Sunday, June 30, 2013

Of Men Both Young & Old

We have reached 2013's halfway point.  This year has gotten pretty damn old all of a sudden....
 
....and speaking of old all of a sudden - Happy Birthday to my old, great friend Mark Bowman.  I have been an albatross of a friend around Bowinkle's neck for approximately three and one half decades.  That poor son of a bitch.  He must be pretty damn old to know me for that long.  I hope his birthday is a great one.  He certainly deserves it.
 
Kudos to a young man who is - by all accounts - an even better player than he is a basketball player.  Andre Roberson spent three seasons on the CU-Boulder campus, working his way towards his degree and helping the Buffs return to the World of the Relevant in men's college basketball.  He was the very first high school player to sign a Letter of Intent to come play for Tad Boyle when Coach Boyle was hired at CU in the Spring of 2010.  In Roberson's three seasons on the hardwood in Boulder he helped lead the Buffs to the Semi-Finals of the NIT as a freshman before spearheading their back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids.  When the 2013 season ended in March, Dre defied conventional wisdom and declared himself an entrant in the 2013 NBA Draft.  In the days leading up to the Draft, most draftniks projected him NOT being drafted.  Or at best - being taken late in the 2nd Round of what is only a two-round affair.  His decision to give up his senior season seemed to have been a bad one.
 
Until Thursday night.  The twenty-sixth player who heard his name called - comfortably in the final quarter of the First Round I might add - was Andre Roberson, University of Colorado.   While his choice of attire was a bit shall we say "Yikes"-inducing the smile on his face was indelible.  And it likely grew larger by evening's end when he learned that although it was Minnesota who had drafted him it shall be Oklahoma City for whom he shall play as the Thunder ended up trading for him.  He is from Texas so he will play for pay relatively close to home.  And he shall do it on a team that has Kevin Durant as its focal point.  Not too shabby.
 
For the past couple of months one of the adults in Andre Roberson's life who had been having the most sleep-interrupted nights over whether his decision to leave CU was the right one was the man he had accompanied to Boulder:  Coach Boyle.  He had read all of the projections about Andre and knew that while every NBA first-round draft pick's initial contract is guaranteed, those of second-round picks and free agents are not.  Coach was worried.  When Commissioner David Stern called "Andre Roberson" as the twenty-sixth pick in the First Round on Thursday night, Boyle immediately sent this text message to him: “What the hell do I know? Congratulations."
 
Actually, Tad Boyle knows a hell of a lot.  He knew three-plus years ago when he accepted the job to coach the Buffs he needed to recruit young men who would mold the future of the program.  He knew he needed young men who are leaders - foundation players.  He knew what he had in one such player from Texas.  Together they did great things. 
 
I have a feeling that although they shall be doing them in two different places next season, they shall continue to do great things. 
 
 
 
-AK

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Sip of the Forgiveness that Life Provides

Four years ago on this very day - the final Saturday of June - my brother in law Frank's daughter Megan (his oldest child) was married.  Four years and two days later she and her husband have added three members to their tribe.  It has been a happy, productive (and no doubt tiring) four years for that dynamic duo. 
 
Today - in the very same church where her big sister was wed four Junes ago - Frank's second-oldest child - his daughter Nicole - shall marry.  I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Nic almost since Margaret and I started dating twenty-two years ago.  She is a terrific young woman.  And in Jason it certainly appears as if she has met her ideal complement.  A genuinely nice guy.  A good man.
 
The process begins today for Nicole and Jason.  To this point their story has been of their "lives".  Today that changes.  Their story is now the one of their Life. 
 
Call me an old softie but I am rooting for a happy ending....
 
....and I have every confidence that they shall get there. 
 
And they shall enjoy the ride.
 
 
-AK

Friday, June 28, 2013

Texas-Sized Church Bells

In the Bible Cain slew Abel
and East of Eden he was cast
You're born into this life paying
for the sins of somebody else's past....
 
-Bruce Springsteen
 
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States did something that was lauded in some circles as extraordinary, condemned in other circles as dastardly and viewed by Yours Truly as nothing more or less than wholly appropriate.  By a 5-4 vote, the Supremes declared unconstitutional a portion of one of the most disingenuously named statutes in the United States Code - the Defense of Marriage Act.  DOMA - an especially shameful little piece of legislation - was enacted in that Conservative heyday known as the Clinton Administration.  Anyone with skin in the game knows that what the Court did Wednesday morning was not the final round in the battle.  It was however a very important one.  Well done. 
 
Predictably the God Squad responded to the Court's decision by condemning it.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called the decision a "profound injustice".  For good measure he added, The Court got it wrong.  The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so.    I never know whether to laugh or cry when the facial hypocrites who front for an organization that has played "Hide the Pedophile" for decades - moving priests caught molesting young members of a particular flock off to graze in another pasture - explain to us sinners the difference between right and wrong. 
 
And on the subject of a person who actually grasps the difference between right and wrong,  kudos to Texas State Senator Wendy Davis - who is a Democrat from Fort Worth.  Senator Davis spent most of Tuesday engaging in a filibuster to prevent the Texas Senate from voting to enact a law that would outlaw abortions beyond the twentieth week of pregnancy AND require that the physician performing the abortion have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the facility where the procedure is going to be performed.  While her filibuster fell about fifteen minutes shy of preventing a vote altogether, she held sway long enough to keep a lawful vote from taking place.  No fear!  Proponents of the legislation promise to try, try again.  Governor Rick Perry may even call a special session of the State Senate in an effort to accomplish the goal. 
 
Until then, Governor Perry and his fellow life-lovers in the Texas Senate shall have to appease their need to preserve life by executing inmates on Death Row.   One of the Lone Star State's truly special creatures - Kimberly McCarthy (sentenced to death for murdering her next-door neighbor after first robbing her and then beating her) - became the 500th person executed in Texas in the thirty-one years since Texas resumed capital punishment in 1982. 
 
Nice to know I suppose that she paid for the sins of her own past.  Eventually I suppose we all shall.
 
-AK

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Men For All Seasons....

