Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Lessons Learned & Taught Anew

It was not merely, of course, first responders and wolves of Wall Street who suffered the murderous cowardice of the terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Thousands of people worked in the Twin Towers every day, in offices and behind desks not terribly different from the one at which I sit every day and, perhaps, not terribly different from yours either.  Men and women whose daily action plan mirrored my own:  Earn the daily bread necessary to provide for one's family.  

Manette Marie Beckles was only forty-three years old when her life was irrevocably interrupted on that terrible Tuesday morning.  She was at her desk in the offices of Fiduciary Trust Company International, which offices were located on the 97th floor of the South Tower, when the South Tower was struck by United Airlines Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m.   She had been with Fiduciary Trust, as an account processor, since 1998.  By all accounts, she was the type of worker whose co-workers loved her, always quick with a kind word, a helping hand, or a consoling shoulder.

She was born and raised in Queens, N.Y. but by the time of her death, she had crossed the river to the Jersey side and become a Jersey Girl, living in Rahway, New Jersey, with her then-fifteen-year-old daughter, Brandice.  In the years since her mother's death, Brandice has herself become a mom and has yet remained her mom's babygirl...  

Manette Marie Beckles

...paying forward the lessons she learned from her hero to the next generation.  


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

All's Welles

Annually for the past several years I have devoted approximately thirty percent of this space to telling the stories of the men and women who died on September 11, 2001 and the families who have mourned them for the past decade and a half.  As a general rule, I try not to tell the same story twice. There are simply too many to tell.  Too many that need to be told. 

Slightly less than two years ago, the story that was told in this space was that of an extraordinary young man named Welles Crowther, who - if there is any justice - shall for eternity be known as "The Man with the Red Bandanna".  

We return to his story in this space this morning because next Tuesday, Tom Rinaldi's book about Welles Crowther and how heroically he spent the final hour or two of his life is being released.  An excerpt of Rinaldi's book, "The Red Bandanna.  A Life.  A Legacy.  A Choice"  appeared in yesterday's New York Post.  I would submit that the few minutes you spend reading it just might be the best few minutes of your day.

And considering how he spent the final few minutes of what proved to be the final morning of his life, for you and me it is an exceptionally easy lift. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

"Stay Golden"

FF Michael Cawley 
Ladder Co. 136 - FDNY

In the normal day-to-day of life, if an individual is enjoying breakfast with some friends and, suddenly, those friends with whom he is dining get called away to tend to an emergency, the individual might simply wish his friends well, bid them goodbye, and get on with his day.  Unless, perhaps if all of those who are gathered around the breakfast table are members of the FDNY and, the individual whose drop-in breakfast was irrevocably interrupted was FF Michael Cawley. 

Michael Cawley worked hard to join the FDNY, which he did in 1996.  Being a firefighter had been his father's dream but his dad's plans had been scuttled by poor vision.  On September 11, 2001, FF Cawley died in the line of duty at the World Trade Center.  He was thirty-two years young when he died.  His was a short life yet one long enough to permit him to realize his father's dream.  

A member of Ladder 136 in Elmhurst, FF Cawley spent the night of September 10, 2001 working an overtime shift at Engine 292.  At 8:00 a.m. on the 11th, he sat around the breakfast table with members of Rescue 4 in Woodside.  The men were still eating breakfast when the call came in about the hell that had just been unleashed in Lower Manhattan.  As Lt. Kevin Dowdell and his Rescue 4 firefighters saddled up, Michael Cawley asked him, "Think I could jump on?"  He did.  Dowdell and Cawley died together that morning at the World Trade Center. 

FF Michael Cawley never married and left behind neither a wife nor children.  He was survived by his parents and two siblings, including his younger brother, Brendan.  Following FF Cawley's death on September 11, 2001, Brendan Cawley joined the FDNY.  He had been on the job for four weeks when, on January 23, 2005, a day the FDNY dubbed "Black Sunday" he was critically injured during a building fire in the Bronx.  It took three years of intensive rehabilitation and therapy but Brendan Cawley returned to active duty at Ladder 27. 

Earlier this year, Brendan Cawley, the other firefighters who were injured that day, and the families of the firefighters who died were awarded a verdict of $183 Million against the City of New York and the owner of the building.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Gospel According to Lilly

FF Allan Tarasiewicz 
Rescue 5 - FDNY

The great 20th Century American philosopher Robert Lilly once observed that, "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog" that matters.   I am relatively confident that the two men never made one another's acquaintance.  I am equally confident that FF Allan Tarasiewicz of Rescue 5 on Staten Island embodied the spirit of which Lilly spoke. 

FF Tarasiewicz was just five feet six inches tall.  He was short enough, in fact, that his brothers at Rescue 5 - as a joke - built him a booster step so that he could get up and onto the rig without difficulty.  Forty-five years old, FF Tarasiewicz was a twelve-year veteran of the FDNY, having spent the final five years at Rescue 5.  September 11, 2001 was a scheduled off day for him.  However, the night before, he received a call telling him that he had to work a mandatory overtime shift with one of the department's other Rescue companies, Rescue 4.  It was with Rescue 4 that he responded to Lower Manhattan that morning.  He died in the South Tower.  His body was found in what had been the South Tower's 40th floor.  

