it got, he held his mud. He pitched five innings - some of which bordered on being brutal. It was the only game he pitched in the ALCS. His ERA? A gaudy 13.50. Only one member of the Yankee pitching staff had a worse one. His name? Roger Clemens.

Irabu took his medicine and the Yankees were able to save their bullpen for games in which their starter actually gave them a chance to win the game. Games such as Game 4 and Game 5, both of which they won to vanquish the Red Sox, win the AL Pennant and go on to the World Series. Irabu - for what have been the only time in his three-year Yankees career - did his job.

And it is for that reason that it is that October Saturday afternoon in Fenway Park for which I shall remember him.

-AK

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Worms & Other Delicacies

I have known my entire life that my brother Bill is a better person than I am. If you do not know the two of us, then accept as true that I do and am in a better place to judge such a thing than you are. If you happen to know both of us, then not only are you truly blessed by good fortune but you also happen to possess the requisite knowledge to attest to the veracity of that statement. I was reminded of it again yesterday morning.

I spent a blissfully small piece of my Friday morning getting blood work done, which work had been the request/suggestion of the doctor with whom I spent a bit of my Thursday morning. The place I went, LabCorp, has a facility located less than five minutes from my office. I arrived there at 6:45 a.m. in anticipation of their 7:00 a.m. opening. I made it to the door of their lobby expecting to be greeted by a locked door. I was instead greeted by the realization that I was Customer #5. Given that the aggregate age of the quartet who beat me to the joint was (conservatively speaking) 335, I was happy to see that the lobby layout afforded the two women who worked at the front desk unfettered visual access of all of its seats. It assuaged my fear that one of these oldsters would drop waiting his/her turn and unable to make eye contact with their seat, the pair of Cracker Jacks behind the counter would not leapfrog them to get to an actual living, breathing customer. Better yet, all four of them - including the delightful little 91 year-old who helped me locate the office within the building, were in the upright and locked position when it was their turn to be served and each received whatever service it was they had come there in search of.

The staff moved with such metronomic precision that I was out the door and back in my car by 7:15. And I even got a Garfield band-aid to cover my wound and stanch my blood flow:


I know (only because he has mentioned it here and we have had other conversations about it) that Bill endures medical appointments with physicians in various disciplines as part of his day-to-day. The principal difference between the two of us is that he soldiers on quietly and deals with it like a responsible adult whereas I - who never goes to the doctor for any reason and who in fact does not even have a doctor to call my own - whine like a small child. Fortunately I think I have now completed my tour of North American (OK, more like North Jersey) medical facilities for a while.

I was more than a little impressed by how many Gray Panthers were in the house as it were in the wee small hours of the morning. I am used to seeing people line up early for important stuff such as the purchase of concert tickets or everything oversized at Costco. But this group channeled its inner early bird for an important reason: their health. And they did not push or shove or elbow one another in an effort to improve their place in line. They simply waited their turn, took care of their business and exited in route to the rest of their day. It was almost refreshing to witness.

A nice big box of chocolates....

....and not a stinker in the bunch.

-AK

Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Williams-Sonoma Meets Cedar Sinai

I spent a portion of my day yesterday at a doctor's office. A third medical provider. A third opinion. A third theory. To the forefront of my otherwise empty mind leap two competing thoughts with regard to Contestant #3: the third time is the charm OR three strikes and you're out. Either way, the full allotment of patience I have for this silliness has now been exhausted. Even when looking from the other side of the reservoir all you can see is a dark, empty, dry space. Hopefully happiness is this issue and the growing caderie of medical professionals whose acquaintance I have made since July began squarely situated in my rear-view mirror. For me, August cannot arrive soon enough.

The great thing about life of course is that one can always find another inhabitant of this big blue marble whose present circumstance makes one stop and think, "It could be worse." And in the interest of full disclosure, let me assure you that I am not quite so self-absorbed that I believe what has been plaguing me the past couple of weeks rises to the level of an actual, grown-up problem. It does not. While it provides me with something about which to whine (Phil Hughes does not toe the rubber for the Yankees for another couple of days so my whine glass is empty), there are (unfortunately for them) too many people to count dealing with actual issues of substance. I know that to be true. I assure you.

Still, how often is it that you come across a story such as the one that made the wires earlier this week from California? A 63 year-old man in Los Angeles became annoyed with his protruding hernia. So he did what anyone would do: he sashayed on into the kitchen, opened the cutlery drawer and helped himself to a butter knife. He then proceeded to use said butter knife not on toast but on himself in an effort to remove the aforementioned hernia. A butter knife.

You probably think that a person would have to be crazy to use a butter knife on oneself as part of some half-assed appendectomy. I concur. Obviously something with a sharpened blade would be much better suited for the task. Serrated? Likely not necessary. Then again, who can argue with the almost-certain uptick in efficiency realized from a smoother, quicker and cleaner cut?

According to Wolfgang Puck's work "Home Surgery and Backyard Grilling: Perfect Together", a butter knife is to be used only for detail work: trimming of nails, winnowing down of bushy eyebrows and the like. Even if one anticipates not encountering a lot of bone on the road to excision, Puck recommends a far sharper instrument. You would not bring a knife to a gun fight; right? Same principle applies here.

It is a flat-footed tie for me anyway as to what is the best part about the story of Dr. KillPatient. I am torn between whether it is the mandatory 72-hour psychiatric hold the would-be bonesaw was placed on when he was admitted to the hospital (one thinks that there might be a psychiatric issue or ten at play here? What a revelatory notion) or the fact that when the paramedics arrived at his home, the man pulled out the knife and stuck a cigarette he was smoking into the wound. Talk about common courtesy. He no doubt realized that smoking would not be permitted in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Rather than waiting to be asked to put it out, he did so voluntarily. A truly selfless gesture. And considering smokes cost roughly $50.00 a pack these days can anyone fault him for not simply throwing it out but rather putting it someplace where he could come back to it later to finish it? Selfless and thrifty.

Here's to hoping that during his vacation (a/k/a hospital stay) our would-be surgeon is getting treatment by an actual doctor (as opposed to someone who plays one only when the voices in his head tell him to) for that pesky hernia. He has a whole drawer full of cutlery and his willingness to use it is indisputable.

One cannot help but ponder whether his kitchen cabinets and drawers contain that 'right tool for the job' regardless of the job. If so, tell him when he is released from the hospital to stop home and grab his meat tenderizer. They appear to be in the market for his particular brand of expertise down in Tennessee.

-AK

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Answering the Knock of Opportunity

I have been a bit under the weather the past couple of weeks. Apparently what the somewhat rounded medical minds at McMedicine diagnosed as "poison ivy" a couple of Fridays ago was not. While I was holding out hope that it was sumac - if for no reason other than it never is - form held for me as well. It was not. Well, at least according to the most recent diagnosis, which the Missus and I received at the Emergency Room at Somerset Medical Center early Sunday morning. We shall see.

Blame it on my own general feeling of "blah". Blame it on the weather. Blame it on whatever you wish. Or perhaps give credit to it. It is a matter of perspective I suppose. However you look at it, my little brain awoke on the distracted side of the bed this morning. Thus, today's insanity shall be delivered in an abbreviated fashion.

Slightly less than one year ago, I used this space to write about Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich and his comeback on the collegiate gridiron from Ewing's sarcoma, an opponent hell bent on ending far more than simply his career. Herzlich played his senior year at BC without sustaining an injury. More importantly, it appears as if he has placed his cancer squarely in the rear-riew mirror.

A young man well-versed in dealing with adversity was served another helping of it in late April when he was among the collegiate football players who went unselected at the NFL Draft. Did not getting drafted bother him - a kid who prior to his cancer diagnosis had been projected to be a first or second-round draft pick? Of course. But he dealt with it. It is after all what he does. Better stated, it is in his DNA.

On Tuesday, Herzlich received his invitation to compete for a spot in the NFL. The Giants signed him to a free-agent contract. What is he guaranteed? Nothing other than an opportunity. He shall have to fight hard to make it in the NFL. There is no guarantee that he shall....

....but I am not inclined to bet against him. One does so at one's own peril.


-AK

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

This and That

On a balmy Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, Derek Jeter got the 3000th hit of his big league career, which to the surprise of pretty much everyone who watches Jeter play day in/day out was a home run. The young man who caught (or more accurately "retrieved") Jeter's milestone hit has caught a good deal of criticism since that afternoon - some good-natured but more than just a bit of it mean-spirited - for his decision to give Jeter the baseball. Christian Lopez failed to ask the question that everyone seems to ask (and I include in my definition of "everyone" the fella who stares back at me from my bathroom mirror every morning), which is "What is in it for me?" Lopez did what he believed was the right thing to do. While he was rewarded for his good deed, much has been written about whether Jeter and the Yankees did right by him. Baseball memorabilia is big business after all.