In case you missed it, Monday brought the 2012-13 hockey season to a close.  A season that almost never got started finally ended eight days AFTER Father's Day.   Nothing says hockey season quite as much as ninety degree daytime temperatures. 
 
Truth be told, had the Rangers made it a bit farther than Round One Plus One Win in this year's playoffs, then I would have cared far less about the seemingly endless post-season.  Maybe next year - in honor of the 20th anniversary of their most recent Stanley Cup victory - the Blueshirts will celebrate by hoisting another Cup.  They will have a new head coach - having hired the recently-fired Alain Vigneault to a five-year deal to replace the recently-fired John Tortorella....who was hired on Tuesday in Vancouver to replace Vigneault.  Two teams disappointed by the way their seasons turned out....hired each other's most recent "not successful enough" Head Coach.  Hmmm....
 
Hockey's end put a wrap on the North American professional sports season - coming as it did less than a week after the NBA season concluded.  I might be the wrong person to take up his cause - given the fact that had the Spurs and the Heat played for the NBA Championship in my back yard I would have drawn the blinds and shut off the lights - but is there not a Statute of Limitations for the haters to get off of LeBron James' back?  The knock on him cannot be the quality of his play in a big spot.   When the chips were down for his team in Game Six and Game Seven, he took over each game and led them to back-to-back wins.
 
Presumably those who still pack wood for him do so because of "The Decision" to sign a contract with Miami when his contract with his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers expired when the 2009-2010 season expired.  Really?  He is an immensely wealthy young man who opted in his twenties to escape Ohio for South Beach.  Should he have waited another fifty years to move from the Rust Belt to Florida like the rest of the people who live in Ohio?  F*cking get over yourselves Ohioans.  Or at the very least - speak the truth.  What pissed you all off is that three years after LeBron left Ohio you still had to endure that assh*le E. Gordon Gee as the President of your The Ohio State University. 
 
On second thought, I would be pissed off about that too. 
 
And I have never even lived in Ohio.
 
-AK

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Freebird

Today marks the final Wednesday of June.  By this time tomorrow Suzanne and Ryan shall be home.  Friday night is the rehearsal for Nicole and Jason's wedding.  Saturday is their big day.  My wife and daughter each have a supporting role in Saturday's festivities.  Luckily for all concerned I do not.

Tonight is graduation at Middlesex High School.  I know not how many Blue Jays make up this year's flock of graduates. I know exactly one by name AND  sight.  My sometime running wingman Ryan Jones shall earn his diploma tonight.  A good young man albeit one with an odd rooting interest (at least for NFL purposes) I have known Ryan since he was just a little dude.  

Adulthood beckons.  Time will tell how high he shall soar. Tonight he prepares to leave the nest.  Time to fly solo.  I .have every confidence that if he maintains his, his ceiling is limitless.

-AK





Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Dues of Diligence

The leading rule for the lawyer, as for the
man of every other calling is diligence.
Leave nothing for tomorrow
which can be done today.

- Abraham Lincoln

I had an interesting conversation Friday night while Margaret and I were at a little get-together hosted by my high school Alma mater's Alumni Association.   I suppose that it might have risen to the level of being very interesting had I ever learned the name of the young man with whom I was having it.  He was essentially dropped on my conversational doorstep by another alumni, Max, in the apparent expectation that I (twenty years deep into a career that occasionally irritates the shit out of me) would be able to impart some words of wisdom upon him (on the eve of beginning his first year of law school and spending this summer interning for one of New Jersey's Top 20 Firms).  There is no hat that fits my over-sized head more poorly than that of the Sage.  Believe me when I tell you that Suzanne and Rob have achieved the success each has in significant part because they learned very early to disregard most (if not all) of the advice I attempted to impart to them.

He took the road more travelled (and the one I eschewed completely) of going directly from the completion of his undergraduate studies to law school.  I did not ask him his age but I presume he is not more than twenty-two or twenty-three years old.  He certainly looked no older than that.  His eyes were the combination of eager and anxiety-riddled that one expects to see in one so young who has clearly already spent a bit of time getting indoctrinated into the "You Must Do Things This Way to Succeed" nonsense imparted to him by some starched, white-collar poser whose place in his own firm is (in all likelihood) not as close to the rarefied air of the ladder's top rung as he clearly has represented it to be to this youngster. 

His speech was chock full of catch phrases that had been imparted to him during his indoctrnation-to-date at "Big Firm NJ".  The type of cliched tripe someone feeds someone else when he cannot actually be bothered to offer him anything of value.  He also struck me though as being not just a bright young man but well-intentioned:  looking for a little kernel of hope amid a sea of bullshit. 

I told him the only thing of any value I probably have ever shared with either of my two:  you cannot let someone else chart the course you are going to take - and make - in this world.  Whether it is the practice of law, the building of buildings, the mowing of lawns or the brewing of coffee, whatever it is you do to earn your daily bread it should be something for which you have a passion.  Work is hard enough without going through the motions day after day.  And the only person who knows whether the choice you have made is the right choice for you is you.  It is most certainly not some Ivy League dilettante who has likely been tasked the responsibility of dispensing faux advice to you all summer as part of his/her own compensation packages and who gives less than half a rat's ass about you. 

I also told him to make sure that whatever he does in the law - presuming the law becomes the career path he chooses to blaze - to make sure he lives a balanced life.  Work is work.  It is what it is.  In the law - at least in the civil justice system where I earn my living - no one has yet cured cancer.  No one has yet ended starvation.  There are deadlines for getting things completed to be sure.  But as long as one takes Mr. Lincoln's lesson to heart, they shall be met.  

Take a look upward at the top of today's silliness at the Railsplitter's words one more time.  Notice what word is absent from that nugget of Lincolnian wisdom?  "Work".  It appears not at all.  Not once.  Why not?  Perhaps because Lincoln's advice to lawyers was not career advice but, rather, life advice. 

After all, all of us shall run out of tomorrows.  But we shall all run out of todays first.  Embrace them as you encounter them.  Do all you can.  Do it every day.  The bullshit shall take care of itself. 

