Friday, September 30, 2016

In Celebration of Open Season...

I run.  I run for pleasure and for exercise.  I run year-round.  There are certain times of the year, here in the State of Concrete Gardens, when our weather lends itself better to running outdoors than certain other times of the year.  Unless you are reading this from your home under a rock, or you are Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, you understand what times of the year in New Jersey fall under the heading of "less than ideal" conditions in which to run outdoors. 

As much as I love the summer, I must confess that the early autumn is my favorite time of the year. For the first time since early Spring, I drive around with my car's moon roof open and I sleep with my bedroom windows open.  I love fresh air.  I have no aversion to sweating - as long as I am doing so while working or exercising or engaging in some type of physical activity that gives rise to the perspiration.  On the other hand, I cannot stand sweating while doing something mundane, such as reading, watching television, driving my car, or sleeping.  Thus, once the temperature parks itself above a certain elevation, my windows are closed and my air conditioning is on non-stop. 

I hope each year, as we get into the second half of September and, thereafter, into October that we will be have the chance to enjoy at least a few weeks of "open window" season.  If the decision was solely mine to make, our bedroom windows would stay open all winter.  I am that asshole who - in the depths of January and February - runs outdoors in shorts.  As long as I wear a hat and gloves, I have all of the cold-weather gear I need.  The Missus, on the other hand, gets cold rather easily. She takes a decidedly dim view of hypothermia.   She may be little but on a certain level she terrifies me.  Thus, when she informs me that "open window" season is over, I assure you that it is over. 

I realize that the weather in these parts, for the next several days at least, is supposed to favor water fowl as opposed to bipeds.  Unless it starts raining horizontally and coming through our windows, we shall stand fast and enjoy the crisp, cool air that accompanies the precipitation.  For the "open window" season is far too short to sacrifice any of its days.  

To borrow a line from Tom Petty, "It's over before you know it. It all goes by so fast..."


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hail to the Chief

Tuesday, September 27, 2016 served as a grim reminder of the danger that the men and women of the FDNY face in the performance of their day-to-day duties, whether responding to the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan or responding to a reported gas leak at an apparent marijuana grow house in the Bronx.  

Battalion Chief Michael Fahy of Battalion 19 in the Bronx died in the line-of-duty on Tuesday when the house to which his men had responded - answering the call of a reported gas leak - suddenly exploded and, in doing so, hurled debris everywhere.  Chief Fahy was positioned - directing operations - when portions of the debris struck him.  Although he was rushed to New York Presbyterian Hospital, the wounds he suffered proved to be fatal.  Chief Fahy was just forty-four years old. 

Michael Fahy was a seventeen-year veteran of the FDNY, following in the footsteps of his father, Thomas, who spent thirty-three years in the FDNY and retired, in November, 2011, as a Battalion Chief.  Chief Fahy lived in Yonkers with his wife, Fiona, and three children (two sons and a daughter), the oldest of whom is eleven, the youngest of whom is just six, and each of whom shall now live a life accompanied by only the memory of their father.  Battalion Chief Fahy shall be laid to rest on Saturday in Yonkers.  

The FDNY Foundation has established an Educational Fund for Chief Fahy's children.  If interested in making a contribution, you click on the link here and then click on the drop-down menu towards the bottom of the page (the default selection is "FDNY Foundation General Support") and select "Chief Michael J. Fahy Children's Educational Fund").

Michael J. Fahy, Battalion Chief, Battalion 19 - FDNY
End of Watch:  September 27, 2016


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Memory Jog

Sunday was the 15th Annual Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City.  This year marked the seventh consecutive time that the Missus and I have participated.  As has become our custom, we crossed the river from the Jersey side on Saturday afternoon so that we could enjoy T2T weekend in Lower Manhattan.  In addition to our regular traveling companions, Gidg and Jeff, we had the pleasure this year of the company of the Gonzalez family (Yvette, Pete, and Matthew) and Lisa.  Matt recently turned thirteen.  It was very interesting - to me - to see his reaction to all that he experienced this weekend, inasmuch as the terrible actions that gave rise to this extraordinary event happened almost two years before he was born. 

A quick, pictorial look back at the weekend that was in New York City - with one quick peek ahead. The Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City is held annually on September's final Sunday, which means that next year's T2T shall take place on September 24, 2017.  Whether you are a runner or a walker, it is an event that - once you participate in it - you shall never want to miss thereafter.  I heartily recommend it to everyone.  Similarly, whether you live in the New York metropolitan area or not, I recommend that everyone make at least one trip to the September 11 Memorial, the September 11 Museum, St. Paul's Chapel, Trinity Church, Ten House, and O'Hara's Pub - all of which have a story to tell about the events of that day, the lives lost, and the people who lived through the experience and what followed thereafter.  

Without further ado...