Exactly two weeks to the day after the New York Post was filled with "day after" tributes to Jeter and kudos to Lopez, the Post ran a piece about the big business that is the baseball memorabilia business. This piece was also about funny business. It set forth in detail the allegedly fraudulent actions of Barry Halper. Mr. Halper died six years ago. The piece makes some very strong charges against Mr. Halper and the goods he spent a lifetime passing off as legitimate, which power of persuasion was so good that Major League Baseball purchased millions of dollars of items from him. They put those items on display in Cooperstown. In the Hall of Fame. A national shrine at which Mr. Halper has a wing named in his honor.

In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Halper's family continues to defend his good name, their good name, the quality of his character and the nature of his business practices. I do not pretend to know whether they are the tellers of the truth, whether that honor belongs to those who are aligned against them or whether the truth lies - as it sometimes does -somewhere betwixt and between the two poles. In view of all of the lambasting that young Mr. Lopez has taken for what he did, I thought it made for an interesting juxtaposition. If you were to make a reference to that juxtaposition being between Christian and the Lying, then perhaps someone would compliment you on your clever word play. Perhaps.

I stumbled upon a great little piece that Meredith Galante had in the Star-Ledger on Monday as well. Apparently web sites exist on which couples register NOT to get stuff for their wedding but to get actual, financial assistance paying for their honeymoon. It is a bit of a cottage industry it appears. In the Star-Ledger article on Monday, the one that the happy couple used as its registry was Honeyfund.

While I could not imagine at gun point asking someone else to pay for my desired vacation, after reading the article I totally got the method to the madness as it were. Instead of creating a "gift" registry jammed full of things you neither need nor want (we actually have an entire room on the first floor of our house that we use for no reason other than as an alternate route between the den and the staircase), you create an "adventure" or "vacation" registry. If someone was inclined to drop $50.00 to buy you a pie plate, then what is the harm of asking them to put that towards a tank of gas? Or a night's stay at a Motel 6?

Many years ago the Brothers Davies recognized the importance of giving people what they want. Why should that not be true in the arena of wedding gifts? Besides, the less unwanted crap given to people on the way into a relationship, the less stuff that has to be divided between them if and when fan and feces reach their point of intersection. And best of all, even if marital bliss and eternity prove not to be mutually exclusive concepts, it lessens - and perhaps eliminates altogether - the need for a garage sale.

A gift worth giving indeed.

-AK

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Was It Love That Opened The Door?

In the immortal words of Alexander M. Schreiber, "Not bloody likely!" After 130+ days of being "locked out" and without having had to sacrifice anything other than the Hall of Fame Exhibition Game, the billionaires who own NFL franchises and the millionaires who populate their rosters have kissed and made up. I know because Messrs. Goodell and Smith sent me a personalized e-mail to tell me the news. Man do I rate. Labor peace is made again - allegedly for the next decade. We shall see.

At the risk of being drummed out of the corps at double-time I am compelled to confess that I cared not about the absence of late spring/early summer professional football. No one pays much attention to pro football in the spring. Do not take my word for it - ask Donald Trump. He led the USFL out of existence by daring to challenge the NFL head on. The USFL's owners, following Trump's bravado, voted to play fall football starting in 1986. They learned that voting to play in the fall was significantly harder than playing in the fall. Having accomplished the former, they never got around to actually doing the latter. The USFL folded in 1986 without ever playing an autumnal game.

As far as I can discern from what I read and what I listened to yesterday regarding the resolution of the NFL lockout, the owners and the current players did something that they have been historically reticent to do: they agreed to share some of the NFL's absurd economic largesse with its former players, whose performance back in the day before it was a $9 Billion a year business every year helped make it into the behemoth it presently is. There are far too many stories that pop up time and again in the sports pages about former NFL players who die in their 50's and 60's, financially destitute and in failing health for those who count the money to ignore any longer. Not that they have not for far too long. And not that they might not have continued to do so but for the voices of all-time greats such as Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Carl Eller.

In answer to the musical question posed by HW,JR every Monday night for however many years he has yelled that insufferable theme song, the answer is, "Yes." Now, from all of us who watch the games to all of you who created a crisis in part so you could have a photo opportunity at which to pat each other on the back, we say, "Shut up and play." Welcome back. It is about time.

Now the real test will be whether the fans who pay to attend NFL games, who spend their money to buy official merchandise, etc. come back and welcome the NFL with open arms and - more important to the parties involved - open wallets. For at day's end, love is spelled M-O-N-E-Y.

Same as it ever was.

-AK

Monday, July 25, 2011

Simply Sad

To begin with, let me say that I am a person who neither was nor was not a fan of Amy Winehouse's music.  Rather, I knew nothing of it.  The only song I can state with certainty that I know she recorded and I heard was "Rehab".   A song that was quite excellent - at least to my ear.  A song that sadly was more than merely sensational.  It was - in part at least - autobiographical. 

Amy Winehouse died on Saturday.  She was twenty-seven years old.  As of this writing, a cause of death had not been declared by officials in England.  The on-line world has been ablaze since news of her death first broke with speculation of which of her vices - or what combination of them - killed her.  Writers wrote of her membership in a sad, star-studded group known as "The 27 Club".  A club that on Saturday inducted another member.

Before she was a music sensation, before she was an Internet punch line, she was someone's daughter.  And on Saturday, her parents encountered a parent's worst fear:  they outlived their child.  As a parent, while I neither know nor shall likely ever meet the parents who she left behind, they have my empathy.  Us in the parenting game share a common fear.  A fear that stalks all of us regardless of where we live, the language we speak or our religious persuasion. On Saturday that fear - the worst of the worst - was realized for Mr. and Mrs. Winehouse.

Her death is their loss. And for that they have not only my empathy but my sympathy.

-AK

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Simply Stellar

Mom and Dad had six kids.  Well, technically speaking Mom did all of the "having" although they each contributed to the raising.  The Kenny sextet is - as a practical matter - two trios.  Bill, Evan and Kelly comprise the first.  Kara, Jill and a humble little fella I like to call me make up the members of the second.  There is a gap of four years between Kelly (#3) and Kara (#4).  If nothing else, it meant that as a practical matter the three oldest were raised together and - after Mom and Dad sat out one complete election cycle - the three youngest were as well.  

Aging/grouping resulted in Kara, Jill and I spending most of our educational lives going to school with at least one of the other of our trio on the premises with us.  There was a time prior to starting at W-H in the Fall of 1977 that all three of us attended school at the same physical location:  first at St. Paul's in Princeton and then for two years at Immaculate Conception in Somerville where apropos of nothing I never once actually witnessed a pregnant bald nun running down the hall pleading a damn thing.  Once we made the move to W-H, Kara and Jill spent just about all of their time together on the Inman Avenue campus.  I only moved over there in 8th grade - when Kara was a Senior.  That was 1981.

1981.  The year that everything changed.  The year Dad died.  I know that I spent a lot of time wallowing in self-pity bemoaning the fact that he died prior to me actually completing grammar school.  For Kara the blow must have been even harder.  Dad died about a week before her high school graduation.  And he died about ninety days before she was scheduled to pack up and head to Belmont, California for her freshman year at the College of Notre Dame (what is it with my sisters and schools named Notre Dame?).  She was off on the first great adventure of her life - an adventure set to unfurl 3000 miles from home - and suddenly the support system upon which she had relied for the first eighteen years of her life had been punched hard in the solar plexus.  Not an ideal situation.

I know not whether the thought ever occurred to her to not go West.  I have never asked.  I know that she did as she had planned.  She went West to California, attended and four years later graduated with Honors from a college that was a stone's throw away from San Francisco.  Life's winds blew her back East after college and she has remained on this - the better - coast since.  Along the way, she has married.  Russ and she have three sons - the middle one of whom shall commence his very own great life adventure as he heads off to his freshman year in college. 

When the three of us were school-age, Jill and I used to have a lot of good-natured fun at Kara's expense.  We used to marvel about the fact that while Jill and I were very much kindred spirits in terms of life view/personality, Kara was a far gentler, kinder soul.  Thirty years after his death, I remain very much my father's son:  able to move in/out of most social interactions without incident, happiest when the world is at least an arm's length away, constantly on the watch for the darker side of human nature and willing to respond to the mere suggestion of its presence with bad intentions at a moment's notice.  These gifts were passed down paternally.  Jill shared the inheritance. 

