Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fourth and Forever

This past Friday night, Thomas Murray and Kelly Murray watched from the stands as their only child, Evan, played quarterback for the Warren Hills Blue Streaks in their home game against Summit.  Evan Murray, a seventeen-year-old senior, had just begun his third season as the Blue Streaks' starting quarterback. 

At some point in the first half, right before halftime, Murray took a hit that - in the words of one of his teammates - "wobbled him".  He was helped to the sidelines where he was attended to and where a decision was made, apparently, to get him further medical attention.  Ever the leader, as he was being loaded into the ambulance, he gave his teammates and the Blue Streaks' fans a thumbs-up to let them know that all was well.  It was his way of assuaging their fears.  The type of thing that a leader does.  Leadership was among Evan Murray's many attributes.   

Tragically, everything was not well.  Far from it, in fact.  The ambulance that whisked Evan away from the field on Friday night transported him to Morristown Memorial Hospital, which is where seventeen-year-old Evan Murray died.  On Monday, the Morris County Medical Examiner, Dr. Ronald Suarez, published his autopsy results, which identified the cause of death as a ruptured spleen, which spleen - according to Dr. Suarez - was "abnormally enlarged" and therefore more susceptible to injury.  

Tomorrow morning, less than one week removed from watching him do that thing that he loved to do - and by all accounts did extraordinarily well - Thomas Murray and Kelly Murray shall bury their sweet boy.  They shall be forced to endure what is the fear universally shared by all of us who have the word "parent" in our job description, which is the fear of outliving our child.  It is nothing short of a disturbance in the natural order of the universe.  It is something that simply should not be.  But it is.

And it is incredibly unfair to anyone who is forced to live through it.  Condolences to Thomas Murray and Kelly Murray.  May they find the strength within themselves and within each other to get through this nightmare and to wake up, together, on the other side.  At this moment it feels, no doubt, as if the dawn shall never break.  It shall.  Whether the fact that it shall makes this period of terrible darkness any easier for them to withstand I would not pretend to know.  

I hope it does.  

I suspect that it does not. 





-AK       




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Weekend That Was...

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a general rule, words dominate this space on a day in/day out basis.  Today, however, is a day for allowing pictures to carry the day.  Margaret and I spent this past weekend in New York City - as we have spent the final weekend of September annually since 2010 - participating in the Tunnel to Towers Run/Walk.  I was thrilled that this year - for the first time -my wife accompanied me to the Brooklyn side and took part in the event from start to finish.  Her ability to do so was a testament to Margaret's own courage.  She is claustrophobic almost to the point of paralysis.  Her willingness to put her own fear aside so that she, too, could "follow the footsteps" and travel through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan was nothing short of remarkable.  

But then again, my wife herself is nothing short of remarkable.

Neither was this weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, after we checked into our hotel, Margaret and I went to the Memorial to pay our respects.  We are both fortunate enough to have not lost a family member or a close friend on September 11, 2001.  So, we went to the Memorial to place an American flag at the name of four people who died that day:  FF John Collins of the FDNY, who graduated from high school with my brother Kelly and with whom Kelly played high school football;  Antoinette Duger, who was the cousin of my great friend Gerard Gonnella; Thomas Glasser, a graduate of the Wardlaw-Hartridge School, a member of the W-H Athletic Hall of Fame, and (to my knowledge) the only W-H alumni killed on September 11, 2001; and Police Officer Thomas Gorman of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department, a resident of Middlesex, New Jersey (where we live and the town in which Margaret was born and raised), and the only Middlesex, New Jersey resident who was killed on September 11, 2001.   

Saturday, September 26, 2015


One World Trade Center 
View from 25th Floor of Downtown Marriott
09/26/15


FF John Collins - FDNY & IHS Class of '76
September 11, 2001 Memorial - 09/26/15


Antoinette Duger 
September 11, 2001 Memorial 09/26/15


Thomas Glasser
September 11, 2001 Memorial - 09/26/15



Police Officer Thomas Gorman - PA NY/NJ Dept.
September 11, 2001 Memorial - 09/26/15


One World Trade Center & 
September 11 2001 Museum - 09/26/15



One World Trade Center & September
11 2001 Museum (night view) 09/26/15


"Never Forget" Banner across from Ten House
09/26/15

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Sun coming up over the Brooklyn Bridge
09/27/15 


