Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pains and Aches

As a small boy nothing concerned me more than making my father angry.  He had what could fairly be described as an indiscriminate temper.  Something that brought a smile to his face today might well make him turn white-hot with rage tomorrow.  And vice versa.  As the youngest of six I tried to go to school on what worked for my older siblings in terms of trying to guess his mood and to try to divine how me would respond to what I did or said.  I was fourteen when Dad died.  I never quite figured it out.  At one time I thought that I would ask any of the five who preceded me if any of them had but then I remembered he was dead and it mattered less than not at all.

Experience has taught me that I was wrong all those years ago.  I was not wrong in expending time and energy trying to keep him from becoming angry.  However I was wrong in thinking that making one who loves you (you hope anyway) and one whom you love angry is the worst thing you can possibly do. 

Far worse than rousing a loved one to anger is letting him/her down.  Anger - perhaps because it can burn so hot - often cleanses the palate.  Disappointment lingers.  It hangs in the air.  Sometimes life proceeds at a pace whereby you pay scant little attention to its odor.  But other times the pace of life permits it to occupy a far more prominent place in your day-to-day.  

Even for those of us blessed with an impeccable memory it is likely that we cannot recall in detail each thing we have done that has angered one we love and/or who loves us.  But the things that have wrought disappointment?  Those we know.  Always.

-AK

Monday, July 30, 2012

Brilliantly Disguised

The music of Bruce Springsteen has been the soundtrack of my life for as long as I can remember.  These days - for reasons that I cannot completely comprehend - the song that has dominated my internal playlist is this one

When I started doing this - way back here - I did so because this daily exercise was both therapeutic and cathartic.  At the moment of inception, its fade-out scene could not be seen.  Now I openly wonder whether it has arrived.

For the past couple of weeks, this exercise has done little to nothing in service of its intended purpose.  If it cannot do that, then writing it is meaningless.  If indeed it is time to go, then that is what shall happen. 


-AK


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tigers and Their Young

I long ago passed the point in my life where my reservoir of patience for ignorance became considerably smaller than its companion tote for stupidity.  Actually that is a lie.  My reservoir of patience for ignorance went dry too long ago for me to accurately recall an exact date.  But I digress...

I suppose it is because ignorance is a fundamental and inevitable offshoot of laziness.  And lazy is a concept I have never possessed the ability to wrap my head around.  And for anyone reading this who presumes I cannot discern the difference between laziness and relaxation I say simply this:  your bliss makes my skin chafe.  And now that you have finished saying, "Huh?" you can put your head back to level and face your eyes forward.  That went so far over your head you cannot see it no matter how hard you look....or how long you look skyward.

There are many things I find distasteful about humans.  Most of those things are among those that I confront every morning when I see the face that stares back at me in the bathroom mirror.  I assure you that I do not suffer from a terminal case of Odor-Free Poops.  If you do not believe me, then ask my wife.  She can verify.  However one of the traits that I do see from time to time in others that does not afflict me is "professional nonchalance". 

To me, it is simple:  give an honest day's work in exchange for an honest day's pay.  If you like neither your job nor your rate of compensation then exercise free will and do something about it.  If what you choose to do is remain in the employ of your present employer, then do more than shuffle your lazy ass into work at some time in the morning - typically after the work day has commenced for your colleagues - and reverse the process at day's end - typically before many of your colleagues have themselves called it a day.  When you work for me and I pay you, I have a newsflash for you petunia:  You are not doing me a favor by honestly and earnestly working daily to earn that pay.  You are doing your f*cking job. 

My favorite thing about having actually lived as long as I have - other than the collection of gray hair I am acquiring in the hope that one day it replaces the dollar as legal tender for payment of all debts, public and private, in these United States - is the rant that people of my generation like to drop on those who are a generation behind us.  Those who are in the age group of my two kids, their respective significant others, a good number of their cousins and their friends.  We the people who grew up in the 70's and 80's love to express outrage - faux and otherwise - at them and those things that they are unwilling or unable to do.  What a crock of shit.  I come at this from an admittedly biased perspective but my two twentysomethings will out work and out think your mid-40's to mid-50's ass every day of the week and for good measure Suz will squat you a half-dozen times....just because she can.  

The worst offenders I see and have to deal with on a day in/day out basis of the "Lay My Head on the Railroad Tracks" Club are people my age and the membership of that group is predominantly male.    It is as if the same short-pant wearing sissies who made up the He-Man Woman Haters Club have "grown up" (giving that term the broadest possible definitional interpretation) to become full-fledged douchebags.   Amazing.  Utterly amazing.

I think I am going to write Governor Christie to see if we can perhaps get "Punch Someone in the Larynx" Day added to the list of State holidays.  He and I can work on an agreeable date.  My brother Kelly can design the card....

....I am quite confident he already has several excellent ideas. 

-AK


Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Slice of Life

I had the pleasure of participating Wednesday night in the 11th Annual Downtown 5K and Pizza Extravaganza in Westfield.  My running partner Gidg and I have run this race annually since 2010.  This year, unlike the first two times we participated in it, it was not insanely hot at race time.  It is July.  It is Jersey.  Heat and humidity are the norm although given this race's 7:00 pm starting time the conditions in which we ran in 2010 and 2011 were a bit abnormal.  Wednesday night was not.

Westfield is a terrific little town and its Downtown - if it did not exist already - looks like something that Hollywood would erect on a back lot somewhere.  I do not know how many people competed in the race on Wednesday night.  My math skills are limited so I shall leave it at "a lot" and go from there.  I also do not know how many people volunteered their time whether for the race or the post-race "Pizza Extravaganza" but - again - "a lot" seems to be in the range.  Tremendous effort by the folks who did the volunteering, including but not limited to the three pizzerias that supplied 250 large pizza pies each to ensure that the "Extravaganza" portion of the evening lived up to its billing.  Simply a top-notch event from beginning to end.  

I do not pretend to know whether all of Westfield actually comes out for this annual event but it certainly feels that way.  The race begins and ends Downtown and it loops through tree-lined, residential streets as well.   Countless homes past which we ran Wednesday night were manned by kids with hoses spraying water over the runners as we ran past them.  There were people holding up handmade signs in support of family members, friends and neighbors too.  As we headed down the final hill that led us back into Downtown the sidewalks were lined three and four deep.  My biggest complaint about the New Jersey Marathon - other than the fact that it is too damn long - is the absence of any spectators for a significant portion of the race.  That is not a problem that afflicts any runner in Westfield.  The support is outstanding. 

One time a year - on a Wednesday night in July - I spend a bit of time in a town where a a much younger man I spent a considerable amount of time.  Life is a forward-moving experience.  It is nice though every now and again to take a moment to reflect on a place or a time or a something that evokes a happy memory.  For as long as I am able to run I hope to participate in this particular event.  Its nominal cost is far outweighed by its tremendous benefit.  The very definition of a bargain.

And who among us does not love a bargain?

-AK

Friday, July 27, 2012

This Is Your Team

My daughter is one of the smartest humans I have ever known.  Suzanne is scary smart - up there in the rarified air of my oldest sibling Bill - and perhaps only one or two other people I have ever met.  So when the occasion presents itself on which Suz actively solicits my opinion on something, I take great pride in the inquiry and great measure in the reply.  

