Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Units of Measure

We have reached the 2/3 pole of 2011. Already. I would ask where exactly the time has gone but since your answer will neither satisfy nor soothe me, let us just forget I asked. Hell, let us pretend the words never escaped my mouth nor entered your ear. No sense depressing both of us; right?

I earn my living in the practice of law doing what is known in the trade as "tort defense" work. All that means is that I defend lawsuits filed against entities (public and/or private) and individuals for any number of transgressions. As a general rule, the goal of the party prosecuting the action is always the same. He/they/it want money damages. "I know not what shall make me whole, but I know that a bit of scratch will sure fill in some heretofore empty space" seems to be the rallying cry. And if I sound overly cynical I mean not to. Well, that is not true. I do. But it is cynicism mixed with more than a smidge of self-loathing. For I not only do not cringe at the sound of their rallying cry, I am dependent upon it. But for them, I would not need to exist. And since boyish charm and good looks - presupposing for purposes of illustrating this hypothetical that I possessed either - do not pay the mortgage, something has to.

My lot in life is such that all I do is dependent upon and related to the clock. Days are measured not in something Rockwellian such as "breathtaking moments" but in something far less ephemeral: billable hours. A lot less panache perhaps but substance that you can sink your teeth into. Something to measure.

The downside to measurement is that once you start doing it, you cannot stop. You measure not simply a day but units of days, which set up for your nicely as weeks, months, quarters and - finally - the Rose Bowl of them all - the year. I cannot speak for all who do what I do but by spending my professional life wedded to the importance of time, I have lost much of my ability to keep track of it. Today is the 31st of August. Where has the the first 66.7% of this year gone? I have no idea.

I enjoy having a good laugh at my own expense and nothing makes me chuckle more than the ever-whitening construct of the whiskers of my beard and - albeit at a slower pace - the hair on my head. A couple of years ago I saw some old friends from high school who I had not seen since we were all in college more than two decades ago. One of them - unflinchingly polite as ever - remarked to me that I looked as I had when we were in school. I think I embarrassed her when I asked her if she recalled just how gray my hair was not at age 18. I appreciated her effort, truly I did, but the first person who sees my face every morning is me. The reflection in the bathroom mirror lies not. I wish it did - even if just a little.

We are two-thirds of the way through 2011. In four short months people will be blowing into noisemakers and toasting the arrival of 2012. I shall turn 45 in 2012. It is an age that as a child and (for entirely different reasons) as a young man half the age I am presently, I never fathomed living to see. It strikes me as neither an old age or a young age. It is simply an age. It is a testament to time. Time earned. Time spent. Time wasted. Perhaps. A lot of time has passed 'neath the hull of this fool's ship and I wonder what I have to show for it.

A thought that makes me unique not at all. It is a puzzle really. One to which I do not have the solution. And one that I have not the time to figure out. Not that I would not like to solve it. Time won't let me.

-AK

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Things and Stuff

Eight years ago on this very date, on an evening that was as gorgeous as tonight is predicted to be, Rob and I enjoyed what remains one of my all-time favorite Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium. The penultimate date of a ten-date stand in East Rutherford, broken up into 7 nights in July and 3 in late August, featured guest spots by Emmylou Harris and Marah. The set list included "Janey Don't You Lose Heart" as the opener, "Trapped" and - as part of the encore - "Pretty Flamingo". An exquisite night of music from start to finish. I know not whether Rob remembers anything in particular about that evening. I do. And I am happy that I do.

Yesterday reinforced the point to me that Mother Nature either possesses (a) no short-term memory; or (b) the most deliciously evil sense of humor ever. Last week kicked off with an earthquake and wrapped up with a hurricane. This week kicked off with a day straight out of central casting for beautiful late summer days. Hopefully the brightness of the sky was of some help to the good folks up and down the East Coast of these United States crawling through the wreckage of home and/or business devastated by Irene. I have been before where you are now. It is not a pleasant place to be. Try to bear in mind that no matter what "stuff" you lost, nothing you lost is irreplaceable - even if at first glance you believe it to be.

And for all of us throughout the State of Concrete Gardens and elsewhere whose day-to-day for the next couple of days perhaps is going to be a bit more complicated and onerous courtesy of Irene's bad manners, take just a moment out of our griping to think a good thought for the family of Michael Kenwood. Michael Kenwood was a member of the Princeton Township First Aid and Rescue Squad. He died Monday morning. He died secondary to injuries he sustained while responding to a call involving a submerged car on a Township road at or about 4:00 a.m. on Sunday.

Kenwood was apparently part of the Township's swift water rescue team and at some point during his performance of his duties on Sunday morning, the rope that connected him to other members of the squad became disconnected. He was swept away. While other members of the squad were able to pull Kenwood out of the water and get him to a hospital, the injuries he suffered proved to be too much. And what happened to the driver of the car? I do not know. The car was not only submerged but empty when Kenwood and his partner checked it out. I last looked in the newspaper yesterday for any information as to its owner and/or presumptive driver. I found nothing.

There are some things that are more important than "things", whether the "things" in question belong to me or to you. Those are the only things that are - in fact - irreplaceable. The rest of it is merely stuff.

Then every guy will envy me
'Cause paradise is where I'll be


-AK

Monday, August 29, 2011

Behold the Hurricane

It’s such a shame. I heard the wind say this morning.
Be still my heart. I age by years at the mention of your name
.

For more than just a moment this weekend, it was 1999 all over again. Mercifully for the Missus and me, while this weekend woke up the echoes of a weekend a dozen Septembers ago, we were spectators to the carnage. Back in '99, we were active participants in the insanity.

I have lived 'NTSG for close to two decades. Until yesterday morning, I had been under the impression that our little town has a dry side and a "flood" side. I learned from driving and walking around town with Margaret yesterday morning just how wrong I have been all these years. As we drove down 28 towards Dunellen, we were only able to make it as far as Mountain Avenue:


A million years ago (OK, it was only eleven) we lived on that side of town. The water over there did not surprise me. However I was surprised by the level of encroachment the storm's waters made up Route 28 on the Bound Brook side of town. One of the things that Hurricane Floyd was supposed to have brought about was better flood control. I did not venture as far as Bound Brook so I do not know whether Irene did a number on Bound Brook similar to that which Floyd did. But walking around the streets of my little town, it was hard to see where the flood "control" manifested itself:


As it turns out, we are lucky enough to live on what amounts to an island in the center of town. No water made it as far as our corner. Ditto for Joe's house and Frank's and Carolyn's and Gidg's. All of us are among the lucky ones. Many of our neighbors - too many of them in fact - were not. A dozen years after Floyd, Mother Nature delivered another tough lesson.

Here's to hoping that those in the know learned more from this lesson than they appeared not to learn from Floyd. There are too many folks in my little town who can not afford a third.

-AK









Sunday, August 28, 2011

HB 2 MW

Eight years ago today, I shipped the older of my two kids off to college to begin her freshman year. We spent most of the day unloading the car and thereafter unpacking its contents in the miniscule, somewhat dank space that Suz called home her freshman year at Seton Hall. It is almost stunning to me that it happened that long ago. Sometimes it seems like it happened just yesterday. Other days, it feels as if it was a lifetime ago. A lot has happened between that day and this one. Eight years' worth.

It was also on this very date eight years ago that I saw my old friend Marc Wichansky for what was the first time in a very, very long time. I might have seen him on one occasion after the Wichanskys migrated west to the Turquoise Desert in 1985 but I know not for certain. I know that on this date in the summer of 2003, he shoehorned a trip East on business into an excuse for the two of us to see Springsteen together. And we did.

On Thursday, August 28, 2003, Springsteen and the E Street Band kicked off the three-show mini-stand they had added at Giants Stadium in the wake of their uber-successful seven night stint a month earlier. I dashed over from Seton Hall and met Marc in the parking lot at Giants Stadium. We spent a bit of time catching up and then meandered on into the Stadium to watch the show.

We actually had "GA" tickets. Back in the day that was '03 I do not recall Springsteen fans actually identifying that area as "The Pit". I do recall that Marc and I hung out at the camera position that was not more than 50-75 from the front of the stage - directly in front of the Big Man. Had Marc ever bothered to send me any of the photos he claims he took that evening, a small chance exists that I would have a shot he managed to get that depicted where we stood for the evening. He did not. I do not.

