Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sole Brothers

At some point on Sunday afternoon between having 3/4 of  a mile left to complete the Marathon and 1/2 of a mile to go, I made the acquaintance of a fellow runner.  I came to learn after the race that my Sole Brother's name was Greg Paglia.  However, at the time that he and I were completing our journey together I knew him only as Bib #2063

From the time we fell in together, we ran in close proximity to one another.  There was no sense of competition in our strides.  Neither of us was trying to edge ahead of the other.  Rather, there was a spirit of kinship, of shared purpose if you will.  Each of us felt as if our load had been lightened by the emergence of a comrade in feet with whom he could share it. 

It turned out that his family was located about thirty-five or fifty feet or so further from the finish line than where Margaret was waiting for me - along with our cadre (Gidg, Jeff, Brooke and Mike).  I do not know whether Greg's family proposed doing to him what my wife admitted to me she proposed doing to me, which was making a sign that read, "We Were Here.  You Weren't.  We Left" and then hightailing it over to Rooney's for $5.00 Bloody Marys and $5.00 Mimosas. 

Greg had moved on out to a gap of perhaps twenty feet ahead of me when I saw him see his family - leaning up against the rail - as they cheered him on.  He has a very young child (a little girl I think - based upon the brief glimpse I caught of her) and his wife was holding the infant in her arms as he ran past.  He did the most extraordinary thing.  He stopped, albeit only for a moment, and ran back towards his wife and baby so that he could give the baby a kiss.  There, less than one hundred feet from the dime he had been chasing for more than four and one-half hours, it was more important to him to take a half-dozen steps backwards than it was to take the first of three dozen or so more forward and across the finish line. 

I reached where he was just as he was completing the act of saying "Hello/Goodbye" to his wife and child.  I tapped him on the shoulder as I ran past him and when he turned to look my direction he smiled as if he had just seen a brother he had given up for dead or some such thing.  I slowed momentarily so that he could bridge the short distance between the two of us, which he did.  From that point forward, we ran together, as exhilarated as we were exhausted, to the finish line.  

Neither one of us came close to finishing first.  Truth be told, we finished closer to the pack's back than its front.  Yet, looking at us as we finally reached our destination, one would have been forgiven for thinking - even if just for a moment - that we were the day's big winners. 

Bib #1465 and Bib #2063
Finish Line - New Jersey Marathon

Then again, who is to say that were were not?  I have no delusions of grandeur when I sign up for a marathon.  I participate in them for the purpose of testing my mind and my body's ability to endure discomfort.  I also participate in them so that I can meet - even if only briefly - fellow travelers such as Bib #2063.  No one appreciates the journey as much as one who has endured it himself.  It is not every day that you meet a stranger who has in fact walked a mile in your shoes...

...let alone has actually covered 26.2 miles in them.  

-AK 


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fault Lines

News from near and far broke hearts this week.  Baltimore, Maryland threatened to rip itself apart at the seams. Mother Nature attempted to do likewise to the people of Nepal including but not limited to the residents of Kathmandu.  

Much discussion has been had in these United States over the past several months regarding the importance of black lives as opposed to the importance of blue lives and which matter more. If nothing else good comes out of the events in Nepal this week, at least they served to remind us that ALL lives matter. 

Something about which to think.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Always.  

-AK




Tuesday, April 28, 2015

An Idea Whose Time Has Ceased To Make Any Sense At All

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It's Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It's the place where dreams come true.
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
-"Field of Dreams"

If Ray Kinsella actually lived in Iowa, as opposed to having been deposited there by a screenwriter and a movie script, then he would have been better served leaving his corn crop in place as opposed to erecting a place where dreams were permitted to come true. 

 At least in Ray Kinsella's fictionalized Iowa, the biggest asshole was his brother-in-law Mark.  In the non-fiction version of Iowa, the biggest asshole appears to be Congressman Steve King.  King's latest brainstorm (giving that term its broadest possible interpretation) is to no longer permit Federal courts to rule on the legality of same-sex marriage.  According to Rep. King, "Federal courts have perverted the Constitution to make law and create constitutional rights to things such as privacy, birth control and abortion.  These unenumerated, so-called constitutionally protected rights were not envisioned by our Founding Fathers."  Our Federal courts are Article III courts.  Their power is derived from Article III of the Constitution of the United States, which limits federal judicial power to the adjudication of actual cases or controversies.    

Nothing I enjoy more than a twenty-first century phucktard proclaiming what "constitutionally protected rights" were envisioned and/or were not envisioned by our Founding Fathers.  You know what certainly was not envisioned by our Founding Fathers?  Iowa.  Iowa was not only NOT one of the Original Thirteen States (a/k/a "The Places from Which the Founding Fathers Came") it was not among the first twenty-five states to join the Union.  Shit, Iowa did not become a state until 1846 - after Texas and twenty-seven others.  At the risk of giving Congressman King and his supporters a free lesson in "'Murican" history, Iowa was admitted into the Union at a time when states were admitted in such a way as to maintain the balance between "slave" states and "free" states.  Iowa's state flag should contain a picture of Mexican General Santa Ana.  But for that asshole's incursion in Texas and the latter's successful fight to liberate itself, Texas never would have become, first, a Republic and then, almost immediately thereafter, a State in 1845.  If the Republic of Texas had not become the State of Texas in 1845, then the Iowa Territory would not have become the State of Iowa in 1846.   The "slave" states simply would not have permitted it to happen.  

Iowa's state motto is, "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."   Apparently, Congressman King believes that the state motto is for suckers - or at the very least for people who are amenable to allowing him to determine what liberties are to be prized and what rights are to be maintained.  

Normally, I would not give a rat's ass about Iowa but for the fact that it is preparing to take its hyper-inflated place on center stage as the roll out towards the 2016 Presidential campaign gets underway.  Other than the fact that the Iowa caucuses have been afforded, historically, a place of significance in American electoral politics, why has what Iowa thinks been elevated to such a dizzying height?  It is the state that has - in at least one Congressional district - re-elected an idiot repeatedly and has done so by overwhelming margins.   

Give me one good reason why what the people of Iowa think is so goddamn important to we the people of these United States?  I have already given you my one good reason why it should not be.  

Oh, and being the home of Radar O'Reilly does not count.  He, too, was a fictional character as are, I fear (at least if Congressman King is any guide) too many of the best Iowans.  Then again, no one - including Yours truly - should ever paint with brush strokes so broad.  Congressman King has not - as far as I know - ever won a statewide election in Iowa (such as for Governor).  His in-state sphere of influence therefore may be limited to the boundary lines of his Congressional district, much as here in New Jersey  we have worked hard to similarly limit that of Scott Garrett.        

-AK 

Monday, April 27, 2015

To Reach the Beach

A simply beautiful day on which to run. Yesterday was spectacular.  While my finishing time was a bit slower than I had hoped for, it was a terrific day nonetheless.  Sixteen works of hard work. One unforgettable day.  

Marathon training is a singularly selfish pursuit.  It takes a toll on the one doing the training of course.  It also takes a toll however on that person's spouse.  Sixteen weeks of training including that many consecutive Sundays of runs ranging in length from five miles to twenty miles. 

Margaret is a champ. She is not a runner. She is not especially a fan of it either. It mystifies her why her husband is hell bent on engaging in a pursuit as insane as marathon running.  She was there yesterday at race's end. It was nice as it always is at the end of a long race to see her at the finish line.  

A hard day's work at the end of four long months of work. Hell of a day. Hell of a day indeed.



-AK

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Spear's Tip

Today is my brother Bill's birthday.  He is the oldest of the sextet of Kenny siblings.  Not an easy gig to be sure.  While I am confident that he did not write it for us, it has always seemed to me that John Hiatt's Seven Little Indians certainly seemed to fit us.  Too well?  Perhaps. 

There are numerous advantages - when one is a large family - to being the tail-gunner.  I had a lot of excellent teachers from whom I learned.  It is a damn sight harder being the one at the front of the sled team.  He had no fewer things to learn than I did.  Yet he had far fewer teachers than I did from whom to learn them.  And learn them he did. 

And well enough to pass along what he learned to those of us who came after him. 

Including the tail-gunner. 

Happy Birthday Bill.  Here's to hoping a pony ride on the calendar. 

-AK 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

All Out of Marks to Check

I have run out of boxes to check off on my calendar, which I cleverly entitled "16-Week Marathon Training Schedule for 2015 New Jersey Marathon" when I created it on my computer in late December 2014.  The Training is complete.  Tomorrow is race day.

If I understood what Gidg told me earlier this week correctly, gun time tomorrow morning is 7:30.  I like the idea of a relatively early start time.  I have a much better chance of convincing my legs to start moving if it is simply too goddamn early in the day for them to figure out what is happening.  I figure I should get at least seven or eight miles deep into the race before it hits them.  

Tomorrow morning shall mark the fourth time in my life that I have lined up at the starting line for a marathon.  I am confident - based upon how faithfully I adhered to my training schedule, which I have not always done in the past, how hard I pushed myself during my training and how well I feel, generally speaking, on the eve of the race - that this shall be the best of my four efforts.  

Enough blabbing about it.  Talk is exceedingly cheap.  If running one's mouth could carry you for 26.2 miles, then significantly more people would compete in - and complete - a marathon than actually do.  


-AK

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Gospel According To Pep...




...and Saturday cannot get here quickly enough.

-AK 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Poetry in Motion

Thursday has finally arrived in "Running on Fumes" Week.  Due to an unfortunate confluence of events at work, a number of projects have due dates that bear an eerie resemblance to one another, and none of them has one that arrives later than...well this time tomorrow.  I tend to be a bit of an early riser but for me, even, this week has been somewhat extraordinary.  My alarm has been set for 2:00 AM and I have been out the door to the office not later than 3:00 AM to ensure that I am adequately caffeinated and in "work mode" by not later than 4:00 AM.  

I must confess that by this point in the week, I am a bit tired.  Inasmuch as I am less than articulate here - far more often than not - when I am working on normal rest, under the present circumstances I have for all intents and purposes leaped off of the cliff's edge.  

Long story short (not so far I know) is that in this space there is really nothing of value to read today. If you click on this link, disappointed you shall not be.  It is a beautiful first-person account authored by a member of one of my favorite groups of people:  a "Next Gen" in the Kenny clan.  

I am biased I suppose, given who I am and who she is, but I think that a parent who is preparing to send a child off to college in the Fall of '15 (or beyond) could do worse than to spend a few minutes perusing her wise words - while encouraging your son or daughter to do likewise.   As someone whose own college days are so far behind me that I need them to be closer than they appear in my rear-view just so I could see them, I found them to be an exceptionally worthwhile read...  

...and pretty damn good advice too.

-AK 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Waiting for Maickel

Irrespective of however long and shitty a day you might have had yesterday - and you have my sincere empathy if you did as I was right there with you as of 3:40 AM at my desk writing a brief on a matter with a ridiculously tight deadline - or however long and shitty a day might be on tap for you (or me for that matter) the story of Maickel Melamed shall make you smile.  

Maickel Melamed, thirty-nine years old, was the last-place finisher in Monday's Boston Marathon.  His time?  Well, let us just say that it took him approximately ten times as long to complete the course from Hopkinton to Boylston Street as it took the elite runners to do so.  But finish he did.  

Maickel Melamed is afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy.  It has attacked his body - as that insidious disease does - but it has not overwhelmed his mind, his spirit or his heart.  It took him until the wee small hours of Tuesday morning to reach the finish line, but reach it he did.  He completed a journey in darkness and in pouring rain a trek that had begun a morning earlier in daylight and in drizzle.  

If what he told reporters post-race turns out to be true and Boston was indeed his final marathon, then his marathon resume, a resume that includes marathons in New York City, Berlin, Tokyo, and Chicago, shall be quite an impressive one indeed.  A memorable run in Boston is one hell of a nice way to put a ribbon on one's marathon career, should this year's Boston Marathon indeed prove to be his last. 

His attitude is remarkable.  His inner strength and his fortitude are inspiring.  And somewhere, in a dimly-lit, hot swamp his running coach sits smiling, thinking of just how well to heart Maickel Melamed took his advice:  


The Force is strong in Maickel Melamed.  Very, very strong.  

-AK 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

One for the Thumb

Today is Tuesday, April 21.  Five sleeps separate me - and thousands of other runners - from the 2015 New Jersey Marathon.  Five sleeps is not very many sleeps at all.   It is more than four.  It is less than six.  

Just think, if you formally retained me as your attorney, then you would pay real American money for such astute observations.  You laugh at the thought?  I do as well sometimes.  Nevertheless, someone always steps up to the window and plunks down their cash.  It beats working for a living.  Some days not by much - to be sure - but always by at least a little. 

But I digress.

I feel better five sleeps removed from this marathon than I have felt at this time leading up to any of the three previous marathons in which I have participated.  More importantly than my physical well-being, which is good, is my mental well-being.  Sunday morning, I forced myself down into the basement dungeon for one final "medium distance" run.  I made it my goal at the beginning of this training cycle to run every mile of every training run in eight minutes or less.  Sunday, I set the treadmill to eight miles per hour and a whisker more than sixty minutes later I had completed my last eight-mile run.  The exercise's purpose has not been to create the delusion that I can run 26.2 miles at a 7:30 clip.  It has been to make my mind and my body get ever more comfortable at being uncomfortable.  So far.  So good.  

The part of this exercise that is equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking is that - the RU Half Marathon one week ago Sunday notwithstanding - there shall be but one chance to measure whether it has been a success.  It has been one hundred and seven sleeps since I started it.  I reckon I can hang in there for five more sleeps to see how it turns out.  

In fact, the choice is not really mine to make.  

-AK 

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Rite of Spring

Today is Boston Marathon Day.  I hope that all of those competing today, whether an elite runner or a ham and egger such as Yours truly, have an exceptional run.  Having taken to running relatively late in life, I suspect that I shall never be on of those who toes the starting line in Hopkinton.  My non-participation in the event does nothing to hamper my enthusiasm for it. 

I have no idea who shall win today.  As anyone who pays attention at all to a sport might, I do have my favorites - runners for whom I am cheering to do well.  I would love to see Meb, who won this race last year, back up his 2014 victory with one today.  I am also rooting hard for my fellow Buff, Dathan Ritzenhein, who has suffered through enough injuries in his running career to test a one-hundred-year-old man.  Ritzenhein is thirty-two. 

Most of all, I am rooting like hell for the hometown heroine, Shalane Flanagan, to capture the title that she fought so valiantly to try to attain in 2014.  She ultimately "faded" to seventh place - while running her fastest-ever marathon in a race won by Kenyan Rita "The Chemist" Jeptoo in the fastest time a woman has ever run at the Boston Marathon.  

Good luck to one and all.  May your race be swift, satisfying and safe.


-AK

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Anniversaries, Important and Otherwise

It was on this very date, in the year 2008...Damn, do I wish right now that I had a poet's soul.  For perhaps then I could have come up with a clever turn of phrase to finish that rhyme.  Get a load of this guy, will you?  "A poet's soul".  How about any soul?  One would think - based upon nothing other then the rather audacious proclamation contained in the opening line that the phrase "beggars can't be choosers" was one with which I have no familiarity.  

But I digress...

April 19, 2008 marked the creation of this little rest stop on Prince Albert's information superhighway.  I started doing this in an effort to have an outlet for the voices that rage inside my head on a daily basis.  A release valve if you will.  Whether it has effectively served its purpose I truly do not know.  I drink less than I used to as a much younger man.  I hit fewer things, which is also a positive I suppose.  I might very well be the most selfish person I have ever known, which personality trait is well-served in this forum.  The point of view expressed here is mine.  I write about things that I consider to be worth talking about, with little thought (actually none) given to whether what matters to me matters to anyone else, and perpetually stunned by the fact that anyone takes the time to read that which is written here.  I am fascinated by what pieces that have appeared here are the ones that have been read the most.  Why, for instance, this is the most-read piece that has ever appeared in this space (and the gap between it and the second-most-read is more than six hundred) eludes me.  P.S. - After buying "High Hopes" and listening to it repeatedly over the course of a period of several weeks, I was distressed to discover that it failed to exceed my admittedly low expectations.

Again, I digress...

April 19, 1995 was a terrible day.  A day that I hope stands unchallenged in the annals of history as the all-time worst day Oklahoma City, Oklahoma ever endures.  At 9:02 A.M., two cowards - in an act of domestic terrorism - detonated a truck that they had parked in front of the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building after they had packed it full of explosives, which they did after they had rented it from Ryder - murdered 168 innocents and injured another 680.   

The people of Oklahoma City responded as we have seen the people of New York City - and more recently - the people of Boston respond to an attack upon their home, their community and their life.  They have endured.  They have endeavored to ensure that those whose lives were taken from them that day - including children - shall never be forgotten.  

Today, spare a moment to think of those who were killed on that terrible April morning twenty years ago.  If you are old enough to remember the day and where you were when you first learned what had happened, then pause perhaps to reflect upon at least some of what has transpired in your life over the course of the past twenty years.  Hopefully for you, as has been the case for me (sometimes in spite of myself), the good has outweighed the bad.  Either way, opportunities have been presented to us over the course of these past two decades that were denied to those who were murdered that morning.  It is up to us to make what we will out of them. 

Me?  I intend to take full advantage of this beautiful Spring morning by running my final eight-mile training run for next week's New Jersey Marathon.  

-AK 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sweet Sixteen

The important part of the NHL season has finally begun.  While I was happy that at the conclusion of the seemingly-endless regular season the Broadway Blueshirts won the Presidents' Trophy, 'tis but a trinket that shall permit you to purchase a cop of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts.  As long as it is accompanied by the appropriate amount of American money that is.  Otherwise, not so much.   

Thursday night the Rangers defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 to take the first game of their best-of-seven first round playoff series.  There may be no sport in which the postseason is as much a a war of attrition as it is in the NHL.  Irrespective of however many wins you attained in the regular season, once the playoffs start, every team's magic number is "16".  Four rounds of playoffs.  Each round a best-of-seven series.  Only one team shall make it to sixteen.  Last year, the Rangers came tantalizingly close.  Thirteen wins proved to not only be unlucky but, more importantly, to be three wins too few to win the Stanley Cup

I have rooted for the Rangers for as long as I can remember.  Dad's passion for them proved to be not only hereditary but lifelong.  In the forty-eight years that I have prowled the Earth, skating tentatively on my double-runner blades, the Rangers have captured exactly one Cup.  In the past seventy-five years, they have captured exactly twice that amount.  One cannot be a Rangers fan without appreciating the delicate balance between hoping for the best and expecting something decidedly less so to occur.  We are easy to spot in a crowd during the playoffs.  Simply look for the men and women watching the game with one eye while using the other eye to scan the sky in search of the infamous other shoe.  

One down.  Fifteen to go.  


-AK 
  

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Wrong Side of the Line

I used to think that I would live long enough to outgrow the urge to find - on an almost-daily basis if not in fact one per day - a human being whose behavior is so utterly despicable that I want to punch him or her in the larynx.  At some point, sadly, my optimism on that score dropped from cautious to non-existent.  I fear that much like the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria that ship too has sailed. 

Full disclosure dictates that I own up to the fact that my name appears on not very many - OK not any - "Top Ten Person" lists.  And for good reason.  That plum about which Sinatra sings about having been plucked from the tree of life?  I resemble that piece of fruit not at all.  But there is a chasm that separates those of us who are simply unpleasant from those who reveal themselves to be untrustworthy, mud-sucking, pathetic mutha phuckas (as my great, great grandpa Phineas used to call them).  It is a line on whose wrong side one should aspire to avoid.  Not everyone does.  Those who are utterly reprehensible pieces of human dreck never even make an effort to do so.  

If you lack the skill set, the mental acuity and/or THE BALLS to engage an adversary fairly and in a manner that permits you to maintain a modicum of dignity, then you need to stand back and perform a very searching examination of yourself.  And if the person you have foolishly decided you shall attempt to skull phuck looks anything at all like the angry, ever-older man who stares back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning, then I assure you that in time you will understand that you should have been exceedingly more careful in the expenditure of that wish.  


That is all.  

-AK 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

And Then There Were Ten

Ten days and counting.  Sunday April 26 is approaching and shall be upon us (or me at least) in no time.

One week from Sunday is Marathon Day.  26.2 miles of fun and more at the Jersey Shore.  No that is not the race's motto.  If it ends up being adopted as the motto however - and earns a place on a t-shirt or mug or other race swag - then somebody better show Yours truly a little love.

My "training calendar" has been reduced to its final half-dozen entries.  A lot of miles have been put on my legs these past fourteen weeks.  And yet the most important ones remain to be run.

Then again the most important miles are always the ones ahead of us; right?  

-AK

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Song for the Days of Innocence and Wonder

Percy Sledge died yesterday morning.  At shortly after midnight, on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, he died of natural causes.  I was surprised to learn that he was but seventy-four years old.  

His was a voice that I, for one, never tired of hearing.  His signature song, which was his debut single "When A Man Loves A Woman" , also has the distinction of being used in what is for me as great a marriage of television and music as has ever been aired.   

Rest peacefully, Percy.  

Lovin' eyes can never see...


-AK

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Day Unlike Any Other

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

One hundred and fifty years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth as the President and Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed a performance of "The American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre.  The shot fired from Booth's gun mortally wounded the President.  Less than twelve hours later, at approximately 7:22 AM on April 15, 1865, he would be pronounced dead.  

Were it not a report of truly terrible news, the Associated Press story that correspondent Lawrence Gobright filed of the night's events might actually be appreciated for its unintended humor.  Read Gobright's report for yourself and see if the prominence given to what actually happened to President Lincoln does not surprise you and - perhaps - make you smile just ever-so-slightly.  A damn shame really that the assassination of the President interrupted what otherwise might have been a sterling review of the evening's performance. 

It was just yesterday that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida became the latest jockey to saddle up a mount in what shall undoubtedly be a horse race to secure the nomination of the Republican Party for the job that proved to be the final job of Republican Abraham Lincoln.  "The Party of Lincoln"?  Once upon a time perhaps.  Not so much these days.   

Juxtaposition, thou art a heartless bitch but one with a delightfully dark sense of humor.


-AK 

Monday, April 13, 2015

When The Method Justifies The Madness

Two weeks from yesterday is the 2015 New Jersey Marathon.  Yesterday was the New Jersey Half Marathon at Rutgers University.   My day got off to a less than auspicious start.  I left my house yesterday morning without my Garmin watch.  It is the little gadget upon which I rely to tell me (a) how fast I am running; and (b) how much more distance I have to run. 

Luckily, this half-marathon is a race that utilizes "pacers".  A pacer is a runner who volunteers to run a consistent pace for each and every mile.  A pacer's value is enhanced when a runner forgets his watch and needs to lean on the pacer to track his pace for him. 

I have spent the entirety of my training time for the New Jersey Marathon by pushing myself as hard as I can.  I have employed this strategy in an effort to build up my mind's willingness to make my body learn how to accept running with discomfort.  And yesterday, I used the Half-Marathon as a laboratory in which I road-tested my hypothesis. 

It was a rousing success.  I ran the race in 1:55:03, which worked out to a per mile pace of 8:46.  More importantly, when I crossed the finish line not only were my legs not achy but my breathing was not labored or forced.  The pace at which I ran was eminently comfortable.  While I shall not know until two Sundays from now whether it is a pace at which I can cover 26.2 miles, yesterday's experiment was a rousing success.  

One down.  One to go.  

-AK 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

R U Ready?

Today is a Red-Letter Day on my calendar...and not only because it marks "T Minus Two Weeks" until the New Jersey Marathon.  This morning, in the company of Gidg, my running "Sister With A Big Toe Blister", and Scott, our seemingly always-freezing visitor from the Deep South (OK, Cherry Hill), I shall again toe the line at the New Jersey Half Marathon at Rutgers University.  Regardless of Lonnie Quinn's prediction of temperatures reaching up into the sixties and beyond today, Scott will undoubtedly be wearing enough layers to make an Eskimo envious when he arrives just outside the Werblin Aquatic Center at 7:00 AM.  

Roughly one hour and forty-five minutes after he crosses the starting line, he and the three-plus layers he still has on will cross the finish line.  How he does it I know not.  All I know is this morning is either the fifth or sixth iteration of this race.  Our little group has run in it every year and every year Scott has "geared up" in the same fashion.   

If it ain't broke, don't fix it right?  

And away we go...

-AK 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Sweet Disciple of Dufresne

In this space, far more often than not, one encounters opinions masquerading as facts as opposed to facts themselves.  Every now and again, however, an actual fact makes an appearance here.  

ALERT:  FACT DEAD AHEAD. 

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the finest films ever made.  The two actors whose relationship forms its core, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, have deservedly won Academy Awards for a performance each has given in another film and have both won critical acclaim for their work in a number of films.  Yet, neither has ever been better than they were in Shawshank.  It is as beautiful and as compelling a film as I have ever seen.  I have never tired of watching it.  I never shall. 

Shawshank was on my mind yesterday when I read that the remarkable young woman, Lauren Hill, had died.   At nineteen, she was imbued with courage and fortitude that at least one forty-eight year-old man I know found to be nothing short of remarkable.  Her on-court exploits were well-chronicled and deservedly so.  I for one did not realize, however, that she raised more than $1.5 Million to help fight Diffused Intrinsic Pontine Giloma, the disease that invaded her brain while she was still in high school and killed her.  

Andy Dufresne observed that each of us has a choice to make:  Get busy living, or get busy dying.  Lauren Hill embraced the former and as the poet might say, that made all the difference.  In her life and in the lives of countless others.

Today.  Tomorrow.  And in the days that shall follow.    

That's goddamn right...


-AK 

Friday, April 10, 2015

When Heartbreak is in the Rear-View Mirror

Twenty and one-half miles (give or take a few yards) into the test of perseverance that is the Boston Marathon, rises Heartbreak Hill: 

The final hill, the legendary Heartbreak, 
begins after the shops at Center Street
and rises a half-mile to Hammond Street.  
In itself, the incline is merely challenging; but after 20 1/2 miles, 
the effort becomes the toughest stretch on the course.  
Once at the summit, however, the Prudential Tower comes into view,
the BC band may be playing and a half-mile of downhill lies ahead

On Sunday, April 21, 2013, those of us who were participating in that year's edition of the Unite Half-Marathon at Rutgers University assembled in the starting area of our race and sang "Sweet Caroline" in tribute to the people of Boston.  A lot of us, including Yours truly, wore signs on our race shirts expressing the solidarity we felt with them. 



Six days earlier, terror had engulfed the Marathon.  Hundreds were injured.  And as a result of what happened on that Patriots Day afternoon, four innocents were killed.  Eight-year-old Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu died in the blasts.  Officer Sean Collier of the MIT Police Department, a rookie, was murdered on April 18th by the same two cowards who had detonated the bombs near the finish line on Boylston Street three days earlier.

Earlier this week, the jury in the matter of United States v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev  returned guilty verdicts on all thirty counts with which Tsarnaev had been charged.  The same jury shall now consider whether he shall be put to death for what he did or sentenced to spend the remainder of his life incarcerated.  It is a task that they shall commence work on next week.  Unanimity among the jurors is required to impose the death penalty.  

I would not pretend to know whether the jury's pronouncement of guilt afforded any semblance of peace to the families directly affected by the murderous cowardice of this little prick and his equally despicable older brother.  Nor would I pretend to know whether the punishment the jury shall now be called upon to mete out, whichever punishment it deems appropriate, shall provide even a small sip of solace to them.  

I have little doubt that too many times to count the father of eight-year-old Martin Richard has contemplated over these past two years doing what I would have contemplated doing had I been in his shoes, which is ask for one uninterrupted session of "alone time" with this perpetrator in a 10 x 10 room.  Short of that, I know not what can be done to him that comes anywhere near approximating what he has done.  And, candidly, while I know not whether the visceral satisfaction of beating him to death bare-handed would do so either I suspect that once the adrenaline rush has subsided, it would not.  

If peace is to be found anywhere, for any of the families, then perhaps it shall be found in very place they had intended to find it on that Monday afternoon two years ago.  On a strip of macadam across Boylston Street, which is painted bright yellow.  Its color is a signal to those in search of the magical elixir contained within it that they have indeed found that for which they had searched.  Their long, arduous journey has been completed.    

Experience suggests to me that those affected by what happened that day have not yet made it, spiritually or emotionally, to Boylston Street.  This week, however, they crested Heartbreak Hill.  There remains ahead of them a bit more ground to cover.  They shall make it.  They shall make it because not covering it is not an option.  

It never has been...



-AK 
  


Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Pilgrims' Progress

You think you've come so far
In this one horse town
Then she's laughin' that crazy laugh
'Cause you haven't left the parkin' lot...
- John Hiatt "Slow Turning"

The great Mr. Hiatt, undoubtedly, was waxing poetic on the artifice of forward progress on an intimate, personal scale when he wrote "Slow Turning" more than a quarter-century ago.  Yet, in consideration of the fact that it was on this very date - at or about twelve noon - one hundred and fifty years ago that The Army of Northern Virginia, under the command of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America, surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Potomac at Appomattox, Virginia, I thought that - at least for today - I might extrapolate Mr. Hiatt's prescient observations to a much larger scale.  

The War Between the States (for there is no greater euphemism than the term "The Civil War") would sputter on in isolated pockets across the South and not formally be declared over until August 20, 1866, which it was courtesy of President Andrew Johnson's Proclamation.  However, General Lee's surrender to General Grant at Appomattox is widely considered to represent the end of the Confederacy's ill-fated secession effort, which effort that had begun almost four years earlier with the firing of shots on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.  

"It would be useless and therefore cruel to provoke the further effusion of blood and I have arranged to meet with General Grant with a view to surrender."   Robert E. Lee was correct, of course, regarding the intertwined futility and cruelty of prolonging that particular conflict.  On this, the Sesquicentennial of those words and the deed that accompanied it, one cannot help but wonder just how far we have come.  We, the people of these United States, might be surprised - and a bit flummoxed as well - by the disparity between the advances we have made in the area of bright, sparkly things and in the area of things that are far more substantive but significantly less bright and sparkly.    

Now that I think about it, Mr. Hiatt's lyrical poetry is not the only poetry that one can extrapolate to fit the occasion of this day...

We've given each other some hard lessons lately,
But we ain't learnin'  
We're the same sad story that's a fact
One step up and two steps back...
-Bruce Springsteen "One Step Up"

-AK 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back on the Grid

My week's hiatus from the Grid ended on Monday night.  Having determined that my Samsung S (which does not stand for "Submersible" by the way) III was not going to miraculously come back to life, I stopped at the Verizon Wireless Store in the Mall at Short Hills on my way home from the office to purchase a new phone.  Note to self:  One can measure the level of pretension in any commercial establishment by the inclusion of a prepositional phrase in its name.  It is not called "The Short Hills Mall" but rather "The Mall at Short Hills" as if it is some type of destination resort as opposed to a collection of overpriced retail establishments.  

Normally, I would take advantage of being inside as silly a place as The MASH (my own, just-made-it-up acronym) to people watch and to make big fun of the aforementioned people.  This mall has a Montblanc store for crying out loud.   What a relief to know that if I need to buy a pen, as opposed to picking up a ten pack of Paper Mate Fine Points at the Walgreen's for $2.99, I can browse at the Montblanc store through its collection of overpriced writing instruments.   Hilarious. 

I was in a bit of a hurry so I focused my time and attention on the Verizon Wireless Store.  Unfortunately for me, so did approximately twenty other customers.  The very nice young woman who took my name when I crossed over the threshold from the Mall into Verizon's space assured me that my wait time was going to be "7 to 10 minutes".  Not even close.  

I waited for what felt like a really, really long time, during which I had the pure unadulterated joy of being chatted up by not fewer than five other customers-in-waiting, all of whom harbored the delusion that we were fellow travelers or some such nonsense.  "What are you here for?" appeared to be the question of the evening, asked in the hushed tone that one would readily associate with an inmate in a prison yard's inquiry of a new fellow convict.  One guy, in spite of me telling him that I was not in fact the store's manager, insisted on talking to me as if I was in fact empowered by Verizon to assist him in some manner.  When Mall Security detained him as he left the story with the "complimentary" case for his tablet, which I had given him a few minutes earlier as a token of "our" appreciation for his patronage and patience in waiting as long as he did for assistance, it finally dawned on him that I was not who he had believed me to be.  

Finally, my long wait was over.  I was very ably assisted by a wonderfully nice young woman named Michaela.  She answered my questions and, having noticed the difficulty I was having reading the print on the phone even while wearing my reading glasses, adjusted its size to make it much easier for me to see.   I left the store not only plugged back into the grid but, for the first time ever, a member of the Apple universe.  

With any luck, I shall enjoy as long a run with my new iPhone 6 as I did with my Samsung S III, which served me well for almost two and one-half years.  Perhaps I shall enjoy an even longer run with this device provided that I do not test its buoyancy as I did its predecessor's.  I am happy that I was able to get a new phone, which I need for work, with little hassle or headache.  

I shall miss, however, the joyous solitude that permeated my day-to-day during the week that was.  

-AK 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

And Then There Was One...

The college basketball season - at least on the male side of the court (a/k/a the "boring side" as per Mr. Auriemma) concluded last night and it did so in a manner identical to each and every season as far back as 1977, which is to say without a single undefeated Division I team.  When the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night, avenging their loss to UK in the 2014 Final Four, it ended the Cats' hoped-for 40-0 finish two wins and one loss short of their goal.  

In the week leading up to the Final Four the group with which I was most impressed was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.  Bob Knight's first National Championship team at IU is the last men's college basketball team to complete an undefeated season at the Division I level, finishing the 1975-76 campaign at 32-0.  One might think that given their place in history, the '76 Hoosiers might have been rooting hard against Kentucky.  Nope.  Unlike the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who allegedly gather and drink champagne every fall when the last NFL team falls from the ranks of the undefeated, the men who a lifetime ago had a perfect season were very publicly supportive of the Cats' effort to win a National Title without losing a single game.  I especially like Quinn Buckner's position on this issue, "I could never root against kids."  

Tonight in Tampa, the modern-day equivalent of Coach Wooden's dynastic UCLA Bruins of a lifetime-plus ago shall attempt to win its third consecutive National Championship and the program's tenth title, all but one of which have been earned over the course of the past fifteen seasons.   And should Geno Auriemma's Huskies defeat their now-most heated rivals from the University of Notre Dame tonight, Coach Auriemma will tie Coach Wooden with his tenth NCAA Basketball Championship.   A win tonight by the Huskies would give them a final mark of 38-1, identical on its face to that of the Kentucky men but far more significant in the only way that really matters.  

Same as it ever was...

-AK 

Monday, April 6, 2015

In the Company of Lives and Memories

"It isn't only baseball that has its Opening Days;
lives and memories have them too."
-George Higgins 
(The Progress of Seasons)

Baseball arrives today.  This afternoon, in the big ballpark in the Bronx, Masahiro Tanaka shall take the ball for the boys from Steinbrenner Tech in the 2015 Season Opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.  While I have a feeling that this season might be one that wakes up the echoes of the dreadful Stump Merrill teams of a generation ago (Have you ever heard anyone ask the musical question, "Where have you gone Kevin Maas?") Opening Day carries with it a modicum of hope.  The hope that a season that begins in the early Spring shall not end until we are deep into the Autumn. 

For those still looking for confirmation that the long, terrible winter of 2015 is indeed in the rear-view mirror, I offer these two words, which when said together form as joyous a combination of syllables as one might find anywhere in the English language...


-AK 


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Dry White Toast and Four Whole Fried Chickens

Today is Easter Sunday.  I am not an enthusiast on the related topics of God and organized religion.  For me, therefore, this Sunday shall be spent as most of my Sundays are, which is running rather than praying.  On tap today is a twenty-mile training run so maybe, just maybe, a prayer might find a spot on the agenda. 

As I like to say, much to my wife's discomfort, the Lord and I have an understanding.  I spend little to no time in his house and ask only that he return the favor.  Half a century or thereabouts up the road, it is an arrangement that has served both of us well.   I am cognizant of the consequences of my position.  As the great John Hiatt once observed, "It gets hot down where you're going.

While I believe not at all in the fable of Easter, I am mindful of the fact that many people do - including people who I love and respect.  If you are among those for whom today is more than just another Sunday, then may you and yours enjoy the holiday.  

Margaret has explained to me that what one person finds irreverent another person might find offensive.  For that reason, when I run down Harris Avenue this morning past OLMV Church I shall refrain from shouting, "I'm back!  I'm back!" as I did one Easter Sunday several years ago.  While I thought the humor in my send-up was self-evident, my beard is principally gray after all, it was interpreted at least in some circles as being blasphemous.  


-AK 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tell Me, Doctor, Where Are We Going This Time?

Take me away,
I don't mind.
You better promise me
I'll be back in time...
-Huey Lewis and the News

I may in fact know less about science and technology than any adult in the English-speaking world, alive or dead.  But that does not mean that I am unafraid to try new things.  To, if you will, experiment. 

On Tuesday evening, mere minutes before I was intending on shuffling off like the Buffalo that I am towards the homestead, I popped on into the men's bathroom.  As I tend to do, I was carrying my cell phone, my trusty, old Samsung S III, in the back right pocket of my pants.  Upon entering the bathroom, I removed it from my pocket to confirm that the volume was down on the phone so that it would not ring while I was in the bathroom.  On the list of things I hate very much is the sound of a cell phone - anyone's - ringing in a public (or even quasi-public) place.  Thus, among the countless behavioral tics that Suzanne assures me place me comfortably somewhere on "the Spectrum" is the incessant checking and rechecking to make sure that my phone's volume is turned all of the way down and it is set to vibrate.  It is reflexive, almost unconscious behavior.  

It is also something that I have done far too many times to count with absolutely zero drama.  Until Tuesday evening.  As I extracted my phone from my pocket, I launched it at the urinal.  This phone has served me faithfully for two-plus years.  As phones go, it is excellent.  As submersibles go, my experiment conclusively demonstrated that it is considerably less so.  At least the water into which it plunged was crystal clean - as well as really, really cold. 

I immediately retrieved it from Davy Jones's Locker and dried it off.  It did not even flicker or flinch. It remained powered up and continued to work. I put some Purell on a paper towel or two and disinfected it - just to be thorough.  I went to sleep Tuesday night secure in the knowledge that the bullet I had fired at myself was one that I had somehow managed to dodge.  

Not so much. 

Wednesday I noticed that while it still worked, I could not re-charge it.  Neither the car adapter nor the adapter I have in my office had any positive effect on it whatsoever.  Throughout the course of the day it simply continued to chew through its battery life.  Upon arriving home from work on Wednesday night, acting upon the advice of the most tech-savvy person at the Firm, I made my first-ever bag of Rice-a-Phoni in an admittedly belated effort to draw some of the moisture out of the phone and its battery.  

So, for the past few days I have been living life in the WABAC Machine, to an era in which when I was in my car I was out of touch with the rest of the world and in which if you want to talk to me, it turns out I am not necessarily easily found.   Clearly, the demands of my profession are such that I need to be able to communicate with people remotely so, presuming that my phone's visit to the Uncle Ben's Emergency Medical Center proves unsuccessful, I shall have to break down and buy a new one.  I would be lying, however, if I said that I have not enjoyed these past couple of days and the feeling of being just a bit more disconnected from the grid than the people all around me.

I fell off of the grid during the same week that Chris Mullin returned to his Alma mater.  Suddenly, it was as if quite a few things that were old were new again.

The thought of it, as I write this, makes me smile...  

...and somewhere, someplace, Warren Zevon is smiling too.  

-AK 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Old Age Before Death

While I presume that they likely got far less out of it than did I, I am pleased to report that I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours at Wardlaw-Hartridge on Wednesday morning as part of the school's Career Day with members of the school's junior and senior classes.  

Among the many things that really impressed me on Wednesday morning was how early the students are on campus to begin their school day.  I walked into the building at 7:30 AM and there were dozens of children, of various ages, in the hallways and seated at tables in the All-Purpose Room.  I was also impressed by just how young these young women and men are.  As I indicated in this space earlier this week, my day-to-day does not include a lot of interaction with teenagers.  Exposure en masse to a large number of them simultaneously on Wednesday was, visually, a shock to the system.  Faces of babies as far as my aging eyes could see.   

What I considered to be the single-most impressive part of the morning was the kids themselves.  I tried to spend a bit of time learning about them, their interests, their intended course of study in college, etc. and was stunned by what some of them told me.  I lost count (admittedly I always was an atrocious math student) of how many of them spoke of plans to double major in college.  There was one young man, a member of this year's junior class, who intends on pursuing a double major while also attaining a minor in Chinese.  I presume that for him sleep shall be merely an elective. 

It was an extraordinarily interesting group of young people whose acquaintance I had the pleasure of making on Wednesday morning.  Kids who reaffirmed my faith in the future.  A world entrusted to these types of individuals will be just fine. 

Presuming of course that those of us presently playing the adult parts in the longest-running production at the theater of the absurd do not blow the whole operation into a million little pieces before the keys get turned over to this generation.  

-AK 


Thursday, April 2, 2015

No Unresented Act of Charity Here...

If you are of the school of thought that the notion that, "No good deed goes unpunished" exists only in the acid wit of Claire Boothe Luce, then consider for a moment the truly tragic case of Stephen Woytack.  

Mr. Woytack, a seventy-four-year-old resident of Scranton, Pennsylvania, was with his wife, Lucy, on Monday morning at the St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery, which is located in Throop, Pennsylvania.  He and Lucy were decorating the tombstone of his mother-in-law when, according to what Mrs. Woytack frantically told the Cemetery's caretaker, Edward Kubilus, the tombstone tipped over and landed on top of Mr. Woytack.  

He, Mr. Woytack, was apparently kneeling next to the tombstone while his wife tied a cross on the other side.  The stone, as per Lucy Woytack, simply toppled over without warning.  She ran for help immediately.  Mr. Kubilus responded without hesitation and did what he could as fast as he could, even managing to lift half of the stone off of Mr. Woytack.  It was not enough to save him.  Stephen Woytack was crushed to death beneath the 400-plus pound heft of his mother-in-law's tombstone.  

According to Mr. Kubilus, this headstone was not the first one to topple over this year.  Apparently due to the winter weather, the age of the cemetery and the softening of the ground as it has thawed, approximately six other stones have toppled over.   

While I must admit that if the decision was mine to make, in view of the terrible circumstances under which he died, I would have considered having Mr. Woytack cremated and his remains kept anywhere but St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery.  That shall not in fact be what happens.  Instead, Mr. Woytack shall be laid to rest in his plot at the cemetery, which is located directly in front of the plot where his mother-in-law is buried.  

Inferno or no inferno?  If you do not, at this point, know the answer to that question, then you simply have not been paying attention.  

-AK 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Blocks and Chips

It was slightly less than five years ago.  Saturday, May 22, 2010.  We were having what proved to be one of the final parties we would have at 57 Delaware Avenue.  The occasion was celebrating Suzanne's attaining of a Master's Degree (according to her cake it is specifically a M.S.C.F.-SLP) from Seton Hall University.  Rob flew East from Colorado for the occasion.  Not only was he there but much of the "John Jay Posse" was in attendance as well.  I might be mistaken, as the combined effects of age and bad life choices as a much younger man, occasionally wreak havoc on my memory, but I believe that it might have been our final "Guitars and Cigars" party.  I do remember that at some point before night's end either the weather, the police or perhaps both had chased us inside - to our garage - where Rob, Lou and Joe Byrnes (my usual partner in crime) played guitar and led everyone through a list of spirited sing-along songs.  

May 22, 2010.  At one point that afternoon/evening, Rob - who had settled comfortably into Fort Collins, Colorado after having spent his first year-plus out West living in Cheyenne, Wyoming - and who had demonstrated (even at that point) more courage in the first twenty-four-plus years of his life than I had in close to twice that amount of time - asked me a question.  His question was framed not in the present tense but rather in the past - to the point in time almost two decades earlier when I met and fell in love with Margaret and transformed, in a swoop that honors the description of "one fell", from a solo artist to one quarter of a four-piece ensemble and from a bachelor to a husband and father of two small children.  We discussed the fact that I had been twenty-four years old when Margaret and I got together and was slightly more than twenty-six years old when we married on June 19, 1993.  His question to me, essentially, was "How did you do it - how did you know at that age that you were ready for that kind of commitment?"  

It was a question, as I interpreted it, borne out of some entirely unnecessary and unfair to himself type of comparative analysis he was engaging in - something along the lines of "Here You Were at My Age" vs. "Here I Am Now".  I told him then the same thing that I have told him probably too many times to count and certainly more times than any one son should ever have to hear it, which was "Don't force the fit.  It'll come to you."   

April 1, 2015.  On this very day, that very man celebrates his twenty-ninth birthday.  In the less than five years since he and I had that conversation he met, fell in love with, became engaged to and (less than one year ago) married the great love of his life, Jess.  She is extraordinary for any number of reasons - not the least of which is that she is not shy about reminding him just how extraordinary he is to her.  Together they purchased a piece of land, upon which they constructed the house that serves as their family's home, a home that very well may hear the patter of the footsteps of baby-sized humans one day (who hopefully shall, even if they are not raised as University of Colorado Buffaloes fans, be amenable to making a trip annually with ol' Pop-Pop to Boulder to watch the Buffs play).   

April 1, 2015.  At twenty-nine years young, Rob excels doing what it is he does to earn a living.  He shares a life with the one person on this planet who proved capable of making Peace part of his day-to-day on an everyday basis.  Over the course of these past five years - although we have never spoken of it since - I have wondered (as I have marveled from 2/3 of the way across the continent at the man he has become) whether he thought either on the night I said it to him or at any time thereafter that I was simply bullshitting him when I answered his question in the manner I was.  I was not, of course, but given the incredibly vague - and seemingly unhelpful - nature of my answer, I could understand if that was what he believed.  

Candidly, I doubt that he ever gave it a moment's thought again once that evening ceded center stage to the day that followed after it.  After all, life is a forward-lived exercise.  Reflection is a luxury of age, which is why it is this old man - and not that young man - whose mind reflects on such things on this very special day.  

Happy Birthday Rob.  


-AK