On Monday afternoon, she sent me a text message asking for my .02 on the sanctions that the NCAA unloaded upon Penn State University earlier on Monday.  Today, while anticipating at least a penny's worth of change, I offer it.  For those of you who have better things to do on a Friday than spend a moment more than you have to reading that which is written here, my bottom line is this:  I think the NCAA got it right.  Crimes were committed by those entrusted with the leadership of a state university and for those crimes punishment is warranted. 

It is not an exaggeration to say that the NCAA landed hard on Penn State - sparing it from the "Death Penalty" (in which it would have shut down its football program completely for at least one season - ask SMU just how much fun that is) while imposing long-term and far-reaching sanctions.  Sanctions that include payment of a $60 Million fine, which is the revenue generated annually by the PSU football program, a four-year ban on participation in post-season bowl games, a limit of sixty-five players on scholarship per year for the next four years (Division I schools are permitted to have 85 scholarship players on the roster per year) and a cap of fifteen scholarships per year for the next four years (Division I schools are permitted to offer up to 25 scholarships per year) of scholarship players.  The NCAA also applied a giant dab of White-Out to its own record book.  It ordered Penn State to vacate all of its wins from the 1998 season through the 2011 season. 

That "vacation" resulted in the late Joe Paterno being adjusted downward from the winningest coach in Division I college football to the 12th winningest.  Just in case this one makes its way into the next edition of Trivial Pursuit, "Joe Paterno" is the answer to the question, "Which Division I college football coach lost the most consecutive games?"  According to the NCAA's new edition of its rulebook he failed to win a game after the 1997 season.   Predictably and pathetically the late coach's family reacted to the imposition of the sanctions by making this all about Joe Pa.   Paterno's family said in a statement that the sanctions "defame the legacy and contributions of a great coach and educator.  This is not a fair or thoughtful action; it is a panicked response to the public's understandable revulsion at what Sandusky did," the family said.  I keep forgetting that the real victim of what it has now been revealed went on at Penn State for the final two years of the last century and the first DECADE of this one was Joe Paterno.  It was not the young men who were brutalilzed by Sandusky while those positioned to do something to stop Sandusky did nothing.  Silly me, I keep making that mistake.  My thanks to the Paterno family for reminding me that Joe Pa was the "real" victim here.  Note to Jay Paterno and the rest of the family:  STOP TALKING.  Unless of course you have an interest in speaking the truth.  Then by all means feel free to do so. 

An intended consequence of the NCAA's sanctions was the freedom granted to every player in the Penn State program and every young man who is either scheduled to begin playing for them in 2012 or pledged to begin doing so in 2013 to transfer immediately without having to sit out a season.  Simply put, the NCAA has made all of the Penn State players a free agent.  How many of those who comprised its incoming freshman class in 2012 shall remain committed to a program in which they know at the start of their first practice this August they shall not have a chance to compete for a national title or to play in a bowl game for most of - if not all of - their collegiate career?  I would not pretend to know.  I do know this:  whether all of them stay, all of them leave or some stay and some leave will not affect my selfish, personal point of view regarding them.  The choice they make needs to be decidedly selfish.  They need to do only that which is in their best interest - whatever they perceive that to be.  And whatever they decide, they should not be judged harshly by the rest of us.  Their lives belong to each one of them and to each one of them only. 

I know nothing about the new PSU coach Bill O'Brien other than (a) this is his first Division I head coaching job; and (b) he was an assistant coach in the NFL (the Patriots) when he accepted this gig.  That being said, in the first few days of the new world in which he now finds himself as the man in charge of a suddenly-blighted program, I have been very impressed by Coach O'Brien, the manner in which he has carried himself and the things he has said about his future and that of his program.  "I made a commitment to Penn State. I believe in Penn State," he said. "I feel very close to these kids ... they've been dealt with honestly, openly and again we've got a bunch of guys here that want to succeed and do well on and off the field, and I feel close to them."  During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday he told the press what he had spent the better part of the thirty-six hours since the NCAA's decision had been handed up talking to his current players about and the message he had conveyed to them:   "Life is full of adversity. The way you travel through life is how you handle adversity.  I told the guys to think about the guys they're sitting next to in that room."  On the field during the Paterno era, Penn State was more a team I admired than one for which I rooted openly.  I like this O'Brien fellow.  I have no idea how good or bad he will do as a head coach.  He appears to be a no bullshit guy.  To me, he seems impossibly easy to root for - so I intend to do so. 

Time will tell just how many of the young men with whom he shared his feelings during July's final full week will still be wearing a PSU uniform when the Nittany Lions open their 2012 schedule at home against Ohio University on September 1.  There is more than a little part of me that hopes all of them remain with the program.  For while I happen to think the NCAA got it right and took behind the woodshed an institution whose de facto leaders had abdicated their fiduciary duties in a manner that would make the Roman Catholic church blush, I also happen to think that those men, irrspective of their dominance of life in Happy Valley for the past several decades, were never all that Penn State was about and were never all the university represented. 

Skeptical?  I get it.  Feel no obligation to accept my word on the matter.  Not when you can hear it from the lion's mouth.  On Tuesday afternoon Penn State's senior QB Matt McGloin took to Twitter to share his feelings on life in this new era at Penn State.  Here is the story as reported on onwardstate.com.  McGloin sounds like a young man who has his stuff together; right?  He sounds an awful lot like a young man who is ready to face the future, whatever it may bring.  Take the time to click the link to McGloin's statement and read it in its entirety.  It is an extraordinarily worthwhile read.

There are those who shall forever proclaim from July 23, 2012 that the NCAA "killed" Penn State football.  I beg to differ for at least a couple of reasons the first of which is that laying what has happened in Happy Valley at the feet of the NCAA requires one to check common sense and honesty at the door.  Those who brought havoc upon this program, this university and this region were not outsiders but were those who ruled the fiefdom.  Walt Kelly's words proved prophetic yet again, "We have seen the enemy and it is us." 

More pointedly however is that I do not subscribe to the theory that Penn State football is "dead".  It has taken a well-deserved hit but by not killing it, the lords who govern college athletics have presented those who how oversee the university and its football program with an opportunity.  An opportunity to create.  An opportunity to lead.  An opportunity to go forward into uncharted territory and to do so with players like Michael Zordich and Michael Mauti and coaches alike whose commitment to the process has been forged by adversity, which is the greatest elixir any man can ever imbibe.   

The test will come for those who shall wear the uniform from those who do not and who shall not.  Those who call themselves fans and supporters of the program.  It is them who shall be tested and while one reasonably anticipates that at least a small percentage among their number shall reveal themselves to be the front-runners that some of the rest of the tribe had always presumed they were, one also reasonably anticipates that the center will hold and the majority of the faithful will remain just that.  In the words of the great (albeit fictional) Indiana high school hoops coach Norman Dale, "This is your team."  

For all of those who have proclaimed incessantly for years, "WE ARE PENN STATE!" now is your chance to prove it.   On Wednesday morning your new head coach declared on ESPN's "Mike and Mike Show" that he is "In".   An hour or two later, about three dozen of your student-athletes echoed their coach's sentiments.  They are "In".   Are you?