The set list from that evening confirmed what I had remembered in my mind's eye, which was Bobby Bandiera of the Jukes sang the lead vocal on "From Small Things". I would love to tell you that his singing was (a) a highlight of the show as it happened; and (b) a pleasant memory almost a decade after the fact. It was not. It is not. Mercifully it was the only song on which he guested. Apropos of nothing, Rob and I had much better luck at the next show at Giants Stadium on Saturday the 30th of August, which featured guest vocal turns from Emmylou Harris and Marah, neither of which sounded like a man being strangled to death with his own guitar, which is kind of, sort of what Bandiera's voice sound like. If only. It never quite sounded as good as that.

In fairness, Bandiera's vocal stylings were not the "low light" of the night for there simply were not any. I capped off a day on which I celebrated my daughter's ascension to the rank of a collegian by having a legitimately terrific time in the company of a man I had not seen since we were both in high school. His performance was more like the least high of the evening's highlights.

Anyway, Happy Birthday Marc. Perhaps your travels will bring you East again soon. If they do, then do me a favor if you could before you board a plane headed this direction. Take one last look around your house for the pictures you took back in '03. I am not much of a sentimentalist but I would like to see any photographic evidence you might possess of what I looked like before white hair took over my beard and made significant inroads on my head as well. Evidence perhaps of where time goes....

....in the wink of a young girl's eye.

-AK



Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Search of a Fine Glow

We live where we do presently due in significant part to Hurricane Floyd. We are but a few weeks away from the 12th anniversary of Floyd's visit to New Jersey. He did not spend a lot of time within our borders but he sure packed a lot into his stay while he was here.

In September 1999 we lived 'NTSG on the side of town that is prone to flooding. Our little ranch house on 3rd Street did not have a basement. I do not think that many of the houses in our neighborhood did. Floyd arrived in mid-September on or near the 16th I think. I recall being a bit awestruck when he first appeared. Water is an interesting element. For while it can act all loud and crazy - much like its pals fire and wind - it can also act in an understated, deceptively sinister manner. It arrives with little fanfare but its ingress into your day-to-day is relentless. It comes and it comes and it comes until it has overwhelmed and inundated every person or thing whose path intersects with its own. It does not stop. It does not even slow. It just continues to come.

Floyd came without a lot of noise or ado. His silence was anything but golden. Floyd intruded close to four feet up into the living space of our little ranch house on 3rd Street back in September 1999. Close to $50,000 and several weeks later, our home was restored to order - or at least a resonable facsimile thereof. Restoration came at a price. The cost was not financial but psychic. Rob and Suzanne each spent weeks sleeping in rooms that were only partially habitable. Each was forced to retrieve and put on the clothes they were to wear to school from a dresser located down the hall or on the other side of the house. Life as a suburban refugee. Not for the faint of heart I assure you. If it is true that misery loves company, then she was one happy broad during the Autumn of '99. In our neighborhood she had company as far as the eye could see.

September 1999 marked Floyd's arrival on 3rd Street. July 2000 marked our departure from 3rd Street in favor of the non-flooding side of town. I suspect that had Floyd not left his mark etched on the walls of our home as well as on the lens of Margaret's mind's eye, we would have spent the past dozen years 'NTSG in our little ranch house on 3rd Street. He did. We did not.

While I hope like hell that the weather prognosticators have erred on the side of hysteria, that Aquageddon is not upon us and I shall not need to peruse the classifieds in tomorrow's Ledger in search of a good deal on a team of dolphins to drive me to work on Monday, Floyd taught me a lesson about water that I shall never forget. A lesson that I hope not too many of us on the East Coast are required to learn anew this weekend courtesy of Irene.

Make sure that your hatches are battened down. Be careful and stay safe. I am off to see if I can bum a half dollar off of a rodeo clown.

-AK

Friday, August 26, 2011

Not Quite The End Of The World As We Know It

We have reached the work week's end in the week that was, which places those of here on the East Coast squarely in the path of one really angry woman. That is a story for another day.

The big weather news thus far this week? Easy. Dueling earthquakes in the United States and neither of them with mail delivery at a California address. Monday Night's Rocky Mountain Rumble was answered on the East Coast by the Tuesday Afternoon Shake, Rattle and Roll that reached all the way from Washington DC to New England.

The building that houses the Firm shook for several seconds. I witnessed it with my own eyes from behind my desk. When I first saw what I saw I thought perhaps that a "magic mushroom" from a certain Halloween party oh so many Halloweens ago had somehow survived. However when other people came out of their offices and towards mine commenting upon what they too had just seen and felt I knew it was merely something seismic and NOT psychedelic. The fact that Tuesday was a false alarm does not vitiate the rule: When Tim Bauer appears at your apartment door dressed as a sheep, do NOT let him in.

Perhaps it was the uptick in seismic activity and the sudden significance of the Richter Scale (although not as significant as it was on this day) but it seemed as if Tuesday spawned a lot of interesting, "not seen 'round here everyday" news.

Jered Weaver is a professional baseball player. He pitches for the Angels, who used to be the California Angels before becoming the Anaheim Angels on their way to becoming....I must confess that I have lost track of what exactly the franchise calls itself these days. I know that everytime I hear it I think of the Westminster Kennel Club show and its competitors with their absurdly long names. Regardless of the proper name of his team, Jered Weaver is an outstanding pitcher for them. He was in fact the starting pitcher in this season's All-Star Game for the American League. His contract was not set to expire until next season at which time it was expected that Weaver would hit free agency with a vengeance (he is repped after all by Scott Boras who has never seen a fence without greener grass on the other side of it) and that the Angels would be forced to say goodbye to him.

Nope. On Tuesday Weaver, much to the chagrin of Mr. Boras and I am sure countless of his peers in the MLBPA signed a five-year extension with the Angels. Proving the Monopoly-like quality of the dollars paid to professional athletes in this country at least, Weaver extended his deal with the Angels at the "hometown discount" rate of $17 Million per season. The truth of the matter is that presuming he remained healthy Weaver could have earned an even fatter payday on the open market had he opted for free agency next season. He opted not to. Why? He enjoys what he does and where he does it. And not being totally blind to the world around him, he realizes that he shall continue to make money that most of us could not even hope to earn even without looking to take his talents elsewhere. I simply love what Weaver said at the press conference at which his contract extension was announced. "If $85 [million] is not enough to take care of my family and other generations of families, then I'm pretty stupid," Weaver surmised. "How much money do you really need in life?"

Tuesday brought sad news as well from the world of sports. Whether you are a fan of women's college hoops or not, you have to admire Pat Summitt of Tennessee. She has been at Rocky Top winning National Championships since Mrs. Crockett gave birth to young Davy (coonskin cap and all) on that mountain. Or at least it seems that way. Summitt has coached her Lady Vols to 8 NCAA Championships while - along the way -winning more than 1,000 games, which by the way means she has been on the bench for more wins than any coach (men's or women's) in college hoops history. And if you think that somewhere Coach Wooden is not smiling at that thought, then you know not nearly enough about him. Or about Coach Summitt for that matter.

Pat Summitt is fifty-nine years young, having just had a birthday on Flag Day. On Tuesday, she announced to the world that she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. The fact that she broke the news while sitting on a couch in her home with her dog asleep across her lap lent an almost surreal quality to the content of her remarks. It is tough stuff to watch a person whose drive to succeed is legendary explain the game plan she has put together to deal with an opponent against whom she faces longer odds than any other she has ever faced, including some of the great U. Conn. teams against whom she has coached.

You want to believe that good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people and that the wires never get crossed. And then you absorb what Coach Summitt shared on Tuesday and you are reminded in short order that the world simply does not work that way.

If only it did. Then perhaps we would all find it a bit easier to be more like Lenny Bruce. I know I would.

-AK



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Following the Footsteps

Seventeen days from this very day this nation shall observe the tenth anniversary of the most visceral, most incomprehensible day that I have ever witnessed and that I hope to ever be required to bear witness to. Two weeks later - on the 25th of September - the 10th Annual Tunnel To Towers Run shall take place.