View of the NYC Skyline from the East River
09/27/15


2nd View of the Skyline from the East River
09/27/15


Sunrise over the East River
09/27/15

Me on the Brooklyn side 09/27/15



The Missus and Me with the USMS
09/27/15


The USMS - SDNY & NJ
09/27/15

Team Red Bandanna
Brooklyn - 09/27/15


September 11, 2001 Remembrance Flag
Brooklyn - 09/27/15


"Never Forget" Flag & Old Glory
Brooklyn - 09/27/15


USMS - Brooklyn 09/27/15


Starting Area - Brooklyn
09/27/15


2nd View of Starting Area - Brooklyn
09/27/15

FDNY - Squad One
Brooklyn - 09/27/15


Active Duty FDNY "Following the Footsteps"
BBT - 09/27/15


Margaret & the FDNY 
Manhattan - 09/27/15


2nd View of Margaret & the FDNY
Manhattan - 09/27/15



Margaret finishing strong 
Manhattan - 09/27/15


2015 T2T Sand Sculpture 
"Let Us Do Good" - 09/27/15


 -AK






Monday, September 28, 2015

A Day with a Cherry on Top

Yesterday was an extraordinary day.  Tunnel to Towers Sunday is, I think, my favorite day of the year.  For the first time ever Margaret trekked over to Brooklyn in the wee small hours of the morning.  She made her maiden voyage through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. 

Her reaction as we entered the tunnel in Brooklyn and again as we exited it in Manhattan was something that I am glad I was there to experience firsthand.  

A terrific weekend.  An amazing experience.  

-AK

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dufresne's Charge & Carlisle's Haul

Hope is a good thing,
Maybe the best of things,
And no good thing ever dies.
- Andy Dufresne 

Today is Tunnel to Towers Sunday.  It is among my favorite days of my year.  Every year.

Yet, it is a day that no one connected with it, including the approximately 20,000 participants, wishes had a reason to exist.  

In a world far closer to perfect than the one that is inhabited by us puny mortals, September 11, 2001 would be just another day - the bridge between the 10th and the 12th.  Nothing more.  No reason would exist to honor the sacrifice of 343 members of the FDNY, 37 members of the PAPD of NY/NJ, 23 members of the NYPD, and 8 emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services who died that day while trying to help countless others, most of whom - if not all - were strangers to them.  No reason would exist to honor the memory and to mourn the loss of the innocents who were murdered at the Pentagon, in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and on the streets of Lower Manhattan

We do not inhabit such an almost perfect world.  We inhabit this world.  And in this world, due to the actions of its inhabitants, such a reason exists.  

It would be neither a surprise nor a disappointment were this day, annually, a day of great solemnity and sorrow.  However, it is neither.  That this day is not simply a day of remembrance but, also, a day of celebration and a day of great hope and tremendous promise is a testament to the iron will and unbreakable spirit of the Siller Family and to all of the families who walk with them, covering the same ground.  

Today is a day on which those who have suffered an incalculable, grievous wound dwell not on the sorrow that might otherwise consume them. Instead, they focus on the love that they had - and still have - for those who were taken from them fourteen years ago on a singularly beautiful Tuesday morning in September.  A love that still comforts them.  A love that still permits them to hold out hope for a tomorrow that is markedly better to them than yesterday has been.

It is a trait they all share.  It is a trait that they learned from the best - those they loved and lost who loved them right back and who shall remain with them, on this day and on every day for the remainder of their life. 


-AK 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

In the Company of a King

Hollywood has a pre-conceived notion - a stereotype - of a successful Partner at a prestigious New York City law firm.  Glenn Winuk, in all likelihood, would not have been the first hopeful to be summoned from Central Casting to read for the role.  And to him, that would have made no difference whatsoever. 

Glenn Winuk was a well-regarded and successful partner in the New York City office of Holland & Knight, which office in the fall of 2001 was located in Lower Manhattan at the corner of Broadway and Dey Street - a couple of blocks east of the Twin Towers.  Mr. Winuk, who was forty years young, was in his midtown Manhattan apartment on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when he learned of the attack on the World Trade Center.  He dashed downtown - first to his law firm to ensure that everyone there evacuated the premises safely - and then to the Twin Towers so that he could assist in the rescue effort. 

Born and raised in Jericho, New York, Glenn Winuk had been a member of the Jericho Volunteer Fire Department from the time that he was old enough to join.  He maintained his membership in the Department for more than twenty years in spite of the rigors of his career and in spite of the fact that he worked and lived in Manhattan.  He was drawn to helping others.  

His reaction on September 11, 2001 was the same reaction he had had in February, 1993, when terrorists blew up a bomb in the World Trade Center's underground parking garage.  On both occasions he ran headlong into danger and used his training as a firefighter and as an emergency medical technician to help those who needed it.  In 1993, his selflessness did not result in his death. Tragically, eight and one-half years later, it did. 

Through the tireless efforts of his parents, Elaine and Seymour, and his brother, Jay, in 2006 Glenn Winuk was inducted as a member of the FDNY Honor Legion for his actions on September 11, 2001, becoming the first non-FDNY member to attain that recognition. In 2009, his family received the 9/11 Heroes of Valor Medal, which honors public safety officers who were killed on September 11.  

His name is also emblazoned on the magnificent Memorial Wall at Ten House, which I assure you - having seen it on multiple occasions - must be seen in person to be truly and fully appreciated, in acknowledgment of his heroism on that terrible day.