-AK   

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Sounds of Summer

If the amount of sweat that poured off of me - first on Saturday evening and thereafter on Sunday morning - was any indication then summer's first weekend did not disappoint.  The Missus and I had a terrific time on Friday night catching up with some old friends, including for me my dear friend Mr. Guinness.  I spent Saturday evening and Sunday morning bidding him farewell.  Thirteen miles in the Jersey heat and humidity will do that just fine - thank you very much.

I have taken to leaving my iPod at home when I run through and around my adopted hometown.  I prefer to absorb the sounds (as well of the sights) of the neighborhoods I traverse as opposed to music.  Especially this time of year. 

I read often about the ills that plague the kids of America:  too much television, too much time on the computer, too much texting, too many video games, etc.   Today's children are overweight, unhealthy and afraid to breathe in outside air.  That is what we are told. 

Beware the man who speaks in generalities.  While all of those things may be true - at least to a degree - everywhere, my favorite thing about running through our little town is the sound of kids doing....stuff.  This weekend alone I ran past kids playing Wiffle Ball, shooting hoops, bike riding, playing catch, swinging on playground swings and just walking around.  Plenty of kids just being kids.  And the prevalent sound they were making?  Laughter. 

A simply terrific sound.  One of the sounds of summer.

-AK

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Balls and Other Bouncy Things....

Ah.  Summer's first Sunday.  Hope the weather in your part of the world is as nice as what our fearless forecasters have promised to those of us who reside here in the State of Concrete Gardens.  I am a happy boy when Sunday's weather permits me to go running on, around and over the avenues and byways of this little hamlet I call home.  Well, happy is an exaggeration perhaps but "decidedly less ornery" is a rating we can likely more readily agree upon.  There is nothing like back-to-back runs of 6-10 miles (and yesterday's was just delightful) on the weekend to clear my head in time to head back into the trenches on Monday morning. 

And while work is what it is - if it was supposed to be entertaining it would be called "Fun for Pay" - this week has a distinctly uptempo vibe to it.  The girl child and future son-in-law shall be descending upon us from Levelland by Thursday.  And on Saturday, we shall all gather for a wedding.  My brother-in-law Frank's second oldest child, Nicole, is marrying Jason.  Two terrific kids.  It shall be a beautiful day.  I hope that the weather pixies smile upon them as they did upon anyone whose wedding took place this weekend. 

I saw the news item the other evening (giving that term the broadest defintition possible) regarding the fact that the baby produced by the Kardashian/West coupling has been named "North".  Based upon the choice of her first name, I presume that she shall carry her father's last name and not her mother's.  For two people who travel as much as K and K, having a child who doubles as a compass is actually not a terrible idea.  My initial reaction to reading the child's name was to make fun of the two of them for sticking this innocent baby with the dumbest name possible.  And then I remembered that Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, have burdened their children with names that make "North" seem like a a downright inspired choice.

While sympathy should certainly be directed to little North, not only for her name, but for her involuntary indoctrination into the three-ring circus that is the attention-craving family of which her mother is a part, she is not the person most deserving of your sympathy this week.  Poor Wesley Warren, Jr. has problems I would not wish upon my worst enemy.  Hell, I would not even wish them on a Kardashian.  Mr. Warren spent an indeterminate amount of time toting around one hundred and forty pound testicles. 

That is not a misprint.  140 POUNDS.  This poor guy had testicles that weighed more than a baby hippo.  His tale of woe came to light this week due to some incredible complications that arose as a result of the 13-hour surgery he underwent to correct that condition.  For years I have referred to someone who does something that seems to be particuarly brazen or brash as having, "Balls the size of church bells". 

I never thought I would see someone who actually did. 

-AK

Saturday, June 22, 2013

One Last, Long, Mournful Note....

"Remember when" is the lowest form of conversation.

- Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini.  Jersey Guy.  His initials said it all.  Wednesday, while on vacation in Rome, Italy with his son and his sister, the fifty-one-year-old Gandolfini died.  Preliminary indications are that it was a massive heart attack that killed him.  

From 1999 to 2007, he was a regular visitor to our home on Sundays - as he was to millions of homes across the country.  The Sopranos simply exploded upon its arrival on HBO.  As a Jersey boy - I was born here, have lived here all of my life and shall in all likelihood die here (though likely not soon enough to please most of those who know me) - the show resonated with me down to my core.  I have lived in Central Jersey most of my life - never north of Middlesex County and never south of Mercer County.  However, most of my working life has been spent in northern Jersey.   The opening credits montage was chock full of places I drove by and through on nothing less than a recurring basis.  Each episode - save for those they filmed in Italy - featured locales that were familiar to me and to countless other folks here in the State of Concrete Gardens. 

A couple of years ago, my oldest brother Bill shared with me a photograph of a vehicle parked in a parking lot outside of his office in Connecticut.  On the vehicle's rear bumper was a bumper sticker that perhaps only a Jerseyan can love.  To this day, I smile every time I look at it.  And I see it every day.  It is framed and on a wall in my office.


The Sopranos - in spite of the protests of some in the Italian-American community - struck a chord with those of us who call Jersey home because not only was the show set here, it was filled with characters one encounters on the streets and in the shopping centers here as part of one's day-by-day.  They were a family that was unabashedly Jersey.  They loved it.  And every Sunday night, sitting in my den with my family watching them, I loved it too.   I had reason to smile on Thursday afternoon.  I came across something Rob posted on-line in tribute to the late, great Gandolfini from an episode in the show's first season.  It is a scene that has long been one of his favorites - as it has long been one of mine.  The essence of Tony Soprano, captured in fifty-two seconds



Best of all - for me at least - was the knowledge that the titular head of the operation, Tony Soprano, was being portrayed by an actor who was a true-blue Jersey guy.  James Gandolfini was a Bergen County boy, born and raised in Bergen County in a working-class household.  His college years were spent on the banks of the old Rar-i-tan and he was a proud, visible Rutgers alumni.  Although he spent what turned out to be the final years of his life splitting time between residences in California and New York City, he not only never ran from his Jersey roots, he embraced them.  They were part of the fabric of his being.  They were part of his DNA.  I get it.  I am similarly constructed.  