The run retraces the steps run on September 11, 2001 by Stephen Siller of the FDNY who, although he was off from work and on his way to play golf with his brothers, grabbed his gear out of the back of his truck and ran carrying it from Brooklyn, through the Battery Tunnel and through Lower Manhattan to the World Trade Center. Stephen Siller was one of 343 members of the FDNY to die that day. The Tunnel to Towers Run is a labor of love of his family. A way not simply to honor the memory of their fallen brother and all of his fallen brothers but also to raise money to assist others. A way to do good.

It is a tremendous event. Gidg and I ran in it last year for the first time and are doing it again this year. Margaret and Lynne are joining us. If running is not your thing, then you can walk. I assure you that even if you are a runner, unless you start at the very front of the line the pace at which you run will be something akin to leisurely. Here is a picture I took prior to last year's start. It took almost four minutes for Gidg and I to cross the starting line from where we were when the Run began:


If you participate in it, I assure you that the image of the members of the FDNY - in dress uniform - lined up on both sides of the avenue as you exit the Battery Tunnel on the Manhattan side and wearing sandwich board signs with a photo of each of the 343 members of the FDNY who perished on 09/11/01 - will remain with you the rest of your life. As shall the memory of the day. And the memory of what you and everyone assembled there is assembled there to do. To do good.


-AK


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Parental Advisory

The greatest joy one has as a parent comes directly from the happiness one sees in one's children. In my experience, when either or (when the stars align just right) both Suz and Rob are happy, then even if I am having a sh*t day or week or whatever, all seems right in the world. Prior to meeting Margaret and morphing from a solo act to the percussion section of a four-piece band in a swoop noteworthy for its solitary nature as well as it "fellness", such a belief was anathematic to me and to my life approach. In a moment everything changes.

It is easier to protect your kids from life's bumps and bruises when they are younger. Perhaps that is because you are also younger so you have greater energy to apply to the task. Perhaps but I think not. I think it is easier because the dragons that require slaying are less numerous and more readily identifiable. One anxiety closet per bedroom per child is a manageable task for any dad. If only their world remained that small, then the obstacle course that is protecting them would seem to be perpetually capable of being surmounted.

It does not of course. Nor should it. A child has to experience new things as he/she grows up. Life is to be lived after all. The upside is that there is a new adventure around every corner. The downside is that every adventure carries with it the spectre of danger - or even worse - heartache. Not every boo-boo can be made better immediately. It matters not how many Band-Aids are applied, the hurt lingers.

Eventually the ache heals. Or at least you hope it does. And you hope that the scar tissue left in its wake - while making your child stronger - does not make him or her too resistant to the next chance. You look them squarely in the eye and tell them what you believe, which is that it shall get better. And you believe it as you say it. But you know not whether they believe it as they hear it.

Between here and there lies a forest. It is consumed by darkness. Each of us has to cross it. We know not as we enter its width, its breadth or its thickness. When your child is little, you can lead him or her through it to ensure their safe passage. But as they get older, the rules change. All you are allowed to do is give them encouragement and plan to meet them on the other side. Life is a journey after all. There are miles to cover that we all must walk alone.

-AK


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

That Tilt-A-Whirl Down On The South Beach Drag

Margaret deserves - if not combat pay - then at the very least some type of dispensation for having survived being married to an idiot for the better part of the past two decades. From the Tree of Life she done picked herself a jackass. Trust me, I know him.

One time a summer my wife - proving herself to be the sportiest of sports - humors my need to feed my inner 11 year-old by agreeing to take part in our annual trek to Jenkinson's Boardwalk in Point Pleasant. While the order of the evening's events is not set in stone, the itinerary is: clams/cheesesteaks, Frog Bog, bumper cars, Tilt-A-Whirl, Kohr's orange/vanilla twist ice cream and (for the Missus) a candy apple, which is never eaten on the Boards that night but the following day at home. Saturday night we made our pilgrimage.

Last year we lassoed Gidg to come with us, which she did. This year she came with us again and this time we roped Lynne into coming too. We kicked off the night's festivities eating clams and cheesesteaks. In the aftermath of my gallbladder's excision and my commitment to running, a greasy cheesesteak does not find its way onto my dinner menu with the frequency it once did. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder - irrespective of what my digestive system thinks.

We spent only a couple of hours trodding the Boards. I doubt that anyone needs any longer than that to take in the full panoply of sights and sounds. We played Frog Bog - a game at which once upon a time when Rob/Suz were little I was excellent at but these days I am but mediocre - at which enough success was achieved to win a stuffed animal for Margaret. My wife, fully into the spirit of the evening, then decided to channel her inner Italian Princess and engage in a "whacking". Luckily for all concerned (with one exception I suppose), the recipient of said whacking was a mole.



Even with her Frog Bog spoils tucked under her left arm, my bride thoroughly dominated her young opponent (who is visible towards the far left of the mole farm demonstrating brutally poor mole-whacking technique). Being the gracious winner she is, Margaret allowed her conquest to pick out a prize and to take her winnings. In this case, not only did the spoils go to the victor but to the runner-up as well.

Once we completed our games of chance, we hit the bumper cars. There is nothing that turns on my inner 11 year-old quite like the bumper cars. I thought that I was having the single-best time of anyone who was on the ride while we were until I encountered the face of an actual 11 year-old behind the wheel of one of the other cars. He pursued everyone - friend and stranger, kid and adult - with a delightfully malevolent smile on his face that immediately before impact would give way to a laugh that was so rich it made me smile. I hope he had as good a time smacking into folks as I did watching him do it.

We segued from the bumper cars to the Tilt-A-Whirl (always among my favorite rides) and after having pulled sufficient G's to make me momentarily consider enjoying a salad and a bottle of water as my annual Boardwalk meal, we wandered back to the car and home shortly thereafter.

Day-to-day life prevents me from being 11 years old on a full-time basis. But for just one piece of one evening every summer, Margaret permits me to awaken my inner child and let him out to play. And for that he and I remain eternally grateful....

....as the Aurora rises behind us.

-AK

Monday, August 22, 2011

The People of This Village

On August 22, 2010 Westfield Firefighter James Pfeiffer died following an accident at his home. Pfeiffer was 30 years old. He left behind his wife Christine and their daughter Carly. At the time of her daddy's death, Carly was but one year old.

Carly was born a few years after her dad, doing what firefighters consider a day's work and the rest of us consider acts of selfless bravery, had slithered his way down into a crevasse in Tamaques Park to rescue someone else's child. It was an act that brought him national media attention. It was an act that he performed five years to the day before he died. Carly's daddy's actions saved not just a little boy but that child's family as well.

In the year since Jim Pfeiffer died, those in the community - including but not limited to the Town of Westfield where he worked, the Town of Cranford where he grew up and firefighters from all over (whether they knew him or not), have come to the aid of Carly Pfeiffer. Shortly after his death in late August, Jim Pfeiffer's memory was honored by Hal Smolanoff at the Jimmy D 5K in New Brunswick - a race organized by the family of New Brunswick Deputy Chief Jame D'Heron who died in the line of duty. Hal Smolanoff set up a fund-raising page to facilitate donations to and for The Carly Pfeiffer Fund and raised more than $1,100. Smolanoff and Pfeiffer did not know one another. It mattered not. Pfeiffer had been a good friend of one of Smolanoff's very good friends and the latter needed nothing than that to help the former. And to help his young widow and their baby girl. Hal Smolanoff's actions continue to help the Pfeiffer family. The web site he created is still active and donations to the Scholarship Fund can still be made through it.

In the year since Jim Pfeiffer's death, the community to which he belonged has continued to do its part. Last September, a gym in Garwood had an event to raise money for the Fund. In October, school kids in Westfield - through the good efforts of the Junior Woman's Club - did their part simply by doing their chores. Teachers at the Roosevelt Intermediate School held a comedy night fundraiser in March. In May, the KilKenny House, an Irish pub in his hometown of Cranford, hosted an all-day fundraiser. And through it all, his brothers from Westfield FMBA Local #30 have done all they can do. If I was enjoying a pint of Guinness while writing this, I would raise it to each and every person who - whether they knew FF Pfeiffer and/or know his family or not - has stepped into the breach to help.

I am among the number who never met Jim Pfeiffer. Everything I read about him in the immediate aftermath of his death indicated to me that he was quite an exceptional man.....and would likely be the last one in the room to acknowledge that about himself. And one year further on up the road, the impact he made in the lives of others is evidenced by the continuing impact others want to have - and feel a need to have - in the lives of his loved ones. He cannot be replaced. The pain of loss goes on. As does life....

