Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fragility

The great illusory quality - or perhaps better said the greatest of its many illusory qualities - associated with the oxymoron that is "social networking" is that while it grants each of us a portal through which we can view the lives of others, it also grants each of us the power to control what is seen through our portal.  What you see is what you get?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We know what others want us to know and vice versa. 

I was reminded again earlier this year of the dichotomy between reality and perception.  And I was reminded again as well of the often inconsistent relationship between books and their covers.  The longer I sat and thought about that relationship, the clearer the realization came to me that something to which I had initially reacted with surprise was in fact something to which surprise was a faux reaction.  I came to accept that irrespective of one's status as "Friends" in Mr. Zuckerberg's universe, a person with whom you have had less than a handful of in-person interactions in close to thirty years is at best someone with whom you are acquainted.  You are something far closer to strangers than you are friends.  Your firsthand knowledge of one another is as current as faded photographs from a long-ago high school yearbook.  

And in a world in which your insight into another may be limited to the photographs he or she shares and the witticisms he or she offers, the business of taking the temperature of another is a decidedly inexact science.  Not only may the objects in the rear-view be closer than they appear, they may be decidedly darker and more ominous.  From where we sit - an indeterminate distance away and ensconced within the warmth and protection of our day-to-day - we cannot see the whole picture.  

It is a fool's errand to pretend that we can.... 


-AK 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Halfway Around The Sun

Six months ago, a young woman named Sandy made a most unwelcome visit to those of us who live here in New Jersey - as well as our neighbors in Connecticut and New York.   For folks like the Missus and me - who live a comfortable distance from what represented Ground Zero here in the State of Concrete Gardens - the Sandy-related inconvenience was relatively short-lived and decidedly inconvenient with a lower-case "i". 

For countless residents of this - the only state I have called home (save for four years matriculating my way through CU-Boulder) - Sandy wrought considerably more havoc.  And the effects of what she did have continued to be felt by many, many folks.  In typical Jersey fashion, a Monmouth University/Asbury Park Press Poll published today reveals that far more of those than not who live in the parts of the state that bore Sandy's wrath directly consider themselves back to normal - or damn close to it.

For some - too many in fact - she delivered a blow from which they cannot recover.  For many others the road to recovery - in spite of its incalculable length - is one that they are navigating every day.  And it is one that they shall continue to navigate tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the day after that as well. 

The Summer of 2013 shall arrive in the State of Concrete Gardens in less than thirty days.  Memorial Day Weekend begins on May 24th.  It promises to be one not like anything we have seen in these parts for some time.  And we hope that its kind never has to come this way again.  




-AK

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Forever Half Full

By far, the best shared element of my relationship with my father, which relationship ended with his death when I was fourteen, was our shared passion for the New York Rangers.  Truth be told, the passion was his.  He passed it down.  Given his proclivity against inviting anyone in for any reason, the simple act of him sharing it was nothing short of extraordinary.  

I still smile thinking of our Sunday night treks into Madison Square Garden - because back in the day the Rangers traditionally played on Sunday nights, which began always with the drive to the train station in New Brunswick.  Once there, we boarded a New Jersey Transit train for "Penn Station - New York".   I remember as if it was yesterday the first trip.  At some point after the train exited Newark, I noticed that all of the lights I had seen by looking through the windows on either side of the train had disappeared from view.  Dad calmly explained to me that in order to get into New York City, the train was going to carry us through a tunnel that ran underneath the Hudson River.  My little mind was blown.  I asked him how I would know when we had made it through the tunnel and were back on dry land.  He told me to look for the reappearance of the lights.  I can still recall sitting with my face pressed against the window staring out into the abyss awaiting the reappearance of the lights.  And doing so for what felt like forever.  I can also still recall how excited I was when - just as Dad had predicted - the lights reemerged on the New York side of the river.  

My favorite thing to do with my father was watch and/or listen to the Rangers.  Our pilgrimages to MSG were usually limited to one or two games a season.  But for those trips, we followed the Rangers on radio and on television.  Back in the day, you could not watch all of your favorite team's games on television.  Not only were not all of the games televised but none of the home games were.  It was not until the Rangers made their miraculous run to the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals (where they were crushed in five games by Les Habitants who won their fourth of four consecutive Cups) that I saw a Rangers game that was being played on Garden ice on TV.  Up until that point, home games were radio affairs - with Jim Gordon always pointing out to us whether the Rangers were moving left-to-right or right-to-left on our radio dial.  When the Rangers played on the road, we watched their games on Channel 9  - and listened to Jim Gordon and Bill Chadwick.  Chadwick's nickname was "The Big Whistle", which was a nod to his former gig as a NHL referee.  I remember that every opinion he offered was offered with the arrogance of one who had never been wrong - or perhaps had never admitted to having been so - at any time about any thing.  Dad hated him.  Go figure. 

Perhaps my single-favorite trip to the Garden as a child was the game Dad and I attended in which long-time Rangers goalie Eddie Giacomin returned to face the Rangers in his first game for the Detroit Red Wings.  When the Rangers started the 1975 season in dreadful fashion, management decided that the time was ripe to cut loose older, expensive players.  Giacomin was unceremoniously waived by then-Rangers boss Emile Francis.  The Detroit Red Wings claimed him on waivers.  A couple of nights later, Giacomin was in the Detroit net opposing the Rangers.  

Giacomin had always been one of my favorite players (he did not occupy as important a spot in my hockey-rooting heart as Rod Gilbert did but he was damn close).  I used to chant "Ed-die!  Ed-die!" while listening on the radio or watching on television.   Dad and I were among the Rangers faithful who were pissed at Francis for having let Giacomin go.  On the train ride to the game that night, I remember asking Dad if I was permitted to root against the Rangers - just for the night - and root for Giacomin instead.  Not only was it acceptable, he said, but it was what he intended to do.  And it is precisely what we did....along with 17,000 or so other people.  The Rangers lost.  The Garden roared.  Almost forty years later, still seems to have been an almost surreal evening.  

The Rangers' abbreviated regular season has ended.  While it looked for most of the season as if they would manage to miss the playoffs (in spite of having a talent-laden roster), that disaster was averted on Thursday night when Ryan Callahan, the team's captain and my favorite member of this current crop of Blueshirts, scored a couple of minutes into the overtime period at Carolina.  Captain Callahan's goal not only won the game but it clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.  


Dad died forty-one years after the Rangers captured their last Stanley Cup in his lifetime - in 1940 - and thirteen years prior to them capturing the only one to date in my lifetime - in 1994.  If history is any guide, this hockey season will end for the Rangers somewhere short of Callahan being handed the Stanley Cup by the NHL Commissioner.   And when it does, it will sting a bit for a little while.  Same as it always does.  But that is a discussion for a day other than this one.  