Fifty-one is too damn young to die - sayeth the man who celebrated his forty-sixth birthday five months ago.  From across the Atlantic, another native son of the State of Concrete Gardens paid tribute to him from the concert stage on Thursday evening.  Here, Holsten's Ice Cream Parlor in Bloomfield - where the final scene of the series took place - was besieged by well-wishers and people just wanting to pay their respects in any way they could.   Holsten's owner paid his own tribute.  He closed the booth where Tony, Carmela and AJ sat waiting for Meadow to join them (the last moments that they shared with those of at home) and placed a "Reserved" sign on the table.  



A bit corny?  Cheesy?  Maybe.  To you at least.  But this is Jersey.  This is how we roll....



....and this is how it ends. 

For all of us. 

-AK


Friday, June 21, 2013

The Solstice's Soliloquy

Tonight tonight the highway's bright
Out of our way mister you best keep
'Cause summer's here and the time is right
For goin' racin' in the street....


- Bruce Springsteen

When I was a kid - listening to rock and roll music on the FM dial - my favorite DJ was Dave Herman.  I first made his acquaintance when he was the morning drive guy at WNEW 102.7 in New York City, the station that billed itself as "The Place Where Rock Lives".  The station ceased to exist years ago.  Its space on the dial - although thankfully not its call letters - is presently occupied by a station where rock has never lived.  It has not even visited.

A staple of Dave Herman's "Rock N' Roll Morning Show" was the daily serving of "Bruce Juice". 



Luckily for me - as my only access to Herman during the school year came on the ride to school every morning - he tended more often than not to play our daily serving of Springsteen while I was in the car.   To my memory, he did a nice job of trolling Springsteen's catalog in search of what to play every morning to ensure that the rotation went beyond "Born to Run", "Rosalita" and "Thunder Road".  On this day, however, on the Summer Solstice he could be counted upon to play one song - and one song only:  Racing in the Street

Racing is - and has been since I first heard it - my favorite Springsteen song.   A lifetime ago, I messed around for several years writing song lyrics.  Somewhere, someplace I still have the yellow-covered Wardlaw-Hartridge loose leaf notebook - purchased at The Mother's Store for a reasonable price no doubt - in which I have kept them all for two-plus decades.  Or at least I hope I do.  For all I know they might have bitten turf during one move or another.  Other than representing a personal annoyance, their loss shall not be mourned.  I assure you.   As a lyricist, I make a pretty good lawyer.

For me, Racing is the quintessential marriage of word and music.  If one merely reads the lyric above, which are the final words of the song, without hearing the music that accompanies it then one might be misled into believing that the song is some sort of rousing, stadium-sing-a-long anthem.  One could not be more wrong.  When heard in context with the music that accompanies it, the air of resignation and almost defiant self-delusion in the narrator's voice leaps off the turntable at you.  The life of which he sings is not one of triumph.  It is one of desperation. 

In the song's final verse, Springsteen spins a lyric that thirty-five years after he penned it continues to represent to me the high-water mark of anything he has ever written.  Speaking of the woman who is his companion (wife ? girlfriend ? the relationship is deliberately vague), he recounts for us the consistently downward trajectory of the relationship, a description that culminates with an especially stark and haunting image 

I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back and drove that little girl away
But now there's wrinkles around my baby's eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs "Baby did you make it all right"
She sits on the porch of her daddy's house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born

Annually this day's arrival immediately makes me think of Racing in the Street.  I found myself whistling it as I drove north on 287 this morning.  It is for me inexorably linked to this day.  This day - the one in the Northern Hemisphere on which we shall have more sunlight than any other day this calendar year - a bit more than fifteen hours or so.  The first official day of Summer.  It was but eight months ago that Hurricane Sandy sought to beat the State of Concrete Gardens into submission.  She failed.  We are still standing.  We are still here.  Summer is here.  The beaches are here.  The ocean is here.  The highways beckon. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines. 

And thank you Dave Herman - wherever you may be....


-AK

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Goat and The Bannister

Having long been a favorite of Margaret's grandmother, it seemed to me as if the occasion of our 20th wedding anniversary was a sufficiently safe time for me to poke the Ghost of Nan.
 
We moved to our soon-to-be former home in early July, 2000.  From the first time she visited until the time of her death eight summers later, Nan was a regular guest at our house.  Her favorite part of the joint was the backyard.   Nothing made her happier than sitting out there on a summer afternoon - as everyone around her melted in the heat - defiantly thrusting her chin upward as if she was trying to suck every possible degree of warmth she could from the sun. 
 
Without fail every time she either entered or exited the backyard - via the back door - she would call me on the carpet for my failure to have a railing (or as she preferred to call it "a bannister") on the back steps.  And without fail, I would remind her that she was the roughest, gruffest old goat I knew and since I knew she was not afraid of anything I knew she was not afraid of a little two-step back porch.  She would wave one of her little steak-fry shaped fingers at me, laughingly scold me in Italian and then - usually while using me as her railing - make her way up or down the steps with little difficulty.
 
Fast forward to the Spring of 2013.  The Missus and I put Nan's favorite place on the market.  As we did so, we took a look around the joint to see what issues might exist that could adversely affect us in a home inspection.  Immediately our attention went to the back porch.  Margaret hired a contractor to install two railings.  Coincidentally, the Clem's Ornamental Ironworks mechanic installed them on Tuesday morning.  Just in time for our intended buyer's home inspection.
 
As I stopped by the old homestead on Tuesday night on my way in from work to check out the handiwork, I could not help but smile.  I thought of how exasperated Nan had to be peering down from above and seeing her long-sought after railings were finally in place - right where she had lamented their absence for almost a decade.  I laughed....
 
....and then it started to rain.  Almost felt as if a certain gruff old goat was aiming a bit of expectorate at her favorite grandson-in-law.  Well aimed Nan.  And well-deserved too. 
 
Here's what they look like in the sunlight. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
They shall serve their new owners well.  Nan is very, very happy.
 
-AK

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Score

Stood there boldly
Sweatin' in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I'd never felt that strong
Like a rock

- Bob Seger

Twenty years.  It is a measure of time that sometimes feels as if it has passed by in an eye-blink.  It is a measure of time that sometimes feels as if it has passed as a considerably slower pace.  It was twenty years ago - on this very day - under a scorching hot June sun that Margaret and I were married.  I was twenty-six years old.  At 11:59 that morning I was a bachelor.  At 12:30 that afternoon, I was a husband and father of two.  The mere utterance of two words "I do" and everything changed. 