....As does love.

There is a land of the living
And a land of the dead,
And the bridge is Love,
The only survival,
The only meaning.
- Thorton Wilder

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Onward Buffalo Soldiers

But for my University of Colorado Boulder Alumni Association calendar, which I trust implicitly, I would not have known that tomorrow is the first day of classes for the Fall Semester at CU. As an initial consideration, how can one not trust a calendar that has a Larry Harwood photograph immodestly (yet accurately) captioned as, "A stunning view of campus during the summer" serving as its representation of Boulder in August:


I realize that it is a bit difficult (at this size) to make out what is written below the numerals in the "22" box. It indeed says, "First day of classes". I must confess that I have no recollection of Fall Semesters '85 through '88 including classes that met in August. Then again, I was not well-known during my time in Boulder for my rigorous commitment to classroom attendance irrespective of month - especiallly so in the Fall of '85. I suppose it is entirely possible that we started school as early then as they appear to now. Perhaps Jay or Loku will pop by this space today, read this and provide a definitive answer to the question. Sadly, I cannot. August evenings at The Dark Horse? Those I remember well. August days in a classroom? Not so much.

In another couple of weeks the Buffaloes will begin the 2011 football season. 'Tis the Autumn of new beginnings in Boulder. We have a new Head Coach in Jon Embree. He, like Jill, Joe and me, is a Buff.



We belong to a new Conference effective this year. 'Tis our maiden voyage in the newly minted Pac-12 (unlike the Big Ten and the Big XII, we play in a league that actually changed its name to accurately reflect its membership). I have no real notion now good, bad or indifferent this year's edition of the Buffaloes is going to be. What knowledge I possess I have obtained courtesy of the hard work of Stuart Whitehair. Stuart is a CU alum (we just seem to be everywhere) who operates the most well put together web site for all things CU Football anywhere. CU at the Game is simply terrific. And incredibly it is free.

Stuart is both an alum and a fan. Yet he does not go about his business trying to type while wearing pom-poms. I think however he is slightly more optimistic about the likelihood of relative success on the gridiron this year than is George Schroeder of SI.com. If George's gift of prognostication is good, then it is going to be a long season on the Front Range.

I am excited because in November the Missus and I shall make our once-a-decade journey to Boulder to watch the Buffs play football. Truth be told, we are heading West principally to see Rob and to interfere in the otherwise smooth day-to-day operation of his life. Seeing that he lives roughly an hour from Boulder, we can both harass and harangue him and spend some time in one of my absolute favorite places. As far as I can tell, the young lady in his life (who is otherwise terrific) possesses but one character flaw in that she is a CSU graduate. Jess is a trooper though. She has already indicated that she would be willing to watching the Buffs play Arizona on November 12th. I told her I appreciate her willingness to take one for the team. I also assured her that if the Buffs are as bad as Schroeder predicts they shall be, we will enjoy the game from one of Boulder's fine restaurants or taverns, which will likely be a damn sight warmer than Folsom Field will be on November's second Saturday. And it will offer us access to a much better variety of libations.

Being an Alumni has its advantages, noteworthy among them of course is not having to actually pay tuition or matriculate your way towards a degree. I would have found college a damn sight easier had I been able to focus my energies solely on enjoying life in Boulder and cheering my lungs out for Ralphie and her charges:


Shoulder to Shoulder and two-plus months until Boulder. That has a nice ring to it. A very nice ring.

-AK



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Echoes and Silence

Time is unrelenting. It moves in but one direction. And even though moments arise when it feels subjectively to us as if it is moving more slowly or more quickly than usual, it is not of course. It moves with precision. It never wavers. You can indeed set your watch by it.

Conversely, Life is imbued with an elasticity that Time lacks. It is almost as if Time is but an ingredient of Life but not vice versa. You need something more. Water perhaps? Flavoring? Something. That much is for certain. Life's elasticity comes from us not knowing just how much Time went into the recipe of our Life. We do not know how much of it was baked into us. Therefore we know not when it shall run out. Once it does, it does.

We probably are better off not knowing. Think about it. Do you see a lot of smiling, whistling terminally ill people (or for that matter inmates on Death Row who have already been given an execution date) walking around? Of course not. As an abstract notion we think we would like to know when a day is "THE" day. In reality we of course do not.

And maybe it is because Life is of uncertain duration that its course does not always follow a precise path of travel. You know what you know and what you want to do - at least some of the time. And you know where you want to live and how you want to spend it - until something comes along that makes you rethink what you have thought.

Apropos of nothing, every week in SI.com Peter King writes his Monday Morning Quarterback column, which includes a section entitled "Ten Things I Think I Think". As a general rule, his list is comprised of things related to the NFL - although not always. Even though the list of his "Ten Things" tends to be concentrated on one subject, the list is an idea that translates itself readily into anyone's life. Each of us assuredly has a list of things that we think we think. And much like Mr. King's, it is a fluid, ever-changing list. The list is Life? That might be overstating the point, but then again perhaps not.

One thing that I think I think is that "Home" is not a place at all. It is a state of mind. It is a place where security meets contentment. A place where irrespective of what else you may have or may not have, you have peace.

With apologies to Mr. King, that is one thing that I think I think that I have thought for as long as I can remember. As a boy, I used to smile somewhat dismissively at Mom's mantra, "Everything happens for a reason." By the time I had graduated high school, it had become her "go to" phrase.

I still smile when I think of it. Although I stopped dismissing it years ago. Over time, it is a Life lesson my mother taught to me that I hope I have passed on to my two kids. Especially now that they are no longer kids. They now are adults whose hard work and good fortune has presented them with the gift that is both the greatest to receive and the easiest to squander: an opportunity.

An opportunity to build a Life and to build a Home even if that opportunity has presented itself in a form that was unexpected, in a place that was unplanned and at a Time when they did not even know to set a place for it at their table. Opportunity always knocks. You just have to know enough to open the door. It is easy to do as long as you are Home.

Echoes and silence
Patience and grace
All of these moments
I'll never replace
No fear of my heart
Absence of faith

All I want is to be home


-AK

Friday, August 19, 2011

So Nigh Is Grandeur

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


As a general rule, if a poem does not contain a geographical reference to Nantucket, then I have likely never read it nor heard of it. Years ago, reading one of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" books, I came across that little piece of Emerson. I have had it written on a small yellow Post-It and affixed to my computer in my office ever since.

In fairness, Emerson's words speak not of all youth but of those among our young people who are exceptional. Such as those who comprised Mr. Brokaw's favorite generation. I wish I could - upon reflecting on the trajectory of my youth - speak to my inclusion in Emerson's honor roll. Maybe if I had a clearer recollection of those years I could. Then again, I suspect not.

Charles P. Murray was only twenty-three years old, and a Lieutenant in the United States Army, on December 16, 1944. According to the Washington Post, Murray had only a few months of combat experience when on that day almost seventy years ago, he displayed “supreme courage and heroic initiative”. As much as I wish I could take credit for characterizing what he did in that way, I cannot. It is but a portion of what appears on the Citation for his Medal of Honor. I implore you to take a minute or two, click on the link to his MOH Citation, and read what he did. It is nothing short of jaw-dropping.

Lieutenant Murray's contributions to the well-being of his brothers in arms as well as those of us he never met were not limited to that day or to World War II. By the time he retired from the U.S. Army in 1973, he was a Colonel. In addition to his service in World War II, he also served in Korea and in Vietnam. His personal honor roll included not just the Medal of Honor but also three Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars.

Colonel Charles P. Murray, Jr. died on August 12, 2011. He was eighty-nine years old. He is survived by his wife to whom he had been married for sixty-eight year, two of their three children and a whole boatload of grandkids and great-grandkids. According to www.homeofheroes.com Colonel Murray is the third Medal of Honor recipient to die in 2011.

In the Washington Post piece on his death, the writer closed with the following:

In an interview last year with a South Carolina newspaper, Col. Murray downplayed his bravery at age 23. “I was old, compared to a lot of those 18- and 19-year-old kids in the division,” he said.

He was wrong of course. He was not old. None of them were. Yet they did what they did. And if asked, all would likely tell you that none of them did anything out of the ordinary. It was just the way things were done. The path less-traveled. The way of the hero.

