Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Be Resolute

"The most important key to achieving great success
 Is to decide upon your goal and launch,
 Get started, take action, move."
-John Wooden

Say you want a Resolution?  Today is the day for it I reckon.  As the last act of the drama known as 2013 plays out on the world's stage, millions of us will make one of them at least.  Our intentions will be good but far more often than not by the time Super Bowl Sunday rolls around, our "New Year's Resolution" will be as far removed from the forefront of our mind's eye as Christmas. 

I know not whether this shall help you - or me for that matter - keep the promises that we make to ourselves (and far too often and usually when under the influence of an adult beverage out loud so others can hear them and later mock us for our failure to keep them) but maybe, just maybe, our self-interest would be better served if we stopped resolving to do things altogether.  Instead, allow the promise to one's self in 2014 simply to be this:  Be resolute.  Resolute in everything we do.  Resolute in the way in which we go about our day-to-day.  Resolute in the way in which we express and show the love we feel for those we love.  

We stop setting ourselves up for disappointment and perhaps even failure by continuing to attempt to grab hold of that which exceeds our grasp.  Instead, we focus inward.  Whether it is something that arrived just last week when Santa left it 'neath our Christmas tree or something that we have had laying around for quite some time but have not put to good use in a long, long while, let us reacquaint ourselves with our steely backbone.  We shall be amazed at how much putting our backbone to good use will do for us in terms of how we carry ourselves.  And our posture will improve too.  

There are countless people who are far smarter than I.  Perhaps one - or more than one - of them can assuage any trepidation you have about the year ahead by letting you know now all that lies ahead for you.  I could never make such a claim.  All I know is that if the year ahead is anything at all like its immediate predecessor and all of those that have gone before it, then it shall be a mix of great days and terrible days, of triumphs and tragedies and of days you wish would last forever and moments that you fear may do just that. 

All I hope to do is take all that the world dishes out and withstand it well enough to make it to this very moment this time next year and prepare to begin the journey anew.  A point in time will arrive when a schism develops between that for which I hope and that which shall be.  It shall for me as it shall for all of us.  I hope that the schism's arrival shall not occur in 2014.  I shall be resolute in doing all that I can to prevent it.  I shall be so - and shall remain so - even though I know that its arrival is something that one day I shall lack the ability to forestall.   I am resolute in my belief that that day shall not arrive in 2014.  Rob and Jess's wedding day shall but that other day shall not.

Be resolute.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Do that - and only that - and see all that flows from it.  See all that you accomplish and achieve simply by standing up and standing firm.  Abraham Lincoln, a man far smarter than I, once advised "Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm."  Damn good advice when he said it.  Time has done nothing to eviscerate it.  

Happy New Year.  


-AK      

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Never-Ending Need to Take Up the Slack in the Line

The moon has a face
And it smiles on the lake
And causes the ripples in Time
I'm lucky to be here
With someone I like
Who maketh my spirit to shine....
-Warren Zevon

Music is an intensely personal thing.  So much so that discussions about it - especially those that involve one's personal preferences - tend to be rife with expressions of opinion masquerading as fact.  People rarely say, "I like [fill in a name]" or "I do not like [Insert Name Here]".  Instead they say, "[Insert Name Here] stinks" or "[Fill in Blank] rocks!"  It is as if expressing an opinion is a sign of weakness or some such nonsense.

While Springsteen's music occupies a sizable share of the available slots in the jukebox of my life, a significant percentage of them are occupied by Warren Zevon as well.  Zevon was an artist whose music I have enjoyed for most of my adult life.  I have been aided considerably in my appreciation of it by my brother Bill who directed me towards any number of records and songs whose existence I had been been previously unaware. Zevon is dead more than ten years now and I probably listen to him as often as I did when he was still alive and producing new music on a semi-regular (if not regular) basis. 

This time of the year, as the days are dwindling down and the string is being played out, Zevon's "Don't Let Us Get Sick" inexorably moves to a place in the forefront of my mind.  Year's end is a time for reflection I suppose.  And as I reflect upon those I know who are struggling - whether due to ill health or any one of a myriad of other difficulties - and those who experienced real loss during this calendar year, I think of this particular marriage of words and music.  

It is - to my ear - a simply extraordinary contribution to the pantheon of pop/rock music, the twelfth and final song on an album Zevon released in 2000 - shortly before he was diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him in September, 2003.  An album named - either prophetically or ironically - "Life'll Kill Ya", the cover of which featured the man himself grinning that shit-eating grin of his.


I promise you that it shall not impact to any degree whatsoever my love of Zevon's music and the special place in the little piece of charcoal in my chest purporting to be my heart if you eschew my advice and do not listen to it prior to leaving this space for the more important parts of your daily regimen.  The disservice you shall do, I submit, shall be to you and you alone.  'Tis the season of giving is it not?  Give yourself the gift of these three minutes and seven seconds....


-AK

Sunday, December 29, 2013

In Tents and Purposes


Margaret fights the good fight to preserve the Spirit of Christmas in our home and for the whole family better than anyone I know.  This Christmas Eve marked the twenty-second time that I have participated in the annual Christmas Eve feast (there is no other word that properly describes the amount of food prepared and consumed), which once upon a generation ago was a labor of love principally labored over by Margaret's grandmother, Nanny, and her mother, Suzy B.  In the five-plus years though since Nanny died and in the more than four years since her mother's wickedly untimely death, Margaret has not only championed the ongoing survival of the family's Christmas Eve tradition, she has refined it and taken it to places that - truth be told - I had no idea it could go.  And I suspect that on that score I am not alone. 

Christmas Eve 2011 and Christmas Eve 2012 took place in the basement at 113 Howard Avenue.  They were get-togethers that we somewhat cheekily referred to as "White Trash Christmas".  Necessity was the mother of relocation.  The family had grown so large - and its individual members had done likewise - that the rather undersized rooms of my wife's childhood home proved too small to contain us.  As people do when they are fixated on the "Who" and the "Why" far more than the "Where", both editions of "White Trash Christmas" proved to be smashing successes. 

This past spring the Missus and me gave up our home across town to take up residence at 113 Howard Avenue.  Unfortunately our arrival put the kibosh on continuing "White Trash Christmas" for when we moved we brought a whole lot of stuff with us.  A considerable percentage of that stuff now calls the basement at 113 Howard Avenue "home", which eliminated the basement from consideration as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve festivities.