Memorial at Ten House


Glenn Winuk was not recovered from Ground Zero until March 2002.  His body was recovered in the company of other first responders in what had once been the lobby of the South Tower.  In his honor and to honor his memory, his brother, Jay, and a friend, David Paine, formed a non-profit called www.MyGoodDeed.org, which is directed toward channeling positive energy by honoring the memory of those who died while focusing on helping those in need.  Through the efforts of Mr. Winuk and Mr. Paine, September 11 has been designated - under Federal law - as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.  The only other day so recognized under Federal law is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

I never met Glenn Winuk but I think, nevertheless, he would be quite honored to keep such distinguished company.  

I suspect that Dr. King would feel likewise. 

Lieutenant Glenn Winuk
Jericho Fire Department

-AK 



  

Friday, September 25, 2015

Emotional Rescue

None of you believes 
Until he wishes for his brother
What he wishes for himself. 
- Anonymous

In the Haskell family, the FDNY is the family business.  Thomas Haskell, Sr. joined the FDNY in 1969, after having first served his country in the United States Marine Corps.  In his ten years on the job, which career was cut short by a heart attack he suffered in 1979, he started out with 35 Truck and then moved over to Ladder 174 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.  

Thomas Haskell, Sr., who died in 1994, had five children - four of whom were sons.  Three of his sons followed him into the family business.  Two of the three died on the job on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. 

Timothy Haskell was thirty-four years young when he died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  FF Haskell was a member of Rescue 18 in the West Village.  That morning, he had just completed a fifteen-hour shift and was on his way to the subway when he saw smoke spewing from the towers.  He ran back to the firehouse, put on his gear, and headed off into harm's way.  He could not help himself.  As his sister, Dawn, proudly observed, "he was always rescuing something."

FF Timothy Haskell 
Rescue 18 - FDNY

His big brother, Thomas Haskell, Jr., thirty-seven years young, was the first-born of the quintet of Haskell siblings.  He was a Captain with Ladder Company 132 in Brooklyn who the FDNY posthumously promoted to Battalion Chief.  Unlike his bachelor brother, Timothy, Captain Haskell was a husband and a father.  His wife, Barbara, and he were the proud parents of three daughters, Meaghan, Erin, and Tara.  


Battalion Chief Thomas Haskell, Jr.
Ladder 132 - FDNY

FF Ken Haskell - the third member of the Haskell Brothers' Firefighting Fraternity and youngest of the trio - survived September 11, 2001.  He was off-duty that morning.  Presently, he is a member of Ladder 175 in Brooklyn.  He is also on the Advisory Board of the Fire Family Transport Foundation.  In the fourteen years since his brothers were killed, Ken Haskell - and the Haskell family - has organized an annual golf tournament that honors their legacy while raising money for worthy causes.  

Because when rescuing others is imprinted in your familial DNA, it is not a responsibility you ever shirk.  Not once.  Not ever.  

-AK     


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Larger Than the Average Life

Always go to other people's funerals, 
Otherwise they won't come to yours.
- Yogi Berra 

On Tuesday night, the 69th anniversary of his Major League debut, in which he hit the first of his 358 home runs and drove in the first two runs of a Hall of Fame career that would see him amass 1,430 RBI, and on Summer's final full day, Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra died.  He was ninety.  

If one was to measure Yogi Berra's life simply by his achievements between the white lines of a baseball diamond, it would be viewed as a life that was nothing short of remarkable.  He played eighteen seasons with the New York Yankees, during which the Yankees played in the World Series fourteen times.  The Yankees won ten of the fourteen World Series in which he played.

For those of you reading this who are younger than forty-five or so, you need to understand that Berra played in an era in which neither Divisions nor Wild Cards existed.  There were two leagues:  American and National and upon the regular season's completion the winner of the American played the winner of the National in the World Series.  All of Berra's "post-season" statistics therefore are World Series statistics.  He played in seventy-five World Series games, in which he amassed seventy-one hits, including ten doubles and a dozen home runs.  He drove in thirty-nine runs while batting .275.   

In his eighteen seasons in pinstripes, he was an American League All-Star fifteen times, and he was the American League MVP three times, including winning the award back-to-back in 1954 and 1955.  He was the runner-up for the award on two other occasions.  When his playing career ended, he managed the Yankees for one season - in 1964.  The Bombers won the American League and lost the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, which prompted Ralph Houk to fire Berra and to replace him with Cardinals' manager Johnny Keane.  Again, for those of you reading this who are under the age of forty-five or so, ask a Yankees fan who is older than that particular demographic to describe the particular brand of hell that followed upon Keane's hiring.  

Yogi migrated across town to the new team - the Mets - who were still hapless in the mid-1960's.  He ended up as their first base coach, under former Brooklyn Dodger great Gil Hodges, and when the Amazing Mets drubbed the Orioles in the 1969 Series to capture their first title, Yogi had his eleventh World Series ring.  He came up one win short of adding a twelfth when his 1973 Mets team (he became the manager when Hodges died suddenly in 1972) lost the Series to the Oakland Athletics. 