For on this day, Dad is somewhere smiling.  And the chant of "Ed-die!  Ed-die!" forever echoes in the air. 

-AK   



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Fractional Shares

It seems almost incomprehensible to me that today heralds the arrival of April's final weekend.  2013 is essentially one-third of the way complete.  Already.   One might think that my ability to sustain myself on four to five hours of sleep a night would give me an edge in keeping an eye on time and its slippery nature.  One would be wrong.  

Busy times afoot in our little part of the world.  It seems to me that these days every word the Missus utters is related to one of three topics:  Suzanne's wedding, Suzanne's bridal shower and our impending move.  Of the three, only the middle one involves me not at all.  Consequently - and not surprisingly to anyone who has ever spent a minute in my company - it is her preferred conversational topic that interests me least of all.   I recognize its importance to both my wife and my daughter.  Similarly they recognize that having a palpable interest in such a shindig is decidedly a "chick thing" and appear to take no umbrage at my ambivalence towards it.  While it does seem to me that it is an event that could have taken place as readily in our backyard with me manning the grill as it shall in the very nice little joint in Bound Brook that Margaret has booked for the occasion, mine was not a proposal considered.  

Given that not even I am 100% sure where I shall be calling "home" in three short weeks, perhaps Margaret's decision to have it where it shall take place was predicated upon logistics as much as anything else.  I know it shall be a beautiful event.  And I know that both the bride-to-be and her mother shall enjoy it.  I have reached the point in my life where scant little else matters.  

I have reached the age I am - the oldest age I have ever attained I am proud to say (on a daily basis) - in a manner not always noted for its smoothness.  At its core, my difficulty interacting with others of the human persuasion is that my overriding feeling regarding other people is one of abject apathy.  Truth be told, I would rather spend a Sunday afternoon hanging out in my backyard with Rosie than I would spend an evening out with friends.  Four and one-half decades into this crazy little set-piece called 'Life' I have yet to encounter one person who has expressed disappointment at my preference.  I have every confidence that should I live another four and one-half decades, no protesting voice shall ever be heard.  

I presume I am not alone in having to devote a portion of my day to tamping down the frustration that rises out of the pit of my stomach and stalks an upward trajectory towards the expulsion chamber that is my mouth.  The question is never whether time shall be spent on a particular day doing so but simply how much time shall be wasted on this task.  Given that I spend a disproportionately significant percentage of my time at work, the overwhelming amount of time I spend on this particular task revolves around that which occurs there.  On more than one occasion this past week, far too much time had to be allocated to it.   Far, far too much.

Rather than exploding, which would have made life in the workplace decidedly uncomfortable for one or more of my perpetually under-performing colleagues, I listened to the sound of my mother's voice in my ear, counseling me to count backwards from ten until the rage subsided.  

It turns out that there are a hell of a lot of fractions between ten and zero.  A hell of a lot.  Damn good thing too.  The great Pete Hamill wrote in "Downtown:  My Manhattan", "Sometimes no truth is more powerful than one expressed in anger by a melancholy man."  That is indeed true.  But it is not always a truth best shared.  

Bite down hard.  Pass the Mylanta.... 

-AK 

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Spear's Tip

Mom is fond of saying that she and Dad had six children in no small part due to their faithful adherence to the Roman Catholic Church's approved method of birth control.   Gives a whole new spin to the old show tune "I Got Rhythm" does it not?  Who could ask for anything more indeed? 

I am the youngest of the six Kenny siblings.  I suppose that goes to show that long before I learned that I, myself, lack rhythm I possessed the ability to extract it from the marrow of my parents.  At the opposite end of the train - the engine - is my oldest sibling, my brother Bill.  Today, lucky dog that he is, is his birthday.  Since neither singing a song off-key nor sending him a cake that might result in this birthday being his last one seemed to be an appropriate way to send him birthday tidings, I chose to not pursue either avenue.  

The span in age between the oldest and the youngest of the Kenny sibling sextet is such that Bill graduated from Rutgers University in the very same year as I matriculated onto the campus of St. Paul's School in Princeton and into the clutches of Mrs. Spaeth and her Kindergarten class.   Having been taught by Bill how to read prior to celebrating my 2nd birthday, which was a whole hell of a lot of candles ago at this point, I was better prepared for Mrs. Spaeth than most of - if not all of - my classmates.  And when you are the kid with the over-sized head and the tendency to spontaneously produce a grand mal seizure, neither an attribute that endeared you to the collective cockles of your aforementioned classmates' hearts, being ahead of most of them academically was no small thing.  

A lot of years have passed since Bill taught me how to read.  A lot of years have passed since I used to pad along behind him at the Rutgers University Library, dragging The New York Times behind me on that unwieldy apparatus every library used to use to display its newspapers and listening to Bill and his group of friends discuss important issues of the day, such as the Vietnam War.  Childhood epilepsy might have left me so woefully uncoordinated that I could not run from here to the end of this sentence, but my always-thirsty brain consistently received stimulation and information.  And that happened principally because of my brother Bill.  

In the years since I reached my high-water mark - and to be honest "learning to read before age two" is still what I list first on the CV of my life - the age gap between us has remained constant.  Thankfully for me, the bond has as well.  Four and one half decades later he remains the same excellent source of counsel and advice that he was way back when.   He has proven to be the gift who keeps on giving.   A truly remarkable man.  

I do not pretend to know for what it is he wishes on his birthday.  I hope simply that whatever it is, he gets it.

-AK   


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Live From the War Room

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room.

With all due respect to our once-fictional Commander-in-Chief, President Merkin Muffley, tonight there shall be action aplenty in "war rooms" all over the NFL.  Tonight kicks off one of the few major sports-related events (not including NBA basketball, which I would have to start giving a rat's ass about in order to have my interest level rise to that of mere apathy) in which I have little to no interest.  Tonight is Round One of the NFL Draft.  Do not misunderstand.  I love college football and I root quite enthusiastically for the Boys of Mara Tech in the league where they play for pay (OK the "other" league - not the SEC).  Nevertheless I find the Draft to be utterly inane.  Perhaps not the process itself.  I understand its role in assisting teams in filling out rosters for the season to come.  But in its status as a made-for-TV event, it has always been - and likely shall forever be - cringe worthy.  

Among the college athletes whose name shall not be called tonight is Cameron Lyle of the University of New Hampshire.  Countless reasons exist to explain his absence from the proceedings in the city so nice that they named it twice.  Foremost among them is that Cameron Lyle, while he is a senior and a student-athlete at the University of New Hampshire, is not a member of "Live Free or Die!" U's football team.  He is a track and field athlete. 