Margaret is the great miracle of my life.  I say that with neither a hint of exaggeration or a scintilla of embarrassment.  I have the life I have because of her.  Had I not met her when I did, I doubt very much that I would still be here tap-dancing across and around the Big Blue Marble.  I was merely alive when I met her - going through the motions of my day-to-day.  In the two decades since, I have lived.  Every day. 

Our marriage is the great mystery of my life.  Among the many emotions that occupies a slot outside of my range is humility.  I do not do self-effacing particularly well either.  I spend a considerable amount of time alone - in the car, when I run and in the wee small hours of the morning each work day.  During those alone periods, copious opportunity presents itself to think about things.  Two decades after she said, "I do" I have yet to figure out what benefit she enjoys from this union.  As I get older, I have learned to ask that question with less frequency. 

By the time the marital odometer turns TWENTY-ONE YEARS this time next year we shall have borne witness to both of our children - neither of whom is in fact a child any longer - experiencing their own wedding day.  Suzanne and Ryan shall be wed in a bit more than two months.  Thereafter, in early June 2014 Rob shall marry Jess.  Once upon a lifetime ago, Suzanne and Rob were tiny tots seated on either side of me on the Tilt-A-Whirl at Jenkinson's.  Margaret took a photograph of the three of us seated in our car, waiting for the ride to start. 

I still have that photo in my office.  When I look at it, it makes me smile - and not only because in it I have nary a gray hair on my head or in my beard.  I smile because it affords me a glimpse back down the road we traveled to reach this particular point in time.  And when I think of what each of them has accomplished thus far, both professionally and personally, it makes me happy to have been there to witness and to participate in their journey - albeit to the limited extent that I did.  Two remarkable young adults.  Each crafted in their mother's image - irrespective of to whom either may bear a resemblance. 

Happy Anniversary Margaret.  It has been - for me - a most remarkable twenty years.  I love you with all my heart.  Always will. 

Twenty years now
Where'd they go?
Twenty years
I don't know
Sit and I wonder sometimes

-AK
  



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Teardrops on the Street of a Still-Busted City....

When the change was made uptown
And the Big Man joined the band
From the coastline to the city
All the little pretties raise their hands
I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh
When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half

- Bruce Springsteen



Two years ago today, Clarence "Big Man" Clemons died.  An argument can be made that irrespective of how much longer the Poet Laureate of Freehold and his Band of Merry Men continue to record and to tour, the outfit has been "the E Street Band" in name only since Clarence's death.  Hell, an argument can be made that the band died before Clarence did - when Danny Federici succumbed to melanoma in April, 2008.  Today is not the day for either argument.  This is not the place for them either.  



As someone for whom Bruce Springsteen's music has formed the backbone of the soundtrack of my life for more than four and one-half decades, I knew Clarence Clemons solely (or perhaps soully) through his contribution to that music, which contribution was not insignificant.  I did not know him.  I met him only one time - at the Border's bookstore in Bridgewater, New Jersey on a Friday night in October 2009.  He was there with his co-author Don Reo signing copies of his "memoirs". 

If I live to be 100 I shall remember forever the ear-to-ear grin that filled his sizable face upon meeting Liv - who dropped into the book-signing line with Margaret and me so that she and her mom, Laura, would not have to spend the remainder of Liv's childhood waiting in line for her copy of the book to be signed.  The sight of this larger-than-life, incredibly dark-skinned giant of an African-American man smiling and talking saxophone parts with this tinier-than tiny, skinny as a nickel little white girl while a line of customers waited impatiently behind her is something that shall never disappear from my mind's eye.  For those couple of minutes, Clarence succeeded in making his whole existence about Liv and about his talking to her about their common love:  the saxophone.  She adored him before she met him.  She worshipped him thereafter. 

I shall make it a point today to do something I enjoy doing very much:  throwing some old Springsteen into the CD player of my car and listening to Clarence's saxophone keep me company as I head south on the Parkway for a deposition.  And it shall do what it always does - it shall bring an ear-to-ear grin to my sizable face.  I laughed for a moment last week when Governor Christie - himself a big Springsteen fan - declared that beginning in 2014 January 11, which was Clarence's birthday, shall be "Clarence Clemons Day" in New Jersey.  Seemed to me to be the sort of benign silliness that an incumbent with a forty-point lead in the polls over his Democratic challenger could afford to waste half a day's news cycle chattering about roughly five months prior to Election Day.  I reckon we shall find out on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November if his time should have been better spent.

That too is a conversation for another day.  Not today.  Not here anyway.



-AK





Monday, June 17, 2013

Whatever May Come and Whatever May Go....

Serious business on tap today.  Serious business on tap for a simply wonderful woman whose family affectionately calls "Hazel".  I am not a religious man.  I opt not to pray for the assistance of some allegedly ephemeral being who - if he existed and had been paying any effing attention at all would not have allowed to exist the problem that now needs to be solved.  I opt instead to put my faith in my fellow man - in this case the men and women of science who shall this very morning bring their considerable talents to bear for this very deserving woman.  And for the family who loves her.   
 
Hang tough Hazel.  Better days are coming.  Beginning with this one....

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight
Taught to win
I never thought I could fail....
 
....Don't give up
'Cause you have friends
Don't give up
You're not beaten yet
Don't give up
I know you can make it good....
 
....Rest your head
You worry too much
It's going to be alright
When times get rough
You can fall back on us
Don't give up
Please don't give up....

....Don't give up
'Cause you have friends
Don't give up
You're not the only one
Don't give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don't give up
You still have us
Don't give up now
We're proud of who you are
Don't give up
You know it's never been easy
Don't give up
'Cause I believe there's a place
There's a place where we belong....
 