Yogi Berra was a Hall-of-Fame baseball player.  Yet, he was so much more.  He served his country with honor in World War II.  He joined the United States Navy and was part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day - providing suppression fire from his boat for the soldiers attempting to take the beaches from their German defenders.  He was shot and wounded two months later, during Operation Dragoon, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.  He and his life's great love, Carmen, whom he met in 1947, were married in 1949 and remained together, as a single, indivisible unit, until her death in 2014.  Yogi is survived by his three sons and enough grandchildren to fill out a lineup card. 

Sixty years ago, he provided us with one of the all-time great, on-field tantrums.  In the eighth inning of Game One of the 1955 World Series (Mom's all-time favorite World Series, by the way), with the Dodgers down 6-4, Jackie Robinson stole home.  To say that Yogi disagreed with the umpire's call is to do a grave injustice to the word "disagreed".  Several years ago, Yogi gave President Obama a signed copy of the photograph of the play at the plate, on which he wrote, "Dear Mr. President:  He Was Out!  Yogi Berra".  

Jackie Robinson's steal of Home Plate
Game One - 1955 World Series 

Towards the tail end of what was an otherwise forgettable 2014 season for the Yankees (Yes, I am aware that 2014 was the "Derek Jeter Farewell Tour" but I am talking about their play on the field), we had the good fortune (courtesy of the Siller Foundation) to be at the Stadium for Joe Torre Day.  Too weak to walk onto the field, Yogi was driven around in a golf cart.  When the Yankees put his image up on the video screen in center field, the crowd erupted in applause.  We were sitting upstairs that afternoon, too high up to capture anything other than an image of "Yogi as Ant-Man".  So, instead of taking a photo of Yogi, I took a photo of the image of Yogi as it appeared on the screen. 


Yogi Berra - Joe Torre Day 
Yankee Stadium - August 2014

While I would have preferred to have been close enough to have captured a close-up of the man himself, upon further reflection this picture aptly captured him for who he was:  A man small in stature but larger than life

Rest in Peace, Yogi.  And remember, when you reach the fork in the road on your way to the Pearly Gates, take it. Irrespective of the path you choose to take, your room is reserved and paid for at your destination.  Carmen is waiting for you.  You best be getting home...  

...as if an old catcher would head in any other direction.    

-AK 


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Proud Bearer of a Sixty Pound Stone

On my back's a sixty pound stone,
On my shoulder a half mile line.
- "The Rising"
Bruce Springsteen

Twenty-three-year-old Brooke Jackman was not a member of the FDNY.  She was, quite simply, an extraordinary young woman.  In the late summer of 2001, she worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, she died there - on the 104th floor of the North Tower - along with 658 of her co-workers.   


Brooke Jackman

She had only been at Cantor Fitzgerald for a brief period of time - having started at the firm after she graduated from Columbia University the previous spring - a Dean's List student with a degree in Finance.  Her dad, Robert, and her older brother, Ross, earned their living in the world of high finance.  Brooke, however, had already decided it was not for her.  

On the night of September 10, 2001, she spoke to her mom, Barbara, for the final time.  She had called home to Oyster Bay to tell her mom that she knew that there was more to life than earning money.  She intended to give up her position at Cantor Fitzgerald in order to pursue her M.S.W. at Berkeley's School of Social Work.   

Her "thing" was books.  She was a voracious reader.  She loved to read and she believed that a child presented with the opportunity to read was a child who could better realize his or her dream.  Her belief is one upon which her family has delivered for the past fourteen years.  

Within a month or so of their daughter's murder, Robert and Barbara Jackman established the Brooke Jackman Foundation, the mission of which is "to create and support programs enhancing the literacy and self-esteem of disadvantaged children and their families in and around the New York area."   The Foundation, annually, donates more than 35,000 knapsacks filled with books to homeless shelters and to schools.  

Each knapsack bears Brooke's name.  

Brooke Packs

More importantly, each knapsack carries her dream forward.    

Most important of all, it helps a child, perhaps, fulfill a dream of his own or her own...

...which is, after all, the greatest story ever written. 

-AK 




Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The 2/7

So nigh is Grandeur to our Dust,
So near to God is Man, 
When Duty whispers low, "Thou must",
The Youth replies, "I can". 
- Emerson 

One cannot reasonably separate the extended conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in which the United States military has been engaged for the past fourteen years from the events of September 11, 2001.  I care not what your politics are and/or what your position was/is on the commitment of American troops to those parts of the world.  For purposes of today's exercise, I ask only that you accept the causal relationship between what happened on that brilliantly sun-soaked Tuesday morning fourteen Septembers ago in Washington, D.C., in Pennsylvania, and in New York City and what has happened in the fourteen years since in far less hospitable environments.  

A recognition of the causal relationship is critical to an understanding of how the events of that day have impacted countless thousands of lives of the members of our all-volunteer military including, but not limited to, those killed in action or catastrophically injured in action.