Not Kara.  Even as a girl, she had the willingness and the ability to sift through the dreck that occupies a portion of the soul of each of us to find some kernel of value in everyone and everything.  Me?  I spent a sizable portion of my youth waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Kara?  She simply learned to hop.  It is an incredible gift.  She is no pushover my sister.  Never has been.  She recognizes the presence of monsters and malevolence in the world as readily as I do.  She simply refuses to allow its existence to undermine her faith in the overall quality of the operation.  She finds good where I cannot be bothered to even look.  She may in fact be the best evidence of Mom's good works among us. 

Today, my one-time San Francisco-living (well in the general proximity) sister celebrates her forty-ninth birthday.  (San Francisco?  Forty-Niner?  I sense a naming opportunity here).  I hope she has the happiest and most wonderful of birthdays.  If there is a person on this Earth more deserving of such a hope, I have yet to meet him. 

Happy Birthday Stel.  Much love.

-AK

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Buzzworthy.....Once Upon A Long Long Time Ago

NASA closed the door on the Space Shuttle Program on Thursday, an event marked by the peaceful, easy and largely unnoticed return of the Shuttle Atlantis to Terra firma.  I was but a baby when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked their walk in the Summer of  '69, a time when the only moon I had any interest in or knowledge of was my own.  By the time I was old enough to understand what it was we were doing strapping guys into rocket ships and blasting them off into space, America's interest in the process had waned.  Everything I learned about it came from drinking Tang and watching I Dream of Jeannie repeats.  But for Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and Bill Daily, my NASA intel would have been utterly negligible.

I was in eighth grade in March of 1981 when the first Space Shuttle - Columbia - launched.  I remember watching it on television.  During my high school years, Shuttle missions were fairly high-profile affairs, garnering a lot of media attention.  Included among the highlights was an astronaut taking a casual stroll through space while his pals inside the Shuttle took a snapshot of the moment and froze the frame forever.  Amazing, heady stuff.

I do not know enough about anything to know what role NASA's decision to seemingly open the role of Shuttle astronaut to Everyman had in the public's attention drifting away from it and towards brighter, shinier new toys.  Maybe none at all.  Maybe what started the snowball thundering down the mountainside was not the agency's decision to select New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe to be a Shuttle astronaut as if she had won the best-ever prize to be plucked from 'neath the Cracker Jacks.  Maybe instead it was the image that shall remain locked forever in the mind's eye of everyone who witnessed it on that awful January morning twenty-five years ago when Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing McAuliffe and her six crew mates.   The image of the two smoke and vapor trails extending upward into the sky after the craft had been destroyed like two arms outstretched and preventing us humans from traipsing nonchalantly along the path to immortality. 

Or perhaps none of those things have a damn thing to do with the Shuttle program's end, a quarter century further on up the road.  Perhaps it is just the way of the world as well as those of us who inhabit it.  Not all of the things - or all of the people for that matter - who capture our interest at a time in our life remain squarely focused in our mind's eye forever.  We change.  They change.  Things change.  And given change's inevitability it is unavoidable that for something to gain a toehold in the national collective, it must secure its position as the expense of something else.  The Inn comes with limited accommodations for sleeping after all.  There is simply not room enough for everyone. 

Even out there at Infinity and beyond.

-AK

Friday, July 22, 2011

(Ten) acity

Imitation is flattery's most sincere form.  At least that is what they say.  Whoever they are.  And who are they?  They are not me.  They are not you.  If both of those statements are true, then who is left exactly?  A question best left to ponder for another day.  By you.  Or perhaps by them.  Not by me. 

The title of today's virtual litter is lifted without apology from the front of the race shirt given to entrants in this year's Downtown Westfield 5K and Pizza Extravaganza.  This year's race was the tenth annual.  Kudos to whoever is charged with the responsibility of coming up with a design and a motto for the event's t-shirt.  This year's design was terrific.  Good color too.  Apropos of nothing, when you run in a lot of road races and are never going to be competing for age group awards - and trust me on this unless I live to see the 100+ age category and my friend Mike O'Connell hangs up his running shoes at some point south of the Century mark I am never going to be competing for an age group award - among the things that make the race experience enjoyable is the t-shirt.  Is it good-looking?  Is it something that I am likely to ever wear?  Does it make me good-looking? 

In fairness to fabric, my analysis never takes the third criteria into consideration.  It is a stitched cotton garment for crying out loud.  It is not a miracle worker.  If it looks good and if I do not have a horrible memory of the race - I have never worn my long sleeve t-shirt from the 2010 Our House File Mile in Summit due solely to the latter (Hell I signed up to run the New Jersey Marathon just to avoid running it in 2011.....and 2012) - then it ends up taking a place in my closet.  Margaret and Suzanne joke that I shall never have to buy another t-shirt thanks to the ones that my races fees have bought.  A lot of folks invest in cotton.  I am among them.  I just buy in at the end of - and not the start of - the manufacturing process.  Sure it costs more for the finished product but my overhead is negligible.  

The oppressive heat and humidity of Wednesday night notwithstanding, the event in Westfield was as much fun to participate in this time around as it was when I did it for the first time last July.  It was a bit sad to see the bruise on the Downtown area where Ferraro's Restaurant stood for more than forty years.  It is a Westfield fixture and was gutted by a six-alarm fire in early May.  Where it once was it shall stand again soon.  Its return will be welcomed not only by the locals but by occasional invaders into the area such as Yours truly.  I know not what the Ferraro family's timeline is for reconstruction but if it is up and running in time for the 2012 edition of the race that would be outstanding. 

It will be outstanding because it is an integral part of the fabric that is Downtown Westfield.  A fabric that was generously shared with about 2500 runners on Wednesday night in an event so nice that not even unhealthy running conditions could put a damper on it.  This annual get-together in Westfield is what its name suggests:  an extravaganza.  It is more than that perhaps.  It is more of a "scene".  A scene that eagerly awaits the renaissance of its signature Italian restaurant.... 

....An old familiar place indeed.

-AK

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Talkin' to Myself Again

Mom is spending her summer here in the State of Concrete Gardens - as she has done for the past several summers.  You know that you live someplace that is unbearably hot when you seek refuge from its summer heat in the cool, comfortable confines of Jersey in July.....and August.  Truth be told, she spends her time in the most carefree of all pursuits:  chilling at the beach with Jill and her gang.  She is beyond elated to be there - and the home team is doubly so. 

Margaret used to wonder from whence I obtained my seemingly myopic point of view regarding health care and visits to the doctor, which can be summed up as follows:  take as many Advil daily as needed to blunt the pain.  Believe that it shall work.  One day it shall not.  That is the day for which life insurance was created.  Being my father's son I learned at an early age - 14 years/4 months (give or take a day or two) - the importance of life insurance.  I have a book value that goes up as my body temperature goes down.  I presume that the day on which my "Advil for Everything" plan officially fails, Margaret shall shed a tear or two.  I shall die comforted by the fact that she will be able to buy as much Kleenex as necessary to tap dance her way through the grieving process.

The questions my wife had vis-a-vis my approach to health care were answered quite resoundingly this past week.  Mom apparently brought with her from Florida an infection of some sort, which (unlike Laura Ingraham's jewelry) escaped from the TSA screening unscathed and accompanied her to Jill's.  By day's end last Friday, her 83 year-young self had run out of steam.  So rather than spending last weekend and the first half of this week soaking up the sun and sand of the Shore, Mom spent it in the not quite as splendid surroundings of Room 5 on Two West at the Ocean Medical Center.  Where is the Ocean Medical Center?  It's about a mile down on the dark side of Route 88.  Beautiful Brick Township.

Thankfully, Mom's was a hospital story with a beginning significantly bumpier than its ending.  By the time Margaret and I made our trip Monday night to see her, she was not only looking much better than she had when we first saw her Saturday afternoon but she was looking forward very much to being sprung the following day, which she was.  As we were visiting her Monday night the conversation turned to how Margaret and I spent our Sunday night, which was at the Somerset Patriots Ballpark with Joe.  Margaret told Mom something that she had told me previously, which I of course had forgotten several seconds after hearing it, which was that Sunday night's game was the first baseball game her Dad had seen in person since he was a little boy. 

Joe is a Brooklyn boy.  Prior to Sunday's trip to the ballpark his last in-person baseball game had been viewed when he was a boy growing up in Mr. Kotter's favorite borough.  He saved up $2.00 and bought a ticket to see the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field.  When Margaret told Mom that story on Monday night, Mom's eyes lit up.  She is now - as she has been the entirety of my life - a devout Brooklyn Dodgers fan. 

