Saturday, June 30, 2012

Marking Time

One of the truly finest humans I know is celebrating a birthday today.  Mark Bowman and I have been friends for most of our lives.  As good a man as I have ever met - the type of guy who you can go without seeing or talking to for an extended period of time but who always seems to be just where you need him when you need him.  Thankfully - and as someone who has known him just about forever I can say this with limited fear of reprisal - he is considerably mellower now that he has reached his mid-forties, settled down and become a father of twins.  Truth be told Nancy did most of the work on that last one.  There are scant few people I have ever met who work so hard that they make me feel like a slacker.  Mark is one of them.  A man most deserving of having a pint of Guinness raised in his honor.  Today I shall. 

There is nothing quite like an eagerly anticipated, highly politicized United States Supreme Court case to stimulate the world at large's interest in the judiciary; eh?  Perfect timing therefore for the good folks of Michigan to do a very smart thing and elect Bridget Mary McCormack to the Michigan Supreme Court this fall.  I have spent my entire professional life in the practice of law.  The average person probably knows at least as many lawyer jokes as he or she knows "Your Momma" jokes or "A priest, a minister and a rabbi" jokes.  Mine is a profession that has a nagging habit of making itself look bad every now and again, typically courtesy of the actions of the very few.  Think of us as "Boxing:  The White-Collar Edition". 

It is always a pleasure to see a lawyer who is a credit to the practice of law.  A lawyer who is a credit to our very profession and who makes the space she occupies better simply by virtue of doing what she does.  If the people of Michigan do not need a Justice like Dean McCormack on their state Supreme Court, then I am going home, packing up the contents of my home and moving to Detroit Rock City tomorrow.  "Call off the search Boo-Boo!  We have found the perfect place!"  Be smart:  do not take my word for it.  Read.  Learn.  Decide.....and upon further consideration perhaps Ann Arbor is more to my liking.   Although I do enjoy Eminem.  And the Red Wings.

I am as dependent on coffee and the jolt it provides to my system as any human being I know as would as soon drink a can of Dr. Pepper as a single sip of decaffeinated java but maybe, just maybe, Daniel Collins, Jr. of Teaneck, New Jersey might want to consider it.  For a day or two at least. 

I understand that reasonable minds are free to agree to disagree as to what constitutes socially acceptable behavior in shared space such as the common areas of an apartment building.  However, pulling a gun on one's neighbor and disclosing your desire to, "Put a hole in your head" simply because the guy farted in the vestibule seems JUST a bit of an overreaction.  According to the police, the two gentlemen had an ongoing dispute involving noise complaints - as if that makes what happened perfectly understandable.  Presumably, the noise in question emanated from somewhere other than Senor Stinky's nether area.  However, in the interest of full disclosure I must confess that the stories I read were both very vague on that point. 

It seems to me as if it was just fifteen minutes or so that I was eagerly anticipating the start of the long Memorial Day weekend - heralding summer's arrival, the joyous chaos that is the Spring Lake Five and Jess and Rob's visit home, which was a complete surprise for the Missus.  It was in fact a bit more than a month ago that all of the above took place.  Today heralds not the arrival of anything but rather the passage into history of the month of June. 

Yogi - Berra (not the Bear) was right.  'Round here it does indeed get late early.  Even in the time of year when the days are the longest, time is still short....

....and getting shorter.  Let us spend not one more minute of it here.

-AK

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Week's End

Nothing to say about today other than a day that shall begin at 3:00 a.m. with my alarm clock sounding shall end with the Missus and me at Newark Airport greeting Ryan and Suzanne.  Our temporary Texan and her other half are home for the next week or so.  The time they spend here shall pass in an eye's blink to be sure.  Days will feel as if they have been reduced to minutes.  Same as it always is any time one of our transplanted children spends a bit of time here in the State of Concrete Gardens. 

But the time spent here in state shall also be full of terrific moments.  For me, none better than the one awaiting me at day's end.  Happiness is the sight of one you love and see now only infrequently heading up the jetway towards you. 

I am grinning a bona fide shit-eating grin as I write this right now....

....and Suz's flight does not arrive until almost midnight. 

-AK

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Plain Sight and Blind Spots

There are days when you feel you have the world eating out of your hand.  Then there are days like yesterday.

A wise man once told me that you must always retain the ability to laugh at yourself.  If you do not an occasion will arise when you find yourself the only person in the crowded room not making a sound.  Yesterday for me had all the makings of such a day. 

Tuesday night the Missus and I were out and about later than usual.  I had picked her up from her office - having gone directly there from mine.  We took care of our business and headed home from Toms River. 

At some point - I do not remember when exactly - I lost sight of my wallet.  I tore my bag apart (or so I thought) to no avail.  Inasmuch as I did not realize that I had lost it until I was in my car ready to head out to a de bene esse deposition of a doctor at his office, which was roughly ninety minutes from my own....with about eighty-two minutes to get there - I interrupted my assistant Lucia's peace (believe me - when you work for me happiness is measured by the units of time I spend somewhere other than the office) and recruited her to take my office apart in search of it.

As she searched, I drove.  Every few minutes for the first half hour of my journey south she sent me e-mails updating me on her search.  And yes, with no driver's license or any form of identification of any kind on me (not to mention any cents red or otherwise) I was sending and receiving e-mails while I drove.  Kids!  Do Not Attempt This!  Well, do not attempt it if you drive on the same roads that I do, Margaret does or anyone else who I love and care about does.  All you folks in the Dakotas, West Virginia and Oregon feel free to do as you wish.

Lucia could not locate my wallet.  I even stopped by my own home briefly - it was kind of, sort of on my way to the doctor's office - widening out the search parameters.  Nothing.  I called Margaret to see if she had any thoughts as to where my wallet might be - other than the locations I had already checked or asked Lucia to check.  She had none. 

I spent the rest of the day cashless and walletless.  I actually adhered to the speed limit (kind of, sort of) all the way home from the doctor's office.  Upon my arrival home, I scoured the house and my car again.  Nothing. 

I went for a run.  When I completed it I decided to look yet again in my bag.  And sure enough there it was.  I suppose I shall never know where it was all day yesterday prior to finding its way back into my bag.  But it matters not.  Wherever it was, it found its way home. 

Yep.  That is exactly what happened.  'Tis my story and I am sticking to it....

....stop snickering.

-AK

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Proof of Mettle

The Olympic Track and Field Trials are taking place this week in Eugene, Oregon.  Among those who fell short in the quest for a spot in the London Olympics is a young Jersey boy named Travis Mahoney.  I know him only a little bit - through his folks - but I have paid enough attention to his career to know that what a tremendous season he had this year.  Travis attends Temple University in Philadelphia and competes for them in the 3,000 Meter Steeplechase.  This season he set the school record in the event.  Also, for good measure this season he finished 5th in the NCAA Men's 3,000 Meter Steeplechase and in the process became Temple University's first-ever First-Team All-American in his sport.  His mom Kathy and his dad Joe - both of whom I have become friends with through my wife and through a mutual love of running (although both of them are considerably better at it than am I) - kept Margaret and I well-advised during both his NCAA Championship meet and the Olympic Trials.  I know not what the future holds for him on the track but overall it looks quite golden.   

You might have missed it but earlier this week out in Eugene, two runners tied for the third and final spot on the Women's 100 Meter Team.  Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat in the women's 100 meter final.  Only the top three finishers make the Olympic team.  Amazingly (given the short distance being run) the folks that govern track and field in the United States apparently have no de facto tie-breaker procedure in place.  As I understand it these two runners - who are both coached by Bob Kersee - can either opt to (a) have a winner-take-all match race; or (b) have a winner-take-all....coin flip.  Yep.  A coin flip.  The choice belongs to the two women who have decided not to decide what to do with this event until they both finish competing in the 200 meter competition later this week. 