Saturday, September 24

 One World Trade Center

FF John Michael Collins - FDNY
(Immaculata High School Class of '76 &
Classmate of my older brother, Kelly) 

Antoinette Duger
(Cousin of my great friend, Gerard Gonnella)

Thomas Irwin Glasser - Westfield, NJ
(Wardlaw-Hartridge School) 

Thomas Edward Gorman - PANYNJ Police Dept.
(Middlesex, New Jersey) 

One World Trade Center 

Sunday, September 25

Margaret pre-race in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Engine Company 202/Ladder Company 101
(Red Hook, Brooklyn) 

T2T Starting Line
(Brooklyn, NY)

Squad 1, Brooklyn - FDNY
(FF Stephen Siller's Squad)

FDNY honoring their fallen brothers 
(Manhattan side, Brooklyn Battery Tunnel)

FDNY Fire Boat 

Margaret heading to the finish line

15th Anniversary T2T Sand Sculpture

One World Trade Center 


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Twenty-Eight Shall Have To Wait

2016 will not be the year that ends with a ticker tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes in celebration of the 28th World Series in the history of the New York Yankees.  Whether 2017 shall be I cannot pretend to know.  I nevertheless am excited for what the future appears to hold for the Yankees.  For the first time in twenty years they appear poised to begin a season with a core of young, homegrown talent.  

Then again one never knows whether the Silver Spoon Boys will stay the course and whether August 2016's action plan will bear any resemblance whatsoever to April 2017's action plan.  

Given what is on the national docket on the first Tuesday after the first Monday this November, maybe it will not make any difference what the hell the Yankees opt to do.  

Let's just hope we are all still here on Opening Day.  


Monday, September 26, 2016

Mencken's Last Laugh?

Democracy is the theory that the common people
Know what they want,
And deserve to get it good and hard.
-H.L. Mencken

Tune in tonight.  Let us hope that Mr. Mencken's observation turns out not to be accurate.  Whether either of these two is what we want, they are the two options available to us.  


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Long May We Run...

This morning, for the seventh consecutive time, I shall participate in the Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City.  Once again this year, the Missus is making the journey with me, as are Gidg and Jeff.  Joining us for the first time are Lisa and the Holy Trinity known as the Gonzalez family (Yvette, Pete, and Matt).  Annually, it is an extraordinary event and it is, for my money, as great an example of making something positive out of something overwhelmingly negative as I have ever known.

The Siller Family is remarkable.  They are a credit to the memory of their fallen brother, Stephen, to all of the heroes who died on September 11, 2001, and to each and every one of us.  It is an honor and a privilege to be a very small part of their event and the good works that it serves.  I hope that I am able to participate in it for as long as they hold it because if I am, I shall look forward to spending September's final Sunday exactly where I shall spend today...

...and where I have spent it every year since 2010   

T2T Sand Sculpture - 2010

The Wall at Ten House - 2011

T2T Sand Sculpture - 2012

FDNY on Manhattan side of 
Brooklyn Battery Tunnel - 2013

T2T Sand Sculpture - 2014

Margaret finishing strong - 2015


Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Dynamic Duo

Courage is resistance to fear,
Mastery of fear,
Not Absence of fear.
- Mark Twain

Frank DeMartini, 49, and Pablo Ortiz, 49, worked together for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey out of the agency's offices on the 88th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Mr. DeMartini, the World Trade Center's Construction Manager, and Mr. Ortiz, Superintendent of Construction, were in their 88th floor offices - with approximately thirty or so of their co-workers and Mr. DeMartini's wife, Nicole, when the North Tower was struck at 8:46 am.  As chaos ensued all around them, Mr. DeMartini and Mr. Ortiz did what they seamlessly did every other day.  They went to work. 

When American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower, its impact point was between the 93rd and the 98th floors.  The effect of the impact, however, was felt profoundly and immediately on the several floors below the impact point, including the 88th floor.  Although the North Tower had three stairwells (A, B, and C), the force of the impact rendered A & B impassable.  Additionally, it produced so much debris - in addition to toxic smoke and fire - that it rendered the path from the Port Authority's offices to C almost impassable.  Almost.  

Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz, after risking their own lives to do the reconnaissance necessary to confirm that the 88th floor could be evacuated by way of stairwell C, led their co-workers and Mrs. DeMartini to it.  At that point, had the two men simply followed the rest of the 88th floor occupants down the stairwell to safety, each would have been lauded for their heroism.  They did not.  Although logic certainly favored "down" as the direction to travel, they opted for "up".  

They opted for up - along with a third Port Authority employee, Mak Hanna, because they heard what sounded like banging on a door coming from the 89th floor.  There, Flight 11's impact had bent the door leading to stairwell C, thus trapping the occupants of the 89th floor.  DeMartini, Ortiz, and Hanna used a crowbar to punch through the drywall in the areas immediately adjacent to the door - and created a hole large enough for a person to fit through and out into the stairwell.  Now, the twenty-three people rescued from the 89th floor would join the 88th floor evacuees on the long trek down the stairs.  Mak Hanna accompanied the evacuees down the stairs.  

Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz did not.  

Again, they headed up the stairs. On the 90th floor, in conditions that one might call "rapidly-deteriorating" if one was blessed with a historically-profound sense of understatement, they came to the assistance of more people who were trapped and who otherwise would have died.  All in all, Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz rescued seventy-seven people from the North Tower.  Seventy-seven.  

Neither Frank nor Pablo made it out of the North Tower.  Radio records confirmed that their last known position in the building prior to its collapse was on the 78th floor - the Sky Lobby.  Neither man's body was recovered from the wreckage.  No remains of either man have yet been identified.

I would commend to your attention the 2011 documentary film, "9/11:  Heroes of the 88th Floor".   It tells the story of these two extraordinary, selfless men far better than I have done.  It will break your heart - and more than just a little.  

But in times like these, it might also serve as a reminder that even in our darkest hour, light may be found.  You may just have to work hard to find it. And when you do, the reward can be extraordinary.                                           


Friday, September 23, 2016

Songs, What Are They Good For?

Songs are good for whoever needs them.
- Bruce Springsteen

World Trade Center Memorial Gardens
Middletown Township, New Jersey

158 residents of Monmouth County, New Jersey were murdered on September 11, 2001.  It is a figure that earned Monmouth County the unwanted distinction of being the New Jersey county that sustained the single-largest loss of life on that terrible Tuesday.  

Whether it is factual or merely an urban legend, a story has made the rounds in these parts for the past fifteen years regarding Monmouth County's resident rock and roller, and his being spurred to action by a plea from a passing motorist, "We need you now!"  

Whatever his motivation, less than one year following the September 11 attacks, Springsteen and the E Street Band released The Rising, which was their first full-band album since 1984's Born in the U.S.A.  As someone who has spent more time listening to that record than I have the limited arithmetic skills to calculate, I remain indebted to him for what he did - in making it.  

In a perfect world, the reason for its creation never would have existed.  However, the world we inhabit is located somewhere far south of "Perfect" (or "The Good Place" for that matter).  We live in a world that, respectfully, needs artists such as Springsteen.  

You have to come to grips with the real horrors that are out there.
And then all people have is hope. 
That's what brings the next day and whatever that day might bring.
You can't be uncritical, but just a hope grounded in the real world
of living, friendship, work, family, Saturday night.
- Bruce Springsteen 

Today the Poet Laureate of Freehold celebrates his sixty-seventh birthday. I smile at the thought of his thirty-sixth birthday, which Jill and I celebrated with him in the cold, snowy environs of Denver's Mile High Stadium.  Us and 55,000 thousand or so other people. A small, intimate gathering.  Glad I was not responsible for bringing the cake.   

It remains true - on this day, as it was on that day, as it was on September 11, 2001, and as it is on every day, that songs are good for whoever needs them.  May we long continue to draw strength from their strength.  



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Always Someone You Wanted On Your Team

FF Tarel Coleman - Squad 252

John Coleman knew - as early as when his little brother, Tarel, was just five years old that Tarel had a future as a firefighter.  According to John, it was at age five that Tarel stuck his head inside an incinerator in order to see a fire - an experience from which he emerged relatively unscathed. Curiosity may have killed the cat but it took from five-year-old Tarel Coleman only one eyebrow and a little bit of hair.  

John proved prescient.  At age eighteen, FF Tarel Coleman took the exam to become a member of the FDNY.  In 1993, he joined the department. He was only thirty-two years young when he - and five other members of Brooklyn's Squad 252 - died at the World Trade Center on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  

Tarel Coleman - in addition to be an accomplished, reliable firefighter - was a terrific athlete, using his 4.3 forty-yard dash speed on the softball diamond and on the football field, where he played defensive back on the FDNY's football team.  His nickname, "Prozac", was a tribute to his intense style of play.  

He was the proud father of two children.  Danielle, his daughter, was thirteen at the time of his death. His little boy, Tarel, Jr., was just three years old. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Stand-Up Guy

The Brunton family of Brooklyn counts, among its members, three brothers separated in age by less than two years and joined at the hip in their family's business - which happens to be the FDNY.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, one of the three Brunton brothers, Captain Vincent Brunton, Ladder Co. 105, was killed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

Capt. Vincent Brunton
Ladder Co. 105 (FDNY)

Vinnie Brunton was forty-three years old at the time of his death.  He had been on the job with the FDNY for twenty-two years, which was coincidentally also the length of time he and his wife, Kathy, had been married, as well as the age of Captain Brunton's daughter, Kelly, who was his oldest child.  Kelly is two years older than the Bruntons' other child, Tommy.  

Vinnie Brunton not only served the men and women of his Brooklyn neighborhood through his work in the FDNY, he did so, also, through his work behind the bar at Farrell's.  Tending bar there was his "side job" for more than two decades.  Although he and Kathy might have moved out of Brooklyn, they never did.  He lived and he worked among the people he knew and who knew him best of all.  It was home.  He never left it.