He and his wife, Patricia, would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in February, 2002. The couple met when she was a sixteen-year-old Navy brat and he was an eighteen-year-old Lance Corporal in the United States Marine Corps.  They proudly raised two children, Allan, Jr. and Melissa, both of whom were adults at the time of their father's death.  Tragically, Allan and Patricia Tarasiewicz had been looking forward to a vacation they had planned for the middle of September, which they were leaving for only after first celebrating Patricia's birthday - on September 12.  


Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Book of Daniel

Well now the years have gone and I've grown
From that seed you've sown...
- Walk Like A Man 
Bruce Springsteen

My son, Rob, has been blessed with the good fortune of having a lifelong friend with whom his relationship morphed from one of mere friendship and into brotherhood too many years ago for me to accurately recollect.  Today, in beautiful southern California, Rob shall stand beside his brother, Dan Byrnes, as his Best Man as Dan and his life's great love, Lissette, shall exchange their vows and begin their life together.    It was slightly more than two years ago, on a gorgeous early summer's afternoon that Dan stood beside Rob on Bradshaw Beach as his Best Man when Rob and Jess wed.  

Margaret and I have had the pleasure of knowing Dan for most of his life.  The fact that he has grown into the man that he has become is of no surprise whatsoever, inasmuch as we have known his parents, Joe and Lucy, and his sister, Christina, for as long as we have known him.  Theirs is a family that reinforces one's faith in the adage regarding apples and trees.  Two extraordinarily good folks brought two children into this world and raised each of them to become an extraordinarily good person in his/her own right.  

As a person who by choice (both mine and the world's) keeps the world at arm's length, I have long marveled at the unbreakable bond Rob and Dan enjoy.  It is a friendship that has made each a better man.  And it shall continue to do so as each moves headlong into the next phase of his life.

There are far too few opportunities in my day-to-day - and I suspect in yours as well - for me to be genuinely silly.  Some of my favorite genuinely silly moments have been spent in Joe's company, whether we were swapping lead vocals and air guitar licks during a rousing evening of "Rock Band" in our backyard on Delaware Avenue or tailgating at a Springsteen concert.  Dan is every inch his father's son.  I am a person who uses a lot of words. I cannot employ any that compliment Dan any better than those. 

Work-related craziness has kept the Missus and me here on the East Coast this weekend.  We shall toast the bride and groom in spirit, if not in person.  Thinking of Dan's wedding today made me think back to when he and Rob were Boy Scouts.  Each summer, their troop used to spend a week camping someplace in Pennsylvania.  Up until one of them was old enough to drive, Joe and I used to ride up together to the campground every summer to pick them up.  It was one of my favorite days of the summer.  The boys would stow their stuff in the back of the car and then collapse into the back seat, properly exhausted from a week's worth of survival training in the woods.  As soon as the car exited the campground and we were on the way home, they would begin to regale Joe and I with tales of the week that was.  By the time we made it home, all four of us would have laughed ourselves hoarse. 

One of my favorite photographs is one from Jess and Rob's wedding reception, taken while the DJ was playing "Born to Run".  Having seen the wedding video, which includes an excerpt from our performance, I assure you that you are being done a terrific service by not being subjected to hearing our four-part disharmony here.  It matters not how we sounded, unless you were standing within earshot I suppose.  We were having one hell of a good time. 

Congratulations to Dan and to his bride, Lissette.  May the life you make together be one of love, one of happiness, and above all else, one of peace.  

May he always remember the lessons his father taught him, including those of paramount importance...



Friday, August 26, 2016

In the Time of Nick

FF Nicholas Rossomando
Rescue 5 - FDNY

On September 11, 2001, eleven members of Rescue 5, which is one of the FDNY's elite Rescue units (this one based in Staten Island) died while saving others in the maelstrom that was Lower Manhattan.  Of the eleven men from Rescue 5 who perished that day, five of them had not even been on duty when Rescue 5 responded to the World Trade Center.  They simply were in the house, having just completed their tours, when the alarm sounded.  They did what men of that character do.  They headed straight into Hell with their mates as fast as they could. 

FF Nicholas Rossomando, 35, was one of the five off-duty members of Rescue 5 who perished alongside his brothers on that terrible Tuesday morning.  He simply was not wired in such a way that he could have watched them head off to take on the monster that awaited them and not have done everything within his power to help them.  He was a man quick to help others, both on the job and off of it. 

He joined the FDNY in 1996.  Rescue 5 was the third and final stop in a career that began with Ladder Co. 228 in Brooklyn and, thereafter, a stint with Ladder Co. 113 in Brooklyn.  He found his niche as a member of Rescue 5, where he could utilize his athleticism, his intellect, and his creativity to solve the problems that the Rescue companies are tasked to solve.  He served there with distinction.

For some of us, taking care of others comes naturally.  We go about reflexively, without having to be prompted or reminded.  Nicholas Rossomando was such a person.  Whether it was his family (his mom and his three younger siblings), his fiance and her young son, or the men and women of the City of New York, he knew no other way.  He left this world far too soon.  