I hope like Hell since they are waiting to announce what they are going to do that what they are going to do is run against one another.  I would hate to think that all this banter about "focus", etc. is leading up to a hushed moment when one of them calls "Heads" or "Tails".  And how to they decide who gets to call the toss?  Great question.  Apparently they play "One Potato, Two Potato".  I know you are curious (as I was) so I checked out what the procedure is for breaking a three-way tie.   "Rock, Paper & Scissors".  Best two out of three

If you missed him in Eugene, then you might want to arrange your Olympic viewing schedule in such a way that you miss not one second of American Decathlete Ashton Eaton.  Eaton, 24 years young, set the world record in his event at the U.S. Trials in Eugene.  Defending Olympic champion Bryan Clay of the United States will not be in London to defend his title.  Clay fell during the hurdles, was actually disqualified from and then reinstated to the competition on a couple of occasions and fell out of the medal chase shortly thereafter.  He ultimately finished in 12th place.  But he finished.  In spite of his disappointment, his self-directed anger and his embarrassment over how things had gone for him, he competed until the end.  "I knew it was important to finish. I needed to finish," Clay said. "I didn't want to finish, but between my wife and my kids and everybody, I had to finish."

Reminders abound this week from the glorious Pacific Northwest that in athletic competition, often times, the winners outnumber the victors. 

-AK

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Death of Intimacy in the Age of Familiarity

The Missus - being a 21st Century woman - has a Facebook page.  She spends scant little time on it.  It is not inaccurate to say that most of the time she spends on it is spent checking out posts and/or photos that either Suz/Ryan put on-line from the great state of Texas or those that Rob/Jess add from the Front Range of Colorado (Note to all four of you:  she is a sucker for pictures of animals so keep those photos of Tillie and whatever the fish are named coming).  What she spends no time at all doing is using FB as her way of keeping tabs on the world at large and as the world at large's way of keeping tabs on her.  And not only does she spend no time using it in that manner, it does make her a bit insane that others do.  On Sunday morning that boiled over a bit.  She actually went on FB for the sole purpose of expressing how she felt:

I may lose some facebook friends over this but ……I enjoy facebook to “keep tabs” on my kids who both live 1000s of miles away. I post the occasional event or picture or send a message or two to someone I want to communicate with and otherwise can’t reach the old fashioned way, the phone. I like reading about other's special events or seeing pictures of those I don’t get to see otherwise. What I don’t understand is the “location” posts. Do we really want people to know exactly where we are and what we’re doing every minute? I guess so since locations are being posted. Sorry if I offended anyone. Just my opinion.

For those who have read thus far, who have recognized yourself in the opening stanza and who are now (at least half) hoping that this one shall serve as the opening argument in favor of why the Missus is simply wrong, perhaps you might want to spend your time engaging in a pursuit that leaves you with a warm fuzzy.  I assure you that this is not it. 

Shortly after I read what she had written on Sunday morning I saw two separate but not wholly unrelated commercials on TV.  The first was for Oliver Stone's new movie "Savages", which is being released next month.  The second was for Charlie Sheen's new TV series "Anger Management", which debuts on FX this week.  The juxtaposition of the two made me think (OK I had a flashback) of Sheen's starring turn in Stone's Vietnam opus "Platoon", for which the tag line was "The first real Casualty of War is Innocence.

Perhaps the first real casualty of the total access, 24/7 Information Age 21st Century is the concept of "too much information".  RIP - TMI might be the headstone of this era.  In this golden age of connectivity we are fueled by the desire to share ourselves and our lives with one another.  Some of us might even be consumed by it.  You know who you are if you are indeed such a person.

And if you are such a person then you need to admit that at least one of the reasons that you share all that you share about your day-to-day is the hope of hearing something that is the acoustical equivalent of applause across the virtual universe.  If that is what you choose to do, then so be it.  I would submit that you have however forfeited your right to challenge anyone's right to utter a noise that sounds conspicuously like one hand clapping in response to all you do.  Once you put it out there, it is out there for all to see and for all to comment upon.  Here in the Age of Instant Feedback the pool is open all the time.  But there is no lifeguard in the chair.  And in this particular body of water, it is always "Open Swim".   So leave your swimmies at home but pack your snorkel.  You just might be under for a while and find it a bit tricky to breathe.

I have no idea whether Margaret's coterie of virtual contacts has shrunk since she spoke her Declaration of Annoyance.  I suspect that far more of her contacts than she realized - and perhaps more than would care to admit - read her words not with anger but with regret over having not penned them.   And I am sure that there are those of you out there who read her words and felt your face flush.  Take solace in the fact - as any of you out there who actually know my better 3/4 and me (as opposed to those of you who have but a virtual acquaintance with either or both of us) - that unlike me Margaret actually gives some consideration to the way in which others shall respond to and react to what she writes.  Me?  Not so much.  Well that is not true....

....Me?  Not at all. 

-AK

Monday, June 25, 2012

Worth the Glimpse

A lot of bad stuff goes on in this world.  Some - but not nearly all of it - gets written about here now and again.  Feel free to question the messenger but please do not shoot me.  I do not make the news.  I merely report it. 

Every now and again though life brings good news to the doorstep.  And when it does, I like to sit back, savor the moment and simply watch it unfold before my eyes.

The Missus and I spent our Saturday afternoon at a family function - an 8th graduation party for her cousin's son. The latter half of last week featured some less than exquisite weather here in the State of Concrete Gardens.  From Wednesday through Friday the feel was more "late July" than mid June.  And on Friday night, it rained so ferociously that trios of animals could be seen playing Rock, Paper & Scissors for spots on Noah's big boat.  Yet Saturday morning dawned so bright and so beautiful that one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps Mother Nature had amnesia.  She appeared to have forgotten entirely just what she had put us through for the preceding 72 hours. 

It was simply a great day to have a backyard graduation party.  And for several hours on Saturday afternoon, kids of all sizes, shapes and genders - ranging in age for five to fifteen luxuriated in it.  Margaret's cousin has a beautiful back yard including but not limited to an in-ground pool.  As the adults sat around eating, drinking and conversing the afternoon and early evening away, the kids did something really cool.  They spent it playing in the pool.  Age mattered not.  Teenager frolicked with toddler.  They laughed and hollered and had a cannonball contest.

And these glorious children of the information age - the sons and daughters of iPod, iPad and iWannaMore did all of it without a gadget in sight or a gizmo anywhere to be heard.  The only technology on display was their collective imagination - and what it created was both valuable and priceless.

I think the Missus and I had just about climbed into bed last evening - several hours later mind you - when she commented for the final time about the ear-to-ear grin on my face.  It is indeed "the little things that count".  It was nice to spend the day in the company of such excellent professors.  It made the well-presented lesson all that much easier to learn. 

-AK

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Closure & Other Tall Tales

Friday night in a courtroom in Pennsylvania the other shoe dropped on former Penn State University Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky.  The jury empanelled to hear the evidence at his trial found him guilty on forty-five counts of child sexual molestation that he perpetrated on ten victims.  Sandusky, 68, faces up to 442 years in prison when sentenced, which seems to be just about enough time for him to appreciate that from this point forward the words "Mount Nittany" no longer refer to a point on a map.  If offered odds on whether he will live out his term of incarceration, play it safe and bet the under. 

As early as Friday night, talking heads on various networks started speaking in that made up, psychobabble bullshit that real people despise - throwing around terms such as "closure" - when speaking of the effect that Sandusky's conviction will have upon his victims.  Such discussion is offensive to my ear because it yet again diminishes these individuals.  They are not a group or a collective.  They are ten separate and distinct persons whose "forever link" was one forced upon them by a pedophile.  They have been given lifetime membership in a club they did not ask to join. 