In the hands and mind of a lesser planner, Christmas Eve might have been mortally wounded by the loss of its most recent home.  To my wife, it simply represented a new opportunity:  the chance to have it become an inside/outside affair.  A couple of months ago she mentioned to me the idea of renting a tent.  As tends to be the case, I had no ability whatsoever to visualize the concept - regardless of the number of times she sought to explain it to me.  Eventually she did what experience has taught her to do when it comes to me - she removed me from the planning committee.  I ended up where I ultimately end up for such things - manning a seat on the finance committee and otherwise staying the hell out of the way. 

Murphy being an Irishman, the tent people arrived on Monday afternoon with a tent that was not the size that Margaret had ordered - setting one up that was 10 feet wide by 30 feet long instead of being 20 feet long.  It was high enough that although it was set up in the back yard, a car driving down Route 28 past the house could see it over the fence.  More than one person might have thought we were setting up for either a wedding or the Big Apple Circus.  We were, of course, not setting up for either one. 

By the time I arrived home from the office and a few post-work stops on Christmas Eve, the Missus had decorated our Yuletide home.  It looked terrific




And not too long after she had it all dressed up just how she wanted to have it, our Christmas Tent was filled with family and with a great deal of joyful noise - including but not limited to a performance by one of my favorite vocal groups:  The Three Bozzomos

Joe, Margaret and Frank - Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve is about far more than the food and drink.  It is even about far more than the singing - fine as it is.  It is about the sacrifice that people make to share this particular evening with one another, whether it means hopping on a plane and flying halfway across the United States from Texas or from Colorado; bundling up your three children (all of whom are younger than three years of age) against the cold of a New Jersey December night; taking a night off from your business; or (in the case of Yours truly) simply doing nothing other than being there.  It is about family.  And there, seated around the kitchen table - embracing the "inside" aspect of the night's bipartite nature - sat Joe making goo-goo eyes at the youngest member of his tribe, his great-granddaughter Mia, who is the youngest of Megan and Adam's three children.


The Grinch may have been a mean one but he was one smart cookie as well.  Christmas does not come from a store.  Never has.  It comes from someplace far more special than that.  It comes from the heart.  And for me and for our family the heart from which it comes is Margaret.  Without her exactly none of this would be possible.     

-AK

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Head I Scratch

As someone who is decidedly not a fan of NBA basketball, I watched exactly zero minutes of the five games that were televised on Christmas Day.  However, I did see highlights on ESPN while I was completing my "3 at 3" in the wee small hours of Boxing Day.  I saw enough to make we wonder aloud who the genius was who approved the ridiculous-looking t-shirt uniforms that all of the teams wore on Christmas. 

I know from gazing at the standings in the sports page that both the Knicks and the Nets have played like second-division CYO squads since Opening Night.  There is no reason, however, to make them dress the part; right? 


The candy cane-style socks the rather enormous fellow in the blue uniform was sporting only enhanced the "free bowl of soup" vibe being emitted by these things.  Cannot wait until next season when on Christmas Day the NBA makes their players compete "Shirts v. Skins" style and hires the crew who body paints the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to do the same for exactly half of the teams.  If they do that, then I hope the Knicks play in one of the games.  Their roster features a number of players who are covered in more ink, lettering and symbols than the average cargo container at Port Elizabeth and it should look simply spectacular in the mix of body paint and perspiration.  

At noon today, the State University of New Jersey shall battle Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl, which shall be contested on the frozen tundra of Yankee Stadium.  Considering Rutgers, which started its season by winning four out of its first five games, has only won two games since early October, methinks that it could be a very long day for the Scarlet Knights.  One of my partners - who is an RU alum and a very good, supportive fan - told me that the betting line on the game (as of Thursday morning) had Notre Dame as a two-touchdown favorite.  Not exactly a confidence-inspiring point spread.  I know not how much of the game I shall watch although I shall root hard for Rutgers - as I always do - and root hard against Notre Dame - as I always do.  Nice when a plan comes together. 

I suppose the upside for RU is that win or lose they should be back on campus by dinner time.  Conversely, whether ND beats them or not,  the Irish still have to return to South Bend, Indiana.  Nothing says fun quite as much as northern Indiana on a December Saturday night....said no one.  Ever.

-AK  

  

  

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Rate At Which I Turn

Time itself is Long,
Even if the time of Man is Short.
- Pete Hamill

As we continue to march unabated towards the conclusion of the "Holiday Season - 2013 Edition", we unwrap the bow today on the final Friday of this year.  Having reached this milestone, one may feel free to wonder aloud whether we should greet this day with "Already?" or "Finally!", a combination of the two or something altogether different.  

If your day-to-day is anything at all like mine (and I neither suggest that it should be nor wish to resign you to my particular fate), then your reaction to this particular day's arrival is probably a combination of emotions.  You have - in all likelihood - experienced days thus far in 2013 that felt as if they lasted for a second and a half.  Days that were so great that they were indeed over before you knew it.  You turned to look and they were gone.  I was fortunate to have a few of those days myself this year - none greater than Suzanne and Ryan's wedding day.  As a father you think you know what your reaction will be on the day on which your little girl (who has of course long since ceased being just that) gets married.  And then you see her wearing her wedding gown and it occurs to you just how amazing an event in her life this is and just how lucky you are to be there for it.  If I live to be 1,000, then I shall not outlive the warm memory of that day.  

A lot of bad shit happens in the world - and it does not take a day off to observe niceties such as Christmas.  Two teenagers, one fifteen and the other just thirteen, were murdered in Newark, New Jersey on Christmas Day.  The thirteen-year-old, a girl, was shot while taking out her family's garbage.  A day earlier, a man refused entry into an Irvington, New Jersey go-go bar murdered three men inside of the bar, including the bouncer who refused him entry upon discovering the man's concealed weapon during a pat-down of him on his way into the establishment and the bar's manager - the son of the man who owns the joint.  On Tuesday morning in Brookline, New Hampshire a volunteer firefighter named Steve Whitcomb had the extreme misfortune of being among the first of the first responders to a multi-vehicle car accident in which one of the drivers was killed.  The driver who died was Mr. Whitcomb's daughter, Katie Hamilton.  Ms. Hamilton was the mother of three young daughters who earned her living as a plumber - working for her father.  

Years ago the great John Hiatt crooned, "Time is short and here's the damn thing about it.  You're gonna die, gonna die for sure.  You can learn to live with love or without it but there ain't no cure...."  We the people have a seemingly endless number of ways in which we measure time.  We do so perhaps to help us create the illusion of having any control over it, which we of course do not.  We can create as many categories as we deem necessary - be they seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years or be they periods, quarters, halves, innings, games, matches, series or seasons - in a vain attempt to harness it.  But we never do.  