And he left it a better place for his having been here.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Big Bill

FF William Krukowski packed an extraordinary amount of living in the far-too-short time he was given in which to live.  He rode a motorcycle.  He jumped out of airplanes.  And, when he gave up both of those passions, he rode his bicycle from his home in Bayside, Queens to his house, Ladder Company 21 in Manhattan.  He was just about four months away from celebrating his thirty-seventh birthday when he died at Ground Zero on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  

He had been on the job for approximately three years when he responded to Lower Manhattan on what proved to be the final morning of his life.  His wife, Lisa, remembers that he had wanted to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become part of the FDNY for as long as the couple knew each other and that it took an agonizing five or six years after he applied to the FDNY before he was hired.  In addition to making sure that she provided the FDNY with their new address and phone number any time the couple moved, he also had her send the FDNY a Christmas card each year so that they would not forget about him and know, also, that he had not forgotten about them

Lisa and FF Krukowski's  son, Bill, have created an extraordinary memorial to him.  She created it ten years after his death and it is maintained presently.  I spent a bit of time there yesterday as I was obtaining information about him in preparation of writing this piece.  If you have a moment or two today, might I suggest you do likewise.  It is time well spent. 

As was the time he spent here in this world.  Each and every day of it, including but not limited to his last. 

FF William E. Krukowski
Ladder Co. 21 - FDNY

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Man They Called MacGyver

FF Robert McMahon - Ladder 20

I may very well be the least handy person I know and have ever met.  While there are certain household chores that I am capable of performing with at modicum of competency, such as painting, my only real talent lies in demolition work.  A lawyer whose gift lies in the tearing apart of something as opposed to the creation of it?  Perhaps I should have specialized in "family law", which is, if nothing else, my favorite euphemism. 

FF Robert McMahon, 35 years of age at the time of his death on September 11, 2001, had avocational talents that were beyond my limited ability to comprehend.   He was regarded as Ladder Company 20's most exceptional chef - so much so that someone in the house sent his lasagna recipe to GQ - and was the one in charge of putting up the house's Christmas tree and Christmas lights each year.  In his spare time, he built a haunted house for children who were battling cancer and, also, shaped pieces of wood into hand-crafted pieces of furniture.  

He grew up in Queens.  After he married his wife, Julie, a nurse at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital who he met while he was doing some volunteer work with sick children, the couple purchased McMahon's childhood home.  He proceeded to gut it and essentially replace it with an updated, improved version where he and Julie intended to raise their family.  

At the time of his death in September, 2001, Robert McMahon was the proud father of one little boy, Matthew, who was but two years old.  Julie McMahon was pregnant with the couple's second child, Patrick, who arrived in early 2002.     

FF McMahon has been memorialized in a most beautiful manner, through the painting of a portrait, which portrait you can see here.  The beauty of the image, as great as it is, pales in comparison to the words his wife, Julie, wrote that serve as the portrait's caption.  They are a tribute to a man whose love for his family and their love for him serve to remind us that there are certain things that neither time nor memory can fade away.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Journey to the Jubilee

I'll meet you at the Jubilee,
If that Jubilee don't come
Maybe I'll meet you on the run.
- Grateful Dead

FF Robert Linnane, 33, was still a relatively new member of the FDNY when he and his brothers from Ladder 20 died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  He had joined the department slightly less than two years earlier.  Ladder 20, which proved to be his final assignment, was also his second assignment, having moved over to Manhattan after beginning his FDNY career as part of Engine 219/Ladder 105 in Brooklyn. 

He joined the FDNY after having spent eight years working for Delta Airlines.  He pushed himself to ensure that - when his opportunity to join the FDNY presented itself after he had already celebrated his 30th birthday - he would be able to make the most of that opportunity.  He knew it would not likely come his way again.  His friends jokingly made fun of his utter absence of fashion sense. Perhaps being required to wear a uniform, which eliminated choice from his day-to-day wardrobe, was one of the things that drew him towards the life he ultimately chose.  If it was, then it was only a small part of the total picture, paling in comparison beside his desire to help others, which was paramount. 

It has been said that if you work doing something that you love, then you never work a day your entire life.  In September, 2001, FF Linnane was doing something that he loved, in the company of those he held most dear and to whom he entrusted his life as they did theirs in him.  He spent his final moments in this life with them.  

One last gathering at the Jubilee...


Monday, August 22, 2016

The Power of the Shamrock

September 11 Memorial 
- Spring Lake, New Jersey

Spring Lake Memorial has a beautiful memorial dedicated to its residents and neighbors who were murdered on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  Among those who is memorialized on the shrine is Donald W. Robertson, Jr. 

Mr. Robertson, who was thirty-five years old at the time of his death, was a vice-president at Cantor Fitzgerald and was in his office on the 105th floor of the North Tower when the tower was struck.  He never made it out of the building.  

On September 25, 2016, the 15th annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run shall take place.  Thousands of people, including the Missus and me, shall travel through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel from Brooklyn into Lower Manhattan.  And once again this year, one of the event's stalwarts is Kathy Robertson Cunningham of Spring Lake.  She is Donald Robertson, Jr.'s sister and the architect of the fund-raising juggernaut, Team Shamrock.  

Team Shamrock

Team Shamrock first ran in the T2T in 2005.  In the decade-plus since, its effect has been nothing short of extraordinary.  In 2014, its 300-plus members raised $150,000 for the Siller Foundation.  Last year, they raised more than $200,000.  

From something terrible, something incredible has grown.  A testament to the man whose life is being honored.  A testament, as well, to the woman whose love for him ensures that irrespective of the number of years he has been gone, he shall never be forgotten. 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

In Their Blood & Bones

It takes a certain "something" to be a firefighter in New York City.  It is not an occupation for the faint of heart.  Yet is a calling to which certain families are drawn, generation after generation.  And the siren's song calls even those whose own family's history includes at least one line of duty death. 