His brother, Tommy, spent the fall of 2001 honoring not only his fallen brother but all of his fallen brothers in the FDNY as a member of the FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes and Drums band by playing his bagpipes at hundreds of funerals and memorial services.  Among the fallen members of the FDNY whose remains were not recovered from the rubble of what was once the Twin Towers was Captain Vincent Brunson.  On December 13, 2001, slightly more than three months after his death, Kathy Brunson held a memorial service to honor her husband.

Tom Brunton and Michael Brunton are now both retired from the FDNY.  Tom retired as a Lieutenant and Michael as a Captain.  Both still play the pipes in the Emerald Society Pipes and Drums band.  

And each time that either of the brothers Brunton participates in a ceremony such as this one, which took place at the September 11 Memorial on the 14th anniversary of the attacks, he undoubtedly casts his eye to one side of the crowd or the other, looking for just a glimpse of Vinny...

...may they never stop doing so.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Word of Thanks...

One final deviation from this space's regularly-scheduled programming.  

The Missus and I, once again, want to thank everyone who gave up some of their precious time (and the older we get the more precious a commodity it becomes) on Sunday morning to participate in the Janice Garbolino 5K Color Run & Walk as a member of Sue's Crew VIII.  Bill and Michelle came down from Connecticut.  SalliJo, Kevin, Judi, and Rob traveled west from Staten Island.  The State of Concrete Gardens was well-represented thanks to the Aldrich family (Suz and Ryan), the Navas family (Walmis, Diego x 2, and Daniel), the Gonzalez family (Yvette and Matthew) all contributing multiple Crew members to the cause.  

The Missus has already decreed that Sue's Crew shall run ten times and then shall run no more. Further evidence I suppose of the precious nature of time.   We are two years away from its final appearance and a part of me already has a sense for how much I shall miss it. 

Sue's Crew VIII (only Lynne and Jeff are missing from 
team photo. Both stealthily arrived after it was taken)

Thanks also to Gidg, who annually takes on the responsibility of working with Doctor T-Shirt to come up with a look and a design for our team shirts, and who then handles the t-shirt pick-up from Doctor T-Shirt and, thereafter, is the point person on team shirt distribution.  

A huge thank you as well to Margaret's brother Frank, Frank's son, Joe, and Frank's daughter, Nicole. This year, none of them participated in the run itself (although Nic is a charter Crew member and I suspect will be back among our number next September).  What they did for us, however, was incredible.  Frank opened the doors of his restaurant, Jozanna's, for a private/team-only brunch on Sunday morning.  

The food was extraordinary and - for at least a little while - appeared to be never-ending.  I contemplated going for a five-mile run on Sunday afternoon just to work off at least some of the food I ate at Jozanna's following the morning's run.  

I opted for a nap instead.    


Monday, September 19, 2016

Private Man, Public Servant

This is perhaps my "favorite although I wish it was not necessary" week of the year:  Tunnel to Towers Week.  Sunday morning, the Missus and I shall again participate in what has become for us an annual rite of Autumn and on this, the 15th anniversary edition of the event, we shall again do so in the company of 20,000 or so other people.  An extraordinary day.  Simply an extraordinary day. 

FF Andrew Brunn - Ladder Co. 5

Tunnel to Towers Sunday is an extraordinary day - in large part - because it celebrates the sacrifice of the men and women who died on September 11, 2001 while doing all they were capable of doing to try and save countless thousands of men and women, most of whom they did not know and would not meet.  It celebrates the sacrifice of individuals such as FF Andrew Brunn of Ladder Co. 5

At age 28, FF Brunn had only been with the FDNY for a few months when he was killed on September 11, 2001 while he and his commanding officer were trying to help civilians escape the South Tower.  His body was found on the building's fifth floor.  They were two of the eleven casualties that Ladder Co. 5 absorbed on that terrible day.  FF Brunn was a relative newcomer as a firefighter but - at age 28 - he was a seasoned veteran in the realm of helping others.  He graduated from Hicksville, N.Y. High School in 1991 and joined the Air National Guard, in which he served overseas in Germany and in Iraq.  At age 21, he joined the NYPD, first walking a beat in Harlem and eventually being promoted to sergeant.  In May, 2001, he left the NYPD to join the FDNY.  His first house, Ladder Co. 5, proved also to be his last. 

He and his wife, Sigalit, were two weeks from closing on their new home when FF Brunn was killed.  The couple had actually been scheduled to close prior to September 11 but, three or four days before he died, an inspection of their new home's porch revealed that it was not up to code.  The closing was delayed.    It was rescheduled for September 25, 2001.  Two weeks.  At the time, it probably felt like no time at all. 

Until in a New York minute, when everything changed...