 

 
-AK  

 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

From Whence We Came

Today is Father's Day.  As a man fortunate enough to have two older brothers who are exceptional fathers, four brothers-in-law who are similarly well-skilled in the paternal arts and a father-in-law who has served as a surrogate father for me for more than two decades, today is a day on which I say, "Happy Father's Day" to each and every one of them.  And to all of us who wear the badge of "Father".  It is not always an easy gig.  Nor should it be.  Nothing worth having ever is. 

I pick out my own ties.  Thus, there was never a need when my two were still children for Margaret to purchase an especially awful-looking one and have them present it to me.  Besides, I am a notoriously poor receiver of gifts.  I earn my own money.  If I see something I want and I can afford it, then I buy it.  Cuts out the middleman completely.  Saves a truckload of money on wrapping paper and bows too.  The classic win-win. 

This year for Father's Day I decided to get myself something I knew I could put to good use.   Today. 


It has been more than six months since twenty-six people were slaughtered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Among the twenty-six victims were twenty precious innocents:  little moppets whose school morning likely started discussing with their friends what they were hoping to get for Christmas - a mere eleven days away.  Rather than waking up Christmas morning in the warm, protective bosom of their families, they died that very morning.  Along with a half-dozen valiant adults willing to trade their own lives for the mere possibility of saving these children.  

In the half-year plus since man-made tragedy rained down upon Newtown, Connecticut, we have turned up the volume in this country on the "Gun Debate".  Countless trees have been felled so that proponents on both sides of the argument can paper us, literally and figuratively, with the propaganda that supports their position.  As if the most important part of the story of Newtown, Connecticut is one's politics.  If we the people of these United States are not the most obtuse fucking people who have ever inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide, then we are most assuredly somewhere on the medal stand. 

Required reading for every person in this country - TODAY - is the piece that appeared earlier this week in the Washington Post, written by Eli Saslow and written about Mark and Jackie Barden.  The Bardens woke up on December 14 the parents of three children.  Their seven-year-old son, Daniel, was killed that morning.  He was the family's baby - six years younger than his big brother and four years younger than his sister.  Saslow's piece, which shall break your heart, is not an examination of what the Bardens' loss means in "the larger scheme of things" or "in the big picture" or any other artificial construct that spin masters create to amp up the presumptive appeal of a particular issue by depersonalizing it as much as possible.  Rather, Saslow's piece is an up close and personal examination of the impact of the murder of one's child on the persons most profoundly impacted by it:  his parents and his siblings. 

Loud, spirited political discourse is engrained into the fabric of this nation.  The Founding Fathers did not cobble this great experiment together via Twitter or while playing Words with Friends.  They talked to, at and over one another until they forged a working, workable model.  It seems to me as if every now and again those of us residing in the rarified air of the 21st Century forget what those who resided in the hot, non-air conditioned air of the 18th Century worked damn hard to remember:  it is not the STUFF that matters, it is the individuals for whom and upon whom the STUFF happens who matter. 

Daniel Barden is not a cause.  He was not so in life.  He remains not so in death.  He was a full one-fifth of the most important thing that his mom and dad ever built together:  their family.  He was the youngest and the smallest.  Neither mattered.  Neither his size nor his age served as an accurate barometer of his significance.

Americans enjoy noise.  There are those among us who do not but as a collective we thrive on the stuff.  It is why one cannot attend a sporting event at an arena in this country without music being forced upon you as soon as there is a stoppage of play.  It is why elevators in many buildings have music (and in some cases the news) piped into them.  It is why when I go into the men's bathroom at the Carrabba's Restaurant in Green Brook where Suzanne worked half a lifetime ago, I cannot take a piss without having Italian language lessons blaring in my ear.  Who spends enough time in a restaurant's men's room to learn a language?  Someone attempting to pass a Rosetta Stone perhaps. 

At some point - irrespective of how noisy someplace is - we are left to spend time alone in our own quiet space.  It is in that space where we live.  And it is that space that we are who we are.  We are parents, children, siblings, spouses, whatever.  We are NOT a composite of the points of view we espouse or the causes we champion.  We are so, so much more than that.

On a day set aside on the calendar to honor those among us who are fathers, it bears remembering that the "BIG ISSUES" of the day continue to exist as just that for those directly impacted by them long after the rest of us are afforded the luxury of filling our day-to-day with other things. 

-AK






Saturday, June 15, 2013

Random (A)musings

Speaking only for myself, I found it hilarious to read just the other day that the former Governor of Alaska/former GOP Vice-Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is returning to the fold as a commentator on the Fox News Channel.  Perhaps it is just me but upon reading that announcement the thought of water seeking its own level jumped to the forefront of my mind.  Faux Squared Redux.  Perfect.

I am sure that the good people of Alaska were relieved to learn that it was that particular former gig and not the one that impacted their lives far more profoundly to which she has scheduled a return.  While I have never met him, I can say with some confidence that at least one Alaskan of whom I know will sleep better for her having made this choice.  Parenthetically - if you do not read Stonekettle Station (click the link above to get there), then you should.  Whether you agree or disagree with what appears there, it shall make you think.  And more often than not it is damn funny too. 

Something that is not funny at all - in fact remembering from whence it originated provokes much anger - but singularly breathtaking also caught my attention this week.  A photograph was posted on-line on various social media sites, which photograph was taken by a Delta Airlines Captain, Jerry Walsh, apparently during a flight early last week.  The picture captures just the very top of the new World Trade Center as it rises (defiantly perhaps?) through the clouds.  It is a building whose very existence would have been unnecessary but for the existence of Evil.  It is a building that serves as a reminder to those who did that Evil and who continue to traffic in it worldwide that there is a substantial difference between being knocked down and being knocked out. 



One of my all-time favorite comic strips is/was Calvin and Hobbes.   About a month or so ago, I was sitting in a courthouse waiting around to argue a motion or some such thing and I started flipping through an orphaned copy of The Star-Ledger.  Mother Goose and Grimm is among the strips that now appears in that paper on a daily basis.  And on this particular day, its creator Mike Peters paid homage to Bill Watterson's classic tale of a boy and his stuffed tiger in a way that not only made me smile, it prompted me to tear the strip out of the paper and put it in my wallet.  I had forgotten I was carrying it around with me, which speaks volumes about the infrequency with which I pick up a check I reckon, until just the other morning.  It still makes me smile. 