I thought that by this point in my life I had heard all of the stories that Mom had to share with me about her love of the Dodgers and her enjoyment of games at Ebbets Field.  Monday night I learned that I had not.  She told Margaret and me how it was she became a fixture - at least for a time - in the stands at Ebbets Field, which was a story that will forever more make me smile every time I think of it but will not be retold here for it is hers to tell and not mine. 

She also told us about a trip to the ballpark she made with her younger brother Paul (may he Rest in Peace), who Mom told us was eight years her junior - and a school friend of his.  For reasons having everything to do with the length of the game, which went into extra innings, and the fact that Uncle Paul's school chum apparently was the son of someone attached to the Colombian Embassy, the indomitable Joanie K. (who was no more than a teenager herself at the time) created a minor international incident when she was unable to deliver him home by the time he was originally anticipated.  As she told that story, she laughed and laughed.  She actually laughed to the point that her eyes started to well up a bit.  And so did mine.  Not from laughing.  Rather from visualizing Mom a lifetime removed from eighty-three.  No one's wife.  No one's mother.  Just a confident teenage girl chaperoning her baby brother and his playmate on an afternoon's trip to Ebbets Field.  A sight to see. 

And it was at that moment that I saw that look in her eye.  The look that you hope to catch in the eye of another who you love at least on occasion.  The look that says, "I am at peace."  The look that says the present is OK and the path I walked to get here was not too damn bad either.  A look of once and present contentment. 

I slept a great deal easier on Monday night than I did either on Saturday or Sunday night.  In part I suppose because the treatment regimen I am following to quell the effects of the poison ivy that has decided I am its host organism du jour seemed to work a bit better than it had initially.  Most of it, however, was due to the time I spent in the unlikeliest of places with a woman I am damned fortunate to know and damned lucky to have had as the one who helped me navigate my life - at least up until the quarter-pole. 

....And who reminded me again on Monday night that even with eight-plus decades in the arena under her belt, she still has things to teach me and about which to educate me.  And she still has stories she could tell

-AK

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Once and Future Dandy of Sigma Chi

But for the wonderful world of interactive media and social networking, the point of confluence between two other separate and distinct events would have raced right past me without my even having noticed.  Try to mask your surprise.  The thought of something going on about which I was unaware?  You would not exactly be risking next month's mortgage payment laying money on that particular bet. 

Nonetheless, I was alerted Monday by way of an anniversary greeting he communicated to his lovely wife that Monday was in fact the 19th wedding anniversary of Dave and Christine Joy.  Nineteen summers ago, Margaret and I spent a beautiful - albeit historically hot - July weekend in Vermont.  Dave and Christine married at a little country chapel that looked as if Rockwell painted it and Currier & Ives sold its image on lithograph.  The ceremony was beautiful.  I recall it - to the extent I do - because I was the Best Man (insert your joke about Slim Pickens - or Pickins' - as you wish). 

I did such a good job as Dave's Best Man that exactly ZERO people have asked me to do an encore in the nineteen years since.  The upside of that I suppose is that it has been nineteen years since someone asked me - in performance of that task - to wear a tuxedo that weighed as much as I did when I was soaking wet and it was bone dry on a day that courtesy of 90-plus degree temperatures and a country church without the modern extravagance of air-conditioning the tuxedo and I were both soaking wet. 

The weather was warmer than anticipated but the ceremony was beautiful.  And almost a score's worth of July 18ths later, the Joys are indeed still full of their surname.  And along the way they have added a mini-gaggle of Joys to the troop.  While I have never met any of their children, knowing from whence they came, I feel as if I have known them their entire lives.  To Dave and Christine - a couple of days late (for which I apologize) congratulations on the first nineteen and continuing success over the next nineteen.  In my defense might I say that my Best Man's toast was pretty good....and unlike this anniversary wish it was delivered on-time.

Being clued into the fact that this week was the week that was for Dave and Christine reminded me of course that this is also the week that my favorite landscaper - Margaret's nephew Frank - celebrates his 19th birthday.  Frank was born the weekend that we were in Vermont for Dave and Christine's wedding.  He is Child #4/Son #2 in the sextet of kids that Margaret's brother Frank and his wife Chrissy have brought into this world. 

Nineteen already.  I still remember sitting in the empty dining room at Catari's in Bound Brook with my brother-in-law when Margaret and I returned from Vermont that Sunday night, toasting the birth of his new baby with some of Frank's fine homemade red wine.  At first it seemed to me that my math was bad and that Frank cannot already be nineteen.  He is of course - having graduated from high school in June and preparing to start college in September.  Even I knew both of those things. 

What I did not know until I read it on-line Sunday night was that this Thursday evening he is going to participate in an All-Star Football Game called the Snapple Bowl, which is contested annually between players who went to high school in Middlesex County (Frank's team) and those who went to school in Union County.  This apparently will be the final chance for him to place up his pads and play football and he appears fairly jazzed about the chance.  The Snapple Bowl is an endeavor whose proceeds go to charity so it fits squarely under the heading of a win-win.  Here's to hoping that in what he presumes shall be his final game, his squad ends up with one in the "win" column. 

Actually, here's to hoping that all the kids get on and off of the field without getting hurt so that even for those of whom this shall be "their final game ever" it does not impact upon their ability to live the next nineteen years of their lives.  And the nineteen after that.  And....well you get the idea.

She thinks I'm crazy but I'm just growing old.....

-AK  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Sunday Night in the Ballpark

I do not know exactly how long the unaffiliated Somerset Patriots - a minor league team that is a member of the independent Atlantic League - has called home the baseball stadium that is located less than a ten minute drive from my front door.  While it is never going to be mistaken for Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, it is quite a beautiful little minor league ballpark.  There is not a bad seat in the house. 




I do know that in all of the years that they have called their home theirs and I have called my home mine, I have made the trip from my place to their place only three times. 

The first time was in the early summer of 2000. Rob and I went to watch Tim Raines and Pat Kelly - former Yankees both - toiling on the Patriots as each tried to corral a spot on the roster of the 2000 Olympic baseball team.  I do not think either did but I do recall both being an exceptionally good sport the night we went to watch them play.  They sat and signed every piece of whatever that every child brought them to sign. 

The second time was a few years later - I do not recall when exactly.  The Canseco Brothers were playing for the Newark Bears and Rob and I went to the ballpark to watch Jose Canseco up close and personal.  While he was not an autograph-signing kind of dude, he still possessed tremendous thunder in his bat.  During one of his at-bats he hit a home run down the left field line that cleared the 319 foot sign by at least seventy-five to one hundred feet.

The third time was this past Sunday night.  Margaret, Joe and I attended Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Night at the ballpark, which is now called "TD Bank Ballpark".  A woman with whom Margaret works and with whom she has become friends lost her husband to pancreatic cancer in the infamous summer of '09, which began for us with Margaret's mom losing her own epic cancer battle.  Dolores, Margaret's friend, and her family have channeled their grief over the loss of a husband and father in the most positive way possible.  Dolores's daughter Stephanie has become very active in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.  She was instrumental in putting together Sunday night's affair.  Last year she was at the forefront of organizing a New Jersey Purple Strides 5K Walk that Margaret participated in, which was held in early November.  A 5K run has been added to the itinerary for the day's festivities on Sunday November 6th.  I am pleased to report that I shall be joining my bride. 

While it is not a place I frequent, I am glad that on Sunday night I made the short hop to watch the Patriots game.  It was nice to bear witness to something that is a labor of love from daughter to father.  And it was nice to bear witness to Margaret and Joe spending some father/daughter time of their own doing something neither gets to do too often:  relaxing and enjoying one another's company.


I do not go to many baseball games at all these days - irrespective of the level of play or the field on which the game shall be contested.  It was nice to go on Sunday night.  It was nice to be reminded that while you were there watching others work, you were watching them work at something each of them loves.  Think about it for a second.  When is the last time you went to a baseball game and heard the umpire shout, "Work Ball!" 



Me neither.  'Nuff said.

-AK

Monday, July 18, 2011

Well Played & Well Earned

If one believed in Hollywood endings, then one likely viewed the result of the Women's World Cup Final as a disappointment.  As someone rooting hard for Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and their mates to win, I was disappointed.  Yet, the nice thing about Hollywood endings is that a drama can have more than one satisfactory final scene.  Do not feel compelled to take my word for it.  Check out how many first-run movies hit the DVD market with "alternate endings". 