How dare the rest of us presuppose that for these ten disparate personalities "one size fits all" in terms of their feelings about what one can only hope is the most horrific thing they have ever endured or shall ever have to endure.  Each has suffered an incalculable harm.  One - or all - may continue to suffer for the rest of his life.  There is no neat bow to placed atop the box here.  There is no shiny paper for those of us who were not victimized by Sandusky to wrap this result in, present it to these ten individuals as we would a Christmas or birthday gift and declare "All Better!".   

We did not own their pain at the time they were victimized.  We have not owned it in the years since.  We do not own it now.  It is theirs to express, to feel and to deal with in the manner and way in which they choose.  After all, it is their lives that Sandusky took from them.   The verdict - and more pointedly their reaction to it - belongs to them and to them alone. 

Are they not at least owed this much?

-AK

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Limitations of Man

'Twas true when Josey Wales said it.  'Tis true today.  A man has got to know his limitations.  While I chafe and tug against the restraints of mine time and again, I do not live life for even an instant under the mistaken belief that such action makes me unique.  It makes me human.  Well, that and the birthmark I have on the bottom side of my right forearm.  Parenthetically when we were little Jill used to tell me that it was not a birthmark at all but merely a mark left by the bottom of the cane that our father used in his attempt to "return me to sender" upon my arrival.  I never believed her since I never saw Dad use a cane even once.  Then again, he did have one hell of a limp. 

But I digress....

If I was smarter than I am I would have a better fundamental understanding of why a group of 13 year-old kids not only thought it was "OK" to basically go all "Lord of The Flies" on their 68 year-old school bus monitor but that it was "cool" to videotape the entire encounter AND thereafter post it on YouTube.  Face-to-face humiliation is not enough any more in the 21st Century I reckon.  You have not achieved anything until you have potentially subjected another to scorn and ridicule of millions of strangers. 

Kudos to the world at large.  The little douchebags' video met with a response far different than they anticipated.  Sure it has been seen by millions but it prompted not ridicule for Karen Klein - the grandmother of eight who these little jagoffs tortured for sport - but rather scorn for her tormentors and an outpouring of support for her.  Mrs. Klein informed the local police that she shall not press criminal charges against any of those involved and shall leave the issue of meting out the appropriate measure of discipline to the school district.  Not that anyone has sought my counsel on this, but there are two elements of what I think should be a multi-faceted punishment I would love to see all of them receive that leaped immediately to mind. 

First, since all of these kids enjoy the school bus so much even after they attain their driver's licenses forbid those of them who are attending a district school at the time they get their license (presumably high school but given the aptitude of this bunch it might be 8th grade) the privilege of driving a car on campus.  Make them ride the school bus back and forth to school.  They know firsthand just how cruel a pack of 13 year-old kids can be.  In case they think that 13 year-old kids can only be cruel to 68 year-old women, just wait until they see how cruel they can be to the couple of high school seniors who still need the bus to get to/from school.  Now that is video I would enjoy watching.

Second, once the identity of the little bastards involved in this torture is established (including but not limited to the future leader of America who sat behind Mrs. Klein and kept sticking his face in the direction of the camera as he tormented her) burn as many copies of the video as needed to have one affixed to each of the offenders' school transcript.  Thus when this merry band commences the college application process five or six years from now, they need not explain to anyone what they did.  The college in question shall have video evidence of it.  And do not whine to me for one moment about how "unfair" that would be to any of them.  But for the arrogance of posting this bullshit on-line the world at large would never have learned of this incident.  Bully for you, you bullies!  You have figured out a way to extend your fifteen minutes of fame forever.  You have immortalized yourselves forever in video.

After all a picture is worth one thousand words.  Right?  

-AK

Friday, June 22, 2012

Perhaps It Is Just Me....

Under normal operating conditions I am no one's idea of a bargain.  This week the combination of work-related silliness and the working replica of the E-Z Bake Oven into which the State of Concrete Gardens has morphed has amped up my general cuddliness for those fortunate enough to be in my immediate vicinity.  The rock in my melon that masquerades as a brain is quite tired.  As a result....well if you read beyond the next sentence or so you shall find out for yourself. 

Thus endeth the disclaimer....

Is it just me or did Don Mattingly hit it squarely on the head when - in the wake of the Roger Clemens' acquittal earlier this week - he called the prosecutions of knot heads like Clemens and Barry Bonds  an utter waste of taxpayer funds for which innumerable better purposes could be found?   Who gives a rat's ass whether what either of these two jocks did was in fact criminal behavior?  They either cheated to attain a level of glory that they otherwise might not have or they did not.  If they did, then they will carry with them for the rest of their lives their oversized Rock 'Em/Sock 'Em Robot heads, their putt-putt golf-sized junk and the stink of what they did.   If they did not, then perhaps someone owes them an apology.  Perhaps.  That "someone" certainly ain't me and I am willing to wager that you need not apply for that gig either. 

Is it just me or would it not be less expensive for Rafael Nadal to hire some kid for minimum wage plus a nickel an hour to walk around with him and tell him the time at Rafa's request than it is for him to wear a watch?  While Nadal was wiping the clay with the field at the recently-completed French Open, a thief stole his watch from his hotel room.  The French police nabbed the thief a few days after the pilfering took place and recovered the watch as well.  Good thing as the watch was a tad on the pricey side.  The jeweler who loaned it to Nadal to wear described it as a $376,000 watch.  Let us be blunt here for a moment.  If you have the coin necessary to drop $376,000 on a watch, you do not need to wear one for the answer to the question whenever you ask, "what time is it?" is "any damn time you want it to be."

Is it just me or is it possible that Charlie Sheen is not entirely nuts?  Earlier this week the Star-Ledger ran an article that featured some excerpts of Sheen's interview in an upcoming issue of Playboy.  Among the highlights - for me anyway - was Sheen's declaration that everything anyone ever needed to learn about life was there for the learning in Apocalypse Now.  "Everything you need to know about life is in 'Apocalypse.' Everything. When Marlon Brando says, 'You have the right to kill me, but you don’t have the right to judge me,' that’s it, man. That’s the world right there."  I have not read the whole interview so I know not whether Sheen drops any credit at Robert Duvall's feet as well for his communication of an important life lesson.  If you pick it up at the newsstand, then drop me a line and let me know.  I shall be waiting eagerly by my in-box. 

Finally, it might very well just be me because I have a real soft spot for my fellow CU Buff and uber-talented scribe Rick Reilly but given the subject matter of his column from earlier this week, I hope like hell that it is not just me who thinks Double R is spot-on in his assessment of accused serial sexual predator Jerry Sandusky.  Not to mention his hope for the locale where Sandusky next gets to play his "tickle monster" game.   Here is to hoping that wherever he plays that disgusting game next he loses the coin flip every time he plays so that rather than kicking off, he is forced to receive.  Sorry Coach.  This league is like the CFL.  No fair catch is permitted. 

Truth be told, I care not one whit if it is in fact just me who thinks these things.  I do not think that life is a popularity contest.  And if I am wrong and indeed it is, my chance of winning it all disappeared about seven seconds after I spoke my first words aloud four and one-half decades ago.  Either way, 'tis my skin and I am damn comfortable in it. 

See you soon.

-AK

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eyes Full of Ghosts

We are enduring a fairly rough patch presently in the history of the Republic.  There are those among us - the Doomsday crowd - who predict that what we are seeing now is not the entire iceberg but merely its show piece, the tip.  There are those among us - the somewhat pragmatic crowd - whose faith in the things that have made it possible for America to reach the heights to which we have climbed at various times during our history believe that as long of those things "things" still exist and as long as we the people do not lose sight of what they are and how to utilize them that irrespective of this night's length a new day will dawn.  Those who still believe in the night's magic.