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, FF Hanley and his brothers from Ladder 20 responded to the World Trade Center before the first alarm had even sounded.  Although Hanley had only been on the job for a little more than five years, he had been part of a house that had experienced tragedy.  Prior to joining Ladder 20, FF Hanley had worked at Engine Co. 257/Ladder Co. 170 in Brooklyn, which lost three firefighters from Ladder 170 in December, 1998, while battling a high-rise fire in Brooklyn.  One of the firefighters who died on that terrible December day had swapped shifts with FF Hanley.  It was something that his father said weighed on his son's mind for a considerable period of time thereafter.  

FF Hanley did not walk away from the FDNY following the December, 1998 fire that claimed the lives of three of his colleagues.  FDNY firefighters have proven themselves to be historically poor at walking away from anything.  It is likely a by-product of a lifetime's worth of moving headlong towards something, no matter how terrible it is, and doing so with all due speed and dispatch. 

On what proved to be the final morning of his life, FF Hanley exhibited that tendency one final time.  He has worked the night shift and was off-duty when he heard on the radio that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  He knew that was where he was needed and it was there that he went as fast as he could to do all that he could for as long as he could.  

FF Sean S. Hanley - FDNY
Ladder 20

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Making Change

FF James Gray, - Ladder 20

For six years prior to joining the FDNY, FF James Gray of Ladder 20 wore a different uniform in the service of the people of New York City.  He drove a bus for New York City Transit.  Being a firefighter, however, was in his blood.  His dad, Patrick, retired from the FDNY as a Lieutenant whose last assignment was at Ladder Co. 9 in Manhattan.  When his chance to join the FDNY appeared in October 1996 he did not hesitate.  

Nor did he and his mates from Ladder 20 hesitate on what turned out to be the final morning of their lives for seven of them.  They were en route to the World Trade Center before the first alarm sounded.  The seven men were last seen on the 35th floor of the North Tower immediately prior to its collapse. 

FF Gray, who was only thirty-four years old at the time of his death, and his wife, Jean Marie, were the parents of two little girls who were just eight (Colleen) and six (Caitlin) at the time of his death.  He was working an overtime shift on September 11, 2001 and had called home that morning at or about 7:30 am to speak with his wife and to wish his two daughters a good day at school.  It proved to be the last time that Jean Marie, Colleen, or Caitlin would ever hear his voice. 

On a day replete with memories of things most horrible, it is nice that they all have a most wonderful memory upon which to rely and to cherish. 


Friday, August 19, 2016

The Fischer King

Lt. John R. Fischer, Ladder Company 20, was an eighteen-year-veteran of the FDNY when he and six of his firefighters died at Ground Zero on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.   He was a Staten Island boy, born and raised, and it was on Staten Island, in the West Brighton neighborhood where had grown up, which he and his, Jean, chose as the place to raise their family.  

At the time of his death, Lt. Fischer (who was posthumously promoted to Captain) and Jean were the proud parents of two sons, Timothy and John, and one daughter, Laura, who was sandwiched chronologically between her two brothers.  All three of the Fischer kids were active participants in sports and their dad went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that he was not only there to watch them play, but to coach them.  Timothy, John, and Laura all called their father "Coach" in at least one sport, be it basketball or soccer. 

He spent the final seven years of his FDNY career at Ladder 20.  When he first joined the FDNY in 1983, after having spent several years as a special education teacher and a brief period of time working on Wall Street, he was assigned to Ladder Company 13 on Manhattan's East Side.  His promotion to Lieutenant happened in 1994 and with the new rank came a new assignment:  the 23rd Battalion on Staten Island.  He spent just six months working in the borough he called home his entire life before being transferred to his final assignment at Ladder 20. 

The final thing he did before he and his men headed into the maelstrom that was the World Trade Center on that terrible Tuesday morning was telephone his wife.  Sadly, Jean was not home to pick up the phone, as she was taking their three children to school.  He left her a message on their answering machine, likely trying to reassure her that everything was alright and he would see her and the kids later.  

Whether he believed those words when he spoke them or she believed them when she heard them matters not.  What matters is that he called and that at some point that morning she was able to hear his voice one final time.  Under those circumstances, it was the best they could do.  And all things considered, it was pretty damn outstanding. 

Lt. John R. Fischer,
Ladder 20, FDNY
(Promoted to Captain


Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Strength of the Chain

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead,
and the bridge is Love, the only survival, the only meaning.
- Thornton Wilder

Monday night brought a horrible reminder of the frailty of human life and the vicious speed with which the trajectory of one's life can be irrevocably altered.  

At or about 9:30 pm on Monday, a fire broke out at a home on the 200 block of 14th Avenue in Belmar.  The fire quickly engulfed the home and it took the five fire departments who joined together to battle the blaze slightly less than two hours to contain it, initially, and thereafter extinguish it.  

As I write this, the circumstances that led to the fire are unknown - at least to me.  While they ultimately shall prove to be important to the governmental agencies entrusted with the responsibility of determining its cause, the fire's cause is much less significant than its effect.  It killed Mark Oberschewen, Bill Oberschewen (Mark's father), and Tickles (Mark's dog).   