This is your team.   

-AK





Thursday, July 26, 2012

That Which We Shall Carry Always

By the time I had graduated from the 8th grade I had buried too many people to count.  All four of my grandparents.  Two of my mom's siblings - her brother John and her sister Ann.  And of course, my father.   You run out of tears to cry after a while.  You think you do anyway.  You think you do until something happens that reminds you just how many more you have in the reservoir.

If the world was perfect, then children would not die.  If the world was perfect and there really was some sort of celestial overlord keeping score of what goes on down here on Earth, then a child's outlook on his life would never be so bleak that he would not only contemplate ending it himself but he would in fact do so.  We do not need recent events in Aurora, Colorado to remind us that the world in which we live is an imperfect one.   I need only to look at a picture that my sister Jill took of a group of five of us in the Link Building on Plainfield Avenue immediately following our 7th grade graduation in June 1980 to remind me of that very thing.



Earlier this week marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of the saddest funeral I have ever attended.  My friend Brian Clare was just a kid when on a July day in what should have been nothing more or less than the summer between his senior year in high school and his freshman year of college he took his own life.  All these years later the "Whys" and "Wherefores" of what happened have ceased to be important....presuming they ever were at all.  The loss remains.  Nothing else matters.

When we were 7th graders at W-H Brian gave me - in confidence - counsel on an issue that turned out to be absolutely pitch-perfect.  Sadly for him he had more than a modicum of experience in dealing with that every same issue.  At the ripe old age of thirteen, he was dispensing the wisdom not of a peachfuzzy boy but of a grizzled old veteran.  I have never forgotten that which he told me.  I do not think I ever shall.  And because it was given in confidence by him to me, I have never shared it with anyone else.  I know that I never shall. 

If the world was perfect, then a teenage boy would not think that the best thing he could do to improve his lot in life would be to kill himself.  Tragically, twenty-seven years ago that was precisely what Brian thought.  Almost three decades later, the loss remains.  Nothing else matters. 

-AK

THERE COMES A TIME IN EVERY MAN’S LIFE
WHEN HE HAS TO MAKE A CHOICE
SHOULD HE TURN AND RUN OR STAND AND FIGHT,
IT ALL DEPENDS ON THAT LITTLE VOICE.

THE VOICE THAT LIVES INSIDE HIS HEAD
 AND LEAVES HIM FREE TO TRY,
WILL TELL HIM IF HE SHOULD STAY AND FIGHT
OR LAY HIMSELF DOWN AND DIE.

CARRY ON MY FRIENDS CARRY ON
BECAUSE LIFE WAS MEANT TO LIVE
CARRY ON MY FRIENDS PLEASE CARRY ON
HE GAVE ALL HE HAD TO GIVE

SOMETIMES ONE NIGHT CAN LAST FOREVER
IT’S LIKE THERE’LL NEVER BE A DAWN.
IT’S TIME LIKE THIS WHEN WE MUST STICK TOGETHER
WE MUST CARRY ON.

CARRY ON MY FRIENDS CARRY ON
BECAUSE LIFE WAS MEANT TO LIVE
CARRY ON MY FRIENDS PLEASE CARRY ON
HE GAVE ALL HE HAD TO GIVE

THERE ARE NO MORE WORDS TO WRITE
THE HERO IS NOW GONE
WE GOTTA PULL TOGETHER, STAND AND FIGHT
AND WE MUST CARRY ON.

CARRY ON MY FRIENDS CARRY ON
BECAUSE LIFE WAS MEANT TO LIVE
CARRY ON MY FRIENDS PLEASE CARRY ON
HE GAVE ALL HE HAD TO GIVE

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Night to Forget All Your Troubles

I noted a couple of weeks back that the Belmar Five Mile Race is my favorite road race of my summer season because of the challenge associated with running five miles in the heat and humidity of Jersey in July.  Tonight I am taking part for the third consecutive summer in what has fast become my favorite running event of the summer. 

The Downtown Westfield 5K & Pizza Extravaganza celebrates its 11th incarnation tonight.  It is a race that begins and ends in downtown Westfield, a town where I spent a fair amount of time as a much younger man given the number of friends I had at W-H who lived there.  Truth be told my annual participation in this event will likely be the only time this summer that I get to Westfield for any reason.  So if you are to go but once you might as well make it a worthwhile trip.  I am not sure who said that but I am sure it was someone famous.  Columbus.  Queen Isabella perhaps?  It matters not.  It is a sentiment that is as true now as it was when I made it twenty-five words ago.  Probably before that even.

Last year the race was run on a suffocatingly hot, humid night.  As far as I have seen the weather this evening is predicted to be a tad more hospitable.  I doubt that it shall be cool enough for me to actually eat a slice of pizza post-race but when I pass on my share of it I shall be in the minority, I assure you. 

If history is any guide, then for the post-race eaters, post-race non-eaters and spectators alike tonight shall be a hell of a good time.   For one night at least, Petula was spot on.  It is all happening....

....Downtown.

-AK

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

From One Who Does Not Bake

Today is my sister Kara's birthday.  Kara is one of the world's truly good souls.  So good in fact that when the three of us were young, Jill and I used to wonder to ourselves if Kara had somehow been dropped into our dining room by aliens or some such thing.  For she possessed then something that she has never outgrown, which is both the willingness and the ability to see a bit of good in everyone and to make something no worse than neutral out of the very worst of situations. 

The world shall always need more people like Kara.  It shall need Kara in large part because it continues to churn out people like me.  Whether I was in fact born with it and had it beaten out of me by circumstance or whether I simply did not roll off of the assembly line with that option I know not, but I do not possess my big sister's pie-eyed optimism.  One of us has a Post-it affixed to our computer on our desk at work on which these words are written:  IRISH ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE - YOU FORGET EVERYTHING....EXCEPT THE GRUDGES.  I assure you that Kara is not the proud owner of such a sign. 

There is much to be said however about one whose spirit is unbreakable.  One whose optimism is unshakable.  One whose faith in humanity is boundless.  Today I say, "Happy Birthday Stel!" Here is to hoping that today and the year that follows behind it brings to you, Russ and the boys all the happiness you deserve.  You have most certainly earned it.

-AK

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Pope of Oceanport

"Horses can have babies just like humans Charlie through artificial inspiration." - Paulie, The Pope of Greenwich Village

While the weather did not cooperate as we had hoped, the Missus, Joe and I had a terrific time on Friday afternoon at Monmouth Park.  Thanks to Lynne's generosity we spent our first trip to Monmouth Park in a private box on something called the Partierre level.  Very cool. 

I confirmed Friday afternoon what I long suspected to be true.  I do not know anything about horse racing.  I spent pretty much the entire day losing, including the coup de grace in the 9th race in which my horse - running in a field of FOUR - simply stopped running at the top of the homestretch.  Simply stopped.  I had never seen such a thing.  I think that the start of the day's final race - #10 - was delayed for about ten minutes as we waited for my nag to finish walking up the track until he crossed the finish line. 