Lyle throws the discus, throws the hammer and puts the shot on New Hampshire's track team.  He has done so well enough during his collegiate career that last season he placed second in the America East Conference  Indoor Championships in the shot put and followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the Conference's Outdoor Championships.  

Two years ago, Lyle volunteered to become part of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program.  His mouth was swabbed and his bone marrow became part of the national database.  At the time he joined up, it was explained to him that the odds of his bone marrow ever being a 100% chance for someone unrelated to him were very, very long.  Something akin to putting a shot on the head of a pin?  More like trying to accomplish that feat....at night....in gale-force winds.....while blindfolded.  How about five million to one.  

A few months ago, Lyle was contacted by the Donor Program.  He was told that the Program had been able to match his bone marrow with a twenty-eight-year-old man who is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Yesterday - less than one month away from the start of the 2013 America East Conference Outdoor Championships and with only a couple of events left in which to do something he has loved to do for a long, long time - Lyle donated his bone marrow.  

Lyle gave up something he loves to help someone he does not know and someone whose identity will be kept a secret from him for at least a year.  Yet, when asked about whether his decision was a difficult one, Lyle said that it was not.  The man who received his bone marrow had been told apparently - prior to receiving Lyle's marrow - that he had roughly six months to live.  With the infusion of Lyle's marrow, his life expectancy may have quadrupled.   

Tonight, no one shall call out the name "Cameron Lyle" on the public address system at Radio City Music Hall.  No one shall hold up a jersey with 1 on it and jam a baseball hat bearing the insignia of the team that has just drafted him upon his head.  Mel Kiper, Jr. - self-appointed expert on all things related to the NFL Draft - shall neither curse Cameron Lyle nor praise him (although if push came to shove, I doubt that lacquer-headed ass hat would cop to not knowing this young man).  

Often the word "hero" seems to be bandied about in matter-of-fact fashion.  We elevate to the level of hero those who are not in fact so.  And then there is the case of Cameron Lyle, at age twenty-one possessed with a sense of self and a sense of purpose far beyond his relatively limited years, to whom no other word shall do justice.  

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

Emerson wrote it.  Cameron Lyle embodies it....

....and we are all so much the better for it.  

-AK 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Step One....

While I do not run in many races these days - much to the delight of my wife and to the chagrin of t-shirt manufacturers everywhere - this past Sunday morning my running partner Gidg and I joined upwards of six thousand other runners on the Rutgers University campus for the 4th Annual Unite For Charity Half-Marathon.  In the interests of full disclosure, the race organizers kept speaking of "six thousand runners" being in attendance on Sunday morning but I have no idea how many participated in the shorter-distance race that morning, which was an 8K, as opposed to the Half-Marathon.   I was pleased with my effort in the Half-Marathon, which I completed in 1:53:42, a time that worked out to 8:41 mile splits (which I shall take any day of the week - including but not limited to on a Sunday) and a time that was slightly better than three minutes faster than the time I posted in this very same event last year.  With age comes a reduction of three minutes off of my time.  Who knew?  

Sunday morning was not as much about the result however as it was about the process.  At our little get-together on the campus of the State of Concrete Gardens' State University we the runners did what runners have done worldwide in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon.  We saluted the first responders and the law enforcement officers who apprehended the evildoers.  We celebrated the lives of and eulogized those who were murdered both one week ago Monday and this past Thursday by the aforementioned evildoers.  And we reclaimed our turf.  We the runners gathered to do what it is runners gather on race day to do:  we ran.  

A number of people ran carrying small American flags that race organizers passed out in the starting area.  I only carried mine a couple of miles.  I had it in my right hand up until the point I passed a dad and his two little moppets sitting on a curb clapping for all of us as we passed by.  The smaller (and I presumed younger) of the two had a smile that could melt the most ornery of hearts.  And when it did I gave her my American flag to wave.  She was still smiling ear-to-ear when I waved goodbye and sped off.  Yes I dared to use the word "sped" to describe what I did.  Have you never seen someone take dramatic license before? 

In the heart of central New Jersey the race course was awash in runners wearing shirts and/or signs affixed to their shirts celebrating Boston, its people and its fortitude.  The Half-Marathon course meanders through the RU campus on both sides of the Raritan River, beginning near the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center and then rolling past the RAC and Rutgers Stadium on the Piscataway side of campus before descending into Johnson Park prior to crossing over onto the New Brunswick side.  This year (as I think it did last year) the race ended on College Avenue, a few blocks past "the Barn", which was the sobriquet affectionately hung on RU's old basketball arena - the place it called home in the pre-RAC era, when its basketball fortunes were entrusted to the steady stewardship of Eddie Jordan.   Apropos of nothing, I was fairly certain that I saw someone parking Professor Peabody's WABAC Machine in a "Reserved" space at the Barn as I ran past it on Sunday morning.  Hmm....

I had been experiencing serious trepidation regarding Margaret's presence in the finish line area on Sunday morning in view of what had happened in Boston six days earlier.  I was not alone, however, in my concerns about security and safety.  While they were not an onerous presence to be sure, there were a number of law enforcement officers (I noted the uniforms of the Piscataway Township, City of New Brunswick and Rutgers University Police Departments as being more prevalent than any others) throughout the 13.1 mile course.  Their presence was especially pronounced in the finish line area.  Margaret apparently reached the finish area twenty to thirty minutes before I did (she is a pie-eyed optimist my wife).  When I met up with her after crossing the line and we had a chance to talk, she raved about the presence of the police and what an excellent job they did of making themselves visible.  She felt better for their involvement.  As did I.  

I have no delusions as to my own intellect.  I would not pretend therefore to know what constitutes "normal".   Nor would I pretend to know if and when we shall be able to span the distance between where we are and whatever and wherever "normal" might be.  I know simply that on Sunday, in the chill of a late April morning in suburban New Jersey, a few thousand people - both runners and the loved ones upon whom we rely for support and for inspiration - did our part to bring it back.  Perhaps we were able to do it for only a little while.  Perhaps the only equilibrium we attained was our own.  It matters not.  What matters is that on that morning and in that place we achieved it.  You may call it a baby step if you like.  I prefer to think of it as the important first step....

....on a journey of a thousand steps. 

-AK 


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

At Watch's End....











This past Thursday evening, immediately prior to the Rangers game at Madison Square Garden, the annual presentation of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award took place on Garden ice.  In July 1986, NYPD Detective Steven McDonald was shot three times by a fifteen-year-old suspect he had been questioning about the young man's possible involvement in burglaries in Central Park.  One of the bullets struck Detective McDonald in the head, right above his eye.  The second struck him in the throat.  The third shattered his spine.  Against all odds, Detective McDonald survived.  He has lived the past twenty-six-plus years of his life  confined to a wheelchair, having been left a quadriplegic.  