"Obes" as I think Mark was called by just about everyone who knew him, was a man who I had known for more than thirty years.  He graduated W-H in 1984, a year after my sister Jill's class, and a year before my class.  W-H was then, as it is now, a school with a relatively small number of students, a trait that tends to engender friendships being formed by and among students in different grades.  Kids of like interests tended to hang out together irrespective of whether they were sophomores or seniors.  

I had not seen him - to my recollection - in the quarter-century following my class's graduation from W-H in 1985 until I saw him, at W-H, on a Saturday in mid-January, 2009.  We both were on campus for a ceremony the school held that day honoring the boys basketball team that captured the State title in 1983 and the girls basketball team that did likewise in 1984.  In the seven and one-half years since that January afternoon, he and I had only seen each other a handful of times, usually - if not always - at something related to W-H.  Even after he relocated to Monmouth County, Obes was a regular presence at alumni events (far more so than I), which he would endeavor to make unless an event happened to coincide with an event in which either of his children was a participant.  When that occurred, we got his regrets and his children his attention - proof of the fact that he was a man whose priorities were always exceptionally well-aligned. 

He had moved to Belmar a few years ago - renting the home on 14th Avenue where he tragically died on Monday night.  A divorced father of two, he adored and doted on his son, Michael, and his daughter, Gina.  Michael, the older of the two, starts high school in September.  Apparently, among the things that his kids had begged him for once he found his home in Belmar was a dog.  Not too terribly long after he moved in, he honored their request and rescued "Tickles", who in short order became a fixture on the front porch of his home akin to a swing.  As I recall, an issue arose between his landlord and him regarding whether the presence of Tickles in the home effectively breached the lease.  It was an issue about which he and I had one brief conversation, after which he and his landlord fashioned a solution to the problem that satisfied both.

Margaret and I closed on our home in Lake Como in May, 2015.  Obes lived three blocks north of us, and about a half block east of where his and my long-time friend Tom Swales just moved earlier this year.  Although he had not lived in Belmar full-time for a very long period of time, Obes was a veritable font of useful information about things in and about town such as restaurants, liquor stores, and - critically - pizza joints.  Every time the delivery guy from Reye's "NY" Style Pizza pulls into our driveway, I reflexively think of Obes.   I always shall.  

The Oberschewen men, Mark and Bill, had endured more than their fair share of tragedy and loss before the horrible events of Monday night.  Mark's mom and his sister, Susanne, both died a number of years ago.  Now, that sad experience of dealing with profound loss has been paid forward a generation. There is little doubt that his two children shall miss him terribly and shall feel his loss for the rest of their lives.  Occasionally, on my early morning runs up and down the Boardwalk, I saw Obes and his kids, either riding bikes or just walking up to the beach.  He was a father as happy to be in the company of his children and as proud of their achievements as any father I have ever known. A dad who made those of us who are dads aspire to be better in our day-to-day.  

Tough days lie ahead for these two youngsters.  Although I have only met Michael on one or two occasions, it was of him who I spent most of my Tuesday thinking about.  He is a young man, preparing to begin high school, who now also has to deal with the sudden loss of his dad.  His shoes are shoes that I wore myself thirty-five years ago.  

Michael and Gina are in need of help.  Whether that help is financial, emotional, or otherwise matters not.  All of it is needed.  They need as much as can be provided.  A woman named Lisa Castellano Britton has created this GoFundMe page for Michael and Gina.  Their father was a man who never hesitated to help someone in need and did so without giving it a moment's thought.  There is nothing in this world Obes did not do for his kids.  Here is to honoring him - and them - by doing now what he is not able to do any longer.  

In doing so, we may remind them perhaps that even in the longest, darkest days, there is light on the other side.  They deserve nothing less.  

Neither does Obes.  


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ten Years in the Happy Fog

Whenever I think about you,
Strangers eyes in the crowd flash past.
I go on and think of the fate you've cast.
It seems to be a reverie,
You're here with me.
- Marshall Crenshaw

FF John Patrick Burnside
Ladder Company 20 - FDNY

FF John Patrick Burnside met Sandra Endres in Central Park on a summer's day in 1991.  She was in-line skating.  At the time, he had not yet become FF Burnside of Ladder Company 20 in NoLita.  Rather, he was still Officer Burnside of the NYPD.  That afternoon, he was part of the detail assigned to provide security at Central Park's Summerstage while Marshall Crenshaw performed.  For them, it was love at first sight.    

John Burnside, who was just thirty-six years young when he died, spent three years protecting the people of New York City as a member of the NYPD before he moved over to what Sandra called "his dream job" as a firefighter with the FDNY.  He had been with the FDNY - at Ladder 20 - for approximately seven years when the world exploded on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. In addition to being known for his meticulous preparation, for which the other members of Ladder 20 loved him, and his "irrational" (his wife's word, not mine) affection for the Minnesota Vikings, for which they mercilessly ribbed him, FF Burnside served as Ladder 20's union delegate.  He was preparing to take the Lieutenant's exam at the time of his death.    

FF Burnside and his brothers-in-arms from Ladder 20 responded to the World Trade Center before the first alarm had even sounded.  Seven members of Ladder 20, including FF Burnside, died when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. with them still inside of it - on or near the thirty-fifth floor. 