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

Kudos my hero
Leaving all the best
you know my hero
The one that's on



-AK




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old Man Summer

I drove home last evening, which was simply gorgeous by the way (serving as a reminder to me at least of the fact that Nature has no memory), and it occurred to me that here in the latter half of August I am very close to pulling the curtain closed on the summer. A summer in which for the first time in a very, very long time I have played no softball.

For reasons not entirely clear to me but undoubtedly connected to the fact that (a) Margaret cooked dinner for them the night they stayed at our home during the Bar exam in July 1994; (b) Margaret and I hosted the season-end party at our home for the several years that we had one; and (c) I brought a cooler full of water, Gatorade and ice to every one of our games, an annual rite of summer for me since law school has been playing softball on a team organized by two of my friends (I could actually place the "my" in front of the "two" and be accurate as well) from law school. Both David Rubino and Diego Navas are far better players than I. I used to chalk up the gaping disparity in talent to the fact that I am older than both of them, but given how much better a player David's older brother John is than I am and the fact that John is older than I am, mine is an argument that holds nary a drop of water.

Truth be told, prior to this summer there were summers in which I did not play softball - although they were so long ago that I cannot actually remember the years in which that happened. And those absences, unlike this one, were temporary. This one is not. In an ironic twist that the creepy little dude who directed the "I See Dead People" movie would surely appreciate, as running has enabled me to morph into a significantly less weighty and more healthy version of myself - and a version of myself doing things I formerly thought impossible such as completing a marathon - I have actually been betrayed by my legs.

Running on a treadmill and on a paved surface in a generally straight-ahead direction is no problem. But I no longer can corner with any speed or without any pain. It makes it a tad difficult to run the bases when you cannot change direction effectively - especially seeing as the goal is to have to change directions not less then three times per at bat. That fact, coupled with the fact that my role on our team most years was to play the position of catcher, has converted me into a former softball player.

I am forced to confess that as a player I was never better than mediocre. And in the final few years I played I was less than that. But for the fact I played on a team run by two very good friends, my softball playing days would have run out long before the flexibility in my legs did. David and Diego allowed me to play long after common sense dictated that they give my spot to someone with a bit less salt in his beard and a lot more pepper in his bat. I am happy that they never did. While I do not miss playing, I miss all of the attendant silliness that went along with it. I am a person of scant few friends. Removing this particular activity from my day-to-day has removed my point of contact with certain of them as well. And that I miss.

At least, unlike my inability to take the ball the other way in spite of acres of available acreage on the left side of field, this new problem is one I can correct. I may indeed be an old dog but my aptitude for trick-learning still exists.

-AK

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Closing The Gap

My mind, such at it is, works in mysterious ways. If this is anything other than your first go-round at this particular rodeo, then you know that firsthand. Attempt to find the rhyme or the reason in what is written here on any given day. I double-dog dare you. If logic is what you seek, then you need to visit the Connecticut Kenny. I do. Every day.

Proof of the manner in which my mind works - or does not - popped up just the other day. During Rob's abbreviated August Eastern adventure he and I had a brief conversation that made me think of another conversation he and I had. A conversation we had not during this trip but during one he made home more than a year ago. Rob had come home in May 2010 for Suzanne's Graduate School graduation party. As the evening wound down and we made our way into the garage for the "Cigars and Guitars" portion of the program, Rob and I had a conversation about youth, age and one's relative place in the universe. He seemed genuinely amazed that way back when - when I was roughly the age that he is now - I went from being a single man to a husband and father of two. And did so all in the course of an afternoon. That evening - fifteen months ago or so - Rob looked at me trying to figure out how - when I was his age - I knew how and with whom I wanted to live the rest of my life.

Such a conversation is a difficult one to have with anyone - even (or perhaps especially) with one's son. The cliche about having to walk a mile in one's shoes seems particularly prescient at such a time. About the only explanation I could give him as to how I knew what I knew when I knew it was that I had been much older when I was his age than he is now. Pretty lame I suppose. If Cop Out was a kingdom, I would rule over all that I can see.

Anyway, a couple of Friday nights ago as we were saying our goodbyes to Rob and Jess at The River House, he and I had a very brief conversation that brought back to the forefront of my mind's eye our conversation of last summer. Although our conversation two Friday nights ago was too brief - as such a conversation always seems to be - I came away from it with the very distinct impression that even if he has not yet covered the full mile, he has headed out on his journey. And his are purposeful steps.

And thinking about that recent conversation, it occcurs to me that the distance between the age I was when I was his age and the age that he is now has shortened up considerably.

I wonder if he even realizes just how much ground he has covered. A conversation for another time I reckon.

-AK

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Something for Emilie

I received an e-mail from a long-time friend of mine the other day (it might actually be as long as two weeks ago now but I am desperate when it comes to trying to keep track of time). I would refer to her as an "old" friend but given that (a) she is tougher than I am; and (b) appears to have aged about eleven minutes since we graduated from high school together in 1985, I have opted to go with "long-time".

The purpose of Em's e-mail was to remind me that on the evening of October 15, 2011, following the annual Fall Fair/Homecoming at Wardlaw-Hartridge there is going to be a reunion of a decade's worth of graduates. Sound odd? Perhaps to the untrained ear. But when you consider that back in the 1980's most senior classes at W-H had fewer than 60 students in them, not so much. Em is at the tip of the spear of a group of folks - a group that includes Kara - that has taken it upon themselves to put together a reunion designed to bring back as many folks who graduated from W-H from 1980 through 1989 as possible.

The kernel of the idea that gave root to this seemingly massive undertaking grew out of a number of far smaller events that have taken place on the W-H campus over the course of the past few years, including two of them as close as being near and dear to my little blackened ember of a heart as anything can get. First, back in mid-January 2009 the school played host to a reunion of two of its State Championship basketball teams from the mid-1980's. Then last year, also on Homecoming weekend, those of us who identify ourselves as the Class of '85 had our first-ever class reunion. As someone who attended both of those events, I cast a watchful eye forward to 2035 for the Class of '85's next get-together.

All kidding aside, as someone who spent the majority of his school-going years prowling the corridors of first Wardlaw and later W-H, whether on Central Avenue or Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield or on Inman Avenue in Edison (not even counting the time I spent there prior to being a student), whose two siblings closest to me in age (Kara and Jill) graduated from W-H before me and whose mother spent a number of years working there in the Development Office, the occasional return to campus is a good thing. Moreover as someone who watched Dad give his life to the school - his first love - it makes me happy to see that after a very long period of disconnect between its present and its past, W-H has resumed tending to the most important part of its infrastructure, which is its history.

Truth be told, I am among those folks who as of this date has not committed to attending Em's party. There is more than a little part of me that thinks it is an evening in significant part for those who have not yet done what I have done these past several years, which is reconnect to a far more significant degree than I had done previously with a place that was an important part of my youth.

There is also more than a little part of me that feels simply weird contemplating spending a Saturday evening as a welcome part of the populus of the Plainfield Country Club. If I attend it will not be the first time I have stepped on the hallowed grounds of the PCC. It will be however the first time I have not gained access to them via a hole cut in the chain-link fence that separates the wooded area behind what was (and may still be) the Varsity Baseball field at W-H from PCC's golf course. During the Spring of '81 - when I was an 8th grader - more lunch periods than I can count were spent sneaking onto the golf course so that we could catch some rays in the bunkers and eat our sandwiches in the fairways. Some of my fondest memories of 8th grade are those in which I am hauling ass across the course with my dress shirt untucked and an angry groundskeeper in hot pursuit - accompanied by (among others) Dwight Giles and Brian Clare....two friends who share the sad, unfortunate bond of having died too damn soon.

Regardless of how many people actually are in attendance for this particular evening's festivities, all concerned in organizing it deserve a hearty congratulations from those of us who make up the target audience. Kudos to Em, to Kara, to Karen, to Alumni Director Rudy Brandl and everyone else who is part of this project. All of the information you need should you want to get from here to there is, well, right here.

I spent eight years as a student at W-H. All that time I never knew what the school's motto "Cognoscere et Conficere" actually meant (where the hell is Dave Lackland when I really need him). I think loosely translated from the Latin it means, "If you have not been by in a while, then come to the All-80s Reunion. You will see some old friends, have some laughs and enjoy some good food and drink at a reasonable price."