By no means do I intend this piece to offer a definitive survey of all things that support the position of the latter group.  I have vanity issues but even mine has its limits.  (What do you mean that you have seen no evidence of that to date?  Who asked you anyway?)  As the great Pete Hamill wrote in Downtown:  My Manhattan, "You know the people you love and the people with whom you work.  The rest is glimpses.  And on certain days, yes, you want to live forever."  A glimpse is sometimes all you get.  And sometimes it is all you need. 

Recently, Matt Cain pitched the first perfect game in the history of the San Francisco Giants.  Cain's performance, while exceptional, was certainly not unexpected given his pitching pedigree.  He has been one of the better pitchers in baseball for several years and has been a key figure in the Giants' resurgence in the post-Bonds era.  The image to me from his perfect game against the Astros that shall resonate for a long time is one that is associated with the catch that Giants centerfielder Gregor Blanco made in the 7th inning.

With no one out, Blanco ran down a blast that was struck into deep left-centerfield.  The catch was spectacular.  If you have not seen it - or if you are like me and you simply cannot get enough of it - then check it out here.  It is not a long piece of video (sixty seconds in its entirety) so permit yourself the indulgence of watching it from start to finish.  For my money, the most extraordinary part of it is not Blanco's catch but, rather, Cain's reaction to it.  Major league history is replete with examples of pitchers who berate their teammates for "plays not made" (at least from the somewhat jaundiced perspective of the pitcher).  Right at the end of the video (at about the 0:58 mark) check out what Cain did.  A simple gesture but one reflecting his recognition that he who goes it alone has a fool for a travelling companion.  Great stuff. 

While my rooting allegiance is with the boys of Steinbrenner Tech, I think that the man who just might be the athlete in all of sports who is the easiest for thom to root pitches for New York's other professional baseball club.  R.A. Dickey is not merely a baseball marvel this season, having won eleven of his first twelve decision while pitching to a 2.00 ERA, all the while throwing the most mysterious knuckleball this side of the Warner Brothers animation studio, although he is every inch just such a marvel.  In his last two starts he did something that had not been done since Dave Stieb of the Toronto Blue Jays (see Webster's Dictionary for "definition of big league pitcher who berated his teammates for plays not made") did it in the late 1980's:  he threw back-to-back one-hitters.  After his first such effort - against the Devil Rays in Tampa - the Mets filed an appeal with MLB to overturn the official scorer's decision to record the game's only hit as a hit instead of as an error charged to third baseman David Wright.  MLB denied the appeal.  The happiest guy when the decision denying the appeal was announced?  Dickey

Under Yours truly's definition of time well-spent (in addition to the video of the Blanco catch - go ahead and check it out again.  It is truly that good.) is Jon Wertheim's piece earlier this week on SI.com on Dickey.  He is far more than an talented pitcher having an extraordinary season plying his trade.  He is an extraordinary man whose prowess for throwing a pitch that no other major league pitcher features - the retirement after the 2011 season of the seemingly eternal Tim Wakefield rendered Dickey the Last of the Knuckleballing Mohicans - might very well be the least extraordinary thing he does. 

And for those of you out there who are put off by good guys like Cain and Dickey achieving success, I have not forgotten about you either.  Your poster child this week is Carl Ericcson. 

In the 1950's, when Ericcson was in high school among the extra-curricular activities he did was serving as a student manager for his school's track team.  One of the guys on that team was Norman Johnson.  Apparently on one occasion - presumably after track practice - Johnson played a rather obnoxious prank on Ericcson.  He placed a jockstrap on his head.  How angry did it make Ericcson?  Angry enough that after sporting a grudge for five decades, in January of this year Ericcson shot and killed Johnson.  At his sentencing this past Friday when pressed by the judge for an explanation as to why he had done what he did, Ericcson admitted that he had never been able to let go of that incident.  Upon further review, he told the judge, he wished that he had. 

Ericcson is now seventy-three years old.  The judge sentenced him to life in a South Dakota state prison.  In the off chance that the warden of that particular institution happens to be a reader of this space (stranger things have happened - although admittedly not a single example leaps to mind at present) then please permit me the indulgence of putting forth this piece of unsolicited advice:  do not assign Carl Ericcson laundry duty. 

Ever....

-AK

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Endless Summer

Summer's unofficial launch was just about four weeks ago.  Today however it starts for real.  Today is the Summer Solstice.  It is the day in the Northern Hemisphere in which there shall be more daylight than any other.  While you might think that we are just beginning to gear up for long summer days, you would be incorrect.  Each day forward from this one until its chilly bookend the Winter Solstice shall be shorter than the one before it.  Do not feel compelled to take my word for it.  Feel free to check out the little box in your local newspaper that records "Sunrise" and "Sunset" time every day.  You can see the evidence for yourself. 

Or if you have neither a subscription to your local paper nor the change in your pocket to purchase today's edition, then simply ask my brother Kelly.  A million years ago when I worked for him, his explanation to the other guys on the job site that not only was today the first day of summer but also the beginning of the slow, inexorable march towards winter's gloom was an annual rite of summer.  It is amazing that none of us Kennys ever made a killing in the greeting card business.  I fear our true calling has eluded us all.

The arrival of the Summer Solstice today is as good an excuse as I need to post a link to - and to extend an invitation to you to enjoy - my favorite Springsteen song.   This performance is from the October 2, 2009 show at Giants Stadium at which show my favorite Springsteen album, "Darkness on the Edge of Town", was performed in its entirety.  I still smile thinking about that evening. 

Enjoy the Solstice.  After all, it is all downhill from here....

-AK

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Progress Report

As of this very day, Margaret and I have been married for nineteen years.  How one so wonderful puts up with one so lacking in so many of the refinements embraced by the world at large I know not.  Truth be told, I have never been brave enough to inquire.  Almost two decades in, I think I have learned that some questions should never be asked aloud. 

Margaret is the great miracle of my life.  It is likely an understatement to say that she saved my life.  It is most assuredly not an exaggeration.  Prior to falling in love with my wife among the many things that held zero interest to me was living to be as old as I am now.  The point in the exercise eluded me.  I did what I did, going through my day-to-day, and surviving.  Nothing more.  Before I fell in love with my wife I had no idea that I could want more than that out of life.  I had no idea that it was an attainable goal.  I simply had to work hard to get there.

Almost two decades in, hard work is still the order of the day.  But when one works hard in the pursuit of something - or someone - one loves, it feels not at all like work.  I do not have much of a heart (and have in fact been accused on more than one occasion of being devoid of one altogether) but I love my wife with all of it.  Without her, I would be lost.  Adrift.  With her, I am home.  At peace.

Margaret is the great miracle of my life.  And I get to live that miracle every day.  I am a far luckier man than I have any right to be....

....for a work in progress I have made out better than fine.  Happy Anniversary Honey.  Thank you for all of it.  For every single day.....

-AK

Monday, June 18, 2012

Uptown Forever

One year ago today Clarence Clemons died. His long-time friend and musical brother in arms - Bruce Springsteen - eulogized him at a memorial service several days later. He later reprinted just a portion of his remarks on his web site so that they could be shared with fans all over:

Clarence doesn't leave the E Street Band when he dies.
He leaves when we die.
So, I'll miss my friend, his sax,
the force of nature his sound was,
his glory, his foolishness, his accomplishments,
his face, his hands, his humor, his skin,
his noise, his confusion, his power, his peace.
But his love and his story,
the story that he gave me,
that he whispered in my ear,
that he allowed me to tell...
and that he gave to you...
is gonna carry on.


If memory serves correctly the final time I saw a Springsteen concert at which the E Street Band included Clarence was at the end of the 2009 tour, when my buddy Dave Puteska and I sat high up at Madison Square Garden for the Saturday night show at which the album that was performed in its entirety was "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle", which record includes tracks such as "Rosalita" that are known and revered in significant part for the sound of his horn. Even from our admittedly lousy seats, LD and I had a hellaciously fine time.