The overwhelming majority of us will not know, until it is too late, that we have run out of it.  No operator shall be standing by to take our order for just a little bit more.   There shall be no expansion pack to purchase.  All sales are final.  

Time shall pass irrespective of the level of enthusiasm we have for our day-to-day.  Once consigned to the scrap heap of history, a day gone by remains forever so.  You have a choice.  You can live your life or you can simply be alive.  It is most assuredly not a distinction without a difference.  Rather, it is the most important decision you shall be given the opportunity to make regardless of how long you live.  And every day you will be presented the chance to make it.    

Just do it.  Life is not a spectator sport. 

-AK     

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Flip of the Coin

Time is the coin of your Life.  It is the only coin You have,
And only You can determine how it will be spent.
Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
-Carl Sandburg

By day's end today, the Texas branch of the family tree and the Colorado branch of the family tree shall have returned to their current postal zones.  The joyful noise that our home was awash in as recently as thirty-six hours ago shall be replaced by the much more low-key sound of the day-to-day existence of the Missus, Joe and me.  And while today shall be - as it always is - a day that saddens me more than just a little, I recognize it for what it is:  a natural occurrence. 

When your children are school-age you spend a portion of your time envisioning the way in which life shall be lived when they are no longer so - when they are themselves adults with whom you shall become conversant on any number of subjects.  In your dreams however you never dream of their departure.  In your dreams they are simply there and because dreams are nothing more or less than snippets - snapshots of a moment in time - the two of you are never separated.  It is as if you have tuned into a program already in progress and for which there is no scheduled end.

We live however in our day-to-day and not in our dreams.  We must.  For if we lived in our dreams - and required those we love to exist there and only there - then they would become prisoners of our dreams.  They would not be free to pursue their own.  They would be unable to do that which they must in order to flourish.  They must become the stars of their own dreams. 

Planes depart.  Loved ones leave.  But Time does nothing to lessen the indelible imprint upon our heart and our soul that was created by the time that they were here.   It cannot unless we let it, which we simply refuse to do. 

-AK
Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/carlsandbu121791.html#G7j21RkvL67RuxBG.99

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

All You Can Take With You....


I know not where you find yourself this Christmas morning.  I hope however that it is in the company of at least one person who loves you and whom you love and that if you and they cannot be in the same place this morning that you awaken secure in the knowledge of their love for you - and of yours for them.  We can be by ourselves without being alone just as easily as we can be surrounded by those we know and feel completely and utterly alone.  

It was a million years ago that I saw "It's A Wonderful Life" for the first time.  Dad and I watched it.  When the movie ended, he asked me if I had enjoyed it, which I had, and he then told me that it was a movie that taught us a very important life lesson.  No.  Dad's takeaway from the film was not the same as Clarence's.  Instead, his was "Be careful what you wish for", which is what he told me the lesson was that laid at the heart of the film. 

For years I presumed that Dad's take on Capra's classic was nothing more or less than the natural extension of the state of perpetual rage in which my father lived his life.  As I have gotten older, have married and have raised two children (well, drove the car and made sure that we had enough money in the banks to pay the bills) I have come to realize that what I once thought was flippant and almost cavalier was, instead, excellent, well-thought out advice.  He said what he meant and he meant what he said:  when it comes to the business of wishing, be careful.  Make prudent choices

As I have bobbed and weaved my way down the Highway of Life, I have been a cautious man.  Slow to love and slow to trust.  However, I have always wished big.  Not "Walter Mitty" big perhaps but big nonetheless.  Although, my wishes have never been for "stuff".  For instance, I know less about automobiles than any man, alive or dead, in any hemisphere and could not fake giving a rat's ass about them.  You cannot impress me with your ride - I promise you - unless you are willing to accept "that is a nice-looking car" as an unqualified rave.  There are people whose driving purpose in life, whether consciously or subconsciously, is keeping up with the Joneses.  I am not one of those people.

My cautious nature and my keen eye led me - almost a quarter-century ago - to Margaret.  And in leading me to Margaret, it led me as well to Suzanne and to Rob.  Having had that wish granted has enabled me ever since to be extra judicious about the things for which I wish.  With Suzanne and Ryan having gotten married earlier this year and with Rob and Jess getting married in June, I have wished but one thing for both couples:  Peace.  It is the very same thing I have always wished for their mother and me.  Experience teaches me that if it is in their hearts and in their homes, then happiness and love shall always be there as well. 

Merry Christmas to you and to yours.  May Peace be keeping company with you, those you love and those who love you today and everyday.   If you have been careful regarding that for which you have wished, then I have every confidence that Peace is with you - and shall remain so.... 


....and that it really is a wonderful life.

Merry Christmas. 

-AK

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sounds of the Season

At some point today, all three branches of the family tree shall be in the same place.  Our Colorado office, represented by Rob and Jess, will make the short jaunt down from Jess's family's home in Essex County.  Our Texas office will in fact be in the building when I leave for work this morning.  Suzanne and Ryan arrived at Newark Airport in the morning's wee small hours.  In less than forty-eight hours, gone again they all shall be.   
 
I like to think that I have reached the point in my life where I am impossibly easy to shop for, especially at Christmas.  For I need nothing other than to hear the sound of voices of those I love in a place that I call home - even if their homes now reside in different postal zones.  It is a sound I hope to hear a lot of throughout this day and deep into this evening.  A sound that never, ever gets old....
 
....even as I do.  
 
 
-AK

Monday, December 23, 2013

Here We Go A-Caroling....

Saturday night Margaret and I made our annual pilgrimage to McCarter Theatre in Princeton to see the Theatre's production of "A Christmas Carol".  We have - every year for the past four - attended the performance on the Saturday night preceding Christmas.  Even for an old curmudgeon such as Yours truly, it is an event that fills one's reservoir of Christmas spirit to the brim.  Once again, Graeme Malcolm starred as Ebenezer Scrooge.  Simply extraordinary.  While you may live 1,000 years and never meet a person as disinterested in how others spend their time as I am, this is an event I wholeheartedly recommend to one and all. 
 
This year the Missus and I were joined on our outing by Joe.  Truth be told, events that begin at 7:30 PM - unless they are television programs hosted by Alex Trebek - do not typically find a place on my father-in-law's to-do list.  I suspect that right up until the point where he got dressed to go out on Saturday night, he weighed in his own mind whether he was up for an evening out.  He made the right choice. 
 