Such it was in Germany on Sunday.  The American women played hard and at times played exceedingly well.  But the Japanese played equally hard, matching our national side - whose conditioning seems unmatched in every contest - stride for stride.  And when two opportunities presented themselves to the Japanese team - courtesy of excruciatingly bad play by the Americans - they capitalized.  The fact that those opportunities presented themselves first with about ten minutes left in the second half and then - after the US scored in the first 15 minute overtime session to seemingly win the game - with but three minutes to go in the second overtime only added to the drama of a game chock full of drama. 

In any athletic competition there can be but one winner.  And while those of us in these United States - or most of us anyway - who expressed a rooting interest in the Women's World Cup were root, root, rooting for the home team, it was impossible (it was for me anyway) to view this as an "us vs. them" affair.  After all, is there anyone who has not been rendered heartsick by the imagery that has come out of Japan since March when the Japanese suffered a particularly vicious one-two punch from Mother Nature? 

Sport cannot solve the ills of the world.  It can though provide a diversion.  And sometimes a diversion is just what is needed.  It is just what is needed to give good people who have felt as if the weight of the world has been firmly applied downward onto their collective throats for what seems like forever the break they need.  Mojo is a fickle thing.  And if what a group of determined women did on a Sunday evening in Germany to win the world's championship in their sport can return it to their country, then it is hard to argue that what one witnessed Sunday was not indeed a Hollywood ending.

-AK

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Of Dogs and Men

I have been reminded quite a lot the past couple of days of just how much of a control freak I am - regardless of the progress I have made tamping down that piece of my personality.  The cliche about old dogs and new tricks is a cliche because it contains more than a just a smidge of the truth.  In dog years I am 308.  And more mornings than not, I certainly feel old. 

Friday night Margaret dragged me over to the local McMedicine Dispensary - a joint called Medemerge in Green Brook.  The medical malady?  Poison ivy.  Yep.  I sought out emergent medical treatment for poison ivy.  I have been avoiding answering my cell phone the past forty-eight hours.  I am trying to avoid the inevitable call from the Association of Men advising me to tear up my membership card and mail the shards back to them in an envelope.  Poison ivy.  Unbelievable.

The nicest thing about this particular dispensary of medical aid is its cost:  $20.00.  All I paid was the co-pay required by my health insurance.  No complaint there. However that old saw about "getting what you pay for" is in full force and effect at this particular joint.  After Margaret and I cooled our heels in the examination room to which I was assigned - where we waited for about twenty minutes or so - in came a young girl (a nurse's aide perhaps) to take my "vitals".  She neither measured me nor weighed me.  She instead asked me, "Do you know how tall you are and how much you weigh?"  If I possessed my brother Bill's wit instead of a poor facsimile thereof I would have simply answered, "Yes" or perhaps, "Yes I do and I'll give you three chances to guess it yourself and win a prize!"  Alas, all I could muster was an honest, direct answer to her question.  Nice to see that the honor system is in full effect at McMedicine. 

Shortly after her departure the medical professional in charge of my care entered the scene.  Margaret kept addressing him as, "Doctor" although I never caught whether his white coat identified him as an M.D. or as a P.A. although considering the medical problem of the moment was poison ivy, had it identified him as "A.S.C." (Angel Second Class) he would have been overqualified for the task at hand.  Then again considering the examination consisted of him asking me where I had it, me telling him that my torso from my rib cage to my upper thighs looked the outfield walls at Wrigley Field and offering to show it to him to confirm that what I thought was poison ivy was indeed just that, nothing more and nothing less and then him politely declining my offer and informing me he could see all he needed to see when I rolled up the sleeve on my shirt, perhaps it was beyond his diagnostic capabilities.  House was not in the house if you catch my drift.

Having been diagnosed in a McMedicine Minute with poison ivy and prescribed a shot of some type of steroids as well as an eight-day regimen of steroid pills (on Monday I shall sign a contract with the San Francisco Giants as the heir apparent to the now-retired Barry Bonds) and assured that all I had was poison ivy, I was surprised when the nurse who came in to administer the shot told me as he prepared to give me the shot in my "bottom" - and yes for those keeping score at home the pronoun was he and the reference to the intended target of his needle was his/not mine - that it appeared as if I was dealing with something in addition to the poison ivy.  Sure enough, after the nurse left the examining room the doctor returned.  This time, he actually examined me and in doing so confirmed the nurse's diagnosis, which of course required an alteration to the prescription, which was not in my favor monetarily I assure you.

The good news is that for all of my griping and kvetching I feel considerably better this morning than I did Friday morning.  It was the journey from there to here that frustrated me.  I loathe ceding control of any situation to anyone else.  It is a trait that makes me a terrible airline passenger and an even worse patient.  I know it and regrettably there seems to be little I shall ever do to correct it.....

....at age 308, this dog is simply too old to learn that particular trick.

-AK

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Brief Respite

I have lived in the State of Concrete Gardens my entire life.  I reckon that I shall live the entirety of my life here.  Considering life is a film for which a trailer never seems to pop up in the local multiplex one never knows for sure.  This summer - much like every other summer that I can remember - has featured what I consider to be typical Jersey weather:  heat and humidity.  If I had a dollar for every person who I hear these days griping about the present weather who spent all winter wishing for summer (and I include myself among their number), then let us just say at least one day a week I would be able to sleep through my alarm without fear of the consequences.

But every so often Mother Nature throws us a bone.  Thursday in these parts was one.  It was not a cool day (I think the temperature in Newark - where I spent my afternoon - was in the upper 80's) by any stretch.  More importantly, it was not a humid day.  It was as if the Siamese H twins of heat and humidity had miraculously been separated.  Heat showed up as scheduled.  Humidity decided to sit that one out.

While the "day" portion of my Thursday left me little opportunity to enjoy the glorious weather, the night portion most assuredly did.  Thursday night I popped on up to Morristown to participate in an event called the Verizon Wireless Corporate Classic 5K, which has apparently been going strong for six years now, and which one can glean just about all of the information one needs about the event simply by reading its name.  This year marked my first-ever participation in it.  Although my usual running partner Gidg was otherwise detained (apparently a night watching U2 play live in Philadelphia seemed more appealing to her than running up and down the hills of Morristown), I did not have to fly solo.  My wing man for the evening was Ryan.  He has not been at the "running thing" for very long but considering that he is but 16 years old (the younger son of one of Margaret's dearest friends) he has not yet been at anything very long.  What he lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm.  And considering that I fall more often than not on the grumpy old codger end of the "levels of enthusiasm" scale, spending some time in Ryan's company is quite an elixir.

The weather Thursday night in Morristown could not have been better.  While it was still warm at race time (7:30) it was not humid.  The experience of running up and down the course's numerous hills - apparently Morristown takes its name from an old Indian word meaning "Look another hill straight ahead!" - without experiencing the sensation of trying to inhale through a sweaty gym sock was one of pure joy.  A night such as the one we had Thursday night makes only an appearance or two all summer.  When one lands on your doorstep you seize it and enjoy the hell out of it.  I know I did.  I know that Ryan did.  While I would not pretend to speak for the other 3727 runners who completed the race, judging by the pre-race and post-race atmosphere it sounded as if at least a good number of them did as well.

It was nice also to see the weather cooperate for the folks whose good efforts go into putting on this event.  I am a Verizon Wireless customer but believe me when I say that my customer/provider relationship has zero to do with my reaction to Thursday night's event.  The Classic is put on annually to raise money for Jersey Battered Women's Services, Inc. - another organization the name of which explains its stated purposes with unfortunate succinctness.  As the runners gathered on Speedwell Avenue for the start of the race Thursday night, someone from Verizon Wireless (the man had a name no doubt, I simply did not hear it) presented the Director of Jersey Battered Women's Services, Inc. with a check in the amount of $10,000. 

In a perfect world, an organization such as Jersey Battered Women's Services, Inc. would be unnecessary.  Sadly here in the real world, it most assuredly is.  And while it was a little thing, it was nice to be among the several thousand runners on Thursday night who gave a bit of time to help those who give all of their time to helping others.  

-AK

Friday, July 15, 2011

Once Upon A Spaghetti Western

This has been a week made for Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone

Looking beyond the obvious, the past seven days has brought us examples of "good" in a number of different ways.  We have witnessed the selfless gesture of a young man whose generosity has in fact been rewarded. In a small, quiet therapy room far away from the public eye, an exceptionally brave young man shared with us the latest steps he has taken in a struggle that is his but feels to a degree at least as if it belongs to all of us, as does he.  If one listens closely, one can hear the words of Ambrose Redmoon, "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."  A sentiment on full, glorious display at mid-week in the White House.  President Obama presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Army Sgt 1st Class Leroy A. Petry.   If you need reminding as to what a hero looks like, take a gander at Sgt. Petry....or for that matter any of his brothers and sisters in arms.