As has been proven night after night on this world tour, the Big Man has not left the E Street Band. They are with him and he is with them during every show. Living proof perhaps of the fact that the change that was made Uptown all those years ago was not just for the better, it was forever....



....and that no man gets left behind.



....especially not the Big Man.

-AK

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Looking Westward Towards Eden

First things first....

To Bill, Kelly, Russ, Joe and Glenn, who make up a quintet of the finest dads I know. Each has shepherded from tykedom to adulthood their respective branches of the family business. I wish each of them nothing but the best and happiest of Father's Days. Through their good efforts the next generation of the Kenny family has not only taken root but it has flourished - and in the case of Kelly and Glenn - has moved onward into the next, next generation. Thus for those two the wishes are not only for them as dads but as dear old granddads as well. The down side for me is that their status as grandfather elevates me to that of "great uncle" and as any of my posse of nieces and nephews can attest, I have done little to earn the sobriquet.

In the almost two decades during which Margaret and I have been married I have been truly blessed in that I have become part of her family, which features two outstanding dads of its own: my father-in-law Joe and my brother-in-law Frank. About eighteen months ago, Frank's oldest daughter Megan gave birth to twins so he has already joined the Granddad Club while Joe has been elevated to the rank of "Great-Grandfather"....which status he earned years before Halle and Nicholas announced their arrival. To these two men upon whom I rely for guidance and support on a daily basis, I hope Father's Day is the happy day they deserve and have earned.

This year finds both of my two adults at least a time zone removed from the State of Concrete Gardens. From time to time I use this space to express the incredible pride I feel in them and the person each has become and the tremendous admiration I have for them. Suz and Rob are both incredible. They are every inch their mother's children. Margaret is the great miracle of my life. It still boggles my mind that at the time I fell in love with her, I was entrusted with the privilege and the responsibility of becoming a parent to these two. Once upon a time they were rugrats. Today, they are accomplished, content, complete adults.

I spent their respective childhoods doing little more than driving the car when we needed to be someplace and making sure that all of the bills were paid. It is almost incomprehensible to me that a man whose own fear of being beyond shitty at being a father guided many of my life's decisions up until I met and fell in love with Margaret had the chance to be a spectator in the lives of these two amazing kids. I am my father's son, which means I am atrocious at expressing to those for whom I feel the most love precisely what it is I feel. I hope that at some level, throughout the years, the message has been received.

And as my two have moved on out into the world as full-fledged adults, I think of two of my oldest friends - Mark and Dave - each of whom has become a father for the first time within the last year or so. Frankly, I would be terrified if I was in their shoes. Luckily for all concerned, I am not. And better still for Mark's twins, Dana and Mark, and Dave's little dude Indy, they have the best possible man for the job. Plus, in a pinch Indy has Uncle Carl too who - to paraphrase James McMurtry - is "one bad-ass Iguana".

....Lost but not forgotten,
From the dark heart of a dream
Adam raised a Cain....


-AK




Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hell's Kitchen

I hope that your weekend is a good one. Mine shall get off to an invigorating start this morning. The Missus and I are off to Red Bank, which is a jewel of a town nestled as it is on the banks of the Navesink River. Gidg and I are participating again this year in the George Sheehan Classic.

We both participated in it for the first time last year. Last year it was a five mile race. This year the distance has been reduced to a 5K, which is 3.1 miles. I am confident that somewhere, someone knows why the change was made. I am equally confident that that "someone" looks nothing at all like me. Similarly, I have every confidence that I shall not ever know the answer to that question. If anyone had asked for my opinion, I would have expressed my preference that it remain a five-mile race. They did not. The rest as they say is history.

Irrespective of the distance, it is a terrific event. And there are many, many worse places to spend a Saturday morning in mid-June than in Red Bank, New Jersey. Here is to hoping that the weather continues to cooperate and that my legs decide to forego secession for at least one more day. Today has all the ingredients necessary to be a hell of a day.

Now it is time to make it happen. You do the same. Enjoy your day.

-AK



Friday, June 15, 2012

(Signs of the) Apocalypse Now

Two entities that - silly me - I had presumed had been permanently consigned to the scrap heap of history are coming together this evening. Nik Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas is going to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Why? While the answer that leaps to the forefront of my mind is, "Who f**king knows?" the real answer appears to be because both Wallenda and Niagara Falls can make money off of the attempt. Well, at least Niagara Falls can. This undertaking appears to be costing Wallenda what I would consider to be at least a mid-sized fortune.

ABC is televising this spectacle but as a condition of broadcasting it on network TV, it is requiring Wallenda to wear a safety harness that is (as I understand it) tethered to the tightrope. Thus, even if he is blown off of the rope itself he should be able to avoid death - if not disappointment. Perhaps it is just the cynic in me but him being tethered to the tightrope sort of converts this into a half-assed, horizontal bungee jump.

Incredibly, three hours of prime-time television is going to be devoted to this nonsense. When I thought for a moment that he was actually engaging in this incredible act of attention whoredom and might indeed be risking his life, I contemplated tuning in at least one time to check out how he was doing. Truth be told I would have been rooting for the wind and the water. Now that the "death-defying" has been reduced to "vomit-inducing" it has lost what litle appeal it held. For me, at least.

Of course, if ABC wanted to spice things up by permitting this attention whore to walk on his little tightrope - tethered to it if he must be - while carrying a member of the First Family of Attention Whoredom on his back then you might get my eyeballs to the front of the set. I care not at all which Kardashian rides shotgun on the walk across....

....just as long as there is no tether.

-AK

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wasteland, R.F.D.

I have been reminded on an annoying number of occasions over the course of the past few days how my decision to remove vodka as the #1 food group in my day-to-day likely saved not only my own life but the lives of others. No, not because of the inherent evils of drinking and driving, although as Dave Diehl of the New York Giants reminded us this past weekend doing too much of the former immediately prior to attempting the latter is a less than bright and potentially very dangerous thing to do. Consider that Diehl is a human being tipping the scales in the neighborhood of 300 pounds (at least according to nfl.com) and then consider that when his blood alcohol content was measured (after he drove his vehicle into and then off of at least four or five parked vehicles) it tipped the scales at .182, which is approximately two times the legal limit in New York. Just how much booze did he consume to achieve that level?

I was reminded that my decision two decades ago to essentially unwrap my hand and lips from around the vodka bottle removed the lubricant from my brain that had to that point kept my filter in the permanent "off" position. You know the filter of which I speak right? We all have one. It is the thing located between where thoughts form in our brain and where they escape us through our mouths that acts as a speed bump. It slows down the flow of information in an effort to keep everything that we might want to say at a particular moment in time from actually being shared with the rest of the world. Once upon a lifetime ago, before I transformed from a fully functional drunk into the sober prick of misery I am presently, my filter was never on. And being my father's son, once I was sufficiently fueled up being in my presence was akin to being at George Costanza's house at the beginning of Festivus. Grievances were aired. If I was out with friends at a bar on a Friday or Saturday night, then people seemed less offended. However, given that I had a job at which I worked noon to nine p.m. four nights a week and spent my dinner break every night consuming as many Absolut screwdrivers as I could in one hour, the people who shared the office space with me those nights were significantly more so. I cared about their concerns not at all.

I am still not overly concerned with the concerns and opinions of those with whom I share my day-to-day at work. Most days my position has little impact on those around me because their doings and my doings are separate and apart from one another. However this week that has not proven to be the case. And because it has not, I have been reminded that for all of the things we do extraordinarily well, being a space occupied by well-intentioned human beings there are certain things at which we do not excel, which failings tend to serve as an irritant for certain of us (OK, one of us at the very least).

Fortunately for me these "failings" (that seems to be a safe word to use to describe them) pop up infrequently and grind on me now far less than they would have back in the "day", which would be any day of my life that was lived prior to me having transitioned to granola bars and fruit salad for lunch from vodka and orange juice. But for the "new" me being the version of me who walks the halls of the office day in and day out, this week - which has been chock full of incredibly fucking annoying moments - would have likely proceeded on a far uglier trajectory. And that would not have been good for anyone. Including of course me....