We stopped for dinner in my favorite-named Chinese restaurant, Ya Ya Village, in Montgomery Township on our way to the show.  Margaret and I have eaten in there perhaps a half-dozen times in the past four years.  The food is always excellent.  I nevertheless remain disappointed that when - upon entering - I exclaim "Get Yer Ya Yas out!" I am met by looks of bewilderment and complete silence.  World's most famous rock and roll band, my ass.
 
Food is an important part of my father-in-law's day-to-day.  I mean no disrespect by saying that.  I am simply reporting what he, himself, has often told me.  It was a relief to Margaret and to me when he proclaimed his first-ever meal at Ya Ya Village to be a success.  Candidly, from my vantage point across the table I did not need his written proclamation - having borne witness to the enthusiastic consumption.  The meal set the tone for the evening for Joe - as it often does - and ensured that as he entered McCarter Theatre he was prepared to be dazzled.
 
And he was.  All the way home in the car - a trip of approximately thirty-five minutes that BEGAN approximately two hours AFTER his usual bed time - he chatted away like an excited child.  He could not stop talking about the show.  He loved it.  And that made me smile.  Joe is an integral part of Margaret's day-to-day and has become, by extension, an integral part of mine.  Her happiness is very much intertwined with his and if it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then I reckon there is nothing else I have to say....
 
Margaret and Joe - "A Christmas Carol"
12/21/13 - McCarter Theatre
 
-AK

 
 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Promise Kept

'Til Death do us part,
They said it.  They meant it.
A Promise born in the Heart,
They made it.  She kept it.
- Sam O'Herlihy


Sgt. Gantt had married his sweetheart, Clara, in 1948.  The couple had first met while riding on a train from Texas to California two years earlier.  Sgt. Gantt was already a veteran when he met Clara, having served with distinction in the South Pacific in World War II.  Perhaps it was his firsthand knowledge of just what war is that prompted him to tell his young bride - before he left for Korea - that he wanted her to remarry in the event anything happened to him.  She told him - quite directly - that she would not.  He was hers.  She was his.  That was that.

His remains finally having been identified a month or so ago, United States Army Sgt. 1st Class Joseph E. Gantt finally made it home to his bride shortly before dawn on Friday, December 20, 2013.  A plane carrying his remains landed in Los Angeles, California at or about 5:30 AM.  There to greet his casket at LAX was his bride, Clara.  While Sgt. Gantt remained forever twenty-six, his wife of course did not.  It was Clara Gantt, now in her mid-90s, who rose out of a wheelchair and wept as she finally had the chance to welcome Joseph home.


Clara Gantt never remarried.  She and Joseph had no children.  For the past six-plus decades she had relied upon her own seemingly bottomless reservoir of personal strength to keep herself going in pursuit of the dream that Joseph would one day come home.  And on Friday that day finally arrived.  

In an interview that Margaret and I watched on the CBS Evening News on Friday night, Mrs. Gantt said, "I am happy that I am still alive to bury him myself."  


Hearing her say that, I could not help but wonder whether now this soldier's bride views her own mission as finally having been completed.  I know that I shall never meet her.  Yet I came away from learning her story - and the story of Clara and Joseph - feeling as if she makes me a better person simply by knowing of her.  An extraordinary woman....  

....and a Christmas story that is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming for many, many reasons. 

-AK


 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Revolution Has Been Postponed

You can buy it, you can try it, it'll help you in bed.
But don't be fooled folks, there's only one.
I forget that guy's name but somebody said
Sell it and they will come boys, sell it and they will come
.
-Bruce Springsteen

I run three miles on the treadmill weekday mornings before I go to work.  Our treadmill is located in the basement of our house.  To keep me company - and to keep from waking up the Missus on the floor above me - I run with the television on but the sound muted.  I watch the final few minutes of the 2:00 AM Sports Center on ESPN and then the first several minutes of the 3:00 AM edition.  A lifetime of watching ESPN has taught me that it is a network on which little is lost when the programming is viewed with the sound off - especially when Stephen A. Smith or Chris Berman is in full bellow.  

The best part of watching ESPN in the morning's wee small hours is the commercials.  There are mornings when it seems as if every other one is a legal advertisement attempting to recruit members of a potential class for litigation over male enhancement drugs.  The others?  You guessed it.  Spots selling the aforementioned male enhancement drugs. It is something akin to the Circle of Life, penile-style.  

My favorite one of the male enhancement product spots is the one that features former baseball star Jose Canseco.  


Every time I see it the same two thoughts compete for room in the forefront of my mind.  First, he was enough of a d*ckhead naturally without enhancement. Second, perhaps had he not spent his professional baseball career sticking syringes of steroids in his ass on a regular basis his "Little Joey" would be more Louisville Slugger than Wiffle Ball Bat at this stage in his life.  Then again, at a certain level, it just may be the perfect marriage of pitch man and product.  

And in Canseco's defense, he does give off less of a used-car salesman vibe (or perhaps he just comes off as more ashamed of what he has been reduced to doing to earn a living) doing his bit than former Dallas Cowboys coach and current Fox Sports talking head Jimmy Johnson does while shilling the same type of stuff.   The former coach is not shy about stating his pedigree up front. 


Jimmy Johnson spends so much time reciting his resume at the beginning of the spot that one presumes that the company that hired him to sell its product never bothered to tell him who it was he had replaced as their pitchman

 
 
The only time of the day during which I watch ESPN is while I am running on the treadmill at or about 3:00 AM.  I have no idea whether these products purchase advertising time on the network during any other part of the broadcast day.  I would suspect not.  Other than the odd idiot who is up getting in his daily run, they likely figure that most of ESPN's viewers of the 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM Sports Centers are their target audience:  dudes with so little happening in their own lives that they are glued to their television sets watching a sports highlights show. 

Maybe, just maybe, Canseco, Coach Johnson and Smiling Bob will make a commercial together.  That would go a long way to settling the all-important question of "Which one of them is the bigger d*ck?"  Oops.  Damn auto correct.  I meant to write, "Whose product works better?" 

....sure I did.  

-AK

Friday, December 20, 2013

Not at All Akin to Kissing One's Sister

'Tis officially Autumn's final full day on the job.  I know not how you are observing its passage into history in your parts but 'round here the Mercury is supposed to tickle the upper 40's.  Given its recent residency in the teens and low 20's, shorts and t-shirts might be the dress code of the day.  If only judges did not frown upon them. 