And who said Latin was a dead language? Dad always argued to the contrary. No doubt, right now he is somewhere eavesdropping on this little bit of silliness and he is smiling....


....and probably wearing that same wrinkled old "W" hat.

-AK

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where Fortunes Are Told

Every town at the Shore - or so it seems - has at least one road race (5K or greater)during the Spring and/or Summer. Both this summer and last I have participated in a number of them. Most of them - at least the ones I have run in - feature routes that are carved out through the town's residential areas on streets lined with residents standing on front lawns and sidewalks, cheering and offering support to those of us participating in the race.

This past Saturday - on what was simply a beautiful day at the Shore - I ran in Asbury Park. Last August in Asbury Park I ran what was at the time my fastest ever 5K time. Better than the result was the experience. In Asbury Park, the course is not one that takes the runners through the town's neighborhoods. Instead it is a course that takes the runners through the town's colorful, cultural history. The course strays not too far at all from Asbury Park's famous boardwalk - only venturing perhaps four blocks inland. One of the nice things about running along the Shore on a summer's morning is it affords one the opportunity to take in views such as this sunrise:


The Asbury Park 5K takes the field past such attractions as The Stone Pony and The Wonder Bar. It is a two-loop race. The second loop winds up on the Boardwalk. You finish with the ocean on your right and Convention Hall rising in front of you


I did not run my best 5K on Saturday. My time was considerably short of spectacular. But the day was pitch perfect. A summer's Saturday morning at the Shore with my best girl is about as good as it gets for me:


See you next August Madam Marie. Thanks again for the hospitality.

-AK




Sunday, August 14, 2011

Leave My Muppets Alone

In anticipation of any hue and cry accusing me of being anti-gay and/or anti-gay marriage - and in the interest of setting the record straight (is it OK to use the word "straight" in this piece?) I am compelled to state that I am neither anti-gay nor opposed to gay marriage. As someone who is a confirmed agnostic and a licensed attorney, my position on gay marriage is simple: God does not decree who may be married, the State does.

The State (any of the fifty actually) is the only entity where you live - regardless of where you live in these United States - that possesses the requisite legal ability to declare two people married. You had probably wondered about that turn of phrase, "lawfully wedded wife" and figured it had to come from somewhere. Now you know. And quick - show of hands - who can name the ONLY entity 'round where you live that can dissolve the bounds of holy matrimony? Yep. You guessed it....the State.

It was not too long ago that the Legislature in New York passed, and Governor Cuomo II signed, legislation legalizing marriage between two individuals of the same sex. As someone who (a) does not live in New York; and (b) is already married, the law's passage has little to no impact on my day-to-day. Nevertheless, I happen to think that the folks across the Hudson River got it right. In the world in which we live, the definition of "family" has changed and changed again too often to count within the span of a generation or two. Logic dictates - in my humble opinion - that the definition of "marriage" had to follow suit. While it has not yet done so in every state....such as in the one where I live, it seems to be an idea whose time has come (and should have come quite some time ago).

Having said all that, to all of the activists and other addle-minded souls out there who have taken it upon themselves to foist gay rights onto the agenda on - of all places - Sesame Street, I say, "Enough already!" When we the people of these United States devote a portion of our time to creating and thereafter signing a petition devoted to demanding PBS have Bert and Ernie get married, it is time for us to start thinking seriously about how we spend our time. Truth be told, on change.org you have a plethora of petition-signing options available on the sensitive subject of Bert and Ernie.

Seeing all of the various items on the Menu of Silliness led me to offer up one of my own: Petition to Leave Bert and Ernie the F*** Alone. We are unfortunately a society in which interaction with one another is driven in large part by stereotypes ("Jersey Shore" anyone?). Exactly how does it help the cause of gay rights in this country to have anyone who identifies himself/herself as an activist for that cause championing the idiotic notion that PBS must/should "out" Bert and Ernie. Why? Cannot two adult males co-habit as friends? Is it appropriate to promote the position that two men unrelated by blood sharing a common living space must be homosexual? Is that why on college campuses across this country, fraternities are said to be part of "The Greek System"? Of course not....it's the toga parties.

Some of the things written by presumably well-meaning, reasonably intelligent folks in support of this campaign make it hard to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding either of those presumptions. I read something the other day in which Bert and Ernie were described by the author as, "two unmarried MEN who have shared an apartment for more than forty years." Huh? Two unmarried men? Not exactly.

They are two PUPPETS . They are inanimate. More importantly, they are timeless and ageless. Neither Bert nor Ernie is middle-aged. Both are brand-new every season that Sesame Street begins anew and they are introduced to a new group of pre-school children everywhere.

Only in America can we elevate the question of the sexual preference of two PUPPETS to the upper rungs on the ladder of national debate. One surmises that if any of those fueling this silliness really stopped to think about it, they would pick up on the fact in fairly short order that sexuality and sexual preference are not matters of paramount concern on Sesame Street. Bert and Ernie live in a neighborhood where they count among their friends a gargantuan, yellow, flightless fowl and a monster who clearly is dealing with diabetes or some other issue concerning his blood sugar. Not to mention the fact their block is home to a dude whose handle identifies him not by national origin or sexual orientation but by his disposition.

Here in America allow us just this one time to resist the temptation to have a referendum on something that simply should not be screwed with. On every other street in this country, we have traded a piece of our children's childhoods for the allure of sleeker gadgets, constant contact and 24/7 connectivity to everyone, everywhere all at once. On one lone piece of real estate, our children are permitted to be that which they are singularly well-positioned to be: children.

With all due respect to the Decency Legionnaires who believe the the "right" thing to do is to make Bert and Ernie two new faces of the gay rights movement, you have passed through the looking glass on this issue. Sesame Street does not need to be imbued with more of the real world. It is the real world that needs to be imbued with more of Sesame Street. The answer is in the question. And the power is in the preposition....

.... which is why you have never heard anyone asking how to get FROM Sesame Street.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Little of This....

At week's end, some random observations from an admittedly odd man (when your own daughter refers to you as "Autism Adam" in a vain attempt to explain you to family and friend alike that particular shoe fits quite well, I assure you).

I did not understand from whence it came and I know not for certain what caused it to depart but the rash/poison ivy/infection that had bedeviled me for the better part of a month has finally departed. While I hope I never have reason to seek his services again, if you ever find yourself troubled by a medical issue dermatological then seek the wisdom of Dr. Eisenberg. He shall not do wrong by you. He is a Cornell guy after all. And much like the only other Cornell guy I know, he is top-notch. Although in fairness to Dr. Eisenberg I doubt he possesses the encyclopedic knowledge of movies that Chris does....or his love of Star Tavern pizza. But then again, few do.

In case you remain at a loss to understand why exactly monkeys, chimps (and all of our primate cousins) hurl their feces through the bars of their cages at us humans on the other side when we do the walk-by in the zoo, perhaps these two examples of human behavior will serve to enlighten, inform and illuminate.

Exhibit A: Robert Vietze. While flying JetBlue cross-country young Mr. Vietze apparently mistook the leg of a sleeping 11-year-old girl for the bathroom and pissed on her. In his defense, he claimed that the EIGHT in-flight cocktails he had been served impaired his vision and his aim. Kudos to JetBlue. Nice to know that in addition to DirectTV at every seat, one can get liquored up on one of their planes regardless of whether he is of legal drinking age. And better still is the fact that Vietze is not your run of the mill 18 year-old miscreant. No sir. He is a young star in the U.S. Ski Program and an Olympic hopeful. Where was spontaneous, inappropriate urination as an Olympic event when I was 18? All we got was synchronized swimming. Rumor has it that while both the USOC and JetBlue initially considered him a favorite for the Gold Medal, the USOC rustled around in its box of "things rarely used" and found its spine. As of Friday, Jean Claude PeePee was a "former" Olympic hopeful. Perhaps he can wrangle an invite to the closing ceremonies. Rumor has it he can extinguish the Olympic Flame from five rows away.

