Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Law of Life

I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true.
- The Pogues

Today we part company with 2014.  If you are at all like I am (first of all, you have my sincerest condolences), then year's end is a time with which you wrestle mightily as it is a time during which I tend to look with a jaundiced eye at all that I did not accomplish rather than anything that I did accomplish.  I am Irish after all, which makes Yeats something of my patron saint, "Being Irish he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."

I cannot say with any confidence whatsoever that I have gotten wiser as I have gotten older.  I have gotten grayer.  And against all logic, I have gotten luckier than I ever had any right to be.  At day's end, when everything else is run through the great sifter that is Life, I am not certain that anyone, anywhere has a right to expect anything more than that from the process.  I am confident that I certainly have no such right.  

As 2014 cedes the stage to 2015, I shall try to do nothing less than take the lessons I learned during this 365-day lap around the Sun with me into the new year.  If I am teachable, then I always have a puncher's chance at making myself a better person, which may or may not translate into me being a bit less of a prick of misery for the Missus and for the rest of the world to have to endure.  

John Fitzgerald Kennedy once remarked that, "Change is the law of Life.  And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."  Missing the future would be one hell of a stupid way to start a new year; right?  

Be careful out there...

...and Happy New Year. 


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Calloused Soul

I am not a person who makes New Year's Resolutions.  Countless people do and, if statistics are to be believed, upwards of 92% of them fall short of attaining the goals they have resolved to meet.  If I wanted to experience failure at a 92% rate, I would wrestle the WABAC Machine away from Sherman and Mr. Peabody and return to Mrs. Katrausky's Pre-Calculus class.

I cannot pretend to be close to smart enough to know why it is such a high percentage of those who make New Year's Resolutions fail - to some degree at least - to keep them.  I suspect - with zero investigation having been done on my part to prove or disprove this hypothesis (Schneedz, where are you when I need you?) that a significant percentage of people "fail" because we have resolved to do something that is beyond our ability to achieve and it is beyond our ability to achieve because we are not willing to invest the sweat equity necessary to attempt to achieve it.  

The great Thomas Edison (Jersey guy by the way) once observed that, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed overalls and looks like work."    We, the people of these United States, have come to expect instant everything, from our food to our information.  We have little interest in those things that require a substantial investment of time and effort.  It is - I fear - why this nation whose people have historically built great things, today manufactures next to nothing.  We celebrate those whose collars are white and those whose skill set is the designing of "Apps" and the building of "systems" while looking askance at those whose collars are blue and whose skill set is the design and manufacture of real things, such as buildings, goods and our infrastructure.  

A lifetime ago, a mournful country song warned mothers everywhere not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys.  Midway through the second decade of the 21st Century, it appears as if the admonition has turned to not allowing them to grow up to be "calloused" as if calloused hands are the mark of the Devil or some such nonsense.  

How can those who lack resolve attain those things that they resolve to do?  It turns out that they cannot - approximately 92% of the time anyway.  


Monday, December 29, 2014

Lessons to Learn. Steps to Take.

For me, running this month has been very much akin to a knife fight.  It has not come easily at all.  I know not whether it has been the weather or something else altogether.  I know simply that I have spent more time fighting it than enjoying it for the past month or so.  

Amateur shrink that I am, I am of the opinion that running is not the issue.  Rather, too many other things competing for time in the theater of my mind's eye.  Too many goddamn things. 

Over the long Christmas weekend, the Missus and I made time to see "Unbroken".  Margaret has not read the exquisitely-written Laura Hillenbrand biography of Louis Zamperini on which Angelina Jolie's film, which is faithful to the book but did not replicate it, is based, which detracted not one bit from her enjoyment of the movie.  Candidly, my having read the book - and my long-time preference for the written version of any work as opposed to the movie version of it - did not detract from my enjoyment of it either.  

Whether on the printed page or on the movie screen, time spent with Louis Zamperini is time well-spent.  And it made my Sunday morning run the easiest run I had in quite some time.  Running is after all an exercise in putting one foot in front of the other. 

We just need to remember which one goes first...


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Action Man

The final Sunday of 2014 has arrived.  To blatantly rip off the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."  Indeed.  

And as is the case with any trip, the journey through 2014 has had its ups and downs.  On the day after Christmas, I spent a little bit of time watching Bill's Alma mater, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, annihilate the North Carolina Tar Heels in their bowl game.  Rutgers completed their first football season as a member of fourteen-team Big Ten Conference with eight victories in thirteen games.  In winning the first-ever Quick Lanes Bowl early Friday evening, Rutgers won its first bowl game in three tries under the leadership of Coach Kyle Flood.  

Kyle Flood is a good football coach.  Three seasons into his tenure as the Head Coach at Rutgers, his teams have produced a total of twenty-three wins.  On the off chance that you are not immersed in the history of Rutgers University Football, Coach Flood's win total in his first three seasons as the Head Coach is the highest total of any coach in the school's history.  

What makes Kyle Flood a man for whom I find it impossibly easy to root has less to do with his qualities as a football coach and quite a bit more to do with his quality as a human being.  Much has been said and written in this part of these United States these past several weeks about the relationship of the NYPD and the city its officers serve and protect.  It is a conversation the tenor of which has shifted - if not forever then at the very least for the foreseeable future - as a result of the execution-style murders of Police Officer Rafael Ramos and Police Officer Wenjian Liu on the Saturday afternoon before Christmas.    

In the days leading up to his team's final game of the season, Coach Flood spoke often - and with pride - about his family, which has a long history of serving the public in law enforcement.  His brother Jerry is a member of the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit and has been a member of the NYPD for twenty-three years.  As is his nature, Coach Flood was not shy about his support of his family.

Leadership is not about talking about how to lead.  It is about setting an example that others can follow.    


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fields of Gold

At 10:00 a.m. this morning, the funeral mass for NYPD hero Rafael Ramos shall be held at Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, Queens.  Officer Ramos, a veteran of three-plus years in the NYPD, shall be honored in the church to which he belonged as a parishioner and in which he volunteered his time as an usher and as part of its marriage ministry and its life group ministry.  Officer Ramos, himself, had been studying to be a lay-chaplain.  Seven days ago, he was only a few hours removed from graduating from a community-crisis chaplaincy program.  It was, of course seven days ago that he and his partner, Officer Wenjian Liu, were executed by a murderous coward as the pair sat in their parked and marked patrol vehicle on a Brooklyn corner.   

Police Officer Rafael Ramos, NYPD
End of Watch:  December 20, 2014

At 4:30 p.m. this afternoon, the Eagles of Boston College shall play in the Pinstripe Bowl against the Penn State Nittany Lions.  This annual bowl game is held in the Bronx at the House that Boss George's Money Built.  Welles Remy Crowther did not play football at Boston College.  To my knowledge, during his standout, four-year career as a member of the Eagles' lacrosse team, he never played a single minute on the field at Yankee Stadium.  Yet, this afternoon, as his Alma mater does battle with Penn State, who he was - and more significantly - what he stood for shall be ingrained on the minds and in the hearts of everyone wearing the colors of Boston College.   

It was on a Tuesday morning in September 2001, a date long enough ago that the young men who shall compete for Boston College this afternoon were all younger then than young Jaden Ramos is now, when Welles Remy Crowther forever became "The Man in the Red Bandanna"

Welles Remy Crowther - "Man in the Red Bandanna"
End of Watch:  September 11, 2001

Two men from different generations, being honored in different boroughs under very different sets of circumstances.  Two very different men linked together by one very simple fact:  They lived their lives putting others before themselves.  A common trait inexorably connected by a tragic fate - the taking of each of their lives at the hands of murderous cowards.  

Short lives. 

Eternal legacies.  


Friday, December 26, 2014

Mukluks and Other Holiday Miracles

You know that you are getting old when Christmas morning is spent at the home of your daughter and son-in-law.  And you know what else?  You know that you are doing something right - even if it sometimes seems it is being done in spite of you as opposed to because of you - when Christmas morning is spent as I spent mine - with Margaret and Joe, Jess and Rob and Suzanne and Ryan.  

I hope that however and wherever you spent your Christmas, you were able to share at least a bit of the holiday in the company of at least some of the people who you love most of all.  

In all likelihood, by the time you read this the Colorado branch of the family tree will be safely ensconced back in their own time zone.  This visit home for Jess and Rob was not an extended one by any means.  However, what it lacked in length it made up for in breadth and depth.  

And at holiday's end, that is in fact all that really matters. 


Thursday, December 25, 2014

That Same Small Town in Each of Us

Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives.
When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he? 
- Clarence Odd Body, A S 2
It's a Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas.  

I hope that wherever Christmas greets you this morning and wherever you greet it, you are in the company of at least some of those who you love most of all and, perhaps, more importantly, you are in their hearts as they are in yours so that even if geography has separated you, it cannot keep you apart.  

Given my admittedly disagreeable nature - just yesterday my secretary told me that I remind her of "Grumpy Cat" - and the fact that while I have been called many things in my life (the lion's share of which have been unflattering and deservedly so) one thing I have never been called is "naive", it may come as a bit of a surprise that It's a Wonderful Life is not simply my favorite Christmas film but is, in fact, one of my favorite all-time films.  

If you are fortunate enough that you have never awakened a single day in your life - including but not limited to Christmas - feeling something akin to how George Bailey felt standing on the bridge in the moment or two before Clarence jumped into the river, then you are indeed fortunate.  "Quicksand" moments come for all of us, I reckon.  I have certainly experienced my share of them.  They are in fact what brought me here in the first place.  And they are, still, a significant part of what keeps me coming back day after day.  

Contrary to popular mythology, today is in fact not a day about presents.  Rather, it is a day about presence.  The presence of those people in your life who help you conquer the day-to-day and give you the sustenance you need to win the day each and every day.  The presence of those people in your life for whom you provide precisely the same sustenance.   

If and when you are fortunate enough to have won membership in such a system of mutually beneficial reciprocity, then work hard always to maintain it - and beyond mere maintenance - to strengthen it.  Carry it with you wherever you go.  

Be it Bedford Falls...

...or Memphis.

Merry Christmas. 


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Bridge From A Cross

It's Christmas Eve! It's... 
It's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, 
We... we... we smile a little easier, 
We... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. 
For a couple of hours out of the whole year, 
We are the people that we always hoped we would be!
-Frank Cross 

Frank Cross may exist only in the genius of Bill Murray but his status as a fictional character does not make the sentiment that he expressed slightly more than a quarter-century ago any less real.  One might argue in fact that it elevated him to the status of celluloid hero.  

If you reside in these United States - unless your head has secured permanent asylum up your own ass - then you know that 2014 has been a year that has - more than a lot of its predecessors have - tested the bounds of the Founding Fathers' grand experiment.  It has been a year in which we the people have learned a number of harsh truths about one another and, in the process, about ourselves.  And the damn thing about living life in a "High-Def" world, everything shows up with crystal clarity.  Including the blemishes.  Including the warts.  

Here in the New York City metropolitan area, people of every conceivable race, color and creed appear to be jockeying for position at the controls of the handcart piloting all of us straight to Hell.  A great man once shared aloud with hundreds of thousands of others - coincidentally also of every conceivable race, color and creed - his dream that "My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character".  A half-century removed from Dr. King's words, there are those on both sides of the curse exchange masquerading as a debate who have either simply chosen to ignore them or, worse yet, to repudiate them altogether.  These days, all of us might be better served to not judge such charlatans by the color of their skin but rather by the content of their agenda.

My son is among those who earns his living running the wrong direction.  He is a man who - when Hell breaks loose - does not seek refuge from it.  Rather, he acts to protect the rest of us.  Experience has taught him that Evil - much like Goodness - is colorblind and is not race, color, gender or creed-specific either.  It is an ability to discern the distinction between "wrong and right" as opposed to "black and white" upon which he relies - as do the men and women with whom he keeps company as "wrong way runners" - to serve and protect us while ensuring that he protects himself as well.  After all, there is no rule more important than Jimmy Malone's First Rule.   Especially to those of us who love him.  I assure you.  

This is supposed to be the Season of Peace and Hope.  The former appears to be in short supply.  As for the latter?  Maybe, just maybe, more of it exists than is apparent at first glance.  It took a young lady of great courage and even greater empathy to do what Emerald Garner did on Monday.    

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgment.
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment.
In this life of hardship of an earthly toil,
We have a need for anything that frees us.
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan

May I - for a couple of hours tonight - be the person that I have always hoped to be.  May tonight's couple of hours inspire me to strive for a couple of hours just like them tomorrow.  And the day after that one...


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Wisdom of Our Ancestors

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which,
if persevered in, they must lead.  But if the courses be
departed from, the ends will change."
Ebeneezer Scrooge - "A Christmas Carol"

The Missus and I made our annual pilgrimage to McCarter Theatre in Princeton on Saturday night, carrying on a tradition that began five Decembers ago, to see Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".   This year, Suzanne and Ryan accompanied us.  While I think they enjoyed the show, whether it becomes a staple of their Christmas season is a decision entrusted entirely to them.  

I do not pretend to be any type of aficionado of plays or musicals.  The trek to McCarter on the Saturday night before Christmas is the one and only time I go to "the theatre" during the typical year.  The only exception to that rule occurs if we happen to be in Colorado visiting Rob/Jess at a time when one of Jess's shows is up and running as was the case a couple of Novembers ago when we had the pleasure of seeing her perform in "Almost, Maine".  

It always seems to feel a bit more like Christmas for me after Margaret and I have spent a couple of hours in the mid-19th century London of Dickens' pen and imagination.  This year proved to be no exception.  

Even if the problems of the day in mid-19th century London seemed eerily reminiscent of those affecting early 21st century America...

“There are some upon this earth of yours, who lay claim to know us, 
and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, 
and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us 
and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. 
Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.” 
Spirit of Christmas Present - "A Christmas Carol"


Monday, December 22, 2014

At Watch's End...

Police Officer Liu, thirty-two, was a newlywed.  He had married two months ago.  Officer Liu was a seven-year veteran of the NYPD.  Officer Liu, survived by his wife, had no children.  Police Officer Ramos, forty, had been a school safety officer for several years before joining the NYPD three years ago.  Officer Ramos was the father of two sons, the older of whom is in college and the younger of whom just might be the bravest thirteen-year-old little boy you or I shall likely meet in this lifetime...or the next one for that matter.  Kudos to the New York Yankees for honoring a promise George Steinbrenner made for the first time thirty-two years ago.  Officer Ramos shall not live to see his young son, Jaden, graduate from high school and possibly continue his education thereafter at college but the Yankees shall make sure that if an education is what Jaden wants to pursue, they shall pay for his pursuit of it.

Once we as a society allow the Genie out of the bottle and foment hatred at the expense of everything else, we increase the danger for us all.  Included among those for whom we ratchet up the danger level are the men and women whose lives are dedicated to protecting us.

Rest in Peace Officer Liu.  Rest in Peace Officer Ramos.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Short Day's Journey Into Night

If you happen to run into my brother Kelly today and you catch him in an ear-to-ear grin, then (a) consider yourself lucky for the Kennys are not known for our effusive displays of elation; and (b) wish him a "Happy Winter Solstice".  

Today is the Winter Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere.  It is the first full day of Winter and it is also the day on the calendar in 2014 that contains the least amount of daylight.  

Here in the State of Concrete Gardens there are certain things we consider to be true unless and until proven otherwise.  Among them is this:  The first day of Winter will not be the coldest, shittiest day of the season.  After all, if it was then what purpose would January and February serve?  

Today is, thankfully, the day that while serving as the gateway to Winter also serves as the springboard to...well, to Spring.  Every day from this one forward for the next six months will carry with it the gift of one or two additional minutes of daylight.  Sure, for the immediate future that light will seem illusory, as it shall not carry with it a single stitch of warmth.  But in a world where time is measured in discernible units such as days and weeks and months, it is useful to carry April's promise of warm, breezy afternoons and ever-lengthening evenings with us to blunt the effect of Winter's miserably cold days and nights.  

How many days until pitchers and catchers report?  'Tis a fair question to ask because - as the song says - Spring will soon be here...


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Before You Say Anything...

The college football "Bowl Season" kicks off (pun intended!) today.  Although there are close to 1,937 bowl games to be played between today and the National Championship Game, which will not be played until January 12, 2015 (NO I'M NOT KIDDING), my beloved Alma mater shall not be a participant yet again this year.  When the University of Nevada Wolf Pack and the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns clash at 11:00 am Eastern Time this morning in the New Orleans Bowl, theirs shall be the first of thirty-nine such get-togethers.  

Some of the contests might capture your interest.  A considerable number of them - and perhaps all of them - might not.  But the fact that neither you nor I has any rooting interest in the outcome of the "Roto-Rooter Raw Sewage Bowl" from Camden, New Jersey or some such thing does not diminish the experience of the game itself for the young men who shall play.  Nor does it diminish the experience for the families of the aforementioned young men, including those of whom are hopefully able to be present to cheer for their favorite player in person. 

It has been said that an athlete dies twice with the first time being the final time he or she puts on the uniform and participates in a game.  A percentage of the kids who are suiting up for their respective schools shall, when they run out of the tunnel and onto the field - whether in New Orleans, Louisiana, Boise, Idaho or the Bronx - do so for the final time.  A game that each has played since perhaps he was too young to actually remember when he first played it, which game has been an integral part of his day-to-day for most of his life and which (He says hopefully) has afforded him the chance to go to college, which chance might otherwise have not been available to him, is about to move from the present tense to the past tense.  For the rest of his life.  

I played varsity sports enthusiastically - if not especially well - in high school.  Although it was thirty autumns ago, I still remember the final soccer game of my senior season.  We lost at The Hun School in Princeton.  It was a regular season game, played after we had been eliminated from the State Tournament by Morristown-Beard.  My coach, Howard Freeman, did what he should have done in the second half of that last game, which was play the underclassmen who would form the backbone of his team the following year.  

Doing so, however, meant that those of us who had played essentially every minute of every game - which I had done - spent the final few minutes of our competitive soccer career on the bench adjacent to the field rather than on the field itself.  A seventeen-year-old high school senior, I was less than enthralled at the manner in which my time spent playing the sport I loved to play far more than any other drew to a close.  I was plenty pissed off about it that day and for a number of days that followed.  

I am far from smart.  Yet, even I was able to appreciate that the door that swung closed on that cold, miserable November afternoon was one that was not subject to being reopened.  Not ever.  

The moral of this story?  I suppose it is this:  Unless and until you officially replace the Sun as the center of the Universe (and here is a tip - I am the heir to that particular throne), the mere fact that these sporting events are insignificant to you does not mean that their purported insignificance is a universal truth.  Opinion and fact are not - surprise, surprise - the same thing.

You are certainly within your rights to express your opinion as to their relative lack of meaning to your life.  You are to do so, however, without shitting on the kids - and their families - to whom they mean significantly more.  


Friday, December 19, 2014

Of Debts and Payment

And remember what I said.  
Being a father, it lives up to the hype.
- Charlie Skinner

Had he lived, WPK Sr would be marking his ninety-first birthday today.  He did not.  He fell just a bit short of the mark.  He died, on May 31, 1981, more than half a year shy of his fifty-eighth birthday.  

Dad - Christmas 1980 playing with the Coleco
"Electronic Quarterback" hand-held game I'd received.

Truth be told, my father had as much chance of living to age ninety-one as I do of being signed as the New York Rangers' 4th line center tasked with the responsibility of defensive zone face-offs on penalty kills and as my older brother Kelly has of ascending to the Papacy.  

He died far too soon to have ever made the acquaintance of Charlie Skinner.  Or Aaron Sorkin for that matter.  Whether he shared Mr. Skinner's sentiments or not was just one of any number of private thoughts he took with him to his grave.  

Over the course of the past three-plus decades that we have lived without him, I feel as if I have come to understand Dad much better than I ever did in the decade and a half or so that we spent together.  For better or for worse, I am my father's son.  A badge that I carry with me - as do both of my older brothers.  In the absence of him, I am lucky to have had both of them.  Each experienced things with him that I never did and given the disparity in age between each of the three of us, Bill and Kelly were each at different points in the road as it were in their respective relationships with him at the time of his death.  

I spend scant little time in the exercise of expressing regret.  As a relatively wise man once wrote, "I cannot undo what I have done."  In a perfect world, perhaps he and I would have spent more time during what turned out to be the final two years of his life enjoying each other's company than we did making each other's life difficult.  I have no WABAC Machine.  If Life has taught me one thing, it is that one rarely has access to it.  

We live the life that we live.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  It shall be for me as it was for my father.  I have the advantage - not of hindsight but rather - of knowing the manner in which certain decisions he made colored the course of his day-to-day.  He was a brilliant man.  Whether it was an inability to gauge the reaction to certain actions or a lack of interest in the reaction I know not.  I have come to recognize in myself - occurring with a frequency not as high as it once was but still higher than it should be - that same tone-deafness.  My experience with his has helped me immeasurably in my efforts with my own.  Although - truth be told - the rest of the world is a far better assessor of that statement's veracity and accuracy than I.

For the past quarter-century or so, Field of Dreams has been among my favorite movies.  I have a particular affection for it not simply because of its infusion with all things baseball.  My fondness for the film has far more to do with the examination of Ray Kinsella's relationship with his long-deceased father, John, and things not said while both parties were alive, which things became incapable of being said once that dynamic had changed.  Art imitating Life?  Perhaps.  

Oscar Wilde once observed that, "No man is rich enough to buy back his past."  Even so, all debts end up paid in full.

There's no age at which you're
OK with your dad dying.
-Charlie Skinner

If you live long enough though then maybe, just maybe, you end up OK with the way the two of you lived the life you shared.

Happy Birthday Dad.  

Dad at Wardlaw

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Phuck You Very Much"

The title of today's piece is a paraphrase of the message that soon-to-be-retired United States Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma - a living testament to the fact that one cannot spell the word "Jerkoff" without an "OK" - sent to this nation's veterans late Monday night.  Coburn blocked the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act , a piece of legislation that was unanimously passed through the House of Representatives (let that wash over your mind's eye for a moment) and was sponsored in the United States Senate by a bi-partisan group including Sen. McCain (R) from Arizona and Sen. Manchin (D) from West Virginia.  

Tom Coburn will not be in Washington, D.C. when the new session of Congress convenes in January, 2015.  At that time - without this obtuse asshat acting as an impediment - it is hoped that the Act - named for a 28-year-old highly decorated United States Marine who - after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - ended up taking his own life after a protracted struggle to get the proper treatment through the VA for his PTSD.  

The Act, a labor of love of the IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and the object of far-reaching, bi-partisan support in both halls of Congress, will have wide-reaching positive effects on this nation's veterans and the system upon which they rely and depend for assistance.  It will, that is, if it ever becomes law.  And thanks to Senator Coburn's actions on Monday night, it shall not become law in 2014. 

It has been reported in many places that twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide.  Twenty-two - the same number of players who square off on opposing sides of the scrimmage line on a football field. Except in the case of the veterans, the twenty-two who are out there today shall be replaced by twenty-two new members tomorrow.  In this setting, tragedy begets substitution. Again and again and again. 

Senator Coburn - who blocked the passage of the Clay Hunt Act, which is designed to assist those service members who stood in harm's way on this nation's behalf in Iraq and Afghanistan - voted "No" on three separate occasions between June, 2006 and December, 2007 on measures involving re-deploying our troops out of Iraq.   Apparently, he has no objection to men and women who wear the uniform of this country standing up for their fellow citizens.  His objection centers on us standing up for them when they return home.  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The World According To Coop...

Margaret and I are rather faithful viewers of The Big Bang Theory, along with countless millions of other people if the Nielsen ratings are to be believed.  Among my favorite scenes from the show's run is one from its third season.  

The premise of the episode is that Sheldon has reached an impasse in his attempt to solve a particularly vexing equation or some such thing.  In an effort to clear his mind, he decides that he needs to spend his time doing something that - while keeping him busy - will require no thought whatsoever, which leads him to work as an unpaid bus boy at Penny's Cheesecake Factory

On Sunday morning, Margaret and I experienced firsthand just what the esteemed Dr. Cooper was speaking of vis-a-vis his "refusal to contribute to the devaluation of the word genius".  For the first time in my life, I entered an Apple store.  We popped into the store located at the Bridgewater Commons Mall so that I could buy an adapter permitting me to play my iPod Nano in my car.  Although we were there before 11:00 o'clock there were already a considerable number of people milling about, including the easy-to-identify employees (a/k/a "the Apple Geniuses") who were adorned in their matching red t-shirts.  

A suggestion if I may to the caretakers of the House that Jobs Built:  If you are going to insist on identifying your retail sales staff members as "Geniuses", then you must employ men and women who are not only friendly but who actually possess the ability to answer a customer's question.  I would further suggest that this is especially so when the customer in question has the technological savvy of Alley Oop and the question he asks of a Genius is not one that should require a genius-level IQ to answer. 

Margaret and I asked the young Genius who assisted us (giving that term the broadest possible definition) where the adapters are to permit the iPod Nano to be played in an automobile.  He responded by asking us, first, whether what we were looking for was a car charger and when we told him "No" and that what we wanted was simply an adapter, he told us that he was not aware whether Apple made such a product.  He then motored off towards a gaggle of fellow Geniuses to ask one of them whether such a product existed. 

In the three or four minutes that he was gone, Margaret found the item that had been the object of our inquiry.  When our designated Genius returned, he was relieved to tell us Apple does in fact make such a product but - in spite of Margaret attempting to show him the adapter that she, herself, had located on the shelf and we were ready to check out - he was unable to, himself, identify it on the shelf.  

At some point, he recognized that what my wife was doing waving her right arm back and forth was not in fact trying to land a jet on an aircraft carrier and was, rather, simply trying to get him to acknowledge that she was holding the product about which we had asked him.  After asking us if we needed any more help, to which we answered in the negative, he thanked us for shopping at the Apple Store and took us over to the area of the store where customers pay for their items. 

Is such an area called "the cash register"?  No.  Not in the Land of Apple.  It is called..."The Genius Bar".  You know what precious commodity is apparently not stocked at the Genius Bar - in addition to not having alcohol?  Money.  We paid cash for our purchase, which transaction required the Genius who was handling the transaction (the Bar Tender?) to step out from behind the Bar and motor across the store to the same gaggle of Geniuses with which our first Genius had interacted.  Several minutes after he started his trek,  he returned carrying our change.  After he added his voice to the ever-growing chorus of Geniuses thanking us for our business, we matriculated our way to the exit.    

And as we walked through the parking lot to the car I thought that perhaps - all these years - I had been far too hard on Wile E. Coyote.  If any person willing to wear a red t-shirt and earn minimum wage plus a nickel an hour can call himself a genius, then maybe, just maybe, he was entitled to call himself a "Super Genius"...

...then again, maybe he was just dumb.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Triumph of Light Over Darkness...

I am not a man of Faith.  While it is a notion with which I have wrestled vigorously for most of my adult life, I respect that for many - including any number of people for whom I have great love and respect - it is not.  I do not understand their position.  I do, however, respect it. 

Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown - a time of day that is traditionally observed (for holiday purposes) at the Firm by my partners and our staff members who are Jewish as shortly after twelve noon.  Among the many reasons I am eternally grateful to my parents for having sent Kara, Jill and me to W-H was that after having spent from kindergarten through fourth grade in Catholic school, coming to W-H starting in fifth grade allowed me to meet and become friends with kids of various religious faiths.  

But for having transferred from a Catholic grammar school to a non-denominational school I would have missed out on the opportunity to celebrate a Passover Seder with Mike Koplowitz, his sister Jennifer and their parents.   Also, I am quite certain that the Immaculate Conception School choir sung neither "Hava Nagila"  nor "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel" as part of its annual concerts.  At W-H, under the leadership of Maryann MacKenzie, we sung both songs.  

And may it also be just a little silly.  A little silliness is never, ever a bad thing...



Monday, December 15, 2014

"We Didn't Scare So Easily"

While I know that not everyone who I know and respect shares this sentiment, I shall miss Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom, which wrapped up it far-too-short (for my liking at least) run on HBO last evening.  Only in America can 2 Broke Girls survive to (at least) a fourth season while Sorkin's creation bites turf after just three - and calling this third, six-episode go-round a 'season' is akin to calling the New York Knicks a professional basketball team.  

Was The Newsroom perfect?  Nope.  Far from it in fact.  But - again speaking solely from my perspective - it was never boring.  It afforded me the opportunity to spend a bit more time with one of my favorite actors - Sam Waterston, introduced me to a talented actress who I had recognized solely from her having graced magazine covers - Olivia Munn and to enjoy an actor whose work I have always enjoyed, Jeff Daniels, playing a "benevolent misanthrope" - a paradoxical character who exists far more comfortably in the world of scripted fiction than he does in the real world.   Not to mention that the just-concluded seasonette included multiple appearances by one of Wardlaw-Hartridge's finest thespians, Mary McCormack.   

Above all else, I shall miss it for Aaron Sorkin's ability - and willingness - to do this: 

If you never watched a minute of The Newsroom, do yourself the favor of at least watching the 4:50 of it provided for your convenience above.  And before you dismiss it simply as dialogue coming out of the mouth of a fictional character, Will McAvoy, do this:  Cue the video back to the beginning, click "PLAY" and close your eyes.  Do not simply hear the words but listen to them.  Will McAvoy may not actually exist but it did not keep him from speaking the truth.  

And in art, much as is the case in real life, it was not a truth that everyone wanted to hear.  

Which does not mean that it did not need to be said...

...and still shall need to be even with something else occupying the 9:00 PM time slot on HBO on Sunday nights.  


Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Choir of Angels

A death has occurred and everything is changed. 
We are painfully aware that life can never be the same again,
That yesterday is over, 
That relationships once rich have ended.

But there is another way to look upon this truth.
If life now went on the same,
Without the presence of the one who had died,
we could only conclude that the life we remember 
made no contribution,
filled no space, 
meant nothing. 

The fact that this person left behind a place 
that cannot be filled is a high tribute to this individual.

Life can be the same after a trinket has been lost, 
but never after the loss of a treasure. 
"A Death Has Occurred" - Paul Irion

Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Rachel Davino, 29; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7;
Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 7; Dawn Hocksprung, 47; Madeline F. Hsu, 6;
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7;
Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6;
Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Rickman, 6; Lauren Russeau, 30; 
Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison N. Wyatt, 6.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Win First, Sing Second

Happy Ascension (12/13/14) Saturday! Call me a blasphemer if you must - I am OK with that as long as you DO NOT make Aretha Franklin aware of my transgression - but today is the final Ascension Day of this century.  Unless you have a plan to see January 2, 2103, it is the final one of your lifetime.  Do not waste it.  Huh, right about now your find yourself wishing that I had led off this paragraph with that advice.  If I had, then you would have missed out on five or six minutes of The Blues Brothers Movie.  Go ahead, click on the link now if you have not done so already.  I am confident that you will catch up with the rest of the group.  

Ready to continue?  Fantastic...

Today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Cadets of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York shall travel south to meet the Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy with the latter traveling to Philly from Annapolis, Maryland for the 115th Army-Navy Game. These two service academies have played one another in football annually since 1930 and their game marks the end of the college football regular season.  

While it certainly seems as if Navy wins every year - and the Midshipmen arrive in Philadelphia this afternoon riding a twelve-game winning streak, the all-time series is actually fairly even.  Prior to the current Navy streak, in fact, the Cadets held the upper hand overall.  Now, the tally stands at 58-49-7 in favor of the Naval Academy.  

In the thirteen autumns since the September 11 attacks on the United States, ninety-five graduates of the United States Military Academy have been killed in action in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  Sixteen graduates of the United States Naval Academy have been killed in action in those locales.  

Included among those 111 casualties of war is 1st Lieutenant Stephen Chase Prasnicki, West Point Class of 2010 and a member of the football team as first a reserve quarterback and, thereafter, a defensive back.  1st Lieutenant Prasnicki was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 27, 2012.  Upon graduating from West Point in 2010, he became an Army Ranger.  He had been married for seven months at the time of his death.   

Keeping sad company with 1st Lieutenant Prasnicki is Lt. (SEAL) Brendan J. Looney.  Lt. Looney graduated from the Naval Academy in 2004, the first of three Looney sons to do so.  He had originally arrived on campus intending to play football, which he did for a couple of seasons.  However, in 2002, he was introduced to lacrosse, which he took to with great ability and aplomb.  In his senior season - 2004 - he and his two younger brothers all played together for the Academy.  Lt. Looney was killed in action in Afghanistan on September 21, 2010 - along with eight other American servicemen - when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed.  And as if the circumstances under which Lt. Looney died needed an additional layer of tragedy, he was scheduled to return to the United States on October 2, 2010.  

I know not whether I shall watch all of the Army-Navy game this afternoon but I shall make it a point to watch at least some of it - and shall try to catch the end of it.  One of the incredible traditions of this game is that at its conclusion, both teams stand before their respective student bodies as each Academy's Alma mater is played.    Tradition dictates that the team that loses the game must sing first

It has been a long time since the Cadets have won the right to sing second.  Will they earn that right this afternoon?  I know not.  I do know however that every man on both teams knows that irrespective of what happens this afternoon on the gridiron, should he need it in the future, he can call upon each of his brothers in arms to assist him...


Friday, December 12, 2014

Hail to A Hero

Much ink has been spilled - and too much goddamned blood as well - in these United States lately by people on both sides of the issue of race.  While it may be a dangerous position for one who earns his living with his mouth to point out that far too many people in these United States these days earn our daily wage by talking as opposed to by doing, I shall say so anyway.  And few issues bring the talking heads out in force with quite as much vitriol as race does.  There is no button quite like a hot button. 

You know what matters immeasurably more than the color of one's skin?  The content of one's character.  

Joyce Craig-Lewis, thirty-six years young, was a member of the City of Philadelphia Fire Department for eleven years.  At her request, she was transferred to Engine 64 in Lawncrest, one of the city's most active fire stations.  

On Tuesday, FF Craig-Lewis became the first female firefighter in the history of the Philadelphia Fire Department to die in the line of duty.  She was trapped inside of a row house in the city's West Oak Lane section while fighting a fire as part of a three-member hose crew.  It was approximately 3:00 am.  

FF Craig-Lewis had recently returned to work from maternity leave.  The thirty-six-year-old was the mother of two - 16 year-old Mehki Donte Green and 16 month-old Laylani Lewis.  On the morning on which she was killed, she was doing something that she had a long, distinguished career of doing, which was working overtime.  A member of Engine 64, she was working with Engine 73 battling the West Oak Lane fire when she died.  

On Saturday morning, FF Craig-Lewis shall be laid to rest.  Her family shall be joined in mourning her loss by her brothers and sisters of the Philadelphia Fire Department with whom they shared her for these past eleven years and with whom they shall now share her memory forever.  

Joyce Craig-Lewis died as she lived - selflessly and heroically.   Her contributions to the City of Philadelphia and its residents whom she served and protected shall long be remembered.  She shall be missed by those who loved her and those who she loved even longer still.  


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Returneth to the Well

Two weeks from today is Christmas.  How is your Holiday-Spirit-O-Meter?  Mine has flat-lined.  Experience has taught me that there are certain things that never should be uttered aloud.  So, my reasons shall remain mine and mine alone.  

For insurance reasons, I am not permitted anywhere near defibrillator paddles.  Apparently you can never live down using them to "save the life" of a fellow who was - as it turned out  merely a heavy, heavy napper.  In their stead, I am turning to the next best available option...

...airing two times this week - and then one time next week - on ABC Family, which is Channel 311 on Direct TV.

And since this proved not to be up to the task of lifting me out of my own personal December funk on its own, as the countdown to Christmas continues and the days get fewer and the stakes get higher, today I have ordered up a reinforcement...

...even a grizzled old grouch like me respects a little dude like Linus.  He might carry a security blanket with him wherever he goes, but he still has game.    


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No Diving Allowed

At the risk of sounding immodest - and if you have ever happened by this space before you are acutely aware of what a concern of mine that is - I am quite good at what it is I do to earn my daily bread.  That being said, I know without reservation that I would be better at it - perhaps excellent at it in fact - if I had a true passion for it.  I do not.  

The Republic shall neither rise nor fall based upon the outcome of any of the matters that I handle.  There are attorneys who practice in the area of criminal law, where issues of freedom and justice carry the day.  Me?  I defend individuals, companies and public entities in civil suits, an arena in which far more often than not the issues of cost-benefit analysis and financial pragmatism carry the day.  It is not the kiddie pool for, after all, workers' compensation practitioners are entitled to a place to swim.  It is, however, a pool configured in such a way that diving headfirst into the water is not allowed and drowning - while a possibility - is not ever on the forefront of anyone's mind. 

Yesterday I spent several hours at depositions in an automobile negligence case.  As luck would have it, several of the parties are members of the same immediate family.  Daughter is involved in an accident on her way to work when her vehicle is run off the road by a tractor-trailer.  Her car smacks into a concrete divider immediately adjacent to the left travel lane on the roadway and becomes disabled.  However, because the shoulder is less than a car-width wide, a portion of her disabled vehicle is actually in the left travel lane. 

A girl of nineteen, involved in a serious accident less than ten minutes from her home, she does something not at all surprising:  She calls her mom for help.  Mom - my client - and the girl's eighteen-year-old brother rush to the scene to assist her.  As they arrive, Mom activates the flasher/hazard lights on her car and pulls up to within about four feet of her daughter's rear bumper.  Mama bear shields baby bear from danger. 

Except, when the eighteen-year-old son exits Mom's car to help big sister, something happens that none of them anticipated:  A woman driving in the left travel lane of the highway somehow manages to NOT see either the block-and-one-half sized SUV that my client drives or its flashing hazard lights.  She runs right into its rear end, which pushes it forward...and into my client's eighteen-year-old son as he stands between her car and his sister's car trying to help his sister.  

Fortunately, all things considered, although he was injured he did not sustain any horrific injuries.  No closed-head injuries, no broken bones, no lost limbs.  Given the nature of the case and the nature of the system of civil justice, he will likely receive some amount of compensation for his injuries.  What amount I know not.  I suspect that most of it - if not all of it- will be paid to him on behalf of the woman who used his Mom's SUV like a croquet ball.  

My client is a lovely woman and both of her adult children are a credit to her.  A nice family all the way around.  As my client was leaving her deposition yesterday afternoon, after thanking me for representing her, she apologized to me for being a bit "distracted" while I was helping her prepare for it.  It turns out that just last week she was diagnosed with breast cancer - a tumor in her left breast - and has spent much of her time these past few days discussing treatment options with her doctor and preparing her husband and her two children for what lies ahead for her - and for them.  

I spent fourteen-plus hours yesterday working at earning my living.  And none of it - Hell not the sum of the OTHER eight hundred and sixty-five minutes - came close to rivaling in importance the five minutes my client spent sharing with me what she did about her diagnosis and her future.  I have no idea whether anything I said to her was of any comfort to her.  I hope it was although I suspect it was not.    

Pretty fucking humbling.  Pretty fucking humbling indeed...

...and sadder even still.