John and Sandra Burnside had not yet started a family when his life ended tragically, heroically, and far too soon on the morning of September 11, 2001.  They had very much enjoyed their decade-long honeymoon but, shortly before he died, had just started talking about buying a home and starting a family.  On September 10, 2001 it likely seemed to them as if they had all the time in the world to put their plan into action.  Twenty-four hours later, they had none.

But what they had - those ten wonderful years - neither time nor memory can ever fade away.  

And at day's end, nothing else really matters.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Toeing the Service Line

"Everyone calls my dad a hero, 
but I already knew that.
God has made my dad one of his policemen.
Now, he's protecting heaven."
- Joseph P. Vigiano, Jr. 
(September 2001 - Age 8)

There may not be a family in the great storied annals of New York City that has a tradition of fearless, selfless sacrifice in the protection of others that is greater than that of the Vigiano family.  

FF John Vigiano, Jr. of Ladder 132 in Brooklyn was a third-generation member of the FDNY.  His father, John Vigiano, Sr. retired from the FDNY after having attained the rank of Captain.  When Junior joined the FDNY, he asked for - and was given - Badge 3436, which had been his grandfather's.   On September 11, 2001, FF Vigiano died at the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan, to which he had responded in order to do what it is he did best:  Assist those in need.  He was last seen in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, which served that morning as a staging area for the first responders. 

His younger brother, Joseph P. Vigiano, Sr., died that morning as well.  When last seen on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Detective Vigiano, who was a member of the NYPD's elite Emergency Services Unit 2, was in the North Tower somewhere between the thirtieth and thirty-fifth floors when the building collapsed

In July, 2016, now-twenty-three-year-old Joseph P. Vigiano, Jr., having already served this country as a United States Marine, was one of six hundred NYPD recruits sworn in by Commissioner William Bratton.  Presuming that the younger Vigiano successfully completes his training at the NYPD Police Academy, he shall become a fourth generation first responder.  

The latest in the long line of Vigianos in the service of the people of the City of New York.  As if either the family or the City would have it any other way. 


Monday, August 15, 2016

Son Rise

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, as a direct result of the courage that he showed aboard doomed United Flight 93, the family of Todd Beamer was jarringly thrust into the spotlight.  For weeks and months thereafter, they lived under a media microscope, which was fueled in no small part by the very public profile that Beamer's widow, Lisa Beamer, maintained.  

But eventually the spotlight dims.  The media moves on to other stories.  Those of us not directly impacted by the particular event move on to other things.  We turn our attention back to our own day-to-day.  

For Todd Beamer's family, as for the families of all of the other victims of the mass, coordinated cowardice that took the lives of almost three thousand innocents fifteen Septembers ago, life had to go on.  He was gone.  Life, however, had to be lived.  Time, after all, waits for no one.  

David Beamer was the older of Todd and Lisa Beamer's two sons, to whom a third child, daughter Morgan, would be added six months after Todd's death.  At the time of his father's death, David Beamer was three years old.  

In September, David Beamer shall begin his freshman year at Wheaton College in Illinois, which is his parents' Alma mater.  Beamer graduated this past June from Princeton High School, where he quarterbacked the football team.  Apparently, his high school team was not particularly good.  Beamer, on the other hand, was.  Good enough in fact to be selected to play in the 2016 Sunshine Classic, a high-school all-star football game between two teams filled with the best players from Burlington, Hunterdon, and Mercer Counties.  

David Beamer tore up the 2016 Sunshine Classic.  He attempted eighteen passes, of which he completed sixteen for 189 yards and two touchdowns.  For good measure, he also ran for two touchdowns.  He was named the game's MVP.  

More often than not, all-star football games turn out to be rather pedestrian affairs, given that coaches and kids from different schools have limited practice time in which to try to come together and form a cohesive unit.  Not every eighteen-year-old is blessed with the ability to lead a group of people whose acquaintance he, himself, has just made.  Apparently, young David Beamer is so blessed. 

Apples and trees.  Apples and trees.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

I Have a Picture...

The other morning as I was searching for something in my desk I came across some photographs that I had not looked at in close to forever.  Photographs from a lifetime ago.  Some of them were not worth finding and, upon stumbling upon them, I threw them out.  On the other hand, there were some of them that I was happy to have found. 

I am the youngest of six.  Jill is my older sibling who is closest to me in age.  She is slightly more than two years older than I am.  For all but the final two years I spent at W-H and the final two years that I spent at CU, every year I spent in school, I spent with Jill.  Had she liked Notre Dame, which is where she spent her freshman year after graduating from W-H, then I not only never would never have even visited Boulder - let alone attended college there.  I would have followed her to Indiana. Instead of something cool like Ralphie, my college mascot would have been that demented little leprechaun.   Who the hell - other than the Republican National Convention - wants Lou Holtz as a mascot? 

Truth be told, the time we spent going to school together was much easier for me than it was for Jill. I am an asshole.  However, I am actually less of an asshole now than I was when I was in high school and - especially - college.  Sobriety counts for something apparently.  When we went to school together, I never had to apologize to anyone for anything she did or failed to do.  Unfortunately, it was a skill she put to considerable use, particularly while we were in Boulder.      

I think that Kara took the photograph of Jill and me standing outside of the Coors Events Center shortly after I graduated from CU on May 12, 1989.  Looking at it - even all these years later - makes me smile.  That was a happy day.  When you are a twenty-two-year-old asshole, you think those days just might last forever.  They do not, of course.  