Exhibit B: All of the New York Giants fans who have taken to attacking former Giants receiver Steve Smith - on his Facebook page no less - for his decision to leave the Giants and sign a contract with the Eagles. I have been a Giants fan forever so color me less than thrilled that Smith is now a former Giant. But being the wearer of real, genuine big boy pants I recognize that football is above all else a business. Smith's loyalty is - as it should be - to himself and his family first and foremost. If you want a crash course in bottom-feeding human behavior then click "Like" on Smith's page so that you can read the unbelievably offensive and obnoxious comments people have posted there about Smith - using their own names presumably. Comments ranging from racial epithets to wishes for him to suffer a career-ending injury. Apparently again this year the parking lots at PSL Stadium will be stained with the blood from those whose dragging knuckles scrape along the macadam as they cover the distance from their car to the stadium and back.

And now back to our regularly scheduled tangent....

I am not a golfer. I played a bit as a kid, having been taught the game by my friend Doug Carroll who was a good enough golfer to earn multiple varsity letters on what was a good high school team. I did not play the game for very long. When I played, I did not find myself relying upon my caddie for advice. Considering that my caddie looked eerily like the then clean-shaven rube staring back at me in the bathroom mirror, my lack of faith in him was neither surprising nor ill-advised. I cannot pretend to speak with any knowledge therefore as to the importance of one's caddie to the folks who earn their daily bread playing professional golf.

I do know this, however, to be true. Caddying for Tiger Woods for a dozen years put a lot of money in Steve Williams' pocket. Not a bad way to become a millionaire I would think. Whether you like Tiger Woods, despise Tiger Woods or (like me) consider him irrelevant to your day-to-day I know not and care even less. Note to Steve Williams: next time you go out to eat, order a healthy serving of STFU. Kudos to Woods for not returning fire. For a guy whose driving skills (both on the road and on the course) have seemed to diminish before our very eyes in the past twenty-one months, Woods did something that might have surprised you: he took the high road.

My least favorite thing about Rob's gig is that he lives in Colorado, which is roughly two-thirds of the way across the country. My favorite thing about Rob's gig? He lives in Colorado. His present placement, within an hour's drive or so of Boulder, gives me the perfect excuse to channel my inner Horace Greeley on a recurring basis. In November, Margaret and I are going to play hooky for a couple of days and head out to Boulder. Depending upon the weather and the team's record as of Saturday the 12th, we might in fact spend part of that day at Folsom Field watching the Buffs play Arizona. Presuming that his plans for Thanksgiving do not include a trip East, heading out to Colorado will give us an opportunity to spend a bit of time with Rob. Talk about you all-inclusive packages: see Rob and spend time in what is one of my favorite places on the planet. Does not get much better than that.

In case you missed it - and I would have were it not for the fact that I read via my "smartphone" at least a dozen newspapers daily, including the Los Angeles Times - there was very exciting news on the cancer research front this week. With the possible exception of President Bush (43)(for whom I voted both times he ran for President so do not gripe to me about picking on him) I know less about science than any human being in recorded history. Thus, the explanation of what the trials have shown to date sailed over my head. However, given how excited Dr. Nadler from Harvard Medical School (where they do in fact know a thing or two science and stuff) seemed to be about the results, I presume the news to be both (a) good; and (b) significant. And I hope that this news represents nothing less than the tip of the spear as it were and that additional good news follows behind it. Too many good people of all ages, colors, genders, ethnicities and religious denominations are attacked by cancer in this nation and around the world every day. Anything that helps turn the battle in favor of at least certain of them is nothing short of spectacular news.

Enjoy your Saturday. I am spending a portion of my morning on the boards at Asbury Park, running this year as I did last year in the Asbury Park 5K. Last year, it was nothing short of picture-perfect on race day. Looking out my window presently I see a whole lot of darkness. Here's to hoping that when day breaks it brings the sun with it but leaves the humidity at home. Call me a dreamer but it does not hurt to think big; right?

-AK

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Odyssey of a Small Thing

Once upon a lifetime ago, Rob was a little boy. When he was in either 3rd or 4th grade as an Arbor Day project, he was provided with an evergreen tree to plant in our yard. At that time, we lived in a small ranch house on Third Street. Our yard was not very big. As luck would have it, neither was Rob's tree. I still remember him going out into the storage shed in the back yard and extricating from it a shovel with which to dig the hole needed to marry his tree to our terra firma. Margaret is nothing if not practical. After looking at the size of the tree and weighing it against the size of the shovel, she determined that a much smaller tool was the correct one for the job. Whether it was a teaspoon or something a bit bigger I cannot recall. All I can say with certainty is that my wife intereceded in order to keep a certain sledgehammer from being used to swat a certain mosquito.

On that day lo those many years ago, the little stick with growth upon it that Rob named "Sparky" did something remarkable. It lived. And then, shepherded by my son from stickhood to actual "treeness" it did something truly astounding. It grew. We lived in that little ranch house on Third Street until the summer that Rob graduated from 8th grade. A couple of Chistmases before we moved, Sparky had grown sturdy enough that he could support his own string of Christmas lights. We had a small string of Coca-Cola Polar Bear lights with which we adorned him. That first Christmas he was decorated it was not quite a scene plucked from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" but it was pretty damn close indeed. Sparky being Sparky he bent but did not break.

Sparky was family by the time we sold our little ranch house on Third Street in the Spring of 2000. So much so that the contract for sale of the house specifically identified him as an item that would accompany us on our long journey all the way to the other side of town. Leave it to a lawyer to negotiate for something miles ahead of his ability to actually pull it off. I had no idea how we were going to transplant a tree that was by that time roughly five years old without killing it.

If there is a theme that is consistent in my life it is that most of the things in it that work do so in spite of me. Sparky's successful transplant from Point A to Point B is yet another such example. On the morning that we moved, prior to helping us move our furniture and our boxes and such to our new home, Ronnie (a great little dude from Honduras or El Salvador who worked for my brother-in-law Frank), came to our soon-to-be former home on Third Street to measure Sparky. He told us he needed to know how big he was so he knew how big a hole to dig for him at his new home. He then proceeded to go to our soon-to-be new home and dig said hole. Rob worked right alongside him. Then, after he helped us get moved in to the new digs everything that needed to be moved, Ronnie returned to Third Street and with the deft touch of a Harvard-trained surgeon removed Sparky from the soil there, transported him over to Delaware Avenue and inserted him into his new home.

I went to sleep that first night - and many nights thereafter eleven summers ago - expecting to look out on my front lawn and see a dead Sparky. Woe me of little faith. Ronnie's transplant was a raging success. Sparky flourished in his new home. Only a few short years after we moved in, he had outgrown my ability to adorn him properly with Christmas lights. He was simply too tall for me to reach his upper branches even when standing on my toes atop our tallest ladder. He was a simply beautiful tree.

Silly me. I never took a photo of him when he was all dressed up for Christmas. But last April (2010) when Margaret and I were cleaning up the front yard a bit in preparation for Spring, I snapped a photo of my favorite wife and my favorite tree:


There were times when I thought - foolishly as it turns out - that Sparky was indestructible. I arrived home from work Monday night to confront face-to-face the folly of my position. For years Sparky had provided a home to countless birds and squirrels. Apparently either over the winter or perhaps the early part of this Spring, one of them repaid his generosity by giving him the gift of disease. The grand old man was attacked from the inside out, ravaged with an illness that attacked him with a vigor and a venom that was almost cancerous. He died right before our eyes. Monday, my landscaping guru (who had zero responsibility for Sparky's care and upkeep by the way) Frankie came over to do what had to be done. He took Sparky down.

I surveyed the remains of our once-great tree as I wandered around our front lawn for a while Monday evening. Frankie does murderously efficient work. There was hardly anything left of Sparky at all, save for the stump that Margaret asked him to leave, a couple of thin branches and a single pine cone:




Being the utter cornball I am, I of course swooped up the pine cone and brought it inside to show Margaret. If not "Proof of Life" then at least proof of a life lived. And being the utter cornball she is, she did what I presumed she would: she placed Sparky's pine cone in a Ziploc bag, which she then identified for posterity's sake.

Once upon a lifetime ago we envisioned our home on Delaware Avenue as a place where grandchildren would come visit and where we two would grow old together. While the dream lives, we have concluded that it shall bear fruit in another zip code. This house shall not be the one in which we grow old together but rather one in which we lived a portion of the journey, before moving on to the next stop. The best-laid plans. Indeed.