The Rangers - who I have rooted for passionately since I was just a boy - created the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in the 1987-88 season.  This year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Award and the fourth time that it was won by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.  Callahan is now just one win behind my all-time favorite Ranger, Adam Graves, who won the Award five times.  

Watching the ceremony on Thursday night, it struck me how fast time goes.  I recall way back when in the late 1980's seeing Steven McDonald joined on the Garden ice by his wife Patty and their infant son Conor.  This past Thursday night, Conor McDonald was again on the ice with his parents for the ceremony - wearing his NYPD dress uniform.  Conor McDonald has been a member of the NYPD since December 2010.   The NYPD has been the family business in the McDonald family for several generations.  

Sadly, this past Thursday night on a college campus a couple of hundred miles north of the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue in New York City, we were provided with an even starker reminder of the danger inherent in being one who takes on the responsibility of protecting others than that provided by the image of Steven McDonald in the wheelchair that has housed him for the past two and one half decades.  

Twenty-six-year-old Patrol Officer Sean Collier had been a member of the MIT Police Department since January 2012.   Collier was from Somerville, a town nearby Cambridge and Boston.  Recently, he had taken and earned a high score on a civil service exam.  It was expected that by June 2013 he was going to be hired as a member of the Somerville Police Department.  

Sean Collier was a young man whose whole life appeared to be in front of him - until he was executed by the two cowards who three days earlier had blown up innocents at the Boston Marathon.   He is a young man whose praises have been sung from every corner - by friends and family, those with whom he worked, by those he was sworn to protect and by those who paid him to do so.  

"Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." - Ambrose Redmoon.  May there always be those among us such as Sean Collier.  For as long as there are, no matter how many cowards surface time and again to inflict harm upon us, at day's end good shall triumph.  


-AK 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pictorial Splendor

Someone far wiser than I - talk about winnowing down the list of probables not at all - once observed that a picture's value is equal to that of one thousand words.  This past seven-day period 'twas a rough one in these United States, including but not limited to the loss of lives due to disasters of both the natural and the man-made variety.  It was enough to make you want to shut off the alarm clock, pull the covers up over your head and hunker down with your head on the pillow to ride out the storm.  

We the people of these United States are resilient.  Whether it is Mother Nature or two mother f*ckers who knock us on our collective ass, we always find a way to pull ourselves up off of the canvas.  Rocky Balboa's charm rested in the fact that he was not just one of us.  He was every one of us.  We believed in his ability - regardless of how implausible it might have seemed - to absorb a beating, to get knocked down and to get back up again.  He did it in the ring.  We do it ourselves every day.  

And Tuesday night in Boston - roughly twenty-four hours after that city and its residents absorbed a body blow - roughly 17,000 of those very same folks stood as one at the Garden.  In one voice and as one organism they reminded the world of the enormity of the distance between down and out.


It turns out that it is a whole hell of a lot further than the distance between Hopkinton and Boylston Street.   I reckon that in our heart of hearts we always knew that to be the case.

The choir at the Garden this past Tuesday night merely confirmed it.  

-AK 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

United We Run

"It has been said that the love of the chase is an inherent delight in man - a relic of an instinctive passion." - Charles Darwin

My running pal, Gidg, and I shall participate this morning in the 4th Annual Unite For Charity Half-Marathon on the campus of Rutgers University.   Gidg is running this morning as one of her final training runs before she tackles - and conquers - the New Jersey Marathon for the third consecutive year two Sundays hence.  Me? Having already paid my marathon dues in 2013 - or approximately 76% of them anyway - I am merely running in this event because I enjoy it.  Although the more I run the less interest I have in racing, this is an event that has grown on me since we participated in its maiden voyage way back when in 2010.  If the weather gods are to be believed then today should be a rather nice day on which to run 13.1 miles with race-time temperatures in the low-to-mid forties and nary a rain drop in the forecast.  

Today marks the first race for me since the events of this past Monday in Boston.  I race today with mixed emotions.  While I am looking forward to the race - to the extent anyone looks forward to running 13.1 miles as fast as he can - my enthusiasm level for the event is not what it was one week ago.  I had the chance to get in a four-mile run before work on Wednesday morning, which is a rarity for me these days.  I usually do my mid-week running at night.  As I scooted around my little town here 'NTSG - just as dawn was breaking - the movie played in the theater of my mind of all of the finish lines at which I have seen Margaret's face smiling to greet me and what a welcome sight it has always been to see.  That movie was interspersed with scenes from the finish line area in Boston at or about 3:00 pm on Monday afternoon.  Had I been running in Boston, Margaret would have been there.  She would have been there awaiting my arrival and my certain complaints about leg cramps, knee problems and Heartbreak Hill.  And she would have been smack dab in the center of the fan as the shit came hurtling towards it.  

The Missus is dropping Gidg and I off this morning at the starting area near Rutgers Stadium.  I know not whether she is simply going to circle back a couple of hours later to pick us up or whether she is going to find her way to the finish line area shortly before the race's end to cheer for us upon our arrival.  As much as I count upon seeing her at the finish, I find myself hoping that she opts to arrive just in time to pick us up.  It may be the much safer option.  

I woke up this morning knowing that I am ready to race.  I know not whether I am ready to watch her watch  me do so.  Soon enough I reckon the answer to that question shall be known to me.   

-AK 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Playing Through

This week has seemed to stretch on far longer than several of its immediate predecessors.  Forgive me but I am more than a bit fried.  My timing perhaps is apropos.  Today is 420 Day after all.  I know not what the students at CU-Boulder will do - if anything at all - to celebrate the occasion.  Last year the University's administration spent over a quarter of a million dollars to suppress the student body's celebration of this "holiday".  Given that this year it falls on a Saturday it is unclear exactly what lengths CU shall go to to quell it.  

It would be wonderful at this point I suppose for me to be able to interject some yarn about "back in my day in Boulder" with regard to this seemingly annual event.  Truth be told I have no recollection of it whatsoever. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that my absence of said recollection is a by-product of having smoked too much pot while I was a CU student.  It is more likely (he says with an air of cautious optimism) that it is an event whose origins on campus post-date the four years I spent there.  

Inasmuch as the State of Colorado has now legalized the smoking of marijuana - to a degree anyway - one might wonder just what all of the fuss is about.  Although Colorado's voters passed Amendment 64 in November, they did not loosen the bounds of restraint entirely.  Smoking marijuana in public in Colorado remains illegal.  Similarly, rolling a fatty if one is under the age of twenty-one is also frowned upon in this establishment

Candidly, the way in which this week unfolded makes the thought of spending a bit of quality time today chilling on Farrand Field a fairly pleasant one.  On the other hand it does seem to be one hell of a long way to travel just to work up an appetite for brownies.   