There was one bright spot for me on Friday afternoon and it occurred entirely by accident.  Last week Suzanne told Margaret that in the autumn she shall attend the ASHA Conference at which a poster she designed shall be presented to her peers.  It is one hell of an accomplishment and her mother and I are understandably thrilled for her and beyond proud of her.  However in our excitement we bungled the details of what she told Margaret about the 2012 ASHA Conference.  See, we thought it was taking place in one of the two Carolinas.  That is why in the 7th race I opted to bet $5.00 to win on a 12-1 shot named Carolina Princess.  My faith in her was rewarded when she passed the 2-5 favorite at at the top of the stretch and won going away.

I sent Suz a text message with a picture of my winning ticket and told her that I had played the horse in her honor.  Of all the responses I expected to see from her, the one I received surprised me.  "Glad to see you won.  What is the connection between me and Carolina?"  When I responded by telling her that I played the horse in honor of her triumphant trip to the 2012 ASHA Conference, she responded by writing, "LOL.  The Conference is not being held in Carolina."

Apparently this fall the ASHA Conference is being held in Georgia.  Good thing I am as bad a listener as I am a horse player or I would have gone home empty-handed. 

-AK  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The High Price of Humanity

Just when one thinks that the species that is Man cannot descend any lower in terms of how its members treat one another something happens to remind one that sadly we have not yet touched the bottom of the hole.  Much has been written and spoken about the depraved actions of the piece of dreck who assaulted and murdered dozens of his fellow humans at a midnight showing Thursday night/Friday morning of the new Batman film in Aurora, Colorado.  I have nothing revelatory to add to the discussion.  I know nothing about what "motivated" this man to do what he did - although I feel dirty simply perverting the word motivation in using it to describe his actions. 

Human beings have been killing each other without provocation or reason for as long as other human beings have been present to record the history of our species.  We are an exception among our friends in the Animal Kingdom in that we will take the life of another even after the one we intend to kill has stopped fighting back and even after he/she has begged for mercy.  Dissatisfied with the opportunities to inflict punishment upon each other, we have dipped our toes into other realms and fucked with other species to fulfill our blood lust.  One never sees a rooster at the top of a cock-fighting ring or sees a bull mastiff doing the perp walk when the Feds break up a dog-fighting operation; right?  Of course not.  Atop the pyramid there - as everywhere - is one of us. 

Opportunity shall always exist for the evil among us to inflict harm upon the good.  No law shall ever be written that effectively legislates evil out of existence.  It is simply not going to happen.  And the truly vile shall always be able to wreak havoc on the rest of us.  Irrespective of how much we might enjoy watching it at the movies or on our televisions or reading about it in our books in the non-fiction reality that is our day-to-day life most of us are unprepared to respond when confronted by actual, pure evil.  That lack of preparedness not make us weak.  It does not make us cowards.  It makes us human.   

Any of us who is a parent knows that it is anathematic to the manner in which a parent raises a child to have him or her embrace evil.  We raise our children to be "good" and to look for "good" in others.  We caution them to be on their guard against bad things but given how fortunate most of us to encounter actual evil on an infrequent basis - if we encounter it at all in our lifetime - we are really ill-suited to teach them that cautionary tale.  We do the best that we can all the while knowing that our best likely is not good enough and hoping every day that our lesson's shortcomings never get revealed.  Mercifully most of us live the entirety of our lives without our limitations as a teacher ever being exposed.  We are better for it.  So too, of course, are our children.  That is why when they become parents they shall that very same lesson to their children.  And go to sleep every night hoping - as we do and as our parents did before us - that its shortcomings shall never be revealed.

It is the best we can do.  We cannot do any more.   And unless and until we come up with a better lesson to bestow upon them, we should never stop sharing this one with them. 

-AK

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Best Catch There Is

Friday arrived just in time for Yours truly this week.  I spent all of yesterday away from the company of those with whom I work.  I was myself working in the morning (making stops in exotic locales ranging from Elizabeth to Toms River) but spent the afternoon playing the part of Pony Boy.  The Missus, Joe and I joined the Sisters Kizis and some other friends at Monmouth Park Race Track.  First time in my life I had ever been anywhere to watch live racing.  Ten races on the card and not one damn horse named "FUTUREGLUESTICK", "NEXTWEEKSDOGCHOW" or "IMCOMINGAREYOU?"  Note to self:  need to check with Tom Swales to see if anyone in horse racing business has a sense of humor....other than the Marx Brothers of course.

It was good for all concerned that yesterday I was not around to harsh their collective mellow.  I have been locked into a state of perpetual irritation at work for the past couple of weeks and yesterday could have morphed into "Punch Someone in the Larynx" Day or some such thing had I been there all day.  Perhaps Monday's arrival will bring not only a new work week but a new outlook?  Perhaps it will be transformed into "Punch Someone in the Larynx" Day?   The latter is highly unlikely although as Mark Twain once observed, "Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured."  I would be willing to wager that old Sam Clemens never got hit in the larynx lest he would be whistling a slightly different tune.  Then again, if he took a shot to the old larynx I suppose he would not be whistling a whole hell of a lot of anything.     

This past week I have started on my summer reading.  'Tis amazing how much more time one has to read when one is anti-social.  I would wager that it has been at least thirty years since I have read Catch-22, which as anyone who knows my brother Bill (or reads him on at least a semi-regular basis) is his favorite novel.  I read it so long ago - and only just that one time - that I had forgotten just how much of it I had forgotten until I sat down to start reading it again a few days ago.  Simply fantastic stuff.  I purchased the "50th Anniversary" edition of it, which includes Christopher Buckley's Introduction in which Buckley noted that Joseph Heller died disappointed by the realization that Catch-22, which was his first novel, was his most successful one both commercially and critically.   Imagine feeling depressed at not having produced a second work as influential as your first one as opposed to feeling fulfilled by the fact that you had produced the first one.  Sadly for Heller, it seems almost as if his life ended up imitating his art.

Fortunately for the rest of us, what art it is that he created....

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.


Indeed.

-AK

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Debt to the Dead

"To the living we owe respect but the dead we owe only the truth." - Voltaire

It was slightly more than one week ago that the Freeh Report was released.  It is long.  It is detailed.  It is a decidedly unpleasant read.  If you are so inclined you can read excerpts from it here.

"Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State," said Louis Freeh, the former director of the FBI who was hired by university trustees to look into what has become one of sports' biggest scandals. "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized."

As a person who has never set foot on the Penn State campus, who never met or spoke to Joe Paterno and who has never spoken with a single person directly affected by the evil that Jerry Sandusky personifies I cannot - and will not - pretend to speak with certainty as to whether all of Judge Freeh's conclusions are wholly accurate.  I cannot - and will not - pretend to speak with certainty as to whether the opinions he expressed about the hierarchy at Penn State - including the person who ruled the Valley that once was Happy for more than four decades - are entirely fair.  (At the press conference last week that was held to discuss the report, Judge Freeh called Joe Paterno "an intergral part of this active decision to conceal.") I know not whether Freeh judged Paterno unfairly or simply harshly. 

I do know however that I need to hear not one more f*cking word from Jay Paterno or any other member of the Paterno family about their crusade to rehabilitate the legacy of Joe Pa.  Not at this moment.  Their desire to try and repair that legacy, which is theirs now as much as it was his once, is understandable and most assuredly motivated by a complex and complicated melange of factors and considerations.  But here is the thing - and while I do not pretend to know what everyone else (or anyone else for that matter) thinks on the subject - this is most certainly not the goddamn time for it.  They are presently exhibiting a gift for being obtuse one rarely encounters outside of the walls of Shawshank Prison.