Winter officially takes the stage tomorrow, which is both a good and bad thing I reckon.  Bad in the sense that while we have already seen more snow than I need to see in a decade's worth of winters, none of the white stuff that has fallen has - in fact- fallen in winter.  I hope like hell it is not a portent of things to come.  Except for Super Bowl Sunday.  I hope it snows all day on Super Bowl Sunday.  The NFL is screwing the good people who earn their living in the immediate vicinity of PSL Stadium six ways to Super Bowl Sunday so it will be justice of the most karmic variety if Mother Nature drops a Nor'Easter right on East Rutherford, New Jersey that day.

Its arrival is good in the sense that tomorrow represents the nadir of the winter season in terms of daylight.  Tomorrow is the day in the Northern Hemisphere more daylight-deprived than any other, which means each day's dawn thereafter brings us a few more minutes of daylight than the one that preceded it.  Spring will soon be here.  It may not feel like it but if you just concentrate on winning the day - and only the day- it shall in fact be here before you know it.

Today is graduation day at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Another bunch of bright young minds cross the threshold from college students, dependent at least in part upon their parents, to alumni upon whom CU is dependent for its continuing vitality.  Nothing quite says "Alumni" as much as the first fundraising letter or phone call.  All kidding aside, kudos to the men and women graduating from CU today.  Welcome to the ranks of being a Buff Alum.  We are a diverse, talented group and we are happy to have you....especially so if you are bitten by the "Let's buy the old guy from the Class of '89 who was nice to me at the Alumni function a Guinness" bug at the first such function you attend.  I specified Class of '89 so that neither my old college pal Loku (Class of '90) or my law-practicing partner in crime Chris (Class of '88) poaches my Guinness.  

Today is also Looney Tunes Tie Day, a day that once upon a lifetime ago had at least a measurable amount of significance not only to me but to Rob as well and that likely has - as he has grown from a boy to a man - slipped into the recesses of his memory forever.  That is ok.  He is young.  A great deal of his life lies ahead of him.  I am not.  A considerable portion of mine is available for viewing in the rear-view mirror.  He has many more memories to make.  As I have many less in the "to do" stack, I take a real delight in the ones already bought and paid for, figuratively speaking. 

I shall today as I have every year on whatever shall mark my final court appearance before Christmas wear the Looney Tunes Tie that I purchased for no reason other than Rob asked me to way back when.  The store in which I bought it, Stern's, ceased to exist years ago.  Yet my tie soldiers on.  I have admittedly lost track of its exact year of purchase at this point but I think he was no more than a third or fourth-grader, which means we are fast approaching its twentieth birthday.  It has held up relatively well over time.  Then again, it works only only day a year.  Sort of like the Santa Claus of ties except it mans the day shift.  

Truth be told, it is more than a little silly looking - in spite of the fact that Bugs Bunny is featured prominently upon it.  I wear it on its appointed day every December because in spite of its silliness - or perhaps becuase of it - it reminds me of a time when those who are grown were not nearly so much so and it rekindles a memory that makes me smile.  And I wear it because I am cognizant of the fact that those who were not nearly as grown then as they are have grown up to be wonderful, caring and considerate people (proof of their mother's influence upon them to be sure) and that, too, makes me smile....


....besides with all of the cartoon characters on my tie it is the one day a year that people do not fixate on my oversized head.  It may be just one day but I will certainly take it. 

-AK   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lessons and Teachers

Had he lived to see this day then on this very day William P. Kenny, Sr., husband to Joan and father to William P. Jr., Evan, Kelly, Kara, Jill and Adam would have opened his eyes this morning in celebration of his 90th birthday.  He did not.  But those of us he helped bring into this world and who - for better or worse - he helped raise are alive to see it.  As is his long-widowed bride. 

A hard-headed man.  A tortured soul.  A genius.  Dad was all of those things and more.  He also was my father. 

And today is his birthday....


 

A Father To His Son

A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
'Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.'
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
'Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.'
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Logs of Yule and Travel

One week until Christmas.  Eight days until the land is overcome by the annual national depression.  Is there anything more depressing than the day after Christmas?  Perhaps, like when it falls on a Thursday as it does this year.  'Round these parts we have a name for Thursday.  We call it "a work day".  I would wager it is likely called by a similar name in your neck of the woods as well. 

In spite of the fact that Christmas falls smack dab in the middle of the week this year, our doorstep shall be brightened considerably by the fact that the Texas branch office and the Colorado branch office shall both travel to the home office in the State of Concrete Gardens.  It shall be wonderful to see all four of them - even if it is only going to be an abbreviated visit.  It always is. 

None of us possesses the ability to control how much time we have in the company of those we love.  Never have had that ability.  Never will.  Yet each of us possesses a far greater skill, which is the ability to maximize what we get - what we receive - from the time we have together. 

It does not make it hurt any less when you say goodbye at visit's end to those you love and those in whose company you spend too little time, but it does give you something to draw upon - a reserve - to tide you over until the next visit.  And all things considered, no matter how many items adorn your Christmas list there shall be nothing better than that anywhere on it.

-AK



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sunday in the City

A million years ago or so - not too long after Margaret and I had started dating - we spent a Christmastime Sunday afternoon in Manhattan with another couple.  The stated purpose of the trip (or so we thought) was to be "Tommy Tourists":  check out the windows at Macy's and other stores, the joyful noise in Times Square and - of course - the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.  We ended up doing none of those things.  Instead we wandered around aimlessly for a while looking for a place to eat before finally settling for a forgettable meal in an untterly nondescript cafe somewhere in Midtown.  Upon our drive home that evening (having said our goodbyes to our companions at the train station) we vowed that the next time we decided to enjoy a Sunday in New York City at Christmastime, we would do it by ourselves and on our own terms.

When people write of women who are "long-suffering", my Margaret is the woman of whom they write.   It took the idiot to whom she is married close to a quarter century to pull it off, but this Sunday I finally put together our Sunday in the City.  We caught a 1:45 train from Metro Park into Penn Station and from the time we went topside on 7th Avenue roughly an hour later until the time we headed home (after taking in the first two periods of the Rangers game against Calgary at Madison Square Garden) we spent one hell of a fine day doing a whole lot of nothing in particular.  And it was fantastic.

We walked a rather circuitious path uptown from Penn Station to Rockefeller Center, initially heading north on 7th Avenue before heading east to Broadway.  Our walk up Broadway took us right through a whole gaggle of street performers, including one rather lonely-looking Minnie Mouse.  Margaret stopped walking so I could take a picture of her with Minnie.  As soon as she stopped and the two of them started to pose, two other characters jumped into the shot.


It was not the most efficient expenditure of $10.00 I have ever made but - then again - it was far from the worst.