Alas, it appears as if the progeny of Carl Spackler shall have to soldier on without me yet again this year....


....and I suspect they will be just fine.

-AK  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Still Clinging to that First Cup of Coffee....

For the past five years, I have engaged in the daily (well - almost daily as I have missed a day or three along the way) exercise of using this space to exorcise and to exercise my demons.  Five years in, we have worked up one hell of a sweat - my demons and me.   Whether all of that perspiration has amounted to anything more than odorous armpits and collar stains I know not.  I tend to doubt it.   I am, after all, intimately familiar with the source from which it emanates.    

As a much-younger man I lived in dread of fulfilling my self-created prophecy of being my father's son.  I say that not because there was anything wrong with Dad....other than the flaws that exist in each and every one of us.  I had the luxury as his son of seeing them in him even when he could not - or would not - see them in himself.  He died at a time in my life when we were very much waging war on one another.  I was fourteen.  I had reached the age where it appeared for reasons I never quite fathomed as if Dad no longer viewed his sons (and there are three of us) as proteges or companions but rather as potential threats and adversaries.  In what turned out to be the final six months of his life, he and I said a number of things to one another, which things never were rescinded or taken back.

For any number of reasons, Kevin Costner's Field of Dreams has long been one of my favorite films.  Among those reasons is the scene in Ray's VW bus as he and Terence Mann are driving back to Iowa with a young ballplayer named Archie Graham in tow.  Ray tells Mann that as a young man he said something deliberately hurtful to his father shortly before leaving home for college and that his father had died before he could take it back.  While I reasonably anticipate that had he lived at some point Dad and I would have reached the nadir in our relationship and thereafter climbed our way back to respectability,  his death prevented any such bounce from occurring.  At this point in my life, almost thirty-two years after his death I know not whether that was an expectation or merely a hope.  The line between the former and the latter can become quite blurred.  

Once upon a lifetime ago I sought solace from the voices that were fighting for air time in my head in the soothing elixir of alcohol.   Do not misunderstand - consumption of alcohol is a habit I have never been able to shake entirely.  These days however I possess an "OFF" switch, which switch appears to have been installed at or about the time Margaret and I got married.   It took me a considerable number of years - and a considerable amount of money - before I learned that the voices I thought I was successfully drowning night in and night out had merely learned how to hold their breath for a long, long time.  Their return was as certain as the next day's arrival.  

Even after I learned how to greatly curtail the amount of alcohol I consumed, the chorus of angry voices still sang out in my head.  I spent a lot of time being angry - about any number of things - including more than a few that were worth neither the time nor the effort nor the anger.  I had things on my mind and on my chest and needed a place to expel them.  Luckily for me and for my family, I have worked at least thirty miles from home for most of my professional life.  I came to appreciate the effectiveness of a lengthy commute as a coping mechanism. Whether the strangers sharing space with me on the State of Concrete Gardens' highways and byways embraced it with similar vigor I know not.  I tend to think they did not.   

I write for much the same reason that I run. It is equal parts cathartic and therapeutic.  It quiets the voices.  It quells the anger.  It provides a release point for the frustrations brought about by day-to-day life.  It is perhaps the single-most selfish act in which I engage.  And I do it on a daily basis.   Over the course of these past five years I have received feedback to some of what I have written.  Surprisingly, most of it has been complimentary.  Less so, a small percentage of it has been something far, far away from complimentary altogether.   I have angered a number of people due to one or more things I have written.   

It was not - and has never been - my intention to inspire or to infuriate you.  This is a piece written not for two but for one.  Only for one.  Always for one.  This little piece of virtual real estate belongs to me still simply because I need it.  It fulfills a very important purpose in my life.  For as long as it does so, it shall be here....

....and so shall I.   Long after everyone else has gone home.  And long after my cup of coffee has gone cold. 


-AK 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

All Things Considered....

I am not a golfer.  But for a few trips to the Hillsborough Country Club - quite possibly the single most euphemistically named establishment in the world of golf - with my good friend Doug Carroll the Summer of '81 (when Doug taught me the game I think in part to give me something to think about OTHER than the death of my father) I have never played the game.  Not quite thirty-two years removed from that summer I cannot envision the circumstances under which I shall ever play again.  

While I do not play it and rarely watch it, I spent a significant portion of my Sunday evening sitting in my den with Margaret's dad Joe and her Uncle Mike watching the conclusion of this year's Masters Tournament from Augusta National Golf Club.  As someone who knows so little about the game that if you had asked me at 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon the first name of either Adam Scott or Angel Cabrera, I would have answered "Mister" and been done with it, I quite enjoyed watching the end of the tournament in the company of two old golf junkies.  I learned quite a bit about both of the players who battled it out for the title just from listening to Joe and Unc talk about them and from watching them in action.  It was quite compelling stuff. 

Scott played the final round on Sunday in the group ahead of Cabrera, which meant that when Scott drained a long birdie putt on the 18th hole to take a one-shot lead over him, Cabrera had a depressingly great view of what had just transpired from his vantage point in the fairway.  Scott celebrated.  His caddie celebrated.  What appeared to be several thousand people gathered around the 18th green celebrated too.  And in the midst of this maelstrom all Cabrera did was stick his second shot to within three feet of the hole, setting up a short birdie putt to tie the match and force a sudden death playoff.  

After having victory snatched out of his hands by Cabrera's heroics on the final hole of regulation, Scott won the tournament on the second hole of the playoff.  One of the great cliches in sports applied with full force and effect on Sunday evening at Augusta:  Adam Scott won the Masters.  Angel Cabrera did not lose it.   Mere moments before Scott drained a fairly sizable putt for a birdie and the win, Cabrera had come within an eyelash of holing a chip shot from off the edge of the green for a birdie.  Had he made it, Scott would have putted seeking to tie the score and to force a third extra hole.  

Often in sports as the pressure mounts and the hour grows late the best athlete quivers ever so slightly.   In a "do or die" setting the victor may not be the one who performed the best but - rather - the one who performed less poorly than his or her competition.  That was most assuredly not the case on Sunday night.  As the pressure mounted both Scott and Cabrera raised their games.  Great stuff.  Simply great. 

As was the performance all weekend by the fourteen-year-old Chinese amateur Guan Tianlang.  The youngster was penalized a stroke on Friday for playing too slowly.  If you opt to scour YouTube looking for the video of his tantrum in response to that penalty, then you shall be searching in vain.  He never complained.  He never whined.  And he never flinched.  He did not win but he accomplished what he came to Augusta to do, which was compete in all four rounds of the Masters.   And why was I not surprised at all -when he was interviewed Sunday night in the company of Scott and last year's winner Bubba Watson and he spoke English as if he had been born and raised in the United States.  Better actually.  