And speaking of things that bring a smile to my ever-aging face.  Yesterday afternoon/last evening, the young men and women who comprise the 2013 graduating class of my high school Alma mater, the Wardlaw-Hartridge School in Edison, New Jersey, crossed the thresold from students to alumni.   Although twenty-eight years ago, there were two members of the graduating class who shuffled off to become (University of Colorado) Buffaloes - which made me realize just how old my long-time classmate Steve Ashton must be - CU has popped up on a disappointingly infrequent basis in the almost-three decades since as a college destination for WH graduates.  This year, however, the WH Class of '13 includes a member of the CU-Boulder Class of '17.  I do not know young James Berry but I wish him well as he prepares for his own great migration West.  Go Buffs!

....and as for the rest of us - just go.  Enjoy the day.  There is nothing else to see here.

-AK



Friday, June 14, 2013

Nostalgia and Other Assorted Waxes

Sentimentality is always about a Lie.
Nostalgia is about real things Gone.
Nobody truly mourns a Lie.

-Pete Hamill

Nineteen years.  It was nineteen years ago on this very day that the New York Rangers - a team for whom I have rooted passionately for as long as I can remember - captured the only Stanley Cup that I have ever seen them win.  I am forty-six years old.  For Rangers fans, my "once in my lifetime" moment is one that is shared by everyone of us born after 1940.  Two Cups in seventy-three years.  Only prohibitionists and camels go as long between drinks as those of us who bleed Rangers blue. 

Nineteen years ago.  A moment in time so long ago that I was not yet a member of the Bar.  The Summer of '94 was a summer I spent (well, June and July anyway) studying for the Bar exams in the State of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The BAR/BRI class for which I had signed up, which was given in a conference room at a hotel located within about three miles of where my daughter shall be married in September, was populated by a small but intense group of Rangers fans.  We held our collective breath through the heavyweight fight that was the Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, a confrontation that ended with the exclamation of the only French word I ever learned to pronounce correctly


Somewhere, someplace Anastasia Yonezuka shall read this and smile.

With the Devils vanquished, it was hoped (by me at least) that the Cup Finals would be a bit easier task to complete.  They were not.  Was it not for the incredible play of Mike Richter (his generation's Henrik Lundquist for those of you not old enough to remember), the Rangers would not have headed home from Vancouver after Game Four with a 3-1 lead.  Among his other amazing feats was his absolute stoning of "The Russian Rocket" Pavel Bure on a penalty shot in Game Four - with every Canucks fan in the joint waving those idiotic white towels they waved incessantly from opening faceoff to final whistle


No franchise in professional sports has a more consistent history for subjecting its fans to abject torture than the Rangers.  On the verge of winning their first Cup in fifty-four years, they flew back across the continent for Game Five at the Garden and were blown out of their own building.  Game Six in Vancouver went no better.  Suddenly, only one week removed from the cusp of making history, they flew home for Game Seven determined to not snatch defeat from Victory's jaws. 

Game Seven of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals was not the most artistic hockey game I have witnessed in my lifetime but its place in the pantheon of special moments right next to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" Olympic Hockey game is forever secure.  As I sat on the floor of the living room of our little "flood house" on Third Street counting down the final seconds, it felt as if they would never expire.  It felt as if the clock would never reach 00:00.   But of course, it finally did


Somewhere, someplace Dad saw this unfold.  And he smiled.  I did too.  I still do.

Ah, nostalgia....

-AK

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Rock of Joanbraltar

The indomitable Joanie K celebrates a birthday today.   I am math-challenged so it is entirely possible that I am off by a year or two - one way or the other - but I am fairly confident that this very morning Mom commences her 84th trip around the Sun.  Happy Birthday Mom from your #3 Son (#1 if we are being arranged alphabetically....or reverse height order). 

My mother is the hero of my life.  She is the single bravest, stubbornest human being I have ever encountered.  A lifetime ago Mr. Springsteen sang, "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school."  For me, it was Mom - not music - that served as my eternal font of knowledge.   I endured thirteen years of secondary school, four years of college and three years of law school.  Nothing taught to me in those two decades of "book learning" holds a candle to what I learned from Mom. 

For while today is her birthday, in my experience she has been the giver of the gifts.  We are thirty-two years removed from Dad's death.  She has now lived as long as the widow of William P. Kenny, Sr. as she did as his wife.  At the time he died, Dad generated approximately 85% of the household income.  I was fourteen.  As little as I knew about the world - at least prior to May 31, 1981 - I knew enough to be scared of what was ahead of us.  If I was scared, Mom had to have been terrified.  I know she was.  Yet she internalized all of it.  I used to lie awake in my bed at night, trying to come to grips with the shit sandwich that had just been dropped onto our plates.  Alone in the darkened silence of our home, I would have been able to hear Mom crying or giving voice to her own fears and trepidation.  I never heard a sound.  Not one. 

Less than three years after Dad died, Mom received devastating medical news:  she had breast cancer.  She underwent invasive surgery, a radical mastectomy, within days of the diagnosis.  In my mind's eye I still recall the matter-of-fact way in which she broke the news to me.  She and I had reservations to go to California to visit Kara during W-H's Spring Break.  Mom came home from the doctor and said, "We cannot go to California.  My doctor told me I have breast cancer.  I am going into the hospital to have surgery to remove the cancer and my breast."  She hugged me and then walked past me down the hall to her bedroom to get changed out of her work clothes.  Two or three days later, we were off to Somerset Medical Center. 

Far too often in the last thirty-two years, Mom has battled health issues.  Some have been mere annoyances.  Others have been serious business.  Through it all, she has simply kept on keeping on.  I know that there are days - likely too many to count - when she feels nowhere near up to snuff.  Yet, with metronomic precision, when asked how she is feeling she shall always answer, "Fine!"  I have never known a person in my life who responds to life-altering events as if they were mere hiccups in her day-to-day quite like Mom. 

The limitations and flaws that I carry with me through my day-to-day are mine and mine alone.  I own them.  My attributes and good qualities (few as they may be) that accompany me on my day-to-day are gifts that Mom bestowed upon me.  I am not as good a man as I could be.  I am significantly better than I otherwise ever could have hoped to be, though, because of her.  

My rock.  My hero.  My mother.  Happy Birthday Mom.  I send you my love and the hope that whatever your wish, it is a really, really big one and that it comes true for you.   

You certainly deserve it.


-AK
-AK

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The School of Devinity

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.
America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.
It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.
But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray.
It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

- Terrence Mann ("Field of Dreams")

Kudos to the young men who comprise the Middlesex High School Varsity Baseball Team.  On Sunday, Coach Mike O'Donnell's Blue Jays won their second Group I State Championship since 2007, defeating Pompton Lakes 9-5.  O'Donnell has been at the helm since 2007, which means that he has now captured two State Titles in just seven seasons.  Pretty damn impressive.  This year's squad set a school record for victories, finishing with twenty-six against just four losses.  Bearing in mind that I sought refuge in law school to avoid hard math, even I can appreciate that a winning percentage of .867 is mind-boggling.

In capturing their championship on Sunday, O'Donnell's crew defeated a team that had an equally impressive season.  Pompton Lakes came into the title game with just three defeats against twenty-five victories, nine of which were notched by their lefty ace Kevin Magee.  Before suffering the loss on Sunday afternoon, Magee's season statistics were a 9-0 record with an ERA of 0.64 while pitching fifty-four innings.  During those fifty-four innings, he struck out one hundred and three batters and walked only five.  Those are the type of statistics that typically are found only on Wii or PlayStation or some such place. 

I have lived in my wife's hometown for the past two decades and during my time here I have gotten to know exactly eleven people.  Trust me, neither I nor the rest of the populace has any complaint about that arrangement.  It will likely not be until my casket is rolled into the funeral home that I shall brighten a room by entering it.  I do not know any of the youngsters who played on this year's team although one of the names, Kyle Dotey, is familiar to me.  I seem to remember when Margaret's nephew Frank was a senior wrestler at the high school that Kyle Dotey was a member of the wrestling team - although the likelihood that I am incorrect in that recollection is significant. 

From afar this group appears to be pretty remarkable - and I am speaking now not only of what they did within the white lines all season but outside of them as well.  This past Saturday one of the local newspapers ran a feature on the relationship this group of kids has had throughout their high school careers with a local "Senior" named Charlie Devine.  His affection for them - and theirs for him - is boundless.  In the piece, senior centerfielder/pitcher Tommy Marcinczyk (who shall play on the Banks of the old Rar-i-tan next year) referred to Devine as "a father figure to all of us" and "as part of our family". 

Theirs is a relationship measured not by the decades that separate them but by the ninety-foot increments that bond them.  On Sunday afternoon, youth was served - including a certain silver-haired icon. 

And all in attendance were reminded of all that once was good and could be again. 



-AK

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Matinee Showings at the Theater of the Absurd

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality....

- U2

Yesterday morning in a courtroom in central Florida jury selection began in the matter of State of Florida v. George Zimmerman.   Unless the rock you have been living under for the eighteen months does not have Wi-fi Zimmerman's name is most likely one that has at least a casual air of familiarity to you.  He is the man who shot Trayvon Martin.  He has been charged with Mr. Martin's murder, a charge to which he has entered a plea of "not guilty", which the Constitution of the United States permits him to do.  The burden now rests with the State of Florida to prove that Zimmerman did that which he is charged with having done and to do so by proving his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.  

High-profile murder trials are big business in these United States, which is why Zimmerman's murder trial shall be televised nationally.  The broadcasting of such events has given rise to a new, particularly virulent strain of vermin:  the legal talking head.  Having learned from their brethren in the sports divisions of their various networks that viewers crave expert analysis and especially love receiving it from one who played the game, news divisions across broadcast and cable television learned to hire telegenic, opinionated attorneys to dispense their allegedly expert opinions to the huddled masses.  They learned right quick that the folks at home lap up legalese faster than a litter of thirsty kittens at a saucer of cream.  

For however long Zimmerman's murder trial lasts, the effect of its result on two families (the Zimmermans and the Martins) shall be no greater than a tertiary concern for those in the business of broadcast journalism.  What shall matter to the shills is their ability to get their message out there to their target audience.  And to increase their viewership and to enhance the likelihood of their word being elevated to the level of Gospel, they shall do what snake-oil salesmen have been doing since time immemorial:  they shall present conjecture, supposition, bias and opinion in the guise of fact.  And those who know no better shall sit in front of their television sets and nod approvingly - before powering up their laptops or their Mac Books and dispensing their newly-acquired "knowledge" (My apologies Dr. Einstein for stretching relativity up to - if not beyond - its logical breaking point) to their friends - and to the world at large - via Twitter, Facebook, etc.  The speed at which ignorance is capable of reproduction never ceases to amaze me.  

As a lawyer - and as a lawyer who earns his living as a litigator, which involves trying cases when necessary - there is one thing that I can state with almost 100% certainty without having seen a single piece of evidence in the Zimmerman case:  I have no idea what the jurors are going to think of and feel about the evidence presented.  And you know what?  Neither does anyone else.  It matters not whether the "legal expert" is the horrid Nancy Grace or one of her equally dreadful ilk.  Irrespective of his/her experience as an attorney and irrespective of his/her experience either prosecuting or defending criminal trials, he or she cannot state with certainty how a single juror or - ultimately - the group of six who shall comprise the panel in this case (foure alternates are also being chosen) is going to respond to a piece of demonstrative evidence or to the testimony of a particular witness.  

The attorneys trying this case for the State and Mr. Zimmerman - who know far more about the strengths and weaknesses of their argument than anyone else - and who shall spend far more time analyzing the jury and sizing up the panel's responses and reactions to events as they unfold at trial - cannot predict with certainty what the jury shall do and how it shall react.   When a "legal expert" pops up on your television at the end of a day's proceedings and informs you with certainty how and what the jury shall make of what they heard and saw during that day's trial, the so-called expert is not making a mistake. 

He or she is lying.  And he or she is counting upon you being a fool sufficient to take the bait.  Do not.  

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand;
it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice & mercy.

                        
-AK