Well I hadn't intended to bend the rules
But whiskey don't make liars, it just makes fools.
So I didn't mean to say it,
But I meant what I said.


-AK

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A View Thru A World's Windows

For the one and only Majaloo.... Happy, Happy Birthday to You!

Dirty old street all slushed up in the rain and snow
Little boy and his ma shivering outside a rundown music store window
That night on top of a Christmas tree shines one beautiful star
And lying underneath a brand-new Japanese guitar


I remember in the morning, ma, hearing your alarm clock ring
I'd lie in bed and listen to you gettin' ready for work
The sound of your makeup case on the sink
And the ladies at the office, all lipstick, perfume and rustlin' skirts
And how proud and happy you always looked walking home from work




If pa's eyes were windows into a world so deadly and true
You couldn't stop me from looking but you kept me from crawlin' through
And if it's a funny old world, mama, where a little boy's wishes come true
Well I got a few in my pocket and a special one just for you


It ain't no phone call on Sunday, flowers or a mother's day card
It ain't no house on a hill with a garden and a nice little yard
I got my hot rod down on Bond Street,
I'm older but you'll know me in a glance
We'll find us a little rock 'n roll bar
And baby we'll go out and dance




Well it was me in my Beatle boots, you in pink curlers and matador pants
Pullin' me up on the couch to do the twist for my uncles and aunts
Well I found a girl of my own now, ma, I popped the question on your birthday
She stood waiting on the front porch while you were telling me to get out there
And say what it was that I had to say




Last night we all sat around laughing at the things that guitar brought us
And I layed awake thinking 'bout the other things it's brought us
Well tonight I'm takin's requests here in the kitchen
This one's for you, ma, let me come right out and say it
It's overdue, but baby, if you're looking for a sad song,
Well I ain't gonna play it.


Happy Birthday to Mom! The greatest gift a child ever received.

-AK

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

From High Atop The Ferris Wheel

Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. The happy recap of some of the things that you might have missed over the past several days.

If the Butler University Bulldogs hoops team was a baseball team, then they would be the Stony Brook Seawolves. This week Coach Matt Senk and his band of merry men shall head west to Omaha, Nebraska to compete in the College World Series for the first time in school history. In the interest of full disclosure, just twenty-two years ago Stony Brook was competing at the Division III level so they have only had a bit more than two decades worth of opportunities to play in the CWS. They got there this year by doing what many considered impossible. They made the trek to Tiger Country, took on and took out the six-time National Champion LSU Tigers on LSU's home field. Thus far this year, Senk's team has won fifty-two of the sixty-five games it has played - including twenty-eight of its last thirty. On Sunday night it not only defeated LSU to win its way to the CWS, it blew the Tigers out of their own bayou ballpark by a 7-2 count. I have no idea who Stony Brook shall play in Omaha or whether they shall win a game once they get there. It has been one helluva ride thus far and regardless of how it ends for them it is one they shall likely remember the rest of their lives....as shall the kids from this year's LSU team no doubt.

Free from pitching under anything bearing even a reasonable facsimile of a resemblance to pressure, former Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett has won five consecutive decisions for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The most recent win in his streak was his 3-2 decision on Sunday afternoon against the Royals as the Pirates finished off a sweep of Kansas City in the "Remember The 1970's When Our Franchises Were Relevant?" interleague series. Thus far this season Burnett is 6-2 with a 3.71 ERA. As long as I never have to cast eyes upon him again wearing Yankees pinstripes, I shall root for him to win every game he pitches for the remainder of his career. And as long as they are in zero pressure situations such as mid-June Sunday afternoon games for the Pirates, he very well may.

I have never lived in Michigan. Actually, but for one time that I had to change planes at Berry Gordy International Airport (or whatever the hell the name of the airport is in Detroit), I have never set foot in the Great Lakes State. That being said, allow me this opportunity to cross party lines (Yours truly is a registered Republican) and implore the good people of that great state to cast a vote for Bridget McCormack who is running for a seat on Michigan's Supreme Court as a Democrat. A lifetime ago, long before one of us began to drown in a sea of gray hair and the other moved to Michigan and became a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, we both attended W-H. Among the things that Dean McCormack does at U of M is serve as Co-Director of the law school's Innocence Clinic. Just last week, the good efforts of the Innocence Clinic helped exonerate a man who had spent close to three decades in prison for allegedly starting a fire at his home in order to murder his wife and two small daughters. Upon being freed from prison, David Lee Gavitt made a trip to the cemetery to visit his family. He had never before been able to do so. As a lawyer, Bridget McCormack gives the practice of law a good name. If you the people of Michigan cannot use her legal acumen and her humanity on your Supreme Court, then have your Governor alert Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo to tell them that their search is over for clearly you all are already living in the "perfect place".

And for all you ne'er-do-wells living on the Front Range of Colorado and in Wyoming. In case you wonder why the good guys always seem to know where you pieces of human dreck are hiding out and the no good you are up to while you are still in the midst of being up to it, this should be simple enough for you to figure out. While you are cooking meth or smoking crack, they are spending their LEISURE time doing crazy, intense shit such as this
and this. If these folks are willing to pay to spend a weekend doing this just for the sense of accomplishment one gets from doing anything this hard and this intense, then what chance do you think you have of outlasting them?

No doubt more stuff than just these few things happened worldwide in the past several days. But since I bear no resemblance at all to your mommy, I have no intention of pointing you in the direction of all of the rest of it. Seek and ye shall find.

-AK

Monday, June 11, 2012

Daddy's Girls

This past weekend wrapped up the high school softball season here in the State of Concrete Gardens. Among the schools that fell short of winning a state title this year was Hanover Park. In the Group II semi-finals last Tuesday the Hornets lost to the eventual state champions from Pequannock. However this season marked the first time since 1980 that Hanover Park had won a sectional title. They upset Rutherford 3-2 earlier last week to win the North 2 Group II title. In springing the upset they won their tenth game out of the eleven they had played since May 5, at which time they were under .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.

This year's Hanover Park squad included the Politi sisters, Danielle and Dana. The sisters - who are twins - combined to produce the winning run in the sectional championship game against Rutherford. May 5, 2012 is a day that these two youngsters shall recall for the rest of their lives. For it was on that day that their dad was struck and killed by a drunk driver while he stood in the parking lot of his own store next to his own vehicle. At the time he was hit, his daughters were down the shore having a nice weekend at the beach with their friends. His injuries were so severe that Ralph Politi Jr. died before his wife and daughters could make it to Morristown Memorial Hospital to say goodbye to him.

The Politi twins could have simply opted out for the remainder of the 2012 softball season. Their dad was not only among their biggest fans but he had also been their coach from the time they were little sluggers until they started high school. No one would have looked askance at either of them for a moment had they decided to call it a year. They did not. And not only did these two young ladies not give up they and their fellow Hornets went on a historical tear, winning a championship that their school last won about a decade or so prior to any of the kids on this year's team being born.

This spring the Politi family home was visited by more than its share of tears. In a time of profound sorrow however Dana and Danielle Politi wiped their cheeks dry long enough to do something simply wonderful. Bravery comes in many shapes and sizes. And as they taught us all this season, occasionally it comes in pairs.

-AK

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This Zone is for Unloading

It was an extraordinarily long week at work this week - not in terms of anything diabolical or untoward occurring - but just with regard to the number of things that had to be completed. My brain, which is not exactly built for endurance on its best days - is a bit whipped. Thus, expect today's inanity to perhaps rise to heights that it normally does not. Or just stop reading right now and find something more rewarding to do with your time. It is not as if I will know one way or the other and in the interests of full disclosure I will not be affected by your choice. Promise.