...and then even holding on tooth and nail proved to not make a goddamn bit of difference.  



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Off and Running...One More Time

Yet another departure from this space's regularly-scheduled programming - and, once again, the departure is for the very best of reasons. 

It was seven-plus years ago that Margaret's mom, the tough-as-nails Suzy B., finally was vanquished by the cancer that tormented her for the final five-plus years of her life.  Out of that terrible occurrence, a beautiful thing has grown.  

Today, the eighth iteration of Sue's Crew shall lace up our running shoes.  Once again this year, as we did in 2014 and again in 2015, we shall run in the Janice Garbolino Memorial 5K, which has a gun time in Edison Township's Roosevelt Park of 8:30 a.m. 

And once again this year, as has been the case each of the eight years in which we have run, our Crew has proven itself to be a living, breathing organism, comprised of both longstanding members - such as the Missus, Gidg, Lynne, Suzanne, Ryan, Connie, the Navas Family, and Arnold - and new members.  This year's new Crew members include my brother Bill and his daughter/my niece, Michelle, SarahLyn, Allyson, Peggy, and Chris.  

All in all, I think there shall be somewhere between twenty-five and thirty of us in Roosevelt Park this morning.  It is a testament to the men, women, and children who support our effort annually that such a sizable number of them surrender a weekend morning - this year it is a Sunday morning - to support a cause that is so dear to Margaret, to me, and to our family.  

Cancer is an insidious disease.  In the seven-plus years since it took my mother-in-law's life, it has also killed Diana Kizis (a/k/a "Hazel"), the matriarch of the Kizis clan, and my brother-in-law Glenn Hubner (better known by the sobriquet bestowed upon him by his wife/my big sister, Evan "MWH"). It has set upon - and continues to wreak havoc upon - other members of our Crew as well and their families.  It continues to hit close to home because it hits in any home at any time, without warning and without regard for the destruction and despair it leaves in its wake.  It is most assuredly a monster that needs to be stomped.   This morning, we intend to do precisely that. 

The Irish poet Sean O'Casey wrote, "Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity."  

May the sound our footsteps make this morning echo forever. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Captain Dan

Captain Daniel Brethel 
Ladder 24 - FDNY

On what tragically proved to be the final morning of his life, Captain Daniel Brethel of Ladder 24 in Manhattan was off-duty.  His 24-hour shift had ended shortly before the alarm directing Ladder 24 to respond to the World Trade Center was issued.  Nevertheless, he did not hop into his car and drive home to Long Island.  Rather, he slid behind the wheel of FDNY Chaplain Father Mychal Judge's car and drove Father Judge to the scene.  

Captain Brethel had a well-earned reputation for staying cool under pressure and - even with the situation that confronted the FDNY as it responded to Lower Manhattan that morning - he remained true to it.  As he, his men, and other firefighters were rushing towards the Twin Towers, he shouted out, "Firemen will die here today.  Don't let it be you." 

Sadly, not very long after Captain Brethel arrived on the scene, he became one of the 343 members of the FDNY to die that morning.  He was outside of the Towers when he died, crushed by falling debris when the buildings collapsed.  Forty-three years young and a twenty-plus year veteran of the FDNY, he left behind his wife, Carol, and two daughters, Kristin and Meghan, who were fourteen and twelve years old, respectively, at the time of his death.  His wife noted, after his death that her husband loved two things in the world more than anything else:  His family and being a firefighter.  They were the two passions to which he devoted most of his time, energy, and attention.  

If you have a moment or two to spare today, then might I recommend that you spend it reading this wonderful tribute that Captain Brethel's long-time friend, John J. O'Brien, wrote on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.   I was happy that I did.  I suspect you might feel very much the same if you do. 


Friday, September 16, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Captain America

- "Catch Me Now I'm Falling"
(The Kinks)

FF Brian Bilchera member of Squad 1 in Brooklyn, was Captain America - at least in the eyes of his wife, Tina.  He was a "do anything for you", "there in the nick of time, every time" type of fellow. His character traits and strengths might have evoked comparisons to a comic book hero but they were in fact something far superior to anything that might have appeared there.  His, unlike the Captain's, were real.  They were not merely the figment of an animator's imagination. 

His brothers in Squad 1 affectionately called FF Bilcher "Tugboat" because at 6'1" tall and 240 pounds he was a solidly-built, somewhat broad-based man.  He spent the final ten years of his far-too-short life as a member of the FDNY.  On what sadly turned out to be the final night of his life, he telephoned Tina to tell her that he had been asked to work overtime.  She had given birth to the couple's first child, their son Grant, on August 29, 2001.  Both of them were thankful for his ability to pick up the overtime shift as it lessened the young family's financial burden while she was home on maternity leave.  Neither of them had any way of knowing that when they said their final "I love you" to one another that evening, those would be the final words they would ever speak to each other.   