We stopped off to grab something to eat and by the time we finished, darkness had settled over Manhattan.  We headed uptown a bit further and then east again to Rockefeller Plaza.  It was - as we expected it would be - crowded with people even when we were still a few blocks from the tree.   It was not, however, at least to our eyes/ears, any type of mob scene. 



Sunday was a pretty nice day weather-wise.  Dry, not too breezy and not terribly cold.  Do not misunderstand.  I did not for one minute think I was anywhere other than outdoors in a cold-weather city but at no time on Sunday afternoon did the air take on that bone-chilling quality it so often does.  There was enough room in the plaza around the tree for me to be able to take a pretty good shot of it....


 
....and for a very nice young woman to take a picture of us standing in front of it


We eventually started making our way back downtown to Madison Square Garden.  Along the way my wife made friends with a rather adorable, big old bear.


On 7th Avenue we walked past a man whose work truck was parked curbside.  He appeared to be selling small pieces of art from a stand he had set up on the sidewalk.  To my admittedly untrained eye, there was nothing he had for sale that was as cool as what he had displayed atop his truck.



As we made our descent we headed a block west - over to 8th Avenue - because I wanted to make sure that we walked past what had been our favorite New York City address for four years.


Neither of us has ever spent a night at the New Yorker Hotel.  But for the four years Rob spent as an undergrad at John Jay College of Criminal Justice ("Go Bloodhounds!"), it was his home.  That is more than enough to ensure its place on our list of New York City Landmarks. 

Our final stop of the day was Madison Square Garden.  My bride had never seen the Rangers play at MSG before and since one of my favorite rites of childhood were train trips into New York on Sunday nights to watch the Rangers with Dad, I wanted her first Garden experience to be a Sunday night affair.  The building is beautiful and although we sat pretty high up - Section 222, Row 24 - our view of the ice was tremendous - as evidenced by this shot I took during the pre-game warmups.   


In a nice surprise, the home team sent its fans home happy.  The Rangers overcame a 2-0 first period and a 3-2 third period deficit to defeat the Calgary Flames 4-3 in a shootout.  Truth be told, we did not stay to watch the entire game.  We headed for the train at the end of the second period. 

It might have been nice to stay and watch the whole thing.  But 2:45 AM comes early every day - even more so on a Monday.  And besides, the time spent watching the Rangers Sunday night was simply icing on the cake.  The final piece of what was simply a terrific day.  It took me close to twenty-five years to figure out the logistics but at day's end it was worth the wait....

....not that I mean to suggest that we shall not do it again for another twenty-five years.  Rather, given my ability to plan such things it might take me that long to put it all together one more time. 

-AK

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anger Management

Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers,
for each rage leaves him less than he had been before -
it takes something from him.

As human beings go I am decidedly mediocre.  That is a lie.  Or at the very least a very, very positive spin on the facts as I know them.  I aspire to mediocrity and one day hope to come damn close to attaining it.  Truth be told, there is a better than even money chance that the next time my entering a room brightens it shall be when I am riding in closed-top vehicle being streered by a half-dozen.  It is what it is.  The movie version of our life that flickers in our mind's eye may very well be an epic hero's tale but the reality that unfolds day-to-day is most assuredly a work of non-fiction.   

Once upon a lifetime ago, I drank far more alcohol than any one person - or three provided that each of the three weighed less than 400 pounds - should.  In my defense, I did so only on an "occasional" basis.  Unfortunately, the alarm clock's ring, the sun's rise, the appearance on the calendar of a day of the week that ended in a "Y" all qualified as "occasions".  I was far from a pleasant drunk.  Alcohol does many things.  It is not however a cure for Irish Alzheimer's Disease ("You forget everything....except the Grudges").  Not in my experience at least.  Being my father's son, I carry a lot of anger with me day to day.  Being my father's son, consumption of my body weight in alcohol on a regular basis tended to remove all barriers to me dispensing it whenever and wherever I wanted. 

Time catches up with all of us should be fortunate enough to live at least a certain amount of time.  When it does, we sometimes come to learn that at least some of those things that inspired outrage in us when we were a younger man are just not worth tying ourself in knots.  Sometimes.  Not always.  Fortunately for me and for those who I now encounter in my day-to-day, my days as a functional drunk are in my rear-view mirror.  Never out of sight mind you but far enough in the distance that while the outline remains recognizable, the details are no longer sharp and clear.  That is most assuredly a good thing.

We are in the midst of what those of us who follow and appreciate baseball refer to as "Hot Stove Season".  There is no action on major league diamonds anywhere but there is a lot of baseball-related news afoot.  This is the time of year when players who are free agents hope to score new contracts, whether with the team that employed them last year or with a new team.  Annually, any number of players whose names are not familiar to me - and perhaps not to you either - move from Team "A" to Team "B" without stirring up the passions of the fan base of the team they are leaving or the team to which they are heading.  However, there are players - known in the trade as "big name" players - whose decisions evoke reactions among a team's supporters that fall along the spectrum from the sublime to the offensively stupid.  

Within the past ten days or so, anger bordering on inanity has been the order of the day with regard to certain of the Yankees off-season moves.  The signing of free agent center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury - who played last for the Boston Red Sox and won two World Series rings as a member of the Sox - prompted outrage among some Sox fans, including those who went so far as to burn jerseys they had purchased bearing Ellsbury's name and number.  Nothing sends quite as much of a message to an athlete as you torching an article of clothing that you either purchased yourself or received as a present from someone.  You told him!  Message delivered!  Presuming the message you are attempting to send is "I am an imbecile who enjoys pissing away money".  Well done.  

There were certain Yankees fans who hopped upon the first available high horse to bash our baseball-rooting brethren to the North for such antics - and for the Twitter tirades that were directed to Ellsbury in which he was called a "traitor" and worse.  Ah hypocrisy, thou art a heartless bitch.  Not too long after the Yankees secured Ellsbury's services, they lost those of their best player.  Robinson Cano signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners that shall guarantee him $240 Million over the next ten seasons.  Reportedly, the Yankees' best offer to Cano was $175 Million for seven years.  Both sides did what they had every right to do - they negotiated with one another - and at day's end Cano made the determination that the best deal for him was Seattle's.  With the stroke of a pen, Robbie Cano "Dontcha Know" became Robbie Cano "A Yankee No Mo".  