The family of Paterno should honor and abide by the words of Voltaire....unless they cannot.  Unless they cannot for they now realize that which others have come to realize, which is that mythology is not reality. 

-AK

  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Fine Art of Breathing

The great thing about people being individual units and not simply machine cogs is that each of us has things we like and those that we do not like.  In the case of some of us (no names to be used here), the list of "don't likes" might seem to be ten times longer than the average person.  Still, unless one's name is Ebeneezer Scrooge presumably there is at least one "something" or one "someone" that one likes.  Hell, even old 'Neezer loved one "something"....money. 

I love music although I do not proclaim to enjoy all types of it equally.  It boggles my mind when I meet someone who tells me that he or she does not listen to music and does not enjoy it.  The late, great writer Andy Rooney was such a person apparently.  I heard him proclaim in countless appearances with Don Imus on the latter's radio show that he simply did not enjoy music and rarely - if ever -listened to it.  He never really bothered to give Imus a reason other than to tell him, "Just because", which was a "reason" I thought from my childhood that my father owned lock, stock and barrel.  Apparently all Irishmen of a certain generation owned it equally.  Who knew?

My weekend's schedule was thrown off a bit this past weekend.  My participation in the Belmar Five Mile Race on Saturday - and my participation at the post-race celebration at Bar A - meant that I did not make my weekly trek to the A&P on Saturday.  Rather, I trekked up the mountain to the store on Sunday morning.  In the car I was able to catch a bit of Jim Monaghan's weekly program "All Mixed Up", which features a delightfully eclectic cross-section of music that one does not typically encounter on WDHA's airwaves the rest of the week....including during Jim's weekday morning drive program "The Jolt", which he co-hosts with Kim Mulligan. 

During this Sunday morning's set, among the gems that he played was Willie Nelson's cover of Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe".  Again, realizing that not simply is enjoyment of music but even more so the type of music from which one derives enjoyment is truly a subjective thing I found Nelson's version of this song to be stunning.  He is to me one of those artists - much like Johnny Cash was - who is able to convey great feeling and great emotion in his voice.  You do not simply hear the pain in his voice of the story he is telling in the song.  You feel the pain in his heart as well.

Anyway, just one man's opinion.  Agree or not as you see fit.  It makes little difference to me.  Actually, that is not true.  It makes absolutely no difference to me at all....

....for as the song says I am a lucky man - even if there are several instances every day when I doubt strongly whether I deserve to be.  Nothing you say or do not say shall change that even a little.

Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn't I'm a fool, you see...
No one knows this more than me,
As I come clean.

-AK

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Perfect Score

Twenty years ago today I had the privilege and the pleasure of being the Best Man when my very good friend Dave Joy married the love of his life Christine Hoffman.  Two decades later, theirs is indeed a house full of Joy. 

There are many who say that the secret to any successful marriage is the Best Man's toast at the wedding.  OK, there is likely no one in history who has ever said such a thing until I just did about ten words ago or so.  In my defense might I say that I have only been the Best Man at one wedding.  Thus my success rate is impeccable.  Truth be told, not even an ego as enormous as mine believes there is any causative link between what I did on one day twenty years ago and what they have done every day for the twenty years since. 

Two of my favorite people, Dave and Christine.  I am happy for them that they found one another all those years ago.  At some point today I shall turn myself in the general direction of Maryland and raise a glass in their honor.  None of it could have happened for two nicer people.

Here is to completing the first twenty and getting started penning the next chapters in your book of dreams

Much love, much luck and much continued success. 

-AK

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Summer's Saturday

Had an extraordinarily fine day on Saturday.  The Missus and I made the short hop from 'Squan to Belmar so that one of us could run in the Belmar Five Mile Race while the smart one hung out near the finish line.  If you have any uncertainty at all in your mind as to which one of us ran and which one of us is the smart one, then clearly you have never met either Margaret or me.

I did not run alone on Saturday morning, which proved to be quite a nice day on which to run.  It was humid of course for it is Jersey in July.  However, while the sun would make a nice break through the clouds later on in the day at race time he was quietly chilling behind the clouds.  Humid is rough but it has nothing at all on hot and humid.  Not even close. 

My goal was to finish in forty-five minutes or less and according to the watch on my wrist I met my goal by close to two and one half minutes.  Gidg ran too as did Jeff.  Jeff is a hell of a good sport for while he is an active dude he is not a "runner".  We kind of, sort of coerced him into joining us.  He met the challenge with aplomb, polishing off a champion's breakfast of Diet Coke and a smoke (Parliament I think) about an hour prior to race time and then surprising himself by making it to the finish line.  Although considering that Margaret was holding the rest of his pack for him there, his ability to muster up the resources to finish perhaps was not that surprising after all. 

An added bonus for me was catching up post-race with a long-time friend of mine from high school.  Truth be told, when we enter a race together the only place on the course where I have any chance at all of catching up with Jerry Della Torre is in the finish area....where he spent about ten minutes on Saturday waiting on me to cross.  He ended up at Bar A with Jeff, the Missus, Gidg and me for a celebratory cocktail post-race, which we all enjoyed.  Shortly after Jerry left our little troupe, we were joined by Joe and Cathy Mahoney and had a chance to spend a nice bit of time unwinding with them. 

All in all, a hell of a good time was had by all.  And considering that the race started shortly after 8:30 a.m., we ran like lunatics and then toasted our accomplishment all before the clock struck noon.  Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.  Not too bad at all.

-AK

Monday, July 16, 2012

Of Buffaloes, Wolverines and Blowhards

Realizing that this very well may be the kind of thing that interests only me - and caring not at all if it is since the one of us who holds the copyright on this particular train wreck (and I am not kidding - look at the bottom of the page before you steal any of my nuggets of wisdom) looks conspicuously like me and nothing at all like you - one of my true pleasures on a daily basis is spending a few minutes perusing "CU AT THE GAME".  It is a site that is an absolute labor of love for its creator Stuart Whitehair and a real treasure for those of us who are Buffaloes Soldiers.  I cannot fathom just exactly how it is Stuart has enough time in his day to keep his site current and chock full of great information but I am happy that he does.  It further boggles my mind that he provides all of this information at no charge.  Talk about your bargains.  Great stuff.  And before I forget, Go Buffs!


Among the things that never cease to amaze is the continuing success of Rush Limbaugh and the amount of influence he exerts over the sheep-like elements of the Republican Party.  One day last week I had to be at an 8:30 a.m. Case Management Conference in the Bergen County Court House (Hackensack).  On my drive eastbound on Route 80 I was listening to Imus, whose show originates from WABC Talk Radio 77 in New York, which is also the home station for Limbaugh's program.  During one of the breaks on the Imus show, the station played a promo for Limbaugh's, which promo featured Limbaugh saying, "Remember that the votes of the ignorant count too." 