I will not even bother consoling myself in the thought that Sparky likely could not have made yet another move (not to mention the fact that Ronnie has not been heard from in these parts in years and the tree was too damn big for me to mess with alone) so that his unexpected and sudden death is for the best. Nope. Rather, I will take comfort in the fact that Sparky, mmuch like us humans with whom he shared two homes, grew up a hell of a lot in fifteen years. The journey he made from where we first picked up his narrative on Third Street to where he lived out his life - while not a long one geographically - was metaphorically a cross-country trek. When Rob was but a little boy and needed a little bit of a boost and a little help ensuring that he grew up sturdy and strong, he found it in the form of his Arbor Day giveaway. Something from a childhood lived a long, long time ago.

And it was for that reason that we mourned Sparky's passing on Monday night - and likely shall for some time to come. He was a link to something that is long gone. Nostalgia after all is about real things gone.

Maybe not long gone. Maybe not in its entirety anyway. We still have that damned pine cone. Maybe the Missus and I will grab a tablespoon, dig us a hole and see what happens.

-AK

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hourglasses and Sand

It is almost incomprehensible to me that we shall arrive this weekend at what is - for all practical purposes - the mid-point of summer's final month. By this time next month, school-age children across these United States will not only be back at school but a sizable percentage of them will be anywhere from one week to three weeks deep into the 2011-2012 school year. Winter in this part of the world seemed particularly unkind this year - as it had last year too. And suddenly Autumn is upon us. Where did the time go?

I reckon that August shall be tricky business in the homes of my sisters Jill and Kara. Each of them is readying a soon-to-be first-time collegian for an initial matriculation between now and month's end. Kara and Russ will now dip two full toes into the font of higher learning with Randy joining his big brother R.J. as a collegian - albeit on two different campuses and in two different states. Jill and Joe are opening a new chapter in the Big Book of Parenting as they prepare to bid adieu to their first-born.

Time moves so damn fast. And while I remain at a loss as to whether its speed has increased or mine has decreased as I have gotten older, the effect is the same: it moves faster and faster all of the time. Now and again it seems to me as if it was just yesterday that we were gathered in the backyard on Labor Day weekend celebrating Rob's trip home from his training at FLETC. That celebration took place in fact three Labor Days ago. Not only has he been out of FLETC a long time, he now has close to three years invested as a resident of the Mountain Time Zone.

Now and again it seems as if it was not all that long ago that we were setting up tables in the yard as we hosted parties to celebrate Suz's and Rob's graduations from high school. Then I catch a glimpse out of my eye's corner of either of my "children" and it takes a moment to realize that I am looking not at a boy or at a girl, but rather at a young man and a young woman. Each of them is making their way in the world. I would wager that the steps they have walked since they were but children all those summers ago to arrive at the point in time where each is presently are not all steps that they ever envisioned themselves having to walk.

Just a month ago, the sun was poking its head above the horizon line not too long after 5:00 a.m. and not sinking slowly into the Western sky until 9:00 p.m. These days, it rises after 6:00 a.m. and calls it a day closer to 8:00 p.m. The days remain hot and the nights remain warm so maybe we do not pay as much attention as we otherwise would to time's war of attrition on daylight. Soon enough, it shall have our full and undivided attention. Summer is in its final weeks. September will be upon us soon after and hot on its heels will come the relentless march into winter's depths.

And it is coming with us impotent to stop it. So what can we do? We can not spend any more time than necessary worrying about it. It is coming whether we like it or not. We can recognize its constraints and its corrosive properties without permitting it to diminish us. As the great Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

It is time after all. It is going to be spent. One might as well strive to spend it well.

-AK

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Final Ride

I last saw Uncle Andy a couple of Sundays ago in - of all places - Somerset Medical Center. Margaret and I popped up to visit him after my wife had spent a portion of her early Sunday morning with me in the Emergency Room....where I was treated for my poison ivy/Bubonic plague/whatever the hell my infection was (I never learned the answer and in fact stopped asking the question after Dr. Eisenberg fixed me up). Uncle Andy at least had a full-fledged, adult basis for being in the hospital. He had fallen in his home and injured himself.

We visited with him for quite a while that morning. My wife did what she does, which is to say she sat with Uncle Andy long enough to make sure that he ate the breakfast that had been brought for him. Of course he did - eating essentially every bit of food on the tray - all the while telling Margaret that he did not usually eat things such as french toast and bacon or drink coffee. Yet under the steadying influence of my wife, he ate and drank all of them.

My role in Uncle Andy's life was a limited one: whenever the family got together to go someplace (such as Uncle Sal's in Staten Island) I drove. Every time I drove him anywhere he made a point of complimenting me to anyone and everyone. Apparently - and perhaps courtesy of my inner Rain Man - I am an excellent driver. At least, that was Uncle Andy's belief. When I left his hospital room that morning, I told him that I would see him again soon. He told me that he looked forward to me driving him again. I told him I looked forward to it too.

Yesterday morning, it was my honor to serve as a pall bearer at Uncle Andy's funeral. And what position did I man as we carried Uncle Andy into the church prior to the service and out of the church thereafter? Front left of course. A tad difficult to drive from any other position in the vehicle....


Joe, his sister Connie and his brothers Sal and Andy taken at Sal's 80th birthday party in April.

-AK


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August and Everything After

Well, I stumbled into Washington Square
Just as the sun began to rise
I walked across the lawn to the cathedral
And layed down in the shadow of St. Mary's in the sky....

The weather forecast for 'NTSG and its surrounding environs today calls for partly cloudy skies this morning followed by scattered thunderstorms this afternoon. Pitch perfect weather for a funeral; right?

This morning I shall join Joe, Margaret, Frank and the rest of the family in what has sadly become as much a part of our summers as 100 degree days and sausage sandwiches on the boardwalk. Today we shall gather for the final time to say farewell to Joe's big brother Andy. Uncle Andy died Friday morning at age 93.

Uncle Andy's funeral mass will be held in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Somerville. While I could be wrong, I believe that when I walk into that building this morning that shall be my first trip across that threshold since a hot summer's night slightly more than thirty-five years ago when my brother Kelly and the Immaculata High School Class of '76 graduated. Admittedly, I have likely made only several handfuls of visits to any church irrespective of location since that night but I am fairly confident that none of them has been to this one.

My role today shall be a reprise of one that unfortunately I have had the chance to play with maddening frequency these past few years. I shall serve as one of Uncle Andy's pallbearers. This marks the third occasion in the past four summers that I have borne pall. I remarked to Margaret after dinner on Sunday night that when I die she will have to have me cremated. Not simply because given my oversized head it might be tough to find a regulation-sized coffin that can contain me but also because there will be no one left to carry the casket.

Andrew Bozzomo was drafted into the United States Army prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Having had a bit of a background working with tools and repairing things, the Army trained him to be a mechanic. He apparently became quite adept at his job. Amazingly, he almost never had the chance to do it. When he indicated (apparently either at basic training or shortly after its completion) that he was interested in being trained as a mechanic, he was informed that he had to successfully complete a written test in order to be placed in that training. Knowing that his strength did not lie in test-taking, he persuaded the examiner to allow him simply to take a "perfomance" exam. Uncle Andy was directed to repair a particular item and he did it. After enough passing "performance" grades, the examiner agreed that a written test was unnecessary. But for someone's understanding of the importance of substance over form, Uncle Andy might not have ever gotten his shot. As it was, he ended up as a mechanic in the Motor Pool for the troops that chased Rommel around the African desert.

After success in Africa, Uncle Andy and his brothers-in-arms were sent to Italy, where they had additional success. They captured a number of Italian prisoners, few of whom (if any) spoke English. Uncle Andy spoke Italian fluently. He became the soldier best able to speak to the prisoners and for his reward/trouble his assignment was switched. He was taken out of the Motor Pool and placed in charge of the prisoners of war.

He spent five years in the service of his country, becoming part of our World War II fighting force even before we became part of World War II. Joe told Margaret and me on Sunday night that his brother entered the Army as a Private and left as a "Top" Sergeant. I must confess that due to my lack of familiarity with most things military I do not know if that is an actual rank or merely a description.

Today, slightly more than seventy years after he answered a call to arms, he is heading off to answer another, hopefully more pleasant call. A peaceful rest comes to those who have earned it. Uncle Andy most assuredly has.

Another August. Another funeral. In August and everything after
You get a little less than you expected, somehow
.

-AK