A number of Yankees fans have taken to radio airwaves this week bashing Cano in the wake of not only his exit to the Pacific Northwest but his comments during his introductory press conference in Seattle that he felt "disrespected" by the Yankees during the negotiating process.  Having never seen $175 Million - and being pleasantly surprised when I open my wallet to find $175 in it - it is impossible for me to process how that figure equates to disrespect.  You know what?  I do not have to understand it.  Cano did not say that "anyone" would have felt disrespected but simply that he did.  Him.  Not you.  Not me.  Him. 

The reaction to Cano's comments - at least judging from the posted comments to on-line newspaper articles and the calls on sports radio - has been almost virulent.  People who likely openly mocked Red Sox fans for attacking Ellsbury have now picked up their own pitchforks and torches and started marching in the direction of Cano's castle.  While I hope that at some point, a light shall illuminate in the mind's eye of each pointing out the folly of being pissed off at an athlete for making a business decision, I know as I write this that there are some for whom the anger will never recede.  

Instead of being invested in things that matter - such as the quality of life in their neighborhood, the quality of their child's school, their relationship with their spouse for example - they will from this point forward invest a discrete, discernible amount of anger in and hatred towards Cano.  They shall not be alone.  All over Red Sox Nation there shall be fans for whom Ellsbury's picture shall forever hang in the Rogues Gallery.    

To those of you who walk through life sporting a hard-on for someone - such as a professional baseball player - who owes you nothing simply because that person made a decision that affects a team for which you cheer, which is something those of us in the trade might refer to as a "hobby" (never to be confused with your job irrespective of how many days a month you are permitted to wear the team's jersey to your workplace), I have a message for you:  GROW THE FUCK UP. 

If those of you who walk among the rest of us with your knuckles in a perpetual state of bloodiness due to repetitive contact with the ground want to find a place to direct that anger, then direct it here.  I cannot fake giving a rat's ass what it is those of you who are children trapped inside a fully-formed adult body masquerading as big boys believe you are entitled to receive.   Here is a newsflash Slick:  you have already received it.  Now shut up and move along.  

Huh.  Upon further review it appears that substantial reduction in alcohol consumption has not robbed me of all of my anger.  I cannot begin to explain just how relieved I am.  

And I suspect that somewhere the old man is smiling as well.   

-AK    

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Place Where My Thoughts Escape

I drive a lot.  The overwhelming majority of the time I spend in the car is for work - either commuting to and from the office or back and forth between the office and whatever the day's destination or destinations may be.  You spend enough time in the car and you get to see a lot of things. 

Late in the day on Friday I had to make a trip to the Essex County Courthouse in Newark to file some papers on a case.  As I usually do when I have to go to the courthouse, I took Exit 14 off of Route 280 East and drove through the neighborhood where NJIT, Rutgers-Newark, Essex County College and St. Michael's Hospial are located.  I have driven this same probably at least one thousand times in the past twenty years and it dawns on me as I write this that I have not the faintest idea of the street's name.  It occurs to me that I have never known it and that lack of knowledge has never hampered me in my efforts to get in and out of Newark.  Note to you:  I may not be the fellow you want to ask for directions.  Just sayin'.

As I was driving towards my destination, I stopped for a red traffic light.  And there, half-walking and half-hopping down the sidewalk in the direction of my car was a little boy.  I am notoriously bad at guesstimating the age of children but to my untrained eye he appeared to be somewhere in the neighborhood of nine or ten.  He was bundled up against the weather (save for the fact that as children everywhere do he did not have the heavy coat he was wearing zipped up), with what appeared to be a fairly heavy-looking backpack over both shoulders and a hat that would have made Dr. Zhivago proud atop his head. 

What struck me more than his cold-weather garb was the look on his face.  He was motoring along with a half-smile, half-whimsical gaze and he appeared to be either talking or singing to himself.  His mood was infectious.  I felt a smile form on my own face as I sat stopped at the light - not because of anything I had done but because of what I was watching him do.  

The light turned green.  As I pulled away from the intersection and continued on my way, passing by the area where he was walking, he was still smiling and be-bopping.  He continued to do so as he faded from sight in my rear-view mirror.  The thought occurred to me as I watched him go that I hoped wherever it was he was headed Friday afternoon was a good place.  A safe place.  A place where a child of nine or ten can feel warmth on a cold December day.  I found myself hoping that he was not simply walking towards his house. 

I hope that he was headed for home. 


-AK    

Saturday, December 14, 2013

12/14/13



One year ago today twenty small children and six adults who took the responsibility of protecting those children entrusted to their care so seriously that they laid down their own lives in an attempt to save the children's were murdered in cold blood in a place that many, if not all, had considered a place of safety.  It was on this day one year ago that a well-armed coward entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and murdered these twenty-six.

It is the nightmare of every parent to bury our child.  It defies the natural order, the natural rhythm of things.  Those we help bring into this world are supposed to leave it after we have done so.  They are never to leave it before us.  And it is a nightmare for a parent irrespective of the child's age.  Whether they are so young that we push them in a stroller or so grown that we walk beside them on a wooded path as they push our grandchild in a stroller it matters not.  They are our legacy.  They are supposed to be here long after we are not.

As anyone who has ever buried a family member or a loved one knows, grieving is an ongoing, perhaps even perpetual process.  In my experience there is no natural order to it.  It simply is what it is.  There are days that are less bad than others.  There are scant few good days.  And there are no truly great days.  The cliche of time's healing power on all wounds does not apply.  Hurt is hurt.  And it never really goes away. 

A process that is difficult every day is made even more so today for the families of the twenty children and six adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Today is a day that those of us who were not directly impacted by what happened between those four walls that day pause to think of them and those who they lost.  We cannot share their hurt.  We cannot take it away.  We really cannot even do anything to alleviate it. 

But we can keep a good thought for them today and for the loved one each family lost.  We can remember too that the tragedy of this event - and from the far-too-many similar events that pop up across this country on a regular, recurring basis - arises not from the total number of people killed but from the death of each.  Each loss is all consuming to the family that had it inflicted upon them and has had to endure it every minute of every day since December 14, 2012.  And shall have to do so tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the next day after that as well.  

-AK

 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Luck and a Lady

They call you lady luck
But there is room for doubt
At times you have a very un-lady-like way
Of running out.
 
You're on this date with me
The pickings have been lush
And yet before the evening is over
You might give me the brush....

Today is a day on which every one of us can use an extra dollop of the Luck of the Irish.  You may scoff at the black magic associated with Friday the 13th but courtesy of a lesson learned a lifetime ago on a snowy, wintry Friday 13 of February vintage, I do not and shall not. 
 