My eyes welled up so quickly with laugh-induced tears that I almost drove Skate into a bridge abutment.  That a**hole's entire career has been built on his ability to marshal the power of ignorance.  In the promo of course his voice is dripping with that "I'm talking of course about the other guys" timbre that he enjoys attempting to project.  I always love when a guy who has ingested his body weight in "artfully obtained" prescription medication chimes in on the good and the bad of ANY health care legislation.  When I think of how much better off we all would have been if the goddamn Royals had promoted him to Head Bat Boy or whatever job title he so desperately craved all those years ago it makes me almost insane.  I can forgive the folks in podunk for harshing on Robbie Cano for not selecting Billy Butler to be on the AL squad for the Home Run Derby last week but for allowing the birth of El Rushbo?  Whole different kettle of fish. 

And speaking of fish, kettles and things that are completely different from one another (Note that seamless transition right there kids?  It takes minutes of writing experience to pull such a thing off), a reminder to the good people of Michigan to do the smart thing for yourselves this November and elect Bridget Mary McCormack to the Michigan Supreme Court.  There are many reasons for doing so (and I am not even going to cite as one of them the fact that her sister spent the past five seasons starring on a TV drama that gave mad props to the nation's oldest and coolest federal law enforcement agency).  You can read them straight from the source here.  

I have given up hope of ever being able to finagle one of those cool-looking blue t-shirts that Bridget and the campaign crew sport in all of the photos but I shall not give up hope of the smart people who call Michigan home coming together to put a smart, compassionate person in a position where she can help all of them.  And one needs to look no further than her track record to know that she shall do so.  As a man well-known to those who call the Great Lakes State home rather famously observed, "If you think you can do a thing, or think you can't do a thing, you're right."   Honor the legacy of Henry Ford.  Think you can do it.  Then just do it.  Prove him right again this November. 

-AK

Sunday, July 15, 2012

For One Whose Words Have Forked No Lightning

There is a Land of the Living
and a Land of the Dead,
and the Bridge is Love,
the only Survival, the only Meaning.

- T. Wilder

Sad business on tap today.  Joe, Frank, the Missus and I are taking a bridge - in this case the Verrazano - to cross the river from the Jersey side.  Our destination is a place where many good times have been enjoyed over the years:  the home of Joe's brother Sal on Staten Island.  Today, however, shall likely not be one of those days.

The expression "larger than life" was coined with a person such as Salvatore Bozzomo in mind.  I think that is why as he has battled cancer for the past decade, irrespective of how he was feeling on a particular day, I had fully expected that he would eventually whoop its ass.  He is simply not programmed to not succeed. 

Unfortunately my greatest of expectations shall not be met.  Thursday night Margaret received a phone call from her cousin Sallie Jo through which Sallie Jo reported the terrible news that after eighty-plus years her dad has run headlong into an opponent he cannot defeat.  The cancer has spread throughout his body.  Life expectancy estimates are now being discussed in units of "days" and "weeks". 

We are going to Staten Island today so that my father-in-law - who may very well be one of my favorite people I have ever known - can say goodbye to his brother.  For Joe, for Margaret, for Frank and for the whole family, the summer of 2012 shall now take its appointed place alongside its four immediate predecessors as a summer in which we have lost at least one loved one.  I would not pretend to speak for my bride or for the rest of the tribe but I am really f*cking starting to hate summer.

We go to Staten Island today also so that we can give whatever support we can to Sallie Jo, Kevin and their girls who are preparing now in short order to face life without an integral part of their family, their household and their life.  Everybody dies.  'Tis true.  It is a damn sight easier however to view the experience through a clinician's eyes when the person dying and those being left behind are not people you know.  And are not people for whom you care greatly. 

Everybody hurts.  Today it is our turn.  But it is also our turn to say our goodbyes to an amazing man.  My life has been made better for knowing him and his death shall do nothing at all to change that... 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-AK


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Still Your Man For The Roaming

I am looking forward very much to this morning's Belmar Five, which is a five-mile race through the streets of Belmar, New Jersey.  The combination of the distance and the weather conditions (a traditionally hot and steamy July day is in the forecast) makes this race one of my favorite summer events.  I do not expect to win it this year as sadly the organizers have once again invited people other than me to participate.  I hope to run a representative time (40 minutes and under would thrill me but anything under 45 minutes will please me just fine thank you very much) and to have a good time.  Here's to hoping those turn out not to be mutually exclusive pursuits.

A couple of summers ago - when I had first been bitten by the running bug - I dragged my poor wife all over the goddamn place for races.  I have a closet full of t-shirts from the inane number of races in which I ran.  We spent every weekend - or pretty damn close to it - from the middle of June through the middle of November at some race somewhere.  On some weekends I ran in one on Saturday and one on Sunday.  Unbelievably selfish behavior on my part.  It pains me to admit it but it is true. 

An unexpected benefit/side effect of having participated in the New Jersey Marathon the past two Mays is that the number of events in which I participate has dropped off dramatically.  And along the way I have rediscovered why it is I was drawn to running in the first place, which was not to compete with others but rather to spend a bit of time alone in thought walking around in my own head.  Just me and my chorus of voices, having a hellaciously fine time together. 

If I have read their promotional material correctly the good folks who put on the Belmar Five anticipate somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 runners toeing the starting line this morning.  I am looking forward to the company - well at least the company of my running sister in soles Gidg - as it shall offer a nice change of pace.  But I am already looking forward to tomorrow morning's run.  No bib on my shirt.  No finish line to cross. 

Just a road on which to run

-AK

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why Moments Matter & Assholes Do Not

If you ever - even for just one second - cease believing that life can change in an instant, then consider that this evening I shall accompany the Missus down to Brick so that I can join her in paying her respects to a friend of hers with whom the Missus used to work.  Her friend Laura and Laura's family are grieving the death of Laura's brother, who died several days after he was tragically injured in a July 4th accident that had left him paralyzed from the neck down.  The moment before his injury occurred, his life was moving along a particular trajectory.  Then, in the very next moment, everything changed. 

Were life a work of fiction, then we would be free to write ourselves as the heroic, difference-making superstars we wish we were.  I should not project my own limitations outward.  You might very well be all that and more.  Me?  I am Walter Mitty.  I say that without a trace of self-deprecation.  It is simply an acknowledgement that life is in fact a non-fiction work.  Records are kept.  Histories are made.  The great Oscar Wilde once famously observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."  I am certainly not rich enough to reinvent mine. 

I received an e-mail or two yesterday from friends who thought that perhaps I had taken ill or some other miracle had occurred when they did not see a link to this silliness on Facebook.  I assured them (and written word afforded them the means to cloak their disappointment) that I am fine.  I simply decided to stop linking this to that.  I was at home the other evening as the Missus and Gidg were chatting in the kitchen and I ended up as I invariably do horsing around on the computer.  The gods of Facebook inform me that I have 290 "Friends".  Really?  I am hard-pressed to name half that number of people as acquaintances out in the real world.  I have no understanding from whence a number such as 290 has come. 

It made me think that perhaps this little piece of real estate, which is my sanctuary, is in danger of becoming - or even worse has already become - some type of performance piece.  While I suppose at least to a degree it always has been (why else would one write something in a format that encourages comments and why would that someone share it on-line), I fear that the cart may end up before the horse.  Actually I fear that that may have happened already.  In the hope that it has not, I have decided to separate this from Facebook.  Good news to the rest of the world - including all 290 intimates who call me "Friend" - I am not deactivating my FB account. 