I love hockey. Born and raised a Rangers fan. Enjoyed the hell out of their effort this season. Yet I am at a loss to understand why exactly the NHL season begins around Columbus Day and ends between Memorial Day and Father's Day. This time of year the life expectancy of an ice cube on a sidewalk in either Newark, New Jersey or Los Angeles, California is less than a minute. There has to be a mechanism for having the season take less than nine months to complete and for having the off-season to last longer than an eye blink. The Major League season seems to last forever and it actually takes less time to complete than the NHL season does. In fairness to the powers that be in the NHL there may very well be seasons that last longer than theirs does but as someone who cannot even be forced to pantomime giving a rat's ass about the NBA, the WNBA or the MLS, I care not at all when any of their seasons begin or end.

Today wraps the first edition of this year's Subway Series. I despise inter-league baseball. And I am already chapped about the fact that when the Houston Astros are moved from the NL to the AL next year, there will be one inter-league game played every day since the 30 big league teams will now be evenly divided into two 15-team leagues. Screw the Subway Series. Bring back the Mayor's Trophy Game. Feel free to continue to air the Dunkin' Donuts commercial with Terry Collins and Joe Girardi. It is utterly harmless. And at least during the two sets that the Bombers and the Metropolitans play with one another, there is a natural rivalry being played out on the field. It beats the hell out of having to sit through three games between those long-standing enemies the Los Angeles Dodgers and.....the Seattle Mariners.

And do not even get me started on Lauryn Hill and her "explanation" for her decision to not pay any income taxes for a three-year period in which her income was reportedly $1.8 Million. I never knew what the inspiration was for the title of her quite-excellent solo record, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, in the late '90's. Now it seems much, much clearer to me. When compared to Ms. Hill, Zoey Ripple suddenly looks to be a candidate for a Fulbright scholarship.

See you tomorrow. Or not.

-AK

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Horse Scents

Odd the way in which my scattershot mind works. It occurred to me as I sat down to write this that today - June 9th - was Mom/Dad's anniversary. If memory serves me correctly, they were ten days shy of #32 when he died thirty-one years ago. She has now lived almost as long as a widow as she did as a wife. Amazing woman, my mom is. Extraordinary actually.

Time races right past me. It likely does the same to you. The older we get, the faster it moves. Or perhaps it just seems that way because we have lost a step or two. Matters little I suppose because the result is the same. Too many things to do. Too little time in which to do them.

W-H in Edison, which is the school from which Kara, Jill and I each received our high school diploma, graduated its Class of 2012 yesterday. I was reminded recently just how long ago it was that I roamed its hallways as a student. This past Sunday the school held a surprise retirement party for a faculty member who retired this year after having taught at W-H for a quarter-century. When I saw the news of the party it occurred to me that I had no recollection at all of Jane Brown, the retiree. And then I realized why I could not remember her. Her career - while lengthy and apparently very distinguished - began AFTER my time there had come and gone. When someone dedicates 25 years of service to an organization to which you have a personal connection and the entirety of her career takes place in an era that postdates your own, you get a none too subtle reminder of just how old you are.

At some point later this afternoon - early evening really I reckon by the time they yell, "On your mark! Get Set! Go!" or whatever it is they yell at the start of a horse race, the wonderfully named I'll Have Another was to have been among the horses at the starting gate in the Belmont Stakes, competing in the hope of being the first horse to capture the Triple Crown in thirty-four years. I was a boy of eleven when Steve Cauthen and Affirmed edged out Alydar for the third time in succession to capture the Belmont Stakes in 1978. At that time, it seemed to me as if the whole "win the Triple Crown" thing was pretty easy inasmuch as Seattle Slew had done it the year before and four years before that Secretariat had as well. I still recall standing in the living room in our house on Canal Road and watching Secretariat obliterate the rest of the field in the Belmont Stakes. He was so far ahead at the finish that it seemed to me had they added a second lap to the event he would have caught and passed if not all then most of his competitors.

I know nothing about horse racing but had he been in the field this afternoon - and presuming the Missus and I are somewhere close to a television set at post time - we would have stopped what we were doing to watch him take his shot at history. However, yesterday afternoon his trainer announced that his champion would not run in today's Belmont. He apparently injured his left leg and his trainer, no doubt realizing that his horse likely lacks the werewithal to walk the fine line between discretion and valor, made the decision for him.

Another year shall pass therefore without a Triple Crown champion being crowned. His trainer expressed concern that his horse's career may in fact be over. Must be nice to be retired at the age of three with nothing but a lifetime of hanging out in the pasture with your pals ahead of you. I suspect that we the humans are far more affected by this turn of events than the horse is. I am not a betting man but I am curious as to whether this particular equine can appreciate the difference what his life was like yesterday and what his life shall be like effective tomorrow.

Maybe the same can be said for a lot of us. Whether equine or human....

-AK

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fish and Water

One of the most pleasant things about not being overly bright is that it permits one's mind to wander and roam unencumbered from one thought to the next. It is sort of like entrusting your television remote to Ten Second Tom. Retention? What retention?

This time last week I spent the afternoon in the company of several law enforcement officers who I am defending in a Civil Rights action - an action so specious by the way that had Rosa Parks suspected that such a claim could be filed under the federal and state statutes governing the protection of one's civil rights - she would have given up her seat on the bus, flagged down a cab and lived out the rest of her life in splendid isolation. By the time the meeting wrapped up, I opted against channeling my inner salmon and migrating upstream towards my office in Morris County. Instead I made the relatively quick and painless trek home from Union County.

Understand of course that a "relatively quick and painless" commute in New Jersey should evoke memories of the installment of the great Gary Larson cartoon The Far Side when Satan asks one of Hell's new arrivals, "Inferno or no inferno?" and before the poor bastard can answer adds, "Just kidding! They're all inferno!" Such is life in rush hour in the State of Concrete Gardens. [Apropos of absolutely nothing if you are a fan of The Far Side as am I then accept my gift of these additional gems set in the Home of Eternal Damnation including this one, and this one....and this one.]

My route home took me through Westfield, a town in which I have never lived but in which I spent a fair amount of time as a kid by virtue of the number of my friends and classmates at W-H who lived there. As an older, much grayer man I make it a point to spend at least one Wednesday night there every July. The Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza has become one of the staples of my summer racing season....even if after running as hard as I can in 90+ degree heat about the last thing I have any interest in consuming is a slice of hot pizza. Westfield is now and has long been on my list of favorite places so even in unbearably hot and humid conditions, I opt in for the chance to participate in what has become one of its signature events.

As I was driving through Westfield last Friday afternoon I drove past Temple Emanu-El. I had a number of friends at W-H who upon turning thirteen years old made a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah. To my recollection, the first such celebration I ever attended was my friend Jill's. I do remember quite well that Jill's Bat Mitzvah was held at Temple Emanu-El as that marked the first time in my life up to that point that I had ever been inside a temple or a synagogue.

One of the reasons that I have such a vivid recollection of Jill's service is that since it was my initial Mitzvah I was both entirely fascinated by and utterly unfamiliar with the various component parts of the ceremony. Fortunately at the temple I sat next to my equally clueless friend Marty Lane. At the point of the ceremony at which the prayer scrolls (I did not know the name then and now still not so much) are being brought through the temple for the entire congregation to see them, both Marty and I (falling back on our separate yet similar Gentile religious backgrounds) presumed the the Rabbi was simply walking around with the collection plate....although neither of us had the first idea where the hell one would put one's contribution.

For what seemed like a lifetime but was much more likely to have been an eye blink, he and I were locked in a state of panic since neither of us had any money on us. We were in the midst of cursing our own stupidity ("It is a religious service - why would we not think there would be a collection?") when the Rabbi and Jill (and I think her parents) passed right by us, having done what they had set out to do, which was to share this particular moment with all those in attendance. Never in the august history of Temple Emanu-El has there been a congregant at a Mitzvah as elated as Marty and I each were at that particular moment.