A recognition of the causal relationship is critical to an understanding of the tragedy that is the 2/7 - the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment, what the Marines who served in it have done - and continue to do - in order to try and save one another's lives, the debt that each of us owes to each of them regardless of whether we actually make their acquaintance, and the realization that these young men (including many of them who are younger than my children) have come to about upon whom they can rely for help - and who is literally no help to them whatsoever.  

Theirs is a story told brilliantly and poignantly here by Dave Philipps.  It is neither a pleasant read nor a short one.  It is, however, something that is worthy of your time and of your consideration.  It shall likely make you sad - as well as very, very angry.  Our mission, yours and mine, is to channel any sorrow and any anger that we feel into action.  These young men need neither our tears nor our outrage.  

They need our help.

-AK     

Monday, September 21, 2015

Memory Jog

On Sunday the Missus and I (along with 20,000 other runners, walkers, and Wounded Warriors) shall take part in the Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City.  Yesterday morning, my weekly long run for NYC Marathon training purposes did not take me along the Atlantic Ocean.   Instead it took me through the streets of Middlesex, Bridgewater, and Bound Brook.  

Fourteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, the Boro of Middlesex suffered only one loss.  Thomas Gorman of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department was among the 37 members of the department who died that day in Lower Manhattan.  Approximately three years after Officer Gorman was killed, the Boro of Middlesex erected a Memorial in his honor at Victor Crowell Park.  

Yesterday morning my run took me past Victor Crowell Park.  I did what I do every time I run there.  I stopped for a moment to pay my respects to Officer Gorman.  A brief, effective reminder of what is important.


Middlesex Boro September 11, 2001
Memorial - Victor Crowell Park


Time well spent.  

-AK

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Crew

Yesterday was simply an extraordinary day.  Sue's Crew VII ran again.  It was our second consecutive appearance in the Garbolino 5K and it was simply a terrific event.  

I think that somewhere in Florida Mom was smiling seeing not only three of her adult offspring and two of her grandchildren in action but, also, one of her great grandchildren.  No doubt that our namesake was looking down at her Crew too and smiling...and not just because Margaret made her one and only run of the year.  

Many thanks to one and all who gave up part of their day to help make ours so extraordinary.  

-AK

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lies and the Damn Liars Who Tell Them...

No Man Is Rich Enough
To Buy Back His Past.
- Oscar Wilde

In the interest of full disclosure, I am constrained to admit that until the other day I had never heard of Stephen Rannazzisi.  I was unaware of the fact that a TV network named FXX exists, which network is apparently the one that broadcasts a show in which Mr. Rannazzisi is one of the lead actors.  

Not knowing anything about this man, including the fact that he existed, I am among those who had spent the past fourteen years in blissful ignorance of his bold-faced lie regarding his purported brush with death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.   I would note, parenthetically, that his tall tale is one that he apparently started telling in published interviews as long ago as 2009, which makes me wonder why exactly it took six years thereafter for someone to verify that his alleged employer at the time, Merrill Lynch, had neither (a) offices in the Twin Towers; nor (b) ever employed this gentleman. 

Over the course of several days last week - from Labor Day through week's end, I spent a considerable amount of time in the presence of a rather extraordinary lawyer with whom I had the pleasure of working for our mutual client.  Had the case on which we were working proven unable to be resolved amicably, we likely would have spent all of this week, next week, and the week thereafter  on trial together.  It did so we do not have to do so.  

We were sitting simply making conversation one afternoon in the courthouse when the conversation turned to the anniversary of September 11, which was then just two or three days away.  In a very matter-of-fact manner, he told me that in February 1993 he was in his office, which was in the World Trade Center, when the terrorists' truck blew up in the garage.  He evacuated the building without injury or incident.  On September 11, 2001, he was on West Street, walking towards the building when the first plane flew into the North Tower.  He did what everyone on West Street did, which was run for his life as fast as his legs could carry him.  It was a feat that he and countless others repeated a short time later when first the South Tower and, thereafter, the North Tower collapsed.  

He shared his account of what was to date - and hopefully for his sake shall forever stand as - the most harrowing day of his life, in an understated, modest manner.  He shared it from the perspective of a grown-up who understood then - and understands now - that his good fortune is something for which he and his family shall be forever grateful but about which he shall never be boastful.  

There are far too many families that experienced real loss that day, which loss they still must deal with every day, irrespective of the date that appears on the calendar's page.  

And irrespective of whatever lies a liar tells.    

-AK 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Days Like These

An interruption, today, to the regularly scheduled programming. 

Previously, in this space, I have commented upon the fact that one of the my favorite things about the whole "social media" thing is that it has permitted me to reconnect with one of the best people I know.  Dave Lackland and I became friends a lifetime ago when we were kids.  Life, as it tends to do, took us different directions and we lost contact with one another.  Through the good works of Mr. Zuckerberg's Miracle we reestablished contact several years ago.  It is an occurrence at whose mere mention I smile.  