I reckon a case could be made for the belief that there are no pre-ordained "big moments" in life.  Instead a moment is merely a moment right up until its brief life is lived.  It is what happens within that eye blink that determines whether that moment was "big" or something else altogether.  If I may be so bold as to offer a piece of unsolicited advice, which I need myself to be far better at adhering to than I am every now and again (and have been simply dreadful dealing with lately), do not waste your life's moments on an asshole.

Assholes abound.  They are as prevalent as dust and slightly more irritating.  As a general rule, while each of us knows that our life is comprised of moments, we do not know which shall be our last one.  And we do not know which one shall be the one that changes everything.  No one should miss out on such a moment by having spent it instead with an asshole.

Seems like a logical stopping point; right?

-AK

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Path of the One-Trick Pony

As a father, among the things that pleases me most of all is that both of our young adults spend their work day-to-day in a career that each enjoys very much.  There might be days that the politics (intentional use of the small "p") of the job grind on them but they do not lose sight of the big picture.  They remain fixated on the fact that they are doing a thing that they love doing and they do not allow one less than spectacular day bring them down.  I think that in a perfect world we would all earn our living doing something that we love to do.

I have practiced law for close to two decades now.  At the risk of sounding immodest, I am quite good at what I do.  I have little love for it however.  Close to twenty years after it became my work day-to-day I must confess that I cannot recall when I last had a love for it.  If in fact I ever did. 

Do not misunderstand.  I love the law.  But "the law" and "the practice of law" are as likely to be mistaken for one another as Newark, New Jersey and Newark, Delaware.  In practical application, the former has only a very, very little bit to do with the latter.  Some days it appears to have nothing at all to do with it. 

There are in fact periods of time during which I feel nothing less than actual disdain for how I earn my daily bread.  I am waist-deep in such a period right now.  I would - if I thought it fair to do - pawn off the responsibility for that feeling on the relentlessly aggressive scorching weather we have been experiencing here in the State of Concrete Gardens lately.  However, the weather has nothing at all to do with it.  

We all make our choices in life.  We pursue one thing at the expense of another.  We opt for this in lieu of that.  It happens.  We cannot do everything and we recognize that to feel alive we cannot do nothing.  So we do what we can.   In the end - it seems this way to me anyway - we do those things that we must do at a far greater rate than we do anything else.   It is when we do not adhere to that philosophy that our system breaks down.  It is then that we run the risk of collapse, the risk of chaos. 

Every morning when my alarm clock rings upon shutting it off I look over to the other side of our bed and take more reassurance than I should otherwise be entitled to from the fact that Margaret is there.  That level of reassurance is multiplied exponentially for me during times like these.  When the morning greets you with the question, "Why are you doing what you do?" it is helpful to have the best possible answer to that question at the ready.  Especially when your limited skill set has effectively removed the coordinates of a possible alternative course from the realm of possibility long ago.... 

....Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds
If you've ever seen that scarecrow then you've seen me
Have you ever seen a one armed man punchin' at nothing but the breeze
If you've ever seen a one armed man then you've seen me


-AK


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nothing But A Heartbreaker

I was prepared today to put on my snarkiest suit of clothes and lay waste to the MLB work stoppage that has taken place in Kansas City, Missouri the past few days.  I was prepared today to harsh on the perpetually pathetic Royals by noting that given the crowds that the All-Star festivities drew at Kauffman Stadium, should MLB look to expand again, Kansas City would appear to be a good place to station an actual big-league franchise.  I was prepared to vent my spleen a bit in the direction of that obtuse asshat Tony LaRussa and his decision to bypass R.A. Dickey as the NL starter in last night's All-Star Game.  I was prepared to do all of that....

....and then I saw this.  Within the past seven days, two more Jerseyans who were members of the United States Armed Forces currently in the service of this country in Afghanistan were killed.  Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001 forty-six service members with ties to my beloved State of Concrete Gardens have died there.  That figure, when added to the one hundred and two service members from New Jersey who have died in Iraq since that war started in 2003, brings New Jersey's war dead to one hundred and forty-eight.

Spc. Jonathan Batista of Kinnelon was only twenty-two years old.  Batista was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was an infantryman with A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.   He had been awarded several medals, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.  According to the Star-Ledger, he was scheduled to return to the United States next month. 

Staff Sgt. Raul Guerra of Union City was thirty-seven years old.  The Star Ledger reported that his death was not "combat-related" but other than noting that he died on a base in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan it provided no other details of what happened.  Sgt. Guerra was on his fifth tour of duty when he died.  Since 2001, he had served four separate tours in Afghanistan.  For good measure, he also served a fourteen month tour in Iraq.  Guerra was  assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, which is part of the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.  He is survived by his wife and one child. 

After reading the story of the deaths of Spc. Batista and Sgt. Guerra - and being saddened more than just a little - I read this.  If you have not done so yet, then you should.  And be certain when you read it to take the time to read this as well.  When you have taken the time to read both of those pieces, the stories they tell will likely so enrage you that you shall wonder no longer why I called an aubible today....

....or question the wisdom of Edwin Starr as it applies to places such as Afghanistan. 

-AK

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Price of Imprecision

A lifetime ago I worked for my older brother Kelly. He is an extraordinary builder of structures of all configurations, shapes and sizes. Way back when in the halcyon days of the late 1980's/early 1990's he owned a construction company that principally did light metal framing. We built buildings, did renovations and pretty much anything and everything of which you might be able to think.

Apparently people in construction have a "thing" about erecting buildings to last forever - or longer. Given that my lack of skill mechanical and otherwise made me more than a little bit of a curve buster in the "Over/Under:  How Long Will This Structure Remain Standing?" game, no one associated with Kel's business shed a tear when I chose to pursue a career in the law.  Truth be told, I think they all wondered to themselves whether I could construct a legal argument any more adeptly than I could anything they ever saw me attempt to construct and further wondered just how long it was going to be before I starved to death.  Truth be told even more truthfully, I wondered the same thing myself.  Still do every now and again.

One of the things I enjoyed most of all when I worked for my older brother was getting introduced to stuff on TV that I never would have watched in a million years.  I had never even heard of "This Old House" before Kelly introduced me to it.  I had no idea how to do any of the things that they showed the various trades doing each week on the show but it sure looked cool.   As much as I enjoyed "This Old House", it paled in comparison to "The New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram".  Norm Abram was the master carpenter who actually was responsible for making sure that whatever was being built on "This Old House" actually could pass the "Test of Time" test, although most of the show's glory went to its host, be it Bob Vila or Steve Thomas.  Abrams was sort of the construction equivalent of Marlin Perkins' assistant Jim Fowler on "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom".  You remember Jim right?  Jim was the one who invariably ended up with his head inside of a tiger's mouth or trapped in an open plain in the middle of a rhino stampede while Perkins, wearing his safari suit in the air-conditioned comfort of his television studio, explained in his typically nonchalant style what Jim was doing. 