Watching him talk about his weekend in Georgia and the experience of playing the Masters, I flashed back to when I was his age.  At fourteen, my signature achievement was that as an eighth grader I played the role of Oliver Twist in the school production of "Oliver!"   A performance so well-received by the way that in the thirty-two years since no one has ever requested that I, again, sing in public....

....consider yourselves fortunate.  Damn fortunate in fact.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Where Eagles Soar

I have reached the point in my life where I derive pleasure from few things as much as I do from a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  This past Sunday, after wrapping up some morning chores and doing the requisite prep work for dinner, I took full advantage of the weather.  I went for a run.  In the course of the eight-plus miles I covered I ran all over our little town.  Truth be told there are many things here 'NTSG that stir an emotion in my soul far south of joy.  

Ours is a little town dotted with far too many "For Rent" and "For Lease" signs on commercial properties and far too many "For Sale" signs on residential ones.   Lincoln Boulevard is pockmarked by vacant commercial space, some of which has been vacant for quite some time now.  I know because I have lost count as to exactly how many Sundays it has been since it has been anything other than vacant. 

This past Sunday though the route I chose to run (I remain of the opinion that the Garmin Forerunner 405 watch Margaret bought me for Christmas in 2011 is the single greatest gift I have ever received) took me down the road that separates Our Lady of Mount Virgin Roman Catholic Church from what formerly was the elementary school of the same name, which is the school Suzanne and Rob both attended through eighth grade.  As I started heading down the block, with the old school building on my left, my eye was drawn to the cutouts in the school's parking lot, which separate the multiple driveways in and out of the parking lot.  

It was in those three areas on a cold weekend in late-October 2003 that Rob and I completed his Eagle Scout Project.  My complete absence of mechanical ability is well-documented and cannot be overstated.  However, I am Irish.  And if there is one thing every Irishman knows how to do, it is how to dig.  Whether a hole, a ditch or a really, really long hole, give us a shovel and get out of the way.   We probably waited a week or two too long to start the Project, which ensured that the ground into which we dug was rock hard.  It mattered not.  While it took us back-to-back twelve hour days to get it finished, at nightfall on that Sunday it was finished.   Where less than forty-eight hours earlier there had been three empty spaces now stood three spaces full of plants and trees and mulch - and life.  It really was a hell of a thing he did.  I got a kick out of getting the chance to be a part of it.

 
 
 
 
I smiled in spite of myself running past our handiwork on Sunday afternoon.  After I got home and took a shower I drove back over to the old school to take photos of our beds, which I immediately sent to Rob.  His reaction to seeing the photos suggested that he was as pleasantly surprised as I had been to see that the fruits of our labor all those years ago were not only surviving but thriving....  

....much as we are ourselves.

 

-AK 





Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Race for Justice

In this space yesterday I wrote about a great American event, the 117th Boston Marathon.  It was not my intention to use this space today to write about it again.  The best-laid plans of mice and men I suppose.

For reasons that remain far less than crystal clear to me as I write this, at or about 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon multiple explosions occurred in the immediate vicinity of the finish line area at the Marathon.   The race clock at the finish line showed that the explosions occurred roughly four hours and nine minutes into the race.  At approximately 4:25 p.m. yesterday Pierre Thomas of ABC News reported that United States Department of Justice officials had confirmed that the explosions were in fact bombings and were the result of the detonation of multiple, portable devices such as backpack bombs or package bombs.   Media sources gave varying information regarding the number of casualties.  As of 4:30 p.m. yesterday the New York Post was citing "unnamed federal law enforcement sources" having reported at least twelve dead and at least fifty other people injured.  Mercifully, although the Post's web site continued to cite those unnamed sources all night and continued to report that at least one dozen people had been killed, by this morning it appeared as if the Post's information was erroneous.  ESPN reported a lesser number of casualties on its website as did essentially every other media outlet whose site I read.    The varying estimates notwithstanding, all can agree that once the number went above "Zero", it ceased to be acceptable.   

My thoughts and best wishes go out - as do yours as well - to the families and loved ones of all those injured, killed and otherwise affected by this latest episode of self-created insanity.  What occurred in Boston  yesterday afternoon saddens me immensely.  

Yet, it makes me significantly more angry than it does sad.  It makes me angry because almost immediately after thinking about those who reportedly were closest to the blasts - the families and supporters of the "Every-man" runners  (runners like me and pretty much every runner I know) - and consequently were in harm's way, I thought of Margaret.  My wife is not a runner.  Yet far more often than not she accompanies me to the events in which I run.  When she does so, she spends most of the event's duration in the immediate proximity of the finish line.  The thought of some fucking coward doing something designed to injure her makes my blood boil.  

May those responsible for this latest atrocity be held to account for their crimes.  May those whose families - and lives - have been assailed and assaulted by the actions of others find a bit of peace and a bit of comfort and do so soon.  May dawn come quickly for the victims of this terrorist act and erase the vestiges of this dark hour into which they now find themselves immersed.  And may dawn never come at all for the murderous bastard or bastards who perpetrated this attack.   

Presently, a more satisfactory definition of Justice escapes me.  And truth be told, it might well be a couple of days before I seek one.

-AK 


Monday, April 15, 2013

The River Opens for the Righteous

Today is Patriots' Day in Massachusetts.  During the four dreadful months I spent four years ago "wintering at  the Reservoir" Patriots' Day might have been my favorite day of all.  Given the mother ship's location in Boston, it was one day of complete peace and quiet - free from interruptions courtesy of the self-impressed ass hats in Bean Town who believed they had forgotten more about the practice of law in New Jersey than those of us who have spent our entire careers here may ever learn.  Once upon a time I could not have faked giving a rat's ass about Patriots' Day.  That all changed in April, 2009.   Now it is a day the mere mention of which brings a smile to my face. 

The Boston Marathon shall be run this morning, beginning as it always does in Hopkinton.  This year's edition is the 117th.  The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon.  Once upon a couple of marathons ago, I harbored the fantasy of one day qualifying for and participating in this race.  No more.  My marathon-running days are firmly entrenched in my rear-view mirror.  Even if they were not it would make no difference with regard to my possible participation in Boston.  

It is a race for which one must qualify.  In 2014, the maximum qualifying time for my age group (Men 45-49) is 3 hours and 25 minutes.   The fastest time I ever posted in a marathon was my maiden voyage in the New Jersey Marathon in 2011.  My finishing time of slightly more than 4 hours and 29 minutes would permit me to qualify for Boston in 2014....if I was at least seventy-five years of age.  Simply running as if I am is not enough.  I have to show proof of age.  So, unless either Rosie Ruiz or Paul Ryan comes forward and offers me some insight as to how to shave more than an hour off of my marathon finishing time this dream will go unfulfilled - much like my brother Kelly's dream of being elected Pope.   