Terrible news descended upon David a couple of days ago.  His dad, an extraordinary man who had been battling hard against some very bad health for quite some time, finally lost that battle. Irrespective of our age, the path we travel, the impression we make upon the world, and the impression that it, in return, makes upon us, we end our days as we begin them.  We are our fathers' sons.  

The loss of a loved one is a brutal experience to be forced to endure.  At one point or another, it is an experience that each of us shall endure firsthand and, in all likelihood, on more than just one occasion.  We endure it even when we feel less than 100% committed to the effort.  We work our way through it because we must do so.  We make our way through it because Life is meant to be lived.

Even on a day when it really, really hurts...

-AK

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Best Job in the World

And sometimes no Truth is more Powerful 
Than one Expressed in Anger by a melancholy man.
- Pete Hamill 
"Downtown:  My Manhattan"


Jon Stewart went to Washington, D.C. yesterday to advocate on behalf of the thousands of people, including first responders, who are afflicted with 09/11-related illnesses and who will lose the health insurance coverage for their medical expenses, which are often daunting and too often reach the dizzying height of being terrifying, if Congress does not renew the Zadroga Act. He warned the first responders who made the trip with him to be prepared for exposure to "possibly toxic levels of bullshit and arrogance."  

Among the members of the FDNY who trekked south to D.C. yesterday was FF Ray Pfeifer of Engine 40.  An optimist would say that Ray Pfeifer merely being alive here in 2015 is nothing short of a miracle.  But for a decision to swap schedules with his good friend, Mike Otten, Pfeifer would have been at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  FF Otten was there that morning.  He died there.  

FF Ray Pfeifer spent eight months at Ground Zero, leading teams of firefighters in what was first a rescue effort and, thereafter, a recovery effort.  He knows a thing or two about exposure to "toxic levels".  He breathed in the toxins at Ground Zero every day for three-quarters of a year.  He and the people with whom he worked "on the pile" knew that they were visiting harm upon themselves being where they were every day - irrespective of the government's nonsensical and false statements about the air's quality - but what were they to do?  Where else would you have a man who spent in his life working side-by-side with his brothers doing all that he could do to ensure the safety of others spend his days in the aftermath of a disaster that claimed thousands of lives, including 343 of his brothers?  

Approximately six years after the recovery operation at Ground Zero ended, FF Pfeifer was rushed to the hospital with a sharp pain in his chest.  Heart attack?  If only he might have been so lucky.  Doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in his leg that had broken his hip.  He was diagnosed with renal cancer and underwent emergency surgery to replace his hip and part of his femur.  Two days later, he underwent surgery to remove his kidney.  Six additional major surgeries followed thereafter. 

Ray Pfeifer's health forced him to retire in September 2014 after twenty-seven years and two hundred and twenty days on the job in the FDNY.  A heart attack believed to have been related to the chemotherapy regimen he was then receiving proved to be the final straw.  He had hoped to make it all the way to thirty years.  In the year since his retirement, his health has continued to deteriorate.  He has Stage Four cancer.

Through it all and through everything that he has endured, Ray Pfeifer's spirit has proven to be unbreakable.  He still loves the FDNY, the comrades with whom he worked, and the job he considers it to have been his privilege to have performed for close to three decades.  


-AK 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Mr. Stewart, The Four Cowards, and the Apocalypse

It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything.
I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty,
and common decency. 
This makes me forever ineligible for public office.
- H.L. Mencken

It likely reveals more about my outlook on the world than makes the average person comfortable to acknowledge that I am quite an admirer of H.L. Mencken.  I have been so ever since I first read Inherit the Wind and learned that Mencken was the inspiration for the character of Hornbeck.  Were Mencken still alive, he would have marked his 135th birthday on Saturday, September 12, 2015

So, his final day as a one hundred and thirty-four year-old would have coincided with the fourteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  A day marked, appropriately, by solemnity and remembrances.  A day, not unsurprisingly, pockmarked by abject hypocrisy.  

At last count there are - I believe - sixteen candidates in hot pursuit of the GOP nomination for the office of President of the United States.  In case you missed it, former Texas Governor Rick Perry recently suspended his candidacy for his party's nomination.  In a related newsflash that you also might have missed, several months ago former Texas Governor Rick ("Check Out My New Foster-Grants!") Perry declared his candidacy for the GOP nomination.  Rick Perry is an oaf but I nevertheless felt compelled to keep the "Other 99%" (a/k/a "not the 1% who actually supported Perry") abreast of his campaign's developments. 

The sound you are hearing with ever-increasing volume is the death knell for the James Zadroga 09/11 Health and Compensation Act and, critically, the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund unless Congress acts to extend the Act, which was passed in 2010 only after enormous public pressure was exerted upon Congress.  The funding for programs administered by World Trade Center Health Program, which programs include providing medical care for the individuals, including but not limited to first responders, who have become afflicted with devastating illnesses, which illnesses many of them contracted in the months following September 11, 2001 while working at Ground Zero, will evaporate altogether by October 2016 if the Zadroga Act is not extended.  