If the real world had better writers or if the moon was in fact made out of cheese, then there would be no bad news to bark up the good.  If only.   The brave men and women who wear the uniform of this nation in places that those of us who look exactly like me would never want to go, continue to fight and continue to die on a daily basis - including the past seven days.  In their sacrifice, if one listens closely one hears the words of Bernard Malamud, "Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go."

Worse than the bad of course is the ugly and this past week - much like those that came before it and those that shall follow it - had its requisite share of ugliness.  From my admittedly vantage point, none of the ugliness descended to the depth occupied by Levi Aron.  Aron is the two-legged piece of refuse who suffocated and dismembered an eight-year-old boy after he abducted him off of a street in the Brooklyn neighborhood were Leiby Kletsky lived with his parents.  On Wednesday, which was Aron's thirty-fifth birthday he confessed his crimes to the NYPD.  Included in his confession was a particularly grotesque, offensive observation,  "I understand this may be wrong."  A family and a community mourn the murder of an innocent at the hands of a miscreant.  A life snuffed out by the actions of a worthless piece of dreck. 

The week that was.  Same as it ever was.  No need to ask yourself, "How did I get here?".  Perfectly permissible to hope and to wish that some of what occurred this week was indeed only once in a lifetime....

...even if our better nature and our life experience has, unfortunately, taught us otherwise.  And even if we have the sinking feeling that we have in fact seen this film before.

-AK

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Impossibility Principle

I have used this space before to document my longstanding battle with - and rage against - time.  While I know not whether it is related to the fact that the nature of how I earn my living requires to track my time in measurable increments, I know that time is first among equals of things that I simply neither can comprehend nor control.  Whether time waits for anyone at all I am not smart enough to know.  I know simply that it does not wait for me. 

Further proof of that arrived Tuesday night courtesy of the fine folks at HBO.  With the Missus and Suz out running an errand or two, I was home alone with no baseball to watch (do not attempt to pass off the All-Star Game as actual baseball.  It is nothing more than a poor facsimile thereof.  Want proof?  The winning pitcher Tuesday night - former Yankee Tyler Clippard - "earned" a win while giving up a hit to the only batter he faced) so I flipped around the dial while Rosie and I were sharing my dinner.  I stumbled across the final twenty minutes or so of Independence Day, which is one of my favorite silly big budget movies of all time.  Who cannot smile at the thought of Harry Connick, Jr. (a) playing a hotshot pilot named Jimmy Wilder (do not look for him in the sequel); and (b) uttering, "Time to kick the tire and light the fires Big Daddy!" to fire up his squadron in their pre-flight briefing?  You bring the wine, Independence Day brings the cheese.  What flavor you ask?  Unabashed. 

Anyway, my point about Independence Day is that while it still seems to me to be a cheesy flick that came out just a few years ago, it is in fact fifteen years old.  That is a decade and a half ago.  Or if your watch is from the Abe Lincoln collection, it is three-quarters of a score.  Fifteen years.  Where did that time go? 

And it went of course where time always go.  It went by me as I lived through it.  Fifteen years ago my kids were in fact kids.  Neither of them was yet a teenager (although I am sure there was already a boy or two who had popped his head above the tree line chasing after Suz whose life I had threatened to end).  Neither of them was yet in high school.  None of my hair had yet turned gray. 

In a decade and a half, so much has changed.  Neither of my kids has been a child for a long time.  Thankfully neither of them is still in high school (proving that my genetics by osmosis did not bark them up too badly).  Each of them has - in the years since - added not only a high school diploma to their respective bags of tricks but a college degree as well and - in Suz's case - a Master's degree for good measure with the prospect of a Ph.D. directly in front of her on the horizon line. 

We do those things that we must.  Those things that ensure not just the continuing vitality of the Tribe but - hopefully more important to us - the continuing vitality of our little section of it. It may indeed be a different thing for each of us, yet we all know what it is and recognize (or should anyway) why it falls under the category of a "must do".

Hopefully, there is a little sliver of our day to day devoted to the thing or things that we choose to do.  The things that we do for ourselves.  Things that perhaps the world at large considers optional but that to us are as necessary and as vital as the air we breathe is to us.  For me, this little corner (can one have a place with a definite shape out along the information superhighway) of the world is such a thing.  I write the silliness I write here on a daily basis not solely because I want to - although it is most assuredly something I enjoy.  I do it because I need to.  It is an exercise that is equal parts therapeutic and cathartic. 

And it an exercise that now and again permits me to mark time and its passage.  It occurred to me just yesterday morning that it is now just about three years since Rob began the professional journey that has placed him in the Mountain Time Zone, markedly closer to my Alma mater than to his own.   A lot of living - and too much dying - has gone on since he headed down to Georgia three years ago this month.  While life is an exercise in moving forward, it is nice to have something to serve as a snapshot of where you once were and what you were thinking at a fixed moment in time.  Nice to have something to help you "remember when" even if for just a little while. 

When real things are gone, they are gone.  Like the childhood of your children.  Or the non-gray whiskers of your beard.  Not a thing at all wrong with that either.  It is just the world's way.  And it does not just impact me in my life.  It happens every day to everyone....

....all of the time.

-AK

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Forward Always

We shall know by day's end if the Magic Karma ride of Abby Wambach and her Sisters of Soul shall continue on to the finals of the Women's World Cup.  Sunday's extra-time miracle seems as if it occurred about a million minutes ago now.  Today the United States National Team plays France in semi-finals and other than presuming that our women are tougher than their opponents (we have Hope Solo and they are....well, French) I know nothing about them.  I know not whether we are favored to win.  I know that in large part what made the Miracle on Ice what it has been for the past thirty-one plus years was the fact that in the Olympic Hockey Team completed the dance and defeated Finland to win the gold medal.  Sunday's game against Brazil was the biggest game ever for our National Team.....right up until the opening kickoff today.  Then not so much.  Life is lived in but one direction.  That direction is not reverse.

Proof of that from closer to home as well.  The always-inspiring Eric LeGrand is at it again.  One week ago, via Twitter, he reported that he is, "moving the arms little by little."   Considering where he was only nine short months ago when he was prone on the turf in East Rutherford's PSL Stadium, the journey he has taken to date has been remarkable.  But what fuels him and inspires other is his recognition of the fact that he has much more ground to cover and his inviolate belief that he shall.  A young man absolutely living his life forward.  And reminding the rest of us to do likewise.  The power of PMA....horn section included at no extra cost.

And proof recently as well from the Alma mater - courtesy of a young man who knows that living forward does not require one to forget from whence he came.  Former Buff Tyler Polumbus now earns his living in the NFL as an offensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks.  Last week Polumbus - ably assisted by some of his football-playing cohorts - hosted a one-day football camp in Boulder.  A camp whose participants are not likely to have their names found on Mel Kiper's big board or someone's 5-Star watch list or some such other nonsense.  The campers with whom Tyler and his crew spent their Thursday are all developmentally disabled.  The camp was sponsored by Tyler's Kids Outreach, a non-profit organization that created for kids.  When asked about the camp and the time he and his fellow pros spent teaching football fundamentals to their charges, Polumbus said, "I'm in a position where I can give back. We get more out of it than they do."   And if you do not believe that to be true, then do yourself the great service of watching the video that the Daily Camera posted on its web site with the story.  It is roughly ninety seconds long, which is more than enough time to confirm that the big fella says what he means and he means what he says. 

Further illustration of the point that life is not measured best by the number of breaths taken but by the moments that take that breath away.... 

....and Abby if it is not too much to ask, then perchance might you and your crew conjure up another one of those breathtaking moments today?

Merci.

-AK

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Squared

I spent Saturday morning in Belmar, New Jersey as one of the 2,500 or so hearty souls who ran in the Belmar 5 Mile Race.  It is a race that has been run (I think) for more than the past thirty years although my participation in it has been limited to the '10 and '11 editions.  This year it was a bit less uncomfortable than it was last July.  Last year, it rained heavily until about fifteen minutes prior to start time and when it stopped raining, the sun came out.  Happiness is not running five miles feeling as if you are trying to inhale and exhale through a sweaty sock.  Last year's edition was certainly not fun.