If nothing else, you have the evidence that they once did.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Not Playing But Still Winning

Mariano Duncan
1996 New York Yankees

Today in the Bronx the Yankees are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of their 1996 World Championship.  Their playoff appearances, including World Series victories, would blossom into something close to ritualistic for close to the decade that followed.  However, in 1996, the World Series they won when they roared back from a 2-0 Series deficit to defeat the Atlanta Braves in six games, Joe Torre's team was making the franchise's first Fall Classic appearance in a decade and a half.  What would in relatively short order take on the appearance of being ordinary was certainly anything but in October 1996. 

There are any number of memories that are emblazoned in my mind's eye from that season.  That October's big moments belonged in equal measures to Jeffrey Maier and to Jim Leyritz.  The Torre Family did it all:  Joe managed, Frank convalesced, and Sister Marguerite prayed.  And for the first time in almost two decades, a Yankees' season culminated in a parade up the Canyon of Heroes. 

But what makes me smile the most at the memory of the fall of 1996 is Rob.  He was ten years old and had just started to acquire a taste for baseball.  Towards the end of that summer, on Fan Appreciation Day, he made his first trip to the Stadium.  On a sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox in extra innings.  A skinny, baby-faced rookie shortstop named Jeter drove in the the winning run.  

Rob and I lived and died with the Yankees that post-season.  It was his first year in scouting and the weekend of Games Three, Four, and Five of the ALCS in Baltimore, his troop had a camping trip to Picatinny Arsenal.  While we had no television on which to watch the games, one of his fellow Scouts had a radio, and quite a few of us, dads and sons, sat together at our campsite and listened to the games. 

A hell of a lot has happened in the twenty years since Charlie Hayes squeezed the final out of Game Six into his glove.  A lot of it has been good.  Quite a bit of it has been decidedly less so.  Neither the passage of time nor how I feel on a particular day when I get out of bed shall ever dampen or diminish my memory of that baseball season.  That team.  That experience that I had the chance to share with my son.  

Thanks again, Joe, for what you and your team accomplished.  The World Series Rings are yours alone but the memories?  They are available for all of us to savor.  


Friday, August 12, 2016

Simply Simone

As the final act of the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez soap opera plays out this evening in the Bronx (and if you have a ticket tonight bring your galoshes, your bumber chute, and your lightning rod hat because if you think the Silver Spoon Twins are going to extend the "A-Rod:  Long Road to Elba" farewell tour one night longer than they must, you might have already been the victim of a lightning strike), a much happier and momentous occasion is being lauded in Rio, across the United States, and around the globe. 

Last evening at the Summer Olympics, the world's dominant gymnast, Simone Biles, the 4' 8" teenage dynamo who is such a stud that her floor exercise program includes a move named for her, captured the gold medal in the Women's Individual All-Round Gymnastics competition.  And for good measure, her teammate Aly Raisman captured the silver.  

Two American women were entered in the individual all-around competition and they effected a sweep of the top two positions on the medal stand, which served as a hell of an encore to the Americans' blow-out win in the Team All-Around earlier this week.   

One hell of an accomplishment by one hell of a young woman named Simone... 

...but wait, there is more. 

Thus far, the United States Swim Team (both men's and women's division) has dominated these Olympics.  Michael Phelps has thus far added four gold medals to his "I Have Too Many To Fit In One Trophy Case" collection, Lilly King has kicked ass and taken names, and Katie Ledecky has officials contemplating changing the rules for her in her events (such as making her swim 1000 meters in the 800 meter freestyle final) just to give the rest of the field a sporting chance.  Last night, the Americans made history yet again. 

Simone Manuel, who is just twenty years old, finished in a first-place tie with Penny Oleksiak of Canada in the final of the women's 100 meter freestyle.  For good measure, not only did Manuel and Oleksiak expertly synchronize their watches to match one another's finishing time, they did so in Olympic-record fashion, breaking the Games' record for their event by one-hundredth of a second.  

Ms. Manuel's gold medal was not simply the first individual gold medal of her Olympic career, it was the first individual gold medal ever won by an African-American female swimmer.  And it did not come easily.  The pool is fifty meters long. Thus, the 100 meter freestyle is a two-lap race.  As Simone hit her turn at the fifty meter mark she trailed by .47 seconds.  In the final fifty meters, she erased an almost-half second deficit to earn her gold medal.  A half second in one length of the pool?  She swam the final fifty meters as if at the turn she had strapped an Acme Rocket onto her back and ignited its waterproof fuse.  An incredible, gutty, and inspiring performance. 

It has been said since time immemorial that a picture is worth one thousand words.  Sometimes, however, one will do the trick quite nicely.


Simone Manuel - 100 meter freestyle gold winner


Thursday, August 11, 2016

For Those Times When I Stay Too Long...

It happened forever
For a short time
A place for a moment
- The Motels

Bit of a programming note.  One month from today is the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  As is my practice, this space shall - starting on Monday - be turned into one that shall be devoted to telling a September 11-related story every day through Sunday, September 11, 2016.  I believe earnestly that it is the responsibility of those of us who are here presently to honor the lives of those who died that day by ensuring that their memory remains alive.  Such daily bread may not sit well with your internal constitution.  If it does not, then feel free to part company.  