How serious an issue is it, you may ask?  Consider that the FDNY alone has lost 110 members to Ground Zero-related illnesses in the past fourteen years, which is a bit less than one-third of the members the FDNY lost on September 11, 2001, which is the single-worst day in the Department's history.   There are an estimated 33,000 September 11 survivors/first responders who receive medical treatment for their 09/11-related illness through the funding the Zadroga Act provides.  3,700 of them are battling one form of cancer or another.  


  • As a Candidate for President, will you join in urging Congress to pass HR.1786/S.928?
  • If elected, would you sign HR.1786/S.928 if it was passed by Congress? 
  • If you answered "No" to urging Congress to pass the bill or to signing it into law, why?
Among the sixteen GOP Presidential candidates are four members of the United States Senate:  Ted Cruz from Texas, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Rand Paul from Kentucky, and Marco Rubio from Florida.  Each of them shares two common characteristics.  First, each has little chance of actually ascending from the Senate to the Presidency in 2016.  Second, each has thus far refused to publicly support the Zadroga Act's extension.  

Damn - I just had my own Rick Perry moment.  I forgot the third characteristic common to each man. It just came back to me.

Each of them is a fucking hypocrite of the highest order.  On September 11, 2015, each of these preening frauds took to his Twitter account to remind his sheep (sorry, "supporters") of the solemnity of the occasion and - of course - to "Never Forget" what had occurred fourteen years earlier:


Senator Ted Cruz's Tweet



Senator Lindsey Graham's Tweet


Senator Rand Paul's Tweet 


Senator Marco Rubio's Tweet

As my great grand pappy Phineas used to say, "Ain't no gall like unmitigated gall", which all four members of the United States Senate who have spent approximately the same amount of time attending to the responsibilities of the office each currently holds - while pursuing another - as our Governor has spent attending to his, appear to possess in a quantity that might even make old Phineas blush.  

Today, the Jersey Guy who actually tells it like it is, Jon Stewart, is appearing before Congress in an attempt to implore Congress to extend the Zadroga Act.  For Stewart it is an encore performance.  He used his bully pulpit on The Daily Show five years ago to shame a number of members of Congress into voting for the Act.  Without that medium at his disposal presently, I wonder just how much of an effect his presence shall have on those members who are happy to wear lapel pins, to lay wreaths, and to pantomime wiping away a tear upon hearing a bagpipe play the first note of Amazing Grace but who have shown no willingness to actually assist those in need.  

I hope I am wrong.  I wish him well in his effort.  I would feel significantly better about the chances of those for whom he is entering the breach were he a member of Congress and not merely a person appearing before it.  



-AK 








Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The King of Gilgo Beach

Firefighters have a different notion of  'light duty' than lawyers do.  On September 11, 2001, Lt. Geoffrey Guja of Battalion 43 was working at the FDNY's headquarters in Brooklyn, on light duty, as he rehabbed from an injury.  The view of the Twin Towers on fire at HQ, across the East River, was both breathtaking and heartbreaking.  

Lt. Guja took a subway into Lower Manhattan and hustled over to 10 House, which was located in the Towers' shadow, to grab gear and to join the fight.  He was on light duty.  He was not obligated to fight any fire - let alone that fire.  His status mattered not.  The fight was where he was needed and it was to the fight that he headed as fast as he could.  He died while engaged in it, alongside 342 brothers of the FDNY.    

A thirteen-year-veteran of the FDNY, Lt. Guja, 47, lived in Lindenhurst with his wife Debbie and his two stepdaughters, Kelly and Jamie.  His passion (aside from the three women in his life) was his 43-foot houseboat that he kept docked at Gilgo Beach.  Each year, on the 4th of July, he and the Guja women would take a cruise to the Statue of Liberty.  Debbie referred to her husband as "the King of Gilgo Beach".   

Prior to joining the FDNY, Geoffrey Guja spent fifteen years working for Long Island Lighting Company.  While a member of the FDNY, he attained his R.N. and he worked part-time as a registered nurse at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center.  He enjoyed making people laugh and smile as much as he valued saving their lives.  So much so in fact that Debbie made sure to have placed on his grave a flower replica of his beloved chicken costume that he would wear on special occasions.  

In the March 18, 2002 issue of New York Magazine, Lt. Guja's stepdaughter, Jamie, contributed an essay that - if it does not break your heart at least a little then you might want to consider accompanying Dottie and Toto on their next trek to Oz.  The photograph that accompanied the essay, of a sixteen-year-old girl dressed in firefighting gear, is heart-wrenching in and of itself.  