This year's was considerably more enjoyable.  While it was hot - it is July in Jersey after all - the weather was not brutal by any means.  I credit the generally more hospitable weather - and the fact that there is a quite a bit less of me this July than there was last July - with the fact that it took me approximately ten fewer minutes to complete the course this year than it did last year.  It was the day after this race last year - having been running regularly for close to a year and having actually gained close to ten pounds - that I told Margaret that I actually wanted to make an appointment with a doctor.  I was convinced that I was either sick or quite possibly that I had something foreign growing inside of me.  How else does one explain a person significantly increasing his physical activity level, being neither a big eater nor a big drinker and still gaining weight?  I had questions aplenty and no answers. 

And then - given how much I hate going to the doctor - I never quite got around to making an appointment.  By the time a week had passed - again while maintaining both my activity level and my food/alcohol consumption - I had lost about four or five pounds.  As the summer continued to sizzle, I kept dropping weight.  As the summer turned to autumn, I had dropped about twenty-five pounds.  I am pleased to report that twelve months later, the weight I started losing almost immediately after the 2010 Belmar 5 Mile Race has remained lost. 

Apropos of nothing I suppose is the fact that my luggage that Continental Airlines lost in 2010 has remained lost as well.  Some good.  Some bad.  Such is the way of the world.

-AK

Monday, July 11, 2011

There is Still Hope

Two months from today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, which acts of cowardice included the flying of two hijacked commercial airplanes into the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan.  Yesterday morning, unloading groceries from my car in my driveway, I heard the sound of a jet soaring in the skies overhead.  I did what I have done every time I have heard that sound in the one hundred and eighteen months since:  I looked up.  It is - it seems - a Pavlovian response.  Considering I was not outside on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 when all hell broke loose in New York City, I know not where it comes from.  I also know not for how long I will continue to respond in such a fashion.  I do not mean to do it.  It just happens. 

Time is a fickle mistress I reckon.  It disappears from between our fingertips with an ease of effort that no other element possesses.  Yet, while we cannot stop it, we can certainly make the most of it.  On a steamy July evening in Dresden Germany the United States Women's National Soccer Team certainly did just that.  Playing a player down since the 65th minute of the match and the recipients of so many truly dreadful calls by the Three Blind Mice officiating crew that I half-expected Julie Foudy to rip off her headset and leap from the ESPN booth and onto the field to administer a bit of frontier justice, the United States found itself down 2-1 in the final minute of the match.  Their options?  Simple.  Score a goal and force a penalty kick shootout.  Fail to score and go home.  Go home as the first U.S. Women's National Team to fail to make it as far as the semi-finals in the World Cup.  Go home as the first U.S. Women's National Team ever to lose two games in a single World Cup tournament.

In the 122nd minute, they scored.  My limited language skills do not permit me to aptly describe what my eyes watched (other than to say that Erica Kane is not the only award-worthy performer plying her craft on daytime television.  Brazil's sweeper proved to be quite the thespian.)  Do yourself the great entertainment of watching it on ESPN or YouTube (or right here). I double-dog dare you to not smile as you watch a young lady named Megan Rapinoe use her left foot to propel an absolute tracer across the field and into the Brazilian six-yard box.  A tracer that she served at just the right height to the right post where National Team veteran Abby Wambach - at the full height of her leap - to use her head to hammer the equalizing goal into the back corner of the Brazilian goal.  Had NASA devised a system for Atlantis through which the Shuttle crew has the ability to guide projectiles from Point A to Point B, their fanciest gizmos could not have engineered a delivery system superior to that of the Rapinoe-Wambach design.  

Having tied the game - and forced it to the decisive penalty kick shootout - the National Team still had to go about the business of winning it.  And win it they did.  Five Americans attempted penalty kicks.  All five of them scored.  After the first two Brazilian kickers found the back of the net, U.S. keeper Hope Solo did what she does so well.  Solo was cat-quick, guessing correctly that Brazil's third kicker would aim low and to her right as the first two had.  She snuffed it out and made the save that ultimately won the shootout.  While I know not whether the Daily News asked her for the dope after the game, had they done so one knows how she would have replied.

And from defeat's jaws, the American Women's National Team snatched the most remarkable of victories.  Surprising?  Perhaps.  But then again perhaps not.  The game was played on July 10th after all.  And as any student of time knows, our Women's National Team owns that date

Time after time.

-AK

Sunday, July 10, 2011

3003

In the eighty-seventh game of his sixteenth full season in the Major Leagues, Yankees captain Derek Jeter became only the 28th player in big league history to get 3000 hits.  Yesterday afternoon, in a fashion that was typically Jeterian, needing two hits to get to 3000, he got five.  His fifth one - #3003 - drove in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning of a game the Yankees won against Tampa Bay 5-4.  

It was in his second at bat yesterday that Jeter moved from 2999 to 3000.  And in doing so, he did something he does not too often at all any longer.  He hit a home run.  It was only his third of this season and it was the first one he has hit at home since August of last season.  Of the twenty-seven other men whose company he joined yesterday, only one had hit a home run for his milestone hit.  The one?  Jeter's teammate on the 1996 World Series-winning Yankees:  Wade Boggs.  Boggs got his 3000th hit playing for Tampa Bay (yesterday's opponent).  When Boggs got his in 1999, the Tampa manager was Larry Rothschild who is in his first season as the Yankees pitching coach.  Also on hand for both occurrences was Tampa's play-by-play voice DeWayne Staats.  Considering that Boggs got his almost a dozen years before Jeter got his, Staats' longevity is nothing to sneeze at.

I am a Yankee fan who occasionally recoils in horror at John Sterling's "me first" play-by-play style.  Yesterday however even Sterling's most vocal critics would have a hard time finding anything to criticize in his call of Jeter's history-making hit.  Do not blame me for having to sit through Michael Kay's call on YES first.  I did not make the clip.  I simply retrieved it off of YouTube.  In the booth, Sterling is notorious for getting things wrong.  To my ear, yesterday afternoon he got everything right.

Jeter is the first player in Yankees history to get 3000 hits.  Perhaps if he played for something other than the team with the most illustrious history of any in the Major Leagues that would seem less surprising.  He also has the honor of having gotten all of his hits playing for the same team.  A remarkable accomplishment for a man who was prescient enough to predict as a school kid that he would earn his living playing for the Yankees.  He has indeed.

Perhaps it was fitting that Jeter hit a home run for his 3000th hit.  Putting the ball into the left-field stands allowed him to share his day with a young man named Christian Lopez.  Lopez was at the Stadium thanks to his girlfriend  - who bought him tickets for his birthday.  He had the good sense to bring his dad with him to the game and although Pops was the first member of the Lopez family to have a play on the ball, his bad hands (his kid's words - not mine) doomed him.  Christian scooped up the ball and moments later Yankee Stadium security were escorting Lopez and his dad to a meeting in order to learn his price for surrendering the ball. 

His answer stunned them.  He wanted nothing.  "Mr. Jeter deserved it. I'm not gonna take it away from him," Lopez said. "Money's cool and all, but I'm 23 years old, I've got a lot of time to make that. It was never about the money, it was about the milestone."  He met Jeter who gave him a handful of autographed items (jerseys, bats and balls).  The Yankees gave him four Champions suite season tickets to every home game for the rest of the season and through the playoffs.  A truly nice gesture on the ball club's part and also a good barometer of just how well the top-end tickets for Yankees home games do not sell.

As Jeter finished circling the bases, the first teammate to greet him at home plate was his best pal Jorge Posada.  As Jeter said more than once after the game, he was thrilled to see Jorge first because of all of the stuff they have been through together.  What could have been more fitting?  The sight of  Mariano Rivera, the Holy Trinity's third member, coming into the game in the ninth inning and doing what he does, which he does better than anyone else ever has.  All in all, a great day at the big ballpark in the Bronx. 

Driving home from the Shore, listening to the post game show on the radio, I could not help but smile.  I smiled not just for yesterday but for a day half a lifetime ago.  A day in September 1996.  Fan Appreciation Day.  A hot, September Saturday afternoon on which the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in thirteen innings.  A day on which my son saw Yankee Stadium for the very first time.  A day on which a rookie shortstop named Jeter won the game with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the 13th.  Thanks for the memory Derek.

And thank you for continuing to make more.  Well done.  And well-deserved.

-AK

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Covering the Distance

Hey basic math fans check it out!  Today is "Plus Two Day":  the month plus 2 equals the day (7 + 2 = 9) and the day plus 2 equals the year (9 + 2 = 11).  Wowsie wow!   The joy of being alive in the 21st Century. 