However, Mr. Ryan might be onto something though that could be of use to me and to other marathon runners everywhere.  I used the Paul Ryan Time Calculator for the first time on Saturday.  I was pleased and amazed to see that simply by applying Congressman Ryan's arithmetic, I shaved slightly less than one hour and fifteen minutes off of my PR!  

And while I prepare for my assault on Heartbreak Hill will someone please explain to me how anyone can trust Ryan's arithmetic with regard to the Federal Budget....

....or anything that comes out of his mouth for that matter?  But I digress.  It is Patriot's Day!  Drink a cup of tea.  Go for a long run.  Play a baseball game at 11:30 in the morning.  Do whatever it is you want to do to celebrate it.  It is your day.  

You have damn sure earned it. 


-AK 


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Missing George

Realizing the absurdity of this statement - and unless this is your trip to this particular section of the virtual words you know the regularity with which absurdity abounds in these parts - I am constrained to confess that I was reminded again this week just how much I miss George Carlin.  

In the interest of full disclosure I am constrained similarly to admit that I did not know Mr. Carlin.  In fact I never saw him perform live.  The closest he and I ever came to one another was when we assumed our respective positions on either end of the cathode ray tube and I watched him do his thing on HBO or some such place.  Upon his death, he was referred to ceaselessly as a "comic genius".  Respectfully, that sobriquet does not do him justice.  It suggests - to my mind anyway - that he was being celebrated because of his skill in that particular field.  Truth be told, Mr. Carlin was a genius whose preferred vocation was stand-up comedy.  His genius was not dependent upon him being funny.  

Years ago, during one of his appearances on the radio with Don Imus, he shared with Imus one of the tenets that he strove to honor when he performed, which was directing his jokes at those not typically the target of humor.  He went after the established and the entrenched.  To this day, I recall him telling Imus that he was not much impressed by those comedians who made their living by telling jokes about - and at the expense of - those who Mr. Carlin deemed to be "defenseless".  He preferred focusing his intellect and his wit on those who he knew possessed the resources and the station in society to engage him if they chose to do so.  I reckon at his core he was a fan of a fair fight.  He refused to engage an easy target.  

For a number of years - much to my delight - the television program American Idol existed merely as a rumor in my day-to-day.  To my recollection, up until the Spring of 2011 I had never seen an episode of it.  I  do not live in a hole so I knew then - as I do now - of Simon Cowell and crew.  I simply exercised my right to vote by not watching the show at all.  

At some point a couple of seasons back - for reasons that escape me - something about American Idol captured the attention of the Missus.  Given that she works full-time and that as far as she knows I do likewise and we spend scant little time together during the week, when we are in the same place at night we tend to watch television together.  I have become quite adept over the years at switching back and forth between a particular program and a Yankees game or a Rangers game without either of us missing out on too much of the good stuff.  I have mad remote control skills.  Should the need ever arise to update my CV I shall find a spot near the top of it to insert that.  Most likely after my name and immediately before my Admission to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court.  Nothing is set in stone on this point though. 

When American Idol started up again this winter, the Missus resumed watching it.  Early on - when they show footage culled from what seems like an endless process of moving around the United States and allowing people to audition by the boatload - they introduced America to a young man named Lazaro Arbos.  

Truth be told, to my unsophisticated ear the most extraordinary thing about this young man is not the quality of his singing voice.  Rather it is the fact that he was apparently born with an almost crippling stutter, which has in fact worsened as he has gotten older - he is twenty-two.  It so impacts his ability to talk that when they  met him at whichever stop he auditioned he confessed that he worked as an ice cream scooper because it was the only job he could get where he did not have to do "smart people stuff" like talk.  Yet when he sings, the stutter disappears altogether.  

His story is compelling enough that as his performances worsened week in and week out and he was subjected to deserving yet withering criticism, whoever it is who actually votes for the contestants on this show (Margaret has sworn to me on the kids' lives that she has not gone through that rabbit hole) continued to vote him through to the next round.  Until this past week.  Deservedly he was eliminated. 

Yet he did not deserve to be treated as he was.  First, on Wednesday night after appropriately criticizing him for his performance while the youngster was standing before him and calling his performance the worst in the history of the show, Randy Jackson tore into him again following the next contestant's performance.  He took not one - but two - pot shots at the kid, referring to the train wreck that Arbos had been while talking to the next contestant.  Conspicuous by his absence - and his inability to defend himself or otherwise respond - was Arbos.  

The following night, as Arbos gamely awaited his fate the show aired his performance clips from the night before accompanied by Jackson's "worst performance ever" line.  They interspersed them with comments from Jimmy Iovine, who has added the role of "mentor" on American Idol to the three gazillion other gigs he presently has.    As someone who has loved Springsteen's music for the entirety of my music-listening life and who is familiar with Iovine's long-standing relationship with Springsteen, I would not question for a moment his music bona fides and his scathing criticism of the previous night's performance was (based upon what Margaret and I had watched Wednesday night) eminently fair.  

Yet in those same taped comments that aired on Thursday night he too refused to pass up the chance to take a gratuitous pot shot at a defenseless target.  Lazaro Arbos was one of six contestants remaining at the time of his elimination.  Knowing that fact did not stop Iovine from chirping (in his recorded segment), "I would have voted him tenth this week" and then responding (upon being reminded by a voice off-camera that only six kids were left in the competition) with a shit-eating grin, "I know".  He still had that same grin on his face Thursday night when the camera panned to him seated in the audience about one hundred feet from where the young man with the terminal stutter he had just hammered sat frozen - on live television - watching the remarks for the first time.   

It never ceases to amaze me the depths to which we the people shall descend to belittle and to besmirch one another for sport.  It takes neither courage nor creativity to pick on someone whose position is inferior to your own.  A shame that taking the high road never occurred to either Jackson - who is remarkably tone-deaf to the fact that having "Only Judge to Serve on Every Season of American Idol" as a highlight of his CV is only slightly less embarrassing than "TV Remote Control God" is on mine - or Iovine.  Both should know better.  Apparently neither does. 

Worse yet,  perhaps both do and what happened the other night was that neither gave enough of a fuck about the twenty-two-year-old amateur performer whose balls they kicked up through the roof of his mouth on worldwide television to pass on the chance to hit him once he was already down.  To borrow a line from my all-time favorite Second Chair Sam Weinberg - all they did was beat up on a weaker kid.  That is all they did.  They belittled a young man for sport.  An all-time punk move.    