On his own show, Abram - supported by what Kelly used to joke appeared to be $250,000 worth of tools and equipment - would make the most gorgeous pieces of furniture, etc. that you have ever seen.  Some of the work he did was absolutely jaw-dropping.  Much as was the case when I watched "This Old House" I had neither (a) any idea how he did what he did; nor (b) any hope of ever being able to replicate that work myself.  Mattered not at all.  I appreciate watching anyone who is skilled at a particular thing ply his or her skill. 

One of Norm Abram's mantras was always, "Measure twice.  Cut once."  Even for the mechanically inept like me that simple, sagacious piece of advice rings true.  And it rings true for practically everything, whether made of wood or not. 

I was reminded of that fact in a rather benign, yet significant fashion on Monday afternoon.   I traded e-mails with someone who I have known for the entirety of his life but with whom I have fallen very far out of touch for close to the past decade and a half.  His e-mail was actually a response to something I had sent him close to eight months ago.  Whether he had seen it in his in-box all this time but not answered it for he was uncertain as to what to say or whether he had not seen it at all until recently I know not.  I suspect however that it more likely a case of the former than the latter.   His response was concise, compact and wholly devoid of emotional attachment of any ilk or form.  Sadly, it was also entirely appropriate.

Wars are fought and casualties are sustained.  Sometimes blood is spilled in an area that you never bothered to account for when hostilities commenced.  A bond, once broken, is much like a broken bone in that it shall never again be "unbroken".  The best result for which one can hope is that it heals cleanly.

Heed the advice of Norm Abram.  You only get one chance to make the proper cut.  Make certain before you pass the blade through the wood you have measured twice.

Three times for the really important stuff.

-AK

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mission Possible

Once your children move from your home and off on their own, you transition from seeing them on a daily basis to something less frequent. When the move they make is not only from your home but from your time zone altogether, the "less frequent" becomes even less so.

Yesterday morning Suz and Ryan winged their way home to Texas. Back to their normal, day-to-day life. And as the Missus and I dropped them off at Newark Airport and said goodbye to them both, we did as well. When your child comes 'home' for a visit you are of course happy to see them and sad to see them leave. But more than anything else, you hope to see that he or she is happy. You take their temperature the best that you can.

Happiness is not only seeing them and spending a bit of time with them but it is - most of all - in seeing that they are indeed happy in their day-to-day. At day's end, all a father hopes is that his child is happy. Doing whatever you can to help put them in a position to be happy is your life's mission.

Mission accomplished.

-AK

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Natural Selection

Open letter to Tony LaRussa:

Tomorrow you shall name the starting pitcher for the National League for Tuesday night's All-Star Game in Kansas City.  Permit me the opportunity to offer a suggestion.  Rumor has it that as a genius and an attorney (Can anyone say "redundancy"?) you love nothing more than unsolicited suggestions. 

You have the opportunity to name R.A. Dickey as the National League's starting pitcher.  Please do not pass up this opportunity.  As a baseball fan - and as someone who otherwise finds the All-Star Game an excuse to watch something altogether on television - I am begging you to name Dickey to start tomorrow night.  I would wager that if Dickey would not be voted the most impossibly easy player for whom to root in the big leagues he would at the very least end up on the medal stand.  He is having the season of his life and has been through the first half of the 2012 season been the best pitcher in the majors.  Is there a possibility that this season is simply a harbinger of things to come?  Of course.  But there is at least as equally good a possibility that this season IS his moment. 

Do the right thing Tony.  Doing so will not make up for the time and energy you have expended trying to convince all of us who know better that your boy Mark McGwire is not a fraud and a cheat....but it would at least represent an initial payment on your debt owed to those of us with good taste and a conscience. 

Thank you.

-AK

Saturday, July 7, 2012

When A Melody Sounds Like A Memory

A gazillion years ago, when Suz and Rob were both still "kids" and were not adults forging lives more than half a continent away, it seemed as if an annual rite of summer at our house was the backyard party.  Point in fact, we did not have one every summer but we sure had a lot of them.  They marked graduations from high school, college and in Suz's case graduate school.  They also marked homecomings, such as Rob's from Georgia on Labor Day weekend in 2008.  I smile while writing this just thinking about those days....even the ones (Rob's college graduation leaps to mind) when it was so absurdly hot we feared we might all spontaneously combust.  Great days indeed.  Sadly, they are squarely fixed in the rear-view mirror.

Today marks the final full day in the State of Concrete Gardens for the temporary Texans.  Early tomorrow Suz and Ryan shall hop on a big old jet airliner and head back to the place where the stars at night are big and bright and where Missions of historical importance were built without basements.  At some point this afternoon/this evening a rather small, informal gathering of some of their friends shall happen.  And it shall happen in an old, familiar place:  our backyard. 

Life is lived forward.  What is gone is gone, alive only in the eye of one's mind and in one's memory.  That is of course how it should be.  It is how it must be.  But for just a moment or two this afternoon, those of us who still call this little corner of the world home will get a chance to look back from whence we came while being reminded of just how much promise the future holds. 

All in all, not too bad a way to spend a July Saturday night

Not too bad at all.

-AK

Friday, July 6, 2012

Long May We Run

Margaret's mother died slightly more than three years ago having lost a valiant and often times desperate battle against breast cancer.  Breast cancer is an insidious, pervasive and relentless disease that kills far too many people (most of them women) and wreaks havoc on far too many families. 

Shortly after their grandmother died in early June 2009, Suzanne and her cousin Megan - Suzy B.'s two oldest grandchildren - decided that our family would hit back.  And hit back hard.  Their efforts led to the creation of Sue's Crew.  In October 2009 the inaugural edition of Sue's Crew participated in the Central/South Jersey Race for the Cure in Jackson, New Jersey.  We were neither the fastest nor the largest team assembled that morning but we more than held our own.


Breast cancer did not disappear from the Earth in the twelve months between October 2009 and October 2010.  Neither did Sue's Crew.  We had some turnover in our ranks - picking up a nice influx of first-time Crew members - but October's first Sunday again found us in the parking lot at Great Adventure ready to race for the Cure



In the contest of wills:  Sue's Crew vs. Breast Cancer, we battled it to a draw again in 2011.  It refused to go away but having made the very same pledge the third iteration of Sue's Crew gathered at Great Adventure last October to do battle against it one more time.  The composition of Sue's Crew III was not identical to either Sue's Crew I or Sue's Crew II


but it mattered not for our purpose was the same as it as always been:  we run for the name on the BACK of the shirt



Again this October we shall gather our forces and do battle against breast cancer.  This year, for reasons having everything to do with logistics and not one damn thing with politics, Sue's Crew IV shall run NOT at the Race for the Cure but at the 14th Annual Run/Walk for Mom 5K.    This event is apparently a labor of love created by and tended to annually by a man named Tim Dursee.  It was something he created in 1999 to make something good out of something profoundly bad:  the death of his mother Charlotte due to breast cancer. 

So this year instead of gathering on October's first Sunday in Jackson, New Jersey, the Crew shall do the voodoo that we do so well on October's first Saturday in Cranford, New Jersey.  If you would like to join us, we would love to have you.  All you have to do is click on the link in the preceding paragraph, register for the event and add your name to our roster.  This year indeed we shall run for Mom....

....which is what we have been doing all along anyway.  And shall continue to do for as long as it necessary to do so. 


We run for Suzy B.  Long may we run....

-AK