It is not always easy for me to wrap my brain around the fact that the 2016 NYC Marathon shall be upon me (and upon Gidg and upon Kara and the 50,000 or so close personal friends who shall keep us company on our five-borough trek) in relatively short order.  On a eighty-five-plus degree Thursday in August, it can be hard to keep at least one eye focused on November's first Sunday, a day that shall likely differ considerably (from a meteorological perspective at least) from today.  

It does, however, get late early around here.  For me, Sunday shall kick off a new week of marathon training with a ten-mile run.  From this point forward, until I begin the tapering process for the Marathon, each Sunday shall bring with it a run of ever-expanding length.  

This past Sunday was a beautiful day on which to run, which I did.  My eight-mile training run took me north from Belmar to Asbury Park and, thereafter, south to home.  The days are a bit shorter now than they were just thirty days ago.  Now, if I am able to get out of the house and in gear without too much self-created drama, I can actually make it to our beach (three blocks from home) before the sun has risen.  On Sunday morning, I accomplished that particular mission.  

17th Avenue Beach - Belmar (8/7/16)

I find it to be useful exercise to take photographs while I run because I make it a point to take as many of the photos as I can while I am in motion.  When my run is completed, I can get a bit of a sense as to how I was striding by the clarity - or lack thereof - of the photographs.  Sometimes they come out well.  Sometimes, not so much.  This past Sunday, I managed to score several keepers. 

Sun coming up over pier  - Belmar Fishing Club

Sunrise over Shark River Inlet (8/7/16)

Sunrise through the Avon Pavilion (8/7/16) 

The Carousel Building - Asbury Park (8/7/16)

Tunnel of Love Mural - South Wall  of the Wonder Bar
Asbury Park (8/7/16)



Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I have already watched more of NBC's coverage of the Summer Olympics than I had originally intended.  I have a sickness:  I love watching the Olympic Swimming events.  

Last night, Margaret and I watched the grand old man of US Swimming, Michael Phelps, earn his twentieth and twenty-first gold medals, and the teenage phenom Katie Ledecky back up her world-record-setting, gold-medal performance in the 400-meter freestyle with a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle. NBC put up a graphic immediately before Ledecky's event that going into last night's 200-meter freestyle final, Ledecky had raced in thirteen individual finals in international competitions and won all thirteen.  She is now fourteen for fourteen.  Heady stuff.

My new favorite member of the US team is Ledecky's fellow teenager and fellow gold-medalist, Lilly King.  King became something of an overnight sensation (including to Yours truly) after winning her semi-final in the 100-meter breaststroke on Sunday night and then engaging in a rather spirited finger-wagging showing with her Russian rival, Yulia Efimova, who has apparently been suspended from international competition secondary to being caught blood doping and/or failing drug tests on two separate occasions within the past two years and whose clearance to compete in these Olympics only was obtained shortly before she was scheduled to compete. 

King's issue with Efimova is simple:  Efimova has been caught cheating - blood doping - and King believes that once an athlete is caught doing what Efimova has been caught doing, international competitions such as the Olympics should not welcome them as competitors. For whatever it is worth - and it is likely worth little to Lilly King - I happen to agree with her.  "Play Fair or Stay Home" seems to be a fairly straightforward mantra of which the IOC should consider adoption. 

While Efimova is the principal focus of King's ire, the Hoosier firebrand's criticism is not leveled at her rival alone.  Nor is she leveling it at non-American athletes only.  When asked in her post-race press conference Monday night about the presence of twice-suspended drug cheat Justin Gatlin on the United States Track and Field Team, King made her position regarding his participation clear, "Do I think that people who have been caught for doping offenses should be on the team? No, they shouldn't."     

Lilly King is scheduled to compete today in the 200-meter backstroke.  Whether she shall collect another medal, gold or otherwise, at these Olympics I could not pretend to guess.  I am willing to predict however that whether she does or not, the world has not heard the last of Lilly King.  

I certainly hope not.  


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Continuation of My Never-Ending Education

Among the many benefits of being not particularly bright and having two adult offspring who are both blessed by a boundless amount of intellectual curiosity is that I frequently am the recipient of knowledge courtesy of one - or both - of the aforementioned adults.  Truth be told, it happens far more frequently than I have the limited arithmetic skills to accurately calculate.  Just yesterday, it happened again.  This time around, Rob was the one playing the role of teacher. 

Full disclosure demands that I acknowledge that neither before nor after I read the knowledge that Rob bestowed upon me did I have any idea who the individual is who is identified as the information's source.  I discovered upon doing a quick Google search of him who Jim Rohn was, including that he died in December, 2009 approximately three months after his seventy-ninth birthday.   

The kernel of Rohn's information that Rob shared was the type of information that usually appeals to me because it is simple and straightforward.  It does not contain a lot of east/west obfuscation.  And, to my way of thinking at least, it makes a hell of a lot of sense because - at least as I interpreted it - it reinforces the point that we need not await the arrival of a "big thing", a sea change if you will, to positively impact ourselves and the world we inhabit.  

More often than not, it is not the "big thing" that makes a difference.  Instead it is the amalgam of the innumerable "little things" that are - in the head and in the heart of the person performing them and the person receiving their benefit - anything but little.

"The Rules of Rohn" 

Five rules:  Easy to understand, important to apply.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Every day.