FF Bilcher, who was only thirty-eight years old when he died on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, is one of twelve members of Squad 1 who died at the World Trade Center that day.  On June 4, 2002, on what would have been the Bilchers' second anniversary, Tina Bilcher laid her husband to rest. With nine-month-old Grant on her lap, she bade farewell to Captain America.  

Perhaps not farewell but, instead, I shall see you again...

FF Brian Bilcher, 
Squad 1 - FDNY

...and think of you every day until I do. 


Thursday, September 15, 2016

The One Who Sighs His Lullabies...

The world was new 
Beneath a blue umbrella sky...
- "Summer Wind" 
Frank Sinatra

One of the things that I have learned from time spent looking into the stories of the men and women who were murdered on September 11, 2001 as well as the stories of the loved ones affected by their deaths is how many people occupy this planet who are each a better person than I might ever hope to be - presuming I devoted any energy at all to such a pursuit.  These individuals are remarkable.  Simply remarkable. 

This past Sunday, which was the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Los Angeles Times posted an article on its web site regarding "the children of September 11".  I have read it through from beginning to end several times already - and have it bookmarked on my desktop for future reference.  I found the piece, written by Laura King, to be as inspiring as the men and women whose lives she chronicled in it.  I heartily commend it to your attention.  It is not a quick read and, given its subject matter, it may not be an easy read either.  

Read it anyway.  I have a feeling that after you complete it, you shall appreciate the time you spent doing so...

...perhaps almost as much as young Ces Picerno appreciates Sinatra.  




Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nine Lights in the Sky

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal its secrets by and by, by and by
When the light that's lost within us reaches the sky...

Montclair, New Jersey, is a small-to-medium-sized city located in Essex County, New Jersey, approximately fifteen miles or so west of New York City, from which (at certain points at least) one can see across the Hudson River to the skyline of Manhattan.  On September 11, 2001, nine residents of Montclair died at the World Trade Center when the two jets that the murderous cowards had hijacked struck, first, the North Tower and, thereafter, the South Tower. 

Michael L. Collins, a 38 year-old vice-president at Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed that morning.   He and his wife, Lissa, to whom he was married in 1997, had not yet started a family but had already formulated a long-term action plan:  Retirement in Hawaii, which is where Lissa was born and where her family lived.  Caleb Arron Dack, 39 years old, was just about two months into his new career as a senior vice-president at a start-up company, Encompys, which was located in midtown Manhattan. He was at the World Trade Center on that terrible Tuesday morning attending a trade show in the Windows on the World restaurant.  Caleb and his wife, Abigail, had two children. Olivia was six years old when her father was killed and her little brother, Carter, was but two. 

Emeric "Ric" Harvey was a natural-born salesman.  As a young man in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, he and his brother, Ray, sold truck rides to little children behind their motto, "Come swing and sway with Ric and Ray!"   The fifty-six-year-old founder and president of Harvey Young Yurman, Inc. was attending his weekly Tuesday morning breakfast meeting at Windows on the World when the Twin Towers were attacked.  He was survived by his wife, Jennifer Harvey, and his daughter, Jennifer Castelano.  Scott M. Johnson, who was at his office at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, a private investment firm that occupied the 88th and 89th floors of the South Tower, when the tower was struck at 9:03 am, was only twenty-six years old.  He was one of sixty-seven KBW employees killed that morning.  He graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut in 1997, which was also the Alma mater of his father.  Trinity College now has two chairs endowed by Scott's parents, Ann and Thomas, in honor of and in memory of their son.  In addition to establishing the two endowed chairs at Trinity College, his parents were intimately involved in the planning of the September 11 Memorial, including the critically-important manner in which the names of those murdered that morning were to be arranged for the ease of their loved ones in locating them.  

Howard L. Kestenbaum, 56, earned his living as a Manager at Aon Risk Services, which had its offices on the 103rd floor of the South Tower.  He held a Ph.D in physics from Columbia University, which he enjoyed putting to practical use in his office.  He hung a lightly weighted paper cup from the ceiling in his office and observed the way in which the cup - and the building itself - moved and swayed in the high winds.   He and his wife, Granvilette, were married for thirty-one years.  In addition to being a devoted husband, he was also a doting father to the couple's one child, their daughter Lauren.  On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lauren had the horrifying misfortune of watching the first plane strike the North Tower from her seat on the bus that was taking her through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan and her job as a librarian at the New York City Public Library. Robert Murach was in his office at Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower when the jet plane that Lauren Kestenbaum observed from out of her window on the bus struck the building.  He was a senior vice-president at Cantor Fitzgerald.  He was a die-hard New York Jets fan whose greatest passion was the family he adored:  Laurie, his wife of eleven years, and their two little girls, Madison Zoe, and Hayley Noelle, who were just nine and six years old respectively at the time of his death. 