Samuel Johnson once observed that, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who does him absolutely no good."   The further we get from that baseline standard of behavior the smaller and smaller we ourselves become....

....and the more and more I miss George Carlin. 

-AK 


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Broken Hearts and Bended Knees....

In the one hundred and twenty days that have passed since the massacre of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School, no topic has dominated our national discourse as much as guns.   If you possess no opinion on the subject, then you might very well be the only person alive so situated.  

I mention all of the above simply because irrespective of one's position/opinion/belief regarding guns, what happened earlier this week in Toms River, New Jersey was a horror.  Six-year-old Brandon Holt was playing in the yard of one of his friends - a four-year-old boy whose family apparently lives a couple of houses down the block from the Holts - on Monday night.  It is believed that Brandon and his little pal were playing "pretend shooting", which I presume is something akin to cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians or any one of a gazillion games I played as a child using my homemade "thumb and index finger" gun as my weapon of choice.  

At some point while the two moppets were playing, the four-year-old disappeared into his home for a couple of minutes.  He emerged from it carrying a loaded .22 caliber rifle.  He pointed the rifle in the general direction of Brandon, who was seated in a go-kart forty-five feet away.  A bullet fired from the rifle struck Brandon in the head.  

Brandon Holt died Tuesday in the hospital where he had been rushed Monday night following the shooting.  Dead at the age of six.  Dead before having the chance to complete first grade.  A loss of incalculable measure. 

I reckon that there is much that can be said - and likely shall be said - on any number of issues raised by this incident, running the gamut from gun control to parental supervision.  You are free to say them if you wish.  You shall not say them here.  Neither shall I.  Time aplenty exists for those who wish to join the Greek chorus of condemnation and righteous indignation directed towards the parents of the boys involved in this incident.  Today is not that day.  Today is the day on which the Holt family shall gather in the presence of those who love them and who loved their little boy and bury him.  It is a day of incomprehensible sadness.  

In an eye blink on Monday night, everything changed for two innocents.  For one, at the age of four his childhood ended.  For the other, at the far-too-young age of six it was his life that ended.  I do not know the Holts.  If I did, I would not know what to say to them other than "I'm sorry for the loss of your young son"....

....a sentiment so woefully inadequate it scarcely merits being uttered aloud.


-AK   

Friday, April 12, 2013

Out of the Darkness....

When the Missus and I were in Texas this past October, the two of us (accompanied by Suzanne) spent what could fairly be described as a bracing afternoon at the Holocaust Museum of Houston.  Never in my life have I been inside a building - including but not limited to a museum - more soaked in solemnity.  Whether I shall have a second opportunity to visit it I know not.  I do know that many of the images I saw will remained fixed in my mind's eye for all of the days of my life.   If you have the opportunity to visit it - or the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. - then avail yourself of it.   It is an experience you shall have no chance of living long enough to regret.  Promise. 

This year, America's Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust - this nation's annual commemoration of the horror that befell millions of Jews and other persecuted peoples at the hands of the Nazis - began on Sunday, April 7th and shall conclude on Sunday, April 14.  The theme of this year's observance is Never Again:  Heeding the Warning Signs.  

I care not about your gender, your race, your political affiliation, your religious persuasion or your sexual preference.  None has any impact upon the importance of the lessons taught to each of us and to all of us by the sins of the Holocaust.  None has any impact upon the importance of each of us and all of us never forgetting the atrocities that were permitted to be brought forth onto this planet in the heart of one of its most worldly and sophisticated areas - the European continent - and brought to evil fruition by the power-drunk atop one of its greatest, most sophisticated societies - the Germans.   

In the fiction that we sometimes create to make it easier to get through our day-to-day, we often delude ourselves into believing that behavior such as what was rampant across Europe for close to a decade beginning in the mid-1930's is the type of behavior that is only performed by the "less civilized" inhabitants of the Third World.  The sin against humanity that was the Holocaust revealed the quality of that delusion.  

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.   We the people who inhabit this nation and this planet's other nations must make it our solemn vow that irrespective of the ferocity etched into the face of fear and the terror it might strike into our collective heart we shall do that which is necessary to prevent its triumph....

-AK



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Honor Thy Father....

Today in a ceremony at the White House President Obama shall posthumously award Captain Emil Joseph Kapaun the Medal of Honor.  Captain Kapaun was an Army Chaplain.  He was a member of the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division and served in Korea with his brothers-in-arms in the Korean War.  

Captain Kapaun's Medal of Honor was earned during the Battle of Unsan on November 1 and 2, 1950.  The description of what he did - as set forth on the Medal of Honor's official site - is nothing short of jaw-dropping: 

As Chinese Communist forces encircled the battalion, Kapaun moved fearlessly from foxhole to foxhole under direct enemy fire in order to provide comfort and reassurance to the outnumbered Soldiers.  He repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to recover wounded men, dragging them to safety.  When he could not drag them, he dug shallow trenches to shield them from enemy fire.  As Chinese forces closed in, Kapaun rejected several chances to escape, instead volunteering to stay behind and care for the wounded.  He was taken as a prisoner of war by Chinese forces on November 2, 1950.  

Once captured Captain Kapaun continued to provide comfort to his fellow prisoners.  He continued to provide leadership as well.   He repeatedly disobeyed his Chinese captors and snuck around the prison camp under cover of darkness, sharing whatever food he could scrape up and tending to those soldiers who were injured and ill.  For his troubles he was punished severely - including one reported incident in which he was forced to sit outside naked in subzero weather.  While his punishment undoubtedly chilled him to his core, it did little to slow him down.  Once he thawed out, he was back doing all he could for those around him - at great personal risk.  

Captain Kapaun did not live to see the end of the Korean War.  Once captured by the Chinese, he was never freed.  On May 23, 1951 - slightly more than one month past his thirty-fifth birthday - he died as a Prisoner of War in a Chinese hospital.   

The Korean War was not the first one in which Captain Kapaun had worn the uniform of his country.  He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1940.  In 1944, he joined the Army's Chaplain Corps and ended up serving in Burma and India for the duration of World War II.  Nor is the Medal of Honor the first honor bestowed upon him.  His military awards include the Distinguished Service Cross; Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device; Legion of Merit; Prisoner of War Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star for Central Burma Campaign; World War II Victory Medal; Army of Occupation Medal with  Japan Clasp; Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars; National Defense Service Medal; and United Nations Service Medal.    

May time permit each of us to take just a moment today to think of Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Joseph Kapaun.  In view of the way in which he lived his life - putting others before himself even when doing so risked death - it is the very least we can do.  

And just in case you need a reminder as to what a real hero looks like....

Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun

Emil Joseph Kapaun
April 20, 1916
May 23, 1951

-AK