And more than three decades later, the mere sight of Temple Emanu-El evokes a memory that brings a smile to my face and laughter to my throat. I am not a spiritual man. Not in the least. But I am a simple man. And that for me is enough....

....and more often than not it is quite a bit more.

-AK

Thursday, June 7, 2012

....What He Said

Approximately twenty years ago or so, the always-quotable, often less-than-charming Charles Barkley famously (infamously in some circles) dropped the quote that has become his legacy, I'm not a role model, ... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.

If recent events are any proof, it turns out that old Chuckles was right. While athletic competition can certainly shape the character of those who participate in it, gazing upward myopically towards those who earn a living doing it as if those folks are in fact celestial bodies appears to have been erroneous. We have engaged in much craning and gazing for nothing. At least if recent events from the home state of Warren G. Harding are nothing less than a microcosm of the world at large.

For those of you who have not seen the footage of Matt Woodrum, please stop reading this and go here. Matt is an eleven-year-old boy who is afflicted with - and by the looks of things on this piece of video kicking the ass of - cerebral palsy. He could have opted not to participate in this race on Field Day with his classmates but he opted in instead. It was after all the fourth race of the day in which he ran and was joined by only a small smattering of his classmates at the starting line.

And when it appeared as if he might not be able to finish what he had started, his teacher and his classmates did something remarkable for both its spontaneity and for its generosity. Afterwards the rather determined young fella stated that he had intended to complete the distance all along but that there were a couple of spots along the way where he felt like he might give up - a feeling that Yours truly has experienced firsthand during more than one race. Once his phalanx of supporters formed behind him, he had the positive reinforcement he needed to complete the task at hand. Amazing stuff. He inspired them at the same time that they were inspiring him.

And this past weekend in the Buckeye State, in the 1,600 meter final at the Division III girls State Championship, contested at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus, Meghan Vogel ran more than a stride or two in Matt Woodrum's footsteps. Earlier in the day, Meghan - who is an 11th grader at West Liberty-Salem High School - had captured the championship in the 1,600 meter event and had done so while running her personal best time. She had returned to the track for the 3,200 meter championship - an event that she was not favored to win - slightly more than an hour later. She ended up finishing in last place. But it is the way in which she finished that will have those who witnessed what she did speaking her name aloud long after the names of the youngsters who ended up on the medal stand will have been forgotten.

Rounding the final turn on the final lap of the event she looked up to see that only one of her fellow competitors was still on the track with her. The other runner turned out to be Arden McMath, a 10th grader from another high school. The two athletes were strangers to one another. At or about twenty meters from the finish line, McMath collapsed. Vogel could have passed by her without bothering to check on her. Vogel could have stopped momentarily to check on her and then once feeling assured that her opponent would be fine, she could have continued on past her to the finish. Vogel could have stopped, checked on her, awaited the arrival of medical personnel to assist her opponent and then - upon seeing that McMath was in the hands of professionals - continued on past her and to the finish of the race. She could have done any of those things and no one in the stands would have looked askance at her. She did none of those things.

Instead Meghan Vogel stopped to tend to Arden McMath. She helped her to her feet and then, with McMath's left arm draped over her right shoulder, Meghan helped her across the finish line. By this point in the narrative, you are thinking that Meghan Vogel is a fairly remarkable young woman. While such a conclusion certainly seems logical in light of the evidence presented, we have still not quite reached this story's "WOW" moment. Read on. It is straight ahead.

Meghan Vogel did not simply help Arden McMath cross the finish line in their race. She made certain that when the two runners reached the finish line, McMath crossed it before she did. McMath's finishing time - in 14th place - was 12:29.90. Vogel finished the race in 12:30.24 and in 15th place. As remarkable as what she did on the track was, it is Meghan Vogel's reaction to the world's reaction to what she did that is (to me anyway) the single most sensational part of this story:

"It's been crazy. I can't understand why everyone wants to talk to me, but I guess I'm getting used to it now," she said. "It's strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like 'humanity.' It's weird. When I hear words like that I think of Harriet Tubman and saving people's lives. I don't consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do."

In other words, without giving it a moment of deliberation she became a role model. Just like Matt Woodrum....

....and neither of them can dunk a basketball.

-AK

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

For Boys Shall Be Boys

Time marches on with such relentless efficiency that we are now twenty-eight years removed from President Reagan's speech in Normandy honoring the 40th anniversary of D-Day. But given that what was said then resonates still (at least in my mind's eye) it shall remain worth a read and a listen always....

We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved and the world prayed for its rescue. Here, in Normandy, the rescue began. Here, the Allies stood and fought against tyranny, in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, two hundred and twenty-five Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs.

Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here, and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only ninety could still bear arms.

And behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. And these are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life and left the vivid air signed with your honor."

I think I know what you may be thinking right now -- thinking "we were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day." Well everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.

Lord Lovat was with him -- Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, "Sorry, I'm a few minutes late," as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.

There was the impossible valor of the Poles, who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold; and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore; The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots' Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet," and you, the American Rangers.

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They fought -- or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4:00 am. In Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying. And in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.

Something else helped the men of D-day; their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them: "Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do." Also, that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee."

These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.

When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together. There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance -- a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.

In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. The Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost forty years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as forty years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose: to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two world wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent. But we try always to be prepared for peace, prepared to deter aggression, prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms, and yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.

It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II. Twenty million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.

We will pray forever that someday that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.

We're bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We're bound by reality. The strength of America's allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe's democracies. We were with you then; we're with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee."

Strengthened by their courage and heartened by their valor and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all.


-AK

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Buck & A Half

Today is the first Tuesday following the first Monday of June. Big effing deal; right? Well, consider that Election Day is the first Tuesday following the first Monday of November. For all intents and purposes Election Day is but one hundred and fifty days away. A buck and a half. Not a lot of time at all.

Mitt Romney has finally secured the Republican nomination and the fervent support for a member of the West Virginia State Prison system or two notwithstanding, President Obama has breezed to the Democratic nomination essentially unfettered and uncontested. It took almost forever to get to this point (an impression helped along by the fact that Obama began his Presidential campaign shortly after putting his hand down after taking his oath as a member of the United States Senate and Romney has been pursuing the Republican nod since the Olympic torch was doused at Salt Lake City) but we are finally down to two.

I am enough of a cynic that I count H.L. Mencken among my heroes. Mencken who once defined Democracy in the following manner: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." He also once wrote that, "Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods." Not exactly a pie-eyed optimist. Sadly, experience has taught us that there is more than a kernel of truth in Mencken's words. Sometimes considerably more than just a kernel.

We the people of these United States have one hundred and fifty days to get our heads unwedged from our collective asses, do our homework and go to the polls on November 6 and make an informed, educated choice for the office of President of the United States. Personally I long for the old days in which people did not vent their spleens at and towards one another on the issue of politics at every turn. I am enough of a realist to realize that those days are long gone. And they are never coming back.

Perhaps though instead of a campaign season during which we talk at and over one another spewing rhetoric and mistakenly equating volume for substance we can turn this thing around. Perhaps this election season we can talk about "issues" that are truly issues. Impossible? I think not. I think an easy first step in accomplishing that goal is the removal of the messengers from the equation. Do not rely upon Fox News to tell you everything great about Romney and bad about Obama and MSNBC to run its washing machine's spin cycle in precisely the opposite direction. Candidates live now in the information age. Want to know Romney's public position on a particular issue? Go here. Want to know what the incumbent has up his sleeve for Term #2? Go here. Should those sites be the end of your inquiry? Of course not. They are however a great place to start.

I do love H.L. Mencken and his lifetime's worth of caustic observations. But how about this November we prove him wrong? He who wrote, "I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing." This year how about we make it just a degree or ten less amusing?

-AK