Like Mr. Kestenbaum, David Lee Pruim was at work, at Aon Risk Services, on the South Tower's 103rd floor, when the second plane struck at 9:03 am.   The fifty-two-year-old senior vice president of risk services was married for twenty-eight years and his wife, Kate Pruim, described their time together as a "lifelong honeymoon." The couple was married for eighteen years before they had a child.  Their daughter, Carrington, was ten years old at the time of her father's death.   Ron Ruben, just thirty-six years old at the time of his death, was born and raised in Montclair.  As many single, white-collar professionals did at the the time - and still do to this day - he had moved to Hoboken, which is where he lived (with his two cats).  His parents both predeceased him, his father, Peter, when Mr. Ruben was just a boy of eighteen, and his mother, Marjorie, in 1996.  He tattooed "M.P." over his heart in their honor.    He was at his office at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods on the South Tower's 89th floor when the second jet struck the tower.  With their parents gone, Mr. Ruben and his two sisters were incredibly close.  That morning, each spoke to him on the telephone to see what was going on where he was and to find out if he was OK.  He assured each of them that he was fine and that everything was under control.   Michael James Stewart, a forty-two year-old native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, probably did not look very much at all like most of his colleagues at Carr Futures, a financial firm whose offices were located on the 92nd floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in that Mr. Stewart wore earrings in both ears every day.   He and his former wife, Diana, had two sons, Francisco and Eamon, who were fourteen and eleven years old, respectively, when Mr. Stewart was killed.  

Montclair, New Jersey September 11 Memorial



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Very Special Type of Stained Glass

The Lord and I have an understanding.  I spend no time in his company.  He returns the favor.  It works for us, I suppose, although I have more than a mere suspicion that I shall face a fate similar to that faced by Tom Hanks' character in The Green Mile.  The only difference shall be that instead of a mouse as a traveling companion, I will be accompanied by Dempsey, the only t-shirt-wearing feline destined to live forever.  

As someone who has scant little use for organized religion, I was incredibly surprised when I read this story in Sunday's New York Post.  It is rare that an official affiliated with the Catholic Church brings a smile to my face, but Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie, the Rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan managed to do so.  Bravo to him for appreciating the significance of what is there - in the dust of the windows of the great cathedral's south spire - and by how wide a margin its significance outweighs that associated with St. Patrick's having spotless panes of glass.

The firehouse that is home to Engine Company 54 and Ladder Company 4 relishes its sobriquet, "Pride of Midtown".   On September 11, 2001, fifteen members of the FDNY roared south from their 48th Street firehouse to the hell that was the World Trade Center.  None of the fifteen made it home to their families.   Among the men who died on that terrible Tuesday morning were four of the firefighters whose names shall remain permanently enshrined (or at least for however long Monsignor Ritchie has any say in the matter) in the dust and the dirt of St. Patrick's south spire windows.  Monsignor Ritchie is a man who says what he means and who means what he says.  Under his watchful eye, St. Patrick's is in the final stages of a $175 Million restoration project dedicated to making every inch of the building shine brighter and more beautifully than it has in years.  

Almost every inch of the building that is.  Everything except some very special windows, which serve as St. Patrick's eyes through which it sees the world.  Years ago I was given to understand that the Book of Matthew in the Bible's New Testament contains a reference to the eyes being the window to one's soul.  Perhaps as it is for those who worship at St. Patrick's it is for the great old cathedral herself.  

And maybe, just maybe, Monsignor Ritchie recognizes that St. Patrick's can have no better windows to its soul than those that contain the names of fallen heroes such as FF Paul Gill of Engine Co. 54, FF Michael Brennan of Ladder Co. 4, FF Michael Lynch of Ladder Co. 4, and FF Leonard Ragaglia of Engine Co. 54

In life, they were the "Pride of Midtown".  In death, they are freed from any and all arbitrary geographic limitations.  



Monday, September 12, 2016

The Life of Brian

FF Brian Cannizzaro
FDNY - Ladder Co. 101 

FF Brian Cannizzaro, 30 years young at the time of his death on September 11, 2001, was the son of a New York City firefighter.  On the night of September 10, 2001, Brian spent some time on the telephone with his father, Sam, talking about a variety of things.  When the Cannizzaro men hung up, each told the other that he loved him.  Less than twenty-four hours later, Sam Cannizzaro would be on the Staten Island Ferry, crossing over into Lower Manhattan, in a desperate search to find his son in the maelstrom was the World Trade Center.  

FF Cannizzaro and his wife, Jacqueline, married on March 20, 1998.  When he proposed, he did so in a way that makes me smile every time I read about it.  The couple took in a performance of Beauty and the Beast from seats in the front row.  She did not know that he had hidden (a) the engagement ring in his sock; and (b) their parents in the mezzanine.  She also had no idea that he had arranged for the leading man to actually pop the question for him... from the stage after the cast had returned to the stage following the performance's conclusion to take their bows.  A tale as old as time.  Indeed. 

It took two months but on November 11, 2001, FF Cannizzaro's body was recovered from the wreckage of the towers.  He and Jackie had one child, a son named Christopher, who FF Cannizzaro delivered himself.  Christopher was less than one year old at the time of his father's death.  FF Cannizzaro was a devotee of the film, Gladiator, and he had suggested to his wife (half-kidding, I think) that they name their son, Maximus, after Russell Crowe's character in the film.  

Crowe's character was a work of fiction.  His deeds live on only as a celluloid hero.  Christopher's dad was a real-life, non-fiction hero.  His deeds - and his memory - shall live on forever.  


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Real Things Gone

There are simply too many people to ever know them all, 
to unravel all of their secrets.
Nobody in such a vast and various place can absorb everything.
You know the people you love and with whom you work.
The rest is glimpses. 
And on certain days, yes, you want to live forever.
- Pete Hamill 
"Downtown:  My Manhattan"

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was one of three dozen of so lawyers in the courtroom of the Presiding Judge of the Civil Division, Bergen County, the Hon. Peter Doyne.  We were there for the Calendar Call and, depending on the availability of judges and the readiness of our case, to be assigned out to another judge in the Civil Division for trial.  It was a warm, sun-splashed Tuesday morning.  As I pulled my car into the parking lot at the Bergen County Justice Center in Hackensack just a minute or two past 8:30, the two stories receiving the most attention on Don Imus's radio show were the season-opening defeat the New York Giants had absorbed in Denver on Monday night and the mayoral primary elections in New York City.  Within a half hour, neither mattered much - if at all. 

Having been inside Judge Doyne's courtroom when the North Tower of the World Trade Center was struck at 8:46 am and, still, when the South Tower of the World Trade Center was hit less than twenty minutes later, at 9:03 am, I was unaware of what had transpired until after both attacks had taken place.  Not knowing what to do, and having not been ordered to evacuate the building, Judge Doyne maintained a semblance of order by continuing to call attorneys into his chambers to discuss our cases and to gauge our trial readiness.  I was in His Honor's chambers with my adversary, Patrick Little, discussing our case when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m., echoing the tragic fate of its partner, the South Tower, which had fallen at 9:59 a.m.  Judge Doyne, Pat, and I were watching a small television that his law clerk had placed atop a cabinet in His Honor's chambers, which television was tuned to either Univision or Telemundo (I know it was a Spanish-speaking network but I cannot recall which one), as we watched the North Tower collapse.  None of us understood what the newscaster said.  It mattered not.  The images spoke for themselves.  They were infuriatingly self-explanatory.  

I have family members who grieve still for good friends they lost fifteen years ago today.  I have good friends who grieve still for family members taken from them on that dreadful day.  The events of the day did not touch me personally.  Among the things that I shall never forget is just how fortunate that makes me.  I remain ever mindful of the fact, also, that being sorry for a loss that another has sustained does not fill the void that loss created in that person's life any more than the erection of a new, defiantly beautiful World Trade Center fills the void forever left in the New York City skyline by the loss of the buildings that once occupied that space.  

Fifteen years later, we mourn still the deaths of those who mere murdered that day because they were real, the effect they had on the lives of those they knew and those they loved was real, and the loss that reverberates still through their families is real.  

And that shall never change.  

Sentimentality is always about a lie.
Nostalgia is about real things gone.
Nobody truly mourns a lie. 
- Pete Hamill
"Downtown:  My Manhattan"


Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Second Honeymooners

Fifteen years ago, New Jersey suffered the second-greatest loss among its populace as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  Only New York had more of its residents killed than did its neighbor across the Hudson River. Here is the story of one of the unfortunate souls from the State of Concrete Gardens. 

Kermit Charles Anderson

Kermit Charles Anderson of Green Brook, New Jersey was fifty-seven years old when he was murdered on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.  That morning he was in his office at Marsh, Inc., which office was located on the 97th floor of the North Tower, when it was struck at 8:46 a.m.  He had worked at Marsh for thirty-six years, starting with the company shortly after graduating from Penn State with his degree in mathematics. 

His time at Penn State was well-spent.  It not only afforded him the opportunity to attain the degree that would enable him to spend his professional life doing something that he loved, it was where he met his life's great love, Jill.  They married shortly after graduation and had celebrated their 35th anniversary approximately a month before his death.  Kermit and Jill Anderson, having raised their two daughters to adulthood and having paid off the debt associated with getting one's child through college, were a couple of newlyweds...who happened to have already been together for three and one half decades, traveling extensively and having the time of their life.  They were enjoying a well-earned, much-appreciated second honeymoon.  

And then, it was taken away from them. 

Kermit Anderson died only days before the birth of his second grandson.  In the fifteen years since his death, his family has honored his memory and his life by continuing to vigorously live their own lives.  There are five Anderson grandchildren, all boys, ranging in age from seven to fifteen.  His widow, Jill, eventually moved from Green Brook back to State College, Pennsylvania, and remarried.