This morning the Missus and I shall awaken at the beach.  We are imposing yet again on the good nature of our friend Lynne.  Gidg (Lynne's sister) and I are participating this morning in the Belmar 5, which is a five-mile race held annually in Belmar, New Jersey (and you feared that the name of something could get no more obvious than "Plus Two Day" - as if).  We each ran in this race last year for the first time ever.  My most distinct recollection of last year's race is that it poured very hard for about thirty minutes with the torrent commencing approximately forty-five minutes prior to race time.  Then, after the rain stopped, the sun came out.  Given the amount of moisture in the ground and humidity in the air, it made the experience of running five miles through the streets of Belmar something akin to running in a pot of hot, steaming soup....while wearing a smelly sock over one's face.  The last time I checked today's forecast (a/k/a "asked Gidg what the weather is supposed to be") the report I received was that it is going to be a hot, dry morning.  Sounds good to me.  

I did this year what I did last year in the week leading up to the Belmar 5, which is to say that I spent Thursday night in Morristown running in an event called the "Lawyers for Kids 5K".  It is an event that has been held for the past seven years (this year marked my second time participating in it).  It is a fundraiser for the Morris County Bar Foundation and CASA of Morris and Sussex County, both of which are extremely worthwhile organizations that provide assistance to folks who need it and who otherwise would not be in a position to receive it.  It is put on through the efforts of a number of law firms in Morris County (somewhat disappointingly to me the Firm is not among them.....perhaps next year) as well as other corporate entities and individuals.  This year I was pleased to see one of my colleagues in the field as well as one of my former law partners. 

I was also extremely pleased to be joined in the evening's activities by young Ryan.  Ryan is the sixteen-year-old son of one of Margaret's oldest and dearest friends.  Within the past few months he has been bitten by the running bug a bit.  He has been pressing his mom Carolyn to get him into races.  While my original plan for this summer was to sit out Thursday night's race, I thought it would provide him a chance to run while enabling me to avoid watching the Yankees lose to Tampa.  A real win-win as it were. 

And it was.  Ryan has only run in a small handful of races - including several of the 5K variety.  He had never participated in one that had a course featuring something close to the hill on Kitchell Road until he ran up it on Thursday night.  How tough is this hill?  Bear in mind that one cannot spell the word "Kitchell" without the letters "K-I-L-L" or "H-E-L-L".  I trust that answers your question and ends the inquiry.  Ryan conquered the hill and the entire course as well.  He did not finish first but he finished strong.  And he finished, which he could not have done had he not started.  And that is the most important thing of all.

He is a bit bitten by this running bug it seems.  He and I have another Thursday night date on our dance card this coming week.  And the Wednesday night thereafter he will run with Gidg and me in one of the summer's truly terrific running events - the Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza.  I am happy that he wanted to run this past Thursday night and that he wants to run in those other upcoming events.  For someone who has spent the overwhelming majority of his life not doing anything for anyone, it is a total change of pace for me to the person who is actually doing something for the benefit of someone else.  I do not foresee myself making a habit of it (world at large take note!) but it actually feels good. 

Here is to hoping that five miles through the streets of Belmar this morning feel almost as good.  It is a long run.  But then again, aren't they all.

-AK  

Friday, July 8, 2011

Justice and Law

Several years ago I spent a bit more than a week trying a case in Judge Coyle's courtroom out in bucolic Belvidere New Jersey, which is the county seat of Warren County (but you already knew that).  The plaintiff's principal allegation was that due to my client's negligent operation of his car (he hit her head-on after he entered her lane of travel in response to trying to avoid something he thought he saw trying to run into his lane from an adjacent cornfield) she had sustained permanent psychiatric and psychological injuries.  One of her experts (I forget now which one) diagnosed her with PTSD due to the impact. 

Anyway, the plaintiff made a terrible witness.  Her husband was even worse.  I was quite confident - based upon my cross-examination of both of them - that I had made that point with crystal clarity to the jury of eight men and women.  I was especially confident that I had made my case to Juror #2, a bespectacled man who spent a lot of time seemingly nodding his head in agreement any time the defense made a good point.  He was so expressive that upon the jury's retiring to deliberate my client - who attended every day of the trial - leaned over to me and told me that while he did not know what was going to happen, he was sure that Juror #2 was on our side. 

Fast forward ahead two hours.  Having completed their deliberations, the jurors returned to the courtroom to publish their verdict.  On the question of whether the plaintiff had proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence (a standard employed in civil cases that is significantly less difficult to satisfy than its criminal counterpart of proof beyond a reasonable doubt) that she had sustained permanent psychiatric and psychological injuries including but not limited to PTSD, the jury voted that she had not.  They voted that she had failed to meet her burden of proof.  The vote was 7-1.  The lone dissenter?  Juror #2.  As the jurors filed out of the courtroom - past the incredibly upset plaintiff, her husband and their attorney - my old pal Juror #2 smiled and nodded at my client and me.  To this day, I know not what the significance of that gesture was meant to be.  Never will.

My point is merely this.  Unless and until you spend every moment of every day that a case is being tried in the courtroom - immersed in what is going on and taking the temperature of the room as it were - you cannot know what part or parts of the parties' cases have been well-received by the jury and what parts of the case have not.  Hell, as my personal example illustrates even when you are in the courtroom every day immersed in every moment of the trial you can still misread the signals coming from the jury box. 

We the people of these United States have become fascinated by reality TV.  Every station on the dial has at least one such program.  Oh how I long for the day when they start morphing two or three or four of them together into one, which will serve to both raise the stakes for the competitors and winnow down the field of available drivel for the viewers.  Some day perhaps.  Ever since the glorious summer of 1994, when my beloved New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup, Dave, Diego and I turned the week of the Bar Exam into a mini-vacation in Philly and Orenthal James Simpson went for a ride in his SUV with his friend AC, among our favorite type of reality show is the televised criminal trial.  Televised criminal trials apparently get good ratings and the broadcasting of them has created a cottage industry for legal talking heads to ply their wares.  Could you imagine a world without Nancy Grace?  (Sigh.....)  

Opinions are like....well, you know what opinions are like so I need not write it here.  Every one is entitled to one.  At day's end however that is all that they are.  No amount of legal prognostication offered by lawyers who - just like Yours truly - neither tried nor knew in detail the pluses and minuses of all of the evidence to be offered by both sides in the recently concluded trial of Casey Anthony in Florida, converted their best guesses, their opinions into facts.  Regardless of what you the viewer might have thought and especially regardless of what they the gasbags might have told you.  I suppose that I am in the minority among my profession in that I do not claim to know that the jury "got it wrong" or "f*cked up".  Having not spent a single day - let alone all 33 days - in the courtroom listening to the testimony, evaluating the evidence and - more importantly - studying the reaction of the jurors to the evidence presented, I cannot pretend to know the answer to that question. 

The result is upsetting to most folks.  No argument here on that point either.  What I fear however gets lost in the noise are a couple of things.  First, the State's burden in a criminal prosecution is to prove the guilt of a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.  In the Anthony case, the State was hamstrung by the fact that the coroner was not able to determine what the cause of that darling little girl's death was.  In hindsight, might the State have considered charging 2nd degree murder and/or taking the death penalty off of the table in light of that difficulty?  Perhaps.  But they did not.  Casey Anthony was charged with first degree murder in a capital case.  If the jurors - after considering all of the evidence that was presented to them - were not persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the State had met its burden, then they fulfilled the terms of their oath. 

Second, a finding of "not guilty" means simply that:  the jury did not find that the State had proven the defendant's guilt.  No one declared Ms. Anthony "innocent".  Jeopardy has attached.  She cannot be retried for her infant daughter's death.  To you perhaps it is a distinction without a difference - "not guilty" versus "innocent".  I assure you that it is not.  Our system of criminal justice does not place the burden on a defendant to prove his/her innocence.  Rather it places the burden on the State to prove his/her guilt.  And as Lt. Kaffee reminded us all, "It doesn't matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove! So please, don't tell me what I know, or don't know; I know the LAW."


Dissatisfaction with a specific result is not a reason to dismantle the system.  It is nothing close to flawless but it is the best system of criminal justice currently in place anywhere on the planet.  The system is not broken - regardless of what a certain bubble-headed bleach blonde might otherwise be shrieking from the clock tower.


And if one believes in such things as karma and a greater system of celestial justice, then perhaps one takes solace in the fact that if Ms. Anthony did in fact murder her little girl, then may she be sentenced to a lifetime of having that child's face be the last thing she sees when she closes her eyes at night, every night for the rest of her life.  And it that is not enough for you and/or you disagree with what is written here, that is more than fine.  It is how it should be.  My opinion is merely that:  my opinion.  You have a brain.  Do not be shy about using it to process information and to reach your own conclusions. 

Thinking after all is nothing but a deliberative process; right?

-AK