Whenever Friday the 13th arrives during a winter month, I smile at the thought of that long-ago evening Mom, Dad, Kara, Jill and I spent as refugees at the home of Dad's colleague - and my history teacher - Helen Brown.  Mrs. Brown was a terrific teacher and an even better human being.  Yet those qualities did little to quell my embarrassment at having been forced to have a sleep over at her house. 
 
Our impromptu camp out was the result of Dad having driven too quickly through a too-deep puddle on a South Plainfield street during a winter storm.  His car died.  And with it so did our likelihood of making it home.  To this day I cannot recall how exactly Dad got in touch with Helen Brown but he did. 
 
Turned out to be just our luck.
 
Be careful out there....
 
-AK




Thursday, December 12, 2013

More Than Just an Ordinary Joe

Be sure to put your feet in the right place,
Then stand firm.
-Abraham Lincoln

The Fall of 1995 was a lifetime ago in the history of the New York Yankees.  The Yankees closed fast in September and "won" the first-ever American League Wild Card.  Their reward was a best-of-five Division Series matchup with the AL West Champions, the Seattle Mariners.  Although the Yankees jumped out to a 2-0 lead - winning the two games played in the Bronx - they lost three straight in Seattle, including a dagger- through- the-heart job in Game Five.


  

In 1995, the Steinbrenner who ruled the Yankees Empire was not either of the Silver Spoon Twins.  It was Boss George, Hal and Hank's father and a man whose sole apparent pleasure in life was doing everything he possibly could to try to win the World Series.  Often times it appeared as if there was far more madness than method (Steve Trout?  Ken Phelps?  The Reincarnations of Billy Martin? Howie Spira?).  As a Yankees fan though his willingness to keep pouring the money that he made back into the team was admirable.  Boss George had many faults.  Competitive desire was not among them. 

Urban legend has it that somewhere over the "Flyover States" jetting East after Pacific Northwest Massacre, George Steinbrenner made the decision to fire Manager Buck Showalter.   If you are under a certain age, then you likely did not endure the last, darkest period of Yankees history, which was the period from 1981 through the mid-1990's, during which time they never once made the playoffs, and included a period (1988 through 1992) within that decade and a half in which they finished no higher than 4th in their division and never won more than eighty-five games. In 1990, they finished 67-95.  Showalter arrived on the scene in time for the '92 season and while they finished in 4th place, they looked more like a baseball team than they had in several years.  In 1993, they finished in 2nd place and won 88 games.  When the strike arrived in mid-season 1994, the Yankees were in first place, having won 70 of their first 113 games.  It appeared as if Showalter was the long-term cure for what ailed them.  

He of course proved not to be.  Although he guided them to the playoffs in 1995, which marked the only post-season appearance Don Mattingly ever made as a player, as the Yankees self-destructed in Seattle in the ALDS their Winnebago on the road to perdition was driven by their skipper.  Showalter lost faith in his closer, John Wetteland (not without cause to be sure), which is why in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game Five the pitcher who surrendered the series-losing hit was Jack McDowell, his Game 3 starter who he brought into the game in the 9th inning and whom he never took out in favor of Wetteland - even after the Yankees plated the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th.     

Into the maelstrom sailed a baseball lifer - a player whose career had been so successful that he had won the National League MVP in 1971 with a .363 average, 24 home runs and 137 runs batted in for the St. Louis Cardinals.  A player who retired after an eighteen-year career with 252 home runs, 1185 runs batted in and a career batting average of .297.  Had the Yankees hired Joe Torre to play one of their corner infield positions then perhaps news of his joining the team would have been met with more enthusiasm.  However, with a career managerial mark that was somewhere between terrible and simply underwhelming, a track record of having been fired from each of three jobs he had held (Mets, Braves and Cardinals)  and one post-season appearance (in which his 1982 Atlanta Braves were swept) in eleven seasons, the reaction in Gotham to his arrival was decidedly unenthusiastic.

It took Joe Torre exactly one season to prove the headline writers at the Daily News - not to mention the rest of his critics - wrong.  His first season on the bench for the Yankees ended with the Bombers winning their first World Series title since 1978.  For good measure, he followed it up with World Series titles in 1998, 1999 and 2000.  His 1998 team won a total of 125 games between Opening Day and the final out of the World Series in San Diego.  Between Game Three of the 1996 World Series and Game Two of the 2000 World Series the Yankees played thirteen World Series games.  They won every one. 

Torre's Yankees never won another World Series after vanquishing the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series.  But for the great Mariano Rivera throwing the ball over Jeter's head and into center field in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game Seven in the 2001 Series against the Diamondbacks they might have won a fourth consecutive title.  They did not of course.  But what they gave to the City of New York and the whole area in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks will long resonate with those of us who bore witness to it. 

After 2001, Boss George and time conspired to break up Torre's Yankees.  Paul O'Neill retired.  Scott Brosius did likewise.  Tino Martinez was exiled via free agency to Saint Louis.  Andy Pettitte was likewise exiled to Houston.  In their stead came "names":  Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Jeff Weaver, Javy Vasquez, Carl F*cking Pavano and the Pinstriped Anti-Christ Alex Rodriguez.  Torre's Yankees continued to rack up first-place finishes and high regular season win totals.  In his twelve years as Yankees manager, they won the American League East ten times.  They won less than ninety-four games in the regular season once....and that year, 2000, they made up for an eighty-seven win regular season by taking out the Oakland A's in the ALDS, the Seattle Mariners in the ALCS and the New York Mets in the World Series.  

The relationship between Torre and the Yankees ended on a bit of a sour note after the 2007 season.  The Yankees lost in the first round of the playoffs and both Torre and the Yankees knew that they had reached the journey's end.  He was not fired.  Rather, when his contract expired and the Yankees consciously offered him one that they suspected (if not knew for certain) he would reject, which he did, the man and the franchise parted company.  The Brooklyn-born Torre ended up managing the Los Angeles Dodgers for three seasons and in two of them, 2008 and 2009, the Dodgers made it to the National League Championship Series.  They did not win either of their clashes against the Phillies.  But then again, the Dodgers of Torre's youth had a penchant for coming up just a little short more often than not too.  

On Monday, Joe Torre was unanimously voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  This July, the man who once upon a long ago autumn afternoon was affixed with the unfortunate and ultimately inaccurate sobriquet, "Clueless Joe", will take his place among the immortals of baseball in Cooperstown.  It is a thought that makes this Yankees fan smile.  

And I suspect that in spite of the way their professional marriage ended, wherever George Steinbrenner is spending eternity, he shall too.  A well-deserved honor for one hell of a good baseball man.  



-AK