Lt. Geoffrey Guja - FDNY
Battalion 43

-AK 



Monday, September 14, 2015

An Awful Hole

On  Friday night, I participated for the first time ever in the Jersey Shore Running Club's September 11, 2001 Memorial Run.  The Run started in Belmar - on the Boardwalk at Ocean Avenue and 16th Avenue.  Before we took a single step, however, on our journey south into Spring Lake, the names of a number of the Monmouth County residents who were murdered on September 11, 2001 were read aloud.  

We headed south as a group into Spring Lake - to the Spring Lake September 11, 2001 Memorial.  Once we reached that spot, we again stopped so that those among us could read aloud the names of more of the Monmouth County residents whose lives were taken from them on September 11, 2001.  I was honored to have been one of the runners - chosen entirely at random - to read one of the names. 


Peter T. Milano, 43,
Middletown, N.J.

Peter T. Milano was forty-three years old when he was killed on September 11, 2001.  Mr. Milano was a husband and a father of two teenagers.  His daughter, Jessica, was thirteen years old at the time of his death.  His namesake - his son Peter - was sixteen.  Mr. Milano had met his wife Patti approximately twenty years before he died.  He was a Brooklyn boy - born and raised in Canarsie - and the couple met after a touch football game in which he had played on the asphalt.  They were married in 1984. 

Mr. Milano was a Vice President and Partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, which is where he had worked since 1980.  In spite of his work commitments, he was a fixture in his family's daily activities - no small feat given that the Milano family had called Middletown Township, New Jersey home since 1987.  

He was also a man known for being generous with his time for others in his community.  In his honor, his family established the Peter T. Milano Scholarship Fund, which has provided scholarship money for Monmouth County students for more than one dozen years.  

Clarence Odd Body was right, "Each man's life touches so many other lives.  When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"  



-AK 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

True Brotherhood

The University of Colorado, Boulder's student and alumni population is well-represented by those of us who call the New York metropolitan area home - including but not limited to two members of the Kenny Sibling Sextet.  And for the past fourteen years, CU and the FDNY have been linked by a rather extraordinary bond. 

An argument can be made that November 23, 2001 ranks among the greatest days in the history of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Colorado.  For it was on that late November day that the Buffs took their then-Big XII Conference rival, the Cornhuskers of the University of Nebraska, out behind the proverbial woodshed and annihilated them on national television to the tune of 62-36.  Among the thousands in attendance that day - on hand as the invited guests of then Buff Head Coach Gary Barnett - were thirteen members of Engine 1, Ladder 24 of the FDNY.  

On September 11, 2001 six members of Engine 1, Ladder 24 died while saving others at the World Trade Center.  Coach Barnett - sitting in his office in Boulder - watching the horror unfold from more than halfway across the continent - decided that he was going to do something - anything - to help ease the suffering of those who had suffered such a grievous loss.  Thus, seventy-three days after the worst day of their lives, which had been followed by seventy-plus equally horrible days spent combing through rubble and hoping against hope to find even one survivor, thirteen members of Engine 1, Ladder 24 of the FDNY stood on Folsom Field as the guests of the University of Colorado, Boulder to watch the Buffs tangle with the Cornhuskers. 

Engine 1, Ladder 24 FDNY
Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado 
November 23, 2001

The following September, the FDNY Thirteen made a return trip to Boulder.  They brought with them on this journey a fourteenth member of the FDNY, FF Jimmy Cody.  Cody had been one of the dominant figures of the Ground Zero Clean-Up Crew who had - in his spare time - taken to welding crosses from the steel that had once been the Twin Towers.  Although their second trip to Boulder was (from a football perspective) markedly less successful than the first one had been (USC walloped the Buffs 40-3), it was a memorable visit.  The firemen brought with them a "Cody Cross" that FF Cody had made specifically for the Buffs.  The cross was welded from steel recovered from the South Tower, mounted on marble from the Towers and displayed with a piece of glass recovered from the North Tower.  On the glass, FF Cody etched, "CU Buffs + FDNY, True Brotherhood." 



In 2004, the Buffs captured the Big XII North Division title, an achievement for which the team members and coaches received rings.  On one side of the ringing was an etching of the photo above, which showed FF Cody's Cross, a helmet from Engine 1, a helmet from Ladder 24, and the helmet of CU fifth-year senior Sam Wilder.  Coach Barnett directed that each of the men from Engine 1, Ladder 24 with whom the Buffs had bonded during the 2001 season would receive a ring, a gesture that was masked as a surprise.  

When the Buffaloes made it to the Final Four of the NIT in the Spring of 2011, Basketball Coach Tad Boyle, his assistants, and his players paid a visit to Engine 1, Ladder 24.  While there, Coach Boyle posed for a picture with FF Jimmy Duffy, who had barely escaped death on September 11, 2001 and spent several hours buried in the rubble of the South Tower that day before he was rescued.  Coach Boyle and FF Duffy stood next to the ladder truck that flies the University of Colorado flag that Coach Barnett and his staff had given as a gift to the Thirteen in November, 2001.  

True Brotherhood.  